Saturday, November 23, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

As we near the end of our busy week (busy being an understatement, more like shock trauma, in your face culture extravaganza with Stephen reminding us every 5 minutes about the updated schedule), I am saddened and dismayed as our rambunctious group of 10 volunteers dwindles down to one. As I could not decide between several goodbye quotes, I have many intertwined in my journal, so bear with me, the first being: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened - Dr. Seuss.” The continued theme of this week was most definitely “for it is in giving that we receive,” (which interestingly enough was quoted by Francis of Assisi), as each volunteer not only gave their love, devotion and attention to the caring boys and girls at SEAMs and Assisi Illam, but also formed a traders market with shirts, skirts and dresses being exchanged and clothes thrown to roommates to fit Indian treasures into suitcases. Sheeba generously contributed to the theme by surprising the volunteers with bangles and flowers for their hair in the morning, and Regina had uncanny insight in switching bangles with Elisabeth to match her stunning saree. Almost the entire group was awake and roaring to go very early this morning, as their presence on the couch welcomed me as I walked down the stairs for breakfast.

And we’re off to our designated areas. We made our way to SEAMs where Ken, John & Marjorie worked tirelessly on the construction site, breaking their backs to make the last bit of difference in the cement pile to fill the flooring of the children’s home. They also struggled with the older boys who were making the bandu’s too heavy for Vadavel to carry on his head, and after getting a stern warning from their health adviser (me), Marjorie took over Ramesh’s shovel to protect the boys’ heads and necks. I was performing lice treatments on the girls’ hair when I was informed by the pastor that Swathy & Sweety had come down with a fever and were not feeling well; so I went back to the guesthouse and returned with a thermometer, ibuprofen and my stethoscope, but their temperatures had gone down and their lungs were clear, but Swathy’s heart rate was still fast so I encouraged her to drink more water, and later that evening I rubbed their chests and backs with ointment. I was also glad to see that Sadish’s cut on his toe from the night before that I had dressed was already healed.

A ways down the first main road, Elisabeth, Tey, Regina, Cat & Jackie had a fantastic journey with the Assisi Illam children. The older girls taught Elisabeth some Indian dance moves while they had a birthday celebration for one of the girls. They asked Sister Rose if they could take the children anywhere and within seconds Sister had the children packed and ready to move. They first said prayer at church before adventuring up to St. Thomas’s Mount, conquering 160 steps to reach the shrine that was built in 1523. All the volunteers and children had a wonderful time, and one of the older girls moved Jackie when she looked at Stephen and said “that was a good day.” Later that evening when Regina, Jackie, Elisabeth & Cat returned to Assisi Illam, the children were having a singing competition for Children’s Day, with three official judges. Unfortunately their goodbye was cut short by a surprise government inspection visit, but they were still able to express their love to the children before their departure.

As for our Lone Ranger Jenny, she took the morning off to rest and prepare for the evening, but she said her mind was racing and she could not sleep. As my quotes continue, all I can say is: “You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams - Dr. Seuss.” And who among us cannot say that about India!

As for lunch, again Regina’s uncanny insight took hold of this small yet overpopulated Indian community as we ventured out to a local cafe where a gentleman has a very nice shop which is remotely void of any Indian customers. The volunteers treated Stephen, Roshan and Stephen the driver to a pizza lunch, in which Stephen’s brother experienced his very first, and last, iced tea. Regina, Ken & Tey held up the fort with coffee after coffee as me, Sheeba & Elisabeth went shopping, followed closely by Cat & Jackie. Elisabeth & Sheeba watched in amazement as I dodged cars, rickshaws & bikes without batting an eye while crossing the street … not sure if it’s the Indian in me or the New Yorker in me! Elisabeth bought another lovely saree which I know will look beautiful on her, and I again was conned into another salwar, which funny enough Cat bought the same one in a different color.

Back at the guesthouse, Tey tried to lose her evaluation form, which was cheered on by her roommate’s cunning guidance, but alas it was sadly found. As we arrived at SEAMs, there was a very strange, calm and quiet atmosphere that is usually alien to the children’s home, but most likely as an after effect of most of the children being sick, as well as running around playing games the night before. I gladly kept my mouth shut for the surprise awaiting the departing volunteers, and as tears of joy streamed down Tey and Cat’s smiling faces, the children sang songs, danced, and then hugged them goodbye with their farewell cards, asking them to return again sometime soon. As Marjorie and John handed out their lovely gifts of cashews and raisens, goofball Rajesh had his plan all worked out, and instead of extending his two hands for his share of the trailmix, he produced a large shopping bag. Stella Marie and Poseia also made a fair trade since one only liked the cashews and the other raisens. Tey gave her classic, infamous line to all the children, “only one more photo,” as we sadly left for dinner.

