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Reflections and frowns

21 Jul

I realise my volunteering experience has three stages to it.

1. I am doing a wonderful thing (self aggrandisement?), how important this is and my ability to ‘give back’. Good stuff. Taking advantage of my ability to partake in such a program. Bonus life points.

2. This is a joke! Anyone with a hand to hold a pen could be doing this job – I am useless, is it just about the program fee for the organisation? Surely not, I’m more valuable that that?! Withdrawal. Denial. Let down.

3. This experience is mine, my work partner is like a private travel guide/translator, it is not about the work, but the culture, the people, the experience. I suddenly feel bad for having such a good set up over there, but that’s the only way I can come to terms with it.
Break away from the tight framework that we started with, enjoy hours on buses often for 20 minutes of work, watch India roll by, know that I have discovered and redefined a precious part of the world and of myself.

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10 words

4 Jul

The volunteer organisation in Australia wanted us to do 10 weekly words, 10 words about anything – the work, health, emotions, whatever. I thought this was a great idea because I knew I’d be writing anyway, just no with any structure.

By the end of the first week, I was: “hardened, weakened, sorting, welcomed, consumed, disgusted, delighted, appreciative, adapting, energised”.

It developed into: “active, new friends, busy, spontaneous, self righteous, purge, frustrated, fulfilled, air, consumer”

And concluded with: “solid, future, grateful, unrealistic, excited, sound, wings, ongoing, reality, peace”.

It was a quick snapshot of the week, an insight into what might have been going on inside as well. But funnily enough as it went on  I started to resent having to do it! In hindsight I’m glad I had to do it, it kind of pinpoints how I was digesting things (in all senses of the word), and allows me to unblur the 12 or so weeks we were there and better understand the things that happened and how I responded.

 

 

Story puzzle

29 Jun

I started wondering about how to tell a story, a story of experiences, in that I’ve been to places, and done things, but what story do I tell?

Of India – of the mix up with meeting up, the steam room that drowned the edges of my soul and stretched my pores to birth tears of toxins (!) That was not how I wrote that sentence the first, I lost it. But what stories to tell? – I want to tell you a story of when I was 19. Is that right? That was where I started. India: where everything is only just hanging together by magic and accident, near misses that hold the people in place amongst the chaos, the chaos that is in fact the order.

On the road again: The drivers of all and any vehicles that use their horns like a whore uses lube; excessively and indiscriminately. Like an academic uses large words; consistently and inappropriately. Like an —- I know I have stories, of hitchhiking in Argentina, sleeping on the floor in monasteries in Korea, swimming in the south china sea while a lightning storm rumbles my core.

Can I tell you a story?

I used to knit scarves, knit scarves on buses because I was a rebel and only old ladies knitted but I was busy not conforming, so busy not conforming that the things I did were dictated by the need to do and not the doing itself. I don’t know why I wanted to learn Spanish, I don’t know why I held to him for two years, I don’t know why I chose India (because I had first chosen Philipines and like a spoilt child I can pick it out like candy and go where my heart desires).

He told me its self-actualizing, that it is selfless and selfish. I didn’t know then but I know now.

post warp

20 Jun

He asked me today why I went, I found myself mentally flicking back through posts rather than memories to recall the justifications.

What effect is this having on our journey and experience?

Reflections and two wheels

8 Jun

India. Vellore.

Tonight I hear the breeze for the first time, it is cool and mild and reminds me of a Sydney summer evening, it sifts through the heavy leaves and it could lull me to sleep but I hear echoes of song and bus horns and eerie chanting, backed by the thorough yet monotonous sweeping of pavement with straw brooms. The breeze carries with it delights and surprises of the open drains; rotten egg tonight, quietly slips in through our window, and settles around me like affectionate, sleepy cat.

I rode on the back of motorbikes (something I wasn’t meant to do, knowing too well  I probably would take that risk), embracing the moment and my relentless affiliation for two wheels and having something between my legs. Gripping my laptop under my arm, wrapped in my shawl, flowing clothes taking on a loose unchoreographed dance of their own, threatening to reveal parts culturally unacceptable such as calf or neckline – not enough hands to hold on and control the fabric, I surrender to the clever fingers of the wind and smile and see hurtling buses and crawling ox, projectile auto-rickshaws and slightly cautious scooters balancing the family of four, slow motion cyclists and focussed women in a sunset smear of saris, sidestepping to avoid the lazy cows and hungry goats making their home on the medium strip. The second time on the bike I sat with a 20 L barrel of water between me and Mal, it was evening and he rode carefully but that was about as much as I can recall – you can tell a lot about a man by how he rides a motorbike, and I was too focussed on holding the water between my thighs and holding myself to the bike that I paid little to no attention as to how he rode, only that we got there with no near misses.

