October arrives in a flurry of letters from home and brings with it my first care package (I've added it to the list of reasons why I love my parents dearly) and two new classes for Alex & I to juggle. I'd also like to add a very special shout-out to Katie, Harry, Zara, Carys, Caoimhe, Holly, Viktoria, Orla, Cara, Joury, Alina, Kayla, Jonathan, Kayla, Aidan, Senitha, Hassan, Farhan, Olivia, Sylvia, Cheyanne, Oliver, Marcus, Ben and Callum from Primary 2/3 at Holy Family! I grinned from ear to ear after receiving your letters and lovely pictures. You made my day and they are now decorating my wall! Everyone who comes into our room admires your beautiful pictures and lovely handwriting too. There is a letter headed your way, but I've still to find time to get to the post office, so there's a slight delay in it reaching you- sorry about that!
Life is picking up, we are gradually getting busier and busier, and the days that once felt like they lasted forever now pass us by quicker than ever. We're forced to wonder where the time has gone. How did we have so much time before? Ever so gradually, this place is beginning to feel less alien to us and more like home. Things that used to baffle us now seem ordinary - what do you mean you don't have a lizard living in your bathroom? doesn't everybody? We are used to the monkeys on the roof and the cows on the road and getting in a car that has seatbelts now seems like a novelty. Even though Hyderabad continues to provide us with endless scope for questioning life itself and the roads are still manic, it doesn't feel quite so different from home anymore.
In fact, I think it's more than fair to say that I fall more in love with Hyderabad the more I see of it. Whether it's the view from the roof of LVPEI (from above you would hardly believe how chaotic it is down below), or the things I see on the drive to and from work, or when we go out and sightsee, I'm actually starting to adore this place. It's got it's own special brand of magic, and it's really cast a spell over me.
The drive to work remains one of my favourite things about my day. It takes us an hour, and it's not always the nicest journey- when it's 30C and you're crammed into a car with nine other people - but despite the sometimes uncomfortable drive, the journey itself I love. Although I normally end up napping for about half the journey, there are some parts of the drive I look forward to being awake for. There's always something to see, whether it's the peacocks by the side of the road or the men causally riding camels at the side of a busy motorway. Even when we're going through the military area, where photography is forbidden and it's all very serious, we love it because there is a massive sign declaring "IF YOU ARE MAN, RESPECT ALL WOMEN" and you see some hilarious things.
There was the cow that had gotten stuck in someone's tiny doorway because they'd left a waterbowl out and it had decided to come in; the man walking his goats on leads as if they were dogs and the absolutely crazy driving. One guy selfishly tried to overtake everyone despite the fact that the lights were at red and there was no room for him to get in, and we watched with glee as the cars coming the other way came round the bend and drove at him until he was forced to drive backwards past even more traffic than he tried to overtake. It's a true shame that these things all happen within the military boundaries because the photographs would be brilliant. Maybe it's better this way though, because we will always remember them and the photographs might not do the hilarity of the moment justice.
The road we take into Banjara Hills is a strangely unassuming one, past a petrol garage and a ugly concrete wall declaring "DON'T PASS URINE" (these warnings are everywhere and you only have to spend ten minutes in Hyderabad to understand why) but then you go up a hill, and just before we descend, there is a split second where the view is breathtaking. You can see all the colourful buildings reflected in a small lake beneath them and the sun is shining and it is incredibly beautiful. Then, quick as it comes, we start to descend and the view isn't quite as pretty- you see the rubbish piled up beside the buildings and the five lanes of traffic trying to squeeze onto a one lane road. On that note, despite the pretty view, the road itself is just bizarre. At the bottom of the hill the road opens up to this massive space where there is no road markings and everyone spreads out, even though they have to reform a single line again to get back up the hill and into Banjara Hills. It's so strange, I don't think I will ever understand the design because there isn't any visible reason for it.
There are some absolutely fascinating and beautiful places in this city though and this weekend we were super lucky to meet up with Prathap, my brother Luke's friend, who was in Hyderabad visiting his family. He planned a whole day of sightseeing for us, managing to squeeze in Golconda Fort, the Qutb Shahi Tombs, Charminar and the Birla Mandir temple. We had a guided tour of the fort and the tombs, which being oh-so-slightly history-obsessed, I loved, and despite the fact that Charminar is one of the many Indian sights to enforce a "foreigners/indians" price range (basically where anyone who doesn't look Indian is charged about 5x as much to get in) the view from the top was amazing. It's in the old city of Hyderabad which is so pretty, even if you can hardly take a step without someone trying to sell you something. The Birla Mandir temple is absolutely gorgeous, it's made entirely of white marble and you can see out all over Hyderabad, but sadly no electronic devices are allowed so there are no photos to show you.
