Friday, December 25, 2009
I’ve had internet issues for the last couple of days as some of you already know because of my ill manners I displayed if I chatted with you. I only have it now because I’m stuck in the airport for another 8 hours.
But let’s step back a bit…
My last days in the ashram were difficult, I knew my time was coming so I decided to sit down and talk to the girls about it. They were angry and they have the right to be; it’s unfair to meet someone and then let them go so quickly. On my last day I made them promise me they wouldn’t cry because if they did, I would take them to the dentist again! Well, I guess I have to take them to the dentist now…
I even sweetened the deal, I gave them a little gift so that my departure wouldn’t look so bad (I am so ready to be a parent, just keep buying!) I gave them some of that “cutsie tootsie” makeup little girls love to put on and then eat, some earrings so they don’t hate that pricking day forever and a nice little picture to show their families when they return home for the holidays.
They are amazing girls and I know they know that and they also know that with all their hard work we will all see each other again.
It was hard leaving Raj too (and leaving him in the hands of Mother especially). For a departing gift, he decided to take me to a tourist adventure: a space ball. It was a large plastic ball with two seats inside awaiting screamers, I was one of those screamers and Raj the other. If you can’t guess what happens next…then I will just tell you: Satan pushes the ball down the hill as the screamers roll upside down in a motion that causes sea sickness! Physically, it only lasted 40 seconds, realistically, it lasted 3 eons. And the experience of getting into and out of the ball made me feel born again (seriously, the whole made me feel like I was being pushed out of a birth canal).
Oh and our newest addition to the family, Happy the puppy, ran away. The little bugger had enough cahones to climb out of the bed we made with the umbrella roof and the wall into the wild again. It was a definite bummer, I’m not going to say who cried the most though it was the girl who wanted a puppy the most (alright, me). But, but but but BUT! I think Happy missed us because he scurried his little wild behind back into our ashram, not into his brick house though. Good enough for us, he’s our little Happy once again.
Back to the girls: I love them, I miss them already and I promise them and you that I will return to see them!
Now, I’m off to Mumbai (where it’s hot smelly and traffick-y! With over one million mosquitoes in only one acre!) and I will see you all on my return on January 4th, Happy Holidays to you all!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
So much has happened that I feel somewhat prepared to go home, somewhat. We got a warden who is amazing with the girls. Her name is Nisha and she is from the local area and she is quite educated. I find her to be the exact in between of Raj and me: she’s fun and corky like me yet strict and hard working like Raj (I’m hard working too). Every night she reads a children’s book to the girls in English and then in Hindi and during the story the girls have to write down ten words in English that are new. There’s a lot of stuff these girls need to learn in and outside the home and Nisha is perfect in teaching them these things. The girls are finally getting a good mix of Hindi and English (Hindish) and learning local customs at the same time. Nisha’s GREAT!
I guess with Nisha in as the warden there’s little for me to do…
Things are winding down and it feels like things are finally set in place. Most of the construction work is finished. The septic tank we are putting in the local school is almost finished too and the dining hall FINALLY has curtains! Life here is a bit slower if you hadn’t guessed!
My biggest job right now is to get things set up for the next round of interns who come here. They’ll have to do some teaching too, especially in the schools, and these schools need help! Next to the lack of classroom necessities, the schools are teaching the wrong stuff! Take the color purple for instance, they teach the students to call it black. Or think about how YOU learned primary and secondary colors (with fun little painting projects of mixing the colors) here it is given in a formula in a book that has to be memorized (red + yellow= orange), no fun at all.
Raj and I have had some “beef” with the principal at the high school here. The principal is just not willing to cooperate with us on some issues. So, Raj and I went to the Deputy Director (DD) of the school board (I’m not sure of the equivalent title in the USA but for now we can say it’s the same as president of the United States). Everyone respects this man, I mean everyone! If he passed gas, people would breathe it in. The DD loves the work we are doing at the ashram so he automatically sided with us and called the principal and put him straight! I think the principal felt like a 10 year old boy after that call. I think I would even be ok with the DD’s gas!
Since this last Saturday was the last Saturday for me with the girls, I invited them all to come and have one massive sleepover! It was a BALL! We watched movies, we danced and I beat the living daylight out of them with pillows! The only problem I had was that after the girls left in the morning, I found all of Sarojani’s “pocket toys” all over the bed; it was a combination of a half eaten carrot, a broken rubrix cube and a neon thingamajig. This girl cracks me up! Poonam also complained of sleeping next to Anju, supposedly Anju sneezes in her sleep and one landed in Poonam’s ear!
