Whats it all about . . .

My name is Rachel Talbot and from September 2011 to July 2012 I will be Volunteering for Project Trust, a charitable organization which sends young adults from 17-19yrs overseas to do charitable work in a range of projects. I raised 5000 pounds for this opportunity through a range of events and would like to thank everyone who donated! This year i will be working in a center for children with disabilities while immersing myself in all things Mauritian! Hopefully i can update here what i am up to, may not update religiously . . . Thanks for visiting :)

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Half way through my home away from home!

Soooo it's 2012 and this year in October will be two years since the very first day i stepped on windy wet Coll for Selection course, freezing to death digging something called a lazy bed . . .? and meeting all kinds of new people dreaming about going away to all these worthy projects in far away countries . . now i'm half way through the gap year already! haven't posted in aaages so sorry that this will be a very long one and i'll try not to make it tedious! i had a great Christmas in the Shelter full of forty hyper shelter girls eating curry for Christmas dinner in the middle of summer, i always knew it would be different! and this is what has been happening so far this year in L'ile Maurice . . .

I had taken my neighbours’ dog, Snoopy, out for a walk;  he’s normally used as a guard dog (like most dogs in Mauritius) and, I think, is treated terribly.  Anyway, I took him out for a treat to pound the mean streets of ‘the ghetto’ with me. Half way through our walk, we got chatting to an elderly Indian woman outside of a shop. I judged from her ripped and badly patched clothes and her few front teeth that she wasn’t the wealthiest in the area. Nonetheless, she was friendly and she invited me back to her home to try some of her curry. She spoke no English so we kept to Creole. She told me about her nine children who were all married and living in family homes with many grandchildren. How sweet, I thought. But she then told me her last son had not yet found a girl and was still living at home with her.  I smiled and nodded as I wolfed down half my curry sandwich ... then she offered me some rum.  Before I had time to reply, she bustled off back to the kitchen to prepare what I thought would a mild rum and coke (I was still only seventeen at the time) . . . I was wrong.  The glass was half full of straight Seven Seas rum. - basically paint stripper! And this was at half ten in the morning! Now my parents have always brought me up to be a good guest in other people’s houses and eat or drink whatever is put in front of me. So I steeled myself and started to gulp down the wretched stuff. My throat burned, my eyes were on fire and I felt like gagging into her potted plant beside my chair. But I covered it up with a strained smile, made it to the end of the glass and gasped a ‘thank you’. I could hear Snoopy getting impatient outside so began to make my excuses to leave. But, oh no,the old lady wasn’t finished.  She then launched into a campaign about how I should stay and marry her last son. I laughed nervously but she wasn’t even joking . . . she took me down the hall to ‘my bedroom’ where I could sleep. This lady was obviously a fruit loop; a friendly and generous fruit loop, but a fruit loop nonetheless. Her starting to call me her daughter-in-law was the last straw - I wriggled my way out of her incessant questions about whether my parents would approve and would I consider the proposition, got Snoopy as quickly as I could, said my goodbyes and made a swift exit.  That is a one part of the ghetto I never visit anymore . . . .!

When I came back from the Christmas break I was finally given my own group of children to teach. I shared a class with another teacher and we rotated tables every forty minutes so I had sessions with three different groups of about eight kids, all working at different levels.  I won’t pretend that it wasn’t VERY demanding, especially the young ones who have an attention span of 30 seconds max and just want lots of cuddles.  However, itwas equally as rewarding to hear the boy, who shies away from being the centre of the classroom, confidently tell you ‘My name is Conrad’ and see the kids’self-pride when they remember an especially tricky word. The kids were, overall, of a lower ability level so, every night, I was thinking up new exercises and games to get them learning and keep it interesting. Now, however, Madame La Directice says that she wants me to focus on tutoring one to one with a shelter girl who comes to the CEDEMschool. This girl has lived in the shelter for most of her life and, at the age eight, she had an operation on her legs. I don’t know the details but I do know that the operation went wrong andnow she can’t straighten her legs fully, making walking impossible and is confined to a wheel chair. I learnt she has had three operations in Mauritius to try and correct the damage but each has made the situation increasingly worse. There is good news however as she is being sponsored by an organisation in Mauritius who will pay for her to travel to India to have the surgery necessary to correct the mistakes.  Hopefully, in time, she will be able to walk again! But,before she undertakes this journey, she has to vastly improve her English for when she spends time in the hospital.  Of course she will be accompanied but it will be a huge change for a thirteen year old who only speaks Creole fluently. I have been working with her for about a month now and immensely enjoy having her as a student. She is bright, funny and understands it is important for her to learn English so is easily motivated. I do miss having a bigger class of children (it was more of a challenge) but, hopefully, I can take on some more students as the term continues and I still have my class assistant duties. Together we have a lot of fun; she especially likes to press down on my skin while I’m marking her work so she can see my skin change colour, fascinating to the children! It is a great feeling to know that, not only am I helping her improve her English, but also that it’s for a reason which will, hopefully, completely changed her life for the betterJ.

