A blog is well overdue and indeed a blog about my recent travels to the Maldives is well underway. Life however (largely revolving around scuba-diving while on holidays and then an immediate return to a full house move) has gotten in the way.
A blog however is needed so I thought I would share with you something I wrote a few months ago based on WordPress writing stimuli. I’d love to know what your answer to the question would be?
My head is a font of ideas and inspiration. My thoughts fly from idea to idea, from location to location: forever dreaming of a better place; a different place; an intriguing place. The world is full of opportunity: a chance to do something different – to be something different.
I am not unhappy in the world I currently occupy; on the contrary, this world is an exciting and thrilling place. This world fills my ordinary every day with excitement. As I sit in the quiet of my rocking chair with my laptop cosily placed on my lap, I look out upon the city placed below me and I understand that out there there is so much that I do not understand, so much that I probably cannot understand. That makes my current life a good life. A life devoid of ignorance is a life of predictability and dullness.
If sitting in my comfortable chair I was however to feel a certain itchiness that slowly became a tugging feeling that slowly pushed me forward in my chair as wings sprouted from my back and gently lifted me into the air, where would I fly? Where given the sudden ability to go wherever I wanted, whenever I want – would I choose to travel?
Would I go to the soaring mountain tops of the Himalayas and glide through mountain passes (shivering perhaps just a little now that the summer evenings are easing away and becoming increasingly cold)? Or would I gently glide towards the sea and spend my days wafting along the thermals and resting every now and again on the golden beaches of Goa?
Or would I go further and, like a cormorant, fold my wings and dive deep into the ocean to marvel at a world unseen by most?
I think perhaps I would not choose to fly to the cities of India, thick with pollution and noise and over-crowding. Where would I rest amongst the broken roofs of the slums and the harsh edges of modernity?
Or would I fly to a person and not a place? Would I fly to someone who will welcome me with open arms despite the rather odd back appendage I had acquired? Would I fly to where I was welcomed and where I felt safe? Do I even want to feel safe? Is feeling safe really the joy that all purport it to be or rather is feeling totally safe a good thing at all? Is it not better to live life knowing that it all may come tumbling down around you? Are you more likely to take risks and try something new if you know that your chance to do this may not last forever?
My answer to these question is direct. I have no answer and nor do I really want one. I will plan my time, my travel but I will forever be excited by the thrill, the fear, the anticipation of what I do not yet know will come.
Where would you soar on the thermals of life, given the choice?
For me the decision to travel to somewhere new is usually immediate and always filled with excited anticipation – sometimes perhaps with a hint of nervous anticipation. For me the world is large with so many places to visit and so many experiences to have but the world is also small. Nowhere is any more than a few days travel time away. If the world is so small, why not see as much of it as I possibly can in the 80+ years I will spend on this planet?
Everyone is different etc etc, but seriously I don’t get those people who are happy to stay put and never do anything that is out of their immediate knowledge and comfort zone. Seriously, that would be ridiculously boring. I’m guessing, especially if you are a regular reader of my blog, that you feel somewhat similarly.
Now I get that circumstance, personal or financial, can sometimes make having great adventures more difficult or impossible. Having been in the personal circumstance where any form of travel was physically impossible – I get it. I also get just how frustrated I was. I may not have had the ability to do much more than sit on the couch but I still watched travel documentaries – do it via somebody else if that is all I could do.
For me it was obvious that when I moved to India, many (although by no means all) of my friends would excitedly think, ‘Whoooo, whoooo, just the excuse I need! I’m off to India!’, expecting my friends just to inform me they were coming rather than even waiting for an invitation or permission! Now Colin visited me in October although only for one night – he was here for work. While amazing to see him, I don’t think that is what I had in mind.
The first friend to visit me however was unexpected – well kind of! She has got a just go for it attitude so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when she informed me she was coming on a visit. Her visit however could never have been a spur of the moment decision for her and for purely personal reasons. There was no way she could have just booked her ticket and then thought about the trip later. I can do that, my friend Sarah who I mentioned in a previous blog can do it – but not Gillian! Her decision required bravery and determination.
Why? Gillian has Cerebral Palsy and this brings its own challenges – walking, balance and fatigue to name just a few. This blog however is not an ode to Gillian – although her bravery and determination indeed justifies an ode to her! This blog is an ode to India.
India can be so unutterly frustrating! It can bring the very worst out in you. You get so frustrated at short-term thinking, false promises and under-achieving, never mind the ‘it’s not my fault’ lack of responsibility taking. Seriously, why I haven’t been jailed for killing somebody in the year we have been here sometimes astounds me!
India however has done itself extremely proud! It can hold its head up as being one of the best countries in the world. Gillian is from the UK, has a German mum and has travelled around Europe and Australia. Without doubt, she says, India treated her better overall than anywhere else she has ever been. Now she’s not referring to the great access everywhere and the smooth pavements – well now she couldn’t really could she, given they don’t exist. She is talking about the people.
From arrival to leaving she was met by extreme care from friends and strangers. Nobody but nobody on the streets or in shops / restaurants made her feel uncomfortable or made her life more difficult. On arrival in Mumbai, my driver anxiously helped the very, very tired and stiff Gillian into the car in Mumbai. He then spent too weeks worrying that he had touched her because knowing she prefers to do things herself, I had silently indicated to him to give her space. While Gillian will just remember this (if indeed she can) as somebody seeing somebody struggle and doing what they can to help.
My maid, Maggie, the first morning after she arrived went out of her way to tell Gillian that anything she needed at all to let her know and then made her a gorgeous breakfast.
We went to lunch in Ram Krishna restaurant in Camp, the waiter without saying anything or making any form of fuss pulled the booth table out as far as it would go so that Gillian could walk to the seat and not have to slide around. Now Gillian is more than capable of sliding around but that instinctive / spontaneous act was heart-warming.
