Being Home

Hello again everyone!

I have been silent on this blog for several months, and I apologize for that for anyone who was following my adventures!  Most of you already know that once we reached Varkala, Kerala in the last month of our trip, Chris and I embarked on a mission to rescue a little street puppy we named Boo.  The process of figuring this out completely consumed me.  Coupled with dwindling internet access, sleepless, tearful nights, and mountains of stress, the international adoption process took over all of my time, and blogging was the last thing on my mind.  But Boo’s story is a story for another day!

I’ve been home for about a month and a half now, and I’m having trouble adjusting.  Not to my normal life, because it picked up pretty much where it left off.  But adjusting to the simple fact that I am home, rather than on the other side of the world, has been difficult for me.  I’m home, I’m a different person than when I left, and life here just went on as usual in my absence.  And I’m expected to just fit back in again, to assume my normal adult responsibilities, to do my job at work, come home and make dinner, go out on weekends.  I’m myself but I’m not myself, and a piece of my heart is on the other side of the earth.  It’s a weird and difficult to explain problem.  I dream about India every single night, and wake with renewed happiness.  And then sleep fades away and I am left with the reality that I’m in my own bed in my own city on my own continent.  And it’s not that that’s a bad feeling, because it’s not.  I love my family and friends and missed them dearly when I was gone.  I love my country and my home town and the city I live in now.  I don’t know if I could ever choose to live anywhere but Canada.  Being away from everything I know and love for such a lengthy period of time was very hard on me, and Chris as well.  But I still find myself heartsick for India.  Heartsick is the only way I can think to describe this odd feeling.  I’m not homesick, because, though I love India, it is not my true  home.  But my heart aches for the country I called home for three and a half months.  Having Boo and the other puppy we brought home, Choco, beside me as the ultimate souvenir of our time in India does help sooth the strange displacement I feel, but also serves as a reminder that I’m not in their home country helping other animals and people in need.

Sometimes I feel sorry for taking Boo away from her beautiful beach-front home.  It saddens me to remember that in a place of such beauty, Boo and her family endured unimaginable cruelty at the hands of humans.  I know that Boo was basically dying of infection and malnutrition when we found her, and that taking her away from her home was the only way to save her, but her birthplace is absolutely stunningly beautiful, and I wish that she and her family could have been safe to grow and thrive there.  Unfortunately, humans have created a hostile environment for dogs in Kerala, and Boo was doomed to a life of struggle the moment she was born.  The fact that she survived her early puppyhood is pretty much a miracle in itself.  There was a small litter of puppies, only a week old, at the resort where we found Boo.  The mother had died under nefarious circumstances, leaving the litter helpless.  Some employees of the resort had taken to bottle feeding the tiny puppies four times per day, to keep them alive.  I still think about those poor babies, and pray that they were able to survive.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone stepped up to save them after we left.  If they had been old enough to move, I would have taken them all to Delhi with us, to Dr. Choudhary’s rescue.  I know that this was not possible at the time, but when I think about them I can’t shake the feeling that I could have done more.  That’s the problem in India: You help one person, or animal, and when you’ve done what you can do, you turn around and there are ten others.  You’re not a miracle worker.  You can’t save them all.  You can’t even help them all.  But there’s a small voice at the back of your mind, constantly calling you to do more, and telling you that you haven’t done enough yet.

And I think that’s part of the reason I’m having trouble adjusting.  That small voice in my mind is telling me that I didn’t do enough, and that I have more work to do.  By the end of our trip in India I was angry.  I was angry that the country and people that had welcomed us with such amazing warmth and kindness could show such cruelty to its animal population.  I was infuriated every time I heard someone become outraged at the presence of a dog.  My blood boiled when I saw people threaten dogs with rocks, bamboo sticks, or their feet.  I was so sick of having to hold my tongue (for my own safety) in the presence of such ridiculous hatred.  I began to glare at people or mouth them off, yelling back at them even though I knew that they, for the most part, couldn’t understand what I was saying.  At least they could understand my tone, I thought.   I couldn’t, and still can’t, understand how such loving people could be so cruel.  I needed to come home to regroup and calm down.  I needed to get Boo out of there.  My blood curdles when I think of the life Boo would have had if we didn’t fight so hard to bring her home.  But there’s still that small voice whispering, “You haven’t done enough.  You could have done more.”

And the rest of it is just that I truly enjoyed my time in India.  I loved every second of it.  I loved the foreign landscape, the bird songs I had never heard before.  I loved being surrounded by people speaking a language I didn’t understand.  And I loved when, after a few weeks, I could pick up on some of the words used in common conversation and decipher what they meant.  I loved being immersed in such an ancient culture with grand, carved monuments built hundreds, even thousands of years before Canada had a written history.  I loved being able to touch those monuments.  I felt connected to the the artists and architects who built them and the people who lived, worked, studied, and prayed in and around them.  I loved seeing Hinduism practiced in real life, with people crowded into its grand and ancient temples.  I loved being in some of the biggest cities on earth, and also in small, backward villages.  I love the people I met, and the people I saw smiling and laughing even in the slums of Delhi.  Now, being home, I find that experiences I had in India randomly pop into my mind.  The most mundane things I do here remind me of  “this one time, in India…”  I could go on and on about all the things I love about the country!

I would also like to make clear that not all Indians are hostile towards animals.  Through the process of adopting Boo and our time spent volunteering with NGOs, Chris and I met many amazing and compassionate people who stand up and fight for the rights of animals and people.  They helped us selflessly and showed us such kindness that it is sometimes hard for me to believe they are real people.