As well as our lovely day with Prathap, at the beginning of the month we had a day off as it was the Hindu festival Dussehra. It celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana and also the triumph of Goddess Durga over a demon called 'Mahishasura'. So as most of the hostel had gone home to their families, we went with three of the boys in our VT class to visit Shilparamam, a open air museum/ arts & crafts village in Hi- Tech City. Even though it took three buses to get there (many of which will not stop and you have to jump on as they continue to drive) we had a brilliant time. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and Shilparamam is so pretty. It's a custom built village to represent the rural villages of Telangana and so there were lots of traditional houses, as well as a big sculpture garden and some animals. Scattered in between were lots of little stalls selling arts and crafts. I decided on a whim to get henna done as well, something which delighted the nurses as I was met with a chorus of "so beautiful mam" every time they saw it. I think Alex and I have stumbled upon a rare variety of student as they tell us how beautiful and intelligent we are about ten times a day.
We are really enjoying teaching the ONAs, as they are all so enthusiastic about learning English. It's lovely as they tell their other teachers how much they enjoy and are learning from English class, although that means that every so often someone from the department comes and tries to see what it is we're doing differently, and having properly qualified teachers watching you is a little nerve wracking. Even though it's because we've being doing well, I hate people observing me because it always puts me on edge. There are also the moments when we're doing something fun, for example we were doing the cha-cha slide to round of our unit on following instructions and giving directions and we found out that the audio guy had been in the booth at the back of the auditorium and out of context seeing 30 'pinkies' sliding to the left and to the right no doubt looked chaotic, but we try our hardest to make it enjoyable and interesting for them.
It's not always easy- waking up really early for our class of 70 VTs just to discover that only one of them has done the homework, or finding out that the one lesson you don't have a back-up of has corrupted or reading through test-answers and being forced to wonder if some of them were actually there for the lesson is so frustrating, but we're pushing through. It can be hard because in all of our classes the English level is extremely varied, where some of them will understand everything we say and others will copy down all the notes and not have a clue what it means. Yet I've been surrounded by teachers all my life, so I know none of that is new, and so we do the best we can and rejoice in the moments when they do understand or say something that makes us burst with pride at how much better they are getting each and every day.
Obviously being a teacher in an eye-hospital is a little strange and I feel a little out-of-place sometimes, like I'm a that triangle peg trying to fit into the circle. I know nothing about eye-care; I mean before two months ago I didn't even think that much about eye care! Although I've worn glasses since I was four years old, I've never really thought about it. I'd never really thought about how lucky I was to always have lived in a world where I had my glasses.
Since arriving in LVPEI, where everyone is crazy enthusiastic about eye care, I've somewhat been forced to think a lot more about it. You only have to wander around the hospital to see how important it is, and being here I feel as if I learn a hundred new things each day. LVPEI kind of blows my mind a little. The founding motto of the institute was 'so that all may see' and 30 years on it's a motto still in practice. We were lucky enough to be here for LVPEI's 30th founders day, which was actually a no-patient day. Although it meant we had to get up at 5:30 in the morning as our shuttle was at 6:15am, we had a really amazing day. Every department in the hospital put on a display talking about what that department's role is and we got to go around and learn all about them. There were balloons and displays everywhere, and we all got a fancy lunch in the hospital's parking garage. Not the fanciest lunch location, perhaps the strangest, but the only place big enough to host lunch for the whole hospital. Whatever the location, I always love it when there are fancy lunches as it means a change from our staple of dal, which we get every day. In the afternoon the education department was hosting a graduation ceremony - complete with motivational talks and the need to sit and clap till you can't feel your hands. This was followed by snacks on the hospital roof, which was amazing as we were able to see the sunset over Hyderabad.
My favourite thing I think though was learning more about the hospital itself. We're normally between the education and rehab department but it was so interesting learning more about all the other departments and meeting people from all over the hospital. LVPEI is incredible to me. Obviously India doesn't have a NHS, yet just over 50% of the patients here do not pay for their treatment - and are receiving the same treatment as those paying, regardless of complexity. The option between whether they are paying and non-paying is made by the patients own choice.