I know I should be able to end this journal with nostalgia, grace and creativity, but instead I’m sitting here wondering, “why did I agree to write the last journal?” I was already given the shameful task of following John’s eloquent journal from last night, highlighting all the wonderful attributes of our team. As it reaches midnight, all I can think of is how amazingly cohesive this team has been, and without lying, I can honestly say this is one of the best Global team’s I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of. On that note, I wish everyone safe travels and an enjoyable journey onward, with the recommendations of Dr. Seuss to guide you:

“You're off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting,

So... get on your way!”



Thursday, November 14, 2013


Quote of the Day:

There isn’t anything noble about being superior to another person.

True nobility is in being superior to the person you once were.

At our breakfast meeting we had a very interesting and informative conference with Steven regarding donations to SEAM and how it is structured and financed. Slowly we all got ready to go to our daily assignments.

The construction crew consisting of Marjorie ,Ken and John headed out to SEAM . They had  a very diverse day. Moving sand and gravel for the repair work to the terrace of the library.Then it was back to the rubble pile and raising the level  in the pastors' home in order to stop water infiltration during heavy rains. We had a nice conversation with the pastor and joked with him that soon our time was up. But if he was willing, we were taking on new contracts at very favourable rates.

Assisi Ilam:

It was party time at this location as it was "Childrens' Day" a national holiday in India. The kids came all dressed up and looked very cute in their outfits. They were also very happy as today they were there for only half the day.

It was also very special that the volunteers were able to meet the parents of the kids when they came to pick them up.

Regina was a big help in helping to toilet train the kids. The Indian method is to crouch down and pee in a tiled area that slopes towards a drain and then take a ladle with water and rinse the tiles .

When the teachers saw Elizabeth enter they were amazed by how great she looked in her newly purchased saree. But they still had to undress and redress her to do a bit of a  makeover on her. So they took her outside and pampered her by brushing her hair,applying make-up and re-adjusting her saree. She was turned into the 'INDIAN BARBIE" doll. To finish off the day kids,volunteers and teachers danced till they could dance no more .  A very joyous time was shared by everyone

Christ King School:

Jenny taught 5th grade along with  Tay. Tay was replacing Jackie who was feeling a bit under the weather. Thank-you Tay for jumping in to help on such short notice. But as we have learned during the past two weeks one has "To go with the flow" . The regular teacher was absent so the ladies did it on their own. They also celebrated "Children's Day". Jenny read a book entitled "Where wild Things Are" the kids adored it and Tay remarked that the kids were incredible.

As our stay here in India is slowly drawing to an end. I would like to acknowledge all the volunteers for who they are and for their personal contribution to the team.

Maria for her  6 yearsof commitment and tireless work here in Chennai . Your knowledge and contribution to the children here is amazing.

Catherine for her courage in travelling such a long distance to a strange country and dealing with everything that came her way.

Jackie for her gentle and thoughtful manner.

Jenny for her creativity in everything that she touches.

Tay for being so fully self expressed and connecting so easily with everyone that you meet,

Regina for your wise contributions to all our interactions and giving us balance.

Elizabeth for your way of being,you  are a sea of calm and a very classy lady.

Marjorie for your orgainizational skills in the removal of rubble and for being such a loving and wonderful partner to me thank you for sharng your life with me.

Ken for your wisdom, subtle sense of humour and ability to easily communicate your thoughts.Thank-you for the interesting conversations that we shared on our water breaks.

And last but not least to  our very gracious  hosts Steven,Sheeba and Roshan. You have both treated all of us like family. You were so patient with us responding to all our requests  and questions without ever getting annoyed. Your patience,tolerance and compassion have no bounds.Thank-you,Thank-you,Thank-You. for everything.






Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Quote by Krishnamurti:  His disciples once asked him why he was so peaceful and he answered, "I accept things as they are."

Journal:  Before breakfast we gathered in the dining area in one's and two's as we normally do. Today those of us who were early got to see a sari dressing demonstration as Sheeba dressed Maria in her beautiful white and coral polka dot Sari.

After breakfast the teams dispersed for their regular scheduled assignments: SEAMS construction, Assissi Allam Team, and Christ King School.

After morning assignments we drove to Stephen's parents where his parents took us into their home. We were treated to a a beautiful lunch prepared by Stephen's mother.  Here we had the opportunity to meet not only Stephen's parents, but also Rebecca and Monica, Stephen's brother's wife and daughter.

