A Dog’s Life

There are 40,000,000 (yes million) street dogs in Sri Lanka. When I decided to volunteer at a rescue centre here, I envisaged an underfunded complex, full of tatty cages and ramshackle buildings. How wrong I was. Dog-Care Clinic RV resembles a 5* luxury resort. There are lily ponds, streams, ornamental bridges, and a doggie swimming pool, on a site which sprawls over 25,000 square metres. I was totally stunned when I arrived, and actually considered moving in myself, as the accommodation here is better than anything I have enjoyed on my trip. In 2007, an inspirational German lady, Marina Möbius, came to Sri Lanka on holiday, and saw the plight of the street dogs. She started by caring for a few herself, and then funded a small clinic which has grown into the state of the art centre it is today, with a staff of 45. Marina still runs a highly successful recruitment agency in Germany, and funds most of the €500,000 per year running costs here herself. She is an amazing human being.

Yes, this is a dog rescue centre…

My role here is not terribly arduous. I have to cuddle and brush dogs all day and help with feeding time and administering medication. There are 300 canine residents, so that means a lot of cuddling! It also means that I smell like a dog by 9am every morning and, by the time I leave, I have usually had a Flip Flop, T shirt sleeve or hair band chewed or devoured completely. The four legged residents spend their days snoozing in exquisitely designed pagodas and gazebos, under a canopy of coconut palms, until all hell breaks loose. Each morning, the local monkeys get bored of eating bananas, and at 11am they decide to have some fun. So the mickey-taking Macaques swing from the tall palm trees above, whilst sticking 2 fingers up at the canine community below. This leads to utter chaos, as every dog on the site joins in with a deafening cacophony of barking, which only subsides when the monkeys realise they also need earplugs, and retreat gleefully, leaving the hounds to drift back to sleep. That said, I have never seen dogs so well cared for. If a Sri Lankan street dog gets to this place they have certainly won a golden ticket, and with two home cooked meals a day, served in landscaped gardens, I would also settle for that. I would certainly settle for their food. Breakfast and dinner are bowls of freshly cooked minced beef, with shredded fresh chicken, and a sauce of chicken stock. My meat consumption has been so restricted on my travels, that I have been sorely tempted to eat the odd bowl when no one is looking… Beats vegetable bloody curry any day, or should I say every day?

Hard job…

Although the setting here is surreal, the reality of Man’s inhumanity to animals is ever present. A steady stream of injured, starved, gassed, burnt and tortured dogs and puppies arrive every day. I have seen hounds whose feet have been cut off by their owners and others who have been set alight as part of the local gang culture. Those that are beyond help lie at peace to the side of the operating theatre, to make way for the ones with a chance. I witness amputations regularly, as basking dogs are run over by car and tuk tuk drivers who do not give this a second thought. A dog’s life has no value to most people here. Some of my group were actually in a tuk tuk the other day when it ran over and killed a dog, and the driver just continued on.

As well as the rescue centre, the organisation runs a daily feeding programme for the local dogs. Today I went out with the driver in our sign-written tuk tuk, and in the space of 6 hours we fed 650 street dogs. I had to fill food bowl after bowl with lightening speed as we stopped at each location. The hounds actually recognised the vehicle and ran towards it. They knew it was dinner time! The driver, staggeringly, knew every animal and how many would be waiting at each spot. He also removed ticks as we went round and administered tablets, for various conditions, to specific dogs, which were concealed inside fresh sausages. This was so impressive. Interestingly the centre has another virtually identical tuk tuk which it uses to collect animals for its mass sterilisation programme. So far it has neutered 60,000 dogs, in an attempt to reduce the amount of unwanted puppies in the area. The driver told me that when the ‘neutering tuk tuk’ drives round, the dogs actually run away from it, as they know it is there to ‘spoil their fun.’ I knew these creatures were clever, but number plate recognition? That’s cool.

