Mera Naam Onion

After arriving back at our project, Goa felt like a dream I could barely recall, and it quickly felt as thought we'd never left. Hyderabad seemed so loud and chaotic after a week spent in the sea and walking along quiet beaches and streets, but it felt more real. The smells and the colours and the people. Those first days back at LVPEI were so good, perfect days in all their ordinariness. But honestly, what is ordinary about living in a city beside approximately 10, 191,968 other people and being able to see them all go about their days from a huge rooftop where the sun sets beautifully every day; where yellow autos brighten up otherwise unremarkable streets, and there are cows everywhere one looks?

I appreciate the chaos of this city so much more now I've seen an alternative, that sometimes I wonder if the people who were born here, and have lived here all their lives- the grandfathers cradling those little babies and who sit on their doorsteps calling out 'Namaste!' to passersby- I wonder if they even notice the beauty anymore. Hyderabad isn't the prettiest of places, but it's beautiful in it's own way, and I can't help but love it. I say this so often now that friends from home have started to wonder if I'll ever return, to which the answer is yes! of course I will! It's just that I'm in a strange sort-of situation where I can't wait be back in Scotland and yet I love India enormously. I've decided that even if I do come back to India one day, it's unlikely I'll ever live here again, so I might as well be in love with it while I do. Of course, I genuinely miss the company of those I love in Scotland but with FaceTime, Skype, letters and whatsapp, my parents are especially fond of telling everyone that "we speak to her more now she's in India than we did when she was living here!" and to be honest, that's probably true!

I just can’t really put into words how happy I am here, how blissfully contented I am, how grateful I am to Project Trust for letting me spend my eighteenth year on earth here. Most of the time, I don't even know why I like it here, it is so noisy and chaotic and there are buildings falling apart on every corner. Yet I'm just so intoxicated with the unending blue skies, the warm breeze and believe it or not, even the harsh and distant sounds of car horns galore floating towards us. The weather here is getting warmer every day, prompting even more power cuts than we had back in September and so many lovely sunny days. I don't mind this at all, although I did realise the other night that I now have a terrible case of zebra feet. White legs, then a little strip of tan, then a big white patch where my flip-flops sit and little tanned toes! What's not to love?

It feels like no time at all since Goa and as if nothing really has happened, yet one of my favourites is the name mix-up that led to my new and current nickname - Onion! In the canteen we have a system where we mark in what we've had that day, like tea or lunch or dinner, and we sign our name alongside it. Everyone has their own page and mine, of course, says "ANNE" at the top in huge letters. One morning I am marking in breakfast when the little canteen man suddenly goes "No mam! Wrong Page!" I'm confused, as I'm sure I'm on the right page, and so I wondered whether he had me confused for Alex or if thought I was writing on the last months page. It turned out neither of those were what had confused him; as he comes up and points to "ANNE" and says "ahhh wrong page, na?"

"No," I said, "this is my page! I'm Anne!"

He suddenly goes very quiet, and then looks up at me; "your name is not Onion, mam?"


He picks up a purple onion from beside him, looking between me and this onion, "Same name, na?"

"No! Mera naam Anne!" I say, laughing. In the end, it turned out that he had misheard someone calling me Anne, and assumed my name was Onion, as that was the closest English word he knew. Now though, the story of his confusion is found really funny by all in the canteen, and so for the time being, I'm being greeted with "Good Morning Onion Mam!" and asked "Onion mam? You had good day?" It is so funny, and it never fails to make me smile. It's also been a valuable lesson in remembering to how important it is introduce myself to new people!

Since I last updated you we've also had a visit from Rosie, our Project Trust country coordinator, complete with Sugathi's hysterical laughter and Irn-Bru! (Rosie, if you're reading this - you're the best <3) We arrived at LVPEI in the morning to find that everyone was already there, waiting, having been shown inside by Laxmi, one of our ONAs. We had told them all in advance about Rosie mam coming, and who she was, and still Laxmi's first question to Rosie was if she was my mother… a misunderstanding that feels all to familiar these days!

I'm eagerly counting down the days until my real, biological mum (and dad and aunt mairi) come to visit in April, but in the meantime, it was really lovely have Rosie's cheerful, familiar face around and be able to introduce her to a few of the people that are making this year such a special one. Bharavi and Sugathi as always, delighted in taking all the photos they could, showing us the latest adorable videos of their grandson and imparting their wisdom; as a visit from Bharavi would not be complete without getting to hear a new motivational quote he has read or a news article he thinks is interesting. While Alex is having her one-on-one interview, Sugathi talks to me about English Literature and books we've been reading, and we spend some time in rehabilitation. With Chaitanya, Rosie, Bharavi and Sugathi in one room, you can't help but know how supported you are.

