Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday: Moot Point

Well, here we are, our final day has been completed.  We hope and anticipate that our experience in India will continue to unfold and teach us as we have moments in our lives where we reflect back upon the last 3 weeks.  We took the day by the horns and tried to make the most of it, realizing anything after this would be a Moot Point.  Which takes us into our activity for the day . . . visiting the Colony of Moot.

Moot is a very small colony consisting of only about 10 people, but it made it's point loud and clear.  It is about an hour and a half from RSO campus, and has been described as a slice of heaven.  We took a country lane to get out there, and stopped to take pictures and watch a large family of monkeys.  The colony is made up of a few buildings and a central area for the colony members, and you haven't met a happier, more harmonious group of people.  Everyone at the colony takes really good care of their ulcers, so many of them don't even need our medical services.  They are all a little older, so our visits extend past just medical, but social, mental, and spiritual healing as well.  However, we left being the ones who were spiritually uplifted.  It is impossible to leave that place in a bad mood.  The most outspoken member of the colony is Jayraj.  He was poking fun, singing, dancing, laughing, and anything to keep us entertained.  He is always just primed a ready for a performance.  He is very quick, and cleverly thinks on his toes.  There was also an older man who seemed to have the colony organized very well.  He made sure everything was in place, and that no one left anything behind.  He is like the colony grandfather who silently keeps his eyes on everything.  Another favorite from Moot was a woman named Saroja.  Saroja has one leg that has been cut off at the knee, and leprosy has badly inflicted her right eye, basically covering it at this point.  I bonded with Saroja more than any other colony member we have visited.  No words were spoken, she knows no English, I know no Tamil, but the unspoken communication was strong as we embraced and kissed one another on the forehead.  This woman is so full of love, and was very affectionate with each volunteer.  She is a very tender spirit, as have each of the colony members been.  If India will teach you about one thing, it will teach you about love.

Leaving and saying goodbye to the kids tonight was probably harder than any medical or construction thing we had to do this trip.  Many of the little ones didn't get it, while the older ones keep asking when we are coming back.  We have developed a strong bond with many of these boys individually, and they have taught us very important lessons on life.  We will definitely expand on all of this more, but we plan on doing a recap once we get back into the States where we share what we have learned from the trip as a whole and provide some media as well.  We have long travel ahead of us, so please excuse us for backing out early, but stay tuned for our trip recap.  Thank you so much for everyone who has experienced this journey with us.  We love your support and love, and pray that you may also have the opportunity to share in our love for India someday.  We love you!  Check out the video below.  The picture quality won't be the best because I had to download a smaller version of the video.  When we can download a larger version, I will update the video.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thursday:Balloons and Blessings

So our time here is drawing to an end very quickly, and we knew this would happen of course, but we kind of feel like we are trying to draw in every moment.  We feel comforted in knowing, however, that we have had a full experience and that we don't need to have any regrets.  We have had a lot of spiritual thoughts this week on living in the moment, and cherishing what we have while it is here.  One that hit me quite hard was knowing that everything has it's time, India has it's time, home has it's time.  And when our time shifts from India to Home, we can rest assured that India time has played it's role and had it's impact.

"Your Journey has molded you for the greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be.  Don't think you've lost time, it took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now, and now is right on time."           - Asha Tyson

I have definitely spent more time than I am proud to admit in my life wondering if I have made the best of each moment, allowed it to reach it's full potential.  Let's always try to be the best we can in the now, and realize that whatever experiences that have occurred in the past have helped us get where we are now and become who we are now.  Also, there are divine purposes in us being where and who we are now.

Today was our last day tutoring the kids at school, and we will miss working with them a lot, although it can be daunting to hold their attention at times.  On that note, We would like to take this moment to personally thank all teachers, both formal and informal, for having the will and energy it takes to excel through the rigors of teaching.  We may never know the full difference you have made in our lives, but we now understand . . . IT IS NOT EASY!!!!

