Well things are coming to a close and last minute assessments are being finalised and ticked off. Gifts are being exchanged and the employers are muttering about how many students they want to take on whilst the youngsters are looking forward to their end of course trip to Nicco Park. It’s an afternoon of thrills and spills and they deserve a wee treat after all the effort they have put in in the last 6 weeks. We were mighty relieved to find it was a fraction of the price of Alton Towers thank goodness. We decided this would be the perfect time to say goodbye rather than going back to the village with them and said our sad farewells at the exit before they piled onto the school bus. I had thought that I would be able to handle all the emotion knowing they have a few more life skills and have a path to follow but it was hard.
It’s always a bit of a laugh driving around and seeing some of the bill boards advertising stuff. Loved the wedding themed ‘Your love is like steel, our furniture compliments it.’ It was advertising those steel man cupboards, where no self-respecting woman would dare go. The ones that men have in the garage to keep the drain rods, sprockets and funny shaped sponges to clean those tricky places on their cars … only in this instance, in the picture, it was in a house with saris, girly blouses and heels stacked neatly one on top of the other. Maybe that’s what really happens in a man cupboard, who am I to say? I think all us women should find the household torch and sneak out and dare to have a peak….you have been warned!
Well the high light of the last couple of days has been preparing for Show time. At the end of the course the students put on a show for local employers and everything is quite fraught. It’s times like these that I am so grateful to the experience of the Kemnay Panto days and I have to say these kids knock spots of you lazy dead beats who could never be bothered to learn your lines…and you know who you are! It’s been such fun and I love the enthusiasm and fun that they have all had. Last night I nipped down the road to buy some kind of Indian garment to wear to present the acts. I ended up getting a ‘traditional designer frock’ according to the man in the shop. At the time I had Tess or Claudia from Strictly in my head but I think I ended up more like a Christmas Puppet you stick on the mantelpiece a week before the festivities. These cultural things are as tricky as an Indian presenting something in the UK and ending up on stage looking like someone in a Cor Blimey Love a Duck Pearly King outfit wearing a See You Jimmy Hat. Nevertheless it seemed to go down a treat with adults and children alike and the audience went wild with excitement at some of the acts.
Oh and if anyone is having a bit of a do at Christmas please don’t hesitate to invite me round to sit on your mantelpiece.
This year is the 95th anniversary of Hermann Gmeiner who dedicated this village in Kolkata and I must admit that some parts of it look a little shabby…but not the children. They are full of life and obviously very happy which is testament to the good works these SOS Villages provide. There is a ready source of ‘models’ and inquisitive wee rascals for our students as they all need their hair cut at some point and even most of our students want something or other. This week we started on straightening hair and practically everyone wanted to be a volunteer for this whether they needed it or not. We chose Ruby who is loving her silky shiny locks and I must say it has transformed her.
We are expecting every single student(22) to be taken for three months training with various employers and it has been interesting finding out how the system works. Hairdressing is a blossoming market out here and some of the salons are national chains with hundreds of shops throughout India. Most of our students are from SOS Village Guwhati in Assam and therefore are temporarily staying here so they will still get placements in their home city.
Not only are our students learning hairdressing and employability skills but also English is not their first language. Even so they make such an effort to communicate and I have absolute belief that some of them will become great role models and very successful.
When I left tonight there were several police around the complex (with guns) and I was worried there was some sort of alert on but eventually I found out that another child had been dropped off. They can only flourish here.
This first week has gone so quickly I can hardly believe it but even I can see a real improvement in everyone we are teaching from day to day. I have actually managed to remember everyone’s names as well but I think all my new Indian chums on fb helps with that:).
Once the teaching had finished on Saturday we spent the rest of the weekend doing a bit of sightseeing around Kolkata. The simplest idea was to hire a car and driver to see as many sites as possible minimising any dramas. Surprisingly the main tourist sights are relatively few for such a large city and usually the good stuff is not always possible when time is limited. We managed to see an image of the Raj with the majestic Victoria Monument where some of the officers had 110 servants to 4 gentlemen. I say old chap…that’s a bit of a rum do isn’t it? Anyone for a game of cricket old bean? see you on the lawn at Tifin yah! So you get the idea very quickly of how things used to be.
We then sped off with our driver who had no white gloves on to our river trip, timing it perfectly for the sunset. Complete with live Indian romantic music. Splendid! Why Janet’s husband Peter, has to snuffle about all the street vendors and mannies carrying noxious looking liquids, tasting everything he sees is beyond us two refined ladies. But we just watch knowing he will come to a sticky end eventually. And that definitely will not be very romantic.
