Final thoughts.

As I sit on the plane looking out of window to see the sun set on Bulgaria we already feel a long way from Kolkata yet all of us know that the experience will be close to us forever.

I don’t anticipate making many more blog posts after this so I feel in this one I need to round things off and make some kind of sense as to what the week has all been about.

Firstly can I thank all of you who have been reading the blog. By knowing you are able to share this experience with me makes it even more worthwhile and I especially thank those who have taken time to message or comment on my posts.

Secondly I had requests for pictures of the money and the hotel so here you go.

So where do I begin to sum up these 10 days? I suppose I will start by sharing the things that have surprised me. I have been lucky in my life to travel some some amazing places around the world but I don’t think I have ever been anywhere as polluted and dirty as Kolkata. I felt I was getting ill just by going outside for half an hour on the roads nearby the hotel and so who knows the effects this is having on the local population who have lived here their whole lives. The amount of litter is astonishing and people were dropping it on the floor outside without any care for the cumulative results.

Initially I was really surprised by how the locals would walk (and even herd goats) all over the busy roads, often risking their lives but then it occurred to me that this is because the pavements had essentially become people’s houses and businesses and it was actually far easier to walk in the road than step over everything that lay in your path if you went on the pavements.

A pleasant surprise to me was the contrast between city and countryside – just as the city seemed to lack any control, the surrounding villages seemed to have structure and order.

Pleasantly, considering the amount of poverty and the amount of people on the streets, Kolkata never seemed a threatening place and all the people we met were genuinely friendly.

When considering all of the above, the thought that comes to mind is that someone should be doing something about it. Well that is what Rig and the team at the CRS are trying to do. It might only scratch the surface but if they can make a difference to just some children’s lives then the future of the city will be brighter. The team Rig has assembled are dedicated to improving lives and I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to support this in a small way.

So farewell India, farewell Kolkata and farewell Hastings School. I will not miss worrying about getting ill from the food, or having to constantly use hand sanitiser, but I will definitely miss you and look forward to having the opportunity to visit again at some point in the future.

This is the baby I asked you to spot in a previous picture.

It is children like this for whom school is the only structured part of their day.

A busy market place with Spider-Man keeping watch!

Having a morning wash in the road.

Farewell India.

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Celebrating Our Week!

For our final day in Kolkata it was an opportunity for all the schools supported by CRS to come together for a day of celebration and activities. Hosted on the cricket field of the local secondary school, about 500 children came together in the first event of its kind organised by Derbyshire teachers and the CRS. We had organised it as a kind of sports day with the idea being that different schools would rotate around the activities run by us. I was running team races such as the over and under relay along with another teacher.
We had to set off early for the event as there was traffic disruption and road closures cause by a mass opposition political rally that was being compared in local papers to some of the largest in India’s history. The amount of people gathering was astonishing as people had been bussed in from the local countryside to take part.
Our children meanwhile had been bussed in for a different reason and the morning’s events started with breakfast laid on for all the children while they watched a ventriloquist act which they loved. Then it was on to the activities. It quickly became apparent that for most of the children this was the first time they’d done anything like this and even sitting in a line seemed to be a challenge – imagine reception children going on their first ever school trip and then taking part in their first ever sports day but it was older children! The children also enjoyed a proper lunch while watching a magician. All of them had a wonderful and memorable time and it was an honour to see their smiling faces. It was also a super way for us to end our time here in Kolkata and I’m sure the event will be repeated in future years.
Here are some pictures of the day.

Early Morning Start

My last post from Kolkata. Even though there is plenty to tell you about the final celebratory sports day, it is 5.20am and we are in the hotel lobby ready to get our bus to the airport. I will miss Kolkata – an amazing experience I’ve been privileged to have had. See you back in Blighty (or, if the Wi-fi allows I may be able to post the final blogs from the plane.)

We’re going on a Tiger Hunt

What a memorable day. Imagine a perfect picture postcard of rural India, or better still a movie, and that is where I have been today. I am writing this blog post on the bus on our way back from our adventure to the Sunderbans (it will be posted once we hit the wifi of the hotel). The bus journey will take a long time – it took 5 hours on the way coming but we already seem to be stuck in a village where our coach cannot move as a market has been set up in the middle of the road. We may be stuck here all night!

Anyway, the Sunderbans is a protected national park in a river delta near the border of Bangladesh. We were unsure what to expect from our day out but we were looking forward to getting away from the madness of Kolkata and into the countryside. Unsurprisingly it took a while to crawl through the Kolkata traffic but the city seemed to disappear quite quickly, giving way to scenes of rural life.

(The bus is still stuck and the whole village seems to be watching – locals had to lift up a small truck to move it out of the way a few moments ago.)

It is dark now but earlier from the coach window we could see rice fields and also brick making kilns dotted across the countryside.

(Bus update – we are free and on our way! Only a 40 minute delay!)

Once we got off the bus we went to visit a tiger sanctuary where Bengal Tigers could be kept which had been tranquillised for coming too near to local villages. We saw a tiger, crocodiles and even a monkey in the bushes.

We then walked to the boat launch and had a lovely cruise up the river. Just as we were getting settled we started heading towards the river bank and we were told this is where we would be getting off. We were quite surprised as there was no jetty, just a very muddy river bank. Just as images were going through my head of us jumping off the boat and disappearing into the mud some locals came with bales of straw to put under our feet as we alighted the boat – panic over. We were then led across dried up swamp land that presumably is under water in monsoon season and towards a village. We passed many mud hut houses and rice fields before we arrived at another small school supported by the Cathedral Relief Service.

The children of the school had been waiting a while to greet us in the traditional Indian way of forming a guard of honour and showering us in flower petals. They also used a flower head to dab a small amount of paste onto our foreheads – a sign of respect and welcome.

After a welcome speech from the headteacher the children went home and we were shown into one of the classrooms where a meal had kindly been prepared for us. The surrounding village was idyllic and as we said our goodbyes under the setting sun a game of cricket even started up on the school field. Then it was back to the boat, back to the bus and eventually (I hope) back to the hotel. I’ll leave you with some pictures of a truly memorable day.

More Kolkata Wonders

We are getting up early tomorrow to go into the countryside and do I’ve got a little time left this evening to tell you about some of the other interesting things we’ve seen and done. Firstly last night we were invited to one of the more affluent schools for a traditional Bengali meal. We were treated to a banquet with sumptuous food and given marigold garlands to wear. The school basketball court was transformed with dazzling lights but as nice as it was we couldn’t help think of how unfair it was that people are living on the pavement just yards from where we were. I hadn’t had the opportunity to share a picture of the Jain temple we visited on the first day. It was very pretty and surprisingly calm in the bustling city. And finally we have seen some amusing signs. The first one is on the hotel lift and the second can just about be seen on the road. There are signs about road safety everywhere but no one even pays any attention to road markings or traffic lights!

Teacher Training Second Day

Today was the second full day of teacher training and was as successful as the first. Today I led sessions in the morning about how to make pipe cleaner people and then use these puppet like figures to say English phrases and conversations.

In the afternoon I took two more groups so they could learn how the Goldilocks story sack is used. At the end of the day the Indian teachers received certificates for their training. Here is a picture of the 3 Hastings teachers receiving theirs.

Food Glorious Food.

Many of you have asked about the food we have been having. It has all been vegetarian and most of it has been curries or spiced fried veg. The nicest foods have been the nan breads which are delicious. Here are some pictures of the food. The first is called a dosa.