Monday, 19 April 2010


Sunday 7th March
I take quite a long walk up the road. The disadvantage is that it is uphill all the way, quite rough track to start with. But then the road is tarred, so although it is steadily uphill the going is easier. And it's downhill all the way back! Different environment. Lots of houses, strung out, a couple of shops. Paths leading off into the forest, and down to the rice fields.

The head gardener, such a nice man!
And Narayan, one of the kitchen boys cum waiter; from Nepal, fetching the milk.

Everyone at the Villa seems a bit exploited. Or rather, they earn the wage for the job here in India. I have been told that the woman who endlessly sweeps the garden earns 50 Rs a day, 0,50€, the head gardener 60 Rs, 0,60€ and the masseuses 100 Rs (about 1€60). I have verified this since by asking them outright. They work an awfully long day for that amount, and the treatment rests upon their competence. They have attended school for a whole year to qualify. We are not paying very much compared to other places, notably on the coast,, but when you think that the thirty-odd people that look after us (kitchen, dining room, “reception”, doctor, massage, garden, etc) are not earning for the most part more than 2€ a day, and there are about 25 guests at the moment, that makes a healthy profit. And  a lot of us are not eating much either!

I've had a really good morning in spite of bronchitis, and managed to cadge a bit of apple at lunchtime. I didn’t feel sleepy so I did a bit of tapestry after lunch, much to the delight of the cleaning and gardening ladies who have spent a lot of time admiring my work! But it has been a hot day, the locals consider it a heat wave. The temperature rises to above 40°C at midday.

16h30 and time for my massage and steam bath. I feel distinctly fragile again. The doctor catches up with me, declares I have a temperature, gives me more medicine, which this time doesn't seem to work a charm, and two of his blue pills which I spit out as soon as he has his back turned. Better tomorrow maybe.

Monday 8th
What a night! Terrible cough, infected chest. Luckily I have a pharmacy in my suitcase. I took an antibiotic before going to bed last night and two ibuprofen. The difference between ayurvedic and western medicine, one of the differences, is that here the doctor couldn't care less about your present state of comfort, his only concern is rebalancing your system. Whereas in the west we are used to being given something for instant comfort, and a doctor will sometimes only look at the real root of the problem if he has time. So I'm following my own treatment. When I get up, I find I have no voice. I skip my rice porridge, I'd rather go hungry. One of the Swedish ladies brings me tiger balm from an expedition into town to do an inhalation.

The doctor briefed me on tomorrow’s events, vomiting, which start at 5h15 sharp. He told me how difficult it would be. But I think I just want to get it over now. I get oatmeal porridge with milk and sugar tonight at least. A distinct improvement. All these details must seem disgusting to people outside. But life here revolves around them, as do our conversations! It is not a gastronomic adventure. It’s doesn't even feel like a holiday for the moment. The end result has to be clearly borne in mind at all times otherwise one would leave.

There is a sprinkler playing outside my balcony. A very English sound in the middle of India. It’s so hot, yet we are in the mountains and in one of the cooler parts of India. What the poor people elsewhere must suffer, having to work in such heat. The children bathe in the river after school. I thought it was only boys. They take their clothes off down to their underpants, pile them on a rock and wrap themselves in dhotis to swim. Today I saw girls bathing with the boys. Little children, 6 to 8 roughly. The girls bathe fully clothed, in little dresses with sleeves and trousers underneath. Not practical, but better than not bathing I suppose. They seem to be having good fun.

There is a bird that sings ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo. In very muted tones. I saw it today, about the size of a cuckoo, chestnut brown on its back, but I couldn’t see the underside. Is it a hoopoe?

The woman who sweeps the leaves must be very low in the caste hierarchy. I thought na├»vely that caste didn’t exist in India any longer. But evidently it does. She looks very sad and resigned. She sits and eats apart from everyone else. I read in Arundhati Roy that fifty years ago untouchables had to walk backwards, bent over a broom with which they swept their footsteps, lest they pollute the footsteps of someone else. What a life.

I still haven’t got my voice back. “No sound” they say here, as if someone has switched my sound off! I’m so tired I’m not really worrying about tomorrow. One step at a time…

I think I hear monkeys calling in the forest opposite.

It is Women's Day today. Evi, my Norwegian neighbour, gave a wonderful little talk. She it was that was partly responsible for initiating the programme in 1975 at the ILO.

Tuesday 9th March
Very bad night coughing again, but I don't feel apprehensive. I wake at 5am; wash a bit and dress and go to the treatment rooms. Massage, steam, drink four half pint mugs of warm milk, then one of a terrible gritty pungent medicine that takes the skin off the back of my throat. Then more cows milk and decoction of bitter herbs. Then more of the thick stuff. A very unpleasant experience. Headache, raw throat. To cut a long and rather disgusting story short, it works only partially, so they give up.

