Thursday 4th August

After yesterday’s relaxing time on the rice boat, birdwatching, playing games and reading, the day started abruptly at 4.30am. We were treated to a slight variation on the traditional breakfast – onion in the omelette! Disembarkation followed at 5.30am and we set off in the 35 seater “AC pushback” to Cochin airport. The journey, a mere 50 miles, took the best part of two hours due to diversions, traffic and a profusion of potholes, thanks to the heavy rains that have been falling in Kerala. At the airport, we said goodbye to our tour guide Pramod and met up with Mairi’s dad who had flown from Delhi to fetch her to begin their family holiday in India! Clearly, Mairi will feel completely integrated by the time she gets home. Three more weeks of curry!! Before Mairi left,  Miss D was given a book of thank you messages from all the students.

Mindful of the crash at Dubai yesterday, we were expecting a delay and indeed there was, but only by 35 minutes. As the plane lifted off, we bid farewell to India and all the experiences of the last three weeks. We have seen and learned so much, some of it difficult to put into words. We hope that we have been able to make small difference to the Amala children’s lives. Spending time there has certainly made a difference to our own.

The flight soon passed by and after a textbook landing (!!) we proceeded to the departure gate for our flight to Manchester, only to discover that it was delayed by over an hour. We waited patiently for the time to arrive to board the hugely (literally) impressive Airbus 380 (aircraft enthusiasts please note) for the seven and three quarter hour flight.

We landed at Manchester at 20.40 to be informed that some passengers’ luggage had not been loaded at Dubai. It was with a degree of trepidation, therefore, that we passed through immigration and passport control. However, we were not amongst the unfortunate ones and having said goodbye to Syd, who was being collected at the airport, we emerged to see our coach waiting a few metres from the terminal. A few minutes from home, Ms Johnson thanked the students for all that they had achieved and reiterated our hopes of continuing our support for Amala and the children. A fundraising reunion has already been discussed for September 10th. Miss D, on behalf of the students, thanked Ms J and Brett for organising and taking charge of the trip and they were given a card signed by the group. Our arrival at school at midnight was accompanied by a rain shower – welcome back to Richmond! In the mêlée of bags, students and parents, thankyous and goodbyes were exchanged. Three weeks to be remembered, probably, forever.

Sandra, Fiona and Brett

thumb_IMG_0137_1024

P.S.Thank you to everyone who has read the blog and to those who have left comments. We have enjoyed reading them. Photos of our adventures will be added in due course. Finally, another big thank you to Jef who has been posting on our behalf.

Advertisements

Wednesday 3rd August 

Today started with an early breakfast of bacon and egg at around 7am!!! After we finished up our packing we were ready to board the bus which we were excited to hear had air con. However much to our dismay it turned out the bus was miles up a steep hill so first we had to struggle with our bags to reach the bus. When we finally reached the bus many of us found the air con to be too cold and even had to resort to wearing jackets. Some of us tucked into well-earned snacks for the 3 hour journey and after eating half of the packet discovered that the Indian crisps had an ants nest in it, very very tasty! When we arrived at Alleppey, we boarded onto three riceboats and set off down the backwaters. Each boat was very luxurious with comfy armchairs and seats.

thumb_IMG_0910_1024After about 20 minutes on the boat we anchored at the side of the river ready for our lunch. There were so many different types of curry and even some fish which was all amazing. After trying and failing to finish it all we settled back down to relax. We cruised for a couple hours longer taking in the local scenery, reading and napping until we pulled up at a local shop to buy fish for the evening which we decided against and instead went next door to buy snacks for the following day.thumb_IMG_0946_1024

We headed back towards the jetty to tie up for the night, but first we went on an evening stroll around the local area before settling down on the boats for an evening meal including chicken and chapati. We finished the evening with a bit of relaxing before an early night in preparation for a 5am start the next day, in order to get to the airport in good time.