Yes, India has its dangers and its problems, but is that not true of all nations?  There are a few ground rules for staying safe, like not going out at night, dressing appropriately, and not going to certain areas of towns or cities.  But despite all this, I felt so welcomed by almost every person I met while there.  Our hosts were amazing, and I don’t think I have ever known people to go to such extraordinary lengths to make guests feel at home.  I could never sing enough praise for the amazing people we had the privilege of meeting on our journey.  We were fed and housed, free of charge, by even people who had no obligation to help us.  We were treated like dear friends and close relatives by people we had only known for a day.  One Indian friend still refers to me as his daughter and Chris as his son-in-law.  And this amazing, warm, loving and open kindness was not an anomaly.  We experienced it daily.  We exhausted all the ways we could think of to say “Thank you.”   Of course we had bad experiences, like arguing with jackass tuk tuk drivers who saw our skin colour and instantly imagined all the ways they could rip us off for a few extra rupees.  But it was all part-in-parcel of the journey we were on.  The love that we felt greatly outweighs the hostility.  Even though I was so angry by the end of our time in India, I was also absolutely overwhelmed by kindness and a feeling of immense gratitude.  I am so grateful to all of the people we met in India, and to the country itself for giving me the most amazing experience of my life thus far.  I’m thankful for it bringing me Boo and Choco, these two beautiful souls I now have the privilege of sharing my life with.  I’m grateful to India for bringing Chris and I closer to each other than we ever thought possible.  I learned so much about myself and what I’m capable of because of my time in India.  I learned that if I set my mind to something, I can and will accomplish it, even if it means spending entire days and nights crying, not sleeping, and feeling my heart breaking.  I refuse to give up.  I have scarcely felt such intense sadness and immense joy as I did while on this trip.  My emotions overwhelmed me.  I find myself getting teary-eyed sometimes just looking at Boo, or thinking about an experience we had in India.  I learned to let myself feel things.  To truly and deeply allow myself to experience the world for all its sadness and beauty.  To let events, songs, people, everything around me affect me.  I discovered that I am an extremely emotional person and have spent most of my  life trying to act tough and hide how profoundly I feel things.  It truly changed the way I view myself, the way I view others, and the way I perceive the world.

Anyway, I’m rambling and getting all emotional.  My point in writing this was to say that I plan on writing about the rest of our Indian adventures from where I left off.  Though I am home now, I think it will help me process what I’ve seen and done and will also be fun to write!  If you’ve made it this far in this posting, I hope you continue to read the rest of my upcoming posts, because I want to share them with you!  I also ask that you excuse any typos you found while reading this, as it is now almost four in the morning and any editing skills I possess have vacated my body.  Tally-ho until next time!

 

❤ Caitlin

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Island Temple Adventure in Pictures

Hello again everyone! I’m sorry I haven’t been posting very often lately, but I’ve been too busy adventuring! I promised the story of our island temple adventure, and so here it is! This was the morning after I had spent the night in MG Hospital for food poisoning!

After Thava had given me my pills and antacid and I had finished my last saline bag, we said goodbye to Jenna and Phil because they had to get back to Madurai before dark. Then we went to our apartment so that I could change out of my sick outfit. I definitely was NOT feeling up to an adventure that day but I knew that if I didn’t go, I would regret it! I changed and then we were off! We traveled in a school “van,” which was really more of a small bus. There was a spare tire taking up two seats.
Our first destination was the Pamban Bridge, which is a long sea bridge that connects Tamil Nadu to Pamban Island, also known as Rameswaram Island. Our ultimate destination was Ramanathaswamy Temple, which is one of the most holy sites for Hindus. In the Hindu religion, there are four main temples that are considered the most holy: Ramanathaswamy in the south, Badrinath in the north, Puri in the east, and Dwarka in the west. The name for these four temples is Char Dham, or the Four Abodes. Ramanathaswamy is so revered partly because it is said that Rama visited here on his way to Sri Lanka to rescue his beloved Sita from the grips of the demon king Ravana. This adventure is outlined in the Ramayana, and is very interesting, I highly recommend it! It is also said that Hanuman, the monkey god, aided Rama in his quest by helping to build a bridge to Lanka from Rameswaram Island. If you zoom into this on Google Maps, you can actually see the remains of what possibly could have been an ancient land bridge from Rameswaram to Sri Lanka!
On Pamban Bridge, Chris, Rita and I got our first view of the Indian Ocean (the Bay of Bengal). It was magical. We all had moments where we realized we were staring at an ocean on the other side of the world. Even though I felt like death warmed up, I knew that this was a moment I would remember for the rest of my life.
Once we had stopped to take pictures on the bridge and made it to the other side, Thava had the bus stopped and we got out to walk on the beach. We had so much fun playing in the surf and walking through the sand! We picked up sea shells and took photos with Indian families who approached us saying “One snap?” or “Photo?”. Thava facilitated this by translating for us and helping to arrange the families in the photos. It was pretty entertaining and fun! We spent quite some time just wandering down the beach! Thava made sure to remind me to take my antacid and kept checking in to see how I was feeling.
Soon, Thava decided it was time to go so we went back to the bus and headed to the town of Rameswaram. Once we reached the town we stopped for lunch. Thava ordered for us, but I explained that I couldn’t possibly eat anything. He understood and I sat crumpled over in a chair and the others ate their delicious looking lunches of rice and various sauces.
After lunch, we proceeded to the temple! This was the first temple we had visited and so we weren’t sure what to expect. Thava explained that we wouldn’t be allowed to take any photos, and so we left our bags with the bus driver who promised to guard them. Thava also instructed us to remove our shoes, and so we did and left them in the bus. Rita and I applied the red velvet bindis that the MG School principal had given us, and we all walked, barefoot, towards the entrance of the temple. At the doors we found military security guards with rifles and a metal detector. We were about to walk through the detector when the security guards noticed that we were not Indian, and also that Rita and I were not wearing saris. They gestured at Thava and spoke hurriedly in Tamil to him, and he spoke back. While Thava was negotiating with the guards, an older, silk sari clad Indian lady with a beautiful long white plait at the back of her head pointed out my dress and Rita’s and said we could not go into the temple without buying coverings to wear across our bodies. We asked why, and she said it was because to enter the temple, you need to be wearing respectful and traditional garments. Both Rita and I had made an effort to ensure that we were fully covered (shoulders, legs, chest, etc), but it was not enough. The older lady explained that it was because national elections were coming soon, and so they had tightened the rules. We looked at Thava defenselessly as he continued to negotiate for us. Soon, the guards waved us through, and we all breathed a sigh of relief! Thanks again to Thava, who got us into one of Hinduism’s holiest sites!
As we walked through the great halls of the temple, the older Indian lady strolled with us. We saw stalls selling various items, and she instructed “First you go to worship God, and then you shop.” She also told me that if a guard stopped us because of what we were wearing, to plead ignorance and apologize that we didn’t know the rules. She asked me where we were from and also how her English was, and we had a pleasant conversation.
In one part of the temple, we saw what I’m convinced is the world’s happiest elephant! He was laying on his side while a groom brushed and bathed him with cool water. He looked completely at his leisure with not a care in the world! His gaze met ours, and I noticed that his eyes were a beautiful golden honey brown. They were so warm and deep, like pools of liquid amber. I could have stared into his eyes for hours!
We moved on as Thava lead us through the tall hallways full of pillars that were carved and painted with images of Hindu gods. It was so beautiful! We passed by small niches where idols of various gods were displayed, and devotees were offering coins, fruit, flowers and prayers. We were not permitted to visit the sacred room containing the Shiva linga, and so Thava took us out into the streets outside of the temple. As we walked through the narrow streets we saw holy men begging for coins at the side of the road, cows wandering through the crowds of people, and vendors trying their best to peddle their wares. My main thought here was what would happen if I suddenly needed to be sick!
We followed Thava to the end of one of the streets where there was an archway, and then steps leading down to the ocean. There were people bathing and swimming, and so we joined in! We walked into the Indian Ocean to about waist height, clothes and all, and were debating going deeper, but Thava stopped us. I think he was very concerned that we did not have spare clothing to change into. It felt really nice to cool down in the ocean!
After we left the ocean, we walked down the street and met the bus which had driven around the temple to pick us up. I happily sat down, so relieved that I hadn’t puked in the temple! I felt like I shouldn’t even be out of bed, and so even just sitting was fantastic!
We proceeded out of the town, and Thava said that we were going to go to a beach! After a little drive back across Pamban Bridge, we pulled onto a side road that was lined with palm groves and piles of green coconuts. I watched out the window in awe as we entered this tropical paradise! Soon we could see the beach, and the bus parked. Sadly, at this point in the day I was feeling extremely ill. My entire body ached from retching, sleeping on a wooden slab, and having all sorts of needles stuck in me. I told Rita, Chris and Thava that I would have to stay behind while they went to frolic in the ocean. A kind lady, whose name I couldn’t pronounce, stayed behind with me, while a boy who I assumed was her son and had been with us for most of the day joined Rita, Chris, and Thava. She and her son had joined our trip that morning, and she had been dropped off in one of the towns along the way, and picked up on our way home. She was wearing a beautiful hot pink sari with embroidered and beaded flowers. She didn’t speak very much English and so we couldn’t have a full conversation, but we did the best we could for a few minutes and then settled into a comfortable silence. After a little while a lady came by carrying some sort of long, brown plant thing. She had about ten of them, and they looked like they had the skin of a brown coconut, but in a different shape. The kind bus lady bought a few, and offered one to me. I accepted it and watched as she ate hers by skinning it with her teeth and pulling it apart to reach the meaty centre. Because I didn’t feel well, I wasn’t up to the task of trying to do this myself, and so I just held it and waited for the others to return.
When Rita, Chris, Thava and the boy came back to the bus, they said that people weren’t swimming at the beach, but they went in the water anyway! They said it was warm and salty and fantastic, and I was jealous of their experience! I knew, however, that it had been better for me in the long run to stay in the van, as I felt very unsteady on my feet and I was in pain. Thava was very concerned about me and urged me to eat one of the bananas I had brought, and so I did. And with that, we headed back to Ramnad!
I should also mention that through the entirety of this day trip, Thava had ridden either standing in the open bus door, or on a bench uncomfortably close to it! The door was never shut, and the bus did not have seatbelts. Eeek!