She wanted to try a pair of trousers on. When she got into the changing room there was no stool but within micro-seconds one arrived – not a word was said, it was just left in the room. Again no fuss. Just a recognition that there was something they could do to make her life easier so why not!
When we did a walking tour of old Pune (Chalo Heritage Walks – my lost blog was about this tour), Rashid Ali, the tour leader, couldn’t have been kinder. He constantly found places for her to sit and rest, when she had to take her shoes off to go into a temple, he got down on his hands and knees to put them back on.
There was a really high step into the temple and initially Gillian struggled to get up it. Seeing her struggle, a lady ran across the temple and offered to help her.
Later in this same temple, my friend – Deborah (the photographer from my last blog) said that as she was leaving the temple an old lady stopped her so that Gillian could get by. Again, not really necessary but very sweet.
A few days later with Rashid, we went out to Bhigwan Dam which is a nature sanctuary – amazing, if you live in Pune you need to do this. This required the use of a fishing boat. The boatman without saying anything moved his boat so there was an easier spot for Gillian to climb in. When we were required to get off the boat and walk to where we could spot some flamingoes, the boatman first scouted the flamingoes – just to be sure that Gillian wouldn’t walk all the way and not see anything.
On return, he moved the boat a little further so that she would have to walk less. Rashid jumped into the mud and got himself filthy so that Gillian could climb off the boat a little easier. When her stick made a small section of the boat dirty where she would have to put her hands, Rashid used his own hands to clean the area – again with little thought just spontaneous action.
We saw the flamingoes but they were just too far away for my camera to take a good shot and Gillian was struggling to see through binoculars – this requires balance and good use of both hands! Rashid initially tried to help her hold them but on spotting a man with a huge lens on his camera, I asked him if he would take a photo to show Gillian – he did it with enthusiasm and a great smile!
In Goa, we walked to a restaurant along the road but we wanted to go back along the beach. To get to the beach however we had to go down some steep steps without a handrail. Gillian got a little scared but the waiter ran over and gently took her arm and led her down the steps. Again no big deal, it was just what you do!
I could list and list and list all day and all night the amazing individual things Indians did to help make Gillian’s trip a success but perhaps it is best summarised by Gillian’s own insight. She compared her experience her to her experience in Australia. In both situations she felt she got the same treatment but the difference was the motivation. In India, she genuinely felt it was instinctive when people stepped up to help her. In Australia, she felt it was because people were motivated by the understanding that you should help people – there was little instinct behind it. In India, she felt Indians didn’t feel like she was any trouble while in Australia she felt people thought she was making trouble for them.
The thing that had worried me most about Gillian’s visit and therefore was the greatest surprise was staring. I had warned her and warned her that she would be stared at and photographed – perhaps even more than I am on a regular basis. It is far from unusual for me to suddenly have blank strangers around me and somebody else taking a photo, sometimes with permission but often without. Gillian is used to being stared at in the UK but I was worried that here it would be too much even for her.
I was particularly worried about visiting the Gateway of India in Mumbai. I had been there only a few weeks early with my friend and it was the most intimidated I have ever felt in India. We were simply sat down and then suddenly there were 20 plus men taking pictures of us and they simply wouldn’t go away. We had to get up and walk away ourselves. Wherever we were around the Gateway people stared and stared at us. This was on a Tuesday, we were going on a Sunday when it was busier – I was worried!
So before going to the Gateway, I warned her again. I really wanted her to be prepared for it – she even suggested that we didn’t go. I wanted her to see it however so we went. I couldn’t believe it, not a single obvious stare and not a single photograph!!! Indeed, that can be said for the whole trip. Her whole trip in India there was no staring or photographs! Honestly, I was stared at less over the two weeks that she was here than I have ever been. Clearly, I need to get my stick back out – it appears to make you invisible!
I lie, there was one occasion where she was stared at and stared at so badly that she felt so bad that she left. I live in a very expensive apartment block (society). The people who live her are 50% expats, 25% NRIs (so people whose parents were born in India but they weren’t) and 25% very well off Indians. People in this society as a whole are well off, highly educated and highly travelled. Yet, it was these very people who stared so hard that Gillian didn’t want to hang around in our garden anymore! I was thoroughly disgusted.
In my ignorance, I expected the poorer, less educated elements of Indian society to be the starers – well they surely haven’t received the same education about disability or perhaps even the same exposure, have they? The people who stared shouldn’t feel proud and these people shouldn’t hold their heads high – in contrast, they should hang their heads in shame. For they were the only people in two weeks who didn’t do everything they could to make India proud of them.
Gillian’s experience of travelling with a disability in India was just an isolated experience, perhaps she was lucky or perhaps that is just the way Indians are. Somebody did tell me that Indians would look at Gillian with lots of respect because despite her disability she was still here! I have no idea if you are disable or your child is and you travel to India will you have such a hugely positive experience but if you are thinking about it, I would say from my experience with Gillian – go for it! India is not an easy place to travel never mind if you are travelling with a disability but I genuinely feel that you don’t need to fear how people will react to you being here.
India is definitely somewhere to book with excited anticipation (but just a little bit of nervous anticipation!).
Finally, India thank you. Thank you for being a major part of my friend’s holiday of a lifetime. Thank you for consistently showing her what an amazing country and an amazing people you are. Thank you.
This blog was first written about 18 months ago. I was too embarrassed to post it – too embarrassed to admit I wasn’t strong enough to cope. Since then, I regularly come across it, read it and instead of thinking why was I such an idiot about the whole thing? Why was I too embarrassed to post it? I continue to feel embarrassed – its ridiculous!
So I have decided to be brave and post this blog. It is well out of date but I don’t think it matters. Perhaps somebody who is having a similar psychological fight as I had will read it and feel that they are not alone. Maybe they will see the ridiculousness in not talking about it and actually speak to somebody!
