Monday, June 30, 2008

Thursday, June 26

Today it has finally hit me that this trip is ending. I had a really great day with the novices. We read a biography on Gandhi. That they really seam to enjoy. Towards the end of our session, I picked up one of their bibles and began to read it and they insisted I take it with me. I have noticed throughout the past week that when I go to see them they are extremely tired and they told me today. We meet during their normal nap time. So I suggested we have nap time tomorrow. And they laughed.

After work Dalton and I went on a walk to spend every last rupee we had left, before leaving and later we met up with Stephen at Seams, where we watched King kong. For the last dinner in India. We went to a restaurant with the sisters from Dalton’s school. The most popular entree was fried rice. Dalton and I came back to the house to a black out. So we went upstairs and ate mangos under flashlight.

Wednesday, June 25

On Wednesday we got to attend Sheba’s baby shower! Well, they don’t call it a “baby shower.” Stephen said that the Tamil words used translate as, “putting on the bangles” (it makes sense, trust me). On the ride there we rode with two of the nuns from my school, and Stephen’s priest. The talk was mostly mangos. When we arrived, we were greeted by Stephen’s mother who was glowing for the occasion. In the first room of the house was an epic spread of fresh foods (and Stephen had said that this was going to be a small meal). We made small talk while the rest of the guests arrived, and Stephen put Lucy and me in charge of the camera. At one point Stephens father beckoned me outside. I had assumed that it was to take a picture of something, but he led me on to the neighbors’ roof, where a stage and rows of chairs had been set up. I didn’t expect this. The priest, the nuns, Lucy and I were all seated in the front row. Next some close members of Sheba’s family began lighting candles and oil lamps. Lucy was very excited when she was asked to join in. After a blessing from the priest, the putting on of the bangles began. From what I remember each female guest was asked to come up and place some makeup on Sheba’s face and hands, swish a bowl of holly water around Sheba, and then place two bangles on each wrist. Lucy was one of the first who was asked to do this. After the first row was finished we were taken back down to Stephens house and fed a fantastic dinner on banana leaves. No silverware was allowed because it would puncture the leaf. Sheba came down after dinner covered in bangles and with make-up globed on her face. Lucy and I wanted to say good night to Stephens infant nephew, and then it was back to the guest house after the most authentic night of our trip. We cannot thank Stephen and Sheba enough for asking us to participate in this special occasion.


Tuesday, June 24

Instead of my regular schedule, today I will be going to school with Dalton to see what his day consists of. The first class of the day was 2nd graders. They were fun and I enjoyed that class a lot. Next were the kindergarteners. They bit difficult, but it was ok, their teacher seemed very happy to get a break. As we were headed up to the third floor for the 7th grade class I found 2 puppies so I brought them to class. Half way through the class period I realized Stephen would not be pleased if I brought puppies back to the guest house so I went off to search for a safe place for them. And on my journey I found two more so I put them all together in a corner and gave them some cookies. Later that day I brought a biography of Mother Teresa for the novices to read which they really enjoyed. After work Dalton and I still had a few gifts we wanted to buy before we went home so we went back to the emporium and got back just in time to go to Seams, where today was haircut day. To end the day Sheeba and I went to the corner store to get some bangles and after dinner we even got ice cream!


Monday, June 23

Monday morning we wake up on the night train. The morning before, we had woken up in the jungle. We make a quick stop at the guest house to shower, eat, and pack for school. In my haste to pack, I forgot my flash cards. This left me a little strapped for material when I got to school. Furthermore today I had mostly younger kids. Any lull in the action and they might get distracted. And if I lose them, they’re always hard to get back. Things were bumpy. But I think that I had productive classes. It appears that some of the first grades have memorized the complete text of “Brown Bear.” The book is short and formulaic, but this is still impressive considering that some of the kids who’ve memorized it don’t speak hardly any English. Sixth grade was my best class of the day. 5th grade and up are easier because if I get in to a pinch, “Simon Says” is both what they all actually want to be doing, and a good time filler.
Today was also our first day back at Seams. There are only three of us now (Stephen, Lucy, and me). This makes teaching considerably more difficult. Even small groups (of either gender) quickly become too violent with each other for us to be very effective. My objective is to teach the alphabet to the only two boys and the school that don’t know them yet. This sounds simple enough. But this means that they have to learn the names and relative order of 26 unfamiliar symbols. Lucy is doing the same with the only girl in the children’s’ home who is still unfamiliar with the language. We‘re both progressing, but slower than we’d like.


