A Big Leap

I have always been one to play it safe. Maybe too safe, I’ve come to realize. After some thrilling smaller ventures away from my familiar life, I’m ready to take a big leap. Follow along on my volunteer journey to India.

Two exciting things April 6, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amy @ 2:18 am

Last night, for the first time in 2 months, I put my toothbrush under the tap. And it was blissful. No more brushing with a water bottle!

And I just woke up in London to see that it’s snowing!  Big, fat white flakes.  So beautiful and strange after 2 months of sweating in summer heat.

Now will go to Starbucks, have breakfast and hopefully catch the train to York!

(PS: Kathy, too funny! I must be the only person who’s never read Harry Potter. Maybe it should be my mission when I get home. And happy baby shower to Eira!)

 

Well, that didn’t work out April 5, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amy @ 4:25 pm

I got up at 8 this morning, showered and went to the airport, waiting for more than 2 hours with Kasey, the girl who had taken my place at the orphanage.  It was interesting to talk to her about the kids, who she connected with, her impressions of them, her own complaints about the staff.  She freaked me out about Tuberculosis though, apparently someone in their group had been exposed to it, and I HAVE been coughing a bit and I did have a dramatic weight loss (though that was from the many stomach illnesses I had).  But surely I would KNOW if I had Tuberculosis?? Gosh, I hope so.  Those who know me well know I will obsess over this until I get a TB test when I get home. Damn.  And now I’m eating cookies to try to get rid of the dramatic weight loss, in hopes that it will make me TB-negative.  Crazy logic.

My flight was just slightly late, but they assured us that we’d be in on time.  I changed seats 3 times for 2 different couples, so they could sit together – I guess I’m wearing a blinking sign that says “SINGLE TRAVELER!” I sat next to an older Indian woman who kept trying to talk to me in Hindi, and sadly, after 2 months I couldn’t understand much of it.  She also had her feet where my feet were supposed to go, and her arm kept ending up in my lap.  I suppose it could have been worse though!  The flight was 9 hours or so and I watched The Darjeeling Limited, Walk Hard, and Atonement.  I’m proud of the variety in my choices!  Some crap, but not 100% crap.

I got to Heathrow and pretended I was on The Amazing Race, which didn’t work too well because I was carrying 100 tons of luggage that I was tripping over, and that I could only sustain dragging for a minute at a time.  Finally I had made it through immigration and got my bags, and then had to make a run for the Underground.  I got there and after a few puzzing minutes trying to figure out what “zone” I was going to (stupid me thought that as a New Yorker this would be second nature), I and my many pieces of luggage were on the train.

The ride to Kings Cross took almost an hour, and then I had to drag the luggage up stairs.  Several nice young British men helped me.  I made it there 5 minutes before my train was due to leave and ran to the kiosk to buy a ticket.  It couldn’t handle my credit card for some reason, and as I was waiting in line at the ticket office while the man in front of me weighed his MANY options, the last train to York left.

Now I was in a panic and immediately got teary.  I controlled it quickly for fear of looking like a crazy American.  It was 1 or 2 am Indian time and I hadn’t slept much the night before.  I called Fran and she tried to see if I could get a train to Leeds but no trains were going north and the bus station involved changing metro trains, so I gave in to staying in London tonight.  I wasn’t sure what to do, where to go, I didn’t have the number of Kristen, John and Avery, and plus it was getting late and they were definitely not expecting me.  Fran advised me to get into a taxi and ask for a Travelodge, so I did that and had a lovely driver and ended up here at “Premier Inn.”

I’m just excited to be in a modern, clean place with a BATHTUB (that will certainly give me herpes or something) and a big comfy bed, watching British TV.  And I bought a sandwich at the pharmacy – smoked tofu with chili jam and mixed bean sprouts on whole grain.  It is fantastically yummy, and I love that I can buy a tofu sandwich at the pharmacy!  England is the best ever.  In the end, I’m reminded of how much I love London and how happy I am to be here, despite the whole disaster that today turned out to be.

 

Last night in India April 4, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amy @ 2:11 pm

Well, I was going to write out some long, detailed post about my day but then my lovely sister actually picked up her phone and I ended up talking to her for an hour!  Now it’s after midnight and I have to be up at 8 am.

 I’ll fill in the details later but I’m in Delhi, I went back to the orphanage today and it was so wonderful.  I am healthy except for a cough.  I have mixed feelings about leaving but at the moment mostly excitement for my European travels.  I think I’ll miss India once it really sinks in that I’m gone. 

