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!