Sunday, June 22

Our Sunday started off bright and early with an elephant safari. Probably the highlight of my trip so far, we rode through the jungle of an elephants back and came face to face with a couple peacocks. Then it was back to the resort for breakfast which was bread, toasted bread, and fried bread. After this meal and many other similar meals we all contemplate going on a diet. Next we went on a trek through the jungle. During our trek Dalton climbed to the top of the mountain where he met what he liked to call a “hermitted monk”. Then we made our way back to the resort where we had lunch and it seemed I was the only one sticking to our proposed diet. After that we headed into the city where we visited the palace, which was breathtaking. We finished just in time to miss the downpour of rain. Later we went to the food market where Dalton bought some of the tiniest bananas I have ever seen. We had some time to kill so we went for a early Dinner before heading back to the palace for the lighting. This was something I will never forget. The pictures we took don’t do it any justice. As our vacation came to an end we went back to the train station. I couldn’t wait to get home to finally eat a mango.


Saturday, June 21

The Night Train

After a drive to the train station that was terrifying only to the same degree that all drives are around Chennai, we boarded our sleeper car for the overnight ride in to the neighboring state. Lucy’s relief upon arriving at our seats was quite a thing to see. She had been dreading this weekend because it would involve this train ride. The train was roughly what I expected. There were three levels of bunk beds. With the middle folded down all three of the passengers assigned to that area could sit comfortably. If you were sitting on the bottom of our three bunks, on your left would be a window. There would be an identical set of three bunks facing you straight ahead. To your right is the walkway (which runs the length of the car). Beyond that is another set of bunks arranged perpendicular to the first two sets. The car was well lit and air conditioned. Once we got settled Lucy was having a blast. She moved into her top bunk even before the train stated moving. With the exception of a period of time in which a man was screaming about the coffee that he was peddling (6AM-ish), we all slept well. I was the first up. When Stephen got up I was watching the scenery fly by through our heavily tinted windows. He told me that there was a better view and showed me to the door through which we had boarded, which he promptly opened for me. It was a much better view. Shortly after Stephen opened the door I became acutely aware of my mortality and moved back toward our bunks.
The scenery was nice, but it was more rural and less jungle than I was expecting to see. I became privately disheartened when we detrained in a setting nearly as urban as the one that we had just left. I wondered why we had taken a 12 hour train ride from one urban venue to another. At breakfast Stephen explained that next came a 2 hour drive to the “resort.” This made me feel worse. I was certain that 2 hours would not be a sufficient amount of time to reach the kind of deep jungle I was hoping for; and a “resort” (as I understood it) could not exist where I was hoping to be. I should have known better. In a country with cows and monkeys are a staple in the cities, the jungle isn’t as far as a foolish American would think. And Stephen, it would turn out, was using the word “resort” in a fashion that I was less familiar with.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Friday, June 20

My final day in country – the novices wish me a series of well wishes and prayers for my journey and also ask me to send along copies of some photos. I am also presented with a lovely bit of fabric. All that, and we still managed to finish a lengthy lesson full of public speaking and writing!

In the afternoon at Grace School, the kids put the finishing touches on their autobiographies and we’re treated to a series of emotional good-byes. The principal presents us with a lovely thank-you letter.

At SEAM we have a half productive class session, followed by a touching talent show of sorts – lots of kids singing as a group and ending with several soloists. Finally we’re presented with cards, and bid farewell to each of the kids.

And then we head back to the house, to eat, write this journal entry and to frantically pack – and it’s not just me and JP - Lucy and Dalton are packing for an 11-hour train trip that will take them off to be trampled by elephants (or maybe just to go on safari).

But wait! The day’s not over yet! Stephen arrives with Ice Cream! There is much singing and rejoicing in response!

And thus ends the 2 week program.


