Monday, February 15, 2010

Millinium Development Goals

Achieved by this team from February 8 - February 12

55 Hours of class room instruction in conversational English by 3 volunteers and 55 Hours of preparation time.

10 Hours of child care by 1 Volunteer.

1 school and 2 childrens home and over 120 students impacted.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Quote for the day: “If your plan is for a year, plant rice.

If you plan is for a decade, plant trees.

If your plan is for a lifetime, educate children.”

Namaste. Bonnie and I have come to love our quiet morning of yoga on the roof of our Guest House with our yoga master, Selva. We soon move downstairs and begin our day as usual with a delightful Indian breakfast. Bonnie proceeds to read her journal writings for the weekend. She did a spectacular job of capturing the remarkable and complex history of these breathtaking, monumental rock carvings and I look forward to having her words to accompany my pictures, to be shared with all.

As our beloved driver, Stephen, was at his scheduled doctor’s appointment this morning, we had the excitement of an auto-rickshaw ride to school. Nothing immerses you into the intimacy of the Indian experience as an auto-rickshaw ride. We wildly maneuver shoulder to hubcap with every imaginable form of transportation. I thoroughly enjoyed this alternate ride to Assisi but must admit that I welcome the sanity of the return of Stephen and his van.

Today was my day to work with the smaller children of Assisi. They speak little or no English and have few English grammar skills. However, the joy they express as I share flashcards and books with them is remarkable and once again I am moved by their desire for information and learning. As they move to the blackboard with their colored chalk, each shouts our proudly, “Auntie” as s/he makes his/her own personal impression on the black wall. I spill over with praise and enthusiasm for their achievements. For this, the recognition, praise and expression of love is the true and lasting gift I can give to these precious children.

After lunch, Liz goes into a cleaning frenzy. She has taken upon herself the daunting task of re-arranging all of the supplies in the cabinets and cupboards of our guest house. How generous and valuable for the upcoming volunteers.

Once again, Bonnie and I head out with our cameras to explore our ever fascinating neighborhood. We have become regulars and neighbors shout out their friendly and familiar greetings as we pass by. We stumble upon our traveling seamstress. His bike with portable sewing machine is parked outside a lovely home. They have commissioned a set of pillow covers, which he is skillfully crafting as we move in to view his artistry. Beautiful!

As we continue our stroll, we stop by a home to photograph its exterior when a young woman beckons us from her door. “Come in,” she calls and we do. There we enjoy the company and conversation of a most interesting man and his family…wife, daughter and only grandchild. As they speak impeccable English, we learn that this young mother has a master’s degree in business management and has recently resigned her post at the bank to stay home and care for her two year old son. Her charming father entertains us with family photos and bits and pieces of his remarkable family history. We learn that he is a Brahmin as he wears the tell tale six white strings around his neck. They offer us drinks, which Bonnie and I are reluctant to consume but concerned that we insult their gracious hospitality. One of those “what to do” third world moments.

We soon take our leave from our charming hosts with the promise of a return visit and head back home in anticipation of our afternoon at SEAMS. We are delighted to learn that Stephen is back and that his doctor’s appointment was fruitful. We all pile into the van and head for the school. As always, we are greeted by the ever present smiles and handshakes of these darling children. Bonnie scurries away with her tribe and Liz and I find our spot in the great room as our children gather at our feet. I work with the children on body parts, which they all seem to have mastered quite well. We also work on spelling and they craft each letter with care upon the ever valuable white boards that Bonnie has so graciously given me. Our afternoon lesions end early as we are planning to take in the “local culture” this evening in the form of a movie.

Liz chooses to return home. The balance of our little band of adventurers head for the bright lights of the Chennai movie theater. Stephen weaves his way skillfully along unfamiliar roads full of the familiar and not so familiar sounds and sights of street life in India. At last the theater. Stephen purchases our tickets and we are lead to our seats, fourth row from the back. Apparently, these are the best.

Like all life in India, the movie is rich in color, sights, sound. I can’t begin to follow any plot line but simply enjoy the magic before me. Apparently, audience participation is allowed for many choose to share their own thoughts and impressions with outbursts and arm gestures in support of the action. This two and a half hour saga roles on and on and it’s madness of scene jumping, special effects, exaggerated facial expressions, and remarkable costuming holds Bonnie and me spell bound. Intermission. A ten minute break which allows patrons the opportunity to use the bathrooms and find their way to the concession stands. Most return to their seats eating ice cream cones. The story resumes but moves into a clash between two clans which erupts in massive war and violence. Having had my share, I leave. Regardless of how hard I try or how long I live, I will forever be mystified by man’s desire for killing. How did this ever become entertainment?

