Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fun times...Delhi, Agra

I have no idea how I was able to fit in these few days of crazy, fun times. We have been so busy, and I was not planning on being able to do much except for work. Much to my surprise, things worked out for a trip to Delhi and Agra. Then yesterday, we made a day trip (all of us) to Mamallapuram, and we got back in time to have a Halloween party. So here is my update on the fun times in Delhi and Agra! I'll work on Mamallapuram & Halloween tomorrow. 

Delhi and Agra:
I made a list everyday on my phone for things that I noticed and how/where I felt like we had some help from our guardian angels and God. I will put up an abbreviated version and may include some pics. Let me know if you have questions, and I'll attempt to clarify :)

Saturday (Chennai)...
  • Found Rebekah without trouble in the madness of the Chennai airport (she heard my voice)
  • Got to swim in a real pool at a real house in Chennai (yay for church friends!)
  • I actually knew how to use the phone because I had to do it the day before
  • Our hotel room had a western toilet, a shower, a fan and AC
  • Good chocolate at the Chennai airport (domestic terminal)--I wish I could adequately explain our joy at this discovery
  • Celina did okay on the flight (she gets motion sickness)
Sunday (Delhi)...
  • Church (we got to the whole thing, but in three parts. Don't ask. Long story).
  • First rickshaw experience 
  • We met the Rahnk family (Jeff, Michelle, & Becca) at church. They invited us over for lunch. Michelle made us Chicken fajitas, sliced watermelon, and brownies. Only people who have lived off of rice and sauce for a few weeks will understand the amazingness of this meal. And the food was only part of why they were so awesome. I'm so grateful we met them!
  • Rebekah running into Ben, her friend from undergrad, at church. He gave us sooo many good ideas and information about Delhi
  • We went to the Baha'i Lotus Temple. What an interesting place and beautiful theology! I'd like to go on a day when it's no crowded so I can take my time. Alas, that will probably never happen, but if it does I've got a plan!
  • The Akshardam Temple. Please google this place and look at the images. Wow, wow, wow!!! Wow. It was like walking onto the set of Indian Jones, but cooler because you were in the middle of it. We barely made it inside before the gates closed, but then we ended up having tons of time inside. We wandered all over the main temple, went to the water fountain show, wandered around the courtyard and through the Lotus Garden. I think I participated in some Hindu ritual. They normally charge for that, but for some reason they offered to let me go for free. So I did. I poured water on a statue, got a bindi and a bracelet with the sacred colors. 
  • Met a really cool lady on the metro. She's Indian, but speaks amazing English (speaking of, I need to email her)
  • The internet worked on my phone! Not in my room, like advertised, but in the lobby (which is way better than nothing)

Monday (Delhi)...
  • So, you never know where you'll run into a friend. On Monday morning, we hopped into our friend's car, because he was helping us grab train tickets. As we hop in, we notice that there's a guy in the front passenger seat. As we sit down he says, "Rebekah! Jamie Kalama!" What the what!?!?! It's Sergio Lewis! I knew him from CA. Rebekah knew him from DC. Crazy, right!? Suffice it to say, we changed Sergio's plans, and he ended up hanging out with us for the next day and a half.
  • We realized it wouldn't cost much more to get a driver to Agra. Soooooooo glad we did!!!
  • Qutub Minar. What an amazing place to visit. I will put up pictures from this place.
  • Cycle Rikshaw trip through Old Delhi. At first we were confused why Ben would recommend a cycle rikshaw guy. After we got into Old Delhi, we completely understood. We went places that no car or auto rikshaw could go. People kept touching us, like we were special or an oddity. It was disconcerting. I could go on about Old Delhi forever. Suffice it to say that it's crazier than what you see in the movies. I loved it!
  • While in Old Delhi, we met a member of Parliament or something. He sells clocks. He gave us gifts. I need to email him too.
  • Did you know that there are "Lady only" security lines and metro cars in India? Sometimes, especially at night, it's better to be a lady!
  • Celina stayed at the hotel that evening, but Rebekah and I went to dinner at Pizza Hut with Ben and his wife, Mary. What a great time! And what great food! (You've probably noticed that food is a major theme her in India)
Tuesday (Agra + drive)...
  • The Tomb of Akbar. I could tell you more, but most of the information is online. One fun thing, the ceiling of the main tomb is a 46 foot dome. This creates a 6 second echo. The guide wanted me to sing in there. I said, "really? Me?" He said yes, so I sang part of "O Sole Mio." It was awesome. I think the vocal demo guy should have tipped me the 10 rupees I gave him 
  • Feeling safe...travelling in India as a woman is dangerous. However, I never felt unsafe. Every time I started to feel unsure about a place or situation, something happened to save me (and Celina & Rebekah, as applicable) from the predicament. 
  • Our driver, Brij, was/is AMAZING! If you ever go to Delhi, let me know so I can give you his information. He is worth for more than we paid him.
  • Agra Fort. Who has that many concubines and wives!?!?! The guide really got into telling us about them. Eeew.
  • The Taj Mahal. We didn't want a guide, but one attached himself to us. I"m so glad he did, because there are just times when you need a guide. 
  • A clean a nice hotel room that was only a 5 minute walk to the Taj
Wednesday (Agra, driving, Delhi, Chennai)...
  • The only bad part about our visit to the Taj on Tuesday was that it was super crowded and the sunset stunk. It was too cloudy. So, we decided to come back for the sunrise. It was the most expensive monument we went to, but it was well worth paying for the sunrise. Wow. Wow. So beautiful. The funny part was that Rebekah, Sergio, and I all forgot our camera batteries. Serg ran back. Rebekah bought some batteries from a street vendor and used my camera. I used my phone (I love the iphone)
  • Brij was full of awesome information, and he got us back to Delhi in a flash. Then he drove us around to see the important things that we hadn't already visited at no additional charge. He was the best driver ever!
  • We said goodbye to Sergio, but Celina, Rebekah, and I made it back to the airport safe & sound. Our flight was delayed, but we were there. Gratefully, Vel was almost at the airport to pick us up when we arrived back in Chennai. He got stuck in really bad traffic, so it was a huge blessing that our flight was delayed.