We found Scotland's Lonely Planet in Walden's bookstore - our influence is clearly spreading!

With Yamuna, Sree-Laxmi and Chaitanya - the department of lols and fun!

That weekend we went shopping in Charminar with Emma and Jenny, eventually meeting them after enduring the sweltering February heat on both the seriously overcrowded buses we took to get there. We were standing the whole way, which normally I don't mind as much, but this time the buses were both so crowded that I could barely breathe, let alone try and move. It always astounds me how the conductors manage to get through the fifty odd people blocking the passage way on a twenty seater bus. The worst part about being so small is that people apparently assume you don't need any space around you at all and you just get crushed and shoved as the bus goes along. A bus being full is a foreign concept, as no matter what, they will always manage to get more people on. Five months of it and Indian logic still occasionally manages to drive me 'pagal' as the nurses would say. I came away from Charminar with only fruit, but I had strawberries for the first time since I arrived and it was amazing.

We go to Secunderabad Market one weekend too, and as we're strolling along we suddenly hear lots of voices shouting "MAAAAAAAMMMMM!" "ANNIE MAM! ALEX MAM!" It is a Sunday afternoon and we have no time to blink before eight of our favourite faces appear in front of us, smiling excitedly. I don't think they've ever been so happy to see us (once the shock that we exist outside of English Class had subsided) They are leaving soon, and so we take the extra opportunity to spend that time with them. As they chatter away with us in English, I realise properly how much their English has improved and it's the most satisfying feeling in the world.

Moments like that were what made February great. It's always the little things, I think. Like the man selling watermelon for ten rupees just outside the hospital gate We had interesting conversations with new and old friends on the dodgy, always wobbly seats outside of Vinky's snack bar and lessons taken outside to the roof when the sun taunting us through the classroom windows became too much to bear. (Well, there was actually a big fancy conference going on... with lots of important people who wanted to use our classroom and so we were sent to the roof to teach as there was nowhere else for us; but we did get some good class discussion and an impressive sunset out of it though!)

the bus-stop!

ten rupee watermelon <3

February also marked the beginning of another new class - the Eye-Bank trainees. If I thought teaching on the roof was bizarre; teaching an English class barefoot next to a fridge of preserved corneas is just a little bit stranger! You only realise how much you've changed when after five months in an Indian Eye Hospital that kind of thing just doesn't faze you anymore.

I am forever learning the answers to questions about eyes that I have never thought to ask, about the layers of a cornea (there's five!) or what a cornea looks like (wayyy smaller than I thought it would be) or international organ donation laws. Class can be delayed sometimes, as we go in and they'll say to come back later as everyone is really busy. Sometimes it's because there have been maybe, ten cornea donations that day, which they of course say is great and we're left like... but that means ten people died... We often don't know what to think! It's all very interesting anyway and our new students are really lovely and eager to learn English.

More than anything, I just can't get over that it's February. I can't believe it as it means I'm halfway through my year here in India. September. October. November. December. January. They've all just… gone. Where did all that time go? I'm into my sixth month now, and I can hardly believe I've made it this far, that I'm now entering the second half of this year. The past five months have been filled with so many ups and downs, celebrations and doubts, that I used to seriously wonder if I would ever make it this far. But I have.

Celebratory McDonalds with RK & Sunny

Yet despite now having been in India and teaching for five whole months now, things have felt tougher this month than they have before. Teaching is hard sometimes. Harder than I could have ever anticipated it being. I put this entirely down to the fact that all my life I've been surrounded by amazing teachers, not just in school, but outside of school too. As it was life as I knew it, it never quite occurred to me that it is not at all normal for your mum, your dad, your granny, most of your aunties and uncles, your cousins, their cousins, their brothers, their sisters, their children and all of their friends to be teachers. Basically everyone who surrounded me as I grew up was a teacher, with the exception of maybe around 20 people. They all made it look so effortless that I never realised it might not be as easy as they made it seem.

Some days, teaching is so much fun. Everyone is really engaged, they're seemingly understanding everything and it's just the best. Then, on other days, you put up a heading and before you've said a single word you hear cries of "mam! I don't understand!". The days when no one is listening, when the lesson you stayed up preparing has been classed as boring within five minutes by one of the people who need it most, or half the class has come down with "stomach pain" and are refusing to do anything. On those days it takes a lot to stop yourself from thinking that you must be the worst teacher who ever walked the earth. That feeling of being stuck in a rut and a consequent low mood is a pretty horrible feeling. It's been getting the better of me a lot this past month.