Since the girls are doing such a good job of taking care of themselves and others, I found it very necessary to give them more responsibility: a puppy. That’s right, a puppy. We found a puppy in the farm house next door and we somewhat “stole” it, technically it just followed us and then we decided to keep it. The sole purpose of this puppy is for the girls to learn responsibility not because I want a puppy or anything (a common misconception). The girls decided his name too: Happy.
Oh by the way, I caught an amoeba. A living thing is living inside of me, it must have been from that hot spring I went to. So I went to the doctor. The first doctor’s office I went to was closed; ironically he was attending someone’s funeral that day (doesn’t that just send the wrong message: a doctor at a funeral?). The next doctor did a good check up on me and gave me medicine. But the visit was no piece of cake, do you know how embarrassing it is to have your stool action and feminine problems translated to the doctor? I’m sure you don’t know, let me tell you, it is awful! I can’t even look at Raj anymore! It was a very awkward drive home after that…
Friday, December 18, 2009
Sarojani, she has to be first. I find her to be the funniest kid around. I have an impersonation of her that would crack you up but it’s too much to describe so I will HAVE to do it once I return. Here’s a little fyi: do you ever find yourself walking down the street and you realize you need a yellow balloon? Or a fuzzy rubber ball? How about the remains of a shoelace? Oh, and how about a half eaten newspaper? Well, if you’re with Sarojani, you never have to worry about that, she has all those materials in her pocket. Always. I’m also extremely proud of her “smarts,” she sees problems in a different way: if you ask her what is 7 times 4, she will say “14 times 2, oh! 28!”
Dolma, she’s the only one who likes “Kool Aid,” seriously, the other girls poured it to the dogs while I wasn’t looking (I found out in my own ways). Whenever another girl trips, she’s the first to laugh but when someone leaves their sweater out, she’s the first to raise her voice, she scares me like my father! A real inspiration Dolma is (Yoda talk); she’s someone I really admire.
Anju, she’s shy but she’s adorable. If someone where to even hug her, she would shy away giggling. For all the shyness she has, she has a lot of insight; whenever she opens her mouth (even for the slightest moment) her words are full of wisdom. Ever since she’s warmed up to me, she’s been asking for help in combing her hair, putting oil in her hair or even pouring water. Don’t get me wrong, she’s more independent than any other girl here but once in a while, she likes the touch of an older sister or a mother.
Pooja, Oh Pooja. She’s a feisty little critter. The “gimmies” have hit her hard! Sometimes she just can’t stand if another girl has something she does not have. Especially when it comes to her younger (crazier) sister, Kirna. Oh does Pooja get annoyed with her! Once I made a huge mistake of inviting the girls over for a sleepover and I put Pooja next to Kirna. The whole night was awful! Pooja took all her anger out on Kirna by kicking her all night; imagine sleeping with Elaine (from the show Sienfield) and her dancing with “little kicks.”
Kirna, I might as well go to Kirna now. The best way of describing her is through the song “Jump in the Line” by Harry Belafonte. You know how he sings “Shake, shake shake, Senora, shake your body line…” Well, Kirna is Senora. Even without music she’s dancing, even if there’s broken glass on the ground, she’s dancing. But she’s a hoot, a real hoot. Spending time with her will only prove you to be going insane but honestly, she’s just like any other kid (Beacon Heights kids are a good comparison!)
Poonam loves kisses! Every night, she HAS to give me a kiss goodnight (I rub sugar on my cheeks is really why). What’s funny about Poonam is she has the voice and the habits of an old local village woman. She even laughs from the back of her throat and creates a gurgling sound. She’s one hell of a tough cookie though! If you insult her sister, she will throw you down, and she considers many people her sister!
