I am hoping that this will be a relatively short post as I have been a little light on detail when it comes to the project (apart from the odd moan here and there) and I don't expect this to be very different . Some stories we will save until we get back and perhaps by then, some of the anger and frustration will have dissipated. I am writing this post from a glorious seaside spot in a place called Mirissa in Sri Lanka. I am sat so close to the water that there is a very real danger that my laptop will get splashed but it is a risk I am willing to take for the view. It is the 20th July today and we have now been in Sri Lanka for just shy of a week. Graham and I were originally supposed to leave the project on the 22nd July so we should be Palakol right now, but the situation was such that there seemed little point that we stay on beyond Peter's departure on the 13th. But who is Peter and why are you not in India, I hear you cry? Here is an account of our final few weeks at Hebron.
First though, in the previous post I skipped over the journey back to Palakol from Vijayawada because I thought you had had enough of my rambling for one day, but the trains are always a source of some juicy nuggets to share. The journey was only 3 hours so we travelled in the second class sleeper coach where under no circumstances are the toilets to be used. I am afraid that the smell emanating from the 'washrooms' was pungent enough to reach us in the middle of the carriage so there was no way I was going in to take a photo. Instead I doused myself in rose oil in an attempt to form a sweet scented defence barrier to all other smells. It sort of worked but I am not sure how popular it was with the other passengers crammed into our section. Two things were worth a note. Firstly, it is amazing the amount that Indian families eat, quite a show really. Every time a food seller passed, the family that had surrounded us stopped him, took about half of what he had to offer the whole train and started another round of munching. I feared they may suffer some sort of repetitive strain injury from the constant hand to mouth motion but nothing it seemed would stop this constant feeding. They ate for the entire time we were on the train. The other thing to mention on this point is the wildly inappropriate food they choose as their travel food. Another family in our section (there was about 4 different families I think, so it was cosy especially in 40* heat) had a large, very flimsy plastic tray thing filled with various sections of extremely watery liquid. Not great when you are sharing it between four people (two of whom are kids) on a rather jerky train, but they seemed to enjoy it nonetheless. The second thing of note was witnessing a mother/daughter lesson in the dos and dont's of littering, Indian style. It went something like this: daughter finishes her bottle of fizzy pop and drops it on the train floor. Mother wags her finger, reprimands her daughter for dropping the empty bottle and tells her to dispose of it properly. Daughter picks up the bottle and throws it out the train window. Mother nods in approval. Graham and Amy shake their head in utter frustration.
At Rajahmundry Raju, Sagar's driver met us from the train. Now as we mentioned before many times, driving in India is generally a terrifying experience, but by this point we had been in the car with Raju many times and had managed to avoid any serious incidents so had a fair level of confidence in his driving abilities. That day however was the day after the night before and it clearly had been a late one. Raju was either still drunk or very tired I am not entirely sure which but whatever the reason, there was a pair of very red eyes doing lots of long blinks and not really taking in what was going on in the road. Not ideal when it is perfectly normal for a person to meander across the motorway in front you or for a lorry to decide it's quicker just to drive up the wrong direction. It was all fairly tense and several times we asked Raju if he wanted to pull over for a rest but with a lot of swigging of water (Raju to stay awake or sober up, us to try and keep calm) we made it back to Hebron in one piece, eventually.
To say that our welcome back was frosty is like saying Hitler was a bit of a rascal. It felt that Sagar would not have been any less happy to see us if we had squatted down and pooed on his gleaming white marble steps. This pretty much set the tone for the reception we received for the rest of our time at Hebron. Ah well at least the smattering of children that had returned from the summer holidays were happy to see us so we spent most of our first week playing with them. Although the school term had started, it seemed that Sagar (also headmaster of the Telugu school) had forgotten to tell the teachers who were noticeably absent for the next three weeks. The kids were running around trying to entertain themselves so we started up a few games of hangman and the alphabet game whilst the girls painted Graham's nails. It was actually a lovely time for us as we got to spend lots of time with just a few of the kids. Again it seems that, as with the teachers, the start of term doesn't really mean anything to the kids either as most turned up about two weeks later (although some were still appearing the day we before we left). It also seemed that the constant testing of 'what's my name?' had abated somewhat. We were asked once and if successful (which I am pleased to say we were 99% of the time) then that was that. We had finally passed.