Day 2 – Saturday 28 February 2009
Yet another day of unstructured freedom to explore Chennai

All the Learning Journey Group participants will start to arrive on flights over night or tomorrow morning. I am grateful for coming a couple of day earlier to allow for a reasonable period of time to settle into my new environment. The temperature is in the mid 30s and I am pleasantly surprised how I am coping with the heat so well. I have had no gastro-type problems whatsoever – despite enjoying the day to day wonders of South Indian vegetarian food.

I have agreed to meet with BB – my new found friend from Chennai. She has invited me to her home – a very smart three bed-roomed house about 6 km from our hotel. I appreciate her kind and warm hospitality. After coffee, we drive to her Charity Headquarters Buildings which house a drug and alcohol treatment centre. It is small in size and I meet her colleagues and residents who are in receipt of treatment. We discuss our respective work and challenges – in a way that was constructive and very positive. We have much to learn from each other. BB used to work at a large Addiction Agency elsewhere in Chennai. The Director of this agency has invited us to visit. By contrast this Centre was massive – even by UK standards. The Hospital had over 100 beds and additional projects looked after relapse prevention, training, workshops and training. The numbers of people were massive – there were probably over 300 people in the buildings during our visit. I purchased two shopping bags from one of the training workshops and we thanked the staff for their kindness and openness. In some ways I would have struggled being an inpatient of that hospital – though I suppose if I wanted to find recovery then I would have agreed to be treated there… I liked their integrated approach and diverse methodologies. They clearly worked. I was really grateful and appreciative for the management’s kind hospitality and kindness.

BB and I returned to the Hotel for a lengthy session of discussions about our drug and alcohol work – before we left for my second Al-Anon / AA meeting. It was here that I realised that India’s entire AA structure is predominantly male in India and Al-Anon meetings are female. Equal opposite gender participation is not permitted in India at these types of meetings. This cultural aspect deeply affects recovery for many people; albeit I have to remember that in the USA and the UK fifty years ago there was a total denial about the needs of women alcoholics – many of whom remained well hidden! I was to hear a Social Work Lecturer proclaim that women in India could not be alcoholic -due to the family responsibilities they must perform – can this be possible?

The Al-Anon meeting was amazing – once again there were over twenty people in attendance and the shares were totally in line with my experience of Al-Anon in the UK and other countries. We visited the nearby AA meeting, to celebrate an Al-Anon member’s husband celebrate his first AA birthday. The site of 150 AA members singing “Happy Birthday” was a moving experience. The hospitality and warmth of welcome was just amazing. I was grateful for being allowed to attend and to share the strength, hope and experience of the Indian members in attendance.

After the meetings, our driver was kind enough to take B home and to safely deposit me back to the hotel. It was late – and I had enjoyed very little sleep. I was just so high on energy being inspired by BB – and her project – and all that was around me here in India. These “Learning Journey” teachers are very crafty. I am feeling myself start to find great affection for the people of Tamil Nadu.

Day 1 – 27 February 2009
Tamil Nadu has had its hottest February in over eighty years. It was 29 degrees centigrade at 0200 when I stepped off the Air France Plane from Paris to Chennai – and for me that was a shock to my system! I was processed quickly and efficiently by Customs and I was met by Suresh, a driver from the hotel who had been commissioned to collect me. (OMG this blog sounds like a third rate detective novel)

The drive to the hotel took about twenty minutes – there were very few people to be seen walking about, though the traffic was busy for that time of the morning. There were lots of dogs roaming about looking for food – a good time for them – remember, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun… Some of these dogs looked thin but were pre-occupied in the hunt for scraps.

I was shell shocked at Suresh’s style of driving – he could probably have beaten Lewis Hamilton in a street race. . He constantly used his horn all the way back to the hotel. It was scary – especially since I chose to sit in the front of his car.

After the Mumbai terrorist attack, security at the hotel was very evident. The Taxi was checked by two security men who even looked under the car with mirrors. I was photographed by the receptionist, completed the necessary paperwork and three people carried my bags to the room – two porters for the two suitcases and another to open my door. Wages are really low in India, and tipping is very important to the staff…. I soon realised that help was always at hand from the large contingent of hotel staff.