Thursday, June 19

I woke up early again to make some worksheets for grades 1-3. Jenny is feeling sick and we make her sit at the end of the table to avoid getting infected. I ended up teaching only grade one and two this morning. After lunch the grade 4s made me read from their new English textbook so I obliged even though I had a worksheet planned. For grade five we worked through a worksheet on proper sentence structure and the use of a versus an. Everyone got the a versus an wrong except one student. They begged for a second chance and I happened to have duplicates, so I handed new copies out. This time everyone got most of the questions right, however no except one aside from the girl who got perfect the first time around, put their name on the paper! They then begged for a third chance. What nerve.

After a break we head to SEAMs where we continue doing APs and GPs. Rajesh and the girls seem to understand the material but I am not sure about Suresh.

We head to dinner afterwards in a fancy air conditioned car. I seemed to get the front seat all the time for having sponsored the vehicle. It was a nice ride. Dinner was at the Green Park hotel restaurant called Tulip which featured South Indian cuisine. It offered a spicy selection and many desserts including Gulab jaman. We have a pleasant conversation and we witnessed Stephen tell Lucy and Dalton that their weekend in the jungle (where elephants and giant bugs could attack) is at their own risk.

We headed back and yet another power failure ensued. Jenny and I fill out our questionnaire by flashlight.

“…A full understanding of the elephant (or India) comes with the perception of the whole beast as the unity of its disparate elements.” (From the Elephant Story, Culture Shock, Page 2).


Wednesday, June 18

We all woke up this morning still full from dinner at Stephen’s parents house, and headed off to work. At the daycare three of the toddlers were sick and had to go to the doctor so I was quite lonely during nap time. Although the sisters taught me how to cut a jackfruit during nap time and we ate most of it. I coincidentally came home to a jackfruit party, but decided to be a party pooper, I had enough jackfruit for one day. Later we all packed in to the van like sardines and took an unforgettable ride to the mall where I was very excited to learn that there would be a subway there. Unfortunately it was not very similar to the subway I was use to and it left me with a yearning for more American food.


Tuesday, June 17

Tuesday – We follow the normal routine of breakfast, class, lunch, class, break, SEAM… but mixing it up this evening we attend a full-out *feast* hosted by Stephen’s parents. We are treated to a brief tour of the house and given the opportunity to peruse the wedding albums of the brothers before getting to the business of the evening – the food! When the first enormous platter is carried out I imagine that it’s meant for sharing – but no – these giant plates are, in fact, our individual servings! And not only that, but we’re then offered seconds, and thirds and more beyond that! Not to mention the pudding! We leave the house awed by the generosity and cooking skills of our hosts (as well as utterly and completely stuffed)!


Monday, June 16

Monday was our first day back on the job after our weekend trips to the south. And I got to the second graders room, I was surprised to see the 5th grade teacher leading the class. I suppose she had been reassigned. I was a bit in awe of the level of order she had been able to achieve with these students. I was able to teach the entire period with little interruption caused by any group of students. They were all exuberant and playful during the songs, but quieted quickly when it was time to move on.

After dinner we had an episode of show and tell, where we took turns displaying our treasures from the weekend getaway.


Sunday, June 15

It is day eight as I wake up in Pondicherry or is it Puducherry. It is funny how the government here changes the names of its cities at will. Jen and I have breakfast on an elevated platform in the centre of the court yard of our French Colonial hotel. The breakfast is five courses long and our miscommunication with the non English speaking waiter results in Dosa instead of eggs. We get a knock on the door and it is time to leave. I am not sure I want to leave Pondicherry.

We head to a weird Utopia place called Auroville. This is a international community like project started sometime in the sixties where people donated their land to live and work in this community. They make us watch a five minute introductory video before granting us access to the property. Dalton seems eager to join.

After this we head to Mamallapurham where we view several stone carvings. The heat is blistering and none of us are feeling well. We get to practice our negotiating skills as Dalton purchases a Budda Head and I purchase a marble elephant.

We drive back to the guesthouse. The power is out when we return so I shower by candlelight. We head up for dinner. I do not mind it being vegetarian today as we ate all the meat we could on the weekend.

