Letter from India dated February, 2013

Dear Friends,

I have returned from India safely after an exhausting but very fulfilling 10 days. The children in the orphanage/school learnt to sing Joseph & His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat with great enthusiasm and lots of smiles, and we mostly had electricity for the keyboard! Every afternoon the power was off between 2 & 4 so I taught them some notes on recorders, or practised songs which didn’t require too much piano playing. They loved the clapping song (Back in Canaan the future looked rough), and the climax shouting song (Is it Reuben – NO, Is it Issachar – No, etc). The 3 – 5 year olds played percussion instruments donated by Shipston church while I improvised on such unseasonal songs as Jingle Bells (somewhat surreal in 36 degrees!) and In Dublin’s Fair city, the 6 – 8 year olds learnt several Joseph songs without the words to ‘lah lah lah’, and the 9 – 15 year olds were given sheets of the words and learnt the remaining songs remarkably quickly.

Each day consisted of leading 8 music sessions with an hour lunch break, and I was starting to lose my voice by Wed. I had never had to do so much prolonged choir leading and singing in my life!  I had a sore throat which miraculously disappeared on Thursday, but I still hadn’t succumbed to Delhi belly!

On Tuesday I took Assembly for the whole school, lined up in rows outside in the playground. I gave a shortened reading of the Joseph story from Genesis, followed by a short address, mindful of the small children standing out in the sun who did not have much grasp of English. We sang Kumbyah and ‘One more step along the road I go’. The experience seemed vastly different and yet at the same time, strangely familiar to taking Assembly in Tudor Hall.

Come Thursday evening, we were told there would be no electricity all day on Friday, which seemed a great impediment to putting on the final show for an audience at 4.15 pm. However, our ex-deputy head from Tudor (who was leading the trip) sprang into action & sourced a generator to hire. Unfortunately, when we arrived the next morning at the school, the generator was in the playground, but no sign of any operator to connect it up! More frantic prayers on my part. I took 2 sessions of recorder players for the first hour, & then had the daunting prospect of the whole school assembled for the 1st sing through, with no keyboard. It took 20 minutes to get nearly 200 children into place for singing, another 10 mins of warm-up exercises, still no sign of electricity, so I just had to start rehearsing them all with the aid of one descant recorder & my stalwart team of 6 sixth formers from Tudor Hall as my backing group behind me. It was probably the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life!

At lunchtime, the electrician showed up (much to my relief) & we were wired up for sound. So at 2 pm we had a 2nd whole school rehearsal with keyboard, and that was so much easier! At 4.15, the audience arrived, and we still had the generator working, so the show went ahead, and it was absolutely exhilarating. All the children were in their decorated t-shirts and crowns which they had made with the 6th formers during the week, and they sang their hearts out – it was thrilling!

After the performance we were asked to stay for supper which turned out to be rather disastrous for me because of the extreme spiciness of the food: I could hardly decline to eat the food, when they were extending hospitality which they could ill afford. I had raging diarrhoea all Friday night, for much of Sat (while we were out sightseeing) and even now 5 days later, I am suffering from stomach cramps & haven’t eaten much.

Other quick impressions of India: the smiles and friendliness of the pupils & teachers who have so little in the way of material goods, and were so thrilled with the smallest presents which we took out there. Their desire to shake hands, to speak in English conversation, their eagerness to be photographed, their politeness, and rather old-fashioned etiquette; the cows wandering loose among the houses, the colourful shrubs and coconut trees, the sparkling blue of the Indian Ocean in which I paddled (no question of swimming for any of us because of Health & Safety). The remarkable monolithic sculptures in ancient temples dating from the 7th century, the crocodile farm (think James Bond!), the vast fruit, flowers and vegetable market in the middle of Chennai.

Equally, the poverty, the lack of basic facilities, the beggars with limbs ruined by leprosy, unbelievable dumping of rubbish everywhere (there seem to be no facilities for rubbish collection), the indescribable chaos of traffic in all directions on the roads, the smog each morning covering the city, the villages destroyed by the tsunami & still derelict, the rabid dog who was dying foaming at the mouth, the beds without mattresses for the boarders in the school, the curious juxtaposition of high rise 21st century hotels and call centre buildings interspersed between crumbling shacks and foul-smelling rubbish piles: all these were things which stick in the memory and give pause for thought.

I have returned home to icy weather & flakes of snow with nearly 300 photos and many unforgettable memories.

And a vast amount of work to be done for the remainder of the term ….!


Love from Sarah