Day 9: Jodhpur (Mandore), Rajasthan 08/10/11
Wake up to a delicious breakfast of pancakes, tea and toast. Meet the mysterious Surendra who is sorting all the voluntary work for us – a very inspiring man of around 65, who has seemingly lived many different lives. He has been an engineer, tour guide, drug counsellor, community figurehead, corporate advisor and guest house owner. He fills us in on his work and what we will be doing with the scheme.
We take a quick visit to Mandore gardens, a beautiful park, with old Royal Cenotaphs and the cleanest body of water we have seen in India so far.
Back to the guest house and get to k now some of the staff there, through limited English, limited Hindi and Mumbai Indians vs Somerset.
Had an Indian haircut – 30 rupees for a decent amount of hair to be lopped. Results questionable.
Great dinner, amazing chapatis and monkeys in the guest house gardens.
Day 10: Mandore, Rajasthan 09/10/11
Indian breakfast of Apuah(?) (a rice dish with veg and nuts), aloo parathas and masala chai. Very popular with one of our party.
Head into Jodhpur on a tuk-tuk – the traffic here is still chaotic but not quite as hectic as other parts of India we have seen. Arrive in a very busy market/bazaar district of Jodhpur where there is lots to see and smell as with other city areas we have visited. End up very lost in the city on a very busy Sunday, with lots of festivities – horses, parades and weddings all going on. Invited to join a wedding procession. Declined.
Eventually find our way back to the area we started in after repeatedly asking directions. I am not quite sure which part of ‘straight’ we did not understand. More ‘Ali Baba’ trousers from the market for Gemma, I try to haggle for a shirt, though the traders are having none of it.
Bitten to death! A trip to the pharmacy for some cream for the numerous bites we have picked up in the narrow streets is in order. Thomas moans.
A quick Indian delicacy called an Oreo McFlurry cools us down before we head back to the guest house in time for me to watch the chef in action to try to pick up some tips. Message to self in the kitchen – throw Dave’s spice rack out. Completely inadequate!
Day 11: Mandore, Rajasthan 10/10/11
Wake up excited for our first day volunteering. Little could prepare us for what was in store!
Get dressed in our normal attire – shorts, t shirt, etc. for us both. Asked to change by Surendra. A quick change and it becomes apparent that this is not good enough. Escorted to Surendra’s house to change into some borrowed clothes. Gemma looks lovely in the traditional Indian Salwar Kameez, Thomas less so in a pair of oversized stonewashed denim jeans and a faded old cotton shirt.
Anyway, we are driven to, we think, watch Surendra and others open some new classrooms in a school 25 miles away funded by Mittal, the UK’s richest man. We walk in with some dignitaries, politicians and village elders and we are shown the new facilities. Very nice indeed.
Invited to sit down, only when we are seated do we realise we are on a stage in front of about 500 people. Tom, naturally, is invited to say a few words and is introduced as ‘a foreigner, we are not sure where he is from or who he is with’. A few mumbled words and a multicoloured turban presentation later and it is time to go home. Happy 21st Billy.
Day 12: Mandore, Rajasthan 11/10/11
First day of volunteering at the school. Lovely drives us the 10 miles to the rural village of Relawas in an open backed Jeep. Indian roads and drivers at their very best!
Arrive at the school and we are mobbed by the children. ‘ What is your name? How are you? My name is…’ conversations undertaken 50 times. Twice with each child.
The school is a real eye-opener – some of the children are in uniform, others aren’t. Lots of children in very tattered clothes and uniform and many are accompanied throughout the day by their very young siblings, some no older than 2/3.
Thomas gets to play cricket and launch the teacher’s bowling out of the ground whilst the women in the grounds, who want to compare underwear, undress Gemma. Watch the children recite their morning prayer and register and leave the school around 12.30.
Go to Mandore village to buy a belt, some tennis balls for the schoolchildren and some nail varnish remover. Watch Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in Hindi. Realise we are missing HBO.
Day 13: Mandore, Rajasthan 12/10/11
Back to the school for day 2. Again the kids run up to us to ask our names, despite knowing them, and ask how we are. When we ask them, the stock answer is ‘I am fine’. Literally every single one of them was ‘fine’.
A quick game of cricket, morning prayer and register and we are taking a very simple English lesson, after which we listen to ‘English is fun’ government radio broadcast. After listening repeatedly to the educationally and lyrically brilliant ‘What’s your name’ and ‘The Good Morning’ songs I realise my English is pretty good.
Realise a lifelong dream and act as dinner ladies, ladling up the culinary delights provided by the government. Needless to say it is not particularly appetising.
After school we head to Jodhpur to pick up paper plates to make clocks for our next lesson. We make the clocks in the evening and upon realising we needed blu-tack or a suitable substitute, Thomas makes a late dash to the local shops, some 200 feet from where we are staying.
The hardware shopkeeper is perplexed when I ask after putty, eventually thrusting a mobile phone in my hand with Lovely from our digs on the other end. He in turn hangs up, and like a cross between Knightrider and Batman arrives on his motorbike to rescue me. He locates the relevant products and escorts me the 12 seconds home on his bike. My hero.