We both worked with students today who had extreme difficulties reading the passage we were working on.  The passage was designed to provide a few new and difficult words to the students so we would have the chance to help them reach understanding.  However, we noticed that when a student struggled with those difficult words, then the previously simple words would also become much harder.  Our students in particular started needed help with almost every word, and took to making a wild guess with any word that started with the same letter.  Most of the words didn't even exist, but they don't know that. Some of the words they read easily still don't make sense to them, they have only learned how to make the sounds that comprise the word.  This is a focus point for us.  It is very beneficial for them to have conversing moments with us, because then they learn how to use words, not just how to pronounce them.

During lunch today, I (Jordan) took the opportunity to eat the Indian lunch the kids eat for the last time, because we will be gone doing Medical during lunch tomorrow.  Southern Indian food is much different than the Indian food I fell in love with in England and America, that would be Northern India food, but the Southern food is still very good.  Today, there was a vegetable broth we pour over our rice that I have been avoiding the whole trip because I heard it was spicy.  Well, someone told me that today it wasn't spicy . . . that someone was wrong!  It was tasty, I think, because as soon as it hit my throat my throat muscled constricted.  By the end of the meal, I was sitting on the floor drenched in sweat, lips burning, stomach churning, water yearning.

Usually on Thursdays we do our talent classes, which aren't really talent classes just give-the-kids-an-experience-they-would-only-have-in-America classes.  Which is why we did dirt cups that last two weeks.  However, today all of the volunteers had a surprise for the kids, but we just told them we were still doing talent classes today.  The Construction group came back early and got all of the preparations ready, and then at 5:00 we split all of the kids into their families and unveiled buckets full of . . . water balloons! The balloons lasted about 30 seconds, but the water fight with any water holding vessel in reach lasted 30 minutes.  We made sure that everyone got to feel the refreshing water drench their India parched skin, though my cute wife would say she got the focus of most of my attacks.  We had a great time with the kids, and it was so fun to see everyone drenched from head to toe.  It was an afternoon we will never forget.

I take a break from my day describing blog to make you aware that the gecko in our room just made his hourly call.  When we first heard it, we thought it was a bird outside our window, but then we looked to the source just to see a gecko crawl out from behind the air conditioning unit.  We will have to give an imitation when we see you.

The cooks have been spoiling us this week, and tonight we got fries.  They are still Indian style, but they taste so good!  We love this experience getting right up close with the culture, but Five Guys, Texas Roadhouse, Cafe Rio, and Orange Leaf should be expecting visits from us very soon!  The cooks here work very hard to provide for hundreds of people each day, and we are very grateful for the food always being hot, on-time, and good.

Saying goodnight to the kids keeps getting harder each night, as we realize we get fewer and fewer times to do so.  Tonight was the hardest yet, surely to be topped by tomorrow.  We got to do our favorite night time activity of singing and tickling backs, which will always be a highlight, if not THE highlight of our trip.  Tonight, the house mother and older boys sat talking with us and asking us questions til far past their bedtime.  Our house mother thinks we are going to be great parents and thinks we should have 16 kids!  If that were to ever happen, half of them would have to be Indian! The boys wanted to know what we are studying in school, when we are going to start having kids, where we got married, if they can see pictures of the wedding, why Courtney cut her hair before coming,  and of course why I have no hair (they all had great suggestions on how to fix that)!  However, the main thing they wanted to know was when we are coming back.  They thought every summer would be a great idea.  Oh, how we would love to do that!  We didn't fully realize the impact we have had on the lives of these children, and they may never know the full impact they will have on ours!  We told them we were going to try to get our families to come at the Christmas session this year, so . . . there is the plea from the cute little Indian boys.  They don't understand why we can't be here all the time, or come all the time.  We love these boys, and we are grateful for the memories we have shared with them.  If it turns out that we get to see them again, fantastic.  But we have had a full experience and can leave here knowing that we have made a difference, and will never be the same ourselves.  Thank you for living these last 3 weeks with us!  We have felt you, and your strength and love have been carried through us to the people of India.  Til tomorrow . . .