Lata is the most advanced in English of the bunch but she stills says “I am so scary-ied.” Lata is picky at times! She won’t eat school lunch because she hates the cook, she only loves to wear pink and she gets easily annoyed by misbehavior. For how bright and open Lata is, she’s oddly enough the most afraid of adventure! She threw a fit when piercing her nose and she hung outside of the hot spring forever before she got inside. But you got to love her!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I had to take one day’s rest before I could write a description of what I went through yesterday. It was an experience that opened my eyes, not to the world, but to women. Yes, to women. This might become a little too much for some, so here’s my warning: the latter of this is going be x-rated (well, on
I took the girls to a natural hot spring. Supposedly, this place is full of them and they are beyond hot (something I call “chai hot”). Well, whatever you are thinking of as a hot spring, FORGET IT! This was an unbelievable experience. There were two concrete tubs (outside) with walls surrounding to separate the girls from the boys. And of course, pure naked-ness, absolute and complete NAKED-NESS! I told the girls to keep their undergarments on but imagine how scared you would be if you were 10 and saw a pool of green water with oversized naked women bathing. And here’s the cruel part: I told the girls to get in! I’m horrible at this job! The girls were a bit fearful so I had to get in first to prove the “safety” of this place, then one by one, the girls swung around my neck and finally settled in. Well, all except Poonam. Now, this girl is tough, really tough, and she will beat the daylight out of you if you offend someone she loves. But the girl was shaking she was so scared to get in (it must have been this Tibetan woman who looked like a boy that scared her so much, I mean, she REALLY looked like a boy!) And when I finally got her in, she jumped back out. The other girls had a good time, such a good time that the older women were annoyed of them splashing water (I was too, I think it got into my mouth!) By the way, why is it that people think using soap in these tubs makes the water clean? It doesn’t! Neither does toothpaste, feet scrubbers and toenail clippers. All of these items were present in the tub. I am just praying that the smell was from sulphur and not the underarms of a 60 year old woman. And as we all tried to get to the spout that was throwing in new “chai” hot water, so was everyone else. That’s when I was not just nudged, but slammed into the wall by 5 pairs of women breasts, I didn’t even see it coming. I totally understand why guys are so shy of hugging each other. I also tripped and a naked woman caught me in her naked bosom, lovely feeling to be so cared for. I’m sure it’s obvious that once we got home, we all took a bath.
Oh, and a good friend of mine came to visit, Anurag. He claims he needed to do some work here, I claim he just can’t live without me. Anurag only came for two days but the girls fell in love with him (and his amazing Hindi speaking ability). Every night he acted out a new story and told it to the girls. The first night was Tarzan and the next night was the Lion King. I don’t know exactly what he was saying but I think he named the funky baboon in the Lion King after me. The girls really admired Anurag, one girl even said “Anurag is good to look at.”
The girls are doing great, it’s getting harder and harder to think I have to leave. Sarojani is getting so smart; I have the girls practice multiplication with flash cards and Sarojani’s always the first to answer. She also enjoys showimg me her pride in all the food she eats by opening her mouth and throwing out her tongue. Anju is coming out of her shyness, she just cut herself some bangs (I wonder after who?). Dolma is becoming the mother of the group more and more every day, I think she likes the role. She also started rolling her pant legs up, (I wonder after who again?). Running is all I see Pooja doing, I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up in the Olympics one day. All the girls are great and I hate this feeling of leaving them…
Friday, December 4, 2009
Onto other, more important and tasteful matters. I skyped my mom today and guess who she saw? The girls! They were so excited to meet my mother and for once I allowed them to speak Hindi. They asked her what she was doing, where she lived and even told her she’s pretty (a compliment not to be taken lightly since these girls are picky with tossing out a “pretty”). I loved watching the girls interact with my mom, I think it was good for them too. Some of these girls have had such a hard parenting experience that showing them the components of a strong family helps them realize that not all the world is bad.
Other than that the girls are doing great. I have been trying to ask them whether or not they want to go visit their families for the winter break and not one of them really cares to go home. It’s a compliment in a way that they enjoy life here so much and feel so safe and secure but…it’s also upsetting to think they would prefer anything over their family and homes.
Oh, and I started teaching the older girls computer skills! It’s something I didn’t even realize to teach them until they asked me. In the US it’s so common for a girl who is 12 or 14 years old to already know the computer but not here! So, I just spend sometime with the older girls teaching the older girls how to type and most importantly, how to play games. The only negative side is the girls just realized they have to cut their nails to play on the computer, something I’m excited for actually. The girls love to play games, even the most simple of games. I can make them play duck duck goose for a century and they would probably never get bored with it. Yet, they hate the game twister for some reason!
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Oh well, the girls still had a good time in the barely there snow. They actually enjoyed the view and the scenery more. I’ve worked with kids back in the US, I don’t think one of them would even consider looking at the scenery and saying it’s beautiful if they were just told that tubing has been cancelled, I would be hearing a lot of complaints and whining.
