Tag Archives: expat

Not Blue in Blue In Maldives

Moving house and internet being cut off (because our Indian visas expired – despite having new ones) has delayed this blog significantly – please enjoy. 

A certain degree of sympathy is required of you, my dear reader. I need you to empathise with me and feel my pain. I need you to imagine you are with me and to stroke my pain and make it all go away. Not only am I sat in Male Airport (early as always): leaving the heaven that is the Maldives; not only am I sat on a hard uncomfortable seat; not only am I sat in what can only be described as terrible air conditioning; but I am sat on two sunburnt bum cheeks! See! Understand now why I need your sympathy? I sit here with the equivalent of a toaster underneath my bum and it hurts!

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Motorway to / from the airport! Better than the M25 any day!
More about my bum later. Well at least for you, for me we are unfortunately going to have to co-exist for just a little bit longer.

On the plus side, I have just had the most incredible ten days of my life on the stunningly beautiful island of Hembadhu in the Maldives.

Wait though, first the exciting news! No, wait first two exciting pieces of news! Are you ready?

Diving, Breathing and Fatigue!

I have fallen in love! Yes, Chris is still loved, don’t worry about that but I fell head over heels with diving at first breath! Wow! Impulse and nothing more led me to try a PADI Discover Scuba Diving – just two hours. This turned into a Padi Scuba Diver course which turned into a Padi Open Water Scuba Diver course which turned into a Padi Adventure Diver course. Totally unplanned and totally unpredictable!

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So I said I had two pieces of exciting news. Well, perhaps not two individual pieces perhaps it is best described as two conjoined pieces of exciting news! So what is it? Much to my complete surprise and thank god because after that first breath I really hoped there was no going back on diving, I could breathe so much easier underwater and it would seem after 9 dives – no fatigue issues!

For those reading this blog for the first time, you will not be aware that after a rather serious illness I have been left (hopefully not permanently) with reasonably serious breathing and fatigue issues unless both are rather carefully managed. You would never know upon meeting me that this was going on but it is.

Seriously, an hour’s diving burns roughly 350 calories; now the equivalent of that would be say a five mile walk. Let’s be clear there would be no problem in me walking five miles, can do it relatively easily, could even manage a ten mile walk with a break in the middle although by the end I would probably be utterly exhausted.  But could I really manage it day after day while doing lots of theory study in between? Not a chance! It felt miraculous.

Even if I felt a little tired before diving, the fatigue vanished as soon as I went underwater. Not only did it vanish but it didn’t return after. The first few dives, I dismissed it as purely the adrenalin effect and kept in the back of my mind the danger of living in an adrenalin bubble. But no, diving seems to be genuinely therapeutic for both my breathing and my fatigue levels.

The guys from the dive school, I don’t think quite got just how miraculous this felt to me. How incredible that I can do a sport and it didn’t utterly exhaust me, it didn’t cause any muscle pain or leave me struggling to walk or simply keep going. This situation is relatively rare these days, perhaps once every six weeks or so but with the amount of exercise I have gotten over the last ten days, it should have been guaranteed!

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Will and Rusty from Blue In Maldives

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As you can see diving makes me just look like a supermodel!
A perfect example would be when on our holiday, I mismanaged my energy levels by getting up early for a morning dive and then doing a night dive. By the time I sat for dinner at about 9p.m., I was exhausted. On the way back to our villa, I had one of my energy collapses.

 

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The scene of my epic emotional battle: ‘To Dive or Not to Dive. That is the question!’

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Everyone happily getting on with their tasks, while I tried to convince myself I was a fool to dive! I was wrong!
 

 

 

Rising the next morning for another morning dive, I was truly exhausted and in a lot of pain. This was however my last chance to dive before we left the Maldives and my last chance to complete my Adventure Diver certification. Getting on the boat, I was completely out of it. My brain was telling me that I would be a fool to dive, my heart was telling me go for it!! Only teetering on the edge of the boat in my full diving gear, did I finally make the decision to dive.

Within minutes the pain and exhaustion had disappeared and 40 minutes later I came to the surface fully re-energised. I even went on to do a second dive! Even more miraculously, there were no side effects – the pain and fatigue remained gone. I reached the decision that my mistake was not to do two dives in a day but rather to reduce my sleep time by rising early and then going to bed late – this was my mistake.

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Rusty, the crazy South African
What can I say? I truly believe it is the first time in my life where I have tried something and simply adored it from the get go! Helped of course by the amazing guys (and Pip) from Blue In Maldives: the dive school based on the island. What a great bunch of relaxed, laid back but incredible teachers they are. Have to give a big shout out to Rusty, a crazy South African but one so enthusiastic about his sport that even the most stubborn couldn’t help but fall for diving.

