Health and Technology

My leg is perfectly ok now.  Swelling reduced by at least 95%, infection completely gone and pretty much full range of movement back.  So a week on from leaving hospital and time to reflect on it all and also become reacquainted with Indian life!

I write this post having watched the first episode of a new BBC programme called “The birth of empire- The East India Company”.  Its been this programme that has really got me thinking about how peculiar my life must seem to many people both in India and in the UK and after all that has happened this month I’m starting to wonder if it is a bit odd too!

I have to say this programme was one of the most interesting programmes both about British history and India that I’ve watched.  If you haven’t seen it and you can access BBC iplayer click on the picture below.


The British interest in India started way back in 1700 with the establishment of what become one of the most successful and influential companies of all time ‘The East India Company’.  Young men full of fascination and curiosity about this country set sail with the hope of experiencing a true adventure and no doubt acquiring serious wealth through the trade of goods between the two countries.  These young men had no idea what they would find when they got there, no idea about the culture, the climate, the people, anything!  But what is apparent is that each of them that set foot on Indian soil quickly fell in love with this country.
And so the British love affair with India began.

Map of East India Company operationsHowever, this great adventure presented two major challenges.   Health and technology.
In 1700 medical knowledge was rudimentary and the British were completely unaccustomed to the challenges of living and working in such a hot climate.
The estimated average lifespan of a British person in India then was 2 monsoons (2 years)!!
Their other challenge was technology, communicating both with locals to secure business and trade, and communicating between the company head quarters (in London) and those based in India.

Thank goodness, despite these challenges, they did pursue it as it was the East India Company that completely changed what we eat today and started Britain’s obsession with tea and curry.  Let’s face it where would we be without a  curry and beer on a Saturday night?!
Although; Britains previous favourite meal, ‘Chicken Tikka Masala’ has been knocked off top place by Chinese food.  Which surprises me as I would of thought my sister alone would have kept it at number one who has an in-ability to order anything but chicken tikka masala every time she has Indian food.

It is these two challenges that really made me chuckle whilst I watched it as I couldn’t help but draw direct parallels between the challenges faced then and the challenges faced now.
Based on last weeks blog I don’t think I need to talk much about medical challenges.  All there is to say is that despite huge strides in medicine it seems that the British still can’t quite fully adapt to living in an equatorial climate!!

Technology on the other hand!! Perhaps it is the huge strides in technology and expectation that technology is instant, fast and effective that makes it more frustrating?  Perhaps its being in a situation where you really want to contact people?  Perhaps in a situation when you just need things to work?
Either way technology has been and continues to be the single most frustrating thing here!
Initially it was lack of access to 3G and WiFi that was sending me demented.  Mobile phones are cheap here, for 200 rupee a month you can have full access to 3G, so for things like whatsapp and email its perfect.  If 3G works!
Everywhere and I mean pretty much everywhere I’ve been in India I’ve had full mobile phone signal and 3G. Apart from where I now live in Manur, so keeping in contact with people has been pretty challenging!
WiFi is all you need for Skype but waiting over 2 weeks for WiFi to be connected in the house and constant powercuts has made this impossible.

Being in hospital for 4 days certainly took my mind off it.  Thankfully the connection to 3G worked so I could at least keep people updated on the health front.  But then it came to paying for my medical expenses! They didn’t accept cards in the hospital only cash which is fine.  Fine if your cards work!
My parents sent me a message to say that they had received two letters from the fraud department saying that my cards had been blocked because of unusual activity on my account.  Yes there has been because I’ve been trying for a week to make a payment through Western Union and despite calling the bank 3 times to explain this they blocked my card every time I tried to make the payment.
So I’m in hospital the day after the operation, I just want to pay and go home but instead I’ve got to call the bank and get them to unblock my cards!  Call the bank and get asked a ridiculous number of security questions.  The woman on the other end of the phone then really helpfully says “I’m sorry I need to terminate the call, you answered one of the questions wrong so I can’t continue”  What??????
I wasn’t feeling the best, tired, probably a little over emotional, annoyed that I was even having to make this call.  So just shouted back at her “right so what am I supposed to do?  I’m in India, in hospital, I have no money and you’ve blocked my cards!?”  “Sorry but you will have to call back in 5 minutes and try again”.

