Thursday, 26 February 2015

India: Reflections on Time spent in the Shadows

It has been a little over two months since my return from Khel Vikas and India, although it seems like much more. I’ve finally gotten out of the habit of speaking Indian-English (anyone around me for January will know exactly what I mean by that) and I’ve had my first taste of rice since my return (not with Dal though, too soon for that). As happens with returning from these adventures the first few weeks is about regaining a sense of routine and normality. However I feel  that the journey is incomplete until it has been properly reflected upon allowing lessons to be learned, both personally and professionally. Today I will share some of my reflections on a life in the shadows of rural India.

Rural Orissa from top of a Maountain

I’ll begin with the title. ‘Time in the Shadows’ is meant to reflect the nature of the work. The role of physical therapist is very much one of being in the background. At the Khel Vikas Centre of Excellence, morning prehabilitation sessions were either conducted alone or under the supervision of the head coach. There were never spectators as there was occasionally for training sessions. Any work at competitions was conducted pre warm up (the vast majority of the time) in the background away from the bright lights. It is working in the background, in the shadows of dark weightlifting halls and nearly-empty training gyms: always there watching, hoping that the work I had done with the athletes would be enough to allow their ability shine through. I was at every competition for 5 months, watched nearly every lift, celebrated and commiserated with the athletes in good times and bad. My job was to have these athletes ready to compete. Once they got to competitions most of my work was done. Training, technique and coaching on the day was up to their coaches. Once competitions came, it was time to disappear into the shadows once again.

One major reason for accepting this job was the opportunity it offered. While some may look at it as an opportunity to go travelling and see a new part of the world, to me it was the chance to implement everything I had learned over a long period with a group of athletes and to prove to myself that I could do it. Injury prehabilitation can only be successful over a sustained period. There were only 2 injuries of note sustained during the 5 month period. Both were rehabbed and returned to training ahead of schedule. In addition, and huge amount of help from coaches Jack Perham and Cormac Whelan, we were able to diagnose and begin to treat numerous pre existing conditions through exercise, massage and various other techniques. All in all I would consider my work there a success.
In truth, giving the children of Kankia High School and the Khel Vikas athletes an opportunity to practice their English (which is important for future job prospects) may have a greater long term benefit than treating lower back pain during heavy back squats. It is possible all we achieved is had a laugh with the children. If this was all we achieved I would still consider my time there worthwhile.
With the  athletics boys and girls
One thing I will take from India is how happy the people are. Admittedly the people are a little stand-offish at first. More often than not they just want to say hello and ask what country you are from and occasionally take a photo with you. We got to speak with several regularly at the Khel Vikas campus and in the local town (we all had our favourite fruit sellers, barbers, ice cream shops and of course the staff at the almighty Regency bar). All these people seemed to be constantly happy as they went about their daily life. Part of this is probably due to the fact that outside tourism is almost unheard of in Berhampur and even less so in the countryside. They were delighted whenever we chose their small shops (out of the countless other similar stores nearby). It is a lesson in enjoying and being grateful for what you have that will live with me for many years to come.
From my time spent in Orissa and returning home, it is evident people here don’t know how good life here is. If you had to walk to a village well, wash your clothes and yourself in a village pond, had no flush toilets in the houses and no hot water, would you object to the water charges (I’m not taking sides in the water charges debate here, just putting things into perspective). Would you complain about a train being 10 minutes late of they were routinely hours late (36 hours late in one case)? Would you complain about a long commute to work if the job entailed working in a rice field in 95% humidity and 40 degrees? People here may argue that we have higher standards and are a developed country so these things shouldn’t happen. Those doing this on a daily basis in India are people just like anybody here. Why should our lives be more comfortable than theirs? What makes us so important? It may be time we all took a step back and admitted that life here is pretty good. There are some inconveniences but nothing more than that. I love Ireland. Admittedly I’m a little biased but size for size I think you would have to go a long way to find a better country. People need to appreciate the country for how great it is instead of picking holes in the slight inconveniences of everyday life. If you’d seen the poverty and conditions in parts of Orissa, you would know things could be a lot worse.
Some of the Khel Vikas Staff
While the overall experience was overwhelmingly positive, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the tougher times. From reading previous entries here, you would know that the food and heat/humidity were a struggle at time. Too much rice and not enough meat were the major problems faced. The heat (35 degrees, 90% humidity was not made for an Irish person to thrive in. It drained energy and made it nearly impossible to sleep on occasions. These were but minor issues. Psychologically there were times when it was tough. Many non work days were spent on day trips or engaging in games/activities as a group of employees. However there were also days where there was nothing to do. There were times when everyone was busy doing their own things and there was nothing to do but either stay in the room alone or watch TV alone. These days were long and uninteresting and luckily very infrequent. They were among the least enjoyable of my days. Also missing events from home would be quite tough. Everything from birthdays (including my own-although the Khel Vikas staff went out of their way to celebrate it with me), family events, right down to important GAA matches and the general craic involved in being around for such things was hard to ignore. It did make me miss home very much on occasions, especially if these events coincided with days off with nothing to do.
The Weightlifters from Kankia High School

The most common question I’ve been asked since I came back has been ‘would you do it again?’ That is not as straightforward as it seems. I loved it at Khel Vikas. No part of me regrets having gone. The people I met, the things I’ve experienced, the lessons I’ve learned (professionally and personally) are things I will speak about for the rest of my days. Ultimately it is the people who make these adventures what they are. Going back to the same place for an extended period with different people might not be the same. Additionally, although my main motivation was the job, which I have proved to myself I can do well, there are so many more parts of the world to be seen. You could spend your life travelling just around India and not see it all. So would I go back? The answer is usually along the lines of ‘Yes but not the same place. Although If I could go back in time I knowing what I know now I would make the decision to go 10 times out of 10’.  

With 7 of the Centre of Excellence Athletes

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those at Khel Vikas, Gram Vikas, Kankia High School and anybody I met during my time away, especially Suheil, Rohan, Cormac, Jack (and G), Sai, Dave, Ellie, Rosie, Krathi, Vivek, Swarnak, Gourmeet, Soumya, Santosh, Reshma and anyone I may have left out (sorry!!). I owe you all more than you will ever know.
Archana - The last Centre of Excellence Athlete
To the weightlifters at the Centre of Excellence (Arun, Prashant, Sanatan, Sita, Archana, Tiny Tiny Tukuni, Pinki, and Baidehi), those at the school, the athletics boys and girls at Kankia and the volleyball, badminton, Kabbadi, Kho-Kho players: you were the highlight of the trip. From Ajaya celebrating being back in training (my favourite moment of the whole adventure), learning to ride bicycles, trying to teach me to play cricket and the ins and outs of weightlifting and to your successes over the past year which I was lucky to witness and play a small part, I will be telling stories of you all for the rest of my life.
Finally to anyone who has ever considered such an adventure-go for it. You will not regret it. To echo what I said a few months back:

if you do it, you will always wonder how you could not have done it.


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