Monday, November 22, 2010
Over the past four months, I have been volunteering at One International, a school for kids who are basically homeless and don't have the chance to go to school becuase they don't have the proper papers. One of the parents at ASB, Ali, organizes for us to go on Wednesday to help the children with their English language skills. We sing songs, play games, do worksheets and lots of other fun things.
The past two weeks, all the children have been preparing plays, dances and songs for the 10th annual Gala to celebrate the school, teachers, parents, and students. Ten years ago, Tania started One International with 3-4 children from the Khar fishing village. Today, there are two schools with over 200 students from ages 4-18! It's pretty amazing. After the performances, there were awards for best grades, best attendance, honors, most improved student, and student from the year. Students were chosen from both schools for the awards. In the youngest class I help with, 4-5 year olds, there were two boys who both received honors. One of them ended up receiving the student of the year for the entire school (the little guy with the black jacket and gray shirt on in one of the photo)! After receiving his award, he sat next to the other honor student (the one with the crazy hair and pink shirt on in the same photo), turned to him and stuck out his tongue. A little competition going on thereat age five!
The gala was held at St. Joseph's School, very close to our flat. Students and families were bused to the location. You'll notice in the pictures how excited the students are to perform and that everyone was dressed in their best. It was a pretty big deal and I was honored to be apart of it all!
Since this just happened and I have quick access to the computer, I thought I'd write it down for viewing pleasure. I left ASB today at 3pm, right as school was getting let out. I chatted with one of the parents and then strolled past the school buses, the passengers waiting for their drivers to arrive and the drivers waiting for their passengers to arrive. I waved to the last security guard on my route to the main street, about two blocks away, to grab a rickshaw. I chuckled as my walk took me past a construction site, in which it's dirt and mess has spilled onto the road. I couldn't picture those, who I had just past, walking to catch a rickshaw and getting their shoes dirty. My luck! A rickshaw pulled up and beeped, wondering if I wanted a ride. I hopped in and we zoomed off. At a stop light, a motorcycle with two men on it pulled up next two us. I heard the word "didi" (Which technically means "auntie" but what I'm called a lot. It is a term of respect) and could feel the stare of the man on the back as he cranked his neck to get a goooood...loooonnnng...looooooook at me. I turned the other way, ignoring him. As we sped up again, I could see two young guys walking ahead and one spotted me. He grabbed his friend and pointed at me. Argh!!!! Hasn't anyone seen a white chick in an auto rickshaw before. This is Mumbai, people! So, I tried a different tactic. I turned their way, put on my biggest grin and frantically waved. Kind of like they were my long lost friends I hadn't seen in forever. As I past, they waved back, looking a little unsure. That'll give them a story... "this crazy gora, she just grinned and waved at us like she knew us. Crazy. I 'm pretty sure she was looking at me." The other, "No pretty sure it was me she was looking at..." I'm never going to get use to the stares and making eye contact sends the wrong message - "she thinks I'm hot"! There's no winning, just doing outlandish things so they have a reason to stare.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Hello to everybody that reads out blog. We love being able to share our new adventures with you and to stay in touch. It is time for my monthly blog. Things here are going well, and as you can see from Twyla's post we are getting to see and experience a lot of amazing things here in India. We have settled down in our lives here in Mumbai, and coming back to Mumbai after vacations actually seems relaxing. I never thought that would happen.
School is going well and fast. I have had my first grades due, and I have had my first parent teacher conferences. We are screaming towards the end of the semester, and I cant believe it is coming so fast. I got the experience of going on Week Without Walls. I helped lead a trip with the seniors, and we where rafting down the Ganges. We got to start with one of the head water rivers and actually rafted to a major confluence, and the actual start of the Ganges. It is a very holy place. In the above picture you can see the two colors of the rivers joining. We were being blessed by a holly man and then dunked in the river. It was a very beautiful place. We ended our 4 day trip near the town of Rishikesh. This is the town that was made famous by the Beatles and their time spent there. It too is a very holy place along the Ganges with amazing temples along the river. We took the kids in town one night and saw a fire ceremony along the river. The river was pretty tame, but we had a lot of fun. I feel very lucky to be in a school that allows students this opportunity. Twyla got to join the 9th graders, and I think she would agree that this is, or at least has the potential to be a very valuable experience for the students. I guess it is easy when you have class sizes close to 50 students.