“The buildings in the USA are standing up while the buildings in India are sleeping.”


Saturday, June 14

This morning we all woke up early to start our weekend getaway. Our first stop of the day was Kanchipuram , which is one of the seven holy Hindu cities of India. There we saw all the different kinds of temples and also got to ride elephants! I was surprised to discover elephants have hair that is very sharp. Our next destination was Ponducherry. As soon as wee arrived we went to lunch in a beautiful roof top restaurant with a roof made out of palm leaves and bamboo sticks. Then we all checked into out hotels. Dalton and I had some time to kill so we went on a walk through the shopping district, where I bought what I like to call my “old lady ring”. We all met up later and went on a walk on the boardwalk. Then we ended our day with dinnr at a beach front hotel, where we stuffed ourselves with all the buffet desserts we could get our hands on!

Quote “Vacation all I ever wanted, Vacation have to get away.”

Friday, June 13

Friday: The end of our first week of teaching.

The novices are excited to share stories of the Feast of St. Anthony, which works its way into naming favourite saints, which in turn morphs into a discussion of rudeness, politeness and finally spelling and culture – why don’t Americans use the letter “u” in words where the rest of the English-speaking world do (colour, favour, etc), and why do Indians love the present continuous with such passion?

Perhaps because of that earlier discussion I found myself thinking about some of the failings of the English language during our “play time” at SEAM in the evening. The children call us “brother” and “sister”, and it would follow that there should be some term for the relationship in the other direction, and yet their isn’t – or at least none that would be natural. And isn’t that strange, given that so many of English’s closely related tongues *do* have such words - “petit(e)” (“little”, used as a name) in French, or “boetie” (“little brother”) in Afrikaans. Of course Victorian (and earlier) literature is full of people saying “Oh, little one”, so perhaps it’s a relationship that’s simply evolved out of being and the acceptability of the term has gone with it. Something to ponder in any case!


Friday, June 13, 2008

Thursday, June 12

My Third and Fourth Day of School

Wednesday is the first day at school that I’d say went “well.” For the first time, I never scrambled for extra materials, I was on time to every class, and most of the students understood me most of the time. I’ve also started using the head-slither during my lessons. I still don’t like the idea behind it (the indecisive “i-don’t-know-I’ll-try”) but I don’t think that I can break them of it. It’s very difficult to understand who understands what. I will ask, “Do you understand?” And all I’ll ever get back is a head slither. This can be either a modest “yes” or a “no-not-really-but I’ll try.” This modesty/lack of confidence comes across in other ways too. One of the students asked me, “what sports are you good at.” Later I asked the class “who is good at cricket?” (or a number of other sports) and no one would confess to being good at anything. Now that I’m on to the upper level classes, communication is less hampered by general rowdiness. And that’s nice. I still have the kindergartners every day, and they’re a handful. Wednesday was mostly coloring and today was mostly singing and this made things easier. The teacher chose these activities. I think she did so because she could tell I was somewhat overwhelmed. I’ve noticed that, thought the younger kids are extremely shy about speaking individually; they make up for it in there singing. The singing is very animated and very VERY loud. Dalton