All the girls are doing well, no one is sick thank you GOD! I always get more and more surprised with what these girls find amusing. I gave them all a piece of bubble-icious gum and they went nuts! I thought I could impress them by blowing bubbles that would blow their minds but they already knew how to blow bubbles the size that blew my mind! And that is how we spent one afternoon…
Teaching at the school is also going well, the teachers are still snickering but at least at a distance. Now, I can amuse myself by filling in their words when I see their mouths moving, if they think I sound funny in English, wait till they find out what I’m saying for them (it has a lot to do with donkeys). I really enjoy teaching at the school. I go everyday at 11am and I have two classes. I make simple games like memory games or I time them on spelling and these kids have a ball. I also make them interact with each other instead of talking to me all the time; this surprised the teachers! Who would have thought that kids come to school interact? Oh boy, I’m corrupting the system. I reward them for their efforts with treats and overconfident phrases, something totally new and innovative to their system. The only problem is that they stopped calling me “Ma’am” but now they call me “Madam Ji.”
This is getting long isn’t it? Well, I just have one more thought to share: If you haven’t been thankful for the following things, you should be:
Car shocks. If you don’t know the feeling, just take your car shocks out and drive through a river. And PHYSICS. Somehow, I don’t know how, but physics does not exist here. I don’t think Newton could even explain how a car that is half on the road and half off does not land on the bottom of the mountain in a ditch. And somehow cows here can stretch their heads all the way back, they think they’re owls!
Monday, November 30, 2009
Teen trip full of tears, tattoos
Students went to an impoverished area of India to aid its youths
By James Thalman
Published: Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009 9:05 p.m. MST
In what could be called a micro version of East meeting West, a group of Utah teens arrived back home Saturday safe and sound and changed forever by a 16-day stay in one of the poorest corners of the world — West Bengal, India.
Many were sporting intricate tattoos on their hands and forearms — done in henna and hand-painted on by the students, and nowhere near as lasting as the memories they said they will carry with them the rest of their lives.
"It's not permanent," Highland High School senior Nate Kingsford assured onlookers as they checked out the array of little hash marks on his left hand. "It's their way of making sure we don't forget them. This will fade away, but the experiences and the people there won't."
Neither Kingsford nor his 23 student companions were anywhere near weary when they arrived, despite a trip home that had begun about three days earlier.
As the hugs and high-fives subsided, several students said they doubt they will ever be all the way back and that they are as surprised as anyone that a place where people have dirt for floors, where water is carried in buckets and most everyone literally has next to nothing could have given them so much.
Rachel Rawlings' favorite memory — even more than having a monkey in her hut that stole the beef jerky the first night — is the little sisters she left behind.
Story continues below
"I had no idea how attached I'd actually become to these kids," she said. "I didn't want to leave them because I feel like they are my new family. It was heart-wrenching to see every single girl at the school in tears."
She and others shed more than a few tears as well.
"Building a connection is what this is all about," said Robert Baird, founder of Youth Making A Difference cultural exchange organization that arranged the visit, which he said was a year in the making and paid for in part by the participants.
"The kids studied and found out everything they could about this part of India, but there's nothing that compares to seeing it in person," Baird said. "When you can have this kind of trip early in life, something happens or clicks on inside you, you'll continue to do it the rest of your life," he said. "A few didn't believe me, but they do now."
The trip is difficult in every way, many that kids haven't even thought of, Baird said. It's so far away and just plain hard work, "but to to see the good they do and the good that comes to the kids who do it, it's many times more than worth it."
The teens were divided in teams focusing on culture, education, art and language. They had practiced for several months learning Hindi and were mentors to about 200 young girls in four different village schools.
They taught them math, science, English, health, art and physical fitness — all routine subjects back home but in scarce supply to young girls in India who Baird said are regarded as something less than second-class citizens, eking out their living helping to sew rugs.
Add grinding poverty to that social indifference, and anything anyone can do — even a bunch of high school kids who are unsure at times they can stand even two weeks of that life — can make a huge and even lasting difference, he said.
"The kids were so amazing," Kingsford said. "I just couldn't get over how they had nothing, absolutely nothing, and they gave us so much. I'll never forget it, and I'm going back. Got to."
I see less of Manami now. She is visiting many of the groups she over sees, many of whom cannot understand how she could return 15 days ago and still not visited them. Mimi is working with me filming stories of the the women and girls.
I can imagine that back in america many of you are sound a sleep, trying to catch up before returning to school on Monday, probably unprepared for the unplanned jet-lag-induced wake up call at 4:00 am, that will inevitably occur.
I have already discovered how challenging doing video stories in a language I do not understand will be and day one was harder than I expected. I am unclear what we have or what we need to do differently as we film their stories.
Today should be much more positive as we will be visiting with young girls who have benefited from the programs of Nishtha.