Later in the day we returned to our evening assignments. And this evening we were in for a special treat. Stephen and Sheeba took us to the shopping area of Chennai where locals shop ~ the Las Vegas of Chennai.  Our first stop, Saravana was a riot of colors as beautiful saris in every color and design and Fabric caught our eyes. Rich silks woven with gold, soft silks and cottons and rayon blends in every shade from gentle pastels to intense purples, fuschIas and gold, hung fan like from the ceilings. And stacks of boxes and piles of clothes. On the basement level were sari blouses and skirts. Upper floors sold chudidah, men's clothes and food stuff, all manner of wonderful things.

When we left the sari shop some went looking for gold in the gold store,while others went to the silver shop. Earrings bracelets, anklets.  Anything anyone could want.

The evening ended with a sometimes too thrilling auto rickshaw ride back to the guest house.





Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Today started early with a trip to the market before breakfast. I don't know what we expected, but this trip far exceeded any expectations we could have had. When we first arrived we were met with a scene of poverty. Indian gypsies live in the parking lot of the market, and they send their young children to beg from those who park there. Upon leaving the parking lot we entered the flower market, which is beyond description. Every color flower and amazing flower arrangements, some taller than most of the people in our group, filled the air with the most wonderful Floral scents. Our cameras flashed in every direction as each vendor's booth seemed more lovely than the last.

From the flower market we went to the fruit market, also filled with sweet smells and beautiful colors. In the fruit market, the vendors seemed much more interested in our cameras. They kept stopping us and asking us to take their photos. This market was also filled with people carrying heavy bundles on their heads. It seemed to become more challenging to stay with the group in this busy market as we snapped photos upon request and got out of the way of the fast-paced bundle carriers that came at us from every direction.The busyness of the vegetable market was much like the busyness of the fruit market. One vegetable that caught our eye was the bitter gord. It is lovely to look at, but I am told westerners tend not to like its taste.

After our trip to the market, we returned to the guest house for breakfast, and then went to our assignments. Today was a special day at the Assisi Illam daycare. We gave the small children at Assisi Illum new toys. They had almost none before. They had a few balls, one broken car and flash cards, which they fought over. Now there is an abundance of new toys, and the children loved them. They sat together in groups of three to five playing with blocks, puzzles, cars, noise-makers, a xylophone and other new toys. Although typically someone is always crying for his or her "amma" at this daycare, when the toys were introduced no one cried. The toys totally absorbed the children's interest

After our morning shift, we went to St. Thomas Hospital to have lunch with Sister Rexline. Sister Rexline is a tiny little nun who was friends with Mother Theresa. She is actually Dr. Sister Rexline, a medical doctor. She started caring for the poor in a one room dispensary many years ago. Now she has an entire hospital for the poor with out patient clinic and full inpatient care. She also runs a day care for autistic children and two orphanages including Assisi Illum, where I and some of the other volunteers work. She also has a farm, a home for the elderly and more charity services that I can't remember. She is 68. 

We met Sister Rexline for the first time yesterday. When we met, she invited our group to lunch. Today Sister Rexline and the other sisters cooked and served us lunch. We are told she made the dessert herself especially for us. Being served by these nuns, including Sister Rexline, was a very humbling honor; it felt like being served by Mother Theresa and her Sisters Charity. The volunteers in our group were touched by how deeply they give. These nuns are Franciscan nuns.

The nuns served us a huge delicious meal. In the car ride back to the guesthouse, many of us were overcome with sleepiness, so we took naps in the afternoon. We worked our typical evening shifts, then returned to the guesthouse for dinner. After dinner we had ice cream, both butterscotch and vanilla, and chocolates. The chocolates were a gift from a Sister Rexline.

One more little note: One of our team members, Jacqueline Tullo, had a birthday this week. The nuns honored her with a lovely bath shawl (towel) and two Happy Birthday songs at lunch today.




Monday, November 11, 2013


Quote of the day, from William Shakespeare, but out of context, and turned on its head by me1

'...  and let who will be clever.'

I believe, as does the United Nations,  that with will and purpose, everyone's IQ can be raised.  If we expect more from a student, that student will always achieve more; raised to go to college, will go to college.




Breakfast for four on Sunday; now we are a full table again.  The travelers are back from their journey; details from them are elsewhere on our journal blog. And Maria has arrived to be nurse to our children, and spread the word of health and hygiene.  Our spacious Global Volunteers  guesthouse, marble floored throughout, and with its two-storey living room-dining room, is full of chatter.  This room has several rooms adjoining, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, closets.  On the second floor are several bedrooms and a bathroom;  and up another flight of stairs, another room and bathroom on the roof, plus our treasured clothesline - a real boon, where our laundry dries fast.