Tuesday, June 10

Topic: The Head Slither

For my first day of school Stephen’s brother drove me to the head office behind the church. There I met the parish priest and the head nun (school principle). This is where I was first introduced to what I’m going to call “the head slither.” At various points during the conversation the nun’s head would begin to bob from side to side. I’m going to try to describe this motion.
It’s not a simple back and forth motion like shaking your head “no.” Think about the motion of a snake’s body. Now imagine if you could do that motion with just your head. Or alternatively, try to draw a figure 8 with your nose, while tilting you head left and right as you go. That’s the best I can do to describe it.
At first I thought that that this was a nervous twitch. But later I saw some of the other nun’s doing it when talking to a student . So my next theory was that this was some kind of comforting nun motion. I’ve never had much contact with nuns, so I thought that it was possible that I just never noticed it (or maybe it was an Indian nun thing). It is very soothing to watch. It’s hypnotic like watching a slithering snake or a taffy puller.
However, later that day, after making some notes on the board, I turned to that class and said, “Understand?” while cocking my head to the right. When I did this the head of every student in the room began to slither. Not only that, but all of the slithering was in phase. I got a little dizzy both the motion and from general surprise. I didn’t think about it at the moment but later I remembered being told that in some countries people shake their left and right to mean “yes” when Americans do this to mean “no.” It’s one of those things that they tell you when you’re young to make you realize that many of our behaviors are just arbitrary cultural norms. The more I thought about it, the more that this seemed right. Though, after talking about this with Stephen and a few of the nuns I don’t think that that’s quite right. It seems that Indians use the simple head-nod and head-shake the same way that we do. This pervasive head slither is something else. It is now my understanding that this head slither is a physical incarnation of the spirit of the Indian people. It means something like, “OK - I don’t know – maybe – I can try.” It is used when an Indian cannot quite summon the self confidence for a “yes” or “no.” This head motion is used much more frequently then both the simple nod and shake combined. It seems to me that the teachers use them more liberally than English speakers might use a head-nod, but that might just be because I’m more acutely aware of when they use the head slither. Further study is needed.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Monday, June 9

Day 2 as a team, Day 1 as teachers

5:45am – birds sing, hounds bark, people shout, horns honk…

8:00am – food and chat, planning for the day and planning for drop-offs, followed by drop-offs, followed by the driving and waiting before finally arriving at…

10:00 – The morning placement, assignment number 1. For me, chatting with the novices in a great hall with a stage flanked on the one side by a courtyard with a dozen brightly-coloured, caged birds and on the other by a treed and shaded square with a well. The novices are shy at first, but warm up once given some guidelines along which they can speak.

12:30 and beyond: back to the house for lunch and de-briefing, followed by assignment #2 in a small school. And that is followed by walking back to the house and watching the movements of the neighbourhood as we do.

Evening: back to the children’s home, no group performances this time, instead they are split into groups according to age. My group is off in a separate space working and playing with the laptop. After an hour with those children we return to eat and chat and decompress and pass out for the night.

Sunday, June 8

Today is our first day as a team. After breakfast we stated orientation and assigned ourselves to different worksites.
I’ve been freaking out a little bit about getting my lesson plans together. I’ve got 4 levels to teach tomorrow: KG, 1st, 2nd, and 6th. I think that 6th will be the hardest, but I really have no idea.
Just before dinner wee went to a local orphamage that we will be visiting daily from now on. The kids were extremely enthusiastic about our visit. Though the English lessons that we will be giving will be important, I think that just having positive adult role models around will be even more important, especially for the women.
We had dinner out tonight at a local hotel restaurant on one of the main drags. It was fantastic. We came back to the guest house afterwards to go to bed. There seem to be more cows out at night.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Friday June 6

Like Sarah, I am having trouble finding the right words to describe the three weeks I have been here. My parents have me an empty journal to write in before I left, and I haven’t been able to write in it at all since I left Germany on May 16th. After I leave Chennai I am on my way to Paris, and I have no doubt that I will find something to write about while I’m there. I think India is just the kind of place that you have to experience. When people tell you that it’s hot, there are going to be a lot more people, that this is the journey of a lifetime, it sounds like something you might take with a grain of salt. The food, smells, sounds and sights may have been some things that I would have expected, but I never thought I would meet so many amazing people here. Everyone was so vibrant and intelligent and seemed genuinely excited to have us here, even though many volunteers have been here before.

I know that Keith will be shocked to hear that Sarah and I did not cry when we left Assisi Illam this afternoon. I am a little surprised myself, but no doubt if we had stayed another two minutes we would have. I think we didn’t cry because we both knew it really wasn’t goodbye, since how could anyone come here and be with these kids and not come back? Every single one of them will be in my heart forever. Sarah and I have fallen asleep countless nights wondering aloud what each child will grow up to be, and re-living every adorable moment we spent with them.

