Saturday, September 26, 2009

First Day at Shanti Bhavan

I arrived in Bangalore at midnight where a driver picked me up. Luckily, all my baggage made its way back to me. The airport is very new and modern and the initial roads to the city were nicely paved and well-lit. Once you leave the city center, it's a different story. The village roads have lots of speed bumps, potholes, and wildlife. There's tons of beeping too. The driver played Indian music from the radio and I noticed that Indian music has a lot of female/male duets.

I finally arrived at the school around 2 am where I was greeted by a school administrator and shown to my new room where I crawled into my metal-framed twin bed only to enjoy a massive amount of jetlag.

This morning I met some of the other volunteers and Mrs Beena, the vice principal, at breakfast. All are very nice and really excited to be at Shanti Bhavan. The kids are cute and seem too shy to come up to me. The food is good so far - rice and curries. It's spicy though so I have to bring a tissue to the dining hall at every meal (I look like a wuss in front of the children!) We're headed into Hosur (the closest town to Shanti Bhavan) this afternoon to get calling cards, sundries, and use the internet (a luxury in these parts)!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Three continents in three days....that's just how I roll...

Right now, I'm flying over the Middle East on my way to Bangalore and you can see the vast beautiful desert below the plane. The sun is setting, the sky is pink, and it's making me sad to think of all the conflict below me. I have serious butterflies in my stomach and I'm already feeling my world changing.

I traveled to NYC, Paris, Bangalore in three days. If your take a snapshot of my last month, I've traveled to 4 continents and 7 major cities (Sydney, LA, Las Vegas, Philly, NYC, Paris, Bangalore). Needless to say, I'm exhausted and I never know what time it is. I'm looking forward to sitting still in India for a bit and letting my body adjust to one time zone :) I'll be 9.5 hrs ahead of EST.

First...A Pit Stop in Paris

After a small luggage overweight fiasco, I arrived in Paris for a 22h layover. Air France at JFK takes their luggage/carry-on limits very seriously. After being asked to repack my 2 checked body bags to redistribute the weight, I was also forced to check in my carry on and repack into plastic bags at the gate. Very frustrating since I (and Beena - thanks Been) took the time to make sure I had all the things I needed in Paris. C'est la vie...

Luckily, I had two friends in Paris - an old one and a new one. Jules, a good friend from Boston and my resident Francophile (she lived in Paris for 6 months in college), met me at the airport. She was traveling to Milan for business and we were able to coordinate an opportune meet-up in Paris. I also made a new friend. On my flight to Paris, I sat next to a fellow NYCer, Kelly from SoHo, who was visiting Paris on her own for the first time. Understanding how it feels to travel alone, I invited her along to hang out with Jules and I for my short time in the City of Lights. It was cool to connect with someone who is a frequent visitor and one that's never been there.  

Je t'aime Paris. It was my 3rd visit there, but I'm always amazed by its grandeur and sense of timelessness. My time was limited but I managed to do a little shopping, some sightseeing, and fine dining. After a small purchase at the famed bag store (thanks a lot Macmahan ladies for the introduction - like I needed it!), we walked to the Champs Elysees, had a crepe at Rue du Rivoli, then more walking to see the Arch de Triumph, the Louvre, Garden des Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, Point des Arts, La Seine, and Notre Dame. Finally we dined at Le Petite Pointoise in the Quartier Latin where I enjoyed my last piece of beef for awhile and then after-dinner drinks Cafe Flore in St Germain des Pres. Our feet were throbbing at the end of the day.

Here's are pics of the Louvre and my last western meal  (D-the below pic is for you!):

A couple noticeable things about Paris...1) there are a lot of Americans there; 2) the fashion is pretty similar to NYC - just add motorcycle, helmet and cigarettes; 3) Parisian men have long messy hair - I'm not sure what's going on there... 4) don't mess with Parisians on the RER - they are all business and pouty on a weekday morning!

That said, I'm excited to come back for more than 22 hrs (Helene - if you are reading, I'm soliciting an invitation!) Au revoir Paris! A bientot.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009’s time to start all over...

Ahhhhh….yes, I’m blogging…I really can’t believe it myself! I figure I’d jump into the 21st century and communicate with everyone that I need to with modern forms of media technology. In the long run, it saves me from having to feel like a broken record. Bear with me as I attempt my first blogging effort…

When I tell people that I’m going to India to teach, the first question is “Why India?” Honestly, I didn’t really set out to do work in India and I have to admit that India wasn’t even on my top 10 list for places I want to visit. I like to think that India found me. Which leads to the second most popular question “How did you find this opportunity?” I was introduced to a boarding school for South India’s untouchable children called Shanti Bhavan. For my master’s thesis, we were required to research and write a communication strategy for a client. Finding the perfect client sounds easier than it is. In a state of desperation from prior unsuccessful soliciting, I emailed my distribution list and my friend Colleen forwarded my request to her colleague Mike who had done some pro bono consulting with Shanti Bhavan. Good ol’ word-of-mouth should never be underestimated! After a couple teleconferences and meetings, my relationship with Shanti Bhavan started to evolve.

After interviewing volunteers and the staff for my research, it became obvious that Shanti Bhavan was a special place. Famed author and journalist, Thomas Friedman, traveled to Shanti Bhavan and mentions the school in his book The World is Flat and in his NY Times opinion column. I was intrigued in the school’s ability to attract thoughtful and compassionate intellects. The more I interviewed, the more I found myself wanting to be part of this esteemed group and craving a similar experience. The volunteers often described their tenure at the school as “life-changing,” “the best time of their life,” and “magical.” So when my job position at Pfizer got eliminated, I jumped at the opportunity to satisfy my yearning to travel and to be part of the Shanti Bhavan family.

I leave for India tomorrow to start a new chapter in my life. I have so many mixed emotions – gratitude for having supportive family and friends, sadness to leave NYC, anxiety about the long flight and my ability to immerse myself in a completely different culture, excitement to meet my new students and colleagues, frustration in my inability to pack lightly, happy to be on a new life adventure, and mostly humbled to embark on a philanthropic opportunity that I truly believe in. I have some preconceived notions of India from my friends that have traveled there and from my Indian friends about the ubiquitous poverty, the distinctive fragrance in the air, the sacred cows on the streets, the unrelenting heat and spicy food that might bring me to tears, and the colorful landscape. Even with the best preparation, I imagine that there will be some good and not-so-good surprises along the way. I say – bring on both!