Don’t go away yet because I’ve been saving photos from Dharamsala to post, and I’ll update on my England/France/Ireland visits for anyone who’s interested.

I’m now a little bit closer to seeing all of you who I’ve been missing! 🙂

 

Allergic to Dharamsala April 1, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amy @ 8:17 am

Seriously, I must be.  What else can explain 2 more days spent with terrible stomach ailments and a raging fever, rendering me unable to sleep, eat, move, or do anything?

I did have an assortment of odd fever dreams, including one where I had to send a Power Ranger in to battle a monster called “The Diarrhea Demon”, and one where Kerry Butler was standing next to my bed singing “Away in a Manger.”  Totally, totally bizarre.

This time I felt sorry for myself not because I wanted to go home and get the hell out of here (although a bath would have been the best thing ever) but because it’s my LAST WEEK, and the last thing I want to do is be spending it in bed, tossing and turning while I let out little cries of misery.  Yesterday I missed my placement, one of my very last days, but today I made myself go because time is just running out here.  Little Namita was jumping all over me and breathing in my face while I sat there sweating, and all I could think was “She feels so cold!” It’s weird to have the breath of another human being feel like ice.  I survived the long hours at the daycare, and ultimately I’m glad I went.  Moving around and getting some air was probably good for me.  Also good were the antibiotics I started taking again in an effort to avoid the scary Indian medical clinic.

I don’t understand how I can be perfectly healthy and vibrant in Delhi and then come here and be knocked down so many times.  It’s such a puzzle.  It must be in the water, which I’m not drinking or even brushing my teeth in, and I wipe my face when it comes near my mouth during my bucket shower.

But I think either time or the Cipro is doing its job, because I’ve made it up into town to the internet cafe and our last dinner out (going to have some nice comforting pasta).  I can’t believe I leave here the day after tomorrow.  Where has the time gone?  Then back to Delhi, to visit Pinki and Nikhil and Monica and the others one last time before I head off to England/France/Ireland! (which hopefully I will not be allergic to.)

 

Weekend with friends March 30, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amy @ 8:36 am

I had 90% of the weekend without feeling sick, so I consider it a success. Today my stomach started to get angry again, but I’m just trying to ignore it and go about my business (though I did skip yoga class). Some of my best friends have already left, and the rest, Polly, Amy, Tanya and Malia are all leaving tomorrow, so I’ve been trying to enjoy people’s company and enjoy India before I have to leave as well.

Yesterday we took a class at a place called Guerilla Yoga, which was pretty great. I’m naturally quite “bendy”, as Phoebe says on Friends, so I generally have an easy time getting into yoga. I could put both legs behind my head, but I still need to work on standing with my arms while I do that! I’m sore today but it was fun yesterday.

We’ve been eating EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. at Khana Nirvana, a place recommended by the fabulous Lily (THANK YOU!). Yesterday I had scrambled tofu, my ultimate favorite. If a place serves scrambled tofu, it’s a winner in my heart.

Today we went up to church, which was an interesting experience. It was mostly led by these young people who sang contemporary songs accompanied by a guy on a guitar. It reminded me ever so slightly of those mega churches you see on TV, because they all had their eyes closed and looked really lost in it. It was a nice nondenominational service though – Polly and Tanya are Mormon, Malia is Roman Catholic and I’m a liberal Episcopalian and it seemed appropriate for all. A good cultural experience, but not necessarily what I would want to go to every week.
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Malia and I sat in Moonpeak, the one good coffee shop in town while the others went to yoga today. I was drawn to this little girl who was sitting outside, basically eating foamed milk with a spoon. She looked a bit like a Guatemalan girl and she was so expressive. I took a few pictures through the window, which gave them a kind of dreamlike quality. The second one with the beggar woman behind her may be my favorite Indian picture.

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After another Khana Nirvana lunch, khananirvana.jpg we went shopping for pie ingredients because it’s the other Amy’s birthday. Polly, Tanya and I wanted to make her a chocolate pudding pie with an Oreo crust, and surprisingly we found all the ingredients in town. We also found these Britney Spears stickers.britneyspearsstickers.jpg

As we were walking down the mountain, a little Tibetan girl just started walking hand in hand with Polly. It was so sweet and unexpected. When we had to part ways we asked her mom if we could photograph the little girl, the mom said something, and the girl made this ridiculous pose for us. I love it!

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Our pudding pie seems like a success thus far (although it’s still in the chilling stage). We made it with Cadbury chocolate, so it has to be good! We made it in the CCS kitchen and then tiptoed it back to our house.
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I leave for Delhi on Thursday, so my time here is really winding down! I really need to take Shweta and Namita in my suitcase.