I call back a second time, get asked the same questions and answer them in exactly the same way and they let me through security!!! Quick explanation and cards are unblocked but I was so annoyed by this point I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut so went into a rant about what is the point in me letting you know I am in India if every time I use my cards you block them.  And why don’t you call me to ask, whats the point of having my Indian number if you continue to call my UK one.  They reckon they tried to call me 9 times but I had no missed calls!

Cash withdrawn, medical bill paid and back home to resume normal life……………..

However, my frustrations with technology continue.

I now have WIFI in the office and at home so the lack of 3G in Manur is really not an issue.  So time to sort out this western union payment!  Call the bank and they say that it isn’t them blocking the payment because they know now I am trying to pay it.  Ok, so try again.  All going well, get through payment page, asked for my password at visa secure, all ok, payment gone through.
Wow ok maybe it does work now.
30 minutes later email from western union, sorry your payment has been declined!  Call the bank again, no its definitely not us its western union, the payment isn’t even reaching us!  Right ok.
Call western union and speak to pretty much a robot that seem only able to say “I’m very sorry about that but you can still make a transfer at one of our agents”.  So there’s a free online service to transfer money from a UK account to an Indian account but every time I try and use it western union block the payment because of a “business decision” but can’t tell me anymore than that.  But they’ll happily let me pay to transfer the money through one of the their agents.  Oh course they will!!!
Have now given up with western union and transferred the money directly from my bank account.

Back to doing what I’m supposed to be doing here, working with Silo India to launch an international volunteer programme.  This week has been entirely about building the website to do just that!!

siloindia-1I’ve never built a website before so its a very steep learning curve but what makes it even more challenging is technology.  I can only work on the website between 9-12pm and again after 3pm as the government cut the power between 12-3pm, the hottest part of the day!  So no WiFi, no power to the laptop and no ceiling fans to keep cool!  Despite this I had made pretty good progress and even learnt about html coding.

I was quite proud to showcase the website on Saturday at the first Silo India team meeting and although the site has a long way to go I think everyone was quite pleased with progress.

Sunday day of rest, or at least doing my own thing.  Decide to make a Skype call.  WiFi works, high speed connection too so have a good 30 minutes talking.  Then what can only be described as India’a version of Ayia Napa starts up!

So there’s no chance of hearing the person on the other end of the call.  Fortune is on my side and the power goes, yes!!!
No music!!
Ah but no no WiFi so can’t call back.
And of course no 3G so can’t even message to say whats happening!

No great problem, I’ll get on with other things. Its about 9.30pm by this stage and the power is back, as is the music, so decide to have a shower.
No water!  Thats strange!
Quick call and Johnson comes around to sort it out.  9.58pm have water, so think right I’ll have a shower and try and drown out some of the ‘music’ by watching something online.
10pm power goes!
No lights, no power, no wifi!
I had to laugh as I was sat outside in the dark, wondering if it was also going to rain, no idea when the power was going to come back on and wondering why technology is so unreliable here.

11pm power back on but I really can’t be bothered by then so just go to sleep.

Monday and back to work to continue building the website.  Try to log in but nothing happening, try to load website but its just a blank screen!  Swathi calls the web guy, he has no idea what has happened but the whole website has disappeared! What??????

I’d spent hours changing things, re-writing content, formatting etc etc and you’re telling me its all gone?

We ended up having to go and see him but even then he couldn’t tell us what had happened.

Tuesday afternoon and the site has been restored but not with all the changes I’d made!  So it all needs to be done again.

Frustrations of website building aside, I think technology is finally on my side.  I’m coming to accept that the daily powercuts are going to happen and it just takes a lot longer to get things working.  To be honest I’m also not sure why I’m quite so bothered about having instant access as everyone here clearly operates on “Indian time”.  I can contact people at home either personal or business and be pretty sure to get a response within 24 hours.  Here, you’re lucky if you get a response at all!  There are few people that are the exception to this rule but emails/messages being ignored or eventually being replied to are all becoming a normal part of life here. And whilst I’m realising that technology is the one thing I can’t live without I’m also learning that perhaps I need to lower my expectations.  Or if nothing else just smile about it and accept thats how things work here.

Friday is the official launch of Silo India.  The website will be ready and I’ll be able to take a lot of photos and videos so next blog should be much more interesting!
But in the meantime I’m quietly laughing to myself as I think that 300 years on since the British first took an interest in India, I still face the same challenges as they did.  I’m also wondering if after you’ve read this you’ll be thinking why the heck are you out there?  Why would you choose to live there?  But I’ve come to realise that the only two things I need are: My health and technology!

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