As promised I will publish one of the walks I have been going on as if it was an AIR walk. I am out in India working at an orphanage for orphans and single parent children whose families can’t afford to send them to school.
I have been going for a walk most mornings starting at 6.30. Normally I get back for 9am so that I can shower prior to starting teaching at 10am. I would then typically take four classes ending at 8pm.
Today is a my last Sunday in India and so I’m going on a big walk around the lake. I will lead the walk and take with me fellow volunteer Jem and 17 students. Five of them are students my family sponsors, the rest are from the top year. Let’s think of them today as the Indian junior section of AIR Macclesfield.
This walk was one of the highlights of my trip, if that is possible after all the great time I have had.
We started out with a photoshoot of those going with me.
We then passed the cameras and binoculars around to those going with us. So my SLR camera, ipad, phone and binoculars were all being used by the kids. It was nice for once to be able to walk without a load!
I have ended up with about 1000 photos of the event, so the photos added here are just a quick selection of the walk.
It took us six hours to complete the (5 mile walk – distance is a guess) as the kids wanted to stop an examine everything on the walk.
One of the things I like about these walks is it teaches the kids how to uses their senses and this walk was no exception as the kids looked, listened, touched, smelt and even tasted elements of the walk. I am sure their senses were in overdrive.
We sauntered out into the misty morning
heading out across the scrub passing the lake where the frogs were skipping across the water to the big tree where we took our first break. As is the norm here (boys are from Mars and girls from Venus and rarely mix without extreme encouragement – it was a five minute task getting the girls and the boys in the same photo at the start. I had to lead each individual girl to position them in front of the boys – otherwise we would have had to have two group photos or one with a 5m gap in the middle!). Inevitably they walked in their separate groups with the boys rushing on.
We took our first break at the big tree, by the time I got there the boys were already in the tree.
Venkatesh the youngest of the boys there is very athletic and climbs like a monkey – it was good to see them having such fun and brought back memories for me of some 55 years ago – when I did the very same thing in English parks and countryside.
As soon as the boys had vacated the tree the girls were up it too. Trees are so beautiful on their own so seldom can its beauty be enhanced – but this was one of those rare occasions.
I cut up bananas and pomegranates and handed out a packet of haribo to everyone to partially replace the breakfast they would be missing.
A few needed prompting not to discard their empty sweet bags but soon learnt not to litter this magnificent countryside, unfortunately that is not a lesson known to most Indian people!
The cameras were rotated to new people, there was no shortage of a budding David Bailey or an Annie Belt as every possible subject was explored.
We wandered on eventually reaching the lake, our merry crew were not the quietest but I saw no real reason to curb their youthful exuberance. I had had plenty of other occasions to get close up to the birds, this time the birds parted as our group came within 50 yards. Along the lakeshore the youngsters posed on rocks both boys and girls but always separate from each other. Jem and/or I were often urged to join them in their ‘post-card’ pictures.
An old 1946 stone ‘bridge’ across a small stream that now barely flowed into the lake was a popular setting. It was strange to think this was pretty knew when I was born; probably one of the last things built by the British, just before the new dawn of India a month before I was born. From here the kids enjoy throwing stones onto the lake. I show them how to skim a stone so that it bounces over the lake – just like the frogs we had seen earlier. A few try and copy but there stones go in with just one splash. I get them to rotate the stone with their finger on release – the stones start to bounce. They don’t realise they are learning!
We carried on hugging the lake shore until we came to a place where the water was deeper. The lake has receded so much over the last few years that I doubt it will be there for many more years. Vast expanses of the former lake bed are now scrub land with scattered little trees. The trees look to be no more than three years old and from the distribution and age of these trees you can get an idea of the time of exposure. The lake as moved back over 100m since my first visit in January, and since then they have had the monsoons! I think about the 150 world leaders all meeting in Paris now on climate change – I wish they were all here now taking this walk with our little throng and noticing what we can clearly see. I curse the tories for what they have done to our emerging energies industries – mere lackeys of their obscenely greedy secret true masters. Driven by small minded UKIP, the only issue that concerns them is immigration, the vast majority of which has been caused by our bungling interferences usually driven by the oil industry and exasperated by our arms industry.
Can you imagine the scale of immigration and death and devastation there is going to be when Global warming really bites! What we are seeing now is only a pin prick. Fix the cause not just sticking plaster on the symptoms! This is a real test for the human spirit.
Sorry – back to the walk – but it is about the futures of these kids and the billions of kids just like them all over the world.
We are above the edge of the lake, on small sandy cliffs that not long ago were covered in water. One of the girls, Dhanya, finds a way down to the water’s edge. The rest of the girls follow her. Soon the boys are also down there and then the inevitable happens. One of them jumps in. It’s ok the water is only waste deep and any self-respecting snake would be long gone. I’ve been told that the water snakes around here are harmless – I haven’t tested that knowledge though.