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The view from Pamban Bridge

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Thava and the open bus door

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OCEAN!

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OCEAN!!!

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Awkward family photo

❤ Caitlin

Side Notes

Hello again everyone! I’ve got a post in the works about our island temple adventure, but I have a few other stories to tell as well!

I realized recently that I haven’t mentioned some interesting things about Indian culture. One is what I like to call the Indian head wobble. I noticed it the very first day we were in India, and it is prevalent from South to North. Basically, it is like a shake of the head, but not quite. More of a side to side wobble that’s not a shake but not a nod. It took a little while to get used to, as people will “wobble” their heads while speaking to you, much like some people at home (like me!) nod when they speak. It seems that the “wobble” can mean yes, no, maybe, I understand, and any number of other responses. Usually, though, I think it translates to a nod of the head, or a “yes.”  When we asked one of our guides what the head wobble means, he gave us a confused look, and said “What do you mean? This (a nod) means yes and this (a shake) means no.”  When we protested, he looked at us like we were crazy, so we gave up! I have definitely seen people “wobble”their heads and say both yes and no, which can be quite confusing! I’m also not sure half the time if people I am speaking to are catching my meaning properly, because I tend to nod when I speak, and I’m not sure how that translates to them!

Another interesting and fun thing is that in Hindi, “ha” means “yes.”  So when Chris, Rita and I jokingly laugh at each other by shouting “HA!” or “hahahahahaha!” we get some pretty interesting looks! We have started to pick up on the meaning of other Hindi words as well, which makes understanding locals much easier. The language barrier doesn’t always seem so daunting now that we’ve been here for a while.

