Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Trip to India Week 2: Best Week at Work Ever???

With apologies for the long delay, I should really finish off the story of the India trip. The story picks up from the middle weekend when Stephen came down with the lurgy.

As our trip to Hyderabad was cancelled we had a bit more time to hang around Lucknow – well I had more time to hang around Lucknow, while Stephen – poor soul – was confined to bed.

I had an interesting wander around town on India’s national holiday, and it was clear to me after just a couple of hours looking around, that Lucknow isn’t a particularly prosperous Indian city. That said, even in Lucknow there is a notable split between the haves and the have-nots. We were staying in the best hotel in town – a huge colonial style building on three floors, with large landscaped gardens and a huge pool in the grounds. Perfect for a wedding. In fact there were three pretty impressive wedding receptions at the hotel when I was there.

The photo at the top of this entry is of an Indian pipeband that I bumped into on our third night. Now there is some dispute as to where the bagpipes were invented. Scottish people will tell you that, like most good things… the television, the pneumatic tyre, the Presbyterian denomination, the bagpipes were invented in Scotland. But I’ve also heard from a less biased source that the bagpipes were played in India more than a thousand years ago. Though the guys playing at the wedding reception didn’t speak any English - and I couldn’t say much in Hindi - just by impersonating a piper I was able to make them laugh. It tickled me anway.

And if those guys like overly well wrapped up for India, they were certainly better equipped for the weather than I was. The last time I had been in Delhi was as a tourist in June last year when it was 37C, and after that experience I associated Delhi with the heat. I just kinda assumed it was pretty warm all year round. So I packed one small suitcase with my Sydney summer clothes in it. Which meant that I had a large number of short-sleeved shirts, a couple of long-sleeved shirts, no jumpers, no jacket. And then we walked out of the airport and there were local guys with gloves and balaclavas on…

The other good thing about being stuck in the hotel in Lucknow was that it did give us time to practise a bit of Hindi. Stephen and I found that our most popular phrases were Moo jay yay sum a jee na hee aye (I don’t understand), Deerie deerie (slowly slowly) and Sa hie ta kee-jee-yi! (help!).

My absolute favourite expression was Gulab Jamun. This is a very sweet doughy dessert which is fried and served in a warm syrupy sugar sauce. It doesn’t look like much in the picture below (!!) but if you have a sweet tooth they are awesome.

I’ll finish this account of the Indian adventure with one of the stories from the Ashram, which is just incredible. One of the cheeriest guys we met there was a guy called Sarin. He had spinal TB – a really serious condition – and had been on his back at the Ashram, unable to walk for 10 months. The photo below is one that Stephen took of Sarin when we were there on the 21st of February. This is Sarin getting some fresh air, with a puppy that he seemed to have adopted.

A few days after Stephen and I got back to Australia, we were sent the following photo from Kaye, one of the two leaders of the Ashram. This is Sarin on his feet for the first time in 10 months. Just incredible. If it wasn’t for the Ashram, these things wouldn’t be happening.

I joined Opportunity because I believe microfinance is the best hope of providing a sustainable solution to helping the poor.

But I don’t think it’s the only solution.

Where something works, I think it should be supported. And it’s been great to be involved in the Ashram project. Even better to be involved with this sort of thing having seen the country, the poverty and the people first-hand.