It's on those days that I find myself a quiet bench outside in the sunshine and drink Vinky's hot chocolate and force myself to remember that this time last year I was on the other side of the classroom and had a grand total of four days training before I found myself standing in front of groups of students as a teacher. I don't think anyone was expecting this year to go by flawlessly, even if we wish it could sometimes. I know I will fail and I will come home defeated sometimes. That some days powerpoint will decide to go into turkish (seriously, it's been stuck in turkish for two weeks now, and nothing we've tried has worked change it back) or freeze in the middle of a lesson, and it's okay.

For this reason, I'm actually brimming with excitement about teaching all the new batches. We have a new batch of ONAs and a new batch of VTs to start teaching, and although it will be strange going back to the start again, I'm excited to give it another shot. This way we can improve lessons that didn't work as well the last time and we have an idea of where they might struggle and how to help them. New classes, new challenges, roughly 100 new names to learn- I think it's going to be great.

I’m doing my best to appreciate every single moment, especially on those rotten days, because I don’t want to wish my time away. It’s not long now. Those four words which seem to follow me around these days, as we say goodbye to our original classes and welcome in the new ones. It’s not long now. Teachers and students and friends; all of them reminding me of the ticking clock, the emptying hourglass, that my time in Hyderabad dwindles. The biggest loss of February is that many of our pinkies, as Bharavi affectionately refers to them, are leaving at the end of this month. But, as it has to be, I'm glad that of all the months, this was the last one we had together, as despite everything, it's been a good one.

In my journal, I have specific pages kept for recording the hilarious things they say; and February has been no exception. I am discussing vegetarianism with one of them, and she says, "ahh mam I know - you eat only toast!" Yet the quote of the month came on Valentine's Day, when after it was established I didn't have a boyfriend; to cries of why mam? I said "I need to find an intelligent, handsome boy first!" Yet as I'm walking around correcting their work, one of them, Swarna, throws her arms around me and says, "mam can I be your valentine?" I say, "of course, you can all be my valentines." "But mam, you want hot boyfriend, na? Don't worry mam, I will find someone, I will set him on fire and give him to you, then you will have a hot boyfriend." They never fail to make me laugh with the things they say sometimes.

With Swarnalata <3

They are still as youthful as ever, be they our youngest pinkie, who has recently turned 16, or the oldest one, who is nearly 27. Many of them are 18 like we are, and among them I am struck with the realisation that they have led such different lives to mine. We teach a lesson about the home, and it was interesting to finally find out more about the contrasting lives they have lived. On the surface it all sounded wonderful, as they write about banana and mango trees, of learning to cook, of the God-rooms in their house and all about their families. Yet, it also meant discover the underlying differences in how they have grown up compared to how we grew up. Some of them write of sharing beds with six people and two roomed houses that are home to four generations. We have funny conversations about their animals, the chickens and goats and cows, and all the things they love about home. "My ox is so good mam, yes! Yes, it gives me milk, such a good ox it is!" one of them tells me smiling. Even among the class the differences are striking.

I'm so excited for them to be going home, especially now I know more about where they are all going, and they have been dreaming of going back to their homes for months, but that doesn't make their departure any less sad. "Just twenty-two days mam!" became the new answer to "how are you?" and it was information shared with the biggest grins in the world. They were our first class, our first students, and I think I might miss them forever. Even if the next batch are the nicest girls in the world, I think everyone must always have a soft spot for their first class, surely. The class that put up with me while I struggled and pretended to know what I was doing, encouraging me and raising my spirits the whole time. I have so much love for those girls. Our last class with them was on Friday, and it ended up being 2 and a half hours long as the last extra half hour was spent with many of them crying and saying "Can we please have class on Monday mam? pleaseeeeeee??" When we leave, we are only a minute away from the door when we are called back again - "Mam! One last time - time apiende babu!"

"Time apiende babu, time apiende" is what one of the Telugu security men says before blowing his whistle at 11pm to get everyone inside the hostel. It basically means "time is up, boys, time is up!" and we find it so funny. One day in class we quoted it to each other at the end of the lesson, and it became a wee tradition - class was only over when we'd all said "time apiende." I love that in between all the tears, chaos and hugs they reminded us to do it on our last lesson together. So, as it's time for lunch and I think I've shared all the latest happenings from here in Hyderabad - time apiende everyone!



Last Class Photos!

"just one moment mam..."

as they write all over my hands!


Popular Posts