Our final ride home finds the streets equally as active and busy as ever. Does this city ever sleep? Remarkable scenes and vinyets drift by as we peer out the van window into the dark, cool night of India.

Another breath-taking, magical day in India. How fortunate we are to share in its richness. Good-night.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Quote for the day: “Every time you smile at someone it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” Mother Theresa

We begin the morning with anticipation following an American breakfast. It is considered such because we have eggs, boiled, scrambled or omelets with other delicious Indian dishes. Pomegranates bought at the fruit market add a delicious variation to our array of fruit.

Bonnie and I head to Grace School for our morning classes. Kathleen has the auto-rickshaw experience through heavy traffic to her little cherub’s school.

We arrive at our gated destination safely and witness a bathing frenzy of men at the neighborhood faucet.

Bonnie is working on sentence structure and penmanship in her writing project with her three groups.

The children are eager to sing our greeting song for me, hand gestures and all. How fun is that. My classes are practicing item identification with flash cards in complete sentences. We move into reading. I do a picture walk through the book first with the students. I can’t begin to thank Mr. Bruce Larken from Willbooks enough for his fantastic donation of 100 leveled reading books.

This week I began lending the students a book each day to take home to read to their family. Before we know it, our wonderful driver Stephen is at the gate to collect us and our supplies to shuttle us home to the guest house.

Destination Chennai shopping mall after preparing for tomorrows lesson. A mall  is a mall. Back to guest house to gather our evening teaching materials and we are bound for SEAMS Children’s Home.

Successful happy feelings rushed over me as my first group read aloud their first beginning readers books to me.

The students there are passionate about getting their hands on books. They are now more able to sit and actually look at them peacefully. What a blessing that is to witness.

We were graciously hosted by Stephen’s parents and family to a delicious meal at his and his parent’s home.

What a truly devoted and gracious family. It was a joy to be there guests. Day is done. Blessings from India.

Liz Clark

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Quote for the day:

“If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive.

If you want to see the heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred.”

On the roof top of our Porur guest house, Bonnie and I greet the morning in the soft breeze and the call of the crows. Our yoga practice has become the delicious routine that begins each day. I contemplate continuing this valuable half hour practice as my mind and thoughts drift home. Will I?

We miss our Stephen this morning for he is off to an eye doctor’s appointment leaving us in the capable hands of his brother. We each head off to our respective school on full stomachs, thanks to the continued good food prepared by our friend, Rani.

Stephen and I weave our familiar route through town on our way to the Assisi School. Upon arrival, we are greeted by the pounding sounds of music coming from 10 foot speakers next door to the school. A wedding celebration is clearly underway. My routine continues as always, with groups of five little ones eagerly ascending the stairs for our half hour of reading, drawing and English. This day soon becomes a proper challenge as the wedding music consumes the air and pushes its way into our lessons. As the hours pass, I feel as though I am leading a classroom in the center of an NY disco on Saturday night. The noise is defining and distracting to both me and the little ones, who want to dance and shake their bodies in time to the driving rhythm of the music. India, on the best of days, can be assaulting with all of its varieties and levels of noise but today has shown me something new.

I am grateful for Steven’s van and his rescue. Our typical ride home seems calm and quiet by comparison. I arrive at the guest house ahead of my team mates and make good use of the time by bathing and beginning a load of laundry.

Soon Bonnie and Liz shuffle tired and hungry through the door. We consume of mid-day meal with limited conversation. I have shared the challenges of my morning with them and Bonnie offers to lead me in a meditative, visualization exercise on the roof of the guest house. I welcome this offer and climb the stairs. The limited shade has us placing our mats side-by-side on the ground and Bonnie’s calm voice and soft suggestions take me to a place of peace. I am grateful. I feel so liberated… yet… is my mind really emptied or is it just a relative thing; a remarkable counter balance from the commotion of this morning.

The gentle breeze on the roof top holds us there for an hour of conversation. This we do well and it is why we enjoy this time of our travels together.

