Tuesday, October 11, 2016

India Day 6: Lots of Sweaty Fun

This morning we started bright and early with Rising Star Outreach (RSO), and made our way to the Puthirankottai leper colony. This colony was much poorer than the previous colony, as evidenced by the homes the residents lived in. Much smaller too, there were only about 15 houses on a one lane road.
The medical team meets under this beautiful large tree for care here, which provides not only shade but a cooler place to receive their care. It was actually cooler under this tree than in the building we went to on Monday, because the lack of walls allowed the breeze to blow through.

 Of course, having clinic under a tree means that when it rains, the team is not able to provide care, but it is pretty rare that it rains. Rainy season in this area is generally late October.

 One of the medical team, Priyanka talking to Henry.
Priyanka is a graduate of Rising Star, and her sister is now a student there as well.

The woman in the picture below, Marie Therese wanted to take a picture with me. When I leaned down so we would be about the same height, she motioned that no, she wanted me standing full height! Many of the people in the colonies have had poor nutrition their whole lives and as a result are quite small (I'm 5'8" for reference).

Me and Marie Therese

 Mary Ruth, the oldest member of the colony at 100 years!

 Kavitha, one of our guides from RSO, told me that this couple, Saral and Santosham, are the comedians of the colony. Sure enough, when Sophie told Saral that she wanted to take her picture with her husband, Saral started yelling for her husband to hurry over. It was pretty funny.

Then Saral asked for a picture with all of us. We gave her a polaroid of each picture as well.

 It was so wonderful to spend time with the residents. They were so happy to talk with us, take pictures with us, and show us their homes.

 Elumalai, the leader of the colony, and his wife Casima.
He has a cellphone attached to that lanyard around his neck.
All the residents are extremely poor, and receive money from the government,
but many have cell phones and televisions.
(And of course in this day and age, a cell phone is really necessary!)

 Elizabeth and Theerthakiri asked us to come visit their home.
There was no furniture in the main room, they just sit on the floor.

 Elizabeth has a beautiful back yard , it is very lush, and looks like Hawaii!
She has a rice paddy in the far back of her yard, along with a curry tree,
a pepper pod tree, and a goa fruit tree.
(We tried the goa fruit. It's an acquired taste, kind of a cross between basil and apple.)

 Rising Star Mobile Clinic Medical Team (plus Sophie and Henry)

When we finished at the colony, we went back to the school campus. Although the school is run by Rising Star, the actual name of the school is Peery Matriculation School. It includes children ages 6-18, in UKG (their version of kindergarten) through 12th standard (grade).

 We got to go to some classes with them. Sophie and Emma had fun playing badminton with the girls in 7th standard. It was really hot outside... we were all dripping. I can't believe these girls do this every day!
 On the way to lunch, we happened to meet Mrs. Leema, who teaches 1st Standard of Tamil, so after lunch Henry went and joined her class. He was hoping to learn some words in Tamil, and was disappointed when it was a grammar class! But later he had fun on the playground with these three boys.

 On the drive home I couldn't believe how many people were out an about after dark. It didn't really seem that much cooler to me, and the mosquitos were out in full force. But people were still thronging the streets. We saw quite a few trucks with loads piled super high.

 Our driver had a hard time making it through some areas because of the masses of people!

You have to be really skilled to drive safely in India. It really is chaotic. There are rules, but they are not at all like ours in the U.S.  I'm really grateful to the drivers from Rising Star who ferried us safely everywhere we needed to go! 

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

India, Day 5: Buying books

Being a family of readers, we were excited when Amy, the woman we worked with from the Utah office of Rising Star Outreach (RSO), suggested we hold a virtual fundraiser to raise money for individual books for the kids at the RSO school. Most of the children at the school have very little that they can call their own, so having their own book is apparently a pretty big deal.
We ended up running two fundraisers that I mentioned back here, and today we got to go pick out some of the books for the kids.
The drive into Chennai from our apartment took about two hours because of all the traffic. I didn't mind, because I am always fascinated by what I see. I have mentioned before how colorful India is. Todays drive was no different.

