Saturday, 11 December 2010

A Taste of Tamil...

Katie, Charlie and I arrived at Curepipe Botanical Gardens on Sunday afternoon. We had been in Curepipe that morning.  All the shops and cafes close at 1pm. Mauritius is a little lifeless on a Sunday – how annoying.  We decided it would be the perfect time to visit the Botanical Gardens! However, what we thought was going to be an afternoon of chilling, lying on the grass, having a wee wander turned into something a little more eventful. On arriving at the Botanical Gardens we were greeted with the sound of rhythmically beating drums. Being the curious volunteers we are, we followed the sound eagerly! It seemed the music was also on the move, so we sped up in anticipation! Once we had caught up with the mysterious drumming we discovered that there was some sort of Religious Ceremony taking place in the gardens. At first we decided to watch from a distance. We weren’t sure whether our presence would be an intrusion or disrespectful. We sat under a tree and peered over. Some Indian music began to hum out of a megaphone on the back of a truck and then two interesting men made their entrance. On their back, arms and chest were intricately decorated needles and metal spikes arranged in decorative patterns. At first, I didn’t even think how they stayed in place. It wasn’t until later that I realised they had been stabbed into the skin! Eeek!
We attracted some attention sitting under our tree. We stand out a little...  We were encouraged to go and ‘take a closer look’. There, we witnessed the ceremony. A man was kneeling infront of the small statue depicting the image of his god. Standing at each side of him were the two ‘interesting men’ holding a yellow sheet draped over him. Under the sheet a man worked, piercing the needles and spikes into his skin. He kneeled, eyes closed, slightly pursing his lips as if he was in a trance. When the needles on his back were finished he rose. The drums began to beat dramatically!  He danced holding a stick of bamboo with leaves bunched together on one section. It was almost like he was trying to psyche himself for the next half of the torture! Ow!! There was a small fire burning in a metal plate. He picked the plate up, dipped his fingers in the ash and flicked them towards peoples’ faces. He then placed a dot on their foreheads. After, he settled back in front of the small statue and hooks were pierced into his chest and then small limes and onions were hung from the hooks. I'm still not sure if they had any purpose! Again, he rose and began to dance, but this time he jingled! It turned out there were small bells on the hooks!
We were quite shocked/intrigued about the whole thing, so we asked some friendly people standing next to us about the purpose of the Ceremony. They explained that we were witnessing a Tamil Ceremony. The men we were seeing had sacrificed their pain to the gods as a prayer for sick loved ones, family and friends etc. But then… the worst part happened... As if it wasn’t bad enough watching them pierce the needles into their backs, arms and chest! One woman began to dance (a little crazily – it almost seemed like she was possessed). She collapsed and was supported while she knelt infront of the statue and a man pierced a needle through her tongue! Ow Ow Owwww! At this point I started to feel more than a little squeamish! Needles were then stabbed through the other men’s tongues and people gathered to sing and pray infront of the statue.
After Tamil Ceremony - Curepipe
And then things calmed down a little and a man came up to us and offered us a drink. We were all a little worried when we looked at it – it didn’t look very appetising, a little like bland looking jelly. But it was good! Nothing unusual or strange! Thank goodness! We were then invited to walk back to Curepipe with everyone! Gradually everyone dispersed. The ‘needle men’ walked ahead, taking it in turns to carry a tower of flowers, banana leaves etc. on their head and a bowl of incensed fire. The walk took us about 25 minutes and every so often the men would stop and dance (one with a massive machete!).
We decided not to continue watching the ceremony. Apparently, they were about to walk on fire or shoes of nails (we were slightly confused with the translations). Plus, we had to catch the bus home – very inconvenient how the buses stop at 7!
So, my first Tamil Religious Ceremony! It was a little shocking… but overall we were really glad that we stayed to watch! I wouldn’t recommend it for the squeamish though... Ha! 

Saturday, 4 December 2010

A Brief Update on Namaste

Geraldine and Me at Namaste
Alexandra, a physiotherapist has started working at Namaste. She comes in two days a week and works mainly with the younger children who have Cerebral Palsy. Katie and I sit in on the sessions. We’re learning some physiotherapy! We continue the exercises while Alexandra is elsewhere. I’m finding it really interesting. I’m learning a lot. The kids are bed ridden and they lie in the same position all day. Imagine doing this for your whole life. I’ve seen dislocations, malformations. Some of the girls even struggle just to open their curled fingers. It’s really upsetting to see, especially when you know it could all have been prevented - just by doing some simple exercises a couple of times a day! Many of the kids haven’t had any treatment before, so the damage has been done. The exercises are painful… to emphasis this, one of the boys, who NEVER speaks (sometimes he sings S├ęga) cried, “Ayyyyyye-aye-aye!” when Alexandra was straightening his legs. And Rocha cries her lungs out!

The Girls' Home in Albion
Katie and I have started working at the Boys’ Home in Roches Brunes! We go once a week. In the morning we watch and assist with physiotherapy, and in the afternoon we spend some time with the other boys. They’re a lively bunch! They certainly like their hugs and kisses, “bisous!”. However, as loving and affectionate as they can be, they’re certainly more challenging than the girls. A little violent sometimes… For example, Katie and I are now well aware of Jean Noel’s potentially dangerous temper tantrums. On one of our first visits he was having a bit of a hissy fit. Katie was defending all the breakable objects in the room while Jean Noel tried his best to evade her. When his original strategy of trying to push past her didn’t work he had to change tactics. So he bit her… and then he bit her again. I on the other hand, was sitting down with a small child on my lap only a few feet away. Jean Noel decided to divert his attention to the other volunteer… And I, very stupidly, completely unaware that he had just bitten Katie, decided to offer him a supportive hug. Jean Noel knew just how to deal with this. He then took a chunk out of my arm also! Luckily for me, my little prince charming (the little boy sitting on my lap) came to the rescue! Ha! He hopped off my lap, held my hand gently and guided me over to a member of staff. He then frantically pointed at my big bite mark, which was turning slightly purple, and finger pointed to Jean Noel – who then started to look a little innocent. Now, whenever we’re left alone with Jean Noel a staff member will not so subtly instruct him, “Don’t bite the volunteers!”.  Katie and I had big bruises for a while after that – our battle scars!