After another enjoyable evening meal, the three of us join Stephen in the van and head off to the local evening market. The trip through town is pressing. Two lanes of traffic become seven and we are strangled in between a sea of cars, trucks, busses, auto-rickshaws, bikes and pedestrians who are brave enough to step foot off of the curve. Once again, India exceeds previous expectations for this traffic has reached a new climax of compression. Somehow, we all managed to move forward as a mass and we eventually reach the market. While Liz goes on her shopping spree, Bonnie and I take to the streets. Teeming with people and their wares, we walk the edges of this madness. Bonnie spots a drum she wants to buy and begins her relentless bargaining with its owner. After the standard pleas and rationale as to why he can’t sell for less and why she can’t buy for more they settle on a price. It’s half of his original asking price but both seem pleased.

Soon Liz ascends the stairs accompanied by her “personal shopper”. All are happy and we meet up with Steven for our ride back home to the guest house. At last. A reprieve from the madness.

As I contemplate taking my leave of this remarkable two week adventure, I’m reminded that there is nothing subtle about India. It does not sneak up on you; rather it attacks you.

But I have achieved my goal in India. I have slipped into its bowels and savored every pour. India is intellectually roiling. My brain is overcharged when attempting to put rhyme or reason to its chaos. It’s all an over-stimulating symphony of sound, colors and smells; layer upon never ending layer of stimulation. I remark at its will and survival. I remark at its proud and colorful people. I remark at its long and complex history full of temples, and sagas and imagination. Surviving India is like being on a buoyant raft atop a roiling and rough sea. I’m aware of its bold complexity yet able to stay afloat on top of it all. What else can I say about this unique and magical place. There is absolutely nothing like India. Namaste, India. I have seen the God in you. I hope you have seen the God in me.

– Kathleen

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Quote for the day: “Breath deeply and appreciate the moment. Living in the moment could be the meaning of life.”

The sky is dark and cloudy when we wake up. I don’t know if Kathleen will join me in our 7:30am yoga class. She has a cold.

I writing this journal entry on the roof of our guest house, sitting on the mat we use for yoga. Up here on the roof all I see are the tops of the coconut palm trees and ski. It’s a peaceful oasis above the chaos of the street.

This morning Selva, our yoga teacher, introduced some different postures, which I struggled with. He told Kathleen that yoga will help her cold.

At Grace School, I use the slates. Each child wrote a story in complete sentences about the postcard I showed them. One card illustrating a boy carrying bananas on his head stimulated the most interest. They could easily erase their mistakes on the slate. We concentrated on writing the alphabet letters correctly as well as the words in proper order.

Between 12 noon and 12:30 the teachers, Liz and I discussed the benefit of coconut oil in the hair, the turning of the head from right to left saying yes and no and the lack of teacher’s benefits in Porur. This continues to be an enriching 30 minutes for all of us. We talk frankly about our cultures, our families and money.

After a delicious lunch Sheba and liz go to a tailor, Kathleen and I walk the main road in search of a bracelet store and a watch store. I came home with three rosewood mixing spoons at 30 rupees each.

The insistent noise from the crows motivates me to leave the roof and go to my air-conditioned room.

At SEAMS we managed to read books and write four sentences based on a post card of an elephant.

Stephen, Sheba, Liz and I go to a restaurant for dinner. We bought soup and rice for Kathleen, who stayed back tonight. Dinner was divine. We discussed previous Global trips and Stephen discussed his future plans.

It’s still early in the evening. I made a phone call at the nearby store 40 feet away, Kathleen is nursing her cold under her net with the book “Holy Cow”, and Liz is typing her journal entry. The cow next door is crying. All is well at this moment. Everyone is where they should be. Namaste

Bonnie Max

Millinium Development Goals

Achieved by this team from January 30 - February 5

55 Hours of class room instruction in conversational English by 3 volunteers and 55 Hours of preparation time.

10 Hours of child care by 1 Volunteer.

1 school and 2 childrens home and over 120 students impacted.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Quote for the day: “Listen. Listen. Listen.”

This is another “first day” in India. This morning we go to the Grace School and at 5 pm we go to SEAMS.

The early morning sounds of cows, birds, and pouring water wake me up. I sit in front of the Guest House in a chair. Some mosquitoes around me but I have enough Deet on to discourage a horse.

There is a curry tree in front of the house – a source of Indian cuisine which we are loving.

Kathleen arrived last night at around 2am. I wanted to jump out of bed but I figured she was exhausted and actually my body wasn’t willing.