I’m also sure that some of you are wondering where we are and what we’re doing now, because my posts have been telling stories about past events! After our time at MG School, we traveled from Ramnad in Tamil Nadu (South India) to New Delhi on March 14th. We spent two nights in Delhi and then traveled by car to a small village called Krakas outside the city of Jaipur. We rode beautifully painted elephants, celebrated the festival of Holi, saw the palaces and forts of Jaipur, and volunteered at an after school education program for girls. After our week volunteering in Krakas, we went back to Delhi by bus and spent two more weeks volunteering in the Baljeet Nagar slum school run by Wahoe Commune. We still miss those wonderful kids and the people from Wahoe who made our time there comfortable and fun! From Delhi we took a 16 hour train ride to Varanasi and spent three days sight seeing (AMAZING!). And now, after a 22 hour train ride, we are in Dehradun, surrounded by mountains and fresh air! We are currently volunteering with an organization called Bella Health, helping with providing healthcare and health education to women and children. Although I enjoyed Ramnad, Jaipur and Delhi, I have to say that Dehradun is definitely my favourite city so far! The air is cleaner, there are trees and forests everywhere, and the mountain views remind me of home. Varanasi was also amazing! It is a beautiful and ancient city, full of temples and ceremony. Having studied Hinduism, it was a fascinating experience to visit some of the most holy sites of that religion, and touch the Ganges! We also enjoyed the culture of the city, as it feels very European. We sat in small cafes that serve Western food and coffee, strolled through the tiny alleys and shopped in the beautiful shops, and watched the devout bathe themselves in the holy water of the Ganges. There are areas of stone steps that were built into the river banks, leading up to the city, which are called ghats. We spent a lot of time walking through the ghats and people watching. I was so sad to leave Varanasi after only three days, and would love to go back. If you’ve never heard of it, I urge you to Google Varanasi! There’s some fantastic information as well as photos that you can peruse! I will of course post photos of our time there when I have a chance!

There is so much running through my head right now, and so much I could write about!

When we were still in Ramnad, we went sari shopping with Thava, and it was so fun! He took us to the store, and when we walked in, all we could see were colours. There were rows upon rows of brightly coloured saris all neatly stacked in wooden shelves behind beautiful white marble counters. Each counter had two or three attendants who would bring down the sari of your choice and unfold it for you. We were directed to go upstairs and look at saris, and of course were taken to the section that housed the most expensive saris first! The attendent handed us a catalogue of designer saris, and one of them unfolded an amazingly beautiful bright teal and pink sari with a velvet flower design. He wrapped it around me and I was a pretty pretty princess!! But, like I said, these were the pricey saris (approx. 50 Canadian dollars), and at that time I was not looking to buy a fancy sari. We only needed semi-fancy saris to attend the MG School principal’s housewarming party. So I left the amazingly beautiful sari behind and went to look at the more modestly priced saris. Rita chose hers right away, a beautiful blue silk sari with golden embroidery. I didn’t even know what to do with myself! There were so many colours and styles and options, I was so overwhelmed! The attendents behind the counter unfolded sari after sari after sari, and eventually I narrowed it down to two: a beautiful hot pink and grey with a leaf pattern, and a black and cream brocade with lime green and red on the shoulder fabric. There was also a super fun option that had black and white wine glasses on the shoulder fabric, but I thought it was probably not appropriate for the occasion! So I chose the pink and grey, and we went back downstairs to choose the fabric for our sari blouses. It took quite a lot of explaining to get the salesman to uderstand that we needed EVERYTHING – sari, blouse, and inskirt (like a peticoat). When he finally understood, he helped us choose the right cotton fabric for our sari blouses. And then we went to the inskirt department to choose those. We also discovered that we would need to have our sari blouses tailored, and so we would have to wait until the next day to pick them up. After we paid for everything, a salesman from the sari store took us down the street to a teeny tiny seamstress shop. Inside we found four 30-something women sewing away on old, pedal controlled sewing machines. They had us come in and eventually, after some gesturing and translating done by the salesman from the sari store, we were measured for our blouses. The women measured Rita, and then stuffed me into a stock blouse that they used as a template. Rita opted for a longer blouse, while I chose the traditional short blouse. The seamstresses were hilarious! They were cracking jokes, laughing, and smiling at us the entire time! One of them pointed at Chris and then pointed at me and smiled, so I nodded, and she smiled, brought her fingers to her lips and kissed them, and then giggled to the other ladies. I told Chris that she thought he was cute, and he smiled at her, making her blush.

After we were measured and our fabric choices were determied, one lady told us that the blouses would be ready by 5pm the next day. We asked if we could pick them up earlier because we needed them for an event at 2, and eventually negotiated that we would come at noon. We left the shop feeling overwhelmed but excited! The women were so animated and fun to work with!

The next day, we caught an auto from the school at 11:30. The driver took us to the shop and sat in his tuk-tuk outside, waiting for us to emerge. The ladies were still sewing our blouses! As we sat and waited, the driver became more and more agitated, and finally started yelling at the seamstresses. They yelled back, and eventually it was worked out that he would leave and they would call him when he should come back to pick us up. So he left and we waited until the blouses were ready to be tried on. While we waited, the lady who liked Chris the day before looked at me and raised her hand above her head, like a tall person. At first I thought she wanted me to stand up, but then she said “Husband?” I laughed and said he wasn’t there, and she made the kissing fingers gesture again and giggled. Rita tried her blouse on first and it fit her like a glove! Then it was my turn. Sari blouses (or at least this version), fasten in the front, and so you have to squeeze into the very tight sleeves and then wrap it around you like a jacket. The ladies helped me do so, and then did up the fastening hooks. To me, it looked like the bust darts were in the wrong place- too high and too pointy. One of the ladies pushed both my breasts upwards and pulled the blouse downwards, forcing them to sit in the proper place. All four of the women smiled and made happy hand gestures, so I just went with it! And thus, Rita and I were proud sari owners! When the ladies called the auto driver back, he had to wait a few more minutes, and again started to yell. The shop ladies yelled back at him until we were ready to go. When we left, all of the seamstresses seemed sad for us to leave. They smiled warmly and waved. Our auto driver complained all the way to the school that he waited one hour.

Another note- Animals. There are animals everywhere in India! Dogs, cats, goats, cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens roam the streets independently, digging through garbage and hunting. Most of them are strays. In Ramnad, there was a particular gaggle of goats that hung out at the end of our street, where we caught the school bus every morning. We lovingly named them the Garbage Goats, and made a song about them, which goes as follows. If you know the song Smelly Cat from Friends, then you already know this song:

Garbage Goats, Garbage Goats,

What are they feeding you?

Garbage Goats, Garbage Goats,

It’s not your fault!

We also had a few Garbage Cows, and a mother pig and her babies who liked to wade in the garbage bog by our apartment, who we named, you guessed it, Garbage Pigs. Together, the goats, cows, and pigs formed the Garbage Gang!