Mimi and Manami are still laughing, joking and telling story after story of their adventures with everyone from YMAD. They were moved to tears by the letters you wrote and which they read as we returned to Nishtha from the airport.
I am always amazed at the love, generosity and change that we each experience as we participate in these, “grand YMAD adventures” to India. Thank you Robert, Jodee and everyone from YMAD for the grandest of adventures and as Mimi and Manami keeps telling me, “Let us never forget”
see you all soon,
Sunday, November 29, 2009
I think people believe what I did before I went, which is this; after you cross the border into India you become drastically altered. I'm going to tell a story. Our plane touched down in Delhi, and we waltzed off. I put my foot on the soil of this new country expecting a complete baptism, but instead, I learned a lesson. No matter where you go, dirt is dirt.
I taught children to speak English, solve equations, paint, sing and every subject in between. I love these girls. No matter where you go, love is love.
I left these girls with tears in their eyes. They mumbled broken English about missing me, loving me, begging for me to come back. No matter where you go, separation is separation.
I spent 10 seconds in a complete nosedive over the Pacific Ocean. I thought I was going to die half way through my way home. No matter where you go, having to change your pants...
I met these girls and love them with involuntary devotion. I love their teachers, their leaders, their supervisors. I love Nishtha in its entirety. I love my new sisters, mother, and grandmother with more hope than I have for any other being. They live in India, but they could live down the street for all I care. So, let me answer the question most frequently asked. I was not, and no one ever will be changed by India, but its people have carved my soul into an object of unbelievable peace and appreciation.
Friday, November 27, 2009
I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am to have had this experience. I want to express a humble thanks to all my family and friends who generously donated to help YMAD projects in India. You will never know how much your donations will help the education of the students we have been working with. You will directly improve their future.
I want to give a special thanks to Cedar Ridge Middle School in Hyde Park, UT. The hard work of collecting school supplies and the money you raised will go to help over 280 students here. The funds you collected will go to classroom improvements such as water purifiers for clean drinking water, new chalkboards and mats for the students to sit on. You will be helping to sponsor education for these students in need. You are amazing. I wish you could have been here to hear the student’s express their gratitude to you. Thank you so much for your support.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
There’s a time in life when you have to admit defeat. Here I am. I don’t know if anyone out there cares what I have to say or expected a great documentation of my trip, but if I’ve let anyone down, sorry. I could take a picture, make a film, breath every last infinitesimal detail into my mind, but when you’re not here, you’re out of the loop.
I know a few things. Leaving will make you dumb, crying will make you silent, strength is measured in heartbreak, and blogging is taxing work.
Wow, we’re having such a time! I seriously love every second that I’m here. Not only do I love the people I’m with but I love the girls that we teach. They love my blond crazy hair; all they do is pet me. I get such a kick out of it! We just got back from our little excursion in a Tiger Park…pretty intense. We saw a ton of monkeys and a crocodile! Good thing we didn’t go swimming…
On Sunday, we had to saw bye to our DBS school girls. Everyone had their own expectations of how the day would be. We all knew it would be hard. But we weren’t too sure how it was going to go down at all. So we arrived to the DBS and had time to spare with the girls to just play games and teach a little more English. We all tried to soak up all we could from those girls – every smile, hug, and laugh. After that, it was time for our cultural exchange. We went in a huge room with all the girls and sat down to watch the girl’s dances and wait for our turn. They were amazing! Then it was our time to display our culture. We did all our songs and dances. Our final song was a combination of “I’m Yours” and “Three Little Birds.” As we preformed the song ALL of us were crying. One of the last lines is “ ‘cause our time is short, this oh this is our fate, I’m yours.” That seriously killed me! The little girl that sat on my lap turned and looked at me with a confused look, wiped my tears, and pulled my face close to hers and squeezed me tight. I think she was trying to tell me everything would be okay and that I need to be strong. It was hard to be strong when you have like five sobbing girls in your arms begging you not to leave. I would give anything to take them all home with me and give them the education and love that they deserve!
Teri and I were talking after that experience. I was telling her that I never knew I could be so in love with these little girls and only know them for a week or so. Teri, being so wise replied, that it just shows us how much in our lives material things get in the way of getting to know the real people and opening our own horizons. I just have never been inspired by people in my entire life, like I have been here.
P.S. Mom, I did get to have crab at the tiger camp, not lobstah though. Your comment made me teary, you’re amazing. Have fun in Maine! I love you more than anything in the world. Please have an ice cold diet coke waiting for me though, I’m cravin’. Love you all! See you soon.