It’s 7am. The Hindu newspaper arrives and milk is delivered in a plastic bag that hangs from the front gate. The sanitation man drives a bicycle with a wagon hitched to the back. There are plastic bags hanging from the wagon. A man comes by to pick the yellow flowers from the tree in front of the house.
After breakfast, Stephen (our driver) took Liz and me to the Grace School. I was introduced to the third graders. Liz’s assignment is to K-2. I discovered that the kids can identify objects and have a wide vocabulary. I need to work with them on writing sentences. The children, eager, affectionate and lively. They want to hear about my life and tell me about theirs. We do rhyming words and opposites. They are anxious to show me their written work. Liz feels energized and satisfied by her work with her K-2 students. She accomplishes the goals that she plans for the day. Kathleen goes to Assisi and has a good time with the little ones.
At lunch, a traditional Indian lunch, Stephen joins us. Kath talks about her experiences in Ghana and Stephen and the three of us discuss the goals of our service and the characteristics of an effective team. Liz and I plan for our next day based upon what we learned today about the kids.
We go to SEAMS at 4:50pm. The kids run to the gate to greet us. Stephen assigned the older children to Liz and the older ones to me. I play checkers, bingo, Simon Says and I tell them the story of the “Three Bears.” I am struck by the contrast the life energy of the kids and the poverty of their circumstances. They support and care for each other. There is something very adult about them. Stephen picks us up at 7pm from SEEMS and we go to a lovely Indian restaurant-tandor chicken, nan made with dried fruit, prawns, fried cauliflower and a vegetarian dish. I eat too much.

We discuss India and its culture and the impressions of the day. . We all want to rise up to the challenge and do the best we can in the limited time we have. I feel overwhelmed.

Now to prepare for tomorrow. Good night! We want new experiences-we got them. Be careful of what you want.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Quote for the day: “Be the change you wish to see happen.”

Morning followed night with a steady array of foreign sounds and smells. I feel safe and secure as dawn breaks and daylight trickles into my cozy room. I stretch carefully so as to not become entangled in my mosquito net. Not wanting to be a headline recall of mosquito nets due to Global Volunteer strangulation in Chennai.

I gather all of my materials for my lessons at Grace School. Monday was a very pleasant surprise for me. The children are more aware than I expected. I have K1, 2 and 3. I have my assigned standard (grade) levels. Teacher Elizabeth from here in Porur, an Indian teacher, is a harsh disciplinarian by American standards, mine especially. I modeled quiet voice to her and the children. It was very successful with the students. Styles, styles, styles. I modified my curriculum to suit each level. There word recognition skills are high, comprehension mostly not existent at my level. I begin our day with a “You are Special” verse sung by all. They caught on quickly and are getting the concept of special.

Pictures from my state of Washington provided great conversation with all three groups. Day, date, month, year talking in sentences for every activity. Nothing in isolation. Kathleen went to Assisi where she and the little ones worked on ABCs and they celebrated Sheba’s birthday with a cake.
Bonnie did rhyming word practice, read alternately with her students a book about whales. She was pleased with their knowledge base about whales and Christopher Columbus giving exposure to TV the credit.

SEAMS was very productive for me. I am blessed with small groups which attended better today. I’m using the same curriculum as am. The children’s lack of exposure is evident. They are safe, for which I am very thankful. . They lead a paper airplane project, which was a huge success creating great interactive play.

Dinner debriefing provides an opportunity to explore successes and changes to be made.
Each meal is a cultural experience. Showering here is another. Morning ones are cold, afternoon warmish and night tepid.

Sheba provided flowers for our hair and a bindi for our forehead with a sweet gesture. The adults and children enjoy seeing us attired. The students at Grace gave us a short dance recital. It was truly amazing. I say goodnight with a full and joyous heart from Chennai.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Quote for the day: “Auntie, Auntie, Auntie.”

Bonnie and I began our third day in India on the roof top of our guesthouse with our Yoga instructor who leads us through 35 minutes of deep breathing accompanied by slow stretching poses. What a perfect way to begin the day.

Shortly thereafter, we join Liz, Stephen, Sheba and their darling son, Roshan, for breakfast. It’s such a great fun anticipating our meals suggested by the fragrant aroma coming from the kitchen. This is a pleasant prolog to our day and we soon enjoy scrambles eggs with onions, noodles and chapatti.

We all climb aboard Stephen’s van for our trip to the schools. Bonnie and Liz head out first to the Grace School. Our poor little Roshan is suffering from a slight head cold so concerned Mom and Dad take a detour to the hospital for a brief visit with the doctor while I head on to the Asssisi School for my morning with the kids.