In a few minutes all the boys are in there, splashing and playing around. Later I learn, for some of them it was the first time they had ever played in water like that – there are no baths around here. None of them can swim. The girls are more mindful of the clothes they are wearing and stand a suitable distance back. After a while the boys reluctantly agree to come out. They plead to be allowed back in, but time dictates that it is time to move on and this first taste must suffice. It is difficult to balance the scales of safety against fun and experience. I’m thankful that the call I made was successful this time.
We walk on, by now the sun is up and the boys and their cotton clothes dry quickly. Some of them are covered in mud and sand from where they clambered back up the sandy cliffs. They ask to go down to the water’s edge to clean up. I allow the worst affected three to go. They do as they are told and we are now all fit to proceed.
Our next stop is by a raised building; I’m not sure of its purpose but is certainly a good place to sit in the shade. The girls take possession of this. The boys head off to the stranded boat that rests now some distance from the water’s edge. The boys re-enact the bow from titanic taking turns to balance on the bow of the boat.
We continue down the path, passing buffalo’s suddenly spook and there is a mini stampede as they pass. Jem wishes he had his iphone to hand it would have made a good video. There are a few shrieks of concern from the kids but this apparently an everyday occurrence of walking on the roads of India. You now realise why some of the more aggressive buffalo are dragging around their own ball and chain in the form of a log tethered by rope round their necks. I imagine it deters them from rapid movement! I wonder if there is a criminal offence here “failing to control your buffalo whilst on a public highway”.
We reach a goat farm on the right hand side of the path. A woman is out tending the goats. It was here a few days earlier I saw a baby goat being born. One of the girls speaks to the woman in a pleading voice. “Aunty, aunty, ….” She says the rest in Telugu. Because she says aunty it doesn’t mean she is a relative. The children address many female adults as aunty – I think they are using it a term of affection – but not sure.
The lady passes to the girl a young black and white goat. Other girls ask and a brown baby goat is also placed into the arms of one of the girls (I’m pretty sure it is the one we saw being born earlier). This gives another opportunity for further photo posing. The boys this time watch on. The woman from the farm comes out to pose alongside the girls; I give her a packet of the haribo as a way of saying thank you. She seems quite pleased.
We pass the temple. I’m about to go in but the boys pull me back, they say we must be washed before we attend the temple. I remind them that they took a bath not long ago. They laugh but still insist that we must not go in. I’m not sure if what they are saying is driven out of natural respect for the Hindu religion or because they don’t want to spend time in ‘church’ on their precious day out. Either way, I would bend to their wishes so we move on.
We now reach the road it is about 3kms back to the school. Everyone is quite thirsty. There is a small shop a few yards on. I ask Shiva, the oldest boy the cost of a drink. I am told R13. I ask what 13 x 19 is. Quickly I’m given the correct result. I try and gauge how many want sprite? How many want ‘Thums up’ (a type of pepsi) etc. It is impossible people are constantly changing their mind. I give up and we head for the shop. I get one of the kids to request a drink for each of us. They just take the drinks as she takes the tops of them. I have a type of sprite – it is lovely and cold and nice and refreshing. We get charged R15, I don’t mind as I’ve just enough local currency to cover it.
We saunter back toward the school. The pace has slowed. I’m not sure if it is because we have been out nearly six hours or it is a reluctance to return. We stop and take shade under a tree. The girls smell the flowers the boys pick and taste berries from the hedgerows. It’s just what happens on an English walk except everything is different!
We reach the little village at the head of the road to the school. We wait in the bush shelter for all the stragglers to catch up. One of the girls wants to visit her brother who lives just a few doors further down, It turns out it was him on his motor bike who gave me a list back (even though I didn’t want to go) a couple of days earlier. We all take the extra few yards to the house. I’m introduced to the grandmother and the dog.
We make our way back, I manage to refuse other offers to visit houses.
Our lane is blocked by a celebration. A big dinner is going on. I’m thinking it is a good job it is tomorrow I have to go to the airport and not today as this is the only route to the school. It is a celebration of a girls maturity. When a girl gets her first period there is a big celebration which lasts over a weak! A dinner for all is a part of it. I’m asked to sit and eat chicken with them all the kids plead for us to partake as they would welcome a change from their vegetarian diet. We just don’t have the time and I’m not sure how my stomach would react to the street food. I manage to get everyone by the party.
At the gates of the school we try and take one last photo only the girls will join is, still the boys are reluctant to be in close proximity.
They all look tired (it is now 12.30, 6 hours since we set off) or is it because the walk is over.
As I head back to the dorm a group of the girls ask if we can go for a second lap!
If you want to read more about my trip you will find a complete diary on FaceBook. Just search for my email address firstname.lastname@example.org. It has all been made public but put in a friend request if you want.
If you would like to sponsor a kid at HEAL Paradise you can do this for £16 pound a month. Yes: just the cost of a meal out in England will keep a kid fed, healthy and educated in India. I can guarantee you every penny will be spent to that end. Visit: http://healcharity.org/uk/sponsor-child-online/
Thank you for reading about my walk.