My only quibble with recommending Rusty however is his seeming inability to point out turtles – 8 dives it took before I saw one – 8 dives!! Every day, everyone was talking about these amazing turtles, ‘wow, it sat on me!’ etc etc and I am just stood there saying – “no, didn’t see any again!!”

I could spend time trying to explain to you how wow it was – but let’s let these pictures do the talking. Pictures were taken by William Erazo Fernandez: an Costa Rican instructor at Blue In Maldives – the dive centre at the Taj Vivanta.  An amazingly fun guy: passionate about diving but you can also see with a real passion and talent for photography.

You see, I have a problem and they say the first step to solving a problem is admitting it – so here it goes – ‘I adore diving!’ Now that isn’t an obvious problem, is it? Well it is when you are 10 days on an island with nothing more to do than read and snorkel. Still not spotting the problem? Well, let me explain. You see when you find something to do that is addictive, its always best if for example it is something like walking: buy some good boots and a raincoat and off you go. Diving on the other hand is not cheap. It’s definitely value for money but it still takes a lot of money out of your bank account! So, when one course led to another – my bank account became increasingly empty! Was it worth it? Fill my bank account with cash and watch me do it again!!

The last course I completed was an Adventure Diver course. Yes, me – Karen – is an Adventure Diver! Could you have ever guessed?

This course consisted of a Deep Dive – this now allows me to dive to depths of about 30m. To be honest the deep dive didn’t feel any different from the other dives, just well – deeper. The main benefit being that you are able to see things that are not higher up! Like for example the Housereef Wreck – at 18m, I could see a fair bit of it but as a deep diver I could see it all.

My second adventure dive was a Drift Dive! Yip, you hop into current and allow it to pull you along. Definitely, a little unnerving but great fun. Our first attempt at drift diving saw us jump into quite a large swell for a girl who had only boat dived once before. I was really nervous! What would happen if I jumped in and then whoosh the current dragged me away from everyone else and I was left all alone. With my heart thumping, I jumped in and descended immediately – to what? To peaceful, calm waters!

What?? Given the inability to hold a full conversation underwater, I spent the dive just a little disappointed with this drift diving business. I mean it was stunningly beautiful but where was this current threatening to whisk me away? Where? Nowhere, that’s where. Turns out, we had drift dived in a place that had no current that day. Instead we went deep diving.

The next day was attempt two at drift diving. This time, I was super chilled. The sea was like a mill pond, not a ripple in sight. Gathering on the surface, we all descended together to a current! Whoa! Didn’t expect that! A reasonably serious current for a novice drift diver. It was unnerving, the only way to stop moving was to hold onto a rock on the bottom. I failed to stick with Rusty as much as I should have done. I did try but I kept being moved on. His rather greater experience however ensured that he was never far away, although I think he found me a little exasperating on that dive.

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The spectacular coral from our drift dive, no wonder I got distracted and lost Rusty (sort of)!
This of course was the dive that anyone who has heard me talk about my diving experience has heard the story about! There we were, finally checking out this really cool turtle, with me hanging on to a tiny piece of rock, when low and behold he starts swimming towards me. I’m clinging onto this little bit of rock thinking, ‘What do I do? What do I do???’ He gets closer and closer until I’m staring into his eyes and me into his. I’d love to describe this has an underwater ‘pastoral scene, the essence of Victorian writing but no.

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More me doing more of the, ‘What do I do? What do I do???’ Mixed in with a little, ‘Good god, you are beautiful’. So I’m faced with the decision, let go and drift away from the group but by this ensuring that the turtle can move wherever he wishes or hold on and who knows what will happen!

I held on! What did he do? He swam right over my head, hitting my forehead with his back fin as he passed! Seriously, without doubt one of the coolest moments in my entire life. I will never forget this, ever!

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This blog finishes with my having returned to India (where it is super serious hot!). I have not only checked out a local scuba diving group but I’ve even been scuba diving in a local diving pool. Now, it ain’t no Maldives but it will do until I get a chance to dive properly again. Not only that, it doesn’t seem I got typhoid or any serious skin ailments from the pool – so that’s great news. 

 Finkick is a great bunch of people who try and travel a least once every couple of months to diving spots around India but mainly around Asia. I wish I could afford to go all the time but I will definitely be joining them as often as the bank account allows! 

All donations welcome!

Have you ever dived? If so, where and what did you think of it? 

If not, would you like to? Why?

In case you would like to see more underwater pictures – here you go!

 

Soaring on the Thermals of Life

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?

Where?

onthewaytoRoopkundlakeLITTLE2.jpgWould 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?