Little brown faces and gleaming white smiles greet me as I walk through the gate. I ascend the stairs with my band of five and we begin our session by reviewing alphabet flash cards with upper and lower case letters. Next, I give each child a piece of paper accompanied by a handful of crayons. As I write the upper and lower case letters on the blackboard, my little ones do the same on their paper. I am amazed by the intelligence of these children. While some are a bit young and spend their time exploring the pleasure of putting color to paper, several are experts and move along the lesson with speed and skill.

I repeat this same exercise with two more groups of children. As the last group is quite young, we quickly move from the alphabet to simply exploring the blackboard with colored chalk. I soon discover one little artist off in the corner consumed in her own little world. Quite magically she draws a complex piece of art that is both unique and expressive. Like all artists, her magic simply pours through her fingers and onto her canvas. I am drawn to her piece and overwhelmed by its brilliance. I wonder who she might be one day, give an opportunity.

After a quick goodbye and a dusty ride home, we all gather at the dining table for lunch. Chicken curry, stir-fried cabbage and rice. Yum-yum!

After some preparation for this afternoons program at SEAMS, Bonnie and I head out with our cameras to discover more of our little neighborhood while Liz heads off to the Internet café. The remarkable sounds, smells and sites of India invade our pours and fill our senses. I snap, snap away attempting to capture the cacophony of sights that surround us. There is nothing quite like India.

After an hour, we turn the corner and arrive at our local 7-11 and the welcoming smile of its proprietor, who has quickly become our friend. There we meet up with Liz and find that she has been successful.

We all head back home for a quick shower and a brief rest before heading out for our afternoon program. I take a quick shower consisting of warm water, soap and two buckets. The job is quick and thorough. Next, I climb under my mosquito netting and onto my bed for a quick read, journaling and short nap.

As the afternoon fades, we gather once more in the dining room and head off to SEAMS for our afternoon of teaching. The children quickly find each of us and we move to our separate corners to begin the teaching. Like this morning, I review upper and lower case letters with the children and share with each a copy of the work I had prepared back at the guest house. It is an exercise of matching upper and lower cases by drawing a line between each. How quickly they consume this project and I must move on to another. A set of flashcards has a word beginning with its unique letter….A for apple and so on. I show the children the letter A with a picture of an apple and request that they sound out the word and write it down on their piece of paper. Once again, I am amazed at how quickly and accurately several of the children complete this exercise.

The hour moves swiftly and we all gather to leave early as we are attending an evening event of classical Indian dancing. We rush back to the guest house for a quick bite of dinner, jump into the van and Stephen guides us expertly through the madness of Indian traffic. It’s indescribable!

After an hour, we come upon the desired event where we go inside and settle ourselves among the spectators. We are the only whites. I am spellbound by the music, the tabla, the woman’s singing voice, the man’s voice in competition with the drum. The dancer is outfitted royally from tip to toe. Her make up is strong which only adds to the power of her expressive facial movements. As she acts out each part in the story, the musicians accompany her expertly. I am amazed how they go on and on without script and I marvel at the beauty and magic of the dancers graceful gestures. I review the crowd and notice only faces of the older generation. Like other cultures, I fear that the younger, upcoming generation may pass on this miracle of culture and history in favor of Pop and Hip Hop. I pray this will not happen.
On our way home, we stop off at a massive Hindu temple over 1,300 years old. The carvings are breath taking. Liz guards our shoes as Bonnie and I step inside to explore. It’s a bit like Alice slipping through the looking glass for we are in a world that is unfamiliar and dazzling. With eyes and bellies full after a magnificent night of culture, we board our van for the final drive though a crush of cars back to the guest house. Good night India……pulsing, steamy, chaotic, broiling, overflowing, mind numbing India.

– Kathleen

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Quote for the day: “I try to make a connection with everyone I meet as a way of honoring them as a person.” Kathleen Hubbard-Ismail

Kathleen and I meet at 7:15am in the front of the guest house to wait for Selva, our yoga teacher. We discuss our thoughts and feelings of the moment. When Selva arrives at 7:30 we go to the roof, spread our mats and begin. This is a perfect way to begin the day-on the roof looking at the tops of trees.

Breakfast is rice cakes with tomato chutney and hard boiled eggs.

