Helen and I set off for our first visit of four groups; Tango 5, Charlie 2, Echo 3 and Charlie 1; and weren’t disappointed. All groups are over half way through their first phase and were eager to read all your blog comments and post.
First up were the trekkers in Wayanad who had just completed an arduous trek in Meenmutti. When we met them (the campsite was at the top of their last hill of the day) understandably some were not in the greatest of spirits! But once tents had been erected and the egg-fried noodles (ps amazing!) cooked then everyone perked up.
|Tango 5 arrive at camp and make sure their tents go up quickly|
|Harriet and Will show the loop how to make a cordon-bleu meal on a Trangia (no mean feat!)|
On our third attempt the reluctant fire was lit and we chatted away, mesmerised by the flames. Harriet led an excellent review of the day from the beginning to the end in minute-by-minute detail. Hannah (PM) remembered serving porridge while hopping around in the rain, Matt & Will remembered an ever-increasing distance when they asked the guide "how much further", Andy had seen some elephants and Anne had some leech bites as proof of the struggle.
We bid the trekkers farewell the next morning. They have continued on well and we can report that today (Day 15) they are completing one of the last hard days in their programme but one which, if the weather holds, should offer superb views of Karnataka and Kerala!
|Tango 5, Tim and Helen ready to face a day of trekking|
We rocked up to our hosts a little bit earlier than expected, so cleaning efforts on site were halted mid flow. But being unfashionably early meant we were just in time for a gorgeous lunch, cooked by the beneficiaries of one of the biogas units the group was building. The warm welcome, washing of our mess tins and offers of drinks made us feel like proper guests too.
|The loop arrive at Charlie 2|
Straight after lunch we rolled up our sleeves, donned our gloves and work boots and joined the work groups on the digging of Biogas dome hole #2 (affectionately named "The Hell Hole"). Now I can partly understand the name, as the graft was tough going. However we quite enjoyed ourselves: from time-to-time our work was broken by the beneficiary of hole #2 who plied us with quenching chai; Helen also led singing efforts in the hole and we started reliving our teenage years to such great tunes as "Grease Lightning" and Steps!
|Sian and Kath (Charlie 2's PMs) and Helen and Tim (the Loop) get to work at Charlie 2|
|Stewart, Zoe and Shruti take a welcome break from digging (due to the rain) and a great excuse for a chai at a local house|
After just a day-and-a-half of the work, it really made us appreciate how much of Charlie 2's sweat and effort had gone in already. Luckily for the loop they had enough energy to entertain us with a Big Brother episode Charlie 2 style.
|Evening entertainment by Charlie 2|
Since we have left Charlie 2 have taken a pause in their work for day trips to the nearby village in Ayyankoli and have just returned from the hill station at Ooty, where they celebrated Diwali and the birthdays of Roz and Lizzie.
After two nights we travelled onwards to Echo 3, picking up some fresh fruit and veg on the way that made us especially popular when we arrived! Our Bravo arrived just as Jake, Shafeeque, Kate and Lizzy were returning with full jerrycans from the local water pump. We followed them down the path to a beautiful vista of their basha beds with a lake backdrop.
|Echo 3's absolutely stunning campsite, with (luckily) rain-resistant yellow group shelter|
Kate cooked up some yummy baked beans and then the sky thundered. This was our bonding session with Echo 3 as when the lightning flashed and thunder grew closer we huddled up closer and closer inside the group shelter. The rain stopped and gave us all a window to retreat to our bashas for bed.
The next day we had a tour by Gemma of all the biogas sites that Echo 3 are working on and were greeted by silent smiles of the villagers. On our trip from house-to-house Shafeeque pointed out the different plants and their ayurvedic properties to us.
|Echo 3 building a bio-gas unit at one of their four sites|
Now in India you have to learn to go with the rough and the smooth of delays on construction sites. There’s no point getting frustrated when something scuppers your plans. It turned out that not as many people were needed that day on site and so Echo 3 found other positive things to do instead. The group decided to finish off some unfinished tasks at camp, some completed a raft Gemma was working on and others got ready for the evening’s festivities.
While the boys played cricket with the locals in the school, the girls chaperoned Kate who was chosen to be dressed from head-to-foot in Indian dress. A local family styled her hair, loaned a saree and showed her how to wear it. It drew attention from inquisitive locals who thought Kate may be on her way to her wedding!
|Kate all dressed up!|
The locals helped us to kick off Divali celebrations with some home-cooked lentil curry that even my spice-averse mum would love! Nearly 50 of us: Echo 3, locals and their children crowded underneath the group shelter and when the evening rain came the cooks shielded the open fire with a tarpaulin. The meal was cooked and we got out our mess tins, were served and started eating – however we noticed the locals were still waiting. We found out that the banana leaves they normally eat off hadn’t been brought so we offered clean mess tins to them so they could also get the delicious tucker. Shafeeque became self-appointed feeder and made sure that everyone was well fed with firsts, seconds and thirds!
|Charlie being given a chai making lesson|
Last but not least was the eco-sanitation project in Malligali – Charlie 1. We turned up at the school where they were staying and only saw half the group, where was everyone else? Jules and Anna promptly showed us on a tour that took in the many toilet sites they were working on around the town, all within 5 minutes walk.
|The loop being shown an almost completed eco-sanitation unit where Jamie and Suthakar took a break for a photo|
The toilets have entered the plastering stage when the cement is made up, transported to the toilet and then thrown on and smoothed out. The pace of work has slowed to everyone’s relief: they pulled out the stops in the early days of foundation digging and transporting the materials. Now everybody has more time to interact with the locals and get all the riches a community project in India has to offer.
Just before 7 we got our mess tins and headed down to the cook’s house for a tasty curry with poppadums. We were so surprised with how friendly the locals were and enjoyed a chai afterwards in a neighbour’s house. He introduced us to his family and a beautiful saree that interested the female PMs no end! As a result the female members of Charlie 1 bought some sarees yesterday and are having them fitted today.
The PMs returned to the school for a surprise production of “Charlie 1” by Charlie 1 Productions. Lavinia got Ed’s accent to a tea and highlighted his tendency to comment on the good quality of the porridge EVERY morning! Anna wore a wig to match Johnnie’s dreds. We all whooped and shouted “Encore!”. We’re hoping they’ll be able to incorporate it into their skit when they return at changeover.
|Charlie 1 by Charlie 1 Productions|
What about Tango 6?
If you were wondering how Tango 6 are getting on, they're doing fine. As Tango 6 is a few days away we were unable to make a second visit to them this phase. You can find out what Hannah and Sarahgot up to with them at the start of their trek. Despite day in and day out of heavy rain they are battling on through. Day Leader on Thursday, Maya, was upbeat and found creative ways to dry clothes in their evening shelter.
We're looking forward to seeing the groups back on Tuesday 1st when one group will be crowned Loop Champions of Phase One. And that makes this blog title make sense too, as Hannah, our Videographer, will start work on the editing of the groups' music video to Billy Ocean's "When the going gets tough". Watch this space for the final cut!
Tim and Helen.