Zoe & Daisy Take On The East travel blog

The queue to get into the temple

Daisy's elephant blessing

Zoe's trunk head

The youngest girls, 4-6yrs before flag hoisting...

... and enjoying the performances

Zoe playing with the girls

Us and our fellow volunteers

After a couple of easy nights in Dindigul Rajkumar took us in his Ambassador taxi to Madurai (luxury after all the trains), and we were introduced to Seetha who manages the orphanage. Rajkumar explained briefly where we were staying, and what the buildings were used for, with a lot of long pauses, looks towards Seetha, and general head waggling from both of them. After slightly too long of all four of us stood waggling heads at each other without exchanging words, we were taken across to meet 'our people' (other white volunteers). Grace (18, from Birmingham, chatty), and Ashley (20, English teacher in South Korea, American, fairly quiet). Later we met Camilla (19, half Italian, half English, grumpy in the mornings), Sarah (19, French - in EVERY way, very Parisian) and Hemma (22, pre-med student, America/Ohio).

We got straight to the sight seeing and headed to the temple in Madurai with two of Grace's friends (also volunteers) who are from Heathfield - one even worked at The George in Alfriston (the tiny village Zoe lives in at home)! We had the pleasure of being blessed by the elephant that resides in the temple for 10 rupees (about 15p), which consisted of the elephant resting its trunk on your head while you pose for a photo! Daisy got a rather nasty waft of stinky elephant breath, but you have to take the rough with the smooth! The remainder of the weekend we played with the kids (girls all aged between 4 and 16), and were taught how to do our washing by the older girls.

Monday was Daisy's birthday, and we woke up at half 5 to help with getting the girls ready for school. For Zoe this meant preparing food for breakfast, and adding bindi stickers, and for Daisy that meant dishing out water from a large trough for the smaller girls to wash with, and powdering faces. Once all that was done we helped serve breakfast in the main hall, where after prayer all 120 girls sung Happy Birthday (Daisy nearly cried. About 4 times, but managed to reel it in). Later in the day we went into town and gave directions to a tailor for some clothes we want made, and in the evening had dinner with the other girls in the rooftop restaurant at Hotel Supereme in Madurai, with views of the temple. Dinner was nice at the time, but was most probably the reason Daisy had to make an unexpected and VERY swift exit from the internet cafe a little later on, eyeing up bushes and rubbish at the roadside all the way home just in case an emergency stop became compulsory! :o/

Today was National Republic Day in India, which involved ceremonial hoisting of the Indian flag, dancing, skits, and speech-making by the girls in the main hall to an audience of the volunteers, the governors of the orphanage, and some sponsors. At the end the lead governess turned to the volunteers and asked us to make a speech - Daisy bravely stepped up (as The Elder) and thanked the girls for their hard work and excellent performances.

All afternoon we have been trying to teach the girls to make friendship bracelets, but perhaps we set our sights too high: too many girls, too much excitement, only two willing volunteers as all of the others were either at the circus or sleeping!

We've found the girls to be very bright, almost across the board, with a real willingness to learn and involve us in their games and culture. The older girls take a lot of responsibility for the younger girls, helping them regularly, and supervising their play, making it a fairly self-sufficient little community. We're already fond of many of them, even though occasionally feeling a bit fraught by their constant demands and persistent cries of "Sister! Sister!" when they need our attention, or just generally want anything! We're really looking forward to spending two whole weeks here before we move on.

Daisy would like to say thanks to everyone who sent her birthday wishes, and we'd both like to let those of you with Skype capabilities know that we occasionally have access between 4:30 and 5:30pm UK-time, so feel free to send us through your usernames.

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