Liz and I go to Grace School at 9:15. At the 10:15 break, four teachers fly to my room hungry about learning English and sit like polite students. We discuss saris and they tell me I should buy one. After school at noon, they come back. Liz and I had only 15 minutes to spend with them because we are going to Chennai after lunch. We discuss sleeping, mats vs. mattresses and pillows. They said they prefer sleeping on the floor, no pillow, because it’s better for the back and more comfortable. Our time together with the teachers is one of the highlights of the day. They are very sad to see us leave earlier than usual.

Liz and I are driven back by an auto rickshaw driver. “Another first.” It was a bumpy ride. Dust blows into the face and curves are taken at a speedy pace.

In my class at Grace School, we discuss adjectives. We make a list and then apply the words in sentences. In addition, we read a book on the planets. The children are eager students and not unfamiliar with the subject. I’m impressed.

In the afternoon, Liz, Kathleen and I are driven by Stephen to the government store. The store is huge. It takes us an hour to buy a few gifts and we drive back to the guest house to get ready for SEAMS.

Truthfully, our work at the end of the day 5-7 feels like a burden but miraculously once we start work time flies and the kids are interested. We work on writing sentences in English and reading books. Everyone takes a turn reading. Before the session, started, we did a little Yoga and they seemed to be familiar with it. Liz celebrates her birthday with the kids by providing a birthday cake and dinner for them.

Stephen and Sheba take us out for dinner. Stephen explains the institutionalized caste system. He discusses Gandhi and quotes this line, “He gave us independence, not freedom,” said by, B. R. Ambedkar. Stephen talked about the history of India behind this statement.

The three of us sit at the table in the house in the evening. Liz emails, Kathleen organizes her lesions for the next day, I gather a few materials for my classes and go upstairs early to write, read and think.

A good day with many blessings. Nandri!

– Bonnie

Friday, February 5, 2010

Quote for the day: “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” Mother Theresa

An early start to see the flower, vegetable and fruit market. It was unbelievable. Glorious color flowers bold and humble vendors hawking their items.

We Americans are entertained as much by them as they by us. Back to the guest house for a quick breakfast; grab our daily lesson plans and supplies bound for Grace and Assisi respectively. Bonnie and I are greeted warmly by the children and staff. We hold our 45 minute sessions doing reading, writing, singing sentence building, enunciation is stressed.

Bonnie tutors teachers during beak, I converse with the school commissioner. Then it’s class time. Those two sessions slip quickly by. I begin each session with the “I am special you are special” song. Their eyes twinkle and smiles are broad as we begin. Calendar practice is part of my curriculum everyday.

The lunch dismissal bell rings, we sing our good bye song “Zippitty Du Da Day”. I head to Bonnie’s classroom to help coach the teachers. We are enjoying this component of our day immensely.

Planning time over lunch, Bonnie and I went to have oil massages. Wow, what a great experience.
The off to SEAMS for another busy evening. It’s hectic yet rewarding to see growth in the area of focus and their desire to learn. We all read, write, do speech and grammar practice. I involve songs as well.

Then we do interactive play. Kathleen and I attempt jump rope. Much more practice is needed. The boys enjoy soccer balls.

Our tired but happy group of Stephen, Sheba, Bonnie, Kathleen and I head for the guest house. Our first week successfully completed.
It’s a privilege my time and talents with these children. Blessings from India.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Quote for the day: “I think that whatever happens is for the good.” Stephen Raja

Driver Stephen picks us up at 7:30am. Our day will be spent going to the four major temples of south India. We drive on a highway and get an opportunity to see the colleges, medical schools, rice fields, stalls, buildings under construction, more cows and particularly the sight where Raijiv Ghandi was assonated.

The first temple we tour is the Kamakshi Ammap Temple. There are no words to describe the ancient beauty of the stone carvings. We are delighted to take photos and listen to Stephen’s stories about the gods and goddesses of the Hindus. We get some photos of the elephant.

