Janice Tait’s trip to India
Dear friends, Nov. 27
I am writing this as an attachment while waiting for a telephone line that will enable me to get onto the internet. The telephone man promised to come today but hasn’t shown up. This is not unusual. [It is now Dec. 1 and the telephone man has still not shown up. The excuse is that he can’t find the building.] I have now been at Childhaven Hyderabad for two weeks. Last week I travelled with Bonnie and several volunteers to Kalliampoondi outside Chennai to attend the wedding of Rhada, a Childhaven graduate. I also took the opportunity to view the bio-gas plant which turns human waste into methane for use in the kitchen. I understand that only about 25% of the kitchen needs are generated by this biogas plant.
There are two young women volunteers here from B.C. but they are leaving in a week. Another volunteer is arriving tomorrow so we will be two for the next little while. Maria, the Office Manager looks after everybody and Mary, the Matron keeps the children in line. A dozen caregivers administering to the needs of the children but I haven’t got to know them yet. The compound is about half an acre in size, with a large playground in front of the building, facilities for washing behind, and boys toilets on one side. The building is too small for the number of children (150) and a new building is being planned. Funding for the new building is now being sought.
At the moment, half the children have to eat in the hall because there isn’t enough room for them in the dining room. The new building will have a large dining room so everyone can eat together.
Food is plentiful but plain. Large quantities of rice coupled with a small serving of vegetables. The vegetables are strongly spiced (green chilis) so I find I can only eat a little bit. The kids line up in rows and a great tub of rice is doled out. They sit on the floor and roll the rice into a neat ball with the fingers of their right hand. When they are finished, they take the plate out and rinse it and rinse their eating hand. The left is used to take care of toilet needs. There is no toilet paper for the children. I hope I’ve brought enough for myself.
The children go to school Monday to Friday at 8.00 – 8.30 am and then the home becomes quiet until 4.00 when they return. There are few toys and not much to do after school but they run about and find simple games to amuse themselves. There is alot of fighting. The older children do homework of which there seems to be a great deal. Before each meal, there is a long prayer chanted in unison. I can make out the prayer to Bonniema, their benefactor.
My room is large and has two fans. The toilet area is a hole in the ground. I will have strong calf muscles from squatting by the time I return. It took some getting used to but I have now managed not to make a mess around the bathroom floor. I have a large bucket and a small one to pour water over myself. I wash my hair and have a sponge bath every day. I think it helps to keep my skin clear. The water is tepid so it isn’t too bad and I feel much refreshed after bathing. To stand the cold water, I think of Canadian lakes in summer and how I used to jump in without thought.
The worst thing that has happened is that my purse was stolen at the airport in Chennai. I had accompanied Bonnie and the other volunteers to a wedding and on our return trip, I put my purse in the carrier of the luggage cart, turned my head for a moment, and when I looked again, my purse was gone along with the jacket to my suit. The police said they are professional thieves that prey on tourists. I was so shocked and scared – I had everything with me in that purse. In the end, the thief ditched the passport, visa and debit cards and all the rest of and took only the money and travellers cheques.
The airline phoned one of our board members, Ramchandra, who met me at the airport on arrival in Hyderabad. I went to his office where I cancelled all the cards and the passport and ordered new cards to be sent to me. In due course we got the traveller’s cheques cancelled as well. But I will have a job now getting set up again. Still I was lucky that the police found the cards and the passport. I am recovering slowly from the shock but it will take some time to feel normal and less vulnerable again. I can’t get over how considerate the thief was to chuck the cards!