Life has changed a lot lately. Corey and Gina finished their two-year placement in Koraput and have now left to travel around Nepal and Thailand before returning home to the States. Annie has also departed to continue her work in Hyderabad. Consequently, our small group of expats has shrunk to a mere five people. However, we are bonding with the locals and enjoying the familiarity of Koraput. After a month and a half, I finally feel at home. We know where to buy our vegetables, fruit or milk, where we can get foreign goods such as exotic cereal boxes and Cadbury’s chocolate. Indian toilets are fabulous and the food does not upset our stomachs anymore. People greet us and recognise us around town and I feel safe and comfortable walking around. It is nice but also sad at the same time when I think that we will be leaving in only a month. Time goes quickly.
Last Sunday we used our day off to visit Visakhapatnam. It is the second largest city in Andhra Pradesh, our neighbouring state. We hired a vehicle early in the morning and drove on the usual, vertiginous, half-built roads to our destination. Surprisingly, once we passed the border from Orissa to Andhra Pradesh, the roads were fine with clear signs and well paved (for Indian standards). As my friend put it, AP's government does not steal from their people... That is just how it is. It's OK.
The more I find out about Orissa, the more it frustrates me. It is one of the poorest states in India. Not because of a misfortunate geographical position, bad climate or general bad luck. It is the corruption. Orissa is rich in resources that could be exploited. It is also one of the states that receives most funding from the government and international organisations. But the money gets lost. And the development projects remain unfinished. As an example, Koraput's bus stand, which has been the same for more than 25 years at least. No changes, modernisation or repair work has been undertaken although it is in urgent need of some. Status Quo. It's OK.
But back to Visakhapatnam or Vizag as it is otherwise known. After a 5-hour journey we arrived at an incredible temple outside of the city, the Temple of Lord Varaha Narasimha Swamy, Simhachalam. The amount of pilgrims, colours, flower garlands and stalls was startling. You could feel the spirituality in the air. Pilgrims queued at the "free queue" for hours and hours to see the temple and perform a puja. We chose the option to pay and skip the queue as we had a lot to see and do before going back to Koraput. Thanks to our Hindu specialists, Jyostna and Vibs, we learned a lot about religious rituals and prayers. The Brahmins say the prayers in Sanskrit and (if you pay extra) they personalise them with your name. You can make a wish and hope for the best. Many people at the temple had shaved their heads as a sacrifice and a sign for wishes that had come true. Who knows, I might come back with a shaved head if my wish does come true.
After the temple we visited Vizag, which turned out to be a very modern city compared to Bhubaneswar. My two city experiences have been completely different. It really has made me aware of the backwardness in Orissa as its capital seemed more like a run-down big village compared to Vizag. We went shopping in a modern mall, walked by the beach at sunset and took a cable car that oversaw the whole city at night. It was a great day and we were knackered when we got to bed at midnight.
On Wednesday we celebrated Diwali. It is the Festival of Lights and one of the most important Hindu festivals of the year. Families and friends get together to perform different traditional activities. The houses and businesses are cleaned, pujas are performed, rangoli (traditional decorative designs) are drawn on the house thresholds and rows of diyas (small clay lamps) adorn the whole village. After the puja and the offerings, everyone bursts firecrackers. We celebrated Diwali with our landlord's family. We lit sparklers and crackers and fireworks. When I spoke to Indu, one of our friends at work, she told me she was not a fan of Diwali because of the noise of the fireworks. She said it scared her. I thought she was exaggerating at the time. On Diwali night I found out she was not. They were so loud and noisy it was scary. And not only that, most of the fireworks are 'handmade' and very dangerous. Sometimes they work, sometimes they do not. Risky. We still enjoyed it a lot and it was lovely to spend some time with our neighbours!
Work has been very slow this week. With our CEO gone because of a required mourning period of 11 days for his deceased father, things at the office have slowed down. It has brought to light the very solid patriarchal hierarchy within the NGO. Overall, we have to push and be persistent if we want to get our projects done. It took as a while to notice it… But it is all part of the learning experience and I think we are putting it into practice now. I am going to Majhiguda in a bit to start my livelihood strategy plan. Social mapping and PRA tools. I am excited.