Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cricket in Cuttack

I've never been into to cricket but when Ryan said he had some tickets to watch England play India in Cuttack I jumped at the chance. The first challenge was to sort out transport. The easiest way to get to Cuttack is by bus and, whilst obtaining a ticket for the outward journey was straightforward, getting a return ticket turned out to be a challenge. The people in Bhawanipatna refuse to liaise with their colleagues in Cuttack because "they not good peoples" so I had to rope in my erstwhile friend, Baijayant, who spoke to a friend, who knew someone, who had a cousin, who would arrange a place for me on a bus coming back – no ticket but I was assured it would be OK - so off I set. The overnight journey takes 12 hours but some of the buses have a row of beds above the seats so you get to lie down and at least try to sleep. The only problem was the rather narrow beds didn't have any form of barrier to stop you falling off so I spent the night clinging to the bars on the windows petrified I'd be jettisoned 5 feet to the floor by one of the numerous jolts and bumps. I managed to arrive unscathed however and by 7am I was sitting in a hotel having breakfast with Ryan and his wife Claire. After several cups of rather disgusting coffee – I really must remember to stick to tea – and some cornflakes served with hot milk – it's how they like them in India – we made our way to the match. It was easy to find an auto-rickshaw – one look at our white faces and the driver set off to the Stadium without needing to ask where we wanted to go. On arrival we stood, for a couple of hours, in one of the most orderly queues I have seen anywhere in the world before we finally made it to our seats. We'd decided to go for the full experience so had bought the cheapest seats on offer – about £4 each – which turned out to be a concrete step. It was great fun sitting amongst the entirely Indian crowd. There were about 22,000 people and we appeared to be the only English people our side of the stadium although we did spot a lone Union Jack on the other side. The "Barmy Army" was noticeable by its absence. Everyone was fascinated by us being there and, in a truly sportsman like way, the whole crowd clapped when our batsmen made a good hit – not very many I'm afraid – and stood and cheered when Petersen scored the first century by an English player in India for over 6 years – Millwall v Tottenham it certainly wasn't. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see India bat as I had to make my way back. Somehow, I managed to find the right bus and, although nobody actually asked who I was, they all seemed to know – ticket or no ticket – that one of the seats on the packed bus was reserved for "madam" and I made it back to Bhawanipatna this morning with just enough time to have a shower before I went to work. Click here for more pictures.

Monday, November 24, 2008

In Ushamaska with the UN

Set deep inside the Karlapat Forest Reserve, Ushamaska is one of the tribal villages where Antodaya has been encouraging women to form self-help groups. Membership is Rs10 (~12 ½ p) a month and this money is put in a communal bank account together with income derived from selling brooms etc and donations from government bodies. It is then used to buy food and other essentials when times are hard. These initiatives are designed to cut out the money-lenders and make people more responsible for their finances and in development lingo it's called micro-finance - micro it certainly was, few communal accounts had more than £30. Karen had been sent from the UN to look into how these types of accounts were run as part of an investigation into best practice amongst uneducated communities - in Ushamaska very few of the women could count let alone read the numbers in their pass-books. I had been invited to accompany her because I am the only female-Westerner in town and, by default, we must have a lot in common! Fortunately, Karen turned out to be really nice woman from Germany, although you couldn't tell from her perfect American accent, and in between her work we discovered we did, in fact, have a lot to talk about. We set off at 6am for the bumpy four-hour journey on what were mainly dirt roads and travelled through the forest where, apparently, wild elephants and the odd tiger roam. Needless to say I didn't see either but then I never have had much luck when it comes to spotting wildlife. Ushamaska was much smaller than I had imagined but it was in an idyllic location set half way up a mountain and surrounded by forest. On arrival we were met by the women from Ushamaska and also those from "nearby" villages – some of whom had walked 10km to attend the meeting. There were some feisty individuals amongst the crowd - the work that has been carried out to make them aware of their rights and give them a "voice" certainly seems to be working! They also had a wicked sense of humour and laughed out loud at my attempts to speak Oriya and gave me an impromptu pronunciation lesson – their continued giggling indicating that I still haven't quite got it. I'd give the bumpy ride a miss if I could but I'd love to go back and it was great to meet the people I'm working for face to face. Click here to see more photos.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Not the Koraput Fair

Women are often treated dismissively in India but I had not been ... until yesterday that is. A colleague of Dillip's invited me to accompany him to the Koraput Tribal Fair after I mentioned I was interested in textiles. The day started really well. Sarnath showered me with an eclectic array of gifts – a fresh flower, a Hindu rosary, a baseball cap and a book on tribal development. We set off with a random selection of his family, who were hitching a lift part of the way, and our first stop was for a small snack – 7 samosas, heaps of rice, dhal and a slab of cheesecake. When we dropped off the family, I was invited in for tea but, before I had chance to reply, Sarnath declined the invitation on my behalf. My hackles rose slightly but I let it go. Our next stop was an agricultural research centre where he "had a bit of business to do but we would get to Koraput at 3 o'clock". I was foisted on some poor, unsuspecting researchers who were told to take me on a tour of the place while he conducted his business. It was a pleasant way to pass the time even though I was invited to inspect each and every one of the 89 types of rice grown in Orissa - it's amazing how many things you find to say about rice! At 6pm, with no sign of Sarnath, I started to get a bit annoyed - the researchers were going home and I knew the return journey would take 5 hours. He pitched up finally and, on arriving at Koraput, we went to the Jaganath temple. It was rather beautiful but I wasn't that interested because I could see my time for browsing tribal textiles slipping away. As we left the temple, I was informed that, if I still insisted on going, I could spend no more than 10 minutes at the fair. Insisted on going ... it was the only reason I had come. I was marched there at break-neck speed and to hurry me up, he turned and clicked his fingers at me in an attempt to bring me to heel – at this point, I lost patience. Looking him straight in the eye, I did an 180 degree turn and made my way to the first interesting looking stall. I managed to buy something I actually liked but only because the stall-holder clocked who was holding the purse strings and chose to talk to me about what I wanted and ignore the instructions issued by my minder. I'm not entirely sure what made me so angry. His business meetings were certainly more important than my shopping but there seemed to be no requirement to explain why the plans had changed so drastically let alone apologise. The finger clicking episode certainly didn't help. Apparently there's a similar fair in Bhawanipatna in January – I'll pick who I go with carefully.