India is still an intense place to live for me, but I am figuring it out a lot more. I know a few more words in Hindi, and the rickshaw drivers seem to try to rip me off a bit less. We have found lots of great places to eat, and I can find my way around town and I can use the train. Mainly I can get on and off the train which is the hard part. I am still running a lot, and that takes up a lot of time. Most days I get up at 5:00 or before to run. On the weekends I might sleep in to 5:30. My longest run of date is 16 miles, and I still have 9 weekends left. I am looking forward to not running, but I am glad to have the routine for now. We are still trying to get the climbing wall at school up and running, but I think that will have finally happened by the end of this week. We are meeting great friends, and enjoying those relationships. I am missing the snow, and winter right now, but that is one of my big sacrifices for this experiences. Enstead of going to parties to talk about skiing and snow, we are going to parties and talking about food and Cashmere rugs. Same great people, just different interests.
Well I have to get planning for the weekend. We miss all of our friends, and we would love to hear from everybody. Feel free to skype, facebook, e-mail, or even send mail.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
The historical significance of Aurangabad and surrounding sites are the highlight here. Aurangabad was the capital of the Mughal empire for a brief time when the last Mughal emperor moved the entire city of Delhi to Aurangabad in 1653. Traveling around the city, you can see remnants of the city's old walls and gates. This city is the jumping point to the Ajunta caves (two hours away) and the Ellora caves (30 minutes away). Before Greg and I came to India, we saw a slide show from the Mesa State outdoor club's winter break trip to Southern India. When they showed slides of these caves, we decided right then it was a place we were going.
The Ajunta caves were carved and painted by Buddhist monks from 200BC to 650AD. Think of these dates as you look at the craftsmanship in the photos. The caves are set into cliffs overlooking a serene creek, with a waterfall and the hillside is dotted with colorful foliage. It made me want to sit down and meditate. These caves were lost to humans for centuries until a British hunting party discovered them in 1819. The unique thing about them is a lot of the painting is still present, whereas at Ellora, there's virtually no painting left. It was amazing to see and we thought to ourselves, what was going on in North America during this time... India and Asia truly was advanced by then. The only draw back to the day was having to enter and exit from the bus (which took us to several kilometers to the base of the caves) to our hired car through a souvenir marketplace with very pushy hawkers. One even followed us to our car, still trying to sell Greg something as we backed up and drove off. (Our driver had warned us, "don't buy anything from Ajunta).
The next day we went to the Ellora caves and then the Dhulatabad Fort. The Ellora caves are much more accessible, thus a little more crowded and hawkers trying to sell you things everywhere, instead of just the parking lot. But, they were much less persistent and mainly left us alone. These caves were carved by Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain monks over many centuries. The Buddhist were the oldest from 600-800AD and the Jain caves were the youngest from 800-1000AD. These have never been "lost" so people have been coming to them since carved to pray and see the amazing craftsmanship. The most famous "cave" is the Kailash Temple, which represents Mt. Kailash, where the Ganges begins its trickle and represents Shiva. These caves were mainly built top to bottom. The Kailash Temple was built over ten generations and is very detailed and intricate. Some of its paintings were still visible.
After a long, hot day, we mustered up our energy to finish the day off at the Dhulatabad Fort. We thoroughly enjoyed this mid-evilish fort. The fort has a number of protective features built into to protect itself. there's an outer wall, 5km around the old town. Within those walls, the commoners lived. Further in was another wall protecting higher classes. The third wall surrounded the fort and from there the journey became quite steep. Stairs were cut at different levels so any intruders couldn't just run up the stairs. There were many cannons, which were intricately carved. The largest, within the third wall, could rotate 180 degrees, so if it fell into the wrong hands, it could not be used to blow up the fort. A series of gates at the third wall were built to fool anyone who got this far and trap them. (All the doors were huge, heavy and wooden with metal spikes in lines down the entire door). The there was a wet moat to cross, which lead to a series of steep caves that hot oil and water would be poured into to stop invaders. We just had to deal with the many bats in the caves as we climbed the musty stairs. Finally, a long set of stairs wound around the rest of the hillside to the top of the fort and an amazing view as the sun began to set.