Tuesday/Wednesday: Sand and Singing


Today was our day out with the medical team. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to go to a colony today because Dr. Susan had to stay on campus, but it definitely turned into a high because instead we got to take about 10 of the kids from the school to the dentist. For the most part, it was a relatively low key trip because all the volunteers did was sit outside in the waiting room and wait for our child we were responsible for. The cool thing about this trip was getting a chance to just sit and talk with other volunteers and just spend time with each other. It was also fun getting a chance to converse with the dentists and hygienists that were outside. They were all so confused why a bunch of Americans would be just hanging out at the dentist office, but they fully enjoyed getting to talk to us and watch us make our woven bracelets. Even though we felt like we didn't actually do that much, we realize how important it was for us to be there  to give the kids the support that they needed. However, I was actually very impressed with how brave all of them were, even Joseph Stalin, who will have to come back in tomorrow to get a root canal procedure done. It was an awesome excursion just getting to spend time with the kids.


Today was our last day getting to do construction work in Bharatlapurum. Our goal for this session was to get all the necessary materials to their designated spots so that construction could begin on the bathrooms, and today was no exception. Of all the things that we have to transport, cinderblock, brick, rocks, and sand, I would say that sand has to be the least fun of all these to move. Today was especially difficult because of many miscommunications on the part of the colony leader which near the end of moving hundreds of basins of sand asked us to move another hundred that he didn't tell us at the beginning had to be moved that day. This was not easily received by our group, but knowing that we make the work much easier for the workers in the colony made it much easier to push through our tiredness and get the job done. By the end of our working day, we all sat with our ice cream from the junction in hand and felt satisfied with the work we completed that day.

Playtime is always such a fun time for us as volunteers. Especially as we spend these last few precious days with the children, we try to mentally take a picture of everything they do so we can always remember all the incredible times we have with them. Today one of the volunteers brought chalk to playtime. It is so much fun to watch all the little boys and girls draw all over the cement in front of their hostel and then rub the chalk all over their hands and faces. I have never seen such happy and colorful faces since being here. You would think that each child just won the lottery with the look on their face and their excitement as they held their own piece of chalk and began covering the ground with flowers, rockets, shapes, and random squigglys. It was one of those special playtimes that looking back will always be prominent in my mind.

One thing that has started becoming one of our favorite parts of our day with the kids is family time right before bed. I love getting to help the older boys with their homework and see the pride on their faces when we praise them for getting an answer right. But our favorite part of family time is getting to sing the kids to sleep. Jordan and I will lay next to them and tickle their backs as we sing songs like, "Tender Shepherd", "Edelweiss", "America the Beautiful", and lots of primary songs. Laying their watching Jordan sing to the boys as they are asleep was such a neat experience for me because it just showed me what a special attachment he has with them like they almost are our own kids in a way. It makes me very excited for the day when we will have a family of our own because he will be such an incredible father. Don't worry family, we are not making any plans anytime soon:) Anyway, this whole day despite the frustrations was really one incredible day, but then again, being at Rising Star, everyday is an incredible day when we allow it to be. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Monday: Books and Brownies

Monday: HAPPY 4th of JULY!!!!!!!!!!