There are also many, many small lizards here who like to hunt bugs inside houses. In our Ramnad apartment, we had three: Steve the living room lizard, Carl the toilet room lizard, and Lux the light fixture lizard. They were all different sizes and slightly different colours and usually visited us at night. They were super cute!

That’s all I have time to write now, and I’m sorry if there are typos in this post because I don’t have time to edit! More coming soon, and pictures as soon as I have stronger wifi! Talk to you all soon!

❤ Caitlin

 

In Which I Get Very Sick

Hello again everyone! Sorry it took so long for my last post, and this post, my internet connection is very sketchy and wouldn’t upload it. Turns out I had to take out all the photos to get it to work! I’m going to try to post more pictures when I have a more stable connection.

This post is about our activities outside of school in Ramanathapuram (Ramnad), which is in the state of Tamil Nadu. As I typed this, I realized that the story of my food poisoning ordeal was longer than I had anticipated, so I will post about our island temple adventure in my next entry!

After our first day at school, our helper Thava asked us if we needed help for dinner. We said yes, and he said he would come to our apartment at 7:30. So we all showered in our small shower room (with no shower head or hot water, just a tap and buckets!) and waited for him to come. At about 8 o’clock he knocked on our door. He was alone and had come on his scooter. He tried to communicate to us that not all of us would fit on the scooter, but with his limited English skills and our non-existent Tamil skills, we didn’t understand what was going on. So he told us to wait a minute, and came back with the lady from next door. We never did learn her name, but she was very helpful when it came to translating or Thava. Thava, by the way, is not pronounced how it looks. The “th” has a very specific sound in India, kind of between a “t” and a “d”. “V” and “w” also seem to be interchangeable, and I heard people pronounce his name both as “Dawa” and “Dava,” sometimes with the “th” sounding more like a “d,” sometimes more like a “t.” Anyway, I digress. When the neighbor lady was at our door, she managed to communicate from Thava that he needed to drive quite a ways to get our dinner and so only one of us could come. He chose Chris (even though Chris wasn’t very happy about that) and so Chris and Thava zoomed away into the night on his little scooter. About half an hour later, they came to the door with Marry Brown fried chicken and french fries. We were so happy to see familiar food that we dug right in! This fried chicken, however, was a little different than the fried chicken we’re used to because it was spicy! We didn’t mind!

Every day after school, Thava rode the same bus as us (number 12), and always asked us if we needed help with our dinner. On the second or third day, we asked him if he could take us to the supermarket. So he came to our house at 7:30, and we headed out on foot to the supermarket. He had also brought along a boy who was wearing an MG School polo shirt, but didn’t speak English. We walked down our street and then down the main drag to a little box shop. The store was small and crowded and hot. The people in the store seemed pretty entertained by watching a bunch of white people shop for foreign food! Thava asked us what we wanted and so we directed him, we need rice, and pasta, and hand soap (because no one uses hand soap!!), and soya sauce, and milk, eggs, etc. Thava helped us to pick out the best brand of each item, took us to the till, and negotiated the price for us. I think we all felt a little confused and flustered, and were so glad that Thava was there to help us! After we paid, he told us that we needed to go to another supermarket to get bottles of water. The catch? It was on the other side of the street, which in India, is one of the most terrifying things you can say to a tourist! The traffic here is a maze of cars and trucks and bikes and scooters and cows, goats, and dogs weaving and bobbing in and out, constantly honking horns and changing speed. Technically the main road in Ramnad is divided into two lanes of traffic, but that becomes four or five with the amount of passing that happens. Thava took us to the edge of the street and signaled for us to wait. He carefully judged the oncoming traffic and waited for it to be safe for us to cross. He signaled for us to go, so we followed him, wanting to keep as close to him as possible. Vehicles zoomed closely past us and swerved to avoid us. We were so scared but tried to remain calm! When we reached the centre divider, Thava had us stop, and again judged the traffic coming from the opposite direction. When he told us to “come,” we crossed with him, and made it safely to the other side! We went into another supermarket and bought a few big bottles of water. This store was even smaller and more crowded than the last, and also hotter. We started to perspire just standing in the aisles. After that, the boy carried our water and Thava carried our groceries and we headed back to the apartment! Thava made sure we were ok, and he and the helper boy put our groceries away (ALL in the fridge!). Thava then left, but told the boy to stay with us. Even now, I’m not sure why he did this. The boy sat in a chair in our small living room and watched us eat dinner. After we finished, we did the dishes and went about our business. But the boy didn’t leave! Soon, we decided it was time for bed, and so Rita went to try to explain to the boy that we didn’t need his help anymore. He didn’t understand. She said we were going to bed and that he could leave, and he still didn’t understand. Finally, after much explaining and hand gesturing, we got the message across, and he left.

And now…the food poisoning. What an experience!
The first weekend we were in Ramnad, former roommates of Rita’s, Jenna and Phil, came to visit! They had been traveling in India for about 5 months and just happened to be in Madurai, which is a city close to Ramnad. So they drove down on their scooters and met us at our apartment! Earlier that day (Saturday), Rita, Chris and I had gone to the school to hang out with the kids on their option day, and then taken the school bus to the grocery store and a small cafe. We had samosas and ice cream, and sat in the nice air conditioning. I had been feeling a little off all day, but didn’t really think much of it. When Jenna and Phil got to the apartment, we chatted for a little while and then headed out to get some food. We found a street stand that, from what we could observe, had good hygiene standards. Jenna and Phil ordered for us and we ate! The food was delicious! Afterward we went back to the apartment and played a card game. I started to feel worse and worse as the evening aged. After our guests left, I had a quick shower, hoping it would help me feel better, and then laid down in bed.