I’m doing something that only one person vaguely knows about – at least they are slightly aware of its existence but they don’t actually know I have started to use it. Not even my husband knows about its existence, never mind the fact that I actually have started to use it. This goes against everything that I have tried to maintain since I first got ill. Since I first got ill, I have always said that being open about what was going on, in particular with my husband, was absolutely key. Not being open might lead to distrust and misunderstandings. I have always argued that it was wrong to do anything that might encourage that feeling.
So what am I doing that is so awful I can’t even tell my husband? What is it that I am feeling so unsure of, perhaps even so stupid for doing it that I can’t tell my husband? I do not understand what makes me feel so embarrassed, I do not understand why I don’t want to share what I am doing with anyone. So what am I doing?
While we were on holidays and I had a relapse, one day we walked back from the restaurant and I clung to my husband’s arm, desperate for his support and to help me balance. It dawned on me that day that if I could find something that would help me maintain my energy levels and support me when I was having a bad day, then that surely would be a good thing.
So what have I invested in? I have invested in a walking stick.
The fact that it took me three paragraphs to get to the point says it all. I am not sure I am ready to use a walking stick, walking sticks are for old people or invalids – I am not old and I do not feel like an invalid therefore surely that means I do not need one. I am embarrassed at the thought of using it and I am embarrassed at the thought of being seen with it. Does using one mean I have given in – once again – to this illness?
You could, very rightly, argue that if I am using it to walk further on a bad day then it is assisting me in doing more than I should. If I could exercise myself better then yes, using it on a bad day would surely little by little assist me in improving my health. I cannot however exercise myself better so surely anything that enables me to do more is just increasing the intensity of my exercise? I think I am just looking for excuses as to why I shouldn’t use it, rather than looking for justifiable reasons why I should.
It has only been used twice, having owned it for more than a week I bought a folding one so I could have it in my bag to use should I be out and suddenly get an unexpected collapse of energy. I have carried it around for a week every time I went out to use in just those circumstances. On Saturday when we walked across a field to get to a nuclear bunker (don’t ask), I was finding the surface hard going and thought just how much my walking stick might help me. There it was just waiting for me in my bag on my back. We were with friends however and I was embarrassed. Embarrassed because my husband had no idea I had it and embarrassed because then my friends might look at me as sick girl. I seriously overdid it on Saturday and as a consequence paid the price on Sunday.
If I had used my walking stick for the entire duration of our outing, would I have overdone it so much? Would it have enabled me to use less energy by providing me with support, balance and indeed a method of propulsion. Perhaps, but I was too scared and embarrassed to try it.
This got me thinking. If I was able to reduce my energy requirements on an everyday basis by use of my walking stick, would this enable me to live more of a life? Walk further, do more? Would this be a good thing? Would this just encourage me to do more than I should? However, if I am using the same amount of energy but using it to do more surely that is a good thing? Again am I just looking for reasons to justify not using it and looking for reasons to prove my justification is ever so wrong. Perhaps the latter but I really do not know.
On Monday, still not quite having recovered from my overdoing it on Saturday, I went for a walk. A walk that included my walking stick. I deliberately kept to the back roads embarrassed by my stick. Ashamed to be seen out with it. At least this was my initial feeling. My walk to my usual churchyard seat took no longer than 6 minutes. By the time I arrived, I was beginning to get the feeling that it was helping me. I should have been more tired by the walk given my energy levels. My legs should have begun to feel more pain but they were no worse than when I left. Was this the benefit of the walking stick or was it simply that I had under-estimated my energy levels and over-estimated my pain levels?
On my return, I walked back a different route, a route that touched the sides of busy roads, a road where there were pedestrians: people to see me and possibly make comments and wonder why a girl in her mid 30s was using a walking stick. I was very aware of everyone who passed, straining to hear them comment amongst themselves about me. Perhaps I was lucky or perhaps people just didn’t notice or care but I did not hear what I strained for. Silence.
Today Tuesday, the next day, I have tried again. This time walking further than yesterday. Again I didn’t struggle or feel my energy diminishing too quickly. This time I was aware as I crossed rocky ground that it was given me support and helping me balance. With my walking stick it was easier than it would have been without!
I am still a walking stick virgin however. I still hold it wrong at times and have to adjust it. I dropped it crossing the road until I remember to twist its string around my wrist so it wouldn’t fall. At times I don’t quite get the propulsion right and it lands on the ground at an odd angle. I haven’t learnt how to balance it when I sit down. I also haven’t learnt how to accept that it might be useful to me.
How can a walking stick be useful to a girl in her mid 30s who can walk for just over a mile (with a break half way)? How can a walking stick be useful to a girl in her mid 30s who doesn’t walk with a limp or need to balance against things? That is unless I am having a bad day.
For me using a walking stick is still a big experiment. Will I continue to use it? I don’t know – I hope I will if it consistently helps me. Will I tell my husband? I guess I have to. What will he think? I don’t know but I know he will at least wear a mask of support. I think he will think that if I am finding it useful then it is a great thing to do. I wonder whether he will find it embarrassing to be seen with me? Could I blame him if he didn’t? Hardly, I am not exactly embarrassment free at all of this, now am I?
My friend, Gillian, was the first and only person I have ever discussed using a walking stick with. She uses one herself and even offered to lend me one of hers to try it out. I was embarrassed by the conversation – I think perhaps by the very need to have it in the first place. She was supportive and encouraging. She too was young and understood what it felt like to start to use one – she had started to use hers at 18! Her encouragement enabled me to at least buy one. I would like to think that one day I will be as brave as her and see only the positive reasons for using a walking stick. The negative reasons are surely just a matter of perception.
So I did eventually tell my husband who completely unsurprisingly was utterly supportive of me!
I didn’t use it all the time but I always had it on me ready to pull out when things got difficult and I used it all day on a bad day. A walking stick categorically helped me! A month or so after I started to use it, I was re-diagnosed and given treatment that enabled me to make rapid improvement – very quickly after this the walking stick was no longer required.