 This woman selling melons on the roadside had such a beautiful sari.

Loved this colorful key shop sign.

We ended up at this really cool bookstore, Higginbothams. Isn't that just the perfect British colonial sounding name? It boasts being the oldest bookstore in India, and was started by a British librarian back in the mid-1800's. An amazing building too.

I wish I could have gotten a better picture,
but traffic was too crazy to cross the street.

The store carries books in both English and Tamil, the language of this region of India. The kids and I had fun checking out the Tamil books, but since we couldn't understand anything about them we left the choosing of those books up to our friends from RSO, and we chose the books in English.

By the time we were done at Higginbothams, the kids were starving, but we had one more book store we wanted to hit. Luckily it is in a mall that also has a McDonalds. I have never seen my kids get so excited as when they saw the McDonalds. haha  The thing about McD's in India though is that there is no beef, since cows are considered holy and no one eats them. So we had lots of chicken options. The kids all opted for a regular crispy chicken sandwich, which was too spicey for them, and I opted for a spicy chicken sandwich, which was perfect except for the lettuce that I had asked to not be on it was! I scraped as much off as I could and am hoping for the best. :-)

After lunch we got the rest of the books, these ones all in English and a mix of current and classic favorites. I hope the kids at RSO love what we got!

Ambiga and Kavitha, our friends from RSO,
waiting with the kids for our driver with the boxes of books from the second store.

India, Day 4: A respite

So even though we had some great experiences at the leper colony and at the school on day 3, we also had a rough day, in that we were unprepared for what was going to be happening. One major thing we didn't do was bring water with us. I knew we needed to, but when we were rushing out the door, I just forgot it. We were all pretty dehydrated and starving by the end of the day, and Sophie especially wasn't feeling well. She had almost fainted twice during the day from lack of water and food. I know my kids well enough to know that they would need a break on Tuesday if we were going to be able to continue to work hard the rest of the week. So we took a rest day on Tuesday, relaxing at the apartment, rehydrating, and getting some school work done. Since we spent the day at home, I thought I would show you our "flat" as my new friend Kavitha calls it.

 Our living quarters are pretty bare bones, which is just fine.
Two rooms have the three bed configuration seen here,
and one bedroom has just two twin beds.
All the bedrooms have air conditioning units.

The front room has a very basic settee and two chairs, plus a computer desk.
Luckily we do have wifi this week, or my kids would be hating me!
Every room except the kitchen have a ceiling fan or two.

Our kitchen is fairly basic as well. We have a three burner cooktop that is attached to a gas tank which sits under the sink. There is a small fridge, and no dishwasher and no hot water. Although there is a microwave and toaster, we can't use them because they trip the circuit breaker within 30 seconds of turning them on. Really, we don't need them though. We just boil water on the cooktop, and toast bread in the frying pan. It works perfectly! The biggest problem for us is the water situation, because our North American digestive systems can't process the Indian water bacteria. Up until this afternoon (writing this on Wednesday night) we have been using bottled water for everything except washing the dishes, which turns out to be a ton of water! Luckily, our hosts at Rising Star Outreach installed a heavy duty filter system for us, so we now have clean water we can use (well, hopefully! I took the first drink from it tonight... hopefully all will be well in the morning!) It will make life so much easier and less wasteful.

Sophie helping me prep dinner Tuesday evening.

 The bathroom.

There is no shower stall, the whole bathroom is tiled and yes, everything gets wet! But it all dries really quickly too because it is so hot here.
Funny story, when we first arrived, they showed us how to use the water heaters, which are installed in two of the bathrooms. When they said two bathrooms, for some reason I was thinking there were two showers, not water heaters. Since I knew there was a shower in the outer bathroom, and one in the boys bathroom, I assumed the girls did not have one in their bathroom. When I took my shower yesterday, I dutifully turned on the wall switch for the water heater, and waited 15 minutes for the water to heat up, as instructed. However, even after the initial 15 minutes, and then running the water for a long while to try to get it heated more, it never raised above lukewarm. I thought it was odd, but honestly I didn't need it any warmer as it is so hot here! I even had Henry take a shower with me and the water was fine for him.
Then tonight I had Sophie take a shower in my bathroom too. I think the water was a little bit cooler for her than for me, but she survived. It wasn't until after her shower that I happened to go into the girls bathroom and see that they have a water heater on the wall of their shower, which the boys do too, but my bathroom does not! So we took our showers without the water heater! Well, live and learn. But seriously, it is so hot here that a hot shower would actually be unbearable.