It was soon apparent that I was getting more and more sick as time went on. My stomach felt like it was twisted in knots. Every inch of intestine inside me was cramping, causing me an extreme amount of constant pain. I didn’t know what to do. Chris was worried about me and told me that if I needed to vomit, I should just let myself do it, because then I would feel better. I took his advice. I don’t want to get into too much detail and completely gross you all out…but let’s just say I would liken the experience to, say, a projectile. After I got sick, my stomach felt the same. The same amount of pain, nausea, everything. After being sick a couple more times, I went back to bed and just lay there, rolling back and forth in pain. Chris brought me some water, and I sipped it carefully, not wanting to upset my stomach. Unfortunately, that didn’t work. About two minutes after I had sipped the water, I got sick again. I waited a little while and tried again with a small amount of water, and again got sick. I was still in constant pain, and now the fact that I couldn’t even keep down tiny amounts of water scared me. Our host, Harsha, is a doctor, and the school had provided us with a mobile phone for emergencies, so at two a.m. I asked Chris to call Dr. Harsha. He did so, and Harsha said he would send someone to take me to the hospital. Fifteen minutes later, a car arrived. The driver took us to MG Hospital, which is a small establishment owned by the same organization as MG School. The reception nurse admitted me and took me to see the doctor on duty. He asked me a series of questions, but didn’t fully understand my answers because of the language barrier. He asked me multiple times if I was “womiting,” and what I had eaten that night. He then examined my abdomen, spoke with the nurse and also someone on the phone, and explained to me that they wanted to keep me overnight for observation. I said that was ok. The nurse led Chris and I out of the examination room and into the hallway to a little station with a bench built into the wall. We sat down, and the nurse began to prepare an injection. She then pointed at my pants and instructed me to “remove.” I rolled the waist of my yoga pants down a ways. She cleaned the injection site (right about in the love handle area of the hip joint, at the back) with alcohol, and then stuck the needle in. I am definitely afraid of needles on a good day, but I kid you not, this injection was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced. This nurse was not gentle. Looking like she was playing a rowdy game of darts rather than injecting a human being, she jabbed the needle into me, and then moved it in a “z” pattern inside my flesh. The fluid itself burned like boiling lava as she pumped it into me. I tried my best to be a big strong girl, but just couldn’t do it. I clenched the sleeve of Chris’s t-shirt, moaned, and cried a little, wishing for it to just be over. The nurse could tell I was in a lot of pain, and tried to comfort me by making soft noises and touching my arm. After what seemed like an eternity, she removed the needle and put a band aid on. I was extremely grateful that Chris had thought to bring along one of our Chick Punch fried chicken bags, because as soon as the needle had exited my hip, I threw up from the pain. The nurse seemed concerned, and called two other nurses over. She handed one of them another vial of medicine, and instructed Chris and I to follow them. I hobbled up two flights of stairs, my hip stinging and burning. The nurses brought us to a room and instructed Chris to wait outside. I sat on the bed as one nurse prepared a second injection. She instructed me to roll down my pants, and I did so, explaining that the first injection had been given in my right hip. She agreed to do this one in the left hip, and I felt nauseous just looking at the needle. If this one hurts as much as the first one did, I thought, I will surely pass out. Luckily, this nurse was much gentler, and although the needle was very painful (she also moved it in a “z”!), it did not cause the same searing, “womit” inducing pain as the first. I laid down after, as per the nurse’s instruction. The second nurse brought in an IV bag of saline solution. The first nurse asked for my right hand, which I gave her, and she proceeded to insert my IV. I had never had an IV before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Turns out, getting an IV hurts so much! The nurse was quick though, and after bandaging the line in place and massaging my veins to make sure everything was working, she told Chris to come in the room and both nurses left.

Chris checked to make sure I was ok and sat down on a chair in the corner, and we both decided to try and get some sleep. There was an air conditioner in the room and so the temperature was lovely, but the hospital bed was as hard as a rock. With both my hips and my right hand throbbing, all I could really do was lay on my back and wish for sleep. Poor Christopher attempted sleep in the chair for a few hours, and then resorted to curling up on a long wooden coffee table on the other side of the small room. Thankfully, whatever the nurses had injected me with had numbed my stomach completely, and so the intense pain and nausea were gone. I faded in and out of consciousness, and a nurse came in every so often to check on me.

At about six o’clock in the morning, a sari-clad woman poked her head in our room and yelled at us to wake up. Or at least that’s what I assume she yelled, because it was all in Tamil. It was quite jarring, and both Chris and I woke abruptly. A little while later, a nurse came in and told me we were going to switch rooms. She detatched my IV and lead Chris and I to a room down the hall. After I was comfortable, the nurse gave me a fresh saline drip and asked us if we would like coffee, tea, or water. I asked for water and Chris for coffee. We waited. Eventually, Chris’s coffee was delivered, but my water was never brought to me. We were told that a doctor would come to see me at ten, and so we just chatted, and I slept a little. Soon, Chris realized that we had the key to the apartment, and we had locked it with the padlock on the way out, and so Rita would not be able to get out! We had all made plans to go see an island temple that day, and so I didn’t want Rita to miss it! Chris called Harsha who called Thava, and it was worked out that Chris and Thava would return to the apartment to unlock it and meet Phil and Jenna. So after making sure this plan was ok with me, Chris left.

At about ten o’clock, the doctor I had seen the night before came to see me with a nurse. He said that it seemed like I had gastritis, and that I shouldn’t eat or drink anything for some time. He told me to drink milk, that I needed to finish my current bag of saline before I could go home, and left. Then a nurse came to change my bed sheets, and was appalled to find that the mattress I was laying on was covered in what looked like dry blood. She moved me to another bed in the same room, and I watched as several people got yelled at in Tamil because of the dirty mattress. The offending bed was taken away and replaced with a new one.

By eleven, Chris still hadn’t returned, and I started to worry a little. A little after eleven, the doctor came in with two nurses and another man. The new man introduced himself as the original doctor’s father, also a physician. He spoke very clear English and repeated the questions that had been asked the night before. He also examined my stomach and asked if I was still in pain, and chatted with me about Canada. At one point, he turned to his son and asked “What’s her name?” The night doctor gave his father a blank stare as he realized he had not recorded my name in the file, and the nurses giggled a little. The father doctor said something in Tamil to his son, and then politely asked for my name. I gave him my id and he copied my information into the file, and asked me more questions about Canada. He then turned to his son and began to dictate, saying I had “infection from food.” He turned to the nurses and said “This poor girl is so sick.” I heard him mention tablets to his son, but he didn’t explain them to me. He asked to make sure I had a way to get home, and then said that I needed to finish one more bag of saline before I could leave. After he left, two nurses came in. One gave me a fresh saline bag, and then the other injected more of the burning solution into my IV line. I could feel the solution burn through my veins all the way up my arm and into my shoulder, which was quite unpleasant. She explained that it was a powerful anti-nausea drug that would take away the pain in my stomach, and that it was also the same fluid that was injected into my hips the night before.