In hindsight, I can only wonder why I made such a big deal about using one! Nobody looked at me funny, nobody laughed and in truth I don’t think any strangers actually cared. I should have used the inspiration of Gillian more – she is a girl who just gets on with things and doesn’t allow fear or worry stop her. Perhaps although I am now living in India and while not healthy, a lot healthier, this blog should act as a reminder that sometimes to be strong you need to accept your weaknesses and not let them hold you back.
It would be fair to describe my last blog as depressing.
I had found myself in what was quite a scary position. I fully understood why I was feeling so bad and I also fully understood just how bad things could get if not only was I lucky but more importantly very, very careful.
It seems I had been determined to forget about the fact that my health had been so bad and to allow myself to heal from the pain and fear that caused. On the other hand, the process of forgetting just resulted in my returning to where I had been 18 months earlier. I think therefore that it is not wise to forget just yet.
I must remain careful without going over the top. Every day / week I must plan my time so that serious and genuine rest is also included. Pacing: the very word I had allowed myself to forget but at least for the foreseeable future must remain a key word in my daily life.
Over the last few weeks, I have spent considerably more time at home but this has enabled me to do some pretty amazing things with the energy saved. It has allowed me to experience India!
The period from September to November is pretty much festival time in India! Over the next few months, I will post blogs about these festivities. Each however definitely deserves its own blog.
The month started off with the birth of Krishna and the following night Dahi Handi. Indian’s love to party and what’s more they love to party with no concerns at all for health and safety. Consequently, Dahi Handi was an incredible experience.
You see Krishna wasn’t necessarily the best behaved boy in the world and he just loved, loved, loved his mother’s Dahi – yoghurt. So much so that he would at any opportunity steal it off his mum. Well now, his mum was having none of that – no, no she wasn’t. So she did what every parent has done in their lifetime – she hung the yoghurt pot (the handi) up out of her son’s reach. Well now, as every parent also knows: children grow. So week after week, she had to hang it higher and higher and higher! But Krishna was clever and he always found a way to eventually get to the yoghurt and get it out.
This story has led to the incredible spectacle of Dahi Handi. Big pots of honey and yoghurt are hung either from tall cranes or from a rope strung from two very tall buildings. Now, Dahi Handi has been somewhat restricted this year due to the drought Maharashtra is currently experiencing so apparently what I saw was far, far tamer than normal!
Having met up with some friends, we were all ready for our experience of a traditional Hindu religious festival. What we weren’t prepared for was the Bollywood dance music mixed with a rave! 1000s of men all effectively had a massive rave for two hours prior to the commencement of the Dahi Handi – timing of which was somewhat vague.
Of course, myself and Chris being the only white people there made us the centre of attention at times but we have become accustomed to being stopped and photographed repeatedly! Our friends, who are of Indian origin but still clearly look foreign were not short of stares and people whispering about them. It is never aggressive though – just intrigued!
Only in India however could a fight break out in the middle of this otherwise very congenial rave; the police wade in and sort it out; and then immediately be followed by a car driving through said throng so that a Bollywood actress could climb out and walk through the rest of the crowd to the stage. My friend’s husband was very pleased as she was his second favourite Bollywood actress!
Finally, Dahi Handi could commence – the actresses had arrived even if she was very late!
A team of men (age 12 – 30 perhaps) formed a human pyramid of about 8 layers. A tiny kid climbed up the pyramid onto the shoulders of the person at the top – the kid then proceeded to try and break open the handi unfortunately he failed so had to climb down again to get something better to break it with! Finally, he succeeded and the pyramid was doused in gallons of yoghurt much to the crowds delight!
Normally, teams of pyramid builders compete to get the pot with prizes worth huge amounts of money. To make it more difficult, water is sprayed on the contestants so that everything and everyone gets very slippery! With the drought however this particular feature was banned and consequently some communities choose not to have teams competing!
Of course all of this happened on a public street. Eventually one side of the road was closed but crowds spilled onto the other lanes which were still open and now had traffic going in both directions. Chaos reigned! Young boys still ran around the traffic seemingly oblivious to the dangers! We did venture into the crowd at several points but were very grateful to the wise planning of our friends who had booked a table on a hotel balcony overlooking the spectacle.
It was a very long and very exhausting evening but so, so much fun! We seem to spend so much of our lives socialising where the expats or wealthy Indians go – it is always a relief in a way to spend time frankly with normal people from all classes and walks of life!
Next year we will try and get out to a more rural occasion for Dahi Handi which apparently is a totally different experience! So, give it 12 months and you can look forward to reading that blog too!
Wineglass Bay is considered to be the most beautiful bay / beach in the world so visiting it during our stay in Tasmania was an absolute must.
My first blog post from Australia was entitled: Not a Kazza in Sight! That turned out to not exactly be true. Kazza definitely came along for the ride. We managed to keep her in abeyance a lot of the time but we couldn’t help her coming to the fore from time to time.
You see climbing up a mountain(ish) pass (to Wineglass Bay Lookout) and down the other side (to the beach itself) is hard work for a girl with a breathing problem but even worse for a girl with a competition problem. I constantly compete with myself (and some would say others too) and consequently get quite frankly pissed off with myself if I can’t do things. Which we all know is of course ridiculous!
So getting upset that I struggled to walk up a steep hill when I could barely walk to the end of the road this time last year is crazy. Getting upset because I was exhausted at the end of an 11km walk is also ridiculous but I just can’t stand to fail. I can’t stand to admit that I am not invincible which of course is how we got into this stupid mess, September 2013!
Australia was spectacular and was without doubt a holiday of a lifetime – I will always remember pretty much everything we did over those three incredible weeks. Every day brought a new adventure and a new sight that was unforgettable.