Doing the rounds

Yesterday I bumped into the legendary Marina, who was attempting to hurl Christmas baubles at a tropical tree, to create a Christmas display. I told her that I was an interior designer and could help if needed. She immediately plonked the boxes of decorations at my feet and said, in a very Germanic fashion, ‘You do the tree.’ Minutes later I was up a ladder trying to attach tinsel and red balls to foliage that belonged in a jungle, rather than a Nordic pine forest, whilst not feeling at all Christmassy in the searing heat. Despite this I gave it my best shot. Definitely my most tasteless Christmas tree job ever, but one I won’t forget…

Season’s Greetings from Sri Lanka x

Beaches, Bounties, Bugs and Boats

Day Off and Chilling

It was with a very heavy heart that I left the crazy concrete island of Naifaru last week. This curious little atoll had welcomed me warmly and made me feel a part of island life for 3 weeks. The diverse team team at Atoll Marine Centre became my best mates, and it was a good job we did gel, as there was absolutely nothing to do there, apart from swimming and sunset watching. On our weekly days off we were taken by speedboat to nearby uninhabited islands which were really Paradise. We ate coconuts, sunbathed and swam, then lit fires at sunset and toasted marshmallows and bananas. These were the only days that us girls could actually wear a bikini rather than a burkini so these times were special. We left making fires and cracking coconuts to the boys, who pretended to be Bear Grylls and Robinson Crusoe combined. We concentrated on tanning!

My island home was full of random shops which sold a variety of miscellaneous goods. You might find the coffee amongst the flip flops, or soap and Mars Bars side by side. I got friendly with one shop keeper who could get anything from the capital, Male. One day I ordered hairspray, and marshmallows and alcohol -free beer for our camp fire, and they all turned up. Sadly I could not get any hair styling products, so I had to resort to using coconut oil. I soon got used to smelling like a Bounty Bar, and it was actually quite nice, although I found that I permanently craved chocolate.

On my last evening I returned to my room to find a massive hornet-like superbug zooming around. I hurriedly shut the door and waited half an hour. When I returned the beast was still in residence, so I went out again and waited and waited. No joy, the bug-ger had move in, complete with luggage, so I watched bravely until he landed on my headboard, where I attacked him with a towel and the air conditioning remote control. It took 5 minutes of towel wacking before he finally expired. The next morning I proudly recounted my tale to Team Vegan who were horrified that I had killed the critter, and made me feel like drowning myself in my crap coffee. Sod the Plant Eaters! There was no way I was sleeping in the corridor and giving my bedroom up for an insect!

Sorry guys but he had to go…

I actually wept when I got on the boat to leave Naifaru. I had forged such special friendships and, of course, I had to leave my beloved turtle, Noel, behind. Soon my tears of sorrow changed to another kind… The high speed boat ride was very choppy, and sadly I looked down to see that a sea of vomit was washing over my feet from the occupant of the seat in front. Thank God for Flip Flops. I have worn them daily for so many months now, that I doubt I could get a pair of boots on my newly splayed trotters.

Two hours later we arrived in the polluted, noisy and sky-scrapered capital which felt a million miles away from my local island. Here it soon became clear that being a white woman with a blonde mop was not going to go in my favour. There were salacious undertones to the looks I received and the place had a very sinister tenor. Men on motorbikes slowed down and jeered, and lorries full of workers gawped, as I made my way to my hotel. There is one thing I have learnt as a White Female Solo Traveller, and that is, always walk fast and with purpose, and never look at Google Maps on the street. Lost implies vulnerable. I was pleased, momentarily, to arrive at the Park House Hotel, for my overnight stay. That was until I realised it must have just been awarded ‘Worst Hotel in the World’ by TripAdvisor, and they had forgotten to put up the plaque. Four months ago I would have thrown a fit in reception and hailed a taxi to The Ritz, but my datum has somewhat changed. If it has hot water, air con and a bed with legs, I am cool these days.

Worst Hotel In The World…

Even so, after a night in the mosquito-ridden, smoke-flavoured dump of a place I was pleased to jump on a plane to Sri Lanka the next morning, and to the final destination of my Midlife Crisis Tour. And what a wonderful finale it is…

Sea Life and Death…

As part of the application process for every volunteering project I chose, I had to write a short piece on why I should be considered for that project. Why a Surrey interior designer could add value to a turtle conservation project was a tough one to answer, so I hurriedly flicked through some David Attenborough documentaries on YouTube before replying. I also had to state that I was a competent swimmer (which I am) and a competent snorkeler (which I am not). Truth is, I had never actually been snorkeling until I arrived here.