thumb_IMG_0960_1024
Mairi and Zak

Tuesday 2nd August 

Jackath, son of James, awoke on the sixth hour of the 734,543rd day after the light of the world was lit. He soon after lit his own light within the toilet of the 3rd hotel room within Rockholm, Kovalam. As a consequence of this Timothy, son of Adrian, awoke but then slept again until the 5145th hour of the year. The sea was rough for the tide was high and the fishermen were at their daily toils working the seas for the treasures of fish. Mankind was not the only force mining the waters for their treasures as mighty Fish Eagles were slicing through the tumbling waves clasping their talons through the flesh of fish. Watching carefully, a tone of red could be seen within the ocean’s waves.
Many of the 19 strong group of humans were enjoying the unfertilised egg of the chickenus, others the back meat of pig, others sweet toast. Sandra, daughter of Roy, led the gathering of knowledge for the morn. Explanation commenced for the detailing of the day: much like that of the 734,542nd day but slightly different, not that different but different all the same. thumb_IMG_0883_1024
Rupees were spent in exchange for goods and services much is the way within the continent. Bartering is common yet only with money. The heat of midday brought the gift of food, which was the same of everyday since the 734,527th day.
Wild wolf dogs fought as the youths approached the refuge point. The feeding of the 19 soon commenced; one small crate of sea creatures turned into a feast of beautifully seasoned fried fish wrapped in the simple banana leaf. A miracle to behold. Soon thereafter the day was over. thumb_IMG_0897_1024

Tim and Jack

Monday 1st August

After a good nights sleep in our hotel, we were woken by the sound of crashing waves just outside our window. We all headed down to breakfast, some earlier than others. Tables had been set outside on the terrace, overlooking the astonishing Arabian Sea. Instead of more eggs and sweet toast, most of us chose eggs and bacon. Other options included omelette and porridge.thumb_IMG_0849_1024

At around 11 we all met to walk to Kovalam beach. We were all amazed by the black sand and vast array of shops where you can buy just about anything. Most of us walked along the beach to be coated in black and strangely glittering sand. We wandered around the shops, most of which had a strong hippie vibe due to Kovalam being on the hippie trail to Sri Lanka. We were so entranced by the wares in the shops that we forgot about the midday sun. Some of us might be a bit more than a little sunburned. . .

thumb_IMG_0859_1024We all headed to different restaurants along the seafront to try some more curries or fresh sea food. We weren’t disappointed. After another couple of hours of walking around the shops Tim, Laura.S, Jack and I decided to find a nice cafe to have a drink. It couldn’t have been more relaxing, sat looking over the sea with a cold drink. After a couple of hours we reluctantly decided it was time to go to meet the rest of the group for dinner. Meanwhile, the staff had been to the tailor’s shop to have some clothes made.

At 7pm we all went back to Kovalam beach to the restaurant that the staff had booked earlier. The restaurant was on the seafront and they had arranged one long table for us all, complete with candles, overlooking the sea. The food, while slow to arrive, was delicious. The company and the scenery was just as nice. After finishing our meal we had a short walk along the seafront to stretch our legs and book a restaurant for tomorrow night. The rest of the evening consisted of everybody messaging friends and family. While it has been nice to have two weeks where we haven’t been on our phones, it was good to have wifi again and catch up with what’s happening in the rest of the world.
Issi and Laura Smith

WORLD EXCLUSIVE !!!    “The Great Kovalam Spider Massacre”
From our India correspondent in Kerala.

We have received reports of a chilling occurrence in the seaside resort of Kovalam. Late last night, at around 11pm at the Rockholm Hotel, a spider of terrifying proportions was discovered in Room 8. Panic soon spread as the English girls, who were staying in the room, ran out screaming in fear of their lives. One of the girls raised the alarm and two teachers, accompanying the school group, went to investigate. Showing great initiative, one of the teachers ran to the linen cupboard and found a broom with which to protect the students. Without any consideration for his personal safety, he climbed onto a chair and with one short , swift movement, brought the spider to the floor. Ignoring  the screams of the girls and mindful of the serious threat posed to their safety by the creature, he instructed a male student to move the bed behind which the spider had taken refuge. Taking a shoe, the most suitable weapon to hand, the student, who fortunately is intent on pursuing a career in the Armed Forces, despatched the creature with two forceful, decisive blows. To the collective relief of the girls, the remains of the arachnid were removed, enabling them to return to their room and settle to a peaceful night. The manager of the hotel spoke to us afterwards and assured us that this was an isolated incident. “This event is truly shocking us. Guests’ safety is extremely important. Staff are being more vigilant in future, especially for basins, plugholes and whatnot.”P1050648