What a trip! I'm so grateful we got to go. I'm so grateful to travel with friends, and to run into Sergio on the way. It felt like he was part of the plan all along! I'm so grateful for the chance to check things off of my Bucket List, even though I hadn't thought it was going to be a possibility. Life is full of amazing adventures, and I am definitely enjoying mine!

Classes and Life Dance Troupe

(Post 3 of 4 for the day. Almost there...woohoo!)

I have no idea how to tell you all that I've learned from the students here at the school. I am going to attempt to make a list of my favorite experiences with the students and see if that helps to organize my thoughts:
  • We gave them dance homework. Ha ha ha! Some of them were very funny when they realized they had to fill out a worksheet for dance--oh the cuteness of those big eyes! However, they did it, and we learned so much about the students through the completed sheets. They love dance. And they are beginning to understand that there is more to dance than just a healthy body.
  • Dancing in the student hostel. Last Sunday, I promised Sathya that I would visit her room. She shares this room with some of the other girls and there is another room attached where more of the students live. When I showed up, the girls were all there and they were so excited to see me. It turned into a long and delightful evening full of dance and song (all of them wanting to dance with me and requesting Disney songs for me to sing).
  • 5th Standard turning from the most difficult class to the most focused class. This turnaround definitely involved guilt (none of them did their homework) and the fact that Mangela (the Indian vice-principal) was there. Hopefully, it will stick next week.
  • Mangela (the VP) using Promethean Spark language at the morning assembly. The whole school meets every morning at 9 am for prayers, flag ceremony, and a short assembly. The whole process lasts about 10 minutes. Melana (the other dance master) and I went to two assemblies this week. We gave an award at the second one, but just watched the first one. As we stood there, Mangela began talking to the students about dance, and that this week was about "Never giving up!" She related it to their school work and some recent challenges. She willingly brought up dance and the PS principles without any prompting from us. Perfect!
  • This week we had auditions for Life Dance Troupe. I learned that it's important to give the students the opportunity to recommit. Also, it is wonderful to watch a person who loves dancing dance, even if they are not the most talented
  • UKG (Upper Kindergarten) is so stinking cute and they are all about love. There is so much love just bursting forth from those little bodies! Wherever they are, hugs are guaranteed.
  • Helping a child do homework in the evening is rewarding and brings joy to my heart.
  • Celina, the principal and my friend, is quite the example to me. She loves these children so much. She is so selfless. She is always sacrificing her time and personal plans in order to help the children. Her heart has turned toward those children, and they can feel of her love. I know she has a number of struggles and trials, but she doesn't let it stop her service.
  • Never underestimate a child 
  • We are where we need to be when we need to be there. Yes, I already knew this, but this trip has been filled with reminders of this truth.
  • So much more, but this post is already becoming epic 

The leprosy colonies

Blog 2 of 4 for the day...

Promethean Spark (the organization with which I work) was originally brought to India to work and dance with those with Hansen's disease (leprosy). While our president was here for the first visit, there was an addition of a school-based program. As the program evolved with our volunteer teachers, the school has become our primary focus. We love these children, and it is a beautiful work of which to be part. However, as an organization, it is still our desire and hope to help those on the leprosy colonies. In the past, this has meant one day a week on the colonies. This semester, we've been able to increase that number to two days a week. That means regular visits to four colonies.

Yesterday, we visited Walajabad. Walajabad is a smaller and poor colony. There are about a dozen patients, and others who have been affected but are not currently being treated. The day that Melana and I went to Walajabad, three other volunteers also went to help the medical team. It was great, because we got to focus on the dance instead of trying to do double duty. It was a blast!

I became friends with a woman named Charama. She was clearly nervous about the medical treatment, but she smiled as soon as we started moving together. I loved seeing her smile, and I could feel her gratitude as she hugged me. Mostly, we sat and moved our hands together to the music, but it was enough. She was happy. Another man (I think it was her husband) also moved to the music, but he would get a shy and nervous face as soon as he saw us watching him. Then he would smile like a boy caught doing something mischievous. Melana tried to get him to dance with her, but he just laughed at her. It was amazing how much happier everyone acted with the music on. Sometimes they would just watch us dance and ask us to do more.

