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Trip to India in 2005 with "Habitat for Humanity".
By Julian Shields (New Zealand)
I joined a team of Habitat for Humanity men from New Plymouth. The trip to the south of India was to help repair Tsunami damaged houses in the villages along the coast. Included among us were builders, an accountant, a pilot, an anesthetist, an engineer, a car salesman, and a timber yard owner. We met in Auckland and then flew to Singapore where we stayed the night before we flew to Trivandrum in the south of India.
On clearing customs we emerged from the airport to be met with a fleet of taxis, which were 1955 Morris Oxfords. They still manufacture these models on top of all the other modern cars. Every third car is a Tata. Tata is the largest company in India. We then travelled in a bus to Nagercoil (a 2hr trip) to our hotel where we were to work from. The accommodation was excellent.
The next day being Sunday some of us went to an Anglican Church 5minutes walk from the hotel. Little did we know that the service was in Tamil. We recognised the hymns but they didnít have an English hymn book. The congregation was over a thousand people. The women sat on the left and the men sat on the right. The service lasted for nearly 2hrs.
That afternoon we were taken to the village we were going to start work in the next day. We were warned about the conditions we were going to work in but we were now seeing the reality of everyday life for these poor village people. I came away thinking ďwhat have I let myself in forĒ. I found out later a few of the other guys thought the same. The Tsunami damage in these villages was quite bad. The water height through these homes was about 2 metres high. One house we worked in had lost a five-year-old, 4 year old and a 3 month baby was dragged out of the motherís arms.
The villages were all built around the Catholic Church. Tamil Naidu is 50% Catholic. Our day started at 6am because this was the time we could ring home, as India was 6hrs behind New Zealand. After breakfast we left for the work site at 7.45am. It was a 45minute drive. What a drive that was. If you didnít have a horn you might as well have stayed home. Everyone seems to put their foot down with their hand on the horn. At the back of each vehicle the words ďSound HornĒ was written. We noticed that our driver, before we left each day, sat in the driverís seat offering a prayer. We made sure he did it every day! We were given a room in the priestís quarters to have our lunch and leave our tools each night. We took our lunch with us every day which was cooked by the hotel every morning. We were told not to accept any food or water from the villagers. We carried a bottle of water with us at all times. We drank 560 x 1 litre bottles of water in the 2 weeks we were working.
After the first dayís work we were used to all the smells and filth we encountered. All together we repaired 35 roofs, and repaired many door and window frames, smashed up floors and walls where the water had got behind and re plastered them.
We had a few locals working with us. It was very dirty work. By the end of the day we were covered in black soot etc. The temperature was usually around 30 degrees Celsius. This is the hottest time of the year and we had no rain the whole 2weeks. It was also the monsoon season. There are 376 villages affected by the Tsunami with 900,000 people. 8000 people drowned along the 1000 kilometre coastline. The Indian government had laid down a law that no new houses were to be built any closer than 500 meters to the beach so there were a lot of families still living in temporary shelters. They are all fishing villages so if you take them away from there they donít have a living.
Habitat for Humanity International also provided 500 boats and 1000 fishing nets to all these villages. It was very green in India and they are self-sufficient in food. Rice is grown everywhere you look along with bananas etc. Unbeknown to us till we got to India, Habitat was dedicating the 200,001st house built by Habitat worldwide. This was being done on the opposite coast to us. It was also being done on Independence Day (l 5th August 1947). Seeing it was a Monday we worked on Saturday and took the Monday off. The village was similar to the one we were working in, very close to Kanyakumari at the bottom of India where the 3 Oceans meet. Every 24mins there is a Habitat house being dedicated somewhere in the world. We also visited Kanyakumari that day and saw where the Tsunami came in.
All around that area is a huge windmill farm with over 10,000 windmills. On the last day we worked the village put on a concert for us.
The next day the team split up and we went our separate ways. I flew to Bangalore where Elaine was waiting for me, having flown in from Singapore 5hrs before me. My flight was delayed. This was to be the norm wherever we flew.