We had an extra day in Aurangabad, so we went to see the smaller Aurangabad caves, a Himaroo Weaving Center where we saw traditional ways of hand weaving and I bought my first sari, and took in a bollywood film before the fireworks of Diwali began. The firworks were another sight to behold. We snuck up onto the hotel's roof top to be greeted by a colorful war zone. EVERYONE was setting them off for HOURS. The air was thick with smoke and I wondered how many people were going to be injured that night. We heard a loud series of bursts from below and saw some of the familes staying at the hotel setting off fireworks. They lighted a huge box. We watched until all of the sudden three gold lights shot up about twenty feet from us. #$@%!!! We ran to the other side of the roof and right above us, large fireworks exploded. Pretty amazing. After Greg was almost hit by a stray one, we headed downstairs for a snack. 4th of July has nothing on Diwali!!
Happy Diwali! (The powdered designs are the rangolis I wrote about a few blogs ago).
After Greg and I came back from Week Without Walls, we had one day to repack for our week long trip around Maharastra. First to Nasik, wine counrty and holy city, then off to Aurangabad where to World Heritage sites of the Ellora and Ajunta Caves are located. Saturday morning, we dragged our weary bodies out of bed at 5am in order to make our way to the Victoria Terminus train station in southern Mumbai. I was very proud that we found the correct train to get there and then found the Tavopan Express, which would take us 3 and a half hours north to Nasik. I had booked us AC Chair seats, which weren't too bad at all. The car even had a waiter that took orders for food and drink and brought them to us.
When we arrived at Nasik, we were immediately accosted by a taxi driver, who we told we wanted a rickshaw. He "gave" us to someone else and we were whisked away. The rickshaw was decked out inside with a fancy pleather seat that had a design embroidered into it. When we arrived at our hotel, we were immediately disappointed to find that the meter is not used and the driver demanding 150rs. This was WAY more than the same ride in Mumbai. We argued with him for awhile, then went in and asked the hotel how much the ride costs. He stated 100rs, in a quiet voice. This was still expensive, but not able to do much about it, we gave the driver the money. (Greg reminded me that we were only haggling over a dollar, which is true). We pretty much walked the rest of the time in Nasik, except for travel outside the city. Nasik, we felt was just as busy, congested and polluted as Mumbai. I struggled a bit with this since after Dharamsala, think I had the expectation of a peaceful town.
Nasik is located on the Godavari River, also known as the Little Ganges. It is a holy river, where pilgrims come to bath away sins, pray, and even release loved ones' ashes into the river. Mind you this goes on while clothes are being washed, dishes cleaned, and other daily happenings. The result, though is an array of color and energy. Along the river there are many Hindu temples and Greg and I found many more just wandering around the streets. The markets and roadsides were filled with all the colorful decorations, powders, and diyas for Diwali, as well as the usual spices and food stuffs. There were many friendly people and one helped us find our favorite place to eat in Nasik, the Ganesh Lunch House. It was run by a family, who kept heaping food onto our plates despite saying we were full. Yummy! Really, this was the only good place we found to eat. The rest ended up being quite bad. One was a bar and restaurant, which I suggested trying it, knowing Greg would probably love to have a cold Kingfisher beer. We went upstairs and sat down. I immediately noticed we were surrounded by a number of drunk men and it was really smoky. I was fighting a head cold and finally told Greg I needed to leave. As we got up, they server asked us what was wrong. We told him the smoke was bothering me, so he directed us to another room. The room was FILTHY! I think they had a party last month and hadn't cleaned up yet. While Greg quickly drank his beer, a cockroach was trying to get friendly with us. Aren't they suppose to be nocturnal?
My first Hindi class I took before we left paid off. I think over the week we answer the questions of "What's your name" and "Where are your from" a million times. I taught Greg the phrase "Mera nom Greg hai," which means my name is Greg and the Hindi word for American, "Umreeka." Everyone got a kick out of that and tried to speak Hindi to us.