The children were adorable and a few of them were brave enough to play with us. One little girl, Rani, bonded with me before I got into my medical gear. We were having so much fun together. After I got geared up (gloves and mask--the doctor insists), Rani wasn't so sure about our friendship, but she eventually warmed up to me again. Her mother is a patient, and Rani became very upset as her mother was being treated. So, I picked her up. She was naked except for a shirt, so I kept praying she wouldn't pee on me. But I couldn't put her down. She needed someone to care for her, and I wasn't going to ignore my new little friend. As the music continued, we danced and waltzed together. I may never see that girl again, but she will always have a place in my heart. I can't wait to visit another colony tomorrow.

Photos by Jamie, Melana, & our friend, Rebekah Ellsworth
(the pretty ones are by Rebekah)

Church in India

I have so much in my heart. So much to say about my time here in India, and so I'm going to write four posts today that sum up some of the things most important to my heart. Let's begin with that which is most recent...

It's interesting going to church in another country. Because of the way my church is organized, I can attend anywhere in the world and the teachings are the same; the organization is the same; the scriptures are the same; and the general feeling is the same. So, sometimes it's easy to forget that you are in the middle of a different culture while at church. Today was no different, but there were a few wake-up calls along the way.

Some of the same: Today was the Primary Program for the Chennai 1st Branch. For those who are not LDS, Primary is the name of the organization created to teach the children (ages 3-11). Periodically, the children make a presentation for the whole church congregation. Today was that day here in Chennai... and it was wonderful. Half of the children I know from the school. The other half I met last week. Despite my short time here, I got to work with these Primary children as their chorister. I love these children. I don't know how to explain how you can love people you've only known for a few hours, but I do. I love these children so much. I am so grateful for the two Sundays I had to work with them. I'm grateful for their enthusiasm for music. I'm grateful for their willingness to follow and for their trust in those who lead them. I am grateful for the chance to look in their beautiful eyes and offer encouragement to them. As I sat looking at them, I was humbled and saddened by the thought that so few of them would ever be able to go to the temple about which they are so diligently learning. The thought brought tears to my eyes because I wanted them to have these blessings, and gratitude to my heart for my multitude of blessings.

The wake-up calls: A few things happened at church that reminded me that I was in India. First, getting to church took almost two hours on very bumpy roads.

Second, the power went off in the middle of Sunday School, and people just sat there. It was pitch black, and yet we just kept going on. If this happened at home, people would immediately try to fix the problem and harass the person in charge of the building. We would possibly get angry and wonder why we were having such a difficult time. Here it's just a part of life. They're grateful to have any electricity. I know a young women  here in India who graduated not long ago from high school. She studied by a kerosene lamp every night in order to finish her homework. She was one of the top students at school.

Third, the piano playing was fairly basic because the pianist has only played for 4 months. He has already mastered the basic version of 20+ hymns. Application of Luke 1:37? I think so.

Fourth, one of the women at church spoke briefly about her love for Jesus Christ and his gospel. Her husband did not want her to join the church; and he has beat her because of her attendance at the church. He wouldn't give her permission to join the church. She said that it couldn't stop her, even though he threatened to kill her. Instead, she's prayed and sought a miracle from the Lord. Her husband is coming around.

I'm so grateful for my time here. I'm grateful for the chance to love and be loved by those who were strangers in India. I pray I never take the ease of my worship for granted again.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Back in school! Days Eighteen through Twenty-two in India

As I posted earlier, I got the chance to go to Delhi and Agra. And it was a wonderful trip, but I will post about that adventure later. What I really want to blog on is the joy of being back at the school.

Coming home from our trip (and yes, this little school is definitely another home to me now)... coming home was blissful. I was so happy to be back with the kids. And to be back where I knew the toilets and the sheets were clean. :)

I would give you a day to day breakdown, but I think I will just list all the wonderful things that have happened since I returned.
  • Expansion of our program in the colonies. We are now visiting 2 colonies a week. This may not sound like much, but it's a huge step in the direction we've been hoping for.
  • Building a great foundation for documentation
  • Arrival of the new Dance Master (Her name is Melana. She's wonderful. And it turns out that we met once before at a mutual friend's house). She's perfect for this program!
  • Dance, dance, and more dance! Two days a week on the colonies=more classes during the other days to make up for lost time
  • Going to Katchipurum to get blessed by the elephants at the elephant house
  • Paperwork (so much paperwork!)
  • Rainy season finally began, though only after a week without rain. So, when it did finally rain again, we (Melana, me, and other volunteers) danced in the courtyard. We got soaked!
  • Working with all of the beautiful children again. I'm so glad that they're back!!!
There's no place like India, and there is no place like this school. I sure love this place!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Days Eleven and Twelve in India

Well, it finally happened. I thought it wouldn't, but it did. I got sick. Luckily, it wasn't too bad, and it only lasted for one day. Still--no fun!