There are four main categories of patients:
2) Paying (general)
3) Sight - Savers (these people pay double thus supporting one non-paying person)
4) Donors (these are the 'VIPs' if you like, those willing to pay large amounts of money to aid the vision of LVPEI. They support about 3-4 patients.)
This is the outline of the extraordinary system of patient care in LVPEI . But not only does LVPEI provide excellent patient care to those in need, but also is centre for constant research and education; as LVPEI actually go into rural villages and choose young people and provide them with an intense educational course to become vision technicians. After they have completed the course they can return to their villages with not only a job, but the knowledge that otherwise would not be there in eye care. LVPEI also train young women who are unable to continue with formal education to become nursing assistants in the hospital, giving them a job either in the hospital or in one of the centres when they finish their training. What I have tried to explain here, is literally only a tiny amount of information about LVPEI and a little about what they do. Please do give the website a flick through if you have time- they explain it much better than I ever could! http://www.lvpei.org/index.php
Last Friday we actually got to go and visit one of the secondary care centres. These centres are located in the villages and are where patients will be referred to and treated if possible, otherwise they will then be sent on to the main hospital in Hyderabad. Although we spent most of our time there being told to "take rest" and finding it hard to work out why we were actually there, it was really interesting to see the centre. The drive took three hours both ways, and it was beautiful. Driving though the rural villages was much more what I was expecting India to be like, as life in the city can often feel very similar to home. We got to see all these farmers working in their fields, using their cows to pull them along, picking cotton and corn, and waiting in a traffic jam caused by an influx of goats crossing the road. It was almost like stepping back in time a little bit, watching some of the farmers. We left at 7:30am, and got breakfast on route. Alex and I had puri which is our absolute favourite breakfast, and which we normally only get on Thursdays so that was exciting too. In fact, we had a whole day without LVPEI canteen food. Even in the secondary centre they had made a special lunch, so it was a lovely change from getting dal for lunch and dinner. On the way home Asha realised we wouldn't be getting back in time for dinner at the hostel so we also got dinner- I had baby corn masala and it was so lovely. I think that's probably the main thing I miss about home- the variety of food! Here we have the same food, cooked by the same people, day in, day out and as I'm sure you can imagine, it gets a bit tiring.
Thursday, October 13th, was World Sight Day, a national day to draw attention to vision impairment and blindness; so we decided to take the opportunity to celebrate it with our ONAs. We had a big class discussion, a quiz and made posters talking about why eye care is important, the work of LVPEI, how they have been benefitted by eye-care and what it means. Many of the answers to the quiz, which was all about eye-care and vision impairment, were facts I didn't even know before I started writing it, which is a little crazy. 285 million people around the world live with a visual impairment, yet 80% of those impairments are preventable/treatable. You only have to walk around LVPEI to see why the work they do is so worthwhile, and I'm proud that one day I'll be able to say I taught here.
The next afternoon, we helped out in a arts and crafts workshop the rehabilitation department were running for a group of blind and visually impaired children. I worked with three lovely children called Victoria, Maria and Manikanta and together we decorated bookmarks, painted little pots and coloured in - the photo is surrounded by string so they can feel the lines, it's so simple but really clever! We still spend our spare time recording audio books, but thankfully I'm nearly at the end of my book as it's about aliens and spys and so likes to slip into page-long conversations in Russian, Germain, Thai, French, Italian and Spanish, while the audio guy remains ignorant of the fact that I am no doubt pronouncing nearly everything wrong. The Spanish is actually a welcome change, there's been a new language introduced nearly every couple of chapters and Spanish is the first one where I actually have a clue what's going on. Fingers crossed the people listening know as little as I do, or else it will sound horrendous!
So we're busy, busy, busy! There's lots of work to do and hardly enough time to do it all. Unbelievably I've managed to continue waking up before 7:30 every morning - an amazing achievement if I do say so myself! Our love affair with the the ground floor snack bar continues to grow stronger each day- how could it not when they'll serve us through the window after the door has been locked and make hot chocolate after they've closed? Perks of being their most frequent customers I think! I'm still unbelievably happy here in Hyderabad and even though at times it's frustrating - right now we have a leaking toilet and a shower head that shoots water in every other direction than it's supposed to; while our newly repaired ceiling fan has shifted again and may or may not be about to fall off - it's also incredibly lovely and really is starting to feel more and more like home.