Archive for November, 2010

Dog Bite

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

I’m going to interrupt the chronological flow of my blog (in blog land I’m still in India) to give you an update on what is happening to me in the real world (in the real world I am in Sri Lanka).

This morning I left the house in the rain to go the training college in Peradeniya to see my friends there.

I put my raincoat on (I don’t really get along with umbrellas).

As I was walking up the hill towards the bus a dog (we think it was the one from the house just up the road) bit me. Right in my back pocket. Ouch.

There was a guy coming down the hill, he chased the dog away. I managed to do nothing useful except stay on my feet and yelp in an indignant (if ineffectual) manner.

I felt to see if I could find any blood but couldn’t so thought that was very good indeed and I carried on towards the bus. I got the bus into Kandy – standing for the whole trip (about 25 mins). It was quite a crowded bus.

My butt was getting more and more sore and I was getting more and more worried that the skin actually was broken. So once I got off the bus I found a quiet bit of the street and using a tissue I surreptitiously went looking for blood. And found some. Dammit.

So I called Suchintha to let her know. She suggested Kandy hospital. So I got a three-wheeler to Kandy hospital.

Kandy hospital is an interesting place. Very busy. And most people there seem to be pregnant.

Information told me to go to admissions.

Admissions told me to go to room 3, a doctor would be in at 8 (it was 6:50).

Room 3 was the Anti Rabies Observation Room. There were some seats out the front of room 3 so I perched (sitting is a bit painful) and waited.

It is important in such situations to retain one’s sense of humour. Do not get angry and upset when you are sitting outside the Rabies room and watching your fellow patients shoo stray dogs away. Just smile, stifle a laugh and think that it’ll make a great blog post. 🙂

I called my insurance company to see what they had to say, they told me to make sure to get the wound washed and to get the rabies injections (one today and one in three day’s time).

At about 7:40 a nurse appeared and I was given a piece of paper. At 8:40 I got to see the doctor. And had a chance to look at the wound for the first time. More of an abrasion than anything, about 5 cm long, some blood but not actually bleeding. The doctor asked about my immunisation record. Fortunately, in my money belt with my passport I have a list of all the immunisations I’ve had which gave the dates (Dec 2008) of the course of rabies injections that I had.

So we decided that I had to get a booster injection today and another on Saturday. And that I had to go straight home and wash it with soap and water for about 10 mins. No chance of getting it washed or dressed there it seems. (What do I think this is? A hospital? Ah well.)

Off to room 12 (the injections room). I think I jumped the queue but it’s a bit hard to tell. The nurse gave me one injection in each arm (new needle – yay) and told me not to wash it. The other patients who were in the room seemed to enjoy watching me unbutton my shirt enough to pull it down over my shoulder for the injection. I couldn’t roll my sleeves up far enough and there wasn’t sufficient privacy to be able to take the shirt off. Ah well.

It seems I was then free to leave, so leave I did.

A three wheeler back to the house for a partial shower from the waist down so that I could wash the wound but not wash the injection sites. Warm, soapy water. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Then the lovely woman I am staying with (Suchintha’s mother), who used to be a nurse educator at Kandy hospital cleaned it with an antiseptic wipe (ouch, ouch, ouch) and put a band aid on it. Kath’s first aid kit comes in handy yet again – I really wish it would stop being so bloody useful!

Breakfast, nap, lunch, panadol. I’m sure I’ll survive.

It seems the dog that bit me is owned by one of the houses up the street and has bitten people (i.e. Suchintha’s father) before. Apparently it has been immunised. So I probably didn’t need the injections. But I can’t be 100% sure that it was that dog or that it has actually been immunised. Better to be safe than sorry.

So I’m sure I’ll live. I’m hoping the pain and the swelling will go down. I’m hoping to get to a tailor soon to get the rip in my trousers fixed (I only have two pairs of trousers, losing one to the teeth of a dog is not a good thing). And I hope to get to the training college tomorrow.