Sunday 31st July

After a late night enjoying the amazing “function”, we started the day a little later than normal, although some students were up especially early to play with the children, this being the day of our departure from Amala. A small group of students from the home and the school had also gathered at the gate, smartly dressed in their uniforms, waiting for a bus to take them to a speech competition in Cuddalore. We said goodbye to them before they set off. Before breakfast, most of our group had finished packing. We had quite a lot of things to leave for the children – toys, games, clothes (laundered!) and school equipment. Raja had phoned the railway company and had been informed, to his utter amazement, that the train had left Chennai on time!! A short while before we were due to leave, the children arrived in single file and formed a line, accompanied by the staff at the home, so we could all say goodbye to them individually. It was an emotional event, as we expected. It was hard to leave the children, knowing their situation, to return home to our very different lives. Saying goodbye to Victoria proved to be the toughest challenge for many of us.
thumb_IMG_0806_1024
Our bags were loaded onto the school bus and the children formed another line by the gate and waved as we boarded the bus and drove out of the home. Many of us were hoping that we would be able to return one day. It felt as though it should the beginning of something and not the end.
thumb_IMG_0816_1024
The journey to the train station at Vriddachalam was a short one; there was little conversation, most of us  spending the time with our own thoughts. Arriving at the station, we carried our bags across to the platform to wait for our train. There were a few things to keep us entertained: the food stall, posing for photos for locals, administering first aid to injured and bitten feet and a group of monkeys who were busy cadging food from people and turning on the taps of the drinking water fountain. Our train, the Guruvayur Express, arrived only a few minutes late. Given that the train would stop for precisely two minutes, we spread out along the platform to use several doors to get us all and our luggage aboard. It was an effective strategy; we were all safely on the train with time to spare before it departed. We waved goodbye to Naveen, the driver and the two older boys Ramesh and Bruce Lee (not his real name!) as the train left the station.
thumb_IMG_0819_1024
The train was a very long one. We were booked in Sleeper Coach 6. Each student had been allocated a seat number plus either “upper”, “middle” or “lower” to indicate which bunk. The e-ticket in our possession was very useful as most of our seats were already occupied! One of the train officials kindly helped us to evacuate people so we could have our seats. We then relaxed in our seats to enjoy the 12 hour journey across India.
Throughout the journey we were offered all sorts of items to purchase from sellers on the train: snacks, chai, flowers, reading material etc. We purchased some chico fruit from a seller to share with the group; this is apparently a delicacy of Tamil Nadu and the lady opposite reliably informed us that 20 Rupees was a very reasonable price to pay. It tasted a little like a sweet kiwi fruit. Jack learnt a valuable lesson in cultural relations en route especially with regard to facial gestures! The time was spent playing uno, cards, reading and snoozing.
The train pulled in to Trivandrum station at 11.33pm, only 18 minutes late. To our delight, Pramod,  the travel company rep, was on the platform to greet us and take us to our transport – two  party minibuses! After getting the luggage aboard (something of a challenge) we drove the 20 minutes to the hotel at Kovalam. Rooms were allocated  and we settled down for a well-earned sleep, the crashing of the waves on the rocks reminding us that the Arabian Sea was just a few metres away.

Sandra, Fiona and Brett

Saturday 30th July 

Today started with a slightly different breakfast as our eggs had more pepper in than usual. Ms J stood up in the morning briefing only to tell us that no one had any idea what the day would entail, other than at some point we would perform at the farewell show. Ms Dutton reassured us that we just had to “go with the flow” as she has been telling us the entire trip as this appears to be a part of Indian culture.
The rest of the morning was very quiet as the children had gone to school to practise their performances. So we were left to finish off washing, take naps and practise our acts for the show.
After lunch we were told several start times for the show from 4-7pm, this caused much confusion as the girls still required the long procedure of putting their  saris on. The children returned from school and so we tried our best to use up some of the recreational activities we still had with us. This mainly involved modelling balloons which were quickly made into swords, hats, giraffes and slightly misshapen dogs. As normal, the children were extremely enthusiastic and all wanted a balloon.
thumb_IMG_0695_1024Soon into the balloon making, a group of Indian ladies walked over and we were told it was time to get changed. The girls went to their rooms and the ladies came in to very tightly secure the saris. After about an hour of fitting all 10 saris, the girls, Ms J and Miss D were all ready. Meanwhile the boys were chilling until about 5 minutes before we were due as their fancy attire wasn’t nearly as complicated.
thumb_IMG_0733_1024We all gathered outside to take what seemed hundreds of photos with several poses. We anticipated the evening show to be in the children’s dining room; however, as the weather was nice, plans were changed and in the next minute red carpets, banners and lights were carried outside to be set up for what looked to be a magnificent night. We still had time before the show started so we went and to take pictures with the children who were also in their smart wear.