A few minutes later, Chris, Rita, Phil, Jenna, and Thava came into the room. They explained that they had gone to the city palace and now they were here to get me! I told them that I had been instructed to finish my saline drip before I could leave. Thava left the room and spoke to my nurses, and then came back and asked if anyone would like some fruit for breakfast. Then he left to fetch food and the rest of us chatted. The others told me all about the palace and I told them about my experience in the hospital. When Thava came back, he had brought oranges and bananas for everyone. Chris handed me a banana, and Thava told me to wait. He left, spoke to my doctor, and then came back, explaining that it was ok for me to eat it. Then, out of nowhere, Thava handed me three small pills and told me to take them and I did as instructed. He told me, “Take two time, morning and night.” Then he produced a bottle of orange flavoured antacid, poured some into the cap, and gave it to me to drink. I did so and he repeated the action, handing me another capful. He then told me, “Take three time, morning, lunch, night.” I said I would and he seemed satisfied. A nurse came in and turned up my saline drip, so that I could feel it dilating my veins. It felt uncomfortable and cold, but I knew that the faster my saline was finished, the sooner I could leave the hospital! It finished in no time at all, and a nurse came in to remove my IV (OUCH!) and explain to me when to take each pill and the antacid. Her instructions were identical to Thava’s! I found out after that Thava had requested my prescription from my doctor and had gone to the pharmacy for me to get the pills. When he came back he asked my doctor how I was supposed to take them, and then instructed me. Thava my savior! Later that day he even made sure that I took my antacid and my second dose of pills!

After we left the hospital, we headed back to the apartment so I could change. I felt like the living dead but knew that if I didn’t go to the island temple I would regret it! And that is a story for another post!

As an added tidbit, I’ll tell you all that since the night of that super painful injection, my right hip has hurt! If I lay on it the wrong way or if someone bumps it, I experience burning hot pain! It has slowly been getting better, but whatever that nurse did to me, it does NOT want to heal quickly!

Talk to you all soon!

❤ Caitlin

Photos from MG School

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Krrrish and some kids!

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Goofballs trying to take a group photo!

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Some of the beautiful staff, Rita, and I

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The KG building

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The school

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Students studying by the courtyard

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The amazingly kind lady

Ramnad and MG School

Hello again everyone! This is the second part of the post that I made the other day about arriving in India! This post is mostly about the school and its students. I will write about our activities outside of school in my next post! I began writing this post when we were still in Ramnad and then finished during our first two nights in Delhi, so it may seem scattered and the tenses may change a few times, so I apologize for that!

The morning of our first day in India, we awoke feeling refreshed and excited, but still a little jet-lagged. Because we had arrived in Ramnad at night, we ended up sleeping at a time that was normal to our sleep schedule, and our jet-lag was not very severe. We were told the night before that a bus would come to our house to pick us up at 9:30, so we all made sure to be ready by then. We waited and watched, but could see no bus. After a few minutes, Rita heard a knock at the door and answered it. It was the driver of a tuk-tuk, or what they call “autos” here in India, which are basically just motorcycles with a body put on them so that they can carry multiple passengers. We assumed that this was the ride sent for us, and so we all climbed in. It became very apparent after a few minutes though that this driver had no idea where we needed to go. The first place we stopped was a small yard behind a house. The driver grabbed a bundle of what looked like fresh cilantro from the window ledge behind us, got out and fed his cow. When he got back in he joked that it was the cow’s supper. Then he kept driving. We said many times “Were you sent for us?” and “MG School!” He kept going along, but seemed to understand what MG School meant. He pulled over to the side of the road to chat with some buddies and grab a cigarette. Then next to a motorcycle to chat while they were both driving. Then he pulled into a gas station and talked with the attendant. After the gas was poured from a metal bucket into his bike, he turned around, held out his hand and said “One hundred rupee.” We, thinking we wouldn’t need them, had left our wallets at home, and so didn’t have any rupees on us. We asked him why he needed the rupees, but he didn’t understand. We repeated ourselves to no avail. Finally Rita said “No rupees.” That he seemed to understand. By this time, a sizeable crowd of men had gathered around the auto, staring at us and listening to what was going on. The driver was arguing with the station attendant, and from what we could gather, trying to negotiate. We were feeling more and more uncomfortable as the men around us started to scowl. Finally, the driver must have struck a deal because he pulled away and said “MG School.” Riding in the auto was actually quite exhilarating! There is never an absence of things to look at while in a vehicle in India. Street vendors selling delicious smelling meals and goods, small box shaped stores painted bright colours and all crammed into the bottom floor of the same building, surprisingly street-smart cows, pigs, goats, dogs, and chickens, women clad in beautiful bright sequined saris, and other vehicles that you hope to heaven hear your driver honk the horn before they move into your lane. Even though we were all kind of stressed at the time, I think we had fun on that first ride to school!

When we arrived at the school, the driver parked and told us he would wait, so we left him waiting to be paid and walked up to the school. MG school is a large brick and stucco building painted white with yellow trim. It has three floors and one out building, and teaches children from pre-kindergarten to standard 12 (grade 12). On the front steps we met a boy dressed in school uniform and told him we were looking for Harsha. He said that Harsha was in the school and led us inside to the office. The first person we met, though, was the principal, a small, curly-haired woman with a kind face. She was wearing what we found out later was the teacher’s Monday uniform- a beautiful forest green sari with gold and green swirls. Her hair was parted down the middle and pulled back into a low bun at the nape of her neck. She had a gorgeous red velvet bindi between her brows, and small, thinly framed glasses. She greeted us warmly, asked our names and ambitions for working at the school. We explained to her about our confusion with the auto driver, and to our relief she said that he had already been paid. Afterward, she took us on a tour of the school and introduced us to a few of the teachers and students. Standards 2-12 are housed in the main building, while Pre-KG through Standard 1 are in the out building. All of the teachers and children seemed very kind and welcoming. The principal explained to us that they had already had a group of five visitors from America, as well as one from France. A question we field daily still is “You know Anna?” (or Max, Mackenzie, Chris, etc!). Because they had already had an American Chris at the school, the children were very excited to hear that there was another Chris, although it came out sounding more like Krrrish. Rita was also a name they could pronounce. Caitlin, however, seemed to be impossible to them! Even after two weeks, I’ve only met a few students who can actually pronounce my name. I started introducing myself as Cait, but even that is difficult. It ends up sounding more like Kite, Cat, Kaych, or any combination thereof. Which is ok, because when I hear these things, I know that someone is referring to me!