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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?

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Yes, that’s me with my friend, Turtle.   Picture credit: William Erazo Fernandez

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?

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Not Drowning but Waving! I hope!

There is something really exciting and slightly nerve-wracking about showing a new person around what has become for me reasonably well known parts of Pune. It is exciting because you remember just how intrigued but also slightly nervous you were when you were first shown around.

However, you are also opening up a new side of India to somebody and somehow you feel the weight of responsibility that brings. I love India and I want everyone else to love it too. You worry that if you don’t show enough or show too much you can disappoint or over-whelm somebody. You want your friend to come out the other side not drowning but waving, the very opposite to Stevie Smith’s famous poem, ‘Not Waving but Drowning.’ You want people to come out the other end ready and able to go back by themselves and excited about the idea of bringing others too.

It was with these thoughts in my head that myself and my long-standing adventure partner, Anette, showed Anette (yes another one and she is also Swedish) Shivaji Market and Camp. Although the ‘new’ Anette (as we shall have to call her) has lived in Pune as long as me, she suffers from the well-known ‘no time to get to know India’ disease that all those who work here as expats experience. She also has the comorbidity illness: ‘I have to deal with India all week, on my day off I don’t want to experience India’. The outcome of such illnesses means that Saturday was the first time she actually went out and experienced real India. You know what, she enjoyed it! Slightly over-whelmed at times – yes, but still she enjoyed it.

AAlsterholt  edited-1-12I have a tendency to forget that I am perhaps slightly unusual in that I will do anything and go anywhere and very little shocks me. I tend to take new things, new ideas, new places more or less in my stride and rarely do I find myself over-whelmed by the unknown. Several times now however I have taken new people to Shivaji Market: the main fruit, vegetable, meat and fish market in the centre of the city in a area called Camp. It is a fascinating place. The sights, smells and textures (you will get it when you walk there – yes, textures under your feet) are exhilarating most of the time although sometimes slightly stomach churning! So it was to Shivaji Market that we took the ‘new’ Anette.

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As you enter the market, you are met by swirling brown kites! Swirling over the slaughter houses and butcheries!
AAlsterholt  edited-1A normally chatty woman, initially she was rather silent as she took in all that was to be seen. Silence however broken by laughter as my usual fruit seller upon seeing me and my camera, jumped to his feet, gathered his mates around and demanded a very posed picture with his mangoes. The spontaneous enthusiasm of these guys very much reflects the nature of this market. Yes, serious business is done but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time for a giggle!

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We are told over and over again about how many diseases there are in India – how to watch your fruit and vegetables! Wash them carefully etc etc. For many, the ‘safer’ option is to buy your vegetables and fruit from local supermarkets or the western stores. Anette however was amazed by the quality of the produce, so much better than you can get elsewhere. Was it safe though? No more unsafe than the ‘safer’ options that’s for sure and most definitely fresher!

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Look how fresh and beautiful all the vegetables look. This stall provides to most of the top international hotels in Pune. 
Not being a fish eater, the fish hall does at times put me off although it never smells – not at all. Definitely some flies hanging around and certainly not everyone uses ices
– which given the day we went it was 38 degrees – well that has got to be just a touch dodgy! For a newbie, other than the meat stalls, this is probably the most challenging place to find yourself. It is extremely busy and you have to push through people, trying all the time to watch where your feet are standing or rather on what you are feet are about to stand on. I find this place fascinating however. Fishmongers shout out their wares as you pass by – offering you Indian salmon, lobster, prawns, bass, king fish and many more.

 

IMG_0120Outside the fish hall for me is the most fascinating place. It is the ice stall! It just sells huge blocks of ice. Stall holder or just browsing customer goes and orders a certain weight of ice. The ice is then crushed put into a box or a bag and money is handed over. The ice stall seems a long, long way from the modern world. Indeed, it is not completely uncommon to see hand carts of blocks of ice being pushed through the city streets with various vendors stopping them to purchase off them. Another reason, indeed if you even needed one, not to eat ice or ice based drinks!

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My chicken does not come from Shivaji Market – I will repeat this until I believe it!
Next to this area is the chicken area and frankly – well I’m going to continue to pretend that the chicken I buy from my local 5 star hotel, does not come from here. I am equally going to pretend that any minced chicken I buy, does not also come from here. Nobody please try and dissuade me of this fact!

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Well surely such a place was your maiden dream too!
Being in Camp is the only excuse one needs to, well, eat at Ram Krishna’s! They do the very best traditional pure veg food I have tasted in this city. This time, both Anettes had never been there so definitely no excuses were needed. The walk from Shivaji is always filled with colour and life, again an interesting introduction to India if  you haven’t done it before.  There is always something that breaks your heart, something intriguing and always something that makes you laugh!