Well, we are once again back at Rising Star, rested and ready for the week's work ahead of us! After a late night of getting home, we do have to say that going to the school to help tutor students in the warm library posed an interesting challenge of staying awake. One thing that we started doing with tutoring at the beginning of last week was being assigned specific children to work with that we would continue to work with the whole time we are here. This is such an awesome thing because it gives us a chance to really monitor the progress of the students we work with as well as use specifics techniques that would best help each of them individually. With every child we tutor there comes their own set of successes and challenges. We will say that some tutoring sessions go better than others. We both have children that respond to us really well and thoroughly enjoy working with us, like Sathish, who has races with Jordan to see who can finish math problems first, and get them right. Or Meisha, who is such an incredible reader and loves it when I ask reading comprehension questions so we can talk about the story she is reading. Unfortunately though, we both also have a couple of students that pose more of a challenge. Most of the time, just getting the student to focus is about 90% of the battle, and if that never happens then it makes for a less productive and more frustrating tutoring session. We never stop trying though. We will continue to work to help them in every way we can and in time, I think that we will definitely see progress. I think though that our favorite part of our days at the school is getting to play with the kids during interval (recess). As soon as the bell rings to excuse them from their second class of the day, the library is filled with maroon uniforms of little boys and girls saying "Auntie, auntie, come play, play concentration and double double," or "Uncle, uncle, shoulders, shoulders, I want to ride." With all the energy they have at school, it always amazes us how much energy they still have for playtime. They are all like little Energizer bunnies running all around the school yard, never missing a beat.

Playtime was especially fun today. I don't know why, maybe because it has been a few days since we have really got to spend quality time with the kids, so when we saw them all running towards us, there is this swell of emotion and we realize just how much we love these them. Though they may be teasers and sometimes even twerps, they truly all are our little angels in our own slice of heaven we call Rising Star. It is always fun especially when you get to play with a new child and learn their name and learn about their personality. Jordan gets to do this every play time when he is playing soccer with new boys all the time. Today another volunteer and I played "catch" (tag) on the slide with about 10 kids running up and down the slide yelling, "Auntie, catch me, catch me!" By the end of playtime, they all knew my name and instead would say, "Court-ee, catch, catch!" It was truly one of those special playtimes that we will always remember.

Dinner time with the volunteers is always good. Padmina, the cook at Rising Star, always works so hard and prepares incredible meals. During dinner, it is so much fun because each of us share our high and low point from the day's work. Today, many of the lows had to do with the fact that we were all a little homesick because we didn't get to celebrate the fourth of July with our families in America. Jordan, being the positive guy he is instead turned this into his high. Rather than being upset that we weren't home celebrating with all of you, he instead focused on what a neat opportunity it was to be in a different country at this time and really reflect on how the institutions and system of government our Founding Fathers created truly was inspired by God, and how blessed we are to be citizens of a country where we can travel around the world in order to bless and serve others who don't have the same opportunity of freedom. Looking at things in this positive light is something that Jordan has always been good at, especially on our adventure, and is something that I have drawn a lot of strength from during hard times. Dinner was also really great because Pam, the Rising Star manager baked us a little Fourth of July treat, Indian style. She made us brownie batter balls, that were really supposed to be brownies, but due to all the power outages, couldn't bake all the way through. They were delicious, and definitely became the high of the day for many of the volunteers. So even though we may be clear on the other side of world, we still feel our American pride and feel the blessings of what it means to be truly free. God bless the U.S.A!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Our Adventures in Delhi/ Agra

Our adventure began bright and early Friday morning (well I guess not so bright because it was 3 in the morning) but our spirits were high with excitement as we hopped in the vans to take a two-hour drive to the Chennai International Airport. Despite the fact that we were very excited for this weekend, Jordan and I were also rather nervous for the long trip seeing as we both were feeling sick with stomach problems the day before. Even at 3 in the morning, we were amazed at how crazy the roads in India still are. Truck drivers barreling through bumpy roads with no intention of stopping (except if a cow happen to be crossing the road) was a common occurrence at this time of the morning. Every time one would pass us by we could see three or four people sitting in the bed of the truck fast asleep while still sitting up. I guess it was a pretty early morning for everyone.