 

For Elliot March 28, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amy @ 8:09 am

Finally, a picture of me with a cow!  Or was this a bull?  The horns were a little intimidating, as you can see!

elliotcowpicture.jpg

Abbie brought up a good question: why do all the kids have a dot above one eye?  Here in India, they have a strong belief in “the evil eye”.  I had trouble grasping this well enough to write about it, so I took a few excerpts from this article:

“The original belief is that any person can harm your children, livestock, fruit trees or any other evidence of prosperity just by looking at the spoils of all your good will and hard work with envy. Ironically, the curse of the evil eye is thought to be provoked by inappropriate displays of spiritual pride or excessive beauty. ”

….”Almost everywhere that the evil eye belief exists, it is said to be caused accidentally by envy or praise. Thus the phrase “Pride Goeth Before a Fall” In certain Mediterranean and eastern cultures, one is careful not to praise a child too much, lest it invite the subconscious balancing effect of the evil eye. A classic situation would be the barren woman who praises the newborn baby of a new child. Such praise would be considered inappropriate and thought to bring the evil child. ”

So the black coal dots are there to ward off the evil eye, and apparently the kids sometimes wear bracelets or necklaces with blue beads.  When these fall off, the children have strong enough auras to protect themselves from the evil eye.  Sometimes the little ones also have their eyes lined with a pencil instead of the black dot by the eyebrow.

Gopal with dot:   gopalwithdot.jpg   Karan with eyes lined:  karaneyeliner.jpg  Older girl with no dot: olderchild.jpg

So I hope that helps clear it up a little.. it still confuses me a bit!

I’m getting sad about leaving my kids here.  Simona’s taking Sahil and long haired Shweta in her suitcase and I’m taking short haired Shweta and Namita.  Anne, we’ll have 2 new roommates!

 

“Brangelina Connection” March 27, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amy @ 7:33 am

I have to say, waking up, opening the newspaper and seeing this:

Hindustan Times:  hindustantimes.jpg   Times of India:  timesofindia.jpg

Pretty much started my day off on the right foot.  How funny and ridiculous is it that this is front page news on BOTH Indian papers?  I love it.  Was this front page news at home?

At the daycare today we started doing the handprints on the walls that Charron suggested.  They look gorgeous and the kids loved doing it, it was so thrilling for them to have their hands covered in paint.  When we’re not there, the kids sit in rows on the floor quietly writing on their chalkboards, so we’re basically there to make them act like the 3 year olds they are.  We just did Shweta, Shinam and Sahil today, but here are a few gleeful paint covered kids:

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Also, a nice shot of our wonderful teacher with Sahil and Shweta (another Shweta – she’s Simona, my co-worker’s favorite – we argue over which Shweta is the queen of the Shwetas! They’re both fantastic girls.)

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Shweta and Shinam’s mother and little brother (Gopal) were there today, and I took a family portrait.  What a gorgeous family.  (That’s two older sisters standing and a baby brother in mom’s arms – the gender is not apparent, I know.)

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After my placement today I went up into McLeod for lunch with Amy, Polly and Tanya.  I had a fried tofu sandwich that was heavenly.  And we saw a guy who could be a clone of Zac Hanson, which made my 13 year old heart soar a little.

When I got back to the CCS office, to my complete surprise they told me that I had a “parcel”.  The Easter Bunny had come to visit me in Dharamsala!  I got all kinds of delicious chocolate goodies, plus jelly beans, Pez, a little stuffed sheep, and a framed copy of the picture of me holding Nikhil and Monica at the orphanage.  I don’t know how you found me, Easter Bunny, but thanks!  What a surprise.

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So I’ve stopped having “morning sickness” and my appetite is back, at least for now.  Life in Dharamsala is a little happier these days, I’m glad to report!

 

I’m boring March 26, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amy @ 9:10 am

I apologize that my blog isn’t full of wacky, outrageous, touching stories. I think this is for a few reasons. I’ve been in India for 7 weeks now and so all of the oddness of Indian culture has become normal to me. And also, life in Dharamsala isn’t particularly Indian, it’s missing a lot of the craziness that my life in Delhi had. I wake up, go to work, come home, go to lunch, usually have a lecture or outing, then dinner, then there’s nothing to do at night besides read or watch TV on my computer.