Okay, here is a brief account of the last two days:

Thursday (Day 11):
In the morning I was feeling just dandy, so I went with the medical team to another leprosy colony. This one is called Bharatapurum, and it was different than all the other colonies I'd been to. This one is attached to the Bindu Art Institute, and they sell their paintings to maintain their colony. By the way, this little art institute has a website. It is, if you want to check it out.

It was amazing to see how different these patients were from the other colonies. They were cleaner. The colony was more organized. And they had a sense of self-worth and self-respect. And they gained this through painting pictures. That really gave me food for thought. As an artist, people often undervalue my work or they say, "Wow. That must be fun" in a tone that clearly expresses that they think maybe it's a faze. But here is an illustration of the power of the artistic--this is only one aspect of art, and it has completely changed and raised one group of people who were deemed worthless. It was a joy to be among these people. Don't get me wrong--not everyone was nice. They clearly live in a hostel and not family homes, because they treat each other like siblings. There are people who are rude, and there are others who are unfailingly kind. And all the various personality types were showing up around us, since the normal social courtesies that would have existed in family colonies were non-existent. It was quite fun. I hope to go back to this colony one more time before I leave, so that I can buy one of their paintings.

Toward the end of our time at Bharatapurum, I started to feel sick. I will spare you the gory details, but let's just say that I was relieved to finally arrive back at the school. It was wonderful to take a nap and then take some medicine. I also learned how to use an Indian toilet (necessity is one of the greatest teaching tools).

The rest of my day was spent recuperating and packing for Delhi.

Today (Day 12):
In an attempt to get everything done, I was able to accomplish about 2/3 of the items on my list. There was nothing exciting. I was in the hostel most of the day. A new volunteer for our sister organization showed up. She's very nice and I'm excited to work with her. This evening, I was invited to a religious festival that the staff and administrators were putting on. Tonight's festivities were for Durga Puja. It is a religious festival of gratitude. It lasts for three days, and it is twice a year. In the spring, it is a celebration of thanks for all the living things. In the autumn, it is a celebration of thanks for all of the articles that work for us and keep us safe. For example, the cars, the bike, the tractor, the electricity, the computers, etc were all given an offering of gratitude. It was amazing! And it was fun. I love that their are three-day religious festivals just to offer thanks. So awesome!

I sure love this place. I hope that my adventures continue in a positive vein while I am in Delhi and Agra. I will update as soon as I can. Happy Puja!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Day Ten in India

Well, we left the hostel to go out to the colonies this morning, but then we were told that we weren't needed. Apparently, the doctor and nurses were just going to visit a hospital in Chennai to restock on supplies and visit a few patients there.

As you can imagine, this was a bit disappointing. In the end, I stayed at the hostel, did some work on the computer, danced for an hour, showered, and ate food. So, since I have nothing specific to report tonight, I'm going to put up a few pics and videos of the last few days. There are some that aren't on my computer yet, but I'll put those up soon.

Me and one of the nurses. She's so sweet, and I love working with her.
As we drive around, I ask her all sorts of questions about India.

The back of every truck here says, "Sound Horn."
And they do!

Cameron and I playing drums with Arthur John.
We each did well with one hand, so we teamed up to make some music

A couple of our students with their mother and other family members.
The little girl that I'm holding was so much fun. We danced around
until I had to work, and then we played some more as soon as I finished.
It's amazing how much I already love these kids!

Okay, the video is not uploading correctly, so I'll post it later with some more pictures.
Lots of love to you all!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day Nine in India

First of all, it's a very bad idea to eat a large amount of sugar in the form of ice cream and/or chocolate when you are used to a fairly healthy, mostly vegetarian diet. You know... in case you were wondering.

Today we went to another village. This village is bigger than yesterday's. It is the third largest colony in this region. It was also very organized. I was amazed by the difference between this colony and the last. It was painted with bright colors. There was a clean meeting hall that doubled as a church. The children were happy and wanted to play. The homes were a little larger, and there was definitely some kind of village leadership in place. These people were still a leprosy-affected group, but somehow they had lifted themselves up. This may sound weird, but as I was leaving I couldn't help but think that if I had leprosy and got kicked out of my home, I'd hope to find a place like this. Today we had even fewer hands, so I took and recorded each patient's blood pressure and pulse rate. I loved this job. It gave me the chance to look each person in the eye, and to lightly hold their hand or arm as the machine did its work. Such beautiful people. Even though I was busy with this job, I did find time to play with some of the children. It was wonderful! I hope that we, Promethean Spark, are able to develop a full-time program with the colonies. This village would be a perfect place to start.

The rest of the night was peaceful and fun. I danced, ate, worked on the laptop, talked with my bank, bought my ticket to fly to Delhi this weekend, talked with family & friends, etc. I'm still so humbled by what I'm seeing and learning here. I hope that I can remember to remember these experiences when I leave. I hope that I will always carry this piece of India with me.

Day Eight in India

I can't believe that yesterday was only day 8. I've learned so much over the past week, that it seems like much longer than that.

Yesterday (Monday, Day 8), I got to go with the medical team to one of the leprosy colonies. The name of the colony is Chettipuniyam. It was my first time going to one of the colonies, and thus my first time actually seeing those affected with the disease. It was a medium-sized colony nestled in the jungle.