 Shower with water heater.

This is our broom. It is made from some type of soft grass.
 I never thought I would miss my broom back in the USA!

We are really grateful to have this apartment available for our use. We are kind of the guinea pigs, as we are the first family RSO has hosted in it, but they will be making it available for a small fee to other families that would like to come do service at RSO. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

India, Day 3: Rising Star Outreach

Today we were met by our driver who took us out to a medical clinic run by Rising Star Outreach (RSO). Twice a month, the medical team of nurses from RSO visit 15 different villages with supplies to care for patients with leprosy, diabetes, and any other ailment that they can easily take care of. If further treatment is needed, the nurses work with the staff doctors to figure out what the best course of action will be. Because of the type of visa we obtained for our travel on short notice, we were not able to actually live on the RSO campus or be trained to help with the medical care, but we were able to visit with the patients and children from the village. It was super hot, but so great to get to meet the residents of this village. The people were all so kind and friendly. One thing I have found about the Indian culture is that they go out of their way to be gracious in all things. Nothing is any trouble for them, at least they will never let you know it! More on that with tomorrow's post, but for now, I would love to introduce you to some of the wonderful people we met today.

 Sophie's fan club!
The one little boy in front didn't have any pants or underthings on,
which Henry was aghast about. I had to explain that in some
countries the children don't wear any bottoms when potty training!

 This couple was so happy to get a photo of themselves.
When you first take the polaroid, it comes out of the camera blank.
We gave it to the husband, and his face completely lit up as he watched the image appear.

 I wish I could have gotten a better picture of this cute little baby.
He was wearing nothing but a string around the middle,
which showed off his cute little butterball belly!

 Once these two girls got their hands on my phone, they didn't want to give it up!
They had fun looking at my pictures from the beach this summer,
and playing Talking Tom.

This man is missing all his fingers and toes, and is blind, but never stopped singing the whole time he was at clinic.
He has a beautiful voice. I have no idea what he was singing about, but it was a beautiful song nevertheless.

This is Mary. She can't speak in more than guttural sounds, but she had the most infectious smile. She loved seeing Henry,
and took me for a walk to her humble home. She showed me a photo on the wall of her husband who passed away
and was also excited to show me her sewing machine.
She made the shirt she is wearing under her sari.
She and I would probably be great friends if she lived in Boston! :-)

A close up of Mary's shirt.

The medical clinic is near a day care that RSO also checks in on. The kids at this center are all age three and under. They were just finishing lunch when we got there. We put together some cardboard barn and animal sets for the kids, and spent a few minutes playing with them.

When we first got there, this little guy walked right up to Ethan and held his hands out to be picked up.
Ethan looked at me, a little unsure of what to do, so I said, "just pick him up."
Ethan did so, and the little boy's look of pure joy was unforgettable.
I'm pretty sure this will be one of Ethan's strongest memories from the trip.

After the day care, we went home for lunch and to pick up the maid they had dropped off to clean our apartment. I felt bad about having a maid, as we certainly are capable of cleaning our apartment and doing our laundry, but again, it all comes back to this Indian hospitality. They insisted on having her clean while we were gone in the morning, saying this was her job and she wanted to do it. They consider us to be their guests, and truly succeed in making us feel like anything we need is no problem. I have heard that refrain over, and over, "Yes, Ma'am, it is no problem."

These men were waiting at the bus stop, which happens to be in front of an open air meat market. 
I was trying to figure out how the shops work everywhere we went, because there are so, so many,
and they all seem to carry random things. I need to ask someone,
but I think it may be that the shops each are very specialized in their items.
So while in the United States we could walk into a hardware store and buy all types of items for home improvement,
in India each store specializes in one or two particular types of items. One sells trim to go around doorways and windows,
while another sells flooring, etc... If you have any insight into this, please comment below.