I have, however, finished all the books I brought with me. I read 2 in succession that were pretty interesting together – Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa, and Expecting Adam by Martha Beck. The first was an evolutionary psychology attempt to explain how nearly everything we do is guided by our instinctual animal behaviors (basically, there’s little that’s uniquely human). Interesting, but kept me up at night contemplating/stressing sometimes. Then Expecting Adam was the complete opposite, a memoir of a Harvard-educated couple who have a son with Down Syndrome. Quite uniquely human, very inspiring, made me feel all was right with the world. I recommend them both, especially in that order.

I’ve also been catching up on all the later seasons episodes of Friends that I had deemed stupid and only watched once – it’s like they’re brand new to me!

I really do love the kids here, and the teacher we’re working with as well. We’re the first volunteers at this daycare and I think we’re doing nice “cultural exchange”, as CCS would put it. The kids are getting positive first impressions of foreigners, and the teacher has told us how much she enjoys having us working with her children. At the same time, she’s changing my negative impression of the way Indians care for children. The orphanage caregivers were so harsh and vindictive with the kids, and she’s so responsive, she works to truly understand each of them and she doesn’t use any physical punishment. Today we brought colorful string and beads and the kids made necklaces. We taught them colors and helped them count and they also got to practice their fine motor. And they were so excited. A few cute necklace pictures:

Namita beading: (This is a girl. She might be my favorite, if you held me at gunpoint and forced me to pick!)

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Babita (girl) and Rahul (one of our 2 boys) beading:

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Shinam with her necklace (she’s barely 2 and can bead like a pro):

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One of Babita’s older brothers and Shweta (another girl – Shweta would be the other child I would pick as favorite if a gun was held to my head! She’s Shinam’s sister, the two of them are an explosion of cuteness.)

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Namita swinging her necklace (she hit poor Sahil in the eye.. typical Namita, but for some reason I love her anyway)

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Josie and I went down into town today because she’s leaving and needed to buy gifts, and I needed to go to the post office. This was an ordeal in which I had to walk straight down a hill, got dirty looks from the people who worked there, who then asked me to hand them office supplies to do their work, then bought my stamps finally which I had to affix using a stick covered in honey. Then I was supposed to make sure the guy postmarked them otherwise they wouldn’t be mailed, and he glared at me and asked if it was urgent that they be mailed, and I said yes, so he slammed down the postmark and sighed. Brilliant customer service!

Now a goodbye dinner for those who are leaving (nearly all my friends). Sniffle. But garlic naan!

 

Quite a happy Monday March 24, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amy @ 9:28 am

This morning I woke up feeling like it was a glorious Saturday morning. I lay in bed smiling, I felt like all was right with the world. The reason? I had a beautifully vivid dream.

In the dream, I was in the car with my mom and she let me out at Whole Foods. I ran inside and purchased all kinds of goodies to get me through the rest of my time here, including Luna bars of all flavors, wasabi pea snack mix, cereal with pretzels(?!) and all other varieties of dry foods. I ran through the store with glee. I was SO excited in my dream that it carried over into my morning, even though I didn’t get to take my loot out into my waking world.

Work today was so lovely as well, you never would have guessed it was a Monday. The kids maybe were still giddy from Holi. They were so sweet, so talkative, so enthused. We couldn’t get them to learn much (although I did get Rahul to tell me the color of the red bowling pin, which was progress), but we danced around, sang “Shake My Sillies Out”, did Ring Around the Rosy, and they colored and put stickers on things. I got a couple of cute pictures of the kids with me (they’re all dressed up because they had medical checks today):

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Happy Monday!

 

 

Happy Holi! March 22, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amy @ 8:44 am

I am SO glad that my body decided not to be sick today, because Holi really tops my list of Indian experiences.

I came up the stairs to our Holi party later than everyone else (I had to wait for the power to come on so I could pay my cable bill!) and when everyone saw me they started cheering and formed a crowd around me. At that point I *thought* I was covered in powder. I was wrong. I got it from everyone, from every direction, every color, all over. And as I was trying to take that all in, I felt a huge rush of warm (thankfully!) water being dumped over my head, thereby making a brown paste out of all the color I’d been covered with. We danced around, swang on the porch swing, ate little appetizers (the ones that didn’t get soaked) and generally had such a jovial time. For me, a non-party person to think it was great, it must have actually been great. I feel so blessed to be able to experience this in India.

Pictures!

The colored powders they were selling in the market the other day:

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My colored self with Josie’s colored self:

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Close-up on my scary face:

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Full body shot:

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Group shot with a few staff members:

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And, a first – I’ve finally embedded video. This is our second celebration, in the yard outside the office:

Happy Holi and Happy Easter to all!

PS: My face cannot seem to get entirely clean.  I will be going to church tomorrow looking slightly like a circus freak.