Seems as if I’ve replaced the music festivals back home for the Indian festivals here in Mauritius and I haven’t missed one yet!

My 18th birthday was at the same time as ‘Cavadee’ Festival for the god Muruga (remember it as the elephant, man-god Ganeeshe’s brother).  My flatmates and I went down to the gardens at seven in the morning to watch the Tamil followers stick arrows all over their skin and squeeze lemon into the cuts!  Apparently these men are so close to God that they can’t feel the pain. For fifteen days prior to the festival these same people had been sleeping on the floor of the temple, eating only vegetables and food grown at home. We watched as the procession set off. Everyone was dressed in pink, as it was a pure colour, and had pink paint on their hands and feet.  It was entertaining to see fully grown, Indian men carrying Cavadees (shrines to Lord Muruga) on their backs while wearing what can only be described as a big pink nappy!  However, I had a lot of respect for them as many lay on beds of nails while their companions pulled them along using hooks inserted in their backs -  it was like something out of the world’s strongest man but with a masochistic twist!  The women, meantime, carried gold vases full of milk that had been sitting out in the temple for a month in 30 degrees and had not turned sour.  

The four of us started to follow the procession, thinking the temple must just be round the corner. . . three hours and one steep hill later we finally reached the temple (having pretty much joined the procession by then) and were the only tourists we could see who had done so. At the temple we were given a share of the milk to taste.  I have to admit that the last thing I wanted to do was drink warm sour milk but, by some miracle, it was still fine!  It was a really special way to spend my 18th birthday – however, I must admit not how I had pictured it in the years leading up! J

To properly celebrate my 18th birthday, my flatmates and I had scheduled a catamaran trip round islands off the coast of Mauritius and we were so looking forward to it all!  Then, out of nowhere, Cyclone Giovanna arrived and no one on the island was allowed out on open water.  So the trip was cancelled.  Everyone was told to stay indoors and stock up on dried noodles. ‘ Here we go’ we thought excitedly envisaging palm trees crashing down,  our roof disappearing upwards and startled, rabid dogs flying past the balcony … It was just like an average day in Scotland – sooooo disappointing! We’ve rescheduled the catamaran trip for 23rd March though when Helens brother is here.

In the last week I’ve just taken on another fulltime student who has what can only be described as severe social problems.  I think that the teachers are at their wit’s end trying to help him. As he is originally from Dubai, he only speaks English which made them think that perhaps I would be able to get through to him.  He is like no one else I’ve ever come across in that he is severely autistic and is obsessed with feet. He will sit, massaging the teacher’s feet and will get really angry if you take your feet away.  He definitely needs some special attention with a trained teacher with experience. But because there are 30+ other kids in the class who are a mix of slow learners with severe disabilities, the untrained teachers don’t have the time to spend with him.  So he gets me!  I try my best with him, a mixture of cajoling and diverting and my record is having him sit for 30 minutes doing an exercise without either getting up or demanding to touch my feet!

Soon it will be the holidays and I’ll be back working with the shelter children full time for the two weeks. I now speak way more Creole so I can converse and banter with them all much better.  One of the girls will be leaving in April as she turns eighteen and she’s so excited - she’s been in shelters, both CEDEM and other agencies, since she was about eight years old!  Another of the girls is also leaving in April, to hopefully re-join her mum up in the north of the Island. When she was younger, her mum worked as a prostitute and took drugs so it’s great to know that she has been getting the help she needs.  As my Creole skills have increased, I’ve got to know all the children on a much deeper level and now I can’t imagine leaving them in July.  I am sure that I will be constantly be thinking about how they are getting on, whether they are happy and in what direction their life is going - I will miss them all so much!

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