During my stay in Chennai, we (international volunteers) visited a local tertiary school, called Chaiyappa College within the shenay nagar area.
The college was said to be almost a 150 years old, some of early India’s prominent businessmen and politicians had done their college years at this school.
Entering the much respected school, one is met by a huge banner put up by the management of the school, inviting students to Norton Hall, which was where we were to hold our presentations.
The banner read: The national service scheme in collaboration with Gremaltes Hospital brings you an HIV awareness programme for National Service Students. Knowledge and prevention of HIV (An ounce of prevention is better than cure).
Presentations were made by volunteers from different parts of America, UK, Canada, Ukraine and Africa.
It was rare to find someone who knew where or what Botswana was. But they all knew Africa, in fact, most of them thought Africa was a country.
According to them, the few Africans they got to see were on television and most of them were runners. They kept asking me how come I had fair skin.
“What is the secret?” they said.
I found out that in Chennai, the dark Indians are called black diamonds.
Back in Chaiyappa, we were to give a PowerPoint presentation to more than 400 National Service Students on the dangers of HIV and to promote the use of DOTS to prevent the spread of TB in India.
As previously mentioned in Part One of this story, India has more than 5.7 million people infected with HIV. We gave the presentation to a very welcoming audience who wanted to know more about our countries’ experiences with the diseases and the stigma associated with them.
Coming from Botswana, I was the only one in a better position to answer that because we are currently being faced with the same problem in our own country.
Dima, the volunteer from the Ukraine, said the only health problem of concern in his country was alcoholism!
The health educator informed us beforehand that for information to spread in India, they first take it to the students who might then be able to carry it to their families and friends because Indian families are closely knit.
The community I was living in also required women to dress decently; we were not allowed to expose any sign of cleavage or thighs.
The morning before leaving for the presentation, Catherine and I had spent about an hour in the dressing room, helping the nurses dress the wounds of the leprosy patients.
At first, it was quite scary, as some of them had their legs and hands amputated, and the ulcer had created hideous wounds that were oozing with pus.
I thought I was going to pass out, but the people were nice and humble so I put on a straight face and helped until I got used to it; then, it wasn’t as bad.
I wasn’t very good at the language but I could say, wanakaam (hello), nandri (thank you), and (poito warangae), goodbye.
It always impressed them to hear me say those words so I kept practicing until I could say more words.
I also got exposed to the way the Chennai men respected their women; it was amazing. They don’t call women rude names or try to stop them on the streets. They respect marriage and are more family bound than most other people. Almost everything they did, they did for their families.
During one weekend, we went to a tourist destination called Puducherri. The place was about three and a half hours away from Chennai.
Puducheri is a place that was once colonized by the French. It has a variety of people from all over the world, especially tourists.
It was also one of the worst affected places by the 2004 tsunami, with many lives lost and part of the town being wiped out. The Indian government had, however, been effective in trying to help rebuild the place into what it used to be.
It was my first time to see the ocean and waves were crushing fiercely on to the rocks and I kept thinking that a huge wave might come and wallop us.
We choose one hotel called Hotel Qualithe.
I think it had about 5 rooms and we were the only ones checking into it so we all decided to crash into one room because there were already four beds inside the room. The boys took mattresses from other rooms.
For two nights in a hotel I only paid about P55 pula total.
The place was swarming with tourists; it also had internet cafes at every street corner.
We visited a Hindu temple where some of my companions were blessed by an elephant.
The elephant only gave you blessings if you gave it food, i.e. bananas, grass and fruits. Some people gave it coins.
The elephant performed a few rituals and ended up with touching the top of your head.
I touched it but I didn’t get blessed. I was too uncomfortable with the process because I am a Christian.