The girls are getting ready for a meal after a long day so I might as well fill you in with today’s adventures!
The day started slowly. I got talking to the cleaners this morning, to get to learn a few words. It was great fun, and started the day with a good smile!
The plan was to visit a park South of the city. We’d all slept in and set off late on foot, after a trip to the local supermarket. It’s quite funny how the electricity fails on a regular basis, so you can’t see what you want to buy till it comes back on.
We walked along a very long street lined with shops and bazaars, taking our time to browse, then had a meal in what looked like the equivalent of the French Routiers: a quick stop for men to nourish themselves before returning to work. People eat standing around or sitting on one of the few plastic stools on the shop front. There’s a tap and small steel sink to wash on the outside wall, where the dishes are also done.
They were a bit puzzled, but we were welcome.
We walked further and meandered down side street, down what appeared to be a lower class, but not poor, neighbourhood. Banana leaves merchants, fruit merchants… They were friendly, and not at all demanding our cust0m like on the high street.
Further down we got accosted by a spightly elderly lady. She wanted to know where we came from and what we did there. She told us she was a retired school teacher, and owned those shops over there. She asked what god we worshipped. She worshipped Jesus, she said. We tried to learn a few more words of Tamil from her.
I’m struggling remembering so much, names of people, things and places… Had tea from a little snack shop, and set off again, only to realise we were too late for the park’s short opening hours.
So we diverted and went to the Marina Beach instead.
As we got closer, it got poorer. Right near the shore, houses were replaced by grim-looking 4 storey-high housing projects…. A few people sarted asking for money.
The ocean was in front of us, beautiful and blue.
We carried on along the shore, and the blocks gave way to huts thatched with palm leaves.
The kids were made up to see us, and women on the doorsteps of their houses waived to us.
“Hello, what is your name?” “Hello how are you?” Again and again. One family wanted their picture taken. Kids were lined up and made to behave. Then they wanted to give us their address. We got talking, making them laugh with our eagerness to say all the Tamil we knew, so much so that we got invited inside for coffee.
I felt really honoured to share a little slice of their lives. We chatted and laughed for a long time… it turns out these families are Christian families from Kerala. The children are educated at the local Catholic school. In the end we were shyly asked to help with our host’s 5 year old son. We said we’d sponsor the school.
As we walked North, the huts disappeared. Instead, there were shelters of plastic sheeting on the beach… We got accosted for anything, pens, money, by people who were clearly desperate. Kids, young men, and a grannie holding on to me. Lots of eye problems.
We started to wonder how to get out of it, but the only way was onwards, pushing people away as kindly as we could. No. Ignore. No. Ignore.
Fortunately, we soon came to steps back onto the main street, via a quiet avenue with a very wealthy looking church… EJ took the opportunity of having less people around to peel oranges and give slices to the children, and grannies living on the pavement by the church.
To see the 2 grans so grateful for a slice of orange got straight to my heart.
When we finally got back to the main street and wealth, only a few paces away, I just wanted to cry…
But that’s the way it is here. And we walked all the way back to our rich people’s dwellings, and I had a hot shower in luxury.
I don’t know what to make of it all.
I noticed tonight though, that I was quite eager to leave the hotel and set off along the street alone, feeling a lot more confident than I had the last few days.
One more day in Chennai, on my own, then I head off South.