Obviously none of these incredibly memorable experiences would ever have happened without Global Volunteers, the staff at Assisi Illam and Seam’s Children’s Home, Keith, Sarah, Sheeba and of course Stephen. I wish I could give them all what they have given me, but all I can do is say thank you. I doubt I will ever look at life the same again. This place has opened my eyes and there is no way they will ever close.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Thursday June 5

This being my final journal entry, I am finding it near impossible to write. It is incredibly difficult to find the right words to describe my past three weeks in Chennai. As cliché as it may sound, it is indescribable. When I landed at the airport on May 16th, I had no idea what to expect. I have traveled before, but never past Europe. Also, as odd as it may sound, I didn’t really look up any photos of India or Chennai before I decided to come here or after I had made my decision. So when I say that I had no idea, I mean NO idea! When I walked out the arrivals gate at the airport, I found a mob of people waiting for loved ones and was absolutely terrified. I tried to hide it, but the drive from the airport to the guest house made me even more nervous. While making conversation, I was thinking, “What are you doing here Sarah? You can’t handle this!” But now, as my journey is coming to an end and I find myself headed for the departure gates, I know that I was wrong. I did handle this. And having had this experience I feel that I can go into most situations with much more confidence than I otherwise would have. My experience here has left me feeling empowered. And for that I am truly grateful to Global Volunteers.

Another thing that I have learned from this trip is how easy it is to fall in love with children. The children here are incredible and I will forever remember each of them. I will never forget Radhika’s smile, Isaac’s laugh or the way that John says “Ma”. I will never forget their little outstretched arms. Saying my goodbyes to these kids has been beyond difficult.

I have also gained a new understanding of the diversity of the human experience. Studying political science at McGill University in Montreal Quebec, I spend much of my time learning about people, issues and events around the world. However, my three weeks here in Chennai have taught me more about the world than two years of post secondary education. (No offense to McGill. It is impossible to learn from a book the things that I have learned from being here). There is another very important lesson that goes along with my newfound understanding of diversity. This is also something that could not possibly be learned from reading a book or looking at a picture. I have found that, despite our differences, people are basically the same. I see my own family and friends in the people that I have met here. The opportunity to meet these people is a priceless one. It is important to respect diversity but also to remember that people are people. Toronto Canada or Chennai India, people are people.

I would again like to thank Global Volunteers for giving me the opportunity to learn these lessons about the world and about myself. And especially to Stephen and Sheeba for making this trip what it has been. And Chantal, with whom I have found what I hope will be a lasting friendship. I will truly miss this place.


Wednesday June 4

Today Sarah and I were expecting to be more tired than usual because it is the first day of day-care at Assissi Illam. It did not bode well when we pulled up we could hear children crying loudly from down the street. It sounded worse than it was though, and only two children were really upset about being away from their parents. The rest of them were calmly sitting on the floor waiting for us to arrive. We got started right away with the lego building blocks, a mini-keyboard, a soccer ball, and a couple toy dolls. John and George seemed particularly excited to have some new playmates. Most of the day was over sooner than we thought, as the majority of the children got picked up around eleven thirty by their parents. The rest of the kids were happy to play with the foam alphabet letters and books for the afternoon.

After our usual quick rest later on, we made our daily trek to Seams Children’s Home for our hourly visit. Today was slightly more serious than the last couple of days have been, as we worked with them on memorizing the alphabet and number up to one hundred. Because their grade levels range from two to seven, the results were quite varied and we had a lot to do. Once most of them passed our little test, they decided to turn their work into paper airplanes and shoot them around outside! Our part of the day with them was over too soon, and we walked home for our wonderfully prepared supper.


Tuesday June 3

The kids at Assisi were sleepy this morning and most were sound asleep about an hour after we arrived. So we decided to take John, the only one who was awake, and drive to St. Thomas Mount nearby. From the highest point, there is an amazing view of the city. And John liked watching the planes fly by and land at the airport, which could be seen from one side of the mount. We are looking forward to meeting the new children that are meant to arrive at Assisi tomorrow. Even though Stephen warns us that there are likely to be quite a few tears, as these children will be going to daycare for the first time. I’m sure Chantal and I can handle it!