This time the streets were filled with even more colour than usual. It was Shivaji’s birthday (again, it was his birthday a few weeks ago too! Different dates are celebrated by different political parties). As always any excuse will do to put up mandals (stages used for religious objects) and flags – this time huge orange ones! What amused me however was the different takes on this Maharastrian hero. In one sculptor he appeared exceedingly stately, the next well just a bloke hanging out probably chatting with his mates.

Anette (guess we call her the ‘old’ one) brought me to a new textiles shop where I bought the most beautiful chiffon to make a dress. Total cost including making of dress about £20. Further along, I spotted a tiny sari shop and picked up two saris for £3 each. These will be turned into beautiful skirts – total cost of each skirt £5.50. I just love how I can get the most beautiful textiles and tailoring done for next to nothing. “New’ Anette seemed initially a little shy about just walking into shops, especially the tiny ones but ‘old’ Anette and I are perhaps now old hands and are no longer quite so intimidated by it!

AAlsterholt  edited-1-18My favourite vision of the day however was ‘old’ Anette picking up a trumpet and giving it a go in a metal shop. The shopkeeper seemed a little bemused by the fact that she knew what she was doing (she plays various brass instruments) – again women here don’t necessarily play such instruments – saying that in the west they are not always considered appropriate for women either! In true Indian style however he found an opportunity to have a laugh, picked up another trumpet and joined right in with her! Apparently, it was in the wrong key however and she walked away empty handed.

IMG_0122Our wander then took us up the busy and in my mind less enjoyable MG Road – here western shops compete with tiny independent ones but it seems more touristy; less local. It may also have been that by then I was hot, tired and just a little hungry – never eat on the morning before you go to Ram Krishna’s! You can’t, otherwise how will you manage to eat all the yummy food you have ordered? Especially, of course, the masala paper dosa – a must have!

Satiated, home we went with I hope ‘new’ Anette feeling slightly less ‘new’ and slightly less over-whelmed by the India I have grown to love. Well, she didn’t say no when I offered to go on more adventures with her – that’s got to be a good sign! Surely, that means she was waving and not drowning.

 

 

An Ode to India – travelling with disability

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.

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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.

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Datta, our driver, is ready and waiting when Gillian arrived

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.

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Maggie making Gillian a yummy traditional South Indian breakfast!

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!

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Rashid sitting as he explains about a temple so Gillian could also sit

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.

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This was the lady who stopped Deborah so Gillian could get by

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.

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Our very kind boatman

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.

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Rashid cleaning mud off the boat so Gillian wouldn’t get dirty

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!

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Big lens! This enabled Gillian to see the flamingoes a little closer up

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!

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Gillian in front of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Picture taken at the Gateway of India – nobody is staring! Seriously, nobody!

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.

India’s Nasty Side

There are without doubt many incredible things about living in India. India, in fact, has given me the opportunity to do things and see things that I could never have done back in England. In just 6 months, I have learnt more about the world and myself than I could have done in 10 years in the UK. India has taught me that people can preserver in the face of hopelessness; they can smile and be happy when all else seems lost.

India has also shown me that it is a disgustingly racist.

‘All my life, I thought I was ugly. All my life, people told my mum that my sister was beautiful and I was not. When I married, I always worried that my husband found me too ugly’. This from a beautiful woman not just internally but also externally. Why had she been brought up to believe she was so ugly? Why? She was darker skinned than her sister. In a society that values white skin, the darker you are, the more you are perceived to be ugly.

My maid told me that her brother (who is very dark skinned) is consistently told by his wife (who is quite light skinned) that she doesn’t deserve such an ugly husband. She deserves someone more handsome – i.e. whiter skinned. How degrading for the husband (especially as this was a love marriage – she made her own decision to marry him) and how confusing and upsetting for their children to overhear.

Not only does your skin colour seem to determine your level of beauty but it also seems to determine whether or not you are trustworthy. The darker your skin the more likely you are to be stopped and searched or as is the case more frequently, the darker your skin, the more likely security guards will make it difficult for you to enter housing societies or worse again to get jobs or promotions.

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Opportunities – leisure, positive future – what percentage of people in this image are dark skinned?

As you drive around India today or you visit friends have a look around. Just how many cleaning staff, maids, drivers, security guards look like the people above? Just how many senior managers or even junior managers don’t look like the people above.  I do not know a single maid or driver that I would not consider dark skinned – not a single one. Perhaps that is just Pune but something tells me it is not.