When I was staying in the luxury resort a few weeks ago, I hung around the watersports centre until a very attractive and tanned Australian instructor walked in. ‘Yippee’ I thought, and immediately signed up for a one hour private lesson. I have to say that when Mr Fit glided into the water and start swishing around, I mastered de-fogging my mask and breathing through a snorkel very quickly. And Wow! As soon as I put my head down I could have been on the set of ‘Finding Nemo.’ Clownfish joked around, iridescent parrotfish flickered past and angelfish hovered. The instructor was amazing. He kept diving and picking up creatures from the coral reef, including sea cucumbers and giant sea slugs, for me to inspect and touch. At one point he picked up a puffer fish. I had it in the back of my head that this was exceptionally poisonous, but I stroked its rubber hedgehog-like spines anyway. I then saw a spectacular multicoloured fish with a large black dorsal fin. I pointed at it, excitedly, and started swimming towards it, and was yanked to the surface most unceremoniously by Aussie Flippers. ‘Sorry,’ he said ‘but that’s a triggerfish, one of the few aggressive species around here, and it could take a big chunk out of your leg if it wanted to.’ Trust me…

A stunning parrotfish

When I came to work at the Atoll Marine Centre the team went for a snorkel after my first shift. ‘Done much snorkeling before then Jayne?’ I was asked. To which I replied ‘Well, I have done a bit.’ I didn’t elucidate that it was a microscopic bit… Everyone nimbly skipped over the slimy boulders on the jetty and slipped into the water, whilst I was still trying to clamber over the rocks on my hands and knees, and keep my flip flops on, at the same time. Sean, the lovely Australian marine biologist, politely waited for me and kindly said ‘that was a very graceful entry’ as I belly-flopped into the harbour. I negotiated snorkel and mask and was doing some pretty speedy breast stroke to catch up with the group when someone shouted ‘SHARK!’ My first reaction, which I don’t think was an unnatural one, was to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, and was aghast when all the others started swimming towards it. I decided to pretend to swim, whilst treading water, with the theme tune from ‘Jaws’ resonating in my head. Fortunately the shark scooted off pretty quickly, and we all had limbs intact as we headed back to shore. The gang sprung out of the water and onto the rocks with such ease, whilst I kept losing my footing and sliding around like a beached whale. Then came the words I did not want to hear ‘Jayne, it might help if you took your flippers OFF before you try and get out…’ At that point I considered drowning myself to avoid any further embarrassment. Instead I de-flippered and a kind young man hauled me out. This unfortunate episode has not been mentioned again, as the group are such polite and tactful individuals. If my kids had seen this, I would have been reminded of it constantly for the next 25 years.

As they say, practice makes perfect… I can now put my mask and fins (correct term for flippers) on, and join in the group snorkeling trips, without looking like a complete amateur. Whilst the others are mesmerized by the underwater beauty of the Indian Ocean I am looking out for triggerfish, sharks, lionfish, sting rays and anything else that could kill me. If I manage to avoid all of these, then it has been a good trip.

Jayne swimming in the opposite direction…

Turtle Town

Life on the Maldivian island of Naifaru, which I have nicknamed ‘Turtle Town’ moves at a leisurely pace, yet the days are flying by. Every morning the team does a 4 hour shift cleaning the turtle tanks, refilling them, and feeding the turtles and baby hatchlings. This is hard manual labour, carried out in the searing heat, but it is good fun. There is great banter and loud music blares out continuously from a rusty speaker. I was very anxious when it was my turn to put on my playlist for these youngsters, as it is usually met by ‘Oh Gawd Mum PLEASE!’ at home. I am pleased to announce that this gang had way better taste, and loved all my melancholic toons, unless they were being terribly polite to ‘Granny.’ I did do a quick ‘fast forward’ before Shirley Bassey though…

I have to say, I have never been up to my eyes in so much turtle poo before, thinking about it, I have never been up to anywhere in turtle poo before. These days I just jump into a tank full of excrement, and start scrubbing and sweeping, without a second thought. By lunchtime I emit a strange fragrance, comprising poo and Dettol, which certainly won’t be a bestseller this Christmas. To respect local customs I have to carry out this sweaty work with my shoulders and knees fully covered. I soon decided that running gear was the best attire, as it dries quickly, plus I can wear it to jump into the sea mid-shift, if it all gets too much.

Morning workout

On my first morning I was given a bowl of raw tuna and told to feed a turtle. ‘They don’t bite do they?’ was my first question. ‘Not if you do it properly’ came the response. I clearly didn’t, as seconds later I virtually had my middle finger severed by a grumpy old bugger called Noel. I have never screamed ‘Jesus Christ’ quite so loudly. Thank goodness for a Muslim population. My first thought was ‘how am I going to write my blog without a middle finger?’ ‘Those shoes’ would read ‘Th_se sh_es.’ Everyone laughed hysterically as I confirmed that my finger was still intact, but looking very red and my ‘Sunset Glow’ nail polish had been sliced right through. Despite this poor start I have fallen in love with Noel, and clean his shell regularly with a hand brush, whilst repeatedly being told ‘I make a good scrubber.’

