Friday, March 19, 2010

Flame Trees of Thuamul Rampur

On Monday, I went up to Thuamul Rampur – the district where Antodaya works - to attend the opening ceremony of one of the Legal Resource Centres that I had helped to get funding for earlier this year. I'd started the day quite exhausted as I'd come off the overnight on the bus from Bhubaneswar. My usual bus has recently been upgraded and now sports swag and tail curtains and has air-conditioning but neither prevented me from spending the whole night awake - the air conditioning was so cold I spent the night shivering and A/C or no A/C you still get the endless bumps so I got off the bus prepared to swing for the person who invented road humps which have spread like the plague all over India and only add to the general discomfort of the endless potholes. Once showered, I set off up to the cool of the hills for another bumpy ride but at least the scenery was stunning. I haven't been up there for a while and spring/early summer is probably the best time; not only are the flame trees in flower but so is everything else. I went with Brooke, another VSO Volunteer from Delhi, who is spending the week here to help with Antodaya's fundraising efforts and as we wound our way up the temperature dropped noticeably. The opening ceremony started with the usual Hindu puja which involves lighting an oil lamp then igniting a clump of incense sticks from it and finishes with cracking a coconut on a stone. Sometimes this can go horribly wrong with the incense sticks catching fire and the complete failure of the coconut to crack but fortunately all went smoothly this time. We then sat through some speeches in Oriya and, as usual, I spent the time people watching and taking photos. Before you get any fancy ideas about the Centre, it's in the corner of a training room and comprises a tin trunk to store documents, a table and four chairs and is staffed by trained volunteers from the local community. There are no computers or internet access because the area doesn't have a power supply or even mobile phone coverage so the centres will provide the local community with easy access to information on their legal rights – food distribution, waged employment, land and forest rights, children's mid-day meals, pension etc as well as help on how to ensure they get them. On the return journey we went "on safari" as Brooke called it and stopped to admire and photograph the flame trees, spotted the apes and monkeys that inhabit the area, bought some forest fruits – heaven knows what they are but they taste nice - and admired the scenery in general. A good day out made all the better because I could call it work.  Click here to see more photos.