I am never anymore than superficially searched – I could carry anything in anywhere! Sometimes I feel like shouting – ‘you know I’m Irish, we have terrorist organisations too – how about you trust me less!’ Other times, our car is not searched while the car in front of us is checked carefully. It’s OK though – I’m a white foreigner so you don’t need to check me!

White is associated with trustworthiness, education and aspiration. All you need to do is walk down any ‘beauty’ aisle in a supermarket to realise that everything comes with skin whitener in it. The only anti-perspirant I can buy in India is also whitening – whitening for my armpits! When a society worries about whether its armpits are white enough that is when you know a society has a serious problem with racism.

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It takes 1 minute to find tips to becoming whiter online and it takes only moments to realise that the international beauty companies are in cahoots with a society that puts white over well what you really are.

A stranger prior to coming to India if they only watched Bollywood movies, saw adverts and read celebrity magazines could be forgiven for thinking that India was actually a ‘white’ country. The fact that Bollywood has now started recruiting white teenage girls from the UK with no Indian heritage to come and be turned into Bollywood stars indicates just how white you need to be to get ahead.

Just check out this list of the top 10 Bollywood stars of 2015. Not a single face is anything other than almost white. Where are the role models there for those that do not look like them?

2015 Top Bollywood Actresses

You could be forgiven for thinking based on the advertising hoardings for new housing societies that frolicking in the gardens of ‘Crystal Society’ or ‘Westminster Lodge’ were happy little English families – only difference perhaps being that these ‘English’ families are wearing saris and salwar kameez!

As a new comer to this country, I try to avoid falling into the trap of saying that everything in the UK is great and comparing it to India and finding India lacking. That, to me, just isn’t realistic and it isn’t fair.  Just ask any average British person on the street in the UK at the moment about their attitudes to Syrian refugees and it won’t take you long to find a revolting response to the crisis.

I can however judge the racism I see in India as unacceptable. I see racism here that would have been considered deplorable in the UK 20 years ago. Someone told me recently that on a WhatsApp group she received a picture of a white person and a images-2black person with the caption –  Oreo Cookie!

How this was perceived as acceptable to share as a joke is inconceivable. Sometimes racism is an outcome of ignorance and often this ignorance is driven by lack of opportunities to broaden your view of the world, a lack of opportunity to experience more than the  world simply around you. This lack of opportunity is often driven by not being able to afford to get outside of the world you live in.

This WhatsApp group, on the other hand, was a group for children at an international school. It was sent by an Indian who had the resources to pay the very high school fees and I can also assume consider it worth doing so the children could expand their horizons. These would be the very parents who would be more likely to have the time and money to break down the ignorance that such racism stems from. If parents at this level of society fail to see how wrong their racism is, how will others with less opportunities deal with such things?

In the UK, as a teacher I always felt it was crucial to consistently show young people that they didn’t have to be stick thin to be beautiful despite what celebrity culture said. I didn’t however have to try and convince them that they shouldn’t try and change something that is ultimately unchangeable – who they are – what their ethnic make-up was / what their skin colour was. While there are not enough role models from different ethnic groupings in the UK, there are role models.

Here it feels like the only role models are almost white. What does that say to the young girl or boy who is dark skinned when in reality there is nothing they can do to change it or indeed there is no real reason to need to change it? What does it say? It says: ‘you are worth less than those lighter coloured skinned people. You should not aspire to as much because you are not beautiful, you are not aspirational, you are not wanted.’ What sort of a message is that for India to send its own people?

‘Two Forces’ shows ‘classical’ Britain using the sword to protect themselves against Irish ‘rebels’. Notice the difference in stance, demeanour and look.

I too come from a land that was formerly colonised by the British Empire – Ireland. I too lived in a land where for centuries to be Irish was seen as being less than British. Just like Indians, the Irish were laughed at in Britain for being ‘bog trotters’ – basically unsophisticated idiots. Now the days of colonialism are long gone for both nations (Ireland became independent in 1948) but we shouldn’t forget that we were once looked down upon and therefore to look down upon your own is almost a greater sin than being looked down upon by a foreign agent.

I teach the children in my classrooms that unless they respect themselves nobody will respect them. Well, if India does not respect the fact that is is not an homogenous or more or less white Hindu country but rather a country of so many religions and of none; of so many ethnic groups; mixed ethnic groups; and mixed skin colours than how can it expect to be respected around the world.

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The Road to Heaven via The Road to Hell!

Gently floating as I currently find myself on a traditional Keralian houseboat near Allepey, it is hard to imagine that just yesterday our Keralian adventure took us to the other side of the state: a land of complete contrast to here.

