Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pondicherry via Chennai

I left my hotel in Delhi at 5am for my flight to Chennai.  My flight was delayed 45 minutes due to the rainy weather in Delhi, but we eventually were on our way.   Arrived in Chennai at about 10:30am, picked up my luggage and met Jennifer, my Habitat for Humanity Team Leader and Jason the HH India Program Coordinator, as I walked out of the airport.  How exciting!!!!

I was the last team member to arrive...except for Bob who missed his connection in Chicago due to weather and Obama being in town.  The first thing I noticed about Chennai was the humidity...much more humid than Delhi, especially the last couple days there.  Once outside I met my team members...8 females and 4 males from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Scarborough, Edmonton, Toronto, Alberta, Manitoba and BC...great representation from all across Canada!  One of our team members who is 69 years old has actually done 127 Habitat for Humanity builds in the past 20 that's hard to top!!!!!

I also met Mr. Charly the India Habitat for Humanity National Coordinator, as well as Jason and Winston the India Habitat for Humanity Program Coordinators who have all been ensuring everything is in place for our arrival on the India side of things. 

We boarded 2 buses and heading on our way 150km to the coastal city of Pondicherry where we will be for the next two weeks.  The traffic in Chennai is very similar to Delhi, even saw a major truck accident just outside the city, but as you leave the actual city there was much less villages, people and traffic.  I was very impressed with the condition of the roads along our route...many had just been paved and road work was being done along the way.

We arrived in Pondicherry at about 2:30pm and I was pleasantly surprised...not at all what I expected.  Pondicherry was a French colony, so there are lots of influences here in the architecture...half the population still speaks French.  There is much more development here, less people than Delhi...only 1 million...palm trees, more space between houses and lots of little shops along the way.  This a tourist town, so you can definitely see the influences....a lot less hectic here as well.

When we arrived at our hotel the Atithi we were greeted by the staff who presented us with shell necklaces, received the traditional dot on my forehead, were given hot toilette to clean off with and finally given a very cold glass of lemon drink.....yum!!!  Our hotel is a 4-star hotel, however Habitat has an agreement with them that they receive a 0-star rate...they only pay for half the rooms they received as well.  Since 9/11 Habitat reviewed all they safety and health regulations and increased their standard, so this is why we are staying in such a nice place.  What was unique about this hotel as well, was that all the staff at some point spend at least a day at a build site to understand why we all return to the hotel tired and dirty...and to fully understand the mission of Habitat for Humanity.

We were given our room assignments and roommate is Lisa, who's also from NS and is a biologist in Bedford.  Lisa's done two other builds and is great roommate so far.  After we settled in we had some lunch and some of us took an hour walk around Pondicherry.  Lots of shopping can be done here....can't wait!!!!!

At 6:30pm we all met Mr. Charly for our welcome and orientation.  We learned that the build we are going to be part of is taking place in a new village...some of the villagers would never have had contact with foreigners before.  The build, which is taking place in Seyakuppam village of Vilkipuram district in Tamil Nadu, is about 45 minutes or 30km from where we are staying.  There are 350 families that live in the village and 30 homes have been identified to be built...all 325 square feet in size.  All homeowners are going to be women...this is because Habitat is partnering with the Rural Education and Action for Liberation (REAL), with the goal of liberating and empowering women in India.  Another major sponsor of this build is a company in the Netherlands (STIHO) who will be sending 5 teams to Pondicherry during the months of May/June to construct a large portion of these homes...they think it will take about 3 months to complete all 30 homes.

Homeowners were selected by a criteria...they must own land and have the money to pay back the mortgage.. and must contribute 15,000 INR of their own money and eventually pay back a 50,000 INR mortgage over a four year period.  It costs about $2,500 to construct a home in this village.

We were told we needed to drink at least 5L of water a day....yes that's 20 cups of water!!!  This was due to the extreme heat and we should make every effort to ensure we drink as much water as possible.  We must be fully covered during the build...high neck t-shirts, short sleeves, long respect for the culture.  Men are required to ask permission before taking any pictures of girls in the village and if we took pictures of people we should show them their picture as well.

We were strongly encouraged to get to know the families over the two weeks, as this is more than just about building homes.  Some evenings we will also be doing activities with the class, henna, ect.  We will not be working on Good Friday and will be making up the time by lengthening our build days.  Our day will begin around 8:00am for a group meeting, leaving the hotel by 8:30am and starting to build at 9:30am.  We have a break around 11:00am, lunch from 1-2pm and then finish up around 4pm, followed by cleanup, with arrival back at the hotel by 5:30pm.   A jam packed day, but looking forward to every moment.

After our group meeting we headed to dinner around 8:30pm and back to our room and off to bed by 10pm.  I am so excited to be part of such a great team and can't wait until tomorrow.

Until then....

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