My hotel room is very comfortable – I was booked into a suite – with a decent sized bedroom with bathroom en-suite and a lounge area.

The air condition worked really well. And I was soon off to bed – but not before unpacking, sorting everything out and putting it away. My paranoia required me to look for insects / snakes – much to the later ridicule of my peers later in the week. Nothing nasty was found!

1.5 hours after arriving at the hotel I was off to bed and asleep. It was about 4.00 in the morning (11.30 pm in the UK)… It had been a long day, having left home at 4.00 the previous morning.

A chance to learn before my teachers arrived in Chennai!
There was no time to stay in bed sleeping! I was up at 7.00 for my breakfast – and what a choice of food. I was offered a wide variety of spicy food – even a traditional bacon, egg and (chicken) sausage type meal. There was loads of fresh fruit and juices (including coconut milk)….This is my experience of luxury – I was spoiled for choice.

After breakfast, I booked my first car, for a four hour period. We went to the Spencer Centre – the largest of the Chennai Shopping Malls. I suspect that this striking and modern mall was designed for tourists – and the high prices reflected this point of view. I then went to the beach – the second largest in the world – followed by an imposing and very beautiful Temple and Catholic Church, which housed many social programmes. Lunch was taken in the hotel and I used the afternoon for researching the city, catching up on some work and preparing for my trip to an AA / Al-Anon meeting later this evening. It was very warm outside – in the mid 30s – but the hotel was well prepared for the heat with a very efficient air condition system throughout the whole building.

Finding the Al-Anon / AA meeting was difficult – even for our driver. It was being held in a local Christian School – we eventually located it and I was the first to arrive. I was surprised to learn that AA meetings are an all male affair and Al-Anon all female. Happily the Al-Anon members at this meeting allowed me to remain – we all sat outside one of the class rooms – sitting on the concrete walk ways – in the heat of the evening. A bonfire burned to repel mosquitoes. Small animals were running around on the ground and some beautiful lizards were darting up and down the brick walls of the surrounding buildings. When the Al-Anon meeting started I listened attentively to the first “share”– and if I had shut my eyes I could have been in England. The issues raised were so often the “topic of conversation in my local meeting”. We were served sweet tea during the meeting and also offered food and chocolates by some of the daughters of the local members. Their hospitality and friendship was second to none – I was privileged to be at this meeting and to receive the inspiration, strength, hope and experience of the Chennai group Al-Anon members. I regret not bringing more sample literature with me – I did donate my copy of Pathways to Recovery to this group – and I promised to send more literature on my return to the UK.
After the meeting ended, I chatted to the local members of AA and Al-Anon – and to my delight I agreed to meet up with one member the next day for more discussions. We both shared the same occupation and I was really pleased to have met here purely by chance.

It was clear that there are great similarities between the UK and India – but many things that were totally different too. Gender, class (caste) rights, economics and the lack of “movements” will raise important questions that I shall observe during my stay here. It will a good learning opportunity for me here.

A Learning Journey – 26 February – 13 March

This is my daily blog for a Learning Journey – 26 February – 13 March which has been arranged through UnLtd in the UK and UnLtd India. We are grateful to the support of both organisations for making this trip possible. The aim of the journey is to develop of skills as a social enterprise and to make contact with our counterparts in India.

The blog will edited on my return to India – and will include extensive photographs and background papers. Currently this description is my basic account so far

It will also contain links when I have downloaded them in the right place of all the projects which we have visited. This is my personal blog – for the more representative group blog please see:

http://indialearningjourneymarch2009.blogspot.com/

We would like to acknowledge the financial support from UnLtd for largely funding the core costs of this trip. We have invested considerably in the wider project – which we think will help our organisation as a whole. Without the assistance – practical abd financial it would have been very much more difficult for our organisation to have become such a successful provider of Home Base Addictions in the UK and beyond.