Monday, 10 February 2014

Summer's nearly here....


Yep, it’s gone from the warmest, perfect, English summer to more like the South of France in June. A slightly early move towards summer temperatures, heading towards the mid 30’s now, so that means only one thing - it’s Harvest time! All the crops are coming in, on head, bicycle, motorbike, cart, and tractor. And here’s another use for the unopened dual carriageway; drying your chillies! Although the slightly more modest crop from a family plot is a bit prettier.

And harvest means festival, so at the church we have the procession - clouds of incense, close on a thousand communicants, and then the church lunch, with extra families and friends that’s rice and mutton curry for 3,000 all provided by a local politician - it’s the biggest pot of rice I’ve ever seen! But enjoyed by young and old alike. With dancing - a sort of May pole without the pole - but it makes a very fancy knot that is then undone just as quickly; if they get their moves right that is. Then the inevitable auction of items people have donated, just like at home, although I’ve never seen live chickens brought to one of these before. Of course more garlands and the ubiquitous welcome speech!




With the rising temperatures the power cuts get more frequent and longer - complaints in the papers that it’s not summer yet! But this is supposed to ensure enough power for the agriculture sector at this critical time, but we seem to lose the power at 6 am each day for a couple of hours and then again in the afternoon.
At the Oxford School this week, the one in the same compound as the Bishop’s House and the Women’s Christian Centre I’m staying in, we had the ceremonial opening of the ‘new shed’. It’s not really a shed, just a rather nice, covered, semi open teaching space a bit bigger than the classrooms. So more dancing and colour. Oh and the Bishop drawing on the wall.
Bifurcation is a fine, but rarely used, English word that is the main political story locally. It is the planned split of Andhra Pradesh into 2 separate states - Telangana being created as a new state. This proposal has been rejected by the state government but the national government seems intent on seeing it through with the issue hitting parliament this week. This has meant strikes by government employees on both sides of the argument, and a state school teacher I spoke to yesterday said this meant she was working 7 days a week to make up for the lost days in the strike (I didn’t think that was quite how strikes were supposed to work, but this is India).
I also met a man who works for a charity that, as one of it’s projects, is working with 40 villages to try to help the children who are out of school; due to poverty, family circumstances, the need to work and so on, to find a way back to school. Literacy here is still at a shockingly low level, when you think that Hyderabad’s (Andhra Pradesh State Capital) TechCity is one of the prime centres for software support and development in the world. Andhra Pradesh is the 5th worst state (out of 35) with overall literacy under 70%, but an extreme male-female imbalance (male literacy 75%, female under 60%). India is the nation with more illiterate people than any other. So education really is one of the prime needs in this state.
The other headline in the paper today (the Deccan Chronicle if you were wondering) ‘State Fails in Nutrition’. Andhra Pradesh is amongst the worst states in India with 44% of rural children under 5 years suffering from ‘reduced growth rate’ with ‘stunted growth, malnutrition and thinness’ underlining the state of children's health (36% underweight). But nutrition is getting worse; down decade by decade since the 1970s, and it’s not just the 5 a day fresh fruit and veg that is lacking; over 70% of people have less than 50% of the RDI for sugar - not too many sugary drinks here - although finding somewhere that sells diet coke is something of a crazy adventure). General levels of nutrition are poor, but over 12% of adults are defined as obese!  

So India continues to thrill and to challenge, to have colour and vibrancy, yet some of the biggest challenges imaginable. What will the next week bring….

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