We spent 4 days in Bangalore - which is a mini silicon valley. India is very high tech and manufactures whatever they need. I went out to the Air Force museum and was very surprised to see that they manufacture all sorts of fighter aircraft including the Vampire and Canberra, which I had worked on in the R.N.Z.A. F. We found a couple of Shopping malls not far from our Hotel where we were not hassled by shopkeepers and beggars.
From Bangalore we flew to Bombay (now Mumbai). The driver that picked us up at the airport told us we should go and see the Afghan church which was within walking distance of our hotel (called The Taj President). It was a lovely hotel.
The next morning we walked down the road and found that the church was actually an Anglican church built by the British and dedicated to the British soldiers that lost their lives in the Sind and Afghan wars. It was a huge church and very run down.
Apparently the congregation is now about 40 people. This church, known as St Johns Church, was built in 1847.
A 2hour city tour took us to see the Gateway of India (built between 1915-1919). I remember staying with Mum and Dads friends just around the comer before we left India for New Zealand. We then went to the Dhobi Ghats where the cities laundry is done by hand, finished with a visit to Malabar Hill and the Hanging gardens on top of the City reservoir. We left Mumbai that night from Victoria station for Bhusawal.
Before we left NZ we were not able to get any accommodation but was able to contact an Indian on the internet who put us in touch with an Anglo Indian family by the name of Clarrie and Susan Birdsturgeon. We arrived at 4.45am. t o find he had taken a day off work to meet us at the station. He worked on the railway as a ticket collector. His father had been on the railway as well and had originally come from Igatpuri. I wonder if Nana and Grandpa Shaller knew them?. Clarrie had also gone to Christchurch Boys School in Jabalpur as a boarder with his two brothers. I donít know what we would have done without their help. We were only in Bhusawal for the one-day and were catching the same train, the next morning, that we got off to carry on to Jabalpur.
They lived around the corner from 151 Tapti Road, where I understand was the house that Mum and her family lived in, being a railway quarter. We knocked on the door and the owner allowed us to have a look through. After lunch at Clarries house they had a visit from a relation who I showed a photo of Nana and Grandpas house to her. I knew it was across the road from the Assemblies of God Church and she confirmed this.
We took an Auto from there and soon arrived at the house. We knocked on the door and the owner invited us in. I was glad we had Clarrie with us as not many of the people we met could speak English. We entered through the room I thought was the dining room and the first thing I remembered was Nana telling me when Mum got home I would get a hiding. This Indian couple had lived in the house for 26years. The house was quite run down inside and the porch in the front had been closed in. From there we went over to the Church where Mum and Dad were married and my aunt Mary was married the next day, and we were allowed to go inside while the ministers helper went and got all the records. All the records, including the date the Shaller family joined the church, were there. There was my name in the Dedication register along with my cousin Brian Blanchettes name. It was quite an emotional day for me.
Once again Clarrie came to the rescue and picked us up in the morning (4am) and delivered us to the train. I donít know what we would have done without Clarrie and Susan s help. From Bhusawal we caught the same train we arrived on the day before and headed for Jabalpur.
Once again we had no contact in Jabalpur but had the address of Mala Fairman who had been married to Pastor Fairman, who had passed away many years before. He had been married to Beryl Anthony who was Mums friend and we called her Aunty. Mum had kept in touch with her till she died. Mala still lived in Berylís old house. Beryl was a cousin of Frank Anthony (leader of the Anglo Indian people and a Parliamentarian after Henry Gidney) in fact we were shown Frank Anthonyís old house which was a couple of doors away from George Villa, my grandmotherís house.
I tracked down Mala and she sent her nephew up on his motorbike and picked me up and took me down to her house, which was Berylís old house. It was exactly how 1 remembered it as a child. All Berylís paintings were hanging up in the lounge, the furniture was the same, and Berylís old piano was still there in the corner. I told Mala I had come to find my roots. She said I think I know someone who might be able to help you. After returning to the hotel the phone rang and this gentleman said I knew Dagma and Buggie very well, in fact I worked with your Dad on the railway. He was 85yrs old and was 10rs younger than Dad. He came on his motorbike to our hotel to meet us. His name is Quinton Clements. We walked up the road from the hotel and he pointed out George Villa. Aunty Rosieís side of the house looked the same but Nana Shields side was not. The roof had been taken off and another story had been added. Where the fountain had been there is a 3 level building. He took us out to the cemetery and within minutes we found Nanas grave. She was buried close to where Quintons brother was buried. His brother was the minister at Christchurch. His name was Rev. James Clements. We tried to find Grandpa Shields grave but the grass was above our waists and there were snakes in amongst the graves so we had to give up. We spent quite a bit of time with Quinton and he took us to his home to meet his family. We met a son two daughters, a granddaughter and his wife Norma. He has another daughter in Canada.