The consequence of this incredible holiday from a health perspective however is that I returned exhausted. My week off to recover afterwards barely touch the sides of my exhaustion (largely because I filled it with activity everyday!). My week off rather than constituting doing nothing, constituted doing lots just not running! That, I convinced myself was a week off.
I had begun to recover and had even done a successful yoga class when our shipment arrived. This involved two solid days of hard work lifting and carrying and packing of boxes. Without leaving my house, I managed to accrue the guts of 20,000 steps a day and burned about 4000 calories! This was not what my body needed. We won’t even get into the psychological impact of lots of wedding presents getting smashed!
Of course mixed into all of this was more issues with our washing machine which I of course had to deal with while still trying to direct hundreds of boxes to vaguely correct rooms around the house! Exhausting both physically and mentally.
Of course that washing machine repair failed (shock horror) and so it required, a few days later, another fight with a plumber over the course of three hours that water shouldn’t be dripping out of the hose pipe that, unlike what he claimed,- this was not ‘normal’. Every failed attempt to get me to agree that the leaking hose was fixed led to a phone call to his boss and every conversation started with him in Marathi / Hindi explaining that, ‘mam says there is a leak but there is no leak’ quickly followed by my saying (in English), ‘don’t say there is no leak when there is a leak!’ His boss seemed to inform him each time to fix it again! We got there in the end but it did take three hours! Once again, mentally exhausting.
Now that little adventure was followed by my deciding I would get a guy in to clean my windows inside and out. They were beyond filthy – still covered in the construction dust from when they were built a year ago. In places, it was difficult to even see out the window! I agreed to a price and when he would come. I didn’t on the other hand grasp the fact that it would take about 6 guys and about 9 hours of work (over two days) inside in the house and another 2 days to clean the outside of the apartment (on ropes from the roof!). Why would I ever have considered that it would take this long?! Sure our apartment is big but good lord it’s not that big!
While the guys are here, you have to hang around – I can’t exactly leave them unsupervised but it means you can’t really rest. I feel too uncomfortable with having people in to do such jobs to lie on the sofa and watch TV or with them moving around the whole time – go to bed for a few hours. So I continue to potter about, convincing myself that unpacking those boxes or carrying that heavy load is ok when really I am doing exactly the thing I shouldn’t be doing!
These adventures of course are unusual. They are in addition to the everyday challenges that you are faced with here. Where can I buy fruit? Where can I buy vegetables? Where can I buy meat? When will these places be open? When will I have the car to go and get them? What price am I willing to buy the rickshaw driver who is trying to rip me off? Where can I get big black bags for the dustbin when all I can find are little ones? Where do I find cat litter that isn’t vile and disgusting because the cats are hating what I got for them!? Where? When? How?
Over the last week therefore I can categorically say I have begun to feel again the way I did 18 months ago. I am reminded again about the difference between fatigue and tiredness. I am not really tired, I am seriously fatigued. A blog, many months ago now, talked about how I had to walk the tight rope between doing too little and doing too much. Too little and I would make myself too physically unfit to deal with my illness and psychologically do damage by isolating myself from the world but equally doing too much would make me physically more ill and make it harder for me to psychologically deal with my illness (my brain gets tired just like my body does).
The tightrope is back and once again nobody has given me any safety ropes. While I feel I am in a much better position than I was back then, it does without question scare me. This feels like the worst relapse I have had since I seemed at least on the outside ‘to be better’. Just like I coped before I can cope again.
And here, far more than back in the UK, will help me recover. Here, I have lovely Maggie who comes and cleans my house. The weather is warm and that always helps. I don’t have the pressure of trying to return to work. I can cheat and buy my meat from a 5 star hotel and order my vegetables online (even if the price and quality isn’t the same as buying them elsewhere). I have a driver so I don’t have to worry about not being able to drive or getting the energy together to use public transport. There is also an incredibly supportive group of people here that will help me to look after myself (just like I had back in the UK).
So, rather than seeing my current state has something traumatic and worrying, I see it rather more as a warning, a reminder of where I have come from and where with very little trouble I can go back to if I am not careful. So I will be careful (well, I will at least try).
I didn’t write this blog to worry people but more as my way of saying – ‘Please, those who have been on Karen Duty in the past, can you return to your posts’ and ‘those who are new to Karen Duty, can you please look out for me and be bossy and tell me off for doing too much and understand if I don’t do as much as I was.’
16 years ago this October, I was lucky enough to meet someone who was to have a permanent positive impact on my life. 16 years ago, I met my best friend, Sarah. Fate plays a huge role in what happens in our life – we can steer ourselves in certain directions but that in no way implies that we have complete control over our lives.
For me, I was hanging out in front of a lecture room at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London so I could ‘bump’ into a guy I fancied (he had zero interest in me) while doing my Masters. That day, we met and had coffee but little did I realise it at the time but my life had changed utterly – far more than it would have if there had been a momentary fizzle of something between myself and this guy. This was far more than a momentary fizzle; this was the start of a true, deep and at times hilarity filled friendship. Sarah also walked out of the lecture room and joined us for coffee. This was our first meeting.
Some people come into your life and you know that you have found somebody who will be a good friend to you, who will support you. Generally, you feel that you play such a role in their lives too. Sarah, however, is different. Sarah, I am privileged to be allowed call a friend. She is a step above all other people I have met in my life. She is unique in a way that I could never dream to be. She cares deeply for those around her and will do anything for you – you often don’t even need to ask.
Since we met, I have lived in three different countries and she has visited me in all but one of those countries and more than once at that. The third – well that is India – her last text to me said, ‘See you at Christmas (when we go back to the UK) if not sooner.’ Sarah would never even consider not visiting or going out of her way to make sure that I was happy and comfortable – the thought quite simply wouldn’t occur to her.