I don't know what I was expecting, but whatever it was, it was not what I experienced. Because there were only a couple of us, I didn't have the opportunity to dance with the people there. Instead I helped to clean wounds and replace bandages. I think it would have been just as difficult to dance with them, because my heart would still have broken for them. Here are a few things that I learned about the disease:
  • It looks completely different than I expected. Yes, the skin turns white, but it's like a really, really bad callous. But instead of stopping at a normal point, as the disease progresses, the "callous" goes deeper. Pretty soon, there is no more real skin and bone
  • There is no feeling in the leprous skin; however, as you get close to the healthy skin, it can still be very painful to be treated
  • So many people still struggle with the disease even after being treated, and I think that often it is because of the living conditions
  • Hansen's disease also eats away at the bone
  • To treat it, you wash it out, and then you cut off all of the dead skin and bone. Sometimes, this is impossible, because there is too much dead skin and bone. There is medicine we also use.
  • There are visuals in my mind that I will never forget
There were other unexpected things that I experienced travelling to and being in that village:
  • Because it is the school break, I got to see some of our dancers in their homes with their parents. It broke my heart to see them living in these tiny, dirty places. It doesn't feel like they belong there.
  • One of the students took me to her house so she could show me the picture of her father. He passed away on March 13th. Her grandfather is also dead. She is living with her grandmother. Her mother is away working very hard.
  • As I looked at the women in the colony, I suddenly wondered at how beautiful they must have been when they were younger. I know they were beautiful, because their children are beautiful. It made me wonder how I would feel if disease and living circumstances altered my looks so completely.
  • There is great apathy. I left feeling like leprosy is just part of life here in India. That is the feeling here. It is a disturbing feeling to be immersed in, because leprosy doesn't have to be a part of life anywhere in the world.
  • We drove by some other Indian schools. They are completely different than our little school, and they look like run down old factories. The law and medical schools in Chengalputta also look like awful places. Even the most "ghetto" colleges in the US look at least ten times nicer than these places.
  • We burn all our trash after we finish working at the colony. This is to destroy any diseased skin, etc that we have been working with.
Last night, after going to the colonies, I had an interesting experience. I was frustrated because I am trying to buy a plane ticket to Delhi for this weekend. However, my personal card is not working. I emailed the bank, and they sent an auto-reply, blah blah blah. Anyway, I was very frustrated. I sat down and turned on a talk from this last General Conference (a worldwide conference broadcast by the LDS church. All the talks are available online). It was about gratitude. The speaker, President Thomas S. Monson, cited the story of the Ten Lepers. Only one turned to thank the Lord for healing him. I realized how selfish and ungrateful I was being by dwelling on my frustration. I realized that I am so blessed to even consider going to a place where these people could 1) never afford to go, and 2) never consider going because they are complete social outcasts who are thought to have committed some great crime in another life. Who am I to be angry? Who am I to be frustrated by something so unimportant? Who cares if I never see the Taj Mahal? These people are more important and beautiful. They would give anything to be one of those ten lepers that were healed. And I think they would all turn with the one and thank the Lord. Who am I to act like one of the other nine?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Day Seven in India

Today was good. Because we were watching a broadcast, we didn't go to church today. So the only time I went outside was to cook, eat, shower, and use the restroom. The rest of the time I was watching the broadcast and catching up on emails, etc. It was a good day. It is good to rest sometimes. It is good to slow down. I am so grateful for today.

Tomorrow I go to one of the leprosy-affected colonies for the first time. I'm sure I will have much to share after I return. Until then, live well, sleep well, and love well.

Day Six in India

Well, this update clearly did not make it out last night. I fell fast asleep with my laptop wide open and good intentions filling my heart. Oh well--it was very nice to sleep!

There were some very fun moments today, and I'd like to list them first:
  • Seeing even MORE dragonflies
  • Seeing fireflies (they're faster here in India than in America)
  • Getting a lecture about why I shouldn't eat chocolate from my friend, Mari (she helped me with the saree on day four)
  • Showing Mari pictures of my family
  • Buying that chocolate
  • Killing a bug that was biting me (I don't care if the ant is sacred...also, I will never forget bugspray again)
  • Finding lychee juice at the grocery store
Day Six differed from other days because it was Parents Day. Parents Day is the day when the parents of the students come to pick up their children for the break. There was a mix of feelings: excitement, anticipation, joy, exhaustion, sadness, and concern. I didn't really understand these last two feelings. In my very American memory, almost everyone is excited for school to break. I thought that perhaps it was different because the kids live here. It is like another family, and so they are sad to see each other leave. However, as I chatted with the principal, I realized that it was more than this. Some of these students may not come back after the break. Some of their parents won't let them, and they will convince them to stay at home. They will do this, because they can make more money begging when they have children with them. This is one of the burdens that these children carry. My hope is that all of these children will come back--clean, clothed, and happy, not burdened, from the time they spent with their parents.