IMG_0335 2Our first night in Kerala had found us, or so I imagined, in the high peaks of the Western Ghats – a mountain range stretching down much of western India. Our views were spectacular. Views that stretched for mile after mile of intense greens and rising peaks. Our morning however was to show us that we were far from the high peaks I had imagined the night before.

Our driver, Manoj, managed to rather undersell our morning. ‘Today, we can take jeep and see tea plantation. We drive half way and jeep drives up next half, off-road.’ This was stereotypically Indian – either you get a great over-sell or a great under-sell. Rarely, do you experience an accurate sell.

So we drove up the ever smaller, ever twister and ever (as I thought at the time) bumpier roads. Our driver calm in the face of buses coming hurtling towards him in the middle of the road around blind bends. It was with great shock therefore when I heard him say, ‘Shit!’ This was not the type of language I could ever imagine emerging from his very gentle face.

IMG_0346‘Shit!’ is a good phrase and perhaps the only accurate phrase for when you find yourself going up a steep hill and find a truck stuck on the verge, having failed to quite make it around the tight corner. Several attempts to pass the truck failed, the road simply too steep for the car to cope. Manoj however to the rescue, a couple of quick phone calls and chats with locals led to a perfectly acceptable solution. The jeep came and collected us (after a rather steep 5 minute walk up the hill to get beyond the truck) and a neighbour agreed he could park his car outside their house.

For Manoj however I think this may have been a good day. He too could be a tourist! With his car stuck, there was little more he could do but join us.  The jeep careened up the mountainside, flying over bumps and landing with a thump the other side. Upon reaching a village perched on the edge of the mountainside, our driver jumped out to get some diesel. Looking around, I was a little perplexed. Diesel? Where was the petrol station? Moments later he returned with a plastic five litre bottle and a cut up plastic soft drink bottle with a hose attached. Diesel issue solved.

We then proceeded to go higher and higher up a mountain – leaving the ‘high peak’ of our hotel far below us. Eventually, our driver stopped and pointed to a mountain range in the far distance shrouded in cloud – ‘that’ he informed us, ‘is Tamil Nadu state, we are going there!’ Tamil Nadu is where my maid, Maggie, is from so I was excited to be able to tell her I had at least seen the state from up close.

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As we rose out of the jungle, slowly a verdant carpet spread out around us. Suddenly, the expression ‘a carpet of tea’ came to mind and equally suddenly – it made sense. Each cluster of tea plants were like a detailed knot on a Persian rug – separate but intricately linked to the knots beside it. Knot by knot creating an image of a flowing softness of colour.

FullSizeRender 9IMG_0386In the village, we had also picked up a lady with truly the most beautiful smile on earth who had gone to the village for her weekly supplies. Her return trip to the tea planation she worked on was dependent on such a lift. Only two hours later, having arrived at her house, did I realise just how far it was to the tea factory: how isolated it was, how isolated her life was. The roads became impassable but for the sturdiest four by four – ours I was not convinced was all that sturdy and its engine needed screws tightening at every photo stop.

Every time I turned to look at the lady she was smiling. Was she too enjoying this crazy bumpy ride to the top or was it just the unexpectedness of finding two foreigners enjoying what she saw as normal that made her smile? Either way, without many words to share with each other, we laughed and both I think will remember that very briefest of friendships for much of our lives.

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IMG_0385This lady of course reminds you that amidst this intense jaw-dropping beauty are everyday people trying to live their everyday lives to the best of their everyday ability. These people live in poverty yet always have time to smile broadly at a stranger. The tea plantation workers must pick 31 kilos of tea a day plus clean it, all for a miserable 350 rupees a day (3.50 UK), yet they took the time to stop and recognise your presence with a smile, happily showing you the tea they had picked and allowing themselves to be photographed. There was no sense of the intrusion I feared there would be, rather just a delight in sharing their lives with us.

IMG_0403We reached Tamil Nadu!! Rather, we reached the top of the mountain range representing the Kerala / Tamil Nadu border. Maggie will, it seems, have to wait to see that picture of me with a Tamil Nadu background. Thick fog enveloped us, hiding our view. Our driver did assure us that below was village after village and even large towns. The tree in my nearest foreground was all I got to see!

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Our tea plantation claims to be the highest organic tea planation in the world. True or not, it was certainly a very long way above sea-level at 8,000ft.  As we ascended the mountain (through switchback after switchback of tortuously bumpy roads) you were left wondering – how in all heaven were these roads ever built, how in all heaven was the planation carved out of the jungle and finally how in all heaven did the heavy machinery (from 1935) every make its way up these roads? My theory is that the reason this factory has still its original equipment is that modern equipment would never get up the mountain!