I find the people immensely respectful, I was anticipating that I would have a problem with the men and get frustrated with being stared at, made comments at, or even followed – such as my experience in Singapore’s Little India. But nothing of the sort has happened; It has been lovely, the women are beautiful and if you smile and wobble your head a little they beam back at you. The men glance and look away and may glance back, but it doesn’t feel threatening, I don’t feel unwelcome, I don’t in any way feel unsafe. I love covering up, shawls and scarves and long clothes, there’s something feminine and powerful (!) about it. What is revealed somehow carries so much more significance (holy crap there’s my elbow! My forearm! My ankle!)

[to be continued. that’s enough for one post]

Aprovecharlo

5 Jun

Following a long weekend (5 buses, 14 hours… epically challenging toilet situations), I was especially fried but knew there was a special event in the park that I could go to – that a friend’s friend would look after me if I went.

I was about to message and say ‘too hard too tired’ then a little voice went off and said WHAT ARE YOU DOING! You are alive and full limbed and with a functioning mind and in INDIA- get out there.

Wonderfully enough, it was a most memorable evening – I walked around the park with a minister, had armed security guards, met some other officials, got photographed, front row seats for the show, and made the local paper the next day.

I loved how things worked out like that in India – nearly consistently surprised me.

Stirring the pongal

Random, wonderful and a solid reminder of not being complacent. That it is nearly always worth it to get off your ass (!)

Sensitivity lost

4 Jun

I was determined to wear it, they told me we were going to a wedding and I thought what a brilliant opportunity to wear this gift given to me, this might be the only time that I will be able to wear it.

It was only with the benefit of hindsight that I realised how much they didn’t want me to, just how inappropriate it was given the context, the background, their situation (of which I had no real appreciation), the relations.

I put my agenda first, after several weeks of tiptoeing and making sure I was doing things ‘right’ (or at least my interpretation of right… I had nearly gone full circle in terms of cultural sensitivity and cautiousness and maybe because I was so close to heading home, there was a sense that it didn’t matter – but of course it did.

Combinations of the extremes

27 May

This happened to a friend of a friend of mine. I quote him directly:

What I would have given for a fully functioning stomach! How much it impacted my volunteer work, how much I underestimated it, how much I rejoiced in the ‘normal’ flow of bodily goods (or bads).

I have never experienced such gut pain, such inability to go and incapacity to stop, and incompetence to know when either might happen.

“How are you feeling today?” Directly translated into: have you gone today? no.

“Are you coming into the office today?” directly meant: can you leave the vicinity of the toilet? no.

I would slump slouch and lug a few days food around (!): how could something that was so simple and previously unconsidered and essentially taboo be dictating my every move? MY EVERY MOVE? And be the topic of multiple conversations? with multiple different people? This went of for the whole time. The whole summer. Nearly every morning I woke, wondering if I would be blessed with the good fortune of…

Overall, it stretched to the extremes (more painful than having a baby), and combinations  of the extremes. Christmas day had me crying unable to get to lunch, unable to leave the hotel room for fear of .. (!)

India tore my tummy apart, I have never experienced such a rainbow of events. What I learnt from all this? be grateful that things work normally! Never take the flow for granted.

(my poor friend)

Mass distraction

23 May

I realise I’ve been lacking my weapons of mass distraction while I’ve been over here, only one book one book that I gave my soul to (yes it was shantaram – THE book anyone says to read if youre going, and the most common book in hostels.being red in cafes – ) but that’s the brilliant part of it, it was brilliant, it heightened my experience and when I wasn’t justifying what I was doing there or feeling tired from hours on bus, I was reading – it made the hours ease glide and took the edge off dust up the nose.

The point is I wanted to read, and if it wasn’t reading it was meditating, and as much as it enhanced by experience it also served as an escapism  tool a means by which I would not be there, I was no where, I was in the book, or in my breath(?) – it helped me cope. Cope with what exactly? another entry for that.

But I realising it wasn’t coping as much as it was switching off the systems. Cheating a bit. Lessening the impact of powerful India. It was, after all the whole summer break, a part of me wanted to embrace that uni down time and it was hard to not feel ‘guilty’ for that.

Repetition and immunity

22 May

Found things like thisbreathtaking at first, then after a few weeks it didn’t phase me, its like I stopped seeing and I accepted that its just how things are.

It did make the time – off hard, and got me thinking about my standards of normality and if that was all I’d known, then to see a half empty sydney bus (esp the ones that don’t move until people are seated) would do my head in.

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