Day 14: Mandore, Rajasthan 13/10/11
Day 3 at the school and we are straight in with 4/5th class without the need to pray or be registered. Work on the clocks with the children and teach Gemma quarter past, half past and quarter to.
A brief bit of ‘English is fun’ again and we are back in the classroom. Another shift as a dinner lady and we are finished at the school for the day. We head back to Mandore and I still turn red at the sight of Lovely, my hero!!
For the third night running I am accosted by some local kids who are desperate to tell me about their day at school. My ego and celebrity status are inflated further. India England one day game tomorrow. Source of hilarity for the people that work here.
Day 15: Mandore, Rajasthan 14/10/11
Play a very PC game at the school first thing, called ‘lungeri’, which literally means ‘disabled’. One person is ‘it’ and must hop and try to tag as many people as possible until it is time to fot the next person to act as ‘it’. The winning team is the one that manages to tag all the opposing team in the shortest time. Another early sweat on.
Recap on the clocks with the kids. Some new ones in class today and we learn just how many are brother and sister. Suddenly all clicks into place why so many look alike. Discover that Indian kids are as impressed by the robot as their English counterparts.
Watch the cricket back at our digs. Make a bet whereby I will wash up should India win. They get 300, England are skittled. Up to my elbows in suds. A source of great amusement for the workers.
Day 16: Mandore, Rajasthan 15/10/11
Day off from the volunteering. Walk to Mandore Gardens again – encounter lots of monkeys, surely the cheekiest of all the animals.
The workers here still snigger at their new bottle washer. Have a glass of Indian rum. It is very strong and lives up to its name – XXX.
Day 17: Mandore, Rajasthan 16/10/11
Not a lot to report. Some minor surgery on a size 10 foot performed by Gemma, a walk through the park again and visit the ruins of Mandore fort, where there are great views over the town and the surrounding mountains. We make a pasta dish in the kitchen, which, despite the quality of the food here, was a welcome change.
Oh and GEMMA GOT CHASED BY A MONKEY!!!!!!!!!!!! This has to rank as one of the funniest, scariest and most bizarre things ever seen. A man with a violin style instrument shouted at it and it stopped. Lucky really.
Day 18: Mandore, Rajasthan 17/10/11
Monday morning and we are back at the school. Each child greets us with the question ‘What is your name?’ Again.
Our lesson plan consisted of teaching the children ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’. They already knew it and made a mockery of our lesson.
We watched the second ODI and made a bet with the staff that we would buy them a shedload of sweets should England lose. India win by 8 wickets. Cue jalebi (deep fried sugary batter) all round.
Forced to buy some new sunglasses, as my pair straight from the catwalks of Jaipur fall apart. My new Ray Mears (Ray Ban rip off) cost 85 rupees. Gemma finds it hilarious that they make me look like Stevie Wonder and plays a game where she chases me pretending to be a rabid monkey out to get a blind singer. Scary stuff.
Day 19: Mandore, Rajasthan 18/10/11
An early morning penknife accident results in a thumb that bleeds profusely. More Florence Nightingale stuff from Gemma.
Our lesson is a bit more successful today as we give them new subject matter. The subjects of flags, Spongebob Squarepants, animals and ‘1,2,3,4,5 once I caught a fish alive’ are well received.
On the way back from the school in the open sided jeep I forget that I am wearing a cap and when I stick my head out to see the military jet screaming above the hat takes off and is recovered some 400 metres back down the road by a friendly motorcyclist.
A new hotel room work out is developed. Impressive. Play some rooftop cricket in a building site (not quite as dangerous as it sounds unfortunately) and the Indians are impressed with the tekkers of both male and female English cricketers.
Last day of voluntary work tomorrow. Good timing as the kids break up for the Diwali holidays. Before bed there is another brush with the local wildlife. A tiny mouse sees Gemma screaming whilst stood on the bed. Not quite as dangerous as the monkey business in the park but still hilarious.
Day 20: Mandore, Rajasthan 19/10/11
Our last session at the school today and before lessons we visit a local village home. Although it is literally adjoined to the school grounds I would imagine these kids are the last ones in every morning. Very basic and ‘rural’ but very humbling to see. We hold a couple of baby goats that they keep.
The final lesson of our regime sees us playing hangman, which predictably ends in chaos. A big, black and rather evil looking snake makes an appearance outside the window. More chaos.
We head back to the guesthouse and have a game of cricket with the boys that work there. One ball is lost in a hole that turns out to be a pit of sewage (hidden gully?) and the assault course style pitch makes the game more fun still, with an old Ambassador car parked at mid off. As with any game of cricket in which I play, we spend more time looking for the ball than playing. Sadly, as usual, it is off my bowling that the ball is lost.
I don an apron and cook in the kitchen on our last evening. Like a seasoned pro I peel spuds, cook a dhal and make chapattis. Delicious. A good final day but we are sad to leave.