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Our journey down was equally an adventure although of course missing my new friend. To, I can only assume, save diesel our driver shut off the engine and glided down the mountainside. Well, no, glided is definitely not the right word – rather careened over the bumps and around bends. A free massage, the driver jokingly said. Certainly not
a massage I would pay for. When finally we reached a relatively smooth bit of road (well surfaced anyhow!) that was it – brake off and AWAY! We glanced at each other, sIMG_0377miled bravely and…well continued and anyhow it was fun! The thought, I will admit, did flash through my mind, we are a long way from anywhere should something happen. A long way from even a helicopter being able to airlift us out! My husband later reassured me that we would have been fine! ‘Did I not see the ambulance at the tea factory?’‘Ambulance? What ambulance?’ IMG_0442‘The box on the wall with ambulance written on it of course!’

To be able to accurately describe all that we saw and experienced in those four hours is impossible. No wordsmith or photographer could really capture the true beauty of Munnar.  I do not represent any travel agency but if you too want to experience true beauty let me know and I can put you in touch with our travel agents and of course lovely Manoj!

To read more about our Kerala adventure read my last blog and the next few blogs to be published very soon. 

It is always nice to know that people have enjoyed what I’ve written so please do feel free to follow, like, share and of course comment below. 

Dahi Handi – the Yoghurt Pot Festival

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.

syama-krishna_sThe 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. a3-2So 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.

IMG_0035This 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!

IMG_0006Having 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!

Dahi Handi Pyramid – my video!

Dahi Handi – professional video

11947918_10153021637676820_7850001245742241422_oNormally, 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.

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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!

Damn You, Kazza!

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.

IMG_4645 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.

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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!

IMG_4674So 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.

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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!

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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.

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Note water gushing over the top!

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).

cropped-20140318-0801571.jpgThe 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.’

Not a Kazza in Sight!

18 months ago, my husband and I decided that once I was better, we were going to go on a once in a lifetime trip to celebrate my return to health. Our discussion of potential destinations ranged across the world and considered a wide range of possibilities. For various reasons, we settled on Australia.

At that stage we had little idea about whether this trip would ever happen but it provided us with something to dream of, something to look forward to, something that would help retain hope that one day I would be well enough to do it. There were minutes, hours, days, weeks and even months where such a trip seemed ludicrous – such things would never and could never happen again.

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The most spectacular sunrise over the Australia outback – the land was on fire!

Sat therefore on the plane to Sydney and now sat in a fabulous coffee shop drinking gorgeous coffee, I can’t help being continually reminded of how far I / we have come in the last 18 months. Our world has changed inconceivably in the last 6 months and trips such as this remind me of just how grateful I am for whatever enabled that changed: part me / part miracle. Whatever caused it, I hope I will spend my life being incredibly grateful while at the same time, I hope I can start to allow it to no longer play such a powerful role in who I am today. It has changed me utterly but it is now time to begin to forget it happened.

My health has not returned to the point where I do not have to be still a little careful on this trip – so forgetting completely is not advisable – not too many big nights out followed by long days on my feet but we have a wonderful three weeks ahead of us and I, for one, am incredibly excited.

Having had my first day in Sydney and walked almost 17km during this time – no KazzaIMG_3961 appeared! Kazza is the name Chris has given to the Karen that appears once I get too tired to continue! She is tired, grumpy and lacks determination! So far, no Kazza! Kazza’s absence would have been inconceivable even a short few months ago!

The other outcome of my illness is a newly re-found love for writing. My husband, Chris, is a continual encouragement to me in this regard. He loves that I have finally found some sort of creative outlet. In order to provide both motivation and practical ability to do even more writing, he has bought me the Macbook this blog has been written on.

Collected yesterday from the Apple Store in Sydney, I no longer have the excuse that our laptop is slow and difficult use. I no longer have any excuses not to write – that is to say the very least a little intimidating! I now need to just get on and do something.

Although let’s be fair, Chris’ only hope is that I will write such a huge bestseller, he no longer needs to work and I shall be able to keep him at the standard of living he intends to get used to – no pressure then!

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Jugaad! In Other Words Bodge It And Scarper!

India gets to you with its beauty, its people and the chaos! It gets you in ways that you could never expect. On the other hand, I have found myself more frustrated here than perhaps anywhere else I have ever been.

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Note the shelf with no lip!

The washing machine fell off its shelf a few days ago – yes shelf! Why? Because the company who built this apartment block insisted the shelf – 4 foot off the ground – was safe for a heavy as hell washing machine. Shock and awe, one morning I heard a bang so loud that I jumped to my feet and sprinted to the dry balcony! I was met by a washing machine on its side and a spray of water to challenge any Icelandic geyser! Surprise, surprise the washing machine had fallen off! Since then I have discovered that lots of people are worried about how their washing machines move in this and other apartment blocks and that at least four have fallen off in an identical development before mine did!

