A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

There she goes again...

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I am now a graduate with a 2.1 Law degree from Nottingham Trent University. Most people would now advise that with the state of the current economy and work climate that I should undertake the Legal Practice Course, secure a training contract, and begin my career as a solicitor. I disagree. I have the rest of my life to work, so for the next year I intend to travel and experience different cultures whilst volunteering for charitable organisations.

I’ve been at home for the past six weeks after my interrailing trip around Europe, and now it’s time for me to set off on my next adventure! The first stop on my journey takes me to the huge and diverse country of India. My initial purpose being to undertake an internnship for a month at an NGO charity called Jananeethi (www.jananeethi.org) which is based in Thrissur, Kerala (South India). ‘ Jananeethi aims at radical changes in society, enabling the individuals and societies become aware of their inherent human rights and civil liberties.’ Along with my university friends Jenna, Shreena and Lauren I will be working on a project involving womens empowerment.

Jenna and I will then be travelling India by train for 6 weeks before I fly from Dehli to New Zealand on 15th November. In New Zealand I will visit my friend Emily in Auckland, then travel the North and South islands, and see my Auntie and Uncle before flying home on 23rd December.

Today's the day! I’ve had 7 jabs, purchased 11 weeks’ worth of malaria tablets, obtained visa’s, flights and travel insurance and packed? ...as usual I was still packing 5 minutes before I was meant to be leaving!

I'm now on the way to Leicester to get the coach to the airport and its pouring with rain... preparing me for the monsoons in India!
Right now I'm feeling overwhelmed and slightly nervous at the thought of travelling to a country so culturally different from my own. However I'm looking forward to approaching this experience with an open mind and immersing myself in their way of life.

Im going to miss all my family and friends... but I will see you all at Christmas :D
Will keep you all updated on here when I get chance!

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Posted by laurandtheworld 04:00 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Kerala; God's own country

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The flight from Heathrow to Mumbai lasted around 10 hours, dinner consisted of our first Indian meal of the trip which was a mild mixed vegetable curry, chapatti, potato salad, chutney and yoghurt. Around 11am (Indian time) we began the descent into Mumbai, before even landing I witnessed the harsh reality of absolute poverty in India as we flew over the Mumbai slums. Reality hit that I was no longer in England.

As soon as we disembarked from the plane I felt my clothes stick to me as I was surrounded by the humid, sweaty heat. The transfer for our next flight to Cochin was simple and we arrived there at around 4:30pm… only one hour late. George (the director of Jananeethi) and Destin (our translator and also an Advocate) were there, they were both delighted to meet us and were very welcoming.

The journey to Thrissur where our apartment is located was about an hour. I was overwhelmed for the whole journey; looking out the window and taking in the beautiful green surroundings of Kerala and the recklessness of the roads! We stopped off for food en route; fried banana and Ghee roast – which is an Indian pancake made from rice batter and lentils - with yoghurt and a chutney sauce. It was tasty, but left me with a runny nose and fiery mouth! I also had my first experience of eating food with my right hand, only the right hand is used as the left hand is for going to the bathroom.

Before reaching our apartment I didnt have particuarly high expections as we were paying around £200 between the four of us for the month. However I was pleasantly surprised. We have two air-conditioned bedrooms, a kitchen, living/dining area and even an English TV. After unpacking I headed straight to bed after a tiring two days of travelling.

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Posted by laurandtheworld 16:20 Archived in India Comments (0)

Welcome to Jananeethi Institute :)

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Woke up today at 7:30am hoping to have a nice shower and it was freezing cold! So I decided to wash Indian style; tap and jug wash. We were picked up from our apartment at 9am by Destin to go shopping for Sari's to wear at our arrival banquet at Jananeethi. I'm still overwhelmed by the hecticness of the roads and streets. Our first time crossing the road was a mission; just walk, and hope is my motto! I love looking in the shops at all the beautiful sari's, there are so many different designs, colours, materials, sequins. I chose a lilac blouse and a white, pink & silver sari. We also bought bindi's which are the decorations worn in the centre of the forehead.

Jananeethi is down a dirt track and over a tiny bridge in a lovely tranquil location lined with trees. As Kerala is nearing the end of the monsoon season the trees and surroudings are a beautiful lush green.

Upon arrival we were greeted by George (the director) and a number of members of Jananeethi who all seemed really eager and interested to meet us. There was an Onam flower (Pookalam) on the porch area which the members had made out of flower petals to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali(this is an Onam tradition – Onam is a festival celebrated in Kerala). We were given a tour of Jananeethi and then Destin helped me to put on my sari, there was a lot of material and it was hard to walk in, but we all looked really nice and Indian!

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We then tucked in to the banquet, for Onam food is traditionally served on banana leaves! I discovered that it’s quite difficult at first to eat rice with your hand! After watching Malin (another intern) I realised that the trick is to mix the curry into the rice and squish it all together. It sounds disgusting, but you get used to it. The meal consisted of rice and a number of different curries - my favourite being the pineapple one. This kind of meal is a tradition during the time of ONAM festival. Whilst in India I have decided not to eat meat in order to minimise the likelyhood of becoming sick! In South India a large majority of the population are vegetarian so there is no problem here as most meals are typically vegetarian.

Immersing yourself in the culture is the best way to experience the real India. I am very grateful that we are being introduced to the Indian customs by the local people themselves, and being made to feel like part of their society rather than merely a tourist.