When we first arrived at our apartment for RSO on Sunday, they had supplied us with many fresh vegetables, fruits, bottled water, breads, and eggs. However, two things we still needed were salt and butter, so we stopped at the grocery store on the way to the RSO campus. Luckily most people in India speak English, (since I know zero Tamil, the language spoken where we are), so I was easily able to get the butter and salt I needed, and the deodorant that I remembered I needed at the last minute (how could I have forgetten that at home??)

This is the woman who cleaned our apartment for us. She was so nice (but she didn't want to look at me for a picture. :-) 
And look at this beautiful silk sari she wore while cleaning!!
When we stopped at the grocery store she went in and got this snack that she shared with us.
It was so good,  I have to try and find more to take home with us.

The drive to the campus from the RSO apartment is an hour and a half (another thing I feel bad about, if we were doing this again I think we would get a hotel room close to the campus, rather than making them drive all that way.) We are still dragging a bit from being off of schedule, so Ethan and I fell asleep on the drive. In fact, I didn't wake up until we got there and Sophie was shaking me!

Snapped this before I fell asleep!

We got to campus just in time for the children's play hour. They play outside on a large playground, and we were so happy to join in the fun. All of us except Henry. Most of the students, especially the younger ones, have never seen a little blond boy before. They were all so friendly, and basically swarmed him, which was pretty traumatic for him because he did not like all the attention. The kids kept coming up to me asking his name and if he knew how to speak. It was pretty funny. He finally found his groove when Sophie let him use her Instax polaroid camera to take pics of the kids. When he took the second picture about 20 kids crowded around him, pulled the film out of the camera, and knocked it out of his hands, they were so excited to see it! But then with help from the teachers and me, he was able to use up the rest of the film in a more orderly manner.

 Playing with the boys.

Andrew got the job of swing pusher. He was busy the whole time!

Finally, we shared their prayer time, and then had dinner with the children. Let me tell you, those kids can eat some spicy food! My kids hardly touched it because it was too spicy for them. I liked most of it, but when I was talking to a couple of the teenage girls they told me they didn't. haha.

As I mentioned earlier, the drive to our apartment from campus is 1.5 hours, which meant our driver had a three hour round trip to take us home. I felt really bad about this, but he assured me he loves driving. Again, that graciousness where nothing is any trouble. I really need to emulate this more in my life.

On the way home we were treated to some sights we hadn't seen yet, as we drove through the rural areas at night. A couple of times cows were bedded down for the night taking up a whole lane of the two-lane road. Pretty unusual for us to see, but par for the course for our Indian driver.

I didn't get a pic of the cows, but these dogs had the same idea.

We arrived home exhausted without working internet, which caused concern for Elliott in Singapore when he couldn't get in touch with us. Finally I just ended up calling him (which I am sure cost an arm and a leg!) and he was able to get in touch with RSO to let them know we had no internet.

We were all happy to call it a night and fall into bed.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

India, Day 2: Leaving Chennai for Guduvancheri, and a very special birthday

Today we left the luxury of the Grand Cholla and set out for Guduvancheri and Rising Star Outreach.
But first, we enjoyed the amazing buffet breakfast at the hotel. There were so many options of what to eat for breakfast, but not too many familiar to my cold-cereal loving kids.  Sophie was brave and tried a wonton dumpling, which she declared tasted just like sushi (a win!) My favorite items were the vegetable fried rice and strawberry milkshake.
Poor Henry, he woke up feeling not too great, and I assumed it was maybe because he hadn't eaten much the day before. At breakfast though, after eating a few things, he brought them right back up. Luckily we were prepared with an extra bowl handy. I took him back to our room for a warm bath, and then a nap. He slept for an hour or so, and when he woke back up he seemed to be doing somewhat better, based on the fact that he started up with his beloved arm toots again.
Alas, when he had a sip of water it came right back up, and I was pretty worried about him becoming dehydrated. This was right about the time we needed to be leaving for Guduvancheri, where we will be staying while we are working with Rising Star. So Elliott and the kids packed up the suitcases and Henry slept on me for a while longer.
We checked out of the hotel and climbed into our (seatbelt-less) motor coach (Which might have been a nail-biting prospect if traffic ever went very fast, but there are so many cars on the road that it doesn't!)