Friday, November 14, 2008

In between sipping tea

Only recently have I accumulated enough hours of electricity to sort out what I'm supposed to be doing on the work front and for whom. Antodaya supports people of the kutia-Khond tribe based in the Dangarla Mountains. Living in extremely isolated villages – many only accessible on foot - their over-riding problem is food security. Despite plentiful rain and reasonable soil quality, most people only manage to feed themselves for 6 months of the year. Reasons include exploitation (to buy food during the lean periods, land is mortgaged to moneylenders who then take its entire crop as repayment); culture (festivals and practices revolve around a single harvest although the land could support two); and deforestation. In addition, only 10% of children attend the free schools – they are needed to work in the fields; there is only one small hospital in the area and not enough local health workers to go round – death from dysentery and malaria is common; and, unaware of their rights, they make rich pickings for the moneylenders and local administrators. Antodaya's successes in addressing these problems include a canal-construction project providing about 20 villages with clean drinking water and for irrigation; introducing alternative crops to make people less reliant on the forests for additional food; and education about their rights has made them less dependent on the moneylenders - a few years ago, Dillip spent 6 months in hospital following an attack by a group of moneylenders unhappy with his activities.
My main role seems to be writing funding proposals. This involves taking ideas for new projects and packaging them in a way that will convince funders of the merits of the proposed venture. So far, I've applied for funding from the Bill Gates Foundation (malaria prevention), the Renewable Energy Consortium (electricity generators powered by cow-dung) and the Orissa Tribal Livelihoods Programme (creating orchards to provide a year-round income) – still waiting to hear back on all of them though. Because India's passion for putting everything in triplicate made a seamless transition into the electronic age at Antodaya, finding the relevant information on the office computer can be a long tortuous process. In an attempt to improve this, I'm also creating a database which involves teaching myself how to programme Microsoft Access as well as collating and ordering the information. I really like the kind of stuff Antodaya does because it produces tangible results, I just hope the work I do, in between sipping tea, will introduce them to more rigorous processes which will lead to increased funding for the numerous ideas they have for improving the lot of the Dangarla kutia-Khonds.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Dancing in Delhi

In a stark contrast to my life in rural Orissa, last week I went to Delhi and met and mingled with people reaping the benefits of India's economic explosion that has simply by-passed those living in places like Bhawanipatna. I'd come to Delhi to do some work for VSO and, lacking office space, Freya and I decamped to a café in the trendy Khan Market where we could sip cappuccinos and eat Danish pastries whilst surfing the net on our computers using the in-house Wi-Fi connection. Around us sat the young and, more importantly, rich Indians who come to these Western-style establishments to meet friends or work and who wear the latest Western fashions to compliment their lifestyles – not a sari or salwar kameez in sight. Once the work was finished we cruised the shops. Khan Market caters for Western tastes but, fortunately, in amongst the fashion emporiums, up-market delis and English bookshops, you can also find really nice Indian clothes – I bought several new salwar kameez – and Eastern style home décor shops – I eyed up some wine glasses until I remembered you can't get wine where I live. We then went on to a beauty salon and, whilst Freya had a manicure and head massage, I went for a pedicure – I know, I never went for that kind of thing in the UK but when in Rome ... Shopped out, we went on to John's flat for drinks and nibbles. John is another VSO volunteer who is a farmer from Yorkshire and is as thrilled by living in a metropolis as I am by living in the country. We were joined by several of his friends some of whom were local advocates and doctors. Whilst not the richest people in Delhi, most of them live in fully serviced apartments and had cars and iPhones etc. After drinks we proceeded to a night-club ... or two. To be honest, I've never been that fond of clubbing but I had a grand time. In the first club they played 80s music – U2, Police, Wham - and we danced and sang until 11.30pm when it shut. Those of us with staying-power then went onto another night-club in a very smart 5-star hotel. Frequented by business men accompanied by what looked suspiciously like call-girls, it was like any other hotel nightclub except it only played Indian music. On the dancing front, John and I agreed that we'd throw ourselves into it as long as we kept our respective antics strictly between ourselves. Suffice to say we both now know the actions to all the latest Punjabi-disco hits - Village People eat your hearts out. I don't think I'd like to live in Delhi, not least because I couldn't afford it, but I had a great time experiencing a different Indian life-style.