From Nasik, we took a day trip to Trimbuk, 30 km away. We hiked up Brahmagiri Hill, where the source of the Godavari trickles and there are several temples. The walk up had many small Hindu statues lining the stairs, which gave people a good excuse to stop and catch their breath. At the top, we decided to try some offerings, but our "guide" pretty much sucked and we still have no idea what the different parts of offerings mean. Plus, I ended up with a plastic bag with two colored powders and a sugar treat leftover from the "Puja Package," which very aggressive monkeys wanted. One monkey even touched my leg, freaking me out. I think he would have climbed me accept someone shooed him off. We walked down to other temples that were carved out of the rock, despite being stalked by a hissing, teeth barring monkey the entire time. We armed ourselves with rocks until we reached the last temple and scrambled inside, forgetting to take our shoes off. The monk inside was very nice about it. Finally, I had the bright idea to put the white, plastic bag inside Greg's hip pack and the monkey let us alone.
On our way down, we were asked to join a group of men, who were with a guru. We decided, why not, and hung out for awhile, talking with the one man who could speak English. When we asked about places for lunch in Trimbuk, they told us we would join them for lunch. We eat on the floor in a mud, thatched hut off of large banana leaves. The food was good and Greg and struggled to stay seated cross-legged for so long. Not so flexible in the hips as Indians! After the meal, we continued our journey back to the bus station. I realized later, we had missed seeing one of the 12 most important shrines of Shiva, but non-Hindus aren't allowed inside anyways.
Also, I forgot to mention that Greg and I are now famous all over India. Over the week, we have posed for many, many, many, many, many pictures with Indian tourists. We were part of the attraction. It got to the point, I finally just refused and even told one group that it would be 50Rs , which I think they would have paid. Greg was a nice Midwesterner and never refused and had to make excuses for me.
Nasik is nestled into the wine country of India, so we did an afternoon and terrace sampling at Sula Vineyards, India's largest winery. It was sooo peaceful and relaxing. The countryside was beautiful and Greg and I talked about bringing our bikes next time. It was a nice break from India for a few hours to recharge ourselves. (Robin, we told them all about you and they would love to have you come out and do some consulting! Greg took lots of pictures of the equipment for you). An interesting fact we learned is the wine that they sell in India is not aged as long because Indians prefer a more sweet wine, as they are known for their sweet tooth. They do export wine and those have been aged longer. So, a challenge for everyone is to search for wine from Sula Vineyard. We were wondering to cost and what the taste is like. Generally, Indian wines are only so-so, but much more affordable here than imports due to high tariffs.
After three nights, we hopped on a bus to arrive in Aurangabad five hours later. We tried to get on a train, but the seats were waitlisted since it was Diwali week. The bus ride wasn't bad, Greg wasn't too cramped and we've now covered most of the transport options in India. All that is left is boat, bicycle rickshaw, camel, and elephant. Horse too, but Greg won't get near those.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
The last week of October, I had the wonderful opportunity to help chaperon the 9th Grade's Week Without Walls trip to Dharamsala. This was the first time the school had done this trip, which was organized by a group called Snow Leopards. Dharamsala is where the Dali Lama fled to when he left Tibet. His residence is here, along with many other Tibetan monks and Tibetan refugees. It is located in the foothills of the Himalayas and is beautiful. As we flew, the mountains at first looked like white clouds far in the distance. As we got closer, the landscape below us unfolded into steep hillsides, dotted with shiny tin roofs. Villages were nestled at the end of valleys and perched high on top of the hills. (To anyone from the east coast, these "hills" are close to the equivalent of the Appalachian Mountains). The white peaks were then towering layer after layer as far as the eye could see. I felt like crying, it was so good to see mountains! The white capped mountains around Dharamsala are very rugged and have not really been climbed much. When we landed, the airport was small with one runway, but with a spectacular view. As I deplaned, I took in a nice, clean breath of fresh air. Ahhhhh... After everyone arrived, we climbed aboard two buses and started the steep and switchback filled journey up to our hotel that a bus had no business being on, but this is India. The fauna had gone from tropical in Mumbai to an alpine environment here. I knew it was going to be hard to leave at the end of the week.
