I have just one week to go in Chennai. The girls are still taking board exams and keep wishing the time would go by more quickly, while I'm wanting to slow the clock down. They say I'm winning; I think they are. In the meantime, life here continues much as it has. A treasured routine of study, yoga, reading, walking and riding, scrumptious food from Indrani's magic kitchen, with special activities sprinkled in to make the routine even more appreciated. Even a few valuable cooking lessons from Indrani. Temperatures are rising and by soon after the sun rises it's almost too hot to be out. Our compensation is that it is now mango season! Let the feasting begin!
Last Sunday I participated in a "pink ride," a women's bike ride to celebrate International Women's Day which was March 8. There were 72 women, children and men riding, 26 of whom were women. The ride was about 34 kms. from the starting point. Lalitha and I added another 10 kms. or so onto that to get between home and start. We left home at 5:30; the ride started at 6:30. Some friends have asked why so early. Two reasons: heat and traffic. The ride was organized by the Tamil Nadu Cycling Club. It was well organized and very pleasant, with a fabulous breakfast at the Radisson hotel in Mahabalipuram as our reward. There was also a break point a little past midway with water and snacks. Jean asked if there would be a porta potty. I doubt it I said, having yet to see one of those here. And indeed there wasn't. But there was a nice bathroom at the hotel, and it even had toilet paper. And now you see, I've managed to segue into my second topic, one that I promised to write about long ago.
The most important thing to be said about public bathrooms is that there aren't any. Okay, maybe a very few and probably not places we'd choose to go. There is even an organization called Sulabh International whose primary goal is to provide proper toilets, especially for public use. It is not a trivial issues. In the absence of such facilities, people do what they must, which is to use ditches, roadsides, railroad tracks. It is not unusual to see men using vacant lots. I've learned to just look the other way. Given the number of people here who die every day from waterborne disease, sanitation is a major issue. And its impact is felt in many ways. Ravi says it is one of the things they must think about before the family heads out traveling. And one of the saddest stories is one that Sheela told. She works for a company that sells software to schools to help kids learn math. She went to pitch their software to a school where the government had provided internet access and one computer. The teachers just laughed at her. Forget about math they said. We don't even have bathrooms and because of that we can't get the girls to come to school at all. I've included a blurb here about Sulabh. Their website is http://www.sulabhinternational.org in case you want to learn more. I suspect they will be a charity of choice for me from now on.
Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak
As for the toilets that exist, once again the story is best told with pictures, so scroll on down. Suffice it to say that some of the differences seem quite strange to us westerners. Before you judge, just let me say that our habits seem just as strange (and uncouth?) to the folks here. I've adjusted by always being prepared, which means carrying toilet paper with me. In this respect, I haven't "gone native." It took a while to gather the information presented here. Bathroom etiquette can be a difficult subject to broach. If you have questions, let me know. I suspect this may be one of your best chances to get a straight answer.
I must have been enjoying the ride. This is a smile, not a grimace. And I managed to stay upright the whole time on this one!
Our breakfast spot was very pleasant.
There are showers, no bathtubs. Every shower has a shower head and also a spigot with a bucket and a cup underneath it. This is used for "bucket baths" when one wants to freshen up but not get their hair or whole body wet. In a place where frequent freshening up is needed due to heat and bare feet, it's a great idea. And it saves water.
This is the panel of switches just outside my bathroom. The switch to the far right is for the geiser. It took me a while to remember that up is off, down is on. Just the kind of little thing that can be confusing at first. The three pronged thing is an outlet that is controlled by the switch next to it. All outlets must also be turned on and off.
This is a sign on a toilet stall in the fancy new mall where we went shopping. There is toilet paper in this stall, as indicated by the graphic.