01971d8cc71a420c5e880be3220c4748Now once again there is a battle; once again I am losing access to my own time; once again I spend all day at home not being able to deal with things and get things done because some bureaucratic shit (excuse the language but I expect everyone one lives in or has ever lived in India will forgive me!) has to happen first! In all the years I have lived in rented accommodation, I haven’t had as many issue as I have right now and this is meant to be high calibre, aspirational housing!

Mix that in with the power and influence game that is being played and it gets even more frustrating. The company who found us our apartment won’t blame the real people responsible – the developers, because they want to place more people into their developments because for every rental agreement they get at least a months rent and have priority over many of the developers apartment rentals.

That relationship, therefore, is far more important than ours because they’e made ethics-2their money off us so now they can move on. Consequently, it seems they are raising a complaint against the washing company that installed the machine. This is despite the fact that the company argued for more than 30 minutes that to place it on the shelf was quite simply dangerous. They eventually agreed only because I was eventually convinced, oh my newbie in India innocence, by the smiles and guarantees from the developers that it was safe! Idiot! I have argued that to do this is morally as wrong as it can get, that responsibility for this situation lies solely with the developers but no, I am wrong! Why? That never quite seems to be answered unless it is with meaningless platitudes.

This is just typical India – on the surface all is well and full of smiles – underneath however is a bodge job – misjudged and ill thought out. It is a platitude filled land. You say or do what you have to do to be able to get away with it and then you get the ‘hell out of Dodge!’ and whatever you do – don’t look back to check to make sure Dodge isn’t on fire – if it was, it wouldn’t be your responsibility, that’s for certain!

I love India – possibly, I have even fallen in love with India. India however is like the lover who makes you float upon clouds of joy and happiness only then to thump you around the face after a few too many glasses of wine. Allow yourself to get comfortable and a little bit confident here and something will always come your way that tries to break you!

Frustration builds up here at all the little half completed jobs or bodge job completions. There is actually a word for it in India – jugaad! Yes, they have a word that clearly recognises the Indian ability to not quite finish a job right or just to make it look on the surface all right!

Hilariously, when speaking in the past tense, my Hindi teacher tells me that most people speak in the Passive Voice e.g. Active voice – I built the wardrobe. Passive voice – The wardrobe was built by me. By using the active voice like in English, you are taking responsibility for the action, the person doing the action is more important than the action itself. In English, we usually only use the passive voice when the subject is not important only the object, for example in a report or a scientific experiment. In this case we normally omit the actor, ‘by me’ as the outcome or the c3IHv9bprocess is all you care about.

The grammar is exactly the same in Hindi but rather than use it in quite specific circumstances, people use it nearly all the time when speaking about the past. So therefore if you say, ‘John was collected from reception by me’, you are also saying, if John wasn’t meant to have been collected well its just not my fault!’ Culturally in-built grammatical responsibility avoidance! I laughed the day I heard that – as it was also the day that everyone had refused to take responsibility for their own actions in relation to our washing machine!

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Rangoli – a beautiful traditional sand art done outside of your door.

There are exceptions though – there are those who reject Jugaad and find the results of it equally as frustrating as myself and my husband do. For example the lovely lady, Marina who every week does rangoli for me outside me door. She is inspirational in her approach to simply living. They are exceptions however. Some of the guys my husband works with are these exceptions but on the other hand he shockingly realised that he had fundamentally altered the way his department works because he had assumed that the people in charge of completing certain elements of a project were well – responsible for completing that element of the project!

He outrageously assumed as a result that they then had a responsibility for making sure it came in on time and in budget. That assumption apparently left a whole room staggered and concerned that they would have to change the way they worked! Why would you be responsible for the element of a project that your team was solely working on? Crazy eh!

We have been in India now for more than 2 months and I guess we are beginning to move out of the honeymoon period, we are beginning to get an understanding of how the society we are living in works. Thus, we are beginning to see the fundamental cracks in society rather than just assuming that our own individual frustrations were isolated incidences. It is a hard dichotomy to get your head around – the reality of living in India but also just how warm and welcoming everyone is to you. Somehow you imagine that a people who do not consider completing things as promised, on time and to a high standard would therefore also be a mean hearted, selfish people but Indians are not like that. Indians are extremely warm hearted, caring and kind people. It is odd!

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Lovely garland maker who insisted he gave me a carnation after I took this picture!
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The sweetest little girl in the world with such an adorable smile.

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