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After the banquet George briefed us on the project we will be undertaking during the course of the next month. It is going to involve interviewing 100 women; 40 current representatives in the Panchayat (local government), 40 former women representatives, 20 government officials and 20 family members to see if they think women in politics can change Kerala. This is due to a new law being passed in 2010 which reserves 50% seats in local government for women.

We are going to be working 6 days a week, I'm looking forward to starting the project and meeting local people to learn about women in Kerala society. Sundays are our day off and George has kindly offered to take us on visits to different places in Kerala which will be interesting.

Posted by laurandtheworld 17:19 Archived in India Comments (0)

First day of work

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Today was our first day of work. Destin picked us up and we first took a trip into Thrissur to purchase Indian sim cards for Shreena and I. In England this would take no more than five minutes. It took 2-3 hours to get us sim cards! We had to provide photocopies of passport, driving licence, and photos. The rules for certain things here are really strict; even in supermarkets you have to put your handbag in a locker on the way in and get your receipt stamped on the way out. Yet wearing seatbelts in cars is unheard of! Destin also managed to lock the car and leave her car keys (and house keys) on the inside. This attracted at least 5/6 Indian men to the car to help and decide what to do, which was amusing to watch. A short while later they managed to get into the car without causing any damage.

On the way to our first interview Destin took us into a beautiful catholic church named Our Lady of Dolours Basilica Church(Puthan Pally) and we stayed to observe some readings and prayers. We then climbed up the bible tower which was 25 floors high and apparently the highest tower in India! The flights of stairs also have interesting religious art on the walls in the form of stained glass windows.

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We then carried on to our first interview. The woman we visited was a former representative of the local panchayat. She lived in a very poor area and her house reflected this. The very small house only seemed to have one room which was used to live in. Despite this she seemed a happy woman and was very enthusiastic about the work she did as a representative. It was evident that she cares a lot about the local people and has high hopes for the qualitative changes women can bring to society within kerala. She has initiated various projects in her community such as putting in place street lights and access to drinking water.

We conducted 4 more interviews today, three at different houses and one at a special Onam market. Everyone was friendly towards us and offered us tea and Indian snacks (upperi (plain banana chips) and Sarkara Puratti (Fried- thick slices of unripe banana wrapped in jaggery, cardamom powder and ginger). It seems that people in the local area don't often see white people from England as we get a lot of stares! All in a harmless way though, people just seem to be quite shocked and interested to see us. We also made friends with some young Indian girls who were very keen to practice their English with us which was nice.

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Walking home from the town centre after work in the dark was a mission... the road doesn't have a path and there are very few street lights (note to self; take a torch!) and the Indians' driving isn't any safer in the dark!

We arrived home to find a cockraoch which, after a lot of screaming and deet spray, was eventually killed!

We ended up staying awake until 2:30am doing the first days journal for George as there was a lot to write. But we eventually completed it and I was happy when we finally got to go to bed after a tiring first day!

Posted by laurandtheworld 12:25 Archived in India Comments (0)

Atham - The first day of Onam

Today is officially the first day of ONAM! Onam festival is a traditional harvest festival in Kerala and is the largest and most important in the state. It is celebrated by everyone no matter what religion or caste. “According to a popular legend, the festival is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam.”

Today we returned to Annie’s house who we visited yesterday. They were a lovely family and academic as both are retired teachers. They offered us lemon juice and also Bharfi sweet which was in lime and chocolate flavour. Annie's husband was very supportive and positive with regard to his wife’s work as a representative.

We then visited a Muslim woman at her home. She was the first lady we have interviewed who was not happy with the way she was treated whilst in office. This also made us question whether there may be discrimination within the Panchayat with regard to religion? Since there are significantly fewer Muslims in Kerala than Hindu’s.

After lunch we went to Destin’s sister’s house and met their family and Destin’s daughter Christina. We then went to Destin’s house. She has a beautiful large house with coconut and mango trees in her garden. We stayed at her house for a while and she made us chai (I’m not a tea drinker in England, but over here I love it!) It is served in small cups and is usually a lot sweeter than English tea! Her daughter also showed us some photos from her family album.

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In the evening we went shopping... we went to a large posh store called Kaylan Silks and then went to some local shops on the round and I bought two Kurta’s which are long Indian tops for about £3 each! We then attempted to walk home in the dark and monsoon rains. However being unsure of the way (note to self: do not ask Indian’s for directions, they try to help even if they have no idea!) and after being followed and harassed by three guys we decided to jump in the back of an auto rickshaw. What an experience! We managed to squeeze four of us in the back, which meant Lauren was falling out most the way! The journey home only cost 30 rupees, which is about 40 pence.

After meeting many Indian families already it has already become evident to me that family values lie at the core of Indian culture. Families are very close and the parents and elders are highly respected. The married children usually live with the parents of the son.

I feel that in England children are becoming more independent at a younger age and sometimes growing apart from their parents, especially with the high rate of divorce, and family values may appear to be becoming less respected. However the Indian culture can sometimes seem too dependent upon the family. Young people, especially women, are not encouraged to become independent and move away from home to work or travel as this is seen to be too dangerous and the women are still traditionally the homemakers. There are positives and negatives with both cultures.

Many times when speaking about our plans to travel India Jenna and I were faced with a shocked reaction that two young women at the age of 21, and not yet married, were going to travel India alone. Many Indians I have met so far have never visited any other cities in India. However, this may be due to Thrissur being a comparatively small and very traditional town. In the urban cities peoples’ opinions are becoming more liberal, especially the younger generation.

Just some of my thoughts from the day!

Posted by laurandtheworld 07:38 Archived in India Comments (0)

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