Noel getting a scrub!

The work the team do at this charity is incredible. The marine biologists come for 6 to 12 months, without any pay, and they have the most basic accommodation and awful food. They are so passionate about the cause, and work tirelessly as a steady stream of mutilated turtles arrives. These have usually been caught in ghost nets which are disused fishing nets abandoned in the sea. Some have been trapped for weeks and have severed their flippers in an attempt to escape. Once a turtle is caught it is very hard to extricate, as it involves cutting them free with a knife, underwater, whilst they flail around. Most fisherman don’t bother, and leave them to die, so it is usually dive teams who bring them in. Only turtles with at least one front and one back flipper remaining can ever be released again, so there are always battles to find permanent homes in aquariums around the world for the unlucky ones. Noel might be coming to Sea Life in London, and if he does, I will be first in the queue. Shockingly only 1 in a 1000 baby turtles make it to adulthood, due mainly to the manmade threats of global warming, poaching and plastic pollution as well as the nets. I knew so little about these awesome creatures before, but now I am hooked on them. I forgive them for all the poo and finger amputations. We humans have way more to answer for…

The cruelty of ghost nets

Island Life

Sunset from the beach on Naifaru

On Friday I left the opulence of a 5* resort in the Maldives and headed to a native island to work on a turtle conservation project. I had found this luxury a welcome respite from my travels, however it was time to move on. I had got tired of looking at size 22 Russian women, with tattooed eyebrows, who had squeezed themselves into size 10 bikinis, and blokes from Yorkshire who were maximizing the ‘All Inclusive’ package by quaffing pints from 9am and consuming obscene amounts of food at the hotel buffet. Those who weren’t there convalescing from a heart attack were certainly long overdue one.

I caught the staff boat to Naifaru with the resort workers, at the end of their 12 hour shift, and most of them fell asleep, exhausted, as soon as we headed out to sea. This left me alone to watch the bright lights of Western excess disappear as we crossed the water at sunset. An hour later we docked at the main island in the Lhaviyani Atoll, which is 0.5 sq km and has a population of 4000 devout Muslims. As I stepped ashore I expected to be greeted by the charity coordinator, but she was nowhere to be seen. I sat for ages on my rucksack, under a solitary street light, as a steady procession of local guys on motorbikes cruised past to gawp at me, as if I had landed from another planet, rather than another island. Word got around that there was a white woman at the harbour, and it spread along the jetty to where the coordinator was mistakenly waiting for me at the other end. This place was not what I expected. I had poetically envisaged wooden houses, with bamboo roofs, set against a skyline of coconut palms. Instead, this was a low-level concrete settlement rising out of the sand, with the worst litter problem I have ever seen. Plastic bottles and other non-biodegradable waste drowned the dusty streets and the pretty shoreline. Some of this waste is generated by the uneducated locals, but much is washed up from as far away as India and Sri Lanka. There was certainly nothing scenic about the island, except for the sea surrounding it and the stunning sunset. At supper I met the rest of the team, comprising two marine biologists from the UK, and one from Australia, plus volunteers from Denmark and Spain. It was so good to chat to an English person for the first time in months, and I quickly forgave Max for coming from Scunthorpe. As one might expect, the group were vegans, with pony tails and wrists of beaded bracelets, but what a great bunch! I was pleased that I had gorged myself on roast pork and lambs chops in the resort, as it soon became apparent that I had another 3 weeks of lentil curry coming up.

View from the sea at Naifaru

It is only in the last 4 years that foreigners have been allowed onto Naifaru, and even now their entry is strictly regulated. Only those working in the turtle rescue centre can stay here, meaning that today there are only 7 white residents. Whilst men can wander around topless and in shorts, the local women wear hijabs and long cloaks despite the searing heat. All of the females in our group have to cover their shoulders and knees at all times, even when swimming, hence my need to buy a ‘burkini’ all those weeks ago. We are so visible that even an inch of cleavage or a bare leg could result in immediate banishment. Women are not allowed to smoke, go to the cinema or to the gym. Interestingly hardly any inhabitants know how to swim, so they are actually afraid of the sea, although it is never more than a stone’s throw away. The day follows the pattern of the sun, and is only punctuated by calls to prayer or ‘Adhan,’ which reverberate from the mosques 5 times a day, starting at around 4.45am. Life stops here for prayer; shops shut, the bank shuts and cafes close. Men and women hurry along the streets in opposite directions, as they attend their separate mosques. This means it is very difficult to work out when to go to the supermarket, but 10pm is usually a safe bet.

