Thursday, November 26, 2009


Happy Thanksgiving!!!! I hope the day brings everyone at home good food and fun times! The picture above is of a girl carrying wood on a farm close to Shanti Bhavan. I just thought it was a cool picture of everyday life in rural India.

The volunteers are going into Whitefield (a suburb of Bangalore) this evening for a restaurant Thanksgiving, complete with turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie! We’ve talking about this dinner for weeks as I think we’re all a little bummed that we can’t be with our family and friends having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and watching football. We’ve even dragged the Euros to join us in our American gluttony.

Being in India this Thanksgiving reminds me how thankful I am for what I have. Of course, I am most grateful for my family and friends who I love dearly. My absence from them makes me appreciate them more than I already do. Knowing that I’m amongst many children whose parents cannot take care of them or do not want them makes me indebted to my parents for their doting affection, devotion, and hard work in raising me and my siblings. Thanks Mom and Dad – I love you more than words can express!!

There are so many small things I have taken for granted like consistent electricity on demand, widely available access to the internet, toilet paper, washer/dryer, well-made coffee, cold milk, microwave, reliable public transportation, convenience, choice, and freedom. I am thankful for my time in India and at Shanti Bhavan for giving me a new appreciation for what I have and for reminding me how good I have it.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Children's Day

We celebrated Children’s Day on the 14th to commemorate Nehru’s birthday. It’s customary on this day for teachers and volunteers at the school to put together skits, dances and songs. True to tradition, we decorated the school, performed a modified version of Peter Pan (I played Wendy) and did a group dance to Jai Ho. In addition, the female volunteers did a dance to a popular Tamil song called Allegra. It was 2 weeks of agonizing rehearsals but we pulled off a great show! The kids were clapping and singing along which made us feel much better about making complete fools of ourselves. As a treat to the kids and ourselves, the volunteers pitched in and bought the kids ice cream for afternoon snack. Yum!

SB Children watching our performances

Me as Wendy - I'm trying to find Peter's shadow under Arun Kumar.

Min Ho, Erin, and Peter before the show

Mrs. Law (the principal) as Hook and Miss Beena (the vice principal) as Smee

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chennai: A taste of the good life

Over the weekend, my roommates (Allie and Ashley) and I went to Chennai (aka Madras) for a long weekend to visit with one of my family friends, Prabhakar, and his family. The drive took about 5 hours and even though it poured the entire weekend we managed to have a brilliant time. The route to Chennai was dotted with temples, smaller towns, farms, and rocky mountains. The roads were nicely paved, but unlike the US, there aren’t rest areas and conveniences along the highways. With that, you see a lot of men just using the bathroom along the side of the highway. I’m not sure what women do – I suppose they just hold it. One thing that is pretty striking about India is that the culture definitely favors men. I find it surprising given that they have had female leaders in the past and also how progressive India is. In speaking with some of the girls that I teach, some parents are quite vocal to their own daughters about their disappointment and resentment in having a girl. It breaks my heart to think that some of my students start their lives feeling unwanted and unlucky. I think it’s a hard cultural idea for me to grasp since without girls, there wouldn’t be boys!

Prabhakar was the most gracious host. First and foremost, he shared his LIFE with us. That is, the cereal Life which he brought back from a recent trip to Malaysia. It was such a wonderful treat to have cold milk and cereal for breakfast! He also took us to the British East India factory and fort, a crocodile farm, some really cool handicraft shops, a traditional south Indian dinner at the Taj, sari shopping (yes, I bought one so my Indian friends need to have some Indian events I can wear it to when I get home), and to the movies to see the latest Tamil film, Aadhavan.

The movie was a fun experience. The process of going to the movies is quite different. You call for tickets and then someone delivers them to your door. When you get to the cinema, you sit in your assignment seats in a massive theatre. Because Indian movies are so long they have an intermission, but like US theatres, they have buckets of popcorn, soft drinks, and ice cream. Though I don’t understand Tamil, the movie seemed to follow the traditional Indian formula – a couple of fight scenes, dances, and handsome boy falls in love with beautiful girl and tries to win her over plot. The tunes were quite catchy, and the audience was singing along. I have to admit I fell asleep because it was so long.

A huge thanks to Prabhakar for hosting us over the weekend and showing us such warm Indian hospitality! You can check out his blog here.

Some pics:

Chennai after the heavy rain

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Trick or Treat

Indians don’t really celebrate Halloween, nor do I. I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of Halloween. Really, what’s the point of getting dressed up if you can’t trick-or-treat? But this Halloween might have been the best one in years! As US ambassadors to Shanti Bhavan, we took the responsibility of Halloween very seriously providing the kids with relay races, bean bag tosses, face painting, scavenger hunts, ghost stories, coloring, and of course, candy. Allie and Ashley, my roommates and our resident dance volunteers, taught the lower grades routines to Monster Mash and Thriller. The kids rocked it!

I was in charge of the scavenger hunt and, because I dressed up as a fortuneteller, all the kids lined up for my impromptu palm reading. I literally had a line of 20 kids deep asking me if they would pass their board exams, if they would be rich, if they would be married, and how many children would they have. I had no idea how to read palms but I managed to pull out some astrological lingo out of my back pocket about their lifespan, careers, wealth, fame, marital status, and potential offspring. The children took my clairvoyant skills seriously and remembered every word I said, repeating their fortunes to their classmates and teachers the next day. Here is an Allie's interview with Devraj, a fourth grader:

Hopefully, they won’t ask me for a second consult, because it is highly unlikely that I’ll give the same reading. I should have somehow worked in a lesson on “how to divide decimals” into their fortunes since my 6th graders are struggling with this lesson at the moment…a missed educational opportunity…

In addition to Halloween, the children celebrated Ms. Beena, the vice-principal’s birthday by honoring her with cards and with a dance performed by the 12th graders. At SB, they LOVE birthdays. One of the first things that they ask when you arrive is when is your birthday, followed by how many brothers and sister you have and when their birthdays are. On your birthday, the entire school will sing to you during the afternoon snack and you get to pass out a piece of candy to the entire school. Birthdays and family are very important to the children – they clearly have their priorities straight! All in all, the children had a blast and the volunteers were really glad to have pulled off a successful Halloween celebration!

The 8th graders trick or treating at the guest house