The next day was Sunday so we walked around the corner and attended church at Christchurch where we met Wendy Nadir who was the Headmistress at Christchurch Girls School.
She invited us to her house for breakfast where she gave us the visitors book to sign and I found Caroline Jones address in it. Caroline is Jack Gibneys granddaughter. Jack used to live with Caroline. Jack Gibney is Nana Shallerís brother. Wendy showed us around the girlís school and also the kindergarten where David, my brother, went. Verna had told me about Wendy whom I was going to contact anyway. The next day we went to the Boys School where I went for a short time. Dad and his brothers attended the Boys school as well. I wonder if Grandpa Shields went there too?. All the honour boards from before Independence have been taken down and no one seems to know where they have gone. I remember Dad and his brotherís names on them. We met the headmaster, a Mr Mathews, who had been there for a number of years (24). He had a previous engagement and handed us over to an Indian who showed us around the school. His name was Kawal and he had started at the school in 1947. He was 72 and is the odd job man around the school. He remembered Ron Wilmer who was head boy in 1948 (who lives in Auckland) and Errol Essay 1955 and also Clarrie Sturgeon and his brothers who were all head boys in their years at school.
The boarding school is exactly like it was when we left but the remainder of the school has new buildings. The girlís school is exactly as it was when it was built.
The next day we went with Quinton to find the house we lived in (126 Morris Rd) but had no luck. The numbers went to 125 then jumped to 129. I knocked on a number of doors and had quite a crowd out on the footpath trying to find out what happened to 126 but no one knew. We then went to the Railway Hospital and it looked just like the black and white photo I had with me. This is where Mum worked.
The next day we had arranged to go to Marble Rocks. On the way there we called in to where Balancing Rock was to have my photo taken where Dad and Grandpa Shaller had their photo taken. I have a photo of them taken 60 years ago. Marble Rocks was a bit of a letdown as the boats were not running.
We were invited for lunch to Mala Fairman where we met her sister and many nephews. One nephew is the minister at the Assemblies of God English speaking church.
We spent 4 days in Jabalpur and then flew with Air Deccan to Delhi via Bhopal.
We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel which was very close to Connaught Place which was the centre of Delhi. While looking on the internet one day I found that a club had been named after Henry Gidney which was in Connaught Place. Sir Henry Gidney is my Great Uncle. We found the club and went inside to find a large photo of Henry Gidney displayed. We also visited a Neil OíBrien who is the President-in Chief of the Anglo Indian Association in India. He gave us quite a lot of the magazines they put out every month. I didnít realise that there are still a lot of Anglo Indians still left in India. There are 3 Frank Anthony Public schools in India. The Anglo Indian Association has been going for 128 years.
From Delhi we caught a train to Agra departing at 6.am. We arrived at 8.30am and were at the Hilton Hotel by l0am. Monday am we took an auto to the Sadaar Bazaar. Prices were very good and not a lot of pressure to buy. At 4pm we were escorted by our tour guide to the Taj Mahal, a truly magnificent breath-taking monument. There is a restriction on vehicle driving within a 2 kilometre radius of the Taj due to air pollution causing discoloration of the white marble so we were taken by electric bus.
Unfortunately the sky was overcast so we did not see the sparkle of the semi-precious stones. What a lovely way to finish our visit to this country of such contrasts. The next day were turned to Delhi by air-conditioned car, which took 5 and a half hours.
Our flight left at 1.20am so we were collected at 9pm and taken to the airport for our flight home via Bangkok.
In Singapore we stayed at the Swiss hotel by the river. It was so noticeable how clean and orderly everything seemed in Singapore.
After 3 hectic days of shopping and sightseeing we arrived back in Nelson (NZ) on 11th September about 2pm.
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