Saturday, January 07, 2017

India Day 8 and 9: Goodbye Chennai, Hello Delhi

Saturday morning we finished packing our bags and one of our Rising Star drivers, Sankar, picked us up from our apartment. Rising Star had planned a fun morning for us at the zoo after our week of hard work with them.

Henry and Sanka, riding on the tram

Sankar drove us to the Arignar Anna Animal Park in Chennai. We have been to the zoo many times, but it was a whole different experience in Chennai. For starters, we got tickets for the jeep safari. It basically meant we had a whole little tram to ourselves that drove us to each animal exhibit. Considering that it was hot and humid, this made the whole crew much happier touring the park.
Secondly, at this zoo the animals were actually active! Usually at the zoos in the US, if you look carefully you can see the big cats laying around in the back of their exhibit. At this park, all the big cats were roaming through their cages, putting on a show for us. They are such beautiful creatures.
Emma, Ethan, and Henry with the tigers.
They were only three feet away from us!

And lastly, we saw black swans. Definitely none of those in America!

 interesting Hindu sculpture at the zoo.

 Dinner. The kids were a little shocked by this.

 And then this dinner made them sad. haha

Someone has a sense of humor!

We were so hot at the zoo, we decided to get ice cream.
After we ordered we noticed the server was dipping the scoop
in water between each order... we were worried we would get sick from it,
but luckily no one did!

When we had finished at the zoo we drove back to our hotel in Chennai. One of Elliott's coworkers is from Chennai originally, and her parents still live there. They were so kind and invited us to a lovely dinner. The food was amazing. Unfortunately our kids still were not fans of Indian food, but Elliott and I were spoiled by the smells and flavors. I wish I had gotten some pictures. It was lovely to be in their home and experience more of the culture of this beautiful country.

The next day was Sunday, and although we had an afternoon flight to Delhi, there was plenty of time for us to go to the LDS church ward that meets in Chennai. There were quite a few of our friends from Rising Star at the church, which is a long drive (2 hours?) each way from the school. We were hoping to share an actual Sacrament meeting with the people there, but they were showing General Conference, so we watched a few talks and then went to catch our plane.

busy street outside the chapel

the church building

 The best seatmates I could have on the flight to Delhi!

Indira Airport, New Delhi.
Emma and I were pondering the meaning of these hands,
and a kind gentleman saw us looking at them and explained they have meaning in Hindi
(which he explained, but I can't remember, sorry!)

Finally, we arrived at the airport in Dehli. It only took us an hour to get our luggage this time, and we were so, so happy to arrive at this luxurious destination were we would be spending the next three weeks!
Lobby of our hotel in Gurgaon, outside Delhi.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

India, Day 7: Our last day with Rising Star Outreach

Friday, Oct. 7, was our last day with Rising Star Outreach.  In the morning, we attended the school-wide assembly where we thought we were just going to give a short speech letting them know about the books that were being donated through the generosity of our many friends. But actually, it ended up being a bigger ceremony. Since the fundraisers were part of Emma's Personal Progress Project, she spoke for our family and handed over a ceremonial stack of books to represent the books being donated. Then we were garlanded with these pretty ribbon garlands made by the teens at the Peery Matriculation School, and given friendship bracelets. It was really a lovely ceremony (and funny for the kids at the school too, when Henry decided to turn around and shake his bum at all the kids.) This was supposed to be a solemn type of assembly, but Henry was pretty much done with the whole thing, and wasn't afraid to show it! My kids definitely keep me humble. :-)

With Dr. Susan and Dr. Joseph. Dr. Susan runs Rising Star Outreach in India,
and Dr. Joseph arranged everything for our stay.

After the assembly we were off to our final leper colony. This was not really a colony though, it is actually more of a home for people with leprosy and no one to take care of them. The man who runs the home, Ilango Yesu, referred to the residents as "orphans", because they don't have any family connections available.

Can't remember this guy's name, but he sure was happy!