We go to Ekambranatha Temple, which is the temple of the mango tree. It was started in the 8th century continued in the 12th century and finished in the 16th century. There are 540 pillars and no two pillars are the same. Each pillar is from a single stone (granite). Elephants were used to lift the stones. The tops of the pillars have the banana tree leaf turned down to welcome visitors into the temple. This temple is dedicated to Shiva.
We enter barefoot in the temple to pay homage to the gods, to avoid bringing the dirt of the street, and to massage our feet when we walk on the uneven stone. They believe that the walking barefoot relaxes the body. It is a kind of yoga. We learned that the symbol of Hinduism is the reverse swastika. Hitler reversed this symbol of Hinduism and made it the symbol of the Aryan race. He used an ancient symbol of the Hindus and made it one that symbolized the purity of the Aryans.
Stephen tells us the ancient story and points out the characters in the carvings. In spite of the heat and thirst, I am transfixed.
We go to the Kailashnatha Temple – the most beautiful. It is the oldest temple dating back to the 8th century. It is made of red sandstone. There is a Buddha influence in the architecture. There are 58 meditating panels. The original writing of Tamil is under one of the statues. Stephen explains the story of the lotus flower. The lotus flower grows out of the dirty pond. It grows pure and beautiful. It is the symbol of what humans should aspire to – purity and beauty.
The national flower of India is the lotus.
The 4th temple we visit is the Varadarajaswamy Temple built in the 12th century. It is a remarkable feat. I took a photo of a chain hanging from the corner. The chain was carved from one stone. The significant thing about this temple is that the pillars are carved out of one piece of stone, black granite but produces the sound of gold and silver when tapped on them. Stephen tapped the pillar in three different places so that we could hear and see the difference. The intricate patterns of saris are derived from the carvings on the pillars.
People come to the temples in a serious and observant manner. They take their religion seriously here. There is honor and respect
We all love the experience. Kathleen and Liz engage with families and individuals and take their photos.
We eat lunch at a lovely air conditioned hotel then we go to the silk factory and buy scarves made of the softest silk and exquisite colors.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

I wake up this morning with great anticipation about our trip today. In the car, Stephen, who is a remarkable story teller tells us a story about Mother Theresa. Mother Theresa visited the home of a rich man and after a tour of the house she asked him for a donation for her cause. He spit into the palm of her hand. She said, “Thank you for giving this to me. I accept it. Now, may I have a donation?” This is a great story with a lesson on how to behave when insulted. Her dedication to her purpose did not waver. This man ultimately became Mother Theresa’s strongest supporter.

Our first stop today was the tiger cave carving done in the 7th century. This carving was a learning experience for the artists. They used a hammer and chisel first on wood and then on stone. They could not afford to make a mistake. We saw the area that was covered by the Tsunami on 2004. Ancient ruins were uncovered by the Tsunami.

Today we saw the largest bas relief in the world. The elephant was life size and the bas relief told the story of a battle. We learned that African elephants have longer trunks and bigger ears compared with Indian elephants.

Stephen told us the story associated with each temple that we saw – the events – the names of the gods and goddesses. He pointed out the construction of the pillars, types of stone and each specific detail of the carvings.

We go to the Shore Temple, which is a World Heritage Site. We saw Krishna’s butter ball. We went to the temple of the five brothers – the Mahabarata. One funny thing that happened is that Kathleen bought her ticket to the Shore Temple but threw it away after the entrance, then had to retrieve the ticket from the garbage because they would not let her in to the next temple without it. Then she left it in the car. She begged the officer to let her in – even used the hand position of a blessing from the goddesses but the officer still refused. No matter. She made friends with the concrete pourers, the Untouchables and took their photos.

I got ripped off by a guy selling post cards.

Liz bought a carved elephant from the carver and took his photo.

This has been an unforgettable weekend. Stephen’s driving is almost athletic – he deals with the cars, bicycles, motorcycles, busses and cows. Stephen is out teacher. We ask endless questions which he answers patiently and thoughtfully. We feel very lucky to have this experience with someone so savvy and smart. He made Shiva, Vishnu, Pallava, and Durga vividly come alive.

Each of us is thankful.

Now we are ready for the week to come!

Namaste! The light in me honors the light in you.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Millinium Development Goals

Achieved by this team from January 25 - January 29

22.5 Hours of class room instruction in conversational English by 1 volunteers and 22.5 Hours of preparation time.

1 School, 1 children's Home and over 40 student

Jan 25 – 29

And then there was one.

Friday was full of good byes from the three two-week members of the team to the children and officials of Assisi, Seams, and the Grace School. Saturday night, they said good bye to me (the three week member), to Stephen, and to Sheeba. Mixed tears and relief of course; they were sad to leave but anxious to sleep in their own beds once more. We wish all of them well.

Saturday Heather got to see St. Thomas Mount and the Basillica. Kathy and I spent much of the morning organizing the many books volunteers have donated to the program, so that we can use them in teaching. In the afternoon, Stephen and I went to the Government Museum to see the bronzes and the stone sculptures dating from 1000 AD and even earlier. Most had themes from Hindu mythology. The museum is shady and pleasant, and is being re-done to keep it from crumbling.