Because I didn't need to teach, I was able to go into town when Vel (one of the drivers) drove the teachers to their stops. Todd and Cameron (the two guys that are volunteering here for the school) also came with us. We ended up going to Chengalpattu. It was so fun to see other parts of India. The roads are horrible. The stores are tiny and open. We went to the More store. It has some Western foods, and I spent almost a thousand rupees (that's less than $23, but alot here)! We stopped and got purottas (sp?) on the way home. I haven't been full since I arrived in India, but two purottas and an omelet (an egg with onions) were more than enough to fill me up. I was stuffed! My whole meal cost 19 ruppees--that's less than $.50. And I was full! Crazy!

After we got back, I took a moment to rest, and then Todd, Cameron, Celina, and I went over to the house of one of the school workers. Her name is Anjali. Her baby girl, Saranya, died last week (right before I arrived), and we were going for the memorial service. After we arrived, we realized that we were expected to participate as honored guests. It was heart-wrenching to watch this young couple say goodbye to Saranya. Their other child (one of our 1st Standard students) was there. I sang. Celina prayed and gave a message. Cameron prayed. Arthur John (an Indian Evangelist, and the house father at the school) translated and gave a sermon. It was all very beautiful and humbling. We had the unique opportunity of not only going into Anjali and Gajendran's home, but also of participating in this very special and sacred service. After, they wouldn't let us leave until we ate a treat. I don't know what I did to deserve to be honored with a treat by this beautiful family, but I am so grateful that I was there. And I am also grateful to be able to work with their other beautiful daughter.

After the service, we went back to our rooms. Cameron and I had promised Arthur John that we would come over to play the drum. So, we grabbed a bit of dinner (the cook made us french fries!!!) and went over to Arthur John's room. Kartek, the son of one of the drivers, was also there. It was so much fun! Arthur John is very talented! After we had drummed for awhile, we started to share some of our favorite hymns (Arthur John sometimes attends the LDS church in Chennai). It was so peaceful to sit in this little room, singing hymns on this silent evening. I hope we do it again before I leave.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Day Five in India

For some reason, this has been the most relaxed day of all my days here thus far. Maybe it felt like this because it was Friday and the kids leave tomorrow. Maybe it felt like this because I was being extra careful since I got sick yesterday. Maybe I'm starting to get the hang of it all. I'm not sure why it felt this way (maybe because I slept well?), but it was nice. The good news is, there is still plenty to report on:

Before I taught dance today, I was invited to visit one of the English classes for the older students. They were 7th Standard (I think). They were acting out a story they had read earlier this week--but they had to be silent the whole time. The teacher had met with me earlier this week, and we came up with this idea. It was so wonderful to see it in action! And it was joyful to see these students explaining the story and answering follow-up questions in English (this is important, since it is the trade and business language here in India). A lesson incorporating acting seems so simple, but it is a major step away from the traditional Indian teaching style. I loved it.

My first dance class was with UKG (Upper Kindergarten--ages 4). They were so stinking cute! I could hardly stand it. The teacher was wonderful, and very helpful. It was amazing to me how well I could communicate with these children through movement (and food). Their English is very limited at that age, but we still had a lot of fun. I'm very grateful that the children are so fearless at that age.

The second dance class was with 6th Standard. They were far more advanced than I had realized--which gave me a great idea for passing information between teachers. I'll work on that tomorrow and next week. I think it will be a fun and important project. The class could've worked at a higher level (my fault), but it still went well. I learned to talk less. They learned to really stretch and make their movements strong. They also got to really process my question, "Why do we dance?"

Finally, LDT--I sure think these kids are amazing. We ran through most of the warm-up. This took all of the class period, because I made them go back and fix a few things that they were messing up. I can't wait to visit some of them in their home villages. I am excited to meet their parents. I am excited to tell these parents that they are raising amazing children.

Okay, today's life lessons:
  • A flock of dragonflies is beautiful to behold (it was far too pretty to be called a swarm)
  • Death is normal here. These children have stories that would bring you to tears, and yet it is just part of their life. Even with these tough lives, these children are happy and joyful.
  • I love it here. It's beautiful.
  • Everyone thought I looked so different at dinner--apparently they only see me in dance clothes with sweaty hair. How sad!
  • People doing construction carry dirt on their heads in bowls. There is no bulldozer out here in the rural areas. It's all man (and woman) power.
  • Eating Indian food really is so much better when you use your fingers (that's from yesterday). Speaking of--did you know there is an Indian food that is almost exactly like tortillas?
  • I'm going to go travelling in a week! That's right! The second week of break, I'm going to go travel with a couple of friends. I might actually get to see Dehli and the Taj Mahal!!! Woohoo!

Okay, that last one is not a life lesson, but it's definitely good news for the day. Hugs to you all!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day Four in India

Today was kind of a wierd day. I don't know if it's the malaria medication or what, but I have been tossing alot in my sleep. This has led to some tension in my neck, and thus today was a tension headache day. Of course, I was ready to work through this, and so I went to work and just massaged my neck to help me feel better.

The first class (with 3rd Standard) went pretty well. I made the mistake of assuming they'd be like my other classes. I forgot to go into this class listening and looking for what they needed. Soooo, it was a good class, but not a great class. However, they were happy and excited to be there, and we got a lot of great work done. By the way, for any educators who are reading this, this is one of those classes that has both a power-seeking, and a couple of attention-seeking kids. Good times!