Ah, the joys of travelling! 🙂


Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Poonthura is a small fishing village in Kerala in southern India.

I stayed in and around Poonthura for about three weeks.

There was another volunteer (Stan) who was teaching there at the school (St Thomas) and staying with a local family.

So I invaded! I stayed with the family too.
Thank you Johny for giving up your bedroom for me and for burning tea for me.
Thank you Josy for cooking lots of very lovely food for me (the carrot and coconut thing was incredible) and for not kicking me too much in the mornings.
Thank you Jo for taking us to your parent’s house and for making awesome chappathis.
Thank you Jament for your big smiles and for welcoming the freaky foreigners.

I went to the school with Stan. I went to the school without Stan. I went to Trivandrum (the big city). I went to Kovalam (the beach resort that’s about 6km away). I went to Kanyakumari (the tip of India). I went to visit Jo’s parents. I went on holiday with Stan and his kids (which included a houseboat for one night). I went to visit some of the other people in the village. I did some conversation sessions with some of the neighbours. I helped the next door neighbour with some of his tuition classes (which also meant I got to teach maths again – yay). I had a lovely time.

So thank you to Stan and my Poonthura family and I can’t wait to come back and see you all again in January. 🙂

Train Tips

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

I’ve travelled on a few trains recently. And I have learnt a lot while doing it. Here are my top tips for surviving long distance train travel.

  • Don’t wear light coloured clothing. It’ll get covered in dust very quickly and only make you feel even grottier than you already are.
  • Wear long sleeves. It stops the dirt and grot getting to your skin and keeps you safe from sunburn during the day and keeps out the slight chill you might get at night.
  • Never wear clean clothes when getting onto a train. You will end up so dirty and smelly by the end of it that it’s a waste of a clean set. Save the clean set of clothes for changing into as soon as you get off the train, into a shower and clean.
  • Never use a train toilet at a station. Most of the train toilets are simply a hole in the floor of the train. Sometimes they have a ‘flush’ mechanism that may or may not involve water, but the point is the material that goes into the toilet ends up on the tracks. Having sat at a train station for 40 mins once waiting for a train I can tell you that it is not pleasant when people use the toilet on the train that is stopped at said station for the whole of the 40 mins.
  • When waiting at a station for a long time for a train, don’t sit close to the tracks. See the previous point for the reason why.
  • When you have eaten curd rice and there is some left and you have put it in a plastic bag, don’t throw it out the train window. The rushing wind will catch it, split the bag and send curd rice in the next window and all over the people who were sitting by the window. Then you’ll have to apologise profusely and use your scarf to help clean up the mess.

Reassess Myself

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

I think that I need to reassess who I think I am. I used to think that I was scared of heights. Except last year I managed to climb Sigiriya and this year I crossed the very scary log bridges on the Anapurna trek in Nepal. Maybe I’m just not as good at being scared of heights as I used to be.

I used to think I wasn’t good with children. And yet I teach. And I love it. And I think they love it too. And I’ve met some really fabulous small children who I like and who seem to like me.

I used to think that I wasn’t good at doing things on my own. If I had a choice I always preferred to do things with other people. Now, if I am staying with friends I find I need to get out and spend a few hours on my own every few days. Not to do anything in particular, just to be on my own.

I used to think that I wasn’t good with languages. And yet, this is my 13th country and I’ve managed to struggle my way through communicating in Russian, Chinese, Nepali, Malayalam and Sinhala. Ok, in many of those cases about all I could manage was to point at a word in a dictionary. And I think the sum total of my Malayalam is about 6 words. But nonetheless, I have managed to cope. Which isn’t bad for someone who isn’t good at languages.

I wonder what else there is about myself that I don’t know. 🙂

Sleeper Class vs AC Class

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

I have travelled from the north of India to the south by train.

I have travelled in AC2, AC3, AC Chair and Sleeper Class.

