What a pleasure to once again be in a country where it is appropriate to be inappropriate, or at least appropriateness takes on a completely different meaning. The joy of walking down a busy street and to be approached inquisitively by a complete stranger, ‘Country?’. Although one understands the context of what is being asked it certainly instigates a playful and jovial interaction. This is often followed by equally out-of-context questions like, ‘Marriage?’, ‘Father?’, ‘Mother?’. The thing about being thrown these isolated words amongst the cacophony of sound that is already present, is that it is almost expected that those same questions are reciprocated with equally absurd answers. The interaction that follows can then go down any number of routes, in my experience always ending in a humorous exchange which parts with big smiles from all parties.
We are living in Sister Fatima’s home in Golapudi, a village on the outskirts on Vijayawada. The image of a ‘village’ maybe be somewhat misleading as we are situated on one of the main highways out of the city and the quiet village life that one might expect definitely does not prevail. We have been living here for over a week and it begins to feel like home: always greeted by friendly chai wallahs, mischievous children and pushy fruit vendors. We seem to have adjusted to the fact that we are living amongst nuns and Christian symbology and it no longer feels strange that a large porcelain statue of Jesus watches over us whilst we enjoy our communal meal at the end of the day and although some of us struggle, swearing is kept to a minimum.
We are now half way through the first project and have performed our show to different groups of kids who have responded excitedly to its playful tone and colourful characters. The kids seem to enjoy the character I play, a strict authoritarian policeman who demands seriousness at all cost but is continuously mocked by the rest of the cast, providing humorous interludes between scenes. The other characters are met with equal delight: two mischievous clowns, three friendly street urchins and a pair of unassuming tourists, not to mention the charismatic, yet accident prone subji wallah (vegetable vendor)/rickshaw driver/waiter.
Vijayawada is South India’s largest railway junction and many street children end up here as a result. The organisation we are working with at the moment is called SKCV http://www.skcv.org, who’s main concern is providing shelter and food to those children who have had the misfortune of ending up on the street for one reason or another. Dividing up our teaching time between the night shelter, the boys’ village and the girls’ home we spend a total of four days a week with the kids. We have been welcomed with an enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn that confirms the validity of this project. ‘Brother!’, ‘Sister!’, echoes around the yard as children are eager to show us their success in spinning a plate on a stick or managing to juggle three balls for a number of consecutive throws. It is incredibly touching to be able to offer them the encouragement and recognition they deserve and the look of glee and excitement on their faces is the most satisfying reward. Next week will be our last week with this set of kids and although it will be sad to say goodbye, it warms me to have spent time with them, gaining insight into their world and experiencing a truly beneficial exchange.
As I complete this entry I am being evacuated from the cool afternoon shade of our porch, as mosquitos here don’t seem to to be limited to solely nocturnal activity. Contently I sit in my room with the fan on, enjoying the free time Sundays provide, recognising the gratitude that lies within and looking forward to the weeks to come.