Sunday Stephen, Sheeba, and Roshan moved in to the Guest House to keep me company, and we had a relaxed day. We all went to the Children’s Section of the zoo to see the reptiles, including enormous crocodiles and venomous snakes, birds, including a large enclosure of pelicans, swans, and geese, a few mammals, mostly deer and some sad monkeys, and a playground. Rosen enjoyed the trip and so did I.

Monday, back to work. In the morning I went to the Grace School. The children were quite wild but we managed to get through quite a bit of material. We each read a line or two from Green Eggs and Ham, and I was able to point out problem areas with “A”. “W”. And some other sounds. We got through Pinocchio, and a small amount of math, trying to distinguish between odd and even numbers. The 3rd grade was OK for 45 minutes, but the 4th and 5th grades for 90 minutes were a bit over the top. The hands up signal for quiet worked quite well. They did like the measuring exercise where we used rulers to find lengths in inches and cms.

When noon came, the children disappeared and four teachers sat down with their notebooks to learn how to write a letter and some other grammar. We discussed punctuation, and when to capitalize. They are very eager to improve fluency in English. Tomorrow I will have a better idea of what they need. The book sent out by GV is extremely helpful, and we will use many of their suggestions. I enjoy working with teachers, because I feel that what I do multiplies and affects many students. Also, I have to confess, they are a lot easier to work with than the wild boys who have been trying to sit still for an hour and a half

This is my third week, and new things keep happening. Tuesday was Republic Day, or Independence Day, as it is sometimes called. The morning started with a ceremony at Grace School.The children were all dressed in white, and had little paper flags pinned to their uniforms. They asked me to hoist the flag, which I did.

The children had short performances of nursery rhymes, songs, speeches, and dance, followed by speeches from adults. First a speech by a board member. Since it was in Tamil I did not understand it, but as India, Pakistan, Gandhi, and 1947 were all mentioned, it had to be about the significance of the day. Some of the teachers also gave short talks, and I was asked to say a few words, which I did, thanking them for allowing me to participate.

After the ceremony, I talked with four teachers for about an hour, discussing sounds and answering a few questions, such as the difference between “How do you do” and “How are you doing”.

Later in the day we went over to Assisi, and I worked with 5 teenage girls. They ransacked my bag, and settled down with flash cards and reading exercises. We read a few short books together, and the girls seemed happy. When I sat down in the multi purpose space, I was immediately covered with children, always a happy event.

Wednesday, today, we were back to our usual schedule. Someone had obviously spoken to the children about decorum, because they were angelic, enabling me to get through quite a large quantity of material. Their favorite was the old story about the one grain of rice which was doubled daily for 30 days, until it took a herd of elephants to carry it. The children loved doing the calculations. We also did a survey of family sizes. The mode was clearly 4 people (two children and two parents) but we also found some families with 8 or 9 people living in one house, including grandparents, aunts, and uncles. We also worked on “w” sounds and the kids managed to fill an entire blackboard and to pronounce words beginning with w.

I then had a session with the teachers, and we discussed idioms.The teachers should at least recognize them when spoken by the volunteers, even if they are scared to use them.

In the evening we went over to Seams, and I read with my two girls. The kids, meanwhile, were having a rousing game I didn't understand but which seemed to keep them occupied and very warm.

Thursday we went back to our usual schedule. In the morning the kids at Grace were fascinated by the idea of measurement, in inches and centimeters, and were soon measuring everything in sight, including faces, feet, tongues, and heights. Teachers again, and this time we discussed words with unusual pronunciations. Naturally, we had some amusing results.

After school and lunch, I made a final shopping trip to the government store, having thought of some people I did not want to slight back home. Then back to Seams for our evening stint, We had a short study session, and then all the girls put on their new finery for a photo op.

At dinner, Stephen, Sheba and I discussed the effect of expectations on culture shock. Every volunteer team is different, with different expectations and different skills.

Most of Friday was lost for me, because I was very much under the weather for some undiscovered reason. I did get over to Grace long enough to say good bye and to collect some sweet letters which had been written by a few of my favorite students. Evening we had the usual good bye ceremony at Seams, repeat with refreshments and songs. I tried to teach them “So Long, It's been Good to Know you”, with middling success, and everybody thanked everybody else. It was hard for me to leave, but I think the kids get used to the turnover from one high quality team to another.

And so ended a wonderful 3 weeks.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow