*Wow, I’ve been sick than travelling and haven’t had time to write this article! Now it’s been over 4 months but this is about my third month living and studying in India!*
Hey! It’s been 3 months that I have been living in India, and I am really feeling now all the contrasts that so many people talk about… especially when that feeling that the place is stuck 50 years back in time while people have access to technologies, smartphones, etc. I used to notice the litter and be “sad but whatever” and now I feel so disgusted by all the trash in nature, especially along roads and railways… how could this ever be fixed?
I spent most of this last month in another campus near Coimbatore. With Simona, we were staying at the girls hostel, which was awesome for meeting some very cool Indian girls, making friends and learning more about the culture!
Going to a local beach
One day, we decided to go out and have a swim at the nearest local beach: Dolphin Beach. We had a lot of fun surfing the waves and getting washed out by a few washing machines. The Indians on shore seemed impressed by the fun we were having in the sea, as most of them don’t know how to swim.
While we walked on the beach, we noticed how the thin sand was sticky under our feet, and hoped it was indeed the sand and not something else. The beach was a local toilet; people come here to poop with a view!
When we were about to get dry and dressed, a man lay down a few metres away, tongue stuck out, staring at us. I was feeling totally uncomfortable but didn’t know what to do and turned to my guy friends in despair: “this guy is totally staring at us, it’s disgusting!” To which they replied: “Which one? The guy laying in front of you or the three hidden in the bush?” I thought it was a pretty good joke until I realised it wasn’t a joke…
We decided not to change and stay in our wet clothes, and I covered up with my sarong. We walked to the end of the jetty, where people were casually eating ice creams and throwing the wrapping into the sea. Dolphins popped in and out of the waves, as well as cameras around us of local people suddenly feeling an urge to take selfies with a nice background (the Westerners, not the sea!)
3D printing a hand
I had a lot of fun 3D printing a hand! It was meant for a prosthetic for a kid in my village who has several limb differences. I started by printing out the fingers, then the palm and then connected everything together with the help of my friend Chris. It was awesome to see it come to life! Well not literally, but it was definitely a cool project to carry on. In the end, I decided not to complete the project as I was missing technical support, medical expertise and experience. If I had at least one of these I think I would have tried taking the project further but I didn’t want to risk hurting the kid or giving him hope and then abandoning him. But it is a project I’d love to try again back home!
Staying in an Indian campus
I was supposed to go to Ettimadai, near Coimbatore, for a couple of days to a week to complete my prototype and testing. Due to unforeseen circumstances such as the death of the Chief Minister and several days of strike, I ended up staying for over 2 weeks! Meanwhile, I made some very good friends on the campus and had a lot of fun with them and Simona!
On the day we arrived, there was a “curtain raiser” for a festival happening later in the academic year. There were some food stalls, live music and hundreds of crazy students who taught us some Bollywood dance moves!
I ended up being totally fed up with Indian food. There was no Western Café to cater for our Western cravings and meals were not as enjoyable as before!
I wrote about my experience living almost like a student on this article (and scandalised quite a few locals).
We also went out for one day in Coimbatore with Simona and greatly enjoyed our day out!
At the girls’ hostel, we learnt a lot about the Indian life. Especially about arranged marriages, we didn’t think it was that common! Our friends also loved dressing us up in sarees and we also got some beautiful henna tattoos on our hands!
I went with Simona to her village and it was a great experience, I also wrote about it here!
Death of the Chief Minister
While we were in Coimbatore, we learnt that the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu was in hospital, dying. Suddenly, at meal times, the TV was on and girls gathered around the screen to hear the latest news. On the pictures, there was a huge crowd in front of the hospital. We couldn’t understand what was going on. We did some research on the internet, and learnt that if she died, there would be a several day strike, people would burn cars and buses, some would even commit suicide! Needless to say, when her passing was announced, we were locked up in the campus and our projects were on a halt for a few days. Unlike the rulers of our European countries, the chief minister was lovingly called Amma and people were so upset by her death they would actually commit suicide!
With all of this going on, my project got late with the prototype building and testing. We had done a first trial that failed. Instead of testing first the tractor then the trailer we tried all the system. A bad idea: the trailer broke and then we couldn’t even test the tractor, which broke too! At that point, I was really annoyed by the quality of the prototype.
I was told the rice seedlings weren’t grown enough for trial of transplanting, so we would have to wait an extra 10 days. But after these 10 days (and the death of the CM) my prototype barely got fixed and we didn’t even go out to the field and try it! This was extremely disappointing for me as I hoped to see my prototype work (or not) but also see the reaction of the local female farmers to it.
With nothing else to do, I also learnt a few new ukulele songs!
And on the train trip back, I played them to some pilgrims while we were stopped in the middle of nowhere!
Back to Amritapuri!
Being gone for that long, I felt like I was coming back home when I reached Amritapuri! Most of my friends were still there and we had plenty of stories to share. It was a great feeling to meet them again!
Amma was back too, and the place was very busy, especially with the Christmas celebration to come! I had loads of things I still wanted to do before my departure, but unfortunately, I got sick…
One morning, I woke up with some terrible stomach cramps. My friend Peppiina was leaving that day, so I tried to go downstairs to say goodbye. But after one flight of stairs, I nearly fainted and retreated to my bed, where I stayed for the following 24 hours. As soon as I got up, I was on the verge of fainting. Whatever I had, I couldn’t get out of bed or eat anything.
I had already been sick in Coimbatore, and for a few days I felt extremely tired and even sleeping 10 hours a night wasn’t enough.
I am still grateful I didn’t catch the worse bugs around!
Once I was feeling better, I attended the RAHA conference about humanitarian robotics and presented a poster about my project, and then my mom came to visit for two awesome weeks of travelling Kerala!