Greetings and Salutations!

Hello again! Much has happened since the last entry and so with no ado whatsoever, we shall begin.

Over at the Harmony School, where the Chai is apparently second to none, Anna and Matilda, under the watchful eyes of Ali and Lucy, have been working with students individually to assess their communications skills and observe their daily classes, as well as undertaking work with groups of students. They have also been assisting with mealtimes and have provided the school with resources of their own making that will help to protect the student’s clothes during meals. As well as this (they have been very busy), they have also put together a number of visual schedules and communication cards for the teachers they have worked with, and are currently laying the foundations for a possible PECS wall in the future. They have all spoken of the acceptance they have felt from the staff and the students, and have said how much they are dreading the day they have to say goodbye.

At the Rotary School, Teagan, Steph, Adam and myself, with the expert guidance of Emily and Steff have been working within a similar structure of individual sessions with students, working in the classrooms and consulting with teachers directly. This past week we were lucky enough to begin working with the teachers to make changes to the classrooms, including installing chalkboards, clocks and visual schedules, and have also created flashcards and wall charts at the teachers’ request. Collaborating with the teachers in this way has been so rewarding and we have so loved having the chance to get to know them in this way. This week we are looking forward to the unveiling of a new, Flinders Speech Pathology India original song which we are sure will take Palampur and the world by storm. Plans are already in the works for our Christmas album, in stores December.

But as we all know, all work and no play makes for a very dull Indian placement so we have been keeping ourselves entertained outside the four walls of our schools, and India never disappoints. For example, we have been lucky enough to meet the owner of a local hardware shop, who, when he is not serving us delicious Chai Masala tea, is translating for us as we have our palms read or warding off unruly transvestites demanding money. I think it’s fair to say we’ve never had a friend like Avi.

We’ve also become card sharks in our spare time, playing games such a Skip-Bo, Spoons (which gets very contentious when played with eight people in a three-person tent by torchlight in the Himalayas, let me tell you!) and Warlords and Scumbags. Strategy has begun to rear its cunning head and we are all keeping our cards very close to our chest from now on.

Speaking of the Himalayas, our trekking adventures over the weekend were unbelievable. The 7km walk up the mountain was a strenuous one, for some more than others. We were treated to stunning, panoramic views of the Himalayas, as well as a few rogue bulls roughing it amidst the foliage. And our guide, Vicky, was always nearby to keep things interesting. We soon learnt that Vicky’s estimations for how long we had to go were not to be trusted, his wry smile certainly kept us on our toes. But he did get us up the mountain in one piece and so for that we will always be grateful. Once we reached our summit, wet and a little weary, we were met by herds of sheep, cows and some very inquisitive goats with no regard for our personal space. We were joined at dinner by our amazing Palampur compadres, Bobby and Amit, and spent the night around a bonfire, taking photos and trying to convince one-another that we really had climbed a mountain in the Himalayas. Poor Matilda also took the chance to nurse her tongue after bravely eating a raw chilli at dinner.

The next morning brought with it a beautiful sunrise and the moment that our group had been looking forward to and dreading in equal measure. The idea of leaping from a 2600m mountain side into thin air was a daunting one, but was preferable when compared to the prospect of walking back down the way we came. We assembled on a mountainside, and after having a brief Sound of Music moment, were joined by our pilots who strapped us into our harnesses with the simple but powerful advice of “Run! Don’t jump! Don’t sit till we say!” And with that we were off, sailing into the air with a front row seat to some of the most beautiful wilderness in the world. We flew through clouds and around vultures, taking in the awe-inspiring sights with gaping mouths. Our pilots were unbelievable, those magnificent men and their flying machines got us from A to B in the most thrilling yet peaceful way possible.

Once we were back on solid ground we were taken through the mountains to a nearby Buddhist Monastery and were allowed to sit-in on a magnificent ceremony filled with music, chanting, stunning costumes and tea which had all the richness and warmth of a Werther’s Original in liquid form. The monastery itself was akin to a stadium and was covered in intricately detailed paintings that have to be seen to be believed. It was a humbling privilege that will not be soon forgotten. From there, some of our troop departed for home, while some others were taken to a temple and markets some 30 minutes away. The temple itself was beautiful, filled with stone statues and gorgeous carvings, and we were even fortunate enough to have photos with some of the locals, which was surprising given that it had been well-beyond 24-hours since many of us had bathed. We also had a brief sojourn in the neighbouring markets and were taken by surprise when a group of monkeys came on the scene. Frome here we made our way home to a beautifully cooked lunch from our resident cook, Joginder-ji, whose culinary prowess knows no bounds. Some of us then went on to Palampur by bus, where we purchased some supplies for our home-away-from-home, some material for Punjabi suits, some truly delicious sweets and samosas that caused us to stop dead in our tracks and re-evaluate our lives, such was their palatability.

And that, dear friends, brings us to the present. It is a wintry Tuesday night and we have all been busy planning and preparing for placement and for our travels this weekend. We also have two Health Promotion Workshops taking place in the upcoming days, where we will travel to local tea plantations and meet with the workers, which we have been looking forward to for some time.  Already the smell of dinner is wafting enticingly from Joginder-ji’s enclave and we eagerly await the fruits of his labour. From all of us here in Palampur, good afternoon, good evening and good night.

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