Whilst the other Westerners do vaguely blend into the scenery with their darker skins and hair, my blonde mop and height mean I know how it feels to actually be Meryl Streep. Local women want selfies with me, teenage girls want to stroke my hair and parents ask me to pose for photos with their kids. Most have never left the island or seen a TV, and so I really am a freak of nature to them. I have got so used to this now that, if my blog goes viral, and there is a swarm of paparazzi at Gatwick when I return, I think I can handle it. I will be the one with the braided hair, kaftan and sandals.

Smiling for yet another photo with someone’s disinterested kids…

Wet, Wet, Wet

There is one big negative which is going to stick in my memory of this whole trip, and that is RAIN. In Nepal it never stopped. On the first day I dressed appropriately in my new lightweight Berghaus jacket and trainers, and soon concluded that this wholly appropriate attire was a total waste of time. Within minutes I realised that the jacket’s label stating ‘waterproof’ did not apply to Nepalese rain, and my shirt underneath was clinging to me like a wet frog. I also decided that the Nike ‘Tick’ on my trainers should have been a ‘Cross’ if considered in such conditions. The next day I did as the locals do, and just sported flip flops. They were far more effective for wading through road rivers, and required no drying time.

Nepalese rain

When I got to Goa we had a perfect few days of sunshine and stunning sunsets, then the deep depression followed me, and I spent most of my time drenched to the skin, with frizzy hair like a grown-out perm. Not only that, this rain was the wettest rain I have ever known. It didn’t just soak you, it drowned you. Within minutes I looked like the worst contestant in a wet T-shirt competition. In the end I just resigned myself to a semi-aquatic existence. Unfortunately last week, just as I was about to leave, my deep depression turned into a cyclone over the entire west coast of India. I had decided to stay in a beach shack, in a little resort only 15 minutes from the airport, as I had an early flight the next morning. The one hour journey there took 21/2 hours, as the battered old taxi tried to swim through floods and avoid fallen branches. When we arrived in the little village of Bogmalo I immediately shortened the name to ‘Bog.’ My idyllic beach shack had been partially washed away, and the sea was littered with floating sun loungers and parasols. I hastily found a rather nice hotel up the road which was open, and checked-in. As I left reception the assistant said, ‘Do take an umbrella.’ I said it was pointless in such windy conditions, to which she replied ‘Oh no madam, this is to protect you from falling coconuts, they can kill, you know.’ I grabbed the umbrella and spent the next 5 minutes trying not to do a Mary Poppins whilst musing on another interesting obituary for me. I had a very sleepless night partly due to the thunder, lighting and thud of coconuts falling on my roof, but also because I was constantly checking to see if IndiGo flight 267 to Bengaluru was actually going to take off. As there was no upto date information I headed to the airport anyway at 5am, skirting fallen palm trees and disassembled wooden houses en route. The taxi driver was an old boy, and he said that this was the worst cyclone in his lifetime. Oh Jayne, what perfect timing! Apparently, the beach road I had travelled along just hours before, had been washed away overnight. I am pleased to say that my flight did get blown off the runway in vaguely the right direction but Christ! It was a bumpy ride. If this had been an EasyJet flight there would have been a chorus of screams and shouts of ‘Bugger’ as we repeatedly plummeted a few thousand feet then climbed again. Here, as I was the only non-Hindu on the flight, I had to blaspheme under my breath. The rest of the passengers had handed themselves over to the will of the numerous Hindu gods, and just sat in their seatbelts peacefully.

Goan rain

Two flights later I did finally reach the Maldives and the tiny runway, which is a thin strip of tarmac on a short, skinny island, was bathed in sunshine. ‘This is going to fab’ I thought. It was… for one day. Then the rain started and didn’t stop. Yesterday I changed hotels and one of the highlights of my whole adventure was to be the transfer by seaplane to the second hotel. I headed back to the airport by speedboat where I was told that, due to the weather, my plane might not be taking off, and I might have to take a 6 hour vomit-inducing ferry ride instead. I wasn’t going to jump at that alternative. After a 3 hour wait the storm subsided and up I went in my seaplane to witness the most amazing view of the tiny atolls below, surrounded by coral reefs and the breaking waves of the turquoise sea. I was so happy when I landed that, for a second, I didn’t realise that it had started raining again. It is still raining.