Tonight, after a short break, we walked over to Seam’s Children’s Home to spend some more time with the children there. The kids finished up their face masks from yesterday and a few new children also got to make some masks. When I took out the camera for a few pictures, I was immediately surrounded by kids saying, “photo sister, one photo please!” They all seemed to get so much excitement out of having their photo taken and then being able to see it on the little screen. Tomorrow, I’ll have to remember to get through some ABCs and 123s before I take out the camera, or they definitely won’t be able to focus! I look forward to the rest of the week at Seams, as I love to learn the personalities of the children a little more with each day.


Monday June 2

There was quite a bit of confusion leading up to today as to whether or not the older kids had school or not we found out once we got to Assisi that they did, so sara and I spent our time playing with sophie, john, george and jasmine. They were all very rambunctious, and we were kept on our toes. I was lucky enough to learn how to make an Indian dish called vada, which is grated bottle gourd fried with lentils and other tasty ingredients. There weren’t many organized activities we could do with the kids today because they are so young.

We were pretty tired when we got back to the guest house, but after a quick rest we were ready to go see the kids at Seam Children’s Home. There were about ten of them there, and more were scheduled to arrive tomorrow. We knew in advance that they were going to be a little older, so we brought the masks we had prepared yesterday. They were quite a hit and they all drew very colorful designs with the markers Sarah brought. Unfortunately we ran out of ribbon to tie them onto their heads, so we’re going to bring more tomorrow. As we are expecting more of them as well, we are planning on cutting up more masks for the new kids tonight.


Sunday June 1

Today was a day off for Chantal and I. We decided to take advantage of the free time to come up with a craft for the children to do this week. We have a cabinet of supplies in the guest house and decided to take a look through it. We were lucky to find some paper, scissors, pretty ribbon and a hole punch. We decided to make face masks that the children would be able to decorate themselves. We figured it best to cut out the masks and punch the eye holes beforehand, so we spent the afternoon watching Seinfeld re-runs on my laptop and making tons of little face masks. There is some confusion here over when school is meant to start. Hopefully we will still have some older children at Assisi who can enjoy our craft.

Stephen and Sheeba also moved in with us at the guest house today so the four of us went out to the restaurant at Grand Residence down the street. It is nice to have been here long enough to be able to say that we have a favorite booth at that place! Dinner was delicious as always. Tonight, Chennai was also playing Rajasthan in the cricket finals. Unfortunately, Chennai lost the match. It is funny that after only 3 weeks here I was really hoping for a Super King victory!


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Saturday, May 31

I’m pretty sure that I can speak for all of us when I say that one extra hour of sleep can really do you good! We slept in until nine o’clock this morning and it was luxurious. This morning’s breakfast was Keith’s last meal at the guest house, and we were lucky enough to be treated to Pouri bread as all of us really love it. We headed off to drop Keith at the airport afterwards. Sarah and I both wish him a safe flight and an amazing time in Agra, visiting the Taj Mahal.

For our Saturday we went back to the government-run store that we pillaged in our first week so we could get one last gift for our families in Canada. It was a successful venture. After a quick rest and lunch at the guest house, we went to an authentic Kollywood theatre to see a movie. Inside is wonderfully air-conditioned and scented, and there are assigned seats as opposed to the free-for-all we are used to at home. They have the volume up really loud because here it is okay to talk during the film, and the sound of cell phone ringtones adds to the movie’s soundtrack. The movie we saw was action, romance, suspense and a musical all thrown into one. It was fairly easy to follow, which was good because neither of us speaks a word of Tamil. It was a great way to spend an afternoon.


Friday, May 30

Today is my last official day as a volunteer and I have a long travel day tomorrow.
Today I tried to spend more time with the youngins, teaching them the alphabet as best as they could grasp it. Sometimes I would have a child who was slightly older than the other, and so was going along faster, and a few of the boys were more interested in playing with the letters and causing havoc as opposed to learning,

As the 12:00 hour approached and the little ones headed off for lunch, and after 2 hours of the same lesson plan over and over, I was ready to focus on the older ones now, but there were only a handful of them playing on the computer. Stephen came by shortly thereafter and we were able to round up some of the older kids, and we ended up playing monkey in the middle while some played on the computer. While I’m sure none of the kids remember my name as anything other than Uncle or Auntie, I still wanted to at least say goodbye to them. It would be great if I could put a little tracking device on them so I could see if anything I did stuck with them 5-10-15 years down the line, so I can only hope that at some point in Abirami or Cyril’s life, or any of them, if they need to know the capital of Vietnam or where India is on the map or what their name is in French, they will know the answer and maybe even remember it was because of Uncle from America.

