We made it!

We made it!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day 8 Sultans Bathery to Mysore – Welcome & Community Visit

We awake to another beautiful morning. Pleased to see my stomach slowly recovering and whilst not quite ready for the full Indian breakfast starting to return to a sense of stability. As we go about our morning routine and pack up Maggie and I wander around doing a monkey search and see many. The sun is starting to slowly rise above the high coconut trees as the girls have a quick hit with the badminton racquets whilst we await breakfast. I am standing watching the girls having fun whilst behind them in the short distance the monkeys are going about their morning routines.

After breakfast we head back to our rooms and on the way the kids stop to check in on the two ducks that seem to live in the grounds. Yesterday as Maggie and I played cards the ducks started bobbing their heads up and down towards each other which caught Maggie’s eye. Then one of the ducks stood up on the other, to which Maggie said “How cute, they are playing a game of stand up”. A quick birds and the bees discussion ensued to which a reply of “ooh yuk” from Maggie confirmed she understood. Maggie stated that she was excited about the babies that would come, I wasn’t so sure this was a likelihood. Anyway today as we were walking back to the room to get our bags and leave the ducks hopped up and sure enough out pops one duck egg. The kids were very excited to see it almost arrive on cue. If I hadn’t known any better I would have thought it had been planted. Maggie was right after all!

We pack our bags and jump in the bus for our 100+km drive to Mysore today. We were advised by our friends in India that this would not be a safe walk leg because it runs right through a wildlife sanctuary. Our friends were too polite to say we musn’t but suggested the leopards and tigers could be a problem, we agreed. So we hop in the bus and drive through once again quite beautiful country. The drive is uneventful and after several hours we arrive in Mysore. Mysore is a very large city, the second largest in the state of Karnataka behind Bangalore. As we drive in you feel the increase in population and there is a real buzz to the city. We are only a few kilometres from our hotel when a man on a motorbike next to us stopped at the traffic lights knocks on the window and gives Raju a head wobble and shake of his head to suggest a problem. A worried Raju looks in his side mirror and a look of concern comes over his face. We round the corner and pull over and Raju looks back and says “change of tyre, a 30 minute delay”. We had since been on the phone to Eihblin and Nicola who inform us they are about to arrive in Mysore by train. We are very excited about meeting up with our friends and hearing of their Indian adventure.

After our unexpected delay we make it to one of our favourite hotels in the world, the Green Hotel, voted one of the best budget hotels in the world. It is a hotel that devotes its profits to the local community and is a favourite of many, particularly writers which it has a long history of famous authors who have spent time here writing. This is our third visit and we would highly recommend it to anyone coming to Mysore. We are excited to see Eibhlin and Nicola waiting for us in the lobby and we all check in. We have been allocated the exact same room we had on our last visit. As the staff bring up the extra mattresses for the floor for the girls we are informed by Indy and Maggie that they will moving in with the girls while we are here and it is evident that they are in need of some ‘Gus Free’ time and are very excited about their time with the big girls in the ‘party room’.

Just a few quick minutes to catch up, Gus has a powernap. He was getting quite narky in the car on the way here and very much in need of a rest. When Gus starts yelling ‘I don’t like you’ at the top of his voice it is usually code for I need a rest. We contact Prem our friend from ChildFund India and make arrangements to head out to the edge of Mysore for our event – a walk into Mysore. We unfortunately need to wake Gus who looks like he had settled in for a long afternoon sleep but an 'I love you daddy' confirms all is well and we all drive out to a welcome at Bandipalya about 6 KM from the Kiriya Pushpa community project. As we arrive we see many children & staff (over 50) ready to join us in our walk into Mysore. There are many children joining us, many who are sponsored children with Childfund India and many of the female leaders of the very successful self help group program. There is a real buzz in the air, there are banners made up with messages about our ‘walkathon’ that the kids are carrying to promote the walk and the work of the ChildFund programs. Before we start our walk there is an official blessing for all our team members with chalk applied to our foreheads and a smoke wafting ceremony before a spilling of a coloured liquid in front of our feet. Even Gus in his stroller received a blessing, it was an incredibly special start to our walk. We have a walk route that is a 6-8km walk along through Gunduraonagar, Muneshwaranagar-NIE college road and is planned to finish at the ChildFund project headquarters at St Thomas Church.

Here we are as a large group, the 9 members of our walk team and some 50+ children, staff and volunteers walking along the dirt verge along one of the main roads into Mysore, it is quite a sight. Gus and I lead off with Gus in the stroller, followed by the walk team intermingled with the many children and staff. After a few kilometres Mum decides to take Gus in the bus with Raju and meet us at the end of the walk. We all enjoy the opportunity to mix in with the crowd to many conversations about “what is your good name?” and “where are you from?” The kids are just beautiful and many I recognise from my visit here in September. We head off the main road and start to walk through the backstreets, the walk team all carrying on a myriad of conversations intermingled with the crowd. As we walk through the backstreets we stop in a range of locations for additional blessings and small ceremonies. Comments between team members focus on just how surreal this experience is, Bec makes the comment about what would we be doing if we were at home right now, another of life’s wonderful experiences.