On Saturday morning, I was driven to the massage center with Steven, our fearless driver at the wheel.  (Brother of our Steven Raj, our Global Volunteers  country and team leader - yes, two Stevens, and that is another story!) While we are on a personal note here, we have two wonderful and wonderfully-married couples:  Steven and his wife, Sheeba whose arranged marriage of 9 many years has bestowed on them a very smart little boy, Roshan;  they work together,  sometimes around the clock, for GV., and almost around the year.

Our other couple, J and M, met online - the opposite of an arranged marriage?  Another story!  We will not suggest there is a boss, but M. has garnered great respect  managing the construction team... And we have seen her in action, when the team had to do an emergency removal of about a cubic metre of sand one night before dinner, to prepare for an inspection;  she forged us new construction workers  into a smooth machine in minutes.

We have yet to meet the family of Steven, the driver, and it will happen on Wednesday, when we visit the parents of the Stevens for lunch - yes, all of us:  a most anticipated event!

On Monday morning, we threw our schedule to the winds, and had a surprise trip to St Thomas Hospital, where the patients' medical bill is relatively low. The renowned Sister Rexline is in charge of this and many other endeavors for the needy around this region. including the orphanage and day care center Assisi Illam, where we help every day.  She sends children to private school and to college whenever possible.  She is supported by worldwide donors, including many in the Netherlands.

After juice and fruit in her office, and also discovering it is Jacqueline's birthday, we went upstairs to the classroom for special needs children where Maria works.  Mothers must be there, learning how to teach their children.   We spoke with the staff, children and mothers, and volunteers, in a large space with much equipment and many play things.. 

We then rode up to visit the Global Volunteers at Assisi Illam, and met Sister Rose and staff and children.  We toured the very comfortable building, past the dormitories and up to the roof.  From there, we looked up at Mount St Thomas, where we were on Thursday, looking down.

It was a good feeling to see the other sites where Global Volunteers helps out.  Meanwhile, back at the Guest House, Marjorie and John were assembling a complete new poster with all the children at SEAMS, where I go to help students in the library in the evenings.

I cannot resist a few comments about two fascinating elements of this country, through my  eyes - the chaos and the color.

There are so many people in India, and it is not a big country, everyone is busy going somewhere, doing something - so the teeming streets.  With 1.3 billion in a country not much different from combined  Alaska,Texas and California, you will see them almost all at the same time.  At least it feels that way.  We have a quarter of that population in a country ten times the size. I wish I could include a pie chart for you.  And nary a gun in the whole country - to me, that is a major benefit!

As I went to my Ayurdevic massage on Saturday morning the traffic seemed calmer; not exactly calm, that is - just calmer. It only looks chaotic to us as we are so unused to it (of course, we have chaos in the US too, but I won't go into that.)  After all, the store shelves get restocked; the children get to school;  election schedules are maintained; and, so I have been told, the trains run on time. But the traffic IS wild - few traffic lights, few zebra crossings to give a pedestrian a break; and when a Y-junction is part of our route, or a U-turn, well - every man-woman-bicycle -motorcycle-car-bus-truck for itself - except the sacred cow.  What he or she does decides the issue.  And we may have three feet for a bicycle by in California, but the tolerance between the vehicles here is one inch - whew!

And so to the colors of India. As you have remarked already, I do love color;  and for me India is a feast for the eyes.  All the saris, in ALL the colors, worn by most women every day, it seems.  Or maybe the ones in jeans and T-shirts just disappear into the background?  I did see one, near the MacDonald's!  But the saris are everywhere, and close by, as you wait for a gap in traffic, several pass, riding side-saddle, every color, tint and shade of the rainbow, bright and beautiful.  And the 'blouse' fits so well, we learned, because the sari comes with extra yardage to take to the tailor, who will measure and sew and fit you.  Maria was married in a sari - a most lustrous pink - another story there too!

If not the sari, a practical chuvididar may be worn.  In an infinite variety of fabrics, we find it very desirable, as witnessed by buying dozens for ourselves at the so convenient MetroMart just around the corner!

At the other end of the spectrum, in the 'neutrals' column, are the cows, most revered; the goats - prettiest; and the dogs, inbred into a homogenized body shape;  all in all shades of beige, gray and not-quite-white.  We learned the cows do have homes with owners, get milked every day, and go home to calve.  It is good to know that they are not interminably wandering the streets searching for food.

Here's to the great movies: Water;  Earth; Fire;  The Heat and the Dust; Slum Dog Millionaire; Best Marigold Hotel (an actual fantasy of mine!)

This is India, and I wish I had come earlier in my life, not seen it as an unreachable mirage, when it was actually a country with a GV mission.


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