And while the AC2 and AC3 classes are more expensive and are usually seen as more desirable, I prefer Sleeper Class.

For a start the AC makes my nose run. And you can’t open the windows. And sometimes at night when you’re sleeping it gets a bit chilly. And the curtains that separate the different sections make it a bit dark and not so friendly. And there are fewer people walking through the carriages selling stuff (food, drinks, cosmetics, books, inflatable things, combs, stickers, tat).

The sleeper class lets you open the windows and see and smell and hear and feel the country that you are travelling through. In my mind it is a more authentic experience. And I don’t think it is that much less comfortable. Especially given my aversion to air con.

Plus, it’s cheaper. Mind you, I live in England. Travelling first class on Indian trains is cheap. Travelling in sleeper class is insanely cheap!

I have been …

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

I have been travelling for 114 days now.

I have been to a lot of places. I have eaten a lot of food. I have seen a lot of things. I have met a lot of people. And I have experienced a lot of emotions too.

  • I have been alone.
  • I have been lonely.
  • I have been afraid.
  • I have been sad.
  • I have been happy.
  • I have been joyful.
  • I have been excited.
  • I have been deeply touched by the kindness of others.
  • I have been fed up.
  • I have been frustrated.
  • I have been exhausted.
  • I have been grossed out.
  • I have been dirty.
  • I have been cold.
  • I have been hot.
  • I have been sweaty.
  • I have been hungry.
  • I have been thirsty.
  • I have been awestruck.
  • I have been proud of myself.
  • I have been disappointed with myself.
  • I have been annoyed.
  • I have been bored.
  • I have been ill.
  • I have been tired.
  • I have been grumpy.

But I have never, ever regretted making the leap and taking this trip.



Monday, November 22nd, 2010

I feel uncomfortable when people stare at me. I feel really uncomfortable when people stare at me. And I feel resentful towards the person who is staring at me.

I don’t know what to do. Should I stare back and shame them into not staring? Should I ignore them completely? Should I smile and wave? Should I say hello? Is staring at people seen as rude in this culture like it is in the UK?

But perhaps the more fundamental question is why do I feel uncomfortable when people stare?

I am sure that for many people I look very different. I am white. I have very short hair. I wear trousers. I wear all black. I don’t wear jewelery. I don’t wear make up. I am usually alone. I must look very strange. And it is the nature for human beings to be curious. In fact, it is how we learn. And I’m all in favour of learning.

So why do I feel so very, very uncomfortable when people stare at me?

What does India see?

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

I look at India and I see problems. I see dirty water. I see lack of sanitation. I see rubbish everywhere. I see pollution. I see crazy, dangerous traffic. I see people trying to rip off foreigners.

But that is what these white, western eyes see.

I wonder what India sees when she looks at herself.

I have spoken to some Indians about India. And the problems they have mentioned to me are pollution (air and water) and the rubbish. One person I spoke to said that the problems were due to the Indian people not doing anything for themselves and wanting the government to do everything for them.

I love India and there is a part of me that wants to ‘fix’ it. But I am aware that a white, western, privileged woman coming to India for a month does not understand enough to be able to ‘fix’ India. In the first place the question of whether India needs ‘fixing’ should be asked. And if the answer is yes then the problems that need fixing need to be identified. And given the different culture that I come from, the problems that I see might well be very different from the problems that Indians themselves see.

On the other hand, it might be the case that India will be a much nicer country if people used toilets and disposed of rubbish properly. And there might even be a massive improvement in the health of the Indian people as well!

TV Beauty

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

In India, and now in Sri Lanka I have had the misfortune of watching television. In Sri Lanka I have the extra misfortune of watching teledramas.

The ads are disturbing. The teledramas are disturbing.

One of the main reasons why I find them disturbing is the portrayal of beauty on television. Mostly for women but also for men.

The first thing that annoys me is the skin fairness obsession here. In the UK and Australia people apply all sorts of gunk to their skin to make them look darker. In India and Sri Lanka it’s to make them look fairer. Fair skin is seen as beautiful. Dark skin is seen as ugly. Black skin is seen as very ugly. Perhaps we should send all the Indians and Sri Lankans to the UK and Australia and all the Brits and Australians to India and Sri Lanka. The airfares and relocation costs are probably less than what is spent on the cosmetics.

People here seem concerned about my freckles. On the one hand because they think that the freckles are painful and require medicine to cure me of them. On the other hand they see spots and blemishes as ugly. If only I didn’t have freckles I would have perfect, lovely, white skin.

And while I should be applying gunk to my skin to make it white I should also be applying gunk to my hair to make it black. It seems the white patch that I have has got bigger since I was here last. People seem surprised that I don’t want to apply henna to make it black.

But given they live surrounded by images of flawless women with painted eyebrows and airbrushed skin tones, I’m not really surprised that they react the way they do to me.

Fortunately for me, I find the aesthetics of Sri Lankan ‘beauty’ not to be particularly attractive, which reduces my desire to mimic it. To my mind it is fake and plastic and painted. I’d much prefer to be a real, live, smiling woman than to be a painted doll.

My skin has freckles because that is the way it defends itself against the sun. My hair has white patches because it does. My eyebrows actually contain hair (I believe hair is more effective at stopping the sweat from dripping into my eyes than paint would be). My bag is big enough and heavy enough as it is without me having to cart cosmetics around with me. The precious resources of my planet are rare enough as they are without me using them to paint myself into someone new.

And I think that women and men look beautiful as soon as they smile. They don’t need to change the colour of their skin, or of their hair, or of their clothes. They just need to smile. 🙂

Hyderabad to Trivandrum

Friday, November 19th, 2010

I got the train from Hyderabad to Trivandrum. 30 hours. Yay.

I tried to buy the ticket a few days in advance. It turns out that this wasn’t entirely successful. I ended up on the wait list. And when they prepared the charts a few hours before the train was due to leave I was still on the wait list. Which means no ticket.

So I asked the station manager who said he could give me a ticket for the train that would entitle me to get onto any sleeper carriage, but would not entitle me to a bed.

The train left at about 12:30. So for the first several hours this would probably be ok. People would let me sit next to them on the bottom bunk while they were awake. But when night falls and people start to lie down then there won’t be a place for me. But for all of the next day (the train gets in to Trivandrum at about 8pm) I’ll be able to sit up again so things will be fine. Oh, and it might be the case that there is a spare bed somewhere at some time.

Ah well, it’s an adventure. So I said yes, bought the ticket, bought a lunch packet, said goodbye to Bharavi and got on the train.

I spent part of the time in the passageway between the doors, not actually sitting in the open doorway of the train, I’m still far to English/Australian/risk averse to think that that’s a good idea (especially given my propensity to fall asleep on moving vehicles). So I sat in between the two doors on my rucksack. My rucksack is awesome.

Then someone asked me to come and sit with their family. So I sat and chatted to them for a while. Very nice indeed! They even let me sleep for a while on one of their beds since they weren’t planning on sleeping yet.

It turned out there was a spare bunk so I slept on that till about 2am when we discovered that almost no one in the carriage was in their assigned bunk. So things got a bit chaotic while people tried to work out where they were supposed to be.

A lovely woman said I could sit on the edge of her bed, but she was already sharing it with her toddler and she was trying to sleep. So I went back to sit on my bag between the doors.

The father who I had been talking to earlier was getting off the train at about 3am so said I could have his bed since he needed to be awake from about 3 so that they wouldn’t miss their stop.

By morning it was all ok again because the bunks all got put away and people just sat.

So overall, it was not nearly so bad as it might have been. I managed to sleep (twice). I got to lie down. I got to sit. It was actually all quite acceptable. Still much nicer than my Chinese bus. 🙂

And being met at Trivandrum station by Stan and Johny was really very nice indeed!