Sarah, therefore, over the last 16 years has set a standard for friendship that I suspect is unattainable. She has however also made it clear to me just how important friendship is. Friendship, is not just fun and laughter over a few drinks; friendship is also darkness – it is being there (in person or virtually) when they think there is no light, it is being there to shine a torch into the darkened room of their life and show the person that there is a way out.
Friendship is clearly something that is a worry when you move halfway around the world. While I have no doubts that my Sarah will always be there for me as will Kathryn, Parin, Sue etc etc but they will not be here in India. They will not be there all the time to drink with, walk with, laugh with and cry with. Consequently, Chris and I now face the challenge of finding people who singly or collectively can play all the above roles – face-to-face.
It is abundantly clear so far that every expat you meet has an instinctive desire to make you feel welcome, to help you, to support you and it would seem to drink with you! This instinct surely provides the best basis for the type of person who could one day be a friend. Certainly, I have met people in just a week that I am more than happy to spend lots more time with and who knows maybe fate has already flown my way and I have met the person or people who will become my closest friends while we are here.
True deep friendships are like the love between a couple – yes, it can come in an instant and both sides can realise that they have met the ‘one’ they want to share their life with. I think most of the time these true, deep friendships just like romantic love, needs time and work to develop a level of permanency. So, who knows who is going to come my way over the next few weeks or years, who knows what friendships will develop.
Putting yourself out there – risking rejection is the only way to find the security of friendship. This was so clearly demonstrated by a Meetup group in Stratford upon Avon, UK that I set up. Now 330 members strong, there had to be the some in the beginning, happy to risk joining just a few people with no real plans and no real idea of where they were going. All of us, however, shared the desire not to be insular but to look to the world and see what it could offer them. We were faced with the choice between loneliness or the insecurity of a situation that could either lead to rejection or friendship. Through this Meetup group, I moved from being very isolated in Stratford to havingan active social life and a network of very good friends who I drank with, walked with, laughed with and cried with.
It is reassuring to know therefore that in the UK I have solid friendships – be those from old like Sarah, Kathryn, Parin and Sue or the newer ones met through the Meetup group. They help to give me the strength to look out to the world here in India and see that new friendships are always possible no matter what stage you are in your life. I threw myself into new / challenging / out of my comfort zone situations to meet my existing friends; I now need to throw myself into everything here too for the same reason.
So Sarah this blog post is dedicated to you and to the incredible friendship we share. This is your birthday present (for yes it is Sarah’s birthday today!).
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We are heading the way that many, many young Britons have gone in the ‘great’ colonial past. (As an Irish person, I can assure you ‘great’ is most thoroughly in inverted commas!) We are packing our bags and moving to India with, I hope, a tad less arrogance and significantly greater tolerance than the colonialists of the past.
It is to Pune, three hours South-East of Mumbai, that we are heading. The former capital of the Marathi rulers and the former monsoon holiday destination for colonialists with a love for its ever so slightly cooler mountain climate.
This is a city that has grown over the last 20 years from a city of minor significance to being in the top ten largest Indian cities with a population estimated to be over 6.5m but growing by 100,000s a year.
It has been dubbed (yet another) Indian Silicon Valley, the Oxford of India and the Detroit of India. Western descriptions perhaps intended to show just how modern and developed this city is.
The truth of course is not so clear cut. Certainly, it is a centre for Indian tertiary education. Certainly, it’s IT parks employ 1000s of the Indian educated middle class providing IT services to largely western companies. Certainly, it is home to very many aspirational Indian universities. Most certainly it is home to many, many automobile companies; not the least TATA motors a subsidiary of TATA (which interestingly, through the various concerns it has bought into in the UK, from steel to cars, is UK’s the largest manufacturing employer). Reality is however that people have flooded into Pune from all over India in the hope of finding a job, any job. Most of these people only experience the very fringes of the wealth such development has brought if any of the wealth at all.
Alongside, the shiny new Trump Towers, the Phillipe Stark’s Yoopune residential building lie those that have not managed to find a way to this prosperity. Be it through poor access to education, caste or sheer bad luck. 32.5% of the population live in a slum. Many of these are illegal (not registered) and lack the basic services such as access to running water and refuse collection.
So yes, along with the prosperity of Pune, alongside its Westernised face will be the more bleak reality of poverty on a scale neither of us have ever experienced.
Our visit to Pune over the Easter holidays showed it to be every bit this strange combination of extreme wealth and extreme poverty. I saw some of the biggest, most extravagant houses of my entire life there and for the first time, I saw slums. Although, having only just spent one week in Pune, it seemed obvious to me that at night, for example, far fewer people seemed to be sleeping on the streets than in my one and only night time visit to Mumbai – there it was obvious – perhaps in Pune it is just more hidden. Or perhaps, what they say is true, Pune is one of the wealthier of Indian cities, with fewer living in extreme poverty.
Pune is an exciting place. Change is evident everywhere yet no change is also evident everywhere – an oxymoron if there ever was one. The noise of tooting horns (Horn OK Please – across the back of most commercial vehicles); the colour of stunning saris and salwar kameez (a people not afraid of bright colours – thank god); the non-intrusive intrigue of passerbys when they realised that we are white foreigners – everything was invigorating and made me want to move there even more than when I only had a google ‘Pune’ search to rely on. I just can’t wait to get out there on Saturday and begin the process of being able to call it ‘home’.
For three years, our lives are going to be significantly different to how they are today. I hope that we do not find ourselves living in an Expat Bubble, obliviously to the other side of India on our doorstep and possibly even driving our car or cleaning our house.
Everyday is going to be a challenge, everyday I will learn something new either about myself or about India or even possibly both. Challenges will be frustrating, aggravating, infuriating but they will also be thrilling, exhilarating and life enhancing.
Time will only tell but one thing is for certain, we are about to go on an adventure or as Winnie the Pooh would call it – a ‘grand adventure’!