I make the firm decision to talk to the doctor and refuse any further treatment except yoga and diet. And to leave a week early to experience something else of India. I catch him at 16h00. He listens carefully, and tries to convince me that I should change nothing. But when I insist, we go to his surgery to look at my file. The long and the short of it is that he doesn’t want to shorten my stay. No nose treatment till my throat is better (very pungent stuff they drop in your nose to clear your sinuses); no enemas. That convinces me to give it another try. And I weigh myself and I have lost 6 kg in a week, which is amazing, I can’t quite see where the weight is missing!

Everyone has been kind and concerned about my health, and complimentary about the weight I have lost.

It has been even hotter today. But there is a strong northerly wind. Lots of little bats at sundown.

Wednesday 10th March
First real food even if it is diet proportions. For breakfast I have watermelon juice, and a plate of cucumber slices and carrot in small pieces and a slice of red onion. The carrot is so tasty. After all the fasting, food tastes quite different. Then a few bits of fruit, grapes, banana, watermelon. With lemon juice to drink. I feel quite full! I’m coughing less.

Today I start a new programme, full body massage with yellow oil which smells of fruit, then eye treatment. Weird. They put a clay cup, like an eye bath cup but bigger, around the eye and fix it with wet clay. Then they pour warm ghee into the cup, and one has to open and shut the eye 100 times! Vaguely unpleasant but not painful. Then the other eye. The oil is meant to stay on the body and hair for an hour. The girls wrap my head in a towel and I go straight to lunch. Tastes like heaven. A sort of coconut cake, okra with a little chili and onions, a salad with onion tomato carrot, a dal of some kind and a chapatti.  A banana. And lemon juice.

I've got through the first week, everything is looking better. You can't believe, well maybe you can for having listened to me moan and groan, how difficult, demoralising and tiring it all is during that first week. Then the sun comes out. The  treatment is no longer nasty, the food is simple but good. And the weight is coming off.

My massage girl has been called back home by her father for the night. I asked her if it was to meet a husband, she said no, they would choose for her next year. She’s tiny and so pretty and cheerful. She told me her mother is 47 and her father 75. Her mother works as a coolie and her father is retired. She is 20.

I went to yoga at 5pm. There are so many people who are really good at it,  I felt clumsy and gauche and very tired still. The teacher is going to give me a private lesson with a private programme.

Thursday 11th March
It is in the early morning that I sleep the best. But I have to wake up and go for my walk. I slept till 7 this morning. Out by 7h07. Walked up the road, farther than I’ve gone yet. I met one of the kitchen ladies, she picked me a branch of bougainvillea. Lots of children, in school uniform and on their way to take the bus, want to talk in the morning. The conversation is always the same: What is your name, where is your home. I speak to one little boy of about 12 who tells me he is taking exams today. He asks me if I have come alone, and I say yes, that in Europe women do lots of things alone, that I live alone, and he says “That is funny”. I take a photo of two girls, their mother comes out to see the photo in my camera, so I take another of her and her daughters. They love seeing the result of the photo immediately. She gives me her address so that I can send the photo. They are delighted. I take another of a man leading a small cow. I show him and he has a good laugh.

On my way back down I meet the kitchen waiter coming to work. He is so nice and polite, he walks with me and tries to make conversation. I keep telling him that I can’t walk as fast as him, but he insists on accompanying me. But when we come to a side turning, he says “Short cut, I shall be late” and tears off through the forest! Poor thing I hope he doesn’t get into trouble for his gentlemanly behaviour.

Ear and throat treatment, then massage and eye treatment. When I get back I have no water at all, let alone hot water, so I can’t get much of the yellow oil out of my hair with just cold water from the bucket. That is the worst thing here, the state of bathrooms. In our three bungalows at any rate, we seem to be the least well off.  My shower has not worked from the beginning. I have to use the jug and bucket method. I took a week to understand how to get a trickle of hot water. And most of the time there is no water at all, so it’s best to keep the bucket full when there is. The floor becomes quite slippery with oil, because there is no hot water to dissolve it.

Above are photos of my massage girls. They wear aprons to work with, but are in the most beautiful clothes and manage never to get them dirty with oil and herbs and such. You strip and sit on a chair for hair and head massage. Then onto the table, which is quite high, with a raised edge to contain the oil and handles to grip on to. One slides around quite a lot. They do the face and neck first. Then the stand at your feet and chant a little prayer. Then up and down your body extremely energetically, using a lot of warm oil. Then you turn on one side, then on your stomach, then the other side, then front again.  They do feet and ankles at the end. Wipe you off and let you go. An hour in all. I go last in the evening. My appointment is 16h30, I’m out at 17h45. Time to wash and read a bit before supper.

The weather has been hot, but there were clouds this afternoon. At one stage they even covered the sun, which is the first time it's done that since I’ve been here.

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