The area of town where we stayed and where the Dali Lama's residence were located, was along a steep hillside. Roads traversed along, snaking around multi-storied buildings that were brightly colored. The first evening, we walked through town and briefly looked through the Tibetan museum, walked through the temple at His Holiness's residence (he was not present that week) and then walked two kilometers around the temple. The path was narrow, and wound through the forest. There were carins everywhere, painted white and prayer flags layered all throughout the forest. Sets of Prayer wheels lined parts of the path and it was meditative to spin each one we came upon. They were all sizes, from about as big as a large tin can to taller than a human being. That night, after eating dinner, we were graced with the presence of a monk, who talked about his story of escaping Tibet. It was heart wrenching and amazing to see this smiling and forgiving man in front of us. He had been though more than I could imagine someone ever having to go through in a life time. He is 33 years old, my age. He ended with a Tibetan chant, which was low and deep. Some of the boys practiced imitating this the rest of the trip and one even performed at the talent show our last night. It was fascinating to watch how different parts of the trip effected some of the students.
I ended up feeling a bit sick that night, having to get up many times for "loose motions" (as they are called here) and was worried about how I was going to start trekking in the morning and spend two nights out camping. I was also angry at my body and told it there was no way it was holding me back. In the morning, I succumbed to taking some medicine and throughout the day felt better.
The first day, we trekked around the upper hills of Dharamsala. We stopped at a temple that had so many prayer flags it was almost disorienting. We had another monk talking to us there about being a monk. He had a great sense of humor and teased the kids a lot. When one of the kids asked him why he became the monk, he answered with a smile, "oh, this was a very stupid reason. When I was 13, we had a monk come to our house. I saw that my mother is making all this good food and then serving it to the monk. I sat there and though, wow, I want to become monk so I can eat all this good food. Very stupid, but my stupid reason turned into a wonderful decision."
We also visited the Tibetan Children's Village (http://www.tcv.org.in/index.shtml), which cares for and educates Tibetan children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or brought from Tibet for a better life. We saw the grounds of the school, which were in an amazing setting, saw the temple there, visited the 2-5 year olds, and toured a house where 30 children live. The 2-5 year olds were precious. They sang for us, proudly, and were very eager to show our students their rooms. There was one very serious little guy, who was climbing all over and had the most amazing balance and coordination I've ever seen in such a young person. The kids loved him.
The rest of the day, we hiked into more farming and grazing lands in the hills to our camp spot on a terraced hillside. Snow Leopards provided tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, and blankets. The students were responsible for putting up their own tents. The meals were cooked for us and we ate in a long tent set up with lots of chairs. The students also helped with chores like washing dishes, cleaning up, taking down camp. It was good for them to have to help out for the common good.
Our next day of trekking was the hardest. It was a fairly steep climb to gain 1000 meters during the day. I was impressed how most of the groups encouraged each other and found ways to occupy their minds to get through rough parts. The last part of the climb was very steep and we could see where we would end up, just above the rocks we were hiking up. When we got there, it was an amazing reward. We were on a grass covered plateau, looking across the vally to snow-dusted, rugged peaks. I had a strong desire to be over there! I asked one of the guides later about climbing those mountains and he told me one of the peaks had been summited but the others had not because there wasn't a good route up them. "Man, I have to bring Greg here," was what I was thinking. Everyone was tired, but happy about the view. It was cold when the sun went down and the wind picked up. Many of the students didn't have adequate clothing and started to shiver. We rounded them up, into the eating tent, which warmed up with body heat and was protection against the wind. A fire was also started. Above us, there was a higher point where a small temple stood. I asked about how long it would take to get there and was thinking about an early morning hike before breakfast. I spoke with one of the staff members and we had 13 students interested in getting up at 5am and hiking through sunrise, going as far as we could. I had my doubts about how many would wake up that early, especially when the time came in the cold, dark dawn. Low and behold, 12 got up. We were a group of different paces, but we stayed together as a group and reached about half way up to the temple. Hiking as the sun came up was spectacular, watching the color bloom through the valley and surrounding mountains. We all felt a bit special, I think, as we entered camp for breakfast having such a great experience when everyone else had only gotten up and were packing. My wonderful tent mate had even rolled up my bedding for me! (Thanks, Kim)!