The second class (with 4th Standard) was right after. What an amazing class! This was probably the first time that I felt that everything really came together. Not only were the students focused and excited... Not only was the teacher (that's me) ready and able... But also, everything really felt like it came together. We had all the key aspects of the lesson (as outlined in our manual as the standard). We had all the methodology and life connections being made in class. And I even remembered to shake all of their hands at the end of the class and have them look me in the eye as they said their names (this is an important aspect that I've failed to remember until today). I'm glad this class went so well. We were being observed by the president of our sister organization and some other VIPs. I'm so grateful that they got to see Promethean Spark at our best. They got to see the application of our methodology--the thing that makes us different from a "normal" dance organization.

After this class, I started feeling funny and so I decided to head to my room. On my way there, I ran into one of the ladies that does the cleaning. She's very sweet, and I really enjoy seeing her. Today, I told her that I want to wear a saree on Sunday. Sooo, she took me into the room with the extra sarees and started finding one for me. Then she started dressing me in it. It took a good 10-15 minutes to make this happen. Of course, in the middle of this, I start to get sick from dehydration and heat exhaustion. So we went to my room, flipped on my AC and fans, filled me with water, and she continued to make me look elegant in this saree (it was yellow and orange with beautiful teal and gold trim). By the time she was done, all I wanted to do was lie down. But she was so pleased, so I held still and tried not to throw up. The headache was not helping this situation. Gratefully, the whole "dressing Jamie operation" was a success. I didn't throw up, I didn't pass out, and she made this beautiful outfit on my body out of one very long piece of material. Now I am very excited to wear it on Sunday.

After some food, rest, and lots more water--I was able to teach my third class. I was with the other half of the 1st Standard group. They are such an adorable class! I'm so excited that I got out of bed to be with them. It would have killed me to let down such beautiful little people. It's exciting to see how even the smallest student can gain knowledge and make life connections through dance. It's not easy to make connections with the little ones, but it IS possible--we did it! I loved this class.

I'm sure that my mother will be relieved to know that I went back to my room after this, and I sat on my bed and rested some more. I also ate a bit more...Side note: I can't seem to ever eat enough here. Crazy!... so, I ate a bit more and rested. By the time the Life Dance Troupe came around, I was feeling better--which is good because we were focusing on technique and dancing hard! I love these little dancers. They remember what we teach them, and then grow from there. They never cease to amaze me. They will be good leaders someday. I'm excited for tomorrow--it's the last class we'll have before their break, and it will be good.

Just two thoughts: It's interesting to me that there are standout dancers in every class--even in the 1st Standard classes. What a tragedy it would be if these children never had the opportunity to develop these talents! My second thought it just a general note: Lately, I've ended each class with a "big breath in" while we stand in a circle. After we calmly breathe, I ask the children the following question:
"Why do we dance? Think about it"

Then we all say:
"We dance to be strong. Strong in mind. Strong in heart. And strong in body...
"So that we can be disciplined. So that we can be creative. So that we can be leaders."

This is why I dance. This is why I teach. I'm sure glad that I'm here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Day Three in India

Today was good. My body is adjusting, so I am sleeping more. This is a great blessing!

Today began with teaching 2nd Standard. They were delightful! I tried to implement a new class structure since there were a few struggles yesterday (don't worry, Shaun. It's actually closer to what we've discussed). They worked very well. I feel very comfortable with the way class went. I also feel like I have offered the students something new (a bit of additional technique), but it was taught in a way that was fun and memorable. That afternoon, I worked with 1st Standard (one half). They also did well, and I was able to get even further with them than I did with 2nd Standard.

In between dance classes, I worked with a couple of teachers. We worked one on one so that I could help them to strategize and develop lesson plans that used a kinesthetic connection to their materials. Dance can be such a frightening word--especially when you have never danced in your life. It's even scarier when you are then asked to incorporate it into your lesson. I was so happy to help these teachers to understand that in their classrooms the "dance" element could be as simple as walking around the room. One of the teachers used a suggestion that I made today in her classroom. Later on, I asked her how classes were going. She said today was excellent because she used one of the ideas she had gotten from me. I was so pleased! This school is trying very hard to become a better learning facility. I'm so grateful to be a part of it. I'm even more grateful that I am here as an artist which allows me to model that dancers can be very intelligent people. Dancers are not thought of well, in Indian society. I am glad to help change that mistaken viewpoint.

The Life Dance Troupe was wonderful. Sadly, we had a number of students absent today. I think that I will have to begin taking roll. I'm not keen on the idea, but we need to know exactly who is there, and who is absent. I am very grateful for Katie and Shiloh (the last dance masters). I can tell that they worked hard with this little dance troupe. The kids still remember the routines, as long as I am leading. Because they remember, I am able to really focus on technique. Today we focused on reaching through our bodies, sending energy out, keeping our cores strong at all times, parallel vs turnout, and isolations. We also worked on stretching properly and on turning out our feet in our battements. Looking at all of that, I realize it was a busy day!