After arriving in Delhi and being picked up by our tour bus, we toured through the nicest area we have seen in India.  This was where the embassies and government buildings are.  The Indian government has a parliament, and a woman leader for the first time in their history.  After that, we were taken to a little rickshaw business when each of us got to take a bicycle rickshaw tour through Old Delhi.  The old part of the city couldn’t be any more different from the government section. As we loaded on to the rickshaws, we were super excited for a totally new experience, and we had it.  You would have to know India to understand that riding anything on the streets is an adventure in itself, but especially when your mode of transport is a skinny Indian man trying to pull the two of us along on a bike.  We fit through bustling alleyways not wider than 5 feet, and through countless markets and bazaars.  We were really bummed we couldn’t get out, because they had some amazing stuff.  At one point, one of the rickshaws in our group made contact with a man pulling a cart full of sacks.  He was not happy, and approached the biker with fists swinging.  It broke out into a little street brawl, but was quickly diffused.  But it was enough to alarm us ever so slightly. 

We were then taken to the spice market, which contained hundreds of different types of spices creating a scent not escapable inside the market.  We picked up a few things, but also got to go to the top of one of the tallest buildings in Old Delhi and look at it all from above.  Think Aladdin and you got it.  One of the best things about these type of adventures is being on the street among all of the locals, walking among them, speaking(though limited) with them.  We are definitely a focus of attention.  After those few hours in Delhi we were off on the 6 hour or so bus ride to Agra.  Much of Friday and Sunday were spent traveling, though we did have good experiences along the way.

We arrived at our hotel in Agra around 10 o’clock.  When they call it the Jaypee palace, it isn’t an exaggeration, it really is like a palace.  One of the most beautifully structured hotels, with beautiful architecture and decorations.  The grounds surrounding were very large and gorgeous.  Having a larger bed, with Western toilets, and a hot running shower were paradise enough without all of the beauty surrounding us.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sleep much that night, because it was up and early again by 4 to get to the Taj Mahal early and miss the crowds/heat.

We began our day with the highlight of our trip, one of the seven modern wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal.  And a wonder it truly is.  We consistently marveled at it’s perfectly symmetrical(from all sides) design, the history that brought it forth, the work and sacrifice that was put in to etch each flower and cut each stone, and the beautiful white marble that defines it.  No amount of words could explain, you have to experience it yourself.  A brief history, it was built by the 5th emperor in the Mughal dynasty for his favorite wife.  This wife he had married out of love, while the others had been arranged.  The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum that houses her tomb.  There was supposed to be a black one built across the river for him when he died, but it was never finished because of his wicked son, who was the 6th and last emperor of the Mughal Dynasty. 

Following that visit we went back to the hotel to eat breakfast and rest, which was much needed and appreciated.  After we were all full and rested we headed back out to see the Agra Fort.  It served as a Palace to the emperor and his family, not to mention his 365 concubines. The craftsmanship and architecture was quite impressive, not being overshadowed by the Taj Mahal.  It was in the Agra Fort that the 6th emperor imprisoned his father, the 5th emperor, in a room that could look out upon the Taj Mahal, surely a daily torture for him. A funny thing that happened at both tourist attractions was that we turned into the attraction.  We were frequently flocked by Indians who wanted to take pictures of us, or even give us things.  They were very excited to see 26 Americans.

We then got to go shopping with varied success.  We tried many places, but both towns we have shopped in have been tourist towns, so we usually get the higher price.  But we always enjoy seeing what India has to offer and we had a great time! Afterwards we went to Pizza Hut!  That’s right, American Pizza!  Mmm, it tasted so good, and the crust was just the same!  We all enjoyed it and became friends with our waiter and the sub-manager.  After we were full, we headed back to the hotel fully satisfied with our day exploring the ancient city of Agra.

Sunday morning we hoped back on the bus and waved goodbye to the Jaypee Palace as we began our 6 hour trek back to Delhi.  Halfway through the trip, we had the awesome opportunity to get off the bus and take another mode of transportation. Elephant ride, anybody?  Miles the 10 foot baby elephant, provided a bumpy ride, and became Courtney’s new best friend, after me of course.  This fulfilled a goal we both had coming to India.  Too quickly, we got back on the bus and after another 7 hours of traveling by bus/plane/van we arrived back home at Rising Star at around midnight. It was a lot of travel, some sickness, and a lot of haggling, but we had a great weekend which we will never forget!