As I have watched Sarah and Chantal with the kids in Assisi this week, I’ve noticed how almost boundless their energy is with them, and it impressed me. It could be the result or combination of any number of factors, from me being their ages combined or them just simply having that much more love of children or that I have more friends and family at home with kids than you can shake a stick at, but regardless why, I couldn’t match their energy levels. I enjoyed the kids there and they seemed to take a liking to me, so I made sure to say goodbye to them as well before heading back to the guesthouse. I won’t be surprised if I find out later on down the road that the girls cried as they were leaving at the end of their third week. They really have a fondness for the kids there.

It has been a fascinating 2 weeks in India, on the back of 2 weeks in Cambodia on a similar type adventure, and tomorrow I hope to go to make it to Agra to see the Taj Mahal before heading to France on the next leg of my journey.

2 months ago, after having spent a week in Hanoi, I truly felt like I experienced it, as opposed to having just seen it, and I can honestly say the same about India. It may not have been the most comfortable at times, but I do believe I now have a true sense of what it is like to live in India, and I have to thank Global Volunteers for that experience, especially Stephen and the others on the staff here at the guesthouse.

One final note worth mentioning. A uniquely Indian trait is the "nod". It doesn't matter what the scenario, if an Indian person wants to say "ok" or even "yes" it seems, rather than shaking their head affirmatively like we do, they have this side to side, tilt left and right like a bobblehead shake that says it for them. It takes a bit of getting used to, as at first you think they are saying no, or maybe have some type of mental affliction, haha, but after a while, it is actually kind of endearing.

PS Mango season just kicked into high gear and they are extremely juicy right now.


Thursday May 29

Today was a great day at Assisi Illam. I discovered that one of the children, Isaac, is incredibly ticklish. He loves when I pick him up and throw him over my shoulder or hang him upside down with one arm and tickle him with the other. Of course, once I did this one time, he was permanently attached to my hip for the rest of the day. He would say “Auntie! Auntie!” and act out a tickling motion until I grabbed him up again. I didn’t mind one bit, even though today was one of the hottest days we’ve had yet! The other children saw what was going on and wanted their turns as well. I’m sure I’ve grown some new muscles in my arms just from today! They laughed so much that we were hushed by one of the nuns. I’m so glad that I can bring them so much joy.

Tonight, we were lucky enough to meet some of Stephen’s family. his parents, his brother’s wife, her mother and his brother’s new baby boy. They were such nice people. It is amazing to see just how similar people basically are, despite whatever differences in their countries. Next week, Stephen and his wife Sheeba will be moving into the guest house with us. She is going to teach Chantal and I how to make Poori bread, which should be great!


Wednesday May 28

It’s hard to believe that we are already halfway through our program here. Keith is already leaving on Friday! Time flies when you’re busy, and I’m sure the kids at St. Joseph’s are going to miss him a lot, especially since he’s taught them so much.

Today at Assissi Illam the children danced up a storm to the likes of The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, and the genius behind the Macarena! They especially loved that one, since there’s an easy dance to go along with it.

Tomorrow is the birthday of one of the older girls, Mary that works there. Sarah and I walked down to the friendly convenience store to order a cake for her, which should be a nice treat for everyone tomorrow. There are two other older girls who help out at Assissi Illam, Jaclyn and Stella, who did our hair today in the Indian style. Mine is too short to do much with, but Sarah had a nice new braid to go along with the flowers they put in our hair. It’s nice to do such normal girl things sometimes!


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tuesday May 27

As my second and final week continues, I am still developing my teaching techniques. I seem to have gravitated from simultaneously teaching both the younger children (2 at a time, just the alphabet) and the older ones, to just teaching the older kids how to use the computer, math skills and geography, with a touch of French interspersed in there. These are topics I myself enjoy, and have also been a benefit to me in my life, so it gives me joy when one of the kids appears to comprehend and retain what it is they are learning.