Great day in the SOS village today and Janet sort of made me run things today as she had other things to attend to. The Children are great and walking towards the classroom and hearing ‘Morning Mam’ 22 times just warms my heart. Some of the children are from other SOS villages in India and when I talk to them they want to go back to their are as and open salons or work in existing ones. I know they will do it.
Tonight we ventured into Kolkata city centre. The most alarming traffic I have ever seen in my life and remember I’m from London. Everyone drives two inches from the person NSEW of them constantly tooting ‘watch out I’m coming through’. I even think a motorcyclist wobbled into the verge when it hit our taxi and the driver didn’t even bat an eyelid. I passed a leafy bonfire in the middle of the road on my way to work this morning and we just drove right over the top of it it and twice we did a ‘Hollywood Nooooooh’ in the city centre when we thought we would be crumpled between two buses.
None the less it was worth every hair raising moment when we arrived at Nazima’s in the heart of the really mucky bit of Kolkata. There nestled amongst tiny, crouched tailors sewing beads onto saris was the scabbiest looking restaurant/take away advertising the famous Indian ‘wrap’ which had been recommended by Rick Stein on one of his foodie adventures. Standing in the street scoffing and wearing half of it was bliss and worth every terrifying moment of the journey back home.
Yesterday we tackled a bit of Health and Safety but looking out my window this morning I thought why bother. There were the builders high up on office block scaffolding without those wooden boards to walk on. Nearby there were early morning risers ferrying up huge great sand bags balanced on their heads climbing up to the top of said scaffolding. They don’t seem to have all those gigantic vehicles that Kirkwood Homes thunder past my house with in Monymusk. In Kolkata It’s like watching the circus come to town without the tigers….only you probably get that too further north.
As of tomorrow I will be without my mentor Janet as she is having to go elsewhere for a few days so hopefully I can stick to the plan and keep up the pretence that I know what I am doing:) So far we have hardly been out but plan to do a bit of sightseeing over the next few days. There is no rush as getting up early and a full on day in 30C would make anyone feel weary.
A very satisfying day with lots of new skills achieved and a growing confidence with these young people. Janet and I went to the supermarket last night to by some supplies for helping to keep the salon clean and tidy, all part of the H&S side of things. The joy and excitement that bucket and mop created was a joy to behold. They actually took turns in using it and fought over who would use the squirty household cleaners with colourful sponges….even the lads! No sexism on our watch! I have been awarded the title Entertainments Mam as we will put on a small variety performance next week for local employers. Some hairdressing demos but adding a bit of singing, dancing and a wee comedy sketch illustrating good/bad practice in the salon. I am hoping this will prevent the audience nodding off. It’s going to be a laugh and the students are quite excited about it.
On the wall outside the village there is a sign which says ‘a loving home for every child’ and as soon as you chug and bounce through the high gates in the village van you see how that mission statement has been put into practice with happy, giggly, smiley faces of all ages. Friends wandering round, holding hands, chatting and capering about. Truly lovely to see.
Spent my first day learning the ropes at the SOS Childrens’ Village in Kolkata and will have to devise a system in order to remember all the 22 names. My luggage arrived in time for work this morning and I was mighty relieved I have to admit. Standing in front of a class without the proper gear could seriously undermine your confidence. On opening my case disaster had struck….the Tunnocks Tea Cakes were a sorry state and only fit for private consumption. India would have to wait to try those another day The jet lag is catching up with me now after such a busy day and the excitement of whizzing about in a Tut Tut with a large orange bucket and a purple mop…it’s a long story but one for another night.
After looking forward to this moment for so long I finally arrived in Kolkata this morning minus my suitcase. However, based upon the sage advice from a good friend who has grim experience in these matters, I had packed a spare pair of drawers in my hand luggage so things were not quite so hopeless. (Thanks Noel!).
The drive from the airport had me instantly smiling as we wove through the traffic merrily tooting and swerving, avoiding hot lazy dogs, lean angular cattle, rickshaws and vehicles of every description with wobbly wheels and even narrowly missing a reckless wheelchair user going the wrong way round quite a busy roundabout. Everybody seemed to happily, yet calmly join in this chaotic way of going about their business.
I spent an inspiring day with Janet Maitland, the Ambassador for Shaping Futures along with a hand over from the enthusiastic Anthony McMeiken and a committed Sara McBride who have done a fantastic job so far. They were both so sad to leave all the young people they have coached for the last two weeks and I am absolutely sure they will be back volunteering another year. They spent the afternoon showing me around the local area whilst they looked for gifts to take back home. Those beautiful silk fabrics along with Anthony and Sara’s wonderful personalities will certainly light up the streets of Durham and Perth.