So feel feel to read along, join me and my husband in our ‘grand adventure’. Grow with us as we grow through experience and challenging our status quo. I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to the ride!
Ok, so it must seem like quite a long time since I wrote a blog: you are wrong. I’ve written lots of blogs recently.
“What?” you say, thinking how could such an avid follower of What Will Happen To Me have missed said blogs. To be honest, I have written lots of blogs, I just haven’t published any of them. Our life has been such a tumult recently that each blog posting I wrote just didn’t feel right so I would walk away, to return to it again with fresh eyes. On returning however, I would realise that what I had written now felt even more not quite what I wanted to say so I would begin another and another and another. In the end, none were published. At this moment, I have every intention of publishing this blog – through hell or high water. Let’s see.
On Friday, I move to India (crikey!) – my husband has already been there a week. Who would have ever considered that possible? Only 12 months ago I was limiting myself to a few thousand steps a day at best and was spending at least 18 hours a day in bed. We had no idea whether my health would ever improve – although improve it eventually did. Now, 12 months on, I very shortly will be living in India. It is a miracle that I will always remain astounded by.
Re-reading old blogs recently, it was obvious that within the genuine positivity and determination to find a way out of my ill-health there was also a desperate voice whispering – “what if, what if, what if it will never happen?” The reality today is that I am still finding my way out of my ill health and perhaps will continue to do so for many years to come. However, re-reading my old blogs also showed an absolute determination to grab life and experience as much as I possibly could. I wrote about how I had no idea about where my life would now go or what I would now do but how that didn’t frighten me but rather filled me with excitement and pleasant anticipation.
Back in those days of new found enlightenment as I began to emerge from my illness, I certainly had no concept that one day (very, very soon) I would be packing up my bags and moving to the other side of the world. Although, to be honest, the idea of moving abroad was nothing new. Myself and my husband had discussed it for many years. I had slowly been inculcating him into the cult of ‘expat’ – we just hadn’t done anything about it – then I became ill.
I returned part-time to work in October 2014 and slowly worked my way back to full-time in January 2015. Being a teacher is the hardest work, there is no time to sit back and catch your breath (just a little important for a girl who suffers from Dysfunctional Breathing Syndrome). You get caught up in the job and the students and silly Ofsted requirements and it gets hard. Really hard. Especially if you are still not fully healthy. I probably should never have gone back to work full-time but how was anyone to know that until I gave it a try? Long before India came on the scene, I was struggling and not willing to really accept that I was.
The opportunity to move to India therefore could not have come at a better time. Six months earlier or six months later probably wouldn’t have worked. Six months earlier I wouldn’t have had the chance to return to teaching and see if I was right, that I had completely lost the love of it. I would have walked away from a career that I had been in for 12 years without knowing whether I really wanted to walk away from it. Six months later, I would possibly have worked my way back into ill-health or learnt to hate my job so much that I failed to give the students what they needed most – a decent education. I would consequently have possibly moved to India under a dark cloud of failure. If indeed, I was even capable of making such a move.
India, therefore, came at the perfect time. I had returned to teaching long enough to know that I was no longer willing to buy into a lot of the nonsense that surrounds it. I had been back long enough to know that the only reason I liked teaching in the first place was being in a class full of students.
For the first time in my adult life, I am completely unemployed and while that feels strange and slightly uncomfortable, it is also a relief. My time is my own, I no longer have to dance to somebody else’s fiddle. I am no longer in a job I had, with the exception of teaching classes, grown to hate. I am now in a position to walk comfortably away from a career I had for such a long, long time loved. Six months ago, walking away may well have broken my heart – today I simply miss the people I worked with and the children – nothing more.
My headteacher (a remarkable woman) has been kind enough to release me in the middle of a term so that I don’t even have to continue until May half-term. She was smart enough to realise that the stress and physical demands of moving halfway around the world made working impossible. Her kindness has allowed me to start my husband and I’s new adventure more or less together. Her kindness has enabled me to start once again to really take care of my health so that I will get 100% better.
So, this blog (which is definitely getting published) is the start of my adventure. If you want to know the details – where I am going, why I am going you are just going to have to subscribe to my blog via your email address or WordPress account. You can also follow my twitter @kironside78.
I hope to regularly blog again – I will have no excuse – I will definitely have the time. My aim is to (just like I did when I was ill), simply reflect on my experiences: the joys and the challenges of living in India. If it helps somebody else about to make such a journey or simply provides an interesting read over a coffee, I will be happy.
Last week, one of my amazing students guest blogged on this site. Her poem, about her father who she feels does not care and doesn’t want to spend time with her, got an amazing reaction. More people started following my blog in one day than have ever done; more people liked the blog than any other blog. People posted amazing comments here and on other sites where it was posted. How amazing that a 12 year old was able to sit back and realise how much people appreciated her words!
Well as promised, here is the second instalment. Also about split families but from a very different perspective. This wonderful student just quietly gets on with school and one would never know the deep thoughts that are inside – thoughts he does not often share.
The lesson I have learnt from this two-part experiment into giving students the freedom to express whatever is in their heads – is that – perhaps I need to do it more often. Perhaps, young people need to be given the chance to just release everything that is inside in them. We have such high expectations of young people: behaviourally, academically, emotionally – perhaps giving young people the time to vent all the worries and concerns that such expectations bring is not only healthy for them but healthy for us. Giving adults the chance to recognise just how capable young people are but also just how fragile and contrastingly strong they can be.
My Life As A Sibling
As many people may know I have a brother and a sister but you may have never known that they were half brother and sister.
Wow I kind of feel awkward about talking about this but I feel that this is a subject I feel that I may need to express more (talk more about than keeping in my thoughts all the time.)
I feel a little lonely to know I have a half brother and sister because they have each other but I don’t really have that interaction with them since we live so far apart. Sometimes (leaves the computer to express feelings a bit) just sometimes I feel that they don’t even exist as a half or actually a brother or sister.