There is one young boy named Veeni who has take a particular interest in me (Eibhlin as well, that is Veeni has taken an interest in Eibh too!). Veeni is 11 years old and in 5th standard at school. Veeni tells me he is a batsman and a very good dancer. He is very small for his age, I would have guessed he was 6 or 7 by his physical size, perhaps a sign of a lack of nutrition as he was developing. Veeni is very chatty and enjoys a snake lolly with me as we walk along. I also see a lovely young lady I met on my last visit who is currently studying beyond high school, not sure what this is called and shares again with me her dreams of becoming a doctor. We share our memories of my last visit here in September and I enquire with her about a very sick young baby we saw last visit. She tells me the baby is recovering and has been to the hospital for treatment.

After many kilometres we stop amidst one of the many urban slums around Mysore. It is referred to as a slum but is the proud home of many of those we walk with today. We stop at a small community space, the same my business partner Jeff and I visited in September when we were here. We walk into a small open shed like area with a galvanised roof and brick surrounds, there are chairs set up at the front for us to sit in. The walk team heads in and I am asked for a quick media interview, which I do to spread the word of the good work that ChildFund India is doing here and try to promote the opportunity to donate funds to our causes here. After the interview, longer than I expected, I enter the hut and there is a cake that has been made to commemorate our visit and a rose and a small lemon for each of the team. The hut is crammed from pillar to post with what seems like hundreds of people, I am sure it wasn’t that many but there were faces everywhere. There is a speech made by one of the women who is a leader in the self help groups and she comments on how excited everyone is to welcome us to their homes. I am asked to light the candles on the cake and then the same lady cuts the cake and proceeds to feed each of us a small piece. I am asked to say a few words which I do to thank everyone for their amazing generosity and thank them for providing us with one of the most special days of our lives. I don’t think the people here truly appreciate just how incredible this experience is that they have created for us.

After the official ceremony is completed the kids sense the opportunity to interact more and we are all swamped for handshakes and a quick chat. Maggie and Indy are particularly popular and seem to have made new friends very quickly. We try to reach Mum and Gus by phone to get them to meet us at several points along the journey but seem to be getting lost in translation. It has been some time since we have seen them and are starting to worry about them but there is nothing that we are able to do. We walk through the crowd saying our goodbyes, having last photos before continuing our walk, now hand in hand with many people on our way to our finish location at St Thomas cathedral. I am starting to get the hang of traffic patrol duties and quite confidently stride into open traffic to slow the vehicles down so the entourage can cross safely. As I look around it is clear that this is another unforgettable moment for the team with everyone with smiles brimming and holding hands with their new friends.

We finally make it to our final destination as it is starting to get dark, a few have dropped off along the way but there is still a crowd of 20-30, mainly kids by now who see us to the finish line, what a day. We are also very pleased to see Mum and Gus, mum has done a great job keeping Gus entertained in the hot bus for all of this time and is very relieved to see us. I say goodbye to Veeni who is still holding my hand and say I will see him on Thursday, Veeni is coming to dance for us at a ceremony we are having, he is very excited as am I.

We take some quick tea, Gus has a run around in the grounds and we are very pleased to see the items we have raised funds for ready to be distributed on Thursday. There is a room full of school kits and water filters and we are informed there are also many bikes ready as well. We are also supplying emergency treatment for HIV infected children. What an amazing way to finish our day, this is what we cam here to do and it is incredible to see first hand the items ready for distribution.

We say our thankyous and goodbyes and although weary there is a lot of excited chat going on in the bus on the way home. Gus ofcourse giving Raju a complete update on all of his activities since he last saw him. Back at the Green hotel we wash up for a dinner on the lawn courtyard at the hotel, candle lights on the table and sit under a beautiful clear star filled sky. It is a very simple venue but incredibly special. We order some tandoori chicken for the kids and a selection of curries and breads for dinner. Gus finds a new friend Bianca, who is a little younger and Italian we think. At one stage he has a possie of 5 young girls following him around the large outdoor courtyard. As we sit and share stories of the day Gus is doing cartwheels and forward rolls on the brick paths with Bianca much to our concern, they seem happy. We have a lovely dinner, I decide to bite the bullet and get back on the wagon with the full curry selection. I can’t last long in India on dry crackers and barley sugars! Gus eats his chicken like it is the first real meal he has had in weeks, it is really only days! We order a second serve for him. A special end to an incredibly special day that was shared with Jen and Nick, Eibhin and Nicola.

1 comment:

  1. A hearty welcome to our state Karnataka .. Hope you a great success in your Journey..