On a personal note, I am glad to see that the teachers are trusting me. Also, they seem to like me. I had one point out that I look like a fair-skinned Indian. I can't wait to put on a sari, and then see if I look like a local. Here is a list of things that I'm discovering about living here:
  • The rain is wam and wonderful
  • The grass is always green
  • There are LOTS of bugs. Dragonflies, butterflies, and other flying creatures are everywhere. Also ants and centipedes, though they're less scary here than at home. Maybe it's because the humans respect them.
  • "Super" is a very popular word. Children and adults are always using this word. It makes me smile
  • The soil is rich and I wish I knew more so that I could tell you how amazing it is in the proper terms.
  • I love to sleep with a blanket, even when I'm in a tropical jungle
  • I feel better when I do my own dance workout seperate from classes
  • My mind works in unusual ways
  • Keeping things basic does not mean keeping things easy. Often, the basics are more powerful and effective than the more complicated things. This is true in teaching techniques and in dance technique.
  • If I ever feel lonely, I just have to find work to do. When I am working, I feel better

Alrighty, that is all for now. I better head to bed. Hugs to all!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Day Two in India

I am so tired today. I think the lack of sleep and the humidity have ganged up on me. I think I will sleep well tonight.

Today was good. I started teaching today, and I think that these children are wonderful. I am afraid that I am more strict than the last Dance Master, and the children are not sure how to respond. However, experience has taught me that starting strict is the best way to establish yourself as a teacher. The students will love you for giving them structure, and they will behave as you relax. The classes that I taught today were the 5th Grade Standard class, and the 7th-9th Grade Standard class. It's amazing how much I learned in just these two classes. I'm excited to adjust my class structure and to better build off of what has already been done by my predecessors. My goal is to help the children understand why we dance. Dancing keeps our bodies healthy and strong, but there are greater reasons to dance. We dance to learn discipline, creativity, and leadership. If we do it right, it will make us strong in mind and heart, as well as body. If we are strong in mind, heart, and body, then we will be able to accomplish anything.

In the afternoon, I taught a Professional Development workshop at the Teacher's Meeting. We discussed how we can use dance and movement to enhance learning. The principal, Celina, was pleased with how it went. So was the vice-principal, Mangella. This interactive style of learning (involving making a kinesthetic connection to the curriculum being taught) is a relatively new concept in America, so you can imagine how radical it must have seemed here at this Indian school. The teachers identified some of their challenges in the classroom, and then we brainstormed dance and movement-based solutions/ideas. It was fun to get the teachers on their feet doing some simple, but effective activities. It was amazing to relate to them as an educator. It's interesting that I am half-way across the globe, but the challenges of teaching are still the same. I am glad that I was able to offer the teachers tools to improve their teaching practice. I hope that their relationship with the our program will grow stronger.

After the meeting, paperwork, and the Star Store (I will explain more about the Star Store in a later post)--I was finally able to have a rehearsal with the Life Dance Troupe. This troupe is comprised of our older students who passed an audition over the summer. Generally speaking, they love dance. They definitely forgot some of the things they learned over the the summer, but they retained many of the important aspects. I think they will improve quickly as I work with them. I also taught them a basic dance step called "pas de bouree." We definitely have children here with great talent. Working with this group was the highlight of my day.

One last thing: as I was walking around the campus, I became aware of how often the people here make adjustments for me. It made me feel ashamed. I was in their home and country. And yet, I do not speak the language or eat the way they eat. So they speak English for me, and they hand me a fork. They do many things for me and my Western ways. I hope that I better learn the culture so that I can fit in better. I've never felt like an "entitled American," but now I think I may be one of "those people." I am going to do my best to learn how to fit in, so that I can feel at home in India. I never want to feel ashamed for that reason again.

Well, I must go to bed now. It's late. Thank you to you all for your prayers and support!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Day One in India

So I've begun a new blog. It's to keep track of my many adventures, beginning with India. And here it goes...

What a long day! For those of you who may not know, I am the Vice-president of a non-profit organization called Promethean Spark. We teach life skills through dance in impoverished areas of the world. One of our programs is in India. Sooo... here I am in India. I'm here to be "the Dance Master" at the school founded by Rising Star Outreach. I am here as a representative from Promethean Spark to evaluate the effectiveness of our programs. I am here to get to know our students.

I left JFK at 11:50 pm on Saturday, and I arrived at 3:50 am on Monday (today). By the time I got my luggage and got through customs, it was almost 5 am. I showered, emailed, and got to rest for about 2 hours. The driver from the school picked me up (after the adventure of not knowing where the other person was located), and we drove to the hospital to pick up the doctor.

The traffic here is crazy! It's as if someone took the craziest NYC cab driver and put them all on the same road, and then told them that the laws were more like guidelines (name that movie, anyone?). People were everywhere. Cars were everywhere. Mopeds were everywhere. Lights, signs, and flow of traffic were merely suggestions. It was a madhouse, but I enjoyed it.

We finally made it out to the school, and I am so happy to be here. The children are so excited that the new dance master is here. They sang the song that Shaun (the President of Promethean Spark) wrote for them. It was beautiful. I already love them, and I cannot wait to begin working with them tomorrow.

Well, I am off to bed. It's late and I'm tired. And tomorrow is the beginning of a whole new adventure!