The trek down had more amazing views, though was steep and filled with loose rock. A bunch of us commented that we were glad this was not how we had come up. I think some of the students might not have made it. We arrived at the hotel with smiles and the students were eager to hit the town for some souvenir shopping. All the adults were ready for a nap, but we pushed on. After having tea on a roof top terrace near the Dali Lama's residence, we split into groups and had an hour of shopping frenzy before we needed to be back at the hotel for a cultural performance. I laughed because me group of girls spent a lot of time buying junk food for traveling the next day. You'd think they had been trekking for months, not just out for two nights. They were also bumming when they didn't have enough time to buy gifts for their families. Oh, wonderful natural consequences.:) I myself bought Greg a singing bowl (he's been eyeing them for about five years), some scarves, and YARN! We kept passing shops where women were knitting, but I didn't see any yarn. I finally asking and slowly was pointed to a shop that had yarn off to the side in plastic bags. I rummaged through quickly and grabbed about 8 skeins that I bought for under $10! What a deal!
I rushed my group back to the hotel and we were given a wonderful performance of traditional Tibetan dancing. Colorful, intricate costumes, wonderful singing and music. The performers had such wonderful energy and amazing smiles. I think this ended up being one of the best things about our week...other than the views, the monks, the Tibetan Children's Village, prayer flags...it was an amazing experience! I was a bit disappointed to be sleeping back in the hotel instead of a tent. The hotel was cold, stuffy, and sheets a bit stained. (Rule #1 when traveling to budget hotels in India, always bring your own linen). But, I slept much better than my first night at the hotel with my "loose motions."
Our decent down the hillside, back to the airport the next day was a little sad for me. I was ready to stay and just have Greg join me, rather than head back to Mumbai. I think that was a sentiment for other staff members and some of the students too. We had a little bit of a debacle with the flights out of Dharamsala, but it was worked out and our plane cleared the mountains, rose into the blue sky, and we watched to mountains slowly disappear.
Diwali, India's equivalent of Christmas and a festival of lights, just finished this past Sunday. All over India, there were rangolis (designs made of colored powder) at people's doorsteps, diyas (colorful clay bowls that are filled with oil and lighted) placed at doorways, around houses (in our hotel i Aurangabad there were placed in the hallways and all over the lobby), lanterns, and so many fireworks that I now laugh at our 4th of July displays. This festival celebrates Ram, Sita, and Ram's brother's return from exile after Ravana, the evil ten headed god, was killed. The lights signify the townspeople lighting the way home and welcoming the three home. On the commercial side of things, Diwali means may sales and discounts, just like Christmas.
Three Fridays ago, before Greg and I left on our respective Week Without Walls trips, the school had a Diwali assembly. when I entered the school that day, there were flower streamers, lights, and ceiling decorations all over the building. It looked beautiful. Most of the staff and students were dressed in Indian wear and there was such a festive spirit in the air. The assembly was where all the time and energy that myself and 15 others spent the past month learning a Garba dance would be shown off. We all gathered to change into our costumes, complete with lots of jewelry and bindis. The earrings were very heavy and as I moved my head around, I was worried my ears were going to fall off. How am I going to dance in these?! At the assemble, many different groups of students performed dances and plays. They were all wonderful and the kids seemed to have a lot of fun. We were on last, as we headed on stage I though, "crap, it's happening. Will I remember the steps?" I was nervous and I had a knot in my chest the full five minutes of the dance. We whirled and twirled, our sparkling dresses swirling about and there were a lot of smiles. It was fun. When the music ended, we had a big applause and we had done it! No major catastrophes or errors. Then there was a feeling of, wow we worked so heard and now it's over. Hmmmm, that's a bit of a let down.
Luckily, we were suck a hit that we have been asked to perform at the PTA gala this weekend so we get another performance, then it's over.:) Once I get a hold of a video of the performance, I'll post it. Until then, enjoy some of the prep photos.