Let me tell you about Desappan, the man on the right in the picture above. One day Ilango (the man who runs the facility) got a call from someone asking if the home had room for another resident. They had found this man, Desappan, on the street. Ilango went to go see Desappan, and when they first met, Desappan had been in the street for an unknown amount of time. He was deathly thin and smelled of rotting flesh. 

Desappan when he was first brought to the home.

There was also a plastic bag wrapped around Desappan's lower right leg. When Ilango unwrapped the plastic bag, he found that the flesh on Desappan's leg and foot had been completely decimated by leprosy. All that was left was the raw bone.

The raw bone uncovered.

No one who saw Desappan those first few days thought he was going to live. In fact, when Kavitha (one of our guides) was telling me more about him later, she was teary-eyed, remembering what bad condition he was in. But Ilango thought to himself, "There is a reason that God had someone call me to take this man, so I will do my best for him."
With that thought in mind, Ilango set about caring for Desappan. He was given proper medical care, and adequate nutrition, and after 10 days was doing much better. Everyone was so surprised!
It has now been about a year since Desappan came to live at Anandepuram Home. He told me that he loves living there, that it is his home now.

Desappan now, very happy and healthy.

95 year old resident of the home.

The man who makes it all happen, Ilango Yesu, has an interesting story as well. He gave me the full background on the facility. It was originally started by a Belgian woman who spent many years of her life traversing India caring for those with leprosy.
Ilango Yesu has been running the home for thirty years. His wife lives in a different state, and so he doesn't see her very often, although his son recently moved to Chennai, which is about an hour and a half from the home, and so they meet at his son's home once a month now.

Ilango Yesu - he says that he just works as God's hands.
And he truly has helped some miracles to happen.

After our visit to Anandepuram, we went back to the school for afternoon classes... And our driver stopped off at a shop to let us get some ice cream. We had the nicest men as our drivers that week!

The stall the man is coming out of was the ice cream shop.

View to the other side of the street. The sex ad is for families with infertility issues.

In the afternoon we hung out in the computer lab again, and then went and played more badminton. After a while, some of the teen boys invited Ethan to go play soccer with them, while the rest of us went to the playground to hang out. As I mentioned earlier, Henry was pretty much done with everything. While at RSO, everyone would ask him his name, and try to talk to him, and try to play with him. Everytime he went to the playground he was mobbed by 20 children asking his name and his standard (grade). He is a little bit of a shy child, and dislikes new situations. By the end of the week he had hit his limit. Playground time ended with  me having to take him to the dining hall to hang out and calm down. After a while we wandered over to where the cooks where making the evening meal. I wish I had gotten a picture of the dining hall and the kitchen. It is all open air, and even though their are fans, it is still extremely hot! The women in the kitchen were rolling out the chapatis for part of dinner, and the head cook was very kind and offered Henry one. He loved it. I think for the week we were in Guduvanchery our kids were kind of starving, as they are used to grazing all day. It is a luxury I hope they will be grateful for when we are back home!

Finally, it was time for evening devotional, and then for dinner. Elliott was supposed to be finally joining us for the evening meal, so we were waiting and waiting, but his driver didn't know how to get there exactly so he ended up getting there after the meal was over.

Our final excitement of the night was getting to participate in the delousing treatment of the kids. I wasn't really sure I heard Dr. Joseph right when he asked if we would like to participate. Delousing? That sounds pretty awful. But it ended up being one of the most fun things we did with the school kids that week.

All the kids that live at the school have to get the hair medication that kills lice put  in their hair, whether or not they have lice. They go through this treatment every three months or so. We donned rubber gloves and the kids would come sit at our feet while we would rub the medication in their hair. It sounds weird, but was a great time for the kids to ask us questions about our life. Elliott showed up right as we were getting underway, so all the girls were asking me how long he and I dated before we got married. They were astounded that we dated for ONLY a year before getting engaged!
We had a bittersweet goodbye at the end of the treatment. We were sad to leave our new friends at Rising Star, but it had been an exhausting and hot week, and we were ready to move on to our next adventure.

saying goodbye

Finally we were driven back to the apartment we were staying at. We all collapsed into bed after a long but fulfilling day!

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.