I finally arrived in Pune and other than a rescheduling on my original flight time from Delhi to here the whole journey was totally lacking in trauma and I have to confess after all the nightmare stories I heard about Delhi, I wondered what all the fuss was about!
Due to heavily booked flights I had to pay an extra US$40 for my flight from Kathmandu to Delhi and as a result was travelling business class! I ended up chatting to a very entertaining German girl, Eva, on the plane who had been upgraded and the two of us drank wine and champagne with our meal and chatted throughout the flight. We ended up both taking my prearranged taxi to the Hotel Chand Palace in Delhi and then went out to find the main bazaar area in search of food and more importantly beer. We were in the Paharganj area which is a large local market area stuffed with a higher than usual number of guesthouses, cyber cafes and money exchanges making it the main tourist trap area for the city. However, unlike Thamel in Kathmandu which is very much a tourist toy town this definitely felt slightly more local and a lot more chaotic. We found a nice rooftop restaurant and managed to polish off several beers disguised in white ceramic pitchers before heading to one more bar and drinking with an English guy and Australian girl before heading back to our hotel to crash. So my plans to spend the evening reading and relaxing before my next flight were totally blown out the window and instead I was more than a little tipsy before getting to bed (we sent the busboy out for one more bottle of beer!) and I had less than five hours sleep before I had to get to the airport the next morning.
So now I am working for Deep Griha, a charitable organisation in Pune that works with a whole range of projects from Women’s empowerment, HIV awareness, prevention and care, city orphans and improving the lives and education of people living in the slums.
There are a whole group of volunteers who are living in the ‘house’ presided over by ‘aunty’ a round, smiling, sari draped woman who looks after us all. The other volunteers consist of the Scottish contingent, 7 girls all aged 18-21 (which makes me feel very old indeed!) from a program called Link, Emmanuel the one French guy, an English guy called Dave who is doing some research on banana practices to take back to Kenya (?), my roommate Lucy who is working on street theatre plays and Lianna and Aeysha who are both working on the HIV related side of the projects along with me. My old housemate Claire is also working here for a year or so on education projects. There are rumours of the possible future arrival of five new Frenchmen which have the girls all very exited and I have to say, lovely as everyone is, a slightly more balanced female male ratio would be a good idea! So it’s a little like being a student again except that all our meals are cooked for us (the height of luxury as far as I’m concerned, not to mention the cable TV and the washing machine!), the house is full of cushions, random sofas/beds, books and maps and we have three house dogs who jump and crotch-nuzzle us every time we step outside the house!
The office is about 20 minutes away and situated by the Tadiwalla Road slum in Pune where they offer HIV testing, counselling, nutrition programs, education classes and child care. I’m working on a program called DISHA which is an HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support program. Pune currently has 1.8% of the population infected with HIV which is twice the country average and significantly higher than the 1% rate which WHO considers to be epidemic status. So far Hans, the project coordinator, has been wonderfully vague on what I’m actually going to be doing but everyone else assures me this is totally normal. So far I’ve been doing research on 3 minute HIV tests, HIV work policies and abstinence-only HIV programs in various African countries for a couple of reports I’ve been asked to write. Thank god for the internet is all I can say – how on earth did people ever research this kind of stuff without it!
Hopefully this weekend I am going to have a chance to explore around Pune a little more although so far I have been to a classical dance show in the open air gardens of Ajakhan palace for Gandi’s birthday was really interesting with some wonderful music. This morning Lianna and I attended a rather entertaining yoga session. This very brusque older woman running the session barked out orders throughout, quickly pointing out anyone who wasn’t doing things quite right! Needless to say, I am not nearly as flexible as I’d liked to be so I’m going to try and persevere!