After arriving in Delhi it has been a wonderful time working and learning from the UNICEF India polio team. We spoke to the BCCI and PCB (the cricketing bodies for India and Pakistan) to see how we can work together to promote more people and their countries to be polio free (India having gone without a single case of polio since 13 Jan 2011!). There were also a number of meetings and presentations where I was privileged to be a fly on the wall and live and learn from so much experience and insight into something that has become a passion and area of slight expertise for me in the past 12 months – the global eradication of polio.
Outside of the 8km – interesting but slightly killing (from pollution, dust, fumes, crazy traffic and open sewers) walks back to my wonderful hosts place from the UNICEF office I was largely sheltered from the giant sphere of Indian life – particularly at the base level of poverty and simplicity where I like to dwell. But this seems to be the new way I like to ‘travel’ these days which is largely working in a country and experiencing it all surreptitiously as I go about my work and it’s interactions.
There are also a couple of honourable mentions in this time – all of it wonderful but a couple blog worthy.
- Deer Park on the door step of the place I was crashing and with a little extra exploring it opened up to an ancient Muslim university
- Any walk around the block would include passing a number of old tombs and monuments as living history was thrown in the mix of transport and people calamity around it all
- Cricket – I had been waiting 11 months for this game of cricket having heard about the Delhi ex-pat Visaroy’s cricket team from the work I did with UNICEF India in Jan in Perth. Two teams of half decent and half not decent ex-pat cricketers all vying for the honour to put the other down. An incredible day of cricket, beautiful surrounds and club community that I sorely miss while travelling
- To back up the cricket game was of course the after cricket catch up and drinks and this one was pretty special – a James Bond themed farewell party for ex fighter jet cricket mate Mac. I managed to don my Pakistani Kamis and strap an empty tissue box to my thigh under my kamis to portray a Pakistani suicide bomber (whilst saying this is NOT what it is like in Pakistan!)
- I did also squeeze in a quick look around old Delhi but after straying slightly on to the wrong road near the train station I came across the drug dealers, prostitutes and by the look of it general criminals and bad guys of Delhi. I put my head down and got grabbed at three times and made it through to the incredible tangle of streets and lanes that is Chowly Chok
- The biggest mention and highlight of Delhi must go to my hosts. Rod and his family were so open and easy going it was a joy to be able to blow in and out as I did my own thing but also got to sit and chat and play with them and their gorgeous two young daughters. Jeff my other host drove me far and wide in my pursuit of bureaucracy and gave me introductions all over town to the interesting folks of Defence Colony and Delhi
The two less honourable mentions but have to be mentioned are two simple tasks that were made as difficult as possible. I really got to see just how complicated and nonsensical things can become to: get a visa extension and buy a train ticket.
- Train ticket – went to a travel agent as didn’t have the time to work out the complicated system and bought my ticket with it to be given the day before I travel; day before travel – ‘no, sorry sir you are not confirmed, but I can sell you a plane ticket (for more commission) – fail. Speak to many others and go to the International Travellers Bureau; arrive at 2.05pm ‘no, sorry sir our computers stop at 2pm, you can come back tomorrow’; tomorrow 7.30am and join the line up, 9am at the counter ‘no, sorry sir you can’t use a copy of your passport’; hour journey back to house, hour journey back to ticket office; ‘no, sorry sir there are no seats available’ – of course there fucking aren’t after all the procrastination you have ensued upon me! (which I managed to not scream). I politely asked if there were any other trains or options… ‘yes, sir we have express train tomorrow evening’; perfect and sold!
- Visa extension – step back to the visa at the India High Commission in Islamabad where I presented my plane ticket, letter from UNICEF, etc… issued standard 6-month tourist visa for 1 month starting the date of issue and ending two days before I fly from Bangalore India to Australia. After pointing this out ‘no problems sir you can extend in India’ hmm that sounded far too easy the way they said it… so fast forward to India. Go to the foreign affairs office ‘no, sorry sir you need to go to Ministry of Immigration’. Go to the Ministry of Immigration ‘no, sorry sir you need to go to the FRRO’ just a shame my transport wasn’t allowed to park and now left me abandoned but that can happen… day later at FRRO at 3.35pm ‘no, sorry sir we close at 3.30pm you can fill out online and submit, easy done’ sounds too easy. Next visit ‘no, sorry sir this has to be filled out online by an agent’ find agent across the street who make a killing filling out a form you’ve already filled out. Back to counter, wait, move to second counter, wait, move to third counter – ‘no sorry sir you need an extra copy of your visa page’ back out to agent to ply their hands with silver. Third counter to fourth counter ‘there you are sir (big smile) no charge!’ except for the economic productivity (saving children from polio) being lost in the three days it took for this fiasco to be resolved!
Honestly I do have to say it is not that bad and you know it is all a part of a process and you just make sure you play the game – their game.
Delhi was wonderful and a nice soft introduction to the abrasive, rash and provocative way of life in India – and I don’t mean that in a negative way it is amazing to be involved in it, just make sure you are or you will go down pretty quick!
Big thanks to Rod and Jeff – two guys I did a couple of weeks work with back in Jan in Perth who absolutely adopted me and allowed me to continue to volunteer, work and be a part of their lives and the their Delhi lives.