24.05.2010 - 25.05.2010
It had been raining all night. We woke at 7am and put on clothes that could get dirty as today we’re going to work! Shila had made us porridge with sugar and peanuts for breakfast which was much tastier than it sounds and followed by a cold boiled egg with salt. The factory opens at 8am so we arrived at 7.50 to find the man that had shown us around 2 days ago as we knew he speaks English. He said that it was OK for us to help out and pulled out two very unflattering white caps for us to wear before leading us inside. We were given different tasks, Sam cleaning out a furnace with the men and Amy hand sorting leaves with the women. The ladies were all very friendly and they spoke mostly Nepali with a little Hindi and very little English. They introduced themselves and sat chatting until 7.59 when a mad rush began to get to their places to start work. At 8am the machines were turned on and the factory came to life with grating noises, shaking machines and plumes of dust swirling around the dimly lit room. I was given a tiny wooden stool to sit on and a wicker tray with leaves on to sort through. A lady pulled out some pieces and demonstrated that I should pick out the stalks and green leaves from the long black rolled leaves and throw them into a barrel and that is what I did for 4 hours, sifting through tray after tray of leaves. My back was hurting after the first hour so when a lady beckoned for me to sit with her against the wall I rushed over and settled back down.
It is really dusty
The machines are really loud
The stools are really uncomfortable with no backs
Power cuts are frequent
Everyone has a bad cough
But everyone is really happy and I think they have a really nice community to keep them happy! (Except for the boss lady who seems to just shout and people don’t seem to be as friendly to her).
At 10.30 the lady next to me gesticulated for me to follow her and we lifted several tea-filled metal containers up onto the scales for the boss lady to weigh. We then carried them out to larger containers and emptied them into the respective containers for the different grades. Sam came to join me in the sorting room as the guys that he was helping to clean out a big coal fire had gone home already and he was bored so the ladies made him welcome and we shared a tray, picking out the stalks and green leaves. We were sat sorting and chatting when the boss lady come over and said ‘dinner’ and made eating gestures so we put down our tray, got our coat and shoes and went back up the road to our room. The first thing we both did was blow our noses as the tea dust is the cause of the mass coughing! Shila made us lunch of rice, dal, spinach, aloo and popadoms! It was sooo tasty- again. In the afternoon we put on our waterproofs and walked up the main road to kurseong to see if the train ticket office was open to buy tickets for tomorrow. It took 45 minutes to walk there and the strike was due to finish at 2pm and things should have opened again- but in true Indian style they didn’t. 2pm came and went as we wandered along the streets of Kurseong hunting for a shop selling chai or an English newspaper or just a sign that things might open any time soon. No such luck on that front. The little door in the loco shed was open through and a man in there said that a train will arrive at 2pm tomorrow from Darjeeling. I was dubious at first but as we walked back past the train station there were 2 men with crowbars, spades and little shovels just the right size to fit between the rails at a junction cleaning out between the tracks. Maybe we will be in luck! We wandered back down the main road, stopping briefly to watch some kiddies playing football on a waterlogged patch of mud in bare-feet before resting for tea at Cochrane Palace. Sam had a pot of green Darjeeling tea and I had a green berry Darjeeling teas which tasted like a lot of lemon but was much better with a spoonful of honey. Sam had enough tea for 5 or 6 cups so I helped him out- it was light and crispy lovely. We pondered over how strange it is to be here without Sam’s mum and dad and decided that maybe we shouldn’t have come back here. When we asked for the bill we asked the waiter if he knew how we could get from Makaibari to Kurseong with our big bags tomorrow as he is from here and somehow everyone here knows that we are staying in a home stay. The owner came over to warn us about the trouble in Kurseong but when we assured him that we already knew about the strike he told us to ask Shila for a taxi but if all else fails then call him and he’ll arrange one for us- how nice! We played cards by candle-light in our room when the electricity died intermittently and drank 2 cups of tea before a lovely dinner of momos- the best we’ve ever had as they weren’t soggy! More cards and a bit of diary writing before bed- in our mosquito nets tonight.