I can’t even believe that I’m actually expressing my real emotion towards this and that’s a lot of confusion and a little bit of frustration. The reason for this… wow I’m sorry but this is a lot for me to say because, because, because I feel like I don’t even exist to them half the time because I rarely see them (which means the life to me sometimes) I still feel that I’m the odd one out or the one that’s different to the others.
Wow I can’t believe I haven’t gone away from the computer yet but I kind of feel proud that I can say, I may not have a brother or sister but at least they are related to me (a half brother and sister). So where I get most emotional is when they come up then they go, I feel that it’s like my favourite thing or toy or person has drifted away from me and all I think about is that I wish they were still with me but alas that will never happen which makes me so distraught.
I hope that one day, one day that we will be reunited as a full blood family (they will be no longer half but a full brother and a full sister.) Anyway, back to what I really wanted to talk about- how it feels to be the youngest of the 3 and also how my life is an only child almost all the time. Being the youngest of 3 is quite cool but it means that I will be the last to finish school which might be good because my sister said when she finishes school she might give me her revision book which I thought was really nice of her. I’ve sometimes looked up to both my siblings to think wow this is what I’m going to be like some day and how cool it is to have such generous family.
Ok, now I think is best to talk about the real thing I wanted to clarify with everyone out there – my life would never be the same without my brother and sister, sure they aren’t around that much but they care about me and I care about them. I think that this is the thing that matters the most in our little trio. So if I never had my brother and sister to be there for me and encourage me, I don’t think that I would get anywhere and I mean anywhere in life
Please like, share and comment on this blog. Give the brave young man who wrote this the chance to also feel that sense of accomplishment that comes from lots of views, lots of likes and lots of comments. Let’s show him that he too is worthy of people’s time and attention.
In my last blog, I said I would share some inspirational writing from 12 year olds that I teach.
Under the new English National Curriculum, introduced this year, a new rather vague requirement is that children should be taught to ‘Write for Pleasure’. Now one has to question the concept that it is possible to teach somebody to write for pleasure. Sure, I can teach them grammar and spelling and extend their vocabulary. Sure, I can introduce them to inspiring authors. Sure, I can give them the space (in a curriculum that doesn’t really lend itself to space!?!?) to give them the time to write. Surely however, it is impossible to teach a child to write for pleasure.
In my attempt to investigate whether this was possible, I set as an experiment a writing task for my middle ability Year 8 students (aged 12 – 13). I told them they could write about anything, in any style, in any format and there were no length restrictions (i.e. it couldn’t be too long or short). I was a little dubious as to what I would receive.
Lesson One then for me is to never underestimate my students. They may still be children but they think deeply. They may still be children but they often crave an outlet for their thoughts; a safe environment where they can say what they like and know they won’t be criticised. Of course, some saw it as a great excuse for scribbling down a few hasty, unthought through lines, knowing full well there was nothing I could do or say to them about it. Most, on the other hand, put all they had into it. The results were heart-warming, heart-breaking, thought provoking, intelligent, wise.
Lesson Two therefore – just because somebody is young – part of the ‘barbaric horde’ (if you believe the Daily Mail) – this doesn’t mean they have nothing to say that is worthwhile listening to. Perhaps if we listened more to young people and less to the jaded politicians or the drama queens of tabloid newspapers, we would realise that young people are a stand up bunch of citizens that should not be tarred with the same brush just because some decide to do stupid things. Would you call me a yob just because somebody 200 miles away (of a similar age) broke into a house? No, so why should we do that to young people.
The poem below was written by a lovely young woman about her difficult relationship with her father who she doesn’t see very often. You could question why these would be on my blog but my blog seems to have become a source of inspiration for many and a source of motivation. The piece of work below and of the student I will publish next week – do just that. For me, they put many of my worries and concerns into perspective. They help me to realise that while things can be difficult, I am lucky to have my wonderful supportive family. I am lucky that I never have to question whether I have their trust and love.
What’s Bothering Me?
Last night I got a text from my dad,
Not often does he text so I knew it was bad.
It contained the harshest thing I had ever seen.
‘I am cancelling when I am supposed to see you.’
See his children, not too keen,
I cried and I cried,
To all the goodbyes.
Never before had I witnessed this.
He is like an evil snake with a charming kiss.
I saw him last a year ago
Since then we have gone from friend to foe.
For some reason I can’t get over the fact
That his family orientated skills have lacked.
Dealing with this is not easy
Sometimes I just want to be free like a bee.
I carry on reading, reading, reading.
If I was bleeding, if I was needing,
I don’t think he would care.
Some of you may think, aw no
But don’t worry, it’s not rare.
I still wonder why.
But till now all I can do is cry, cry and cry.
Lesson Three Her poem is a reminder to me that in my day to day job, I can provide students such as this with a sense of security and continuity. No matter what happens at home, staff in school / rules in school / behaviour in school will be consistent. I can provide the confidence that no matter how difficult a child might make it for me, I will not back down. I will not refuse to give them my support and my care. In reality of course, no matter what it sometimes seems, no child is deliberately difficult – life has been made difficult for them and they react as they have been shown how to best.
Although not a parent, if I was – I hope this poem would remind me that no matter how difficult things get for me; no matter how challenging my relationship with my child or those in their life get – walking away from my child is probably the wrong thing to do. A child needs to feel love – that is really all they want – they just want to be loved unconditionally. Children can survive abandonment and mistreatment but few survive without battle scars that stay with them the rest of their life.
M.E. patients rightly cry out to their friends and family not to abandon them – young people have a need that is no different.
It would be wonderful to know what you thought of this poem. It would be amazing if the author (a 12 year old girl) could know what you think. How does it make you feel? What does it make you reflect on? What might it make you want to change in your life?
Please also share this blog. Can you imagine how she will feel if she knows people thought her poem was worthy of being shared by others!??