 Our sweet ride for the day. And isn't the doorman awesome?!
Plus,.right as we were leaving the hotel brought Elliott a yummy chocolate mousse cake to celebrate his birthday.

I was completely entranced on our drive out of Chennai. There is so much to see, and it is so different from anything I have ever seen before. Even Elliott, who has been to 40 countries, has never seen anything like India. There is no way to explain the cacophony of sights, sounds, smells, beauty, poverty, color, chaos, and energy that is India.
 There aren't always lane lines, but even when there are, they often aren't followed.
Somehow though, everyone seems to know how it all works.

 Two things you can count on in Indian traffic: major traffic jams, and lots of honking.
They use honking to tell other drivers they are coming through... it's actually pretty brilliant.

Many buildings being torn down, and new ones going up in their places.

 there are cows hanging out all over the place.

Really, cows everywhere (and dogs, goats, even a baby pig we saw running down the street!)
I wonder, "Who does this cow belong to?" Not the guy on the scooter.

it is so, so colorful here.

I realized today that this is truly an experience that I am glad my children can have. I also realized that I love it here. It isn't always comfortable, both physically and mentally, and I am sure that tomorrow, as we go and visit with the families in the leper colonies, it will be even harder. But I am so, so grateful for the opportunity we have to be here and experience it all firsthand.
Speaking of, today is the birthday of the man making it all possible. I don't think I could love him any more than I currently do. Elliott is kind, patient, adventurous, hard working, and pretty dang good looking too (lucky me!) He is currently on his way to Singapore for three days, and we will definitely miss him!
I'm happy to say that Henry is doing much better now. Whatever bug he had in his system seemed to be gone by the time we got to the apartment in Guduvancheri. I made him some ramen and crystal light, and this afternoon he told me he felt 90% better and only 10% sick. Sure love that little guy.

Dinner at Peshawari

Whenever Elliott travels he always calls me and tells me about the amazing restaurants he gets to go to, and without fail always says he wishes I could be there with him. One of the most exciting parts of this trip is that the kids and I can actually go to one of the restaurants he loves.

Peshawari is located in the ITC Grand Cholla. It showcases authentic cuisine from northern India, and apparently to have a really authenic experience, you have to eat everything with your fingers (so we did!)

The first thing Elliott ordered was a giant naan. We were warned ahead of time that these take extra long to cook, but Elliott knew the wait would be worth it. There weren't too many other people in the dining room while we were there, and I think little blond kids are such a rarity in India that the wait staff had fun with Henry and Sophie. They took them on a tour of the kitchens to see our naan bread being prepared, and the chicken tandoori being cooked.

 chicken thighs and legs on the skewer.

 Looking into the pit where the naan was cooking.

 The naan was as big as Henry, so everyone had to document it!

Henry enjoyed soaking his fingers in the warm lemon water
so much that they brought him a second bowl of it.
Eating with your fingers is messy business. Afterwards, everyone got a bowl of water with a lemon in it. You squeeze the lemon with your fingers and use it to help get all the grease off your fingers.

Elliott was right, the food was amazing, at least for me and him. Besides the naan, it was much too spicy for the kids, a theme I fear will appear over and over as we travel through this amazing country. We are supplementing with packages of ramen and dino oatmeal that we brought with us.

A few more pictures of our hotel, the ITC Grand Cholla in Chennai:
 Emma loved the beautiful entryway flowers.

 Sophie loved the horse! The Marwari is indigenous to India,
and Sophie was really happy she got to see some on the beach in Chennai.

 The peacock is the national bird of India. Hanging a peacock feather in your home is supposed to bring good luck and prosperity.

 The stairs all had this delicate carving on them. It was gorgeous. (Click to enlarge)