Cleo in Wonderland

6 Mar

Today is my last day in Goa; tomorrow I fly home via Mumbai,  after another month in this beautiful, heartbreaking, bewitching, chaotic, colourful, frustrating country.

It’s been a busy week, with a mixture of freelance writing, charity work for Educators’ Trust India and, unexpectedly,  a sidebar trip to Chennai.

Monday saw me spending the day working on the “Volunteer with Us” section of their website,  and hammering out the framework by which ETI can take on around 20 volunteers for the 2011/2012 tourist season.  We also identified 20 children who are in need of monthly sponsors and talked about how that model will work … feel free to email me if you’d like more details.

On Tuesday I went back to the slum with the Morning Light project and spent five hours there, washing the children, handing out samosas and being in charge of Operation Underwear.  Two Swedish supporters,  Jane and Bjorn,  donated a large shopping bag full of assorted pairs of differently sized knickers … so we had a system going whereby we washed the kids,  treated their hair for nits and they then lined up in order to receive a new pair of pants.

(Over which they then re-dressed themselves in their filthy old clothes.)

Jane also provided each child with a Mickey Mouse toothbrush,  so we had an “up and down, side to side, rinse and SPIT” teeth brushing lesson in the open air.

Two children were particularly affectionate this week; brother and sister,  they came running over as soon as they saw me and then attached themselves to me for the duration of my visit,  each one clinging to a hand. Diego translated for me and I learned that the lady with them,  whom I had assumed was their mum,  is in fact their nanni – they are the children of her son and she is raising them,  as their mother died a few years ago.  I was so sad to leave them – lots of hugs all round and they cried when we drove away.  I wonder if I’ll ever see them again?

On Wednesday I spent a long, dusty and above all HOT morning at Anjuna market;  until this trip,  it’s just been the place that I visit to shop and sightsee and take colourful photos,  but this time,  I spent the morning working with Diego on the ETI fund raising stall.  I gave out leaflets,  explained what we do (“we run schools for slum children” – how about that for an elevator pitch?) and took donations of clothes, toiletries, books and money.  Some very clear national divides emerged between the passersby: Indian tourists walked straight on,  Russians stopped to look and then barked “No!” or even,  charmingly, “F*ck off!” if you offered them a leaflet; Americans were friendly, interested but usually backpacking, so had very little money to offer but always managed around 100 rupees (c. £1.40) as a donation,  with an apology that it couldn’t be more; northern Europeans from places such as Germany and Scandinavia didn’t want to chat but always stuffed a generous donation into my collecting box before walking on.

Most of the money came from the British tourists,  who were uniformly friendly, positive, supportive and generous – it gladdened my heart to meet so many lovely people,  who gave so freely of their time and their possessions. I only did four hours there and was knackered at the end of it – and there’s poor Diego,  doing a 12 hour day week in, week out, every Wednesday.  What a star.

Thursday saw a complete gear change for me;  I cobbled together a vaguely “smart” outfit from things in my traveller’s wardrobe plus some borrowed shoes and flew to Chennai on the other side of India for a business meeting-cum-interview.  After three weeks in the universal melting pot of Goa,  it felt strange to be on a plane where I was the only woman aside from the staff and the only westerner – everyone else was a dark skinned business man with a laptop and a bushy moustache.  Upon arrival at Chennai airport, I saw a billboard welcoming the England cricket team and a sign saying “hello Thompson mr”  and was then whisked away to the Sheraton hotel,  courtesy of my hosts.

TV! Hot water! Room service! A vibrating massage chair … what a contrast to the start of my week.

My “Alice down the rabbit hole” feeling continued the next day,  when I managed to have an interview, meet the England cricket team (obtaining some autographs for my taxi driver Satish in the process – he is now “Top Man in Goa”, apparently), chat to the Sky Sports camera team and meet my friend Priya from Bangalore for lunch … before flying back to Goa to head up the ETI team in a pub quiz – which we won!

Yesterday I rested,  before going to a wedding in the evening.  I knew neither bride (Feliciana) or groom (Romeo)  but was invited as a guest through my friend Renee; her landlord is the bride’s uncle (or something). So Satish drove us through the twilight to a huge, open air wedding venue,  where we joined around 500 other people in celebrating their marriage. Fireworks, confetti, party poppers, spray string, fabulous food,  Bollywood dance moves and a free bar …

Today I’m blogging, packing,  saying goodbye to my friends (although quite a few people have already left for home;  this is the Big Exodus weekend) and then heading out to a concert by the ETI children – they’re performing some dance moves – like this – at a local restaurant and we’re hoping to raise a few more donations from it.

I’m leaving on a jet plane,  don’t know when I’ll be back again – but I hope it’s soon.

3 Responses to “Cleo in Wonderland”

  1. Karen Burton May 19, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    I’ve come to your blog late- came across it while researching volunteering work in South India. It’s really inspired me. I really want to go there and volunteer with ETI. Do you know if it’s very hard to get a volunteer place? Or are they always looking? Thanks.

    • Cleo May 19, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      Hi Karen – I imagine that ETI are recruiting now for this year’s season, which will start in c. November 2012. Drop sue@educatorstrustindia.org a line and ask her what the story is with regard to your availability etc. Good luck! Cleo

      • Karen May 19, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

        Great, thankyou.

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