Seaplane Jayne

Hard lives

My beautiful pupils

Well I am halfway through my Midlife Crisis (trip), and I am celebrating this milestone with 5 days in fab hotels in the Maldives, before I start my next project here. This downtime gives me the opportunity to reflect on the past 6 weeks, and particularly my time in Goa.

In the afternoons I worked on a new initiative to teach basic English to the women living in the Salgado slums. The hope is that this skill will help them to get work as cleaners and maids. The first day that I arrived I was shocked, and I had known it was going to be bad. Large families live in breeze block cells measuring 2m x 2m with no windows and leaking corrugated roofs. At night they simply lie down to sleep on the earth floor, without blankets or mattresses. All aspects of everyday life take place in this tiny space; eating, cooking, relaxing, sleeping and dressing. These families are migrants from other states who have come to Goa in search of work. The men do manual labour, moving rocks or clearing vegetation, and the women stay at home. The household income is around £2000 per year. The men are paid on Saturdays, and sadly they spend a large chunk of their wages getting drunk on cheap spirits on Sundays, and many then become violent towards their wives. The women can do nothing, they simply have no choices. If they tried to leave, their husbands would kill them, and no one would bat an eyelid, as they have no birth certificates or ID. In the eyes of the law they do not exist. As many got married aged 12 they know no other life. Learning English will give them an opportunity to earn some money, and also something to break the endless monotony of washing, cooking and child minding in these filthy condition. What struck me most was the beauty of these women. No facials or expensive creams had ever graced their faces, yet they had the most perfect skin and white teeth. Their clothes were always clean, earrings dangled and hair was arranged neatly. This seemed an incredible achievement, given their living conditions. I quickly realized how bright they were, they picked up phrases so fast. Some knew how to write the English alphabet from looking at their childrens’ homework books. There was also a huge sense of comraderie between the ladies. They all looked after each others’ kids and encouraged each other in the lessons. One afternoon I discovered that the Hindi words ‘khana banana’ mean ‘I am cooking.’ I thought this was hysterical, and said it over and over again, accompanied by a little dance. The group thought this was very amusing. I felt honoured the next day when I was invited into one of their homes to learn how to make roti bread on a single Calor gas hob, with someone holding a lantern as there was no power that afternoon. The women did this with such dexterity, whereas my effort was definitely more chunky naan than roti. We ate the bread with some tooth-descaling pickle made from a tree root (I didn’t dare to ask which tree). This was a little interlude, but such a memorable one, and an experience I will never forget. I said my final ‘khana banana’ to the ladies on Friday. They hugged me and said ‘goodbye ticher.’ I actually left feeling frustrated that I had so little time to make any meaningful difference to their incredibly tough lives. But if I had stayed longer I might have tried to change their worlds, which would have gone horribly wrong.

Making roti

There are many similarities between Nepal and Goa. Both countries are vastly under developed by western standards, buildings are crumbling and there is little investment in infrastructure. Environmental awareness is poor and the roads are full of cars and lorries belching out exhaust fumes. Litter and squalor abounds. The majority of people live in abject poverty and their governments misuse funds, abuse their power, and do little to improve the living standards of those they govern. Interestingly these people are very accepting of this injustice, it is just the way it is. Religion also plays a far greater part in life than in the UK. Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity co-exist with mutual respect and this Faith gives people comfort, hope and direction. I think this softens the reality of their impoverished existences, but perhaps it stops them questioning it. Is that a good thing?

Before I sign off I must say that, at the request of some of my mates, I did get a sari. A delightful lady from the old people’s home dressed me in it. A process which took 30 minutes and 7m of fabric being wound and strategically folded around my torso. At the end I gasped at the incongruity of ‘white woman does sari’ but all the lady residents loved it. I then went to see my special gentleman, Sandeep. When he saw me his eyes lit up and he adopted a huge grin. I think he was so flattered that I had actually gone to all the trouble. Sadly whilst his face was a picture, he refused a photo with me. He doesn’t trust mobile phones. A very wise man indeed!

Me with my sari dresser Roshni