The show started at about seven and the first couple of performances were traditional dances from the children which was followed by some fantastic clog dancing by Miss D.  Over the course of the night we saw many more dances by the children including Lunghi dancing, duets and some more contemporary dances. Our acts consisted of a contemporary dance by Sophie, Alice and Syd, a poem about our time at Amala written and performed by Alice, the “cup song” by Zak, Laura E, Laura S, Syd, Alice, Tim, Mairi, Jack and Matt and finally a group dance to Uptown Funk. At the end of the show we were all invited on the stage with the children to dance some freestyle.
thumb_IMG_0754_1024At the end of the show Raja finished with a speech and asked us to join him on stage. We were all presented with a memorial plate which had been engraved. There was one special prize which was awarded to Issi for being especially helpful to the children. We all thanked the children, staff and Raja’s family for an amazing night.
thumb_IMG_0770_1024Finally at 9 o’clock we said good night to the children and gathered in the dining room to have our last supper at the home. We were spoiled with beer, Sprite, ice cream and a traditional Burri which was fried in front of us beautifully by Victoria.
Earlier in the evening we had been impressed with Naveen’s (Raja’s son) dancing and so we asked for him to bring his speakers so we could all continue dancing. Instantly the dining room turned into a dance floor as tables were moved and disco lights turned on. Then all of us, including the teachers, danced into the night, bringing out our best moves as the kitchen staff joined in. We danced until we were soaked in sweat, thanks to the heat and energetic dance moves.
The night ended at about 11:00pm when the music stopped and we went to bed preparing ourselves for the emotional day ahead.

Laura E and Matt.

Friday 29th July 

The day started the same as always, Ms J ensuring that everyone was H-A-P-P-Y combined with sweet toast and egg: a perfect way to start the day. We then commenced our final day of teaching, activities included a morning of dance with Sophie and Alice accompanied by the sweet music from Zak’s guitar. After this Zak serenaded standard 4, which ended up turning into a mosh pit of raging 8 and 9 year olds. Paper aeroplanes were a huge success with Cara, Sophie and Benji with the huge class of standard one. Cara, Benji, Tom and Jay also finished off some sewing with standard 7. Sticker mania also occurred today with everyone dishing out the last of their stash, for once the question ‘two stickers?’ was not a problem.

thumb_IMG_0666_1024Whilst the day was happening Mr Brett went to the bank on the back of Naveen’s motorcycle with no helmet, no jacket and Naveen manoeuvring through the traffic one handed whilst having a conversation on the phone. The height of Indian safety.

As our final teaching day came to an end we look back on all that’s happened, although the past two weeks have been challenging I think we can all say how much we have gained from the experience. A wider understanding of the struggles our teachers face and an appreciation for the work they do. Only now we realise how hard it is to control a classroom of screaming children; the smiles on the children’s faces are the most rewarding, and that feeling you get when you realise that you have actually taught someone something is something that most of us will never forget.

thumb_IMG_0679_1024After the day was done we once again practised our dance for the show tomorrow night and a few songs were also performed. After this it was playtime and another game of squareball commenced, with the girls on the sidelines having their hair plaited and pulled. Afterwards we had another dinner of everyone’s favourite: tasty chicken, rice and samba. Now the day ends with everyone sat outside discussing the day’s happenings and looking forward to the show tomorrow night. However, everyone will sleep with one eye open due to the giant bush tarantula running riot around the home. Let’s just say we’re hoping no one gets bitten.

Alice and Tom

We leave Amala tomorrow morning. There will no doubt be some tearful farewells. The train journey across the southern part of India will take at least 12 hours, meaning that we shall get to the hotel in Kovalam very late. Consequently, there may be a slight delay with the blog. Thank you for all your comments, we have really enjoyed reading them.