After the tour of the school, the principal told us to go mingle with the students. So we left the office and started interrupting classes! I can’t even begin to recall how many students we met that day, but the experience was wonderful. They were all very interested in us and all asked us the same questions: “Where are you coming from?”, “Your name is what?”, “Your age is what?”, “Your father’s name?”, “Your mother’s name?”, “Your brother’s name?”, “Your sister’s name?”, “What is your ambition?”, “For what purpose have you come to India?”. We all answered gladly, and provided autographs when requested, which made us feel like movie stars! One difficult task was trying to remember all of the children’s names, because they are usually quite long and hard to pronounce with a Western tongue. Many of them have rolled “r’s” which we North Americans have difficulty with. The children list off their names and then one by one say “What is my name?”, and we always feel bad when we can’t remember or can’t pronounce it!

There are a few children of course who I have gotten to know a little better. One is a girl in 7th standard whose name is Amita. She is very chatty, animated and funny and calls me Auntie. Her best friend Faseeha is very sweet and very quiet. Another is a boy we all call Trouble Maker, whose actual name I have never learned! He is definitely the class clown and was dubbed Trouble Maker by us on the first day! When we asked his teacher if he was a trouble maker, she didn’t understand, so we redefined it as “mischievous.” She just laughed and nodded. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time with two students from Standard 10. One is a boy named Faizel, and the other a girl named Muhsina. Muhsina is a beautiful girl who speaks very clear English and is very kind and interesting to speak with. She has taught me many things about Indian culture that I will be able to use going forward! I think we both feel a friendship level connection, which is definitely a comforting feeling in a place so foreign to me! Faizel is an interesting boy who asks many questions but is at the same time very soft spoken. He is one of those people who are difficult to read, and you can tell there is a lot going on beneath the surface. There is a group of girls who ride the school bus with us whose names are  Hashini, Eman, and Kaviya. They are very sweet and always have many questions for us. Chris has become friends with a Standard 12 boy named Rohan, who is a dark, handsome boy who plays basketball. He is very kind and soft spoken, but also very knowledgeable and apt to ask questions. There are so many other students I could mention, but I have never been able to grasp their names! They are all so welcoming and kind and fun to interact with. The school has a total of 720 students.

Our first day at the school was also our first experience with real Indian food, served the Indian way. Our lunch was brought to us in banana leaves wrapped in newspaper and folded. Sauces and side dishes come in small plastic bags that are elasticed shut. We were given plates and began to dig in! We opened each newspaper packet with great anticipation, but soon noticed that we had no utensils. The principal was there helping us and explained that we would eat with our hands. Having done some research before we came to India, I knew that this would probably be the standard and that we should only eat with our right hands. We tucked in, probably looking like messy children to anyone who was watching! There is a certain etiquette when eating here which takes a few meals to learn, and even then is still tricky. That first day we ate white rice with a sauce, a flat, salty crunchy bread that tastes like chips, various side dishes, and noodles cooked with cilantro and various other spices and a selection of sauces. It was delicious! Another fun food thing at the school is that no matter where we are, at around 11:30 someone will find us and give us coffee sweetened with sugar and milk. We call it coffee o’clock!

Our first day at MG School was both beautiful and overwhelming. We left feeling exhausted but strengthened by the warmth, kindness and generosity shown by the people. The teachers and students are beautiful. Each new day at the school went like this. There were some days when we felt completely exhausted and overwhelmed at the end of the day, but still so glad to be there. The next day always proved to be better!

I need to dedicate an entire section to Thava. He has been the biggest help in the world. After the first day at school, he came to our flat and took Chris on his motorcycle to get dinner- Marry Brown fried chicken. He told us what time to catch the bus the next morning. He came to find us at the school every day to ask what we would like for lunch, brought it to us, and helped us decipher what each little baggie of sauce was for. He even taught me to eat properly with my hands! On the bus ride home every day he asks if we need help for supper. He took us to the supermarket and helped us choose which foods to buy, and a mosquito repelling plug-in for the wall. He taught us how to cross an Indian street (which is quite the feat, might I add). He came with us on an excursion to the beach and temple and showed us what to do. We coudn’t understand what was being said, but I’m pretty sure he actually negotiated us into the temple. He took Rita, Chris and I sari shopping and helped us understand what was going on. I had a pretty nasty case of food poisoning (which I will elaborate on in my next post), and Thava was there, speaking to the nurses and my doctor. He even went to the pharmacy to get my pills and explained to me how and when to take them. I was laying in bed with an IV and Thava actually measured out my prescription antacid and fed it to me. He reminded me that day and the next to take my tablets. When I was still in the hospital, he went to the market and brought back fruit for my breakfast and checked with my doctor before he let me eat my banana. When we were leaving Ramnad, Thava was at our flat at 4am to help us with our luggage. He also calls me Madam and I like that! There is so much more I could write about! Any time we have needed anything at all, Thava has been there with no complaints. He barely speaks English, and I wish we could communicate with him more efficiently to be able to express the level of gratitude that we feel. He has taught us so much about Indian culture and life itself. I will always remember him and pray for him and his family.

So much has happened at the school, it is difficult to write about. I could probably write a novella about the 10 days we have spent in Ramnad. A few things stand out, though! The KG kids are crazy! We spent a few days with them, and my arms almost got pulled off! One girl in particular is very animated and basically claimed me as her own. She is standard one, and her name is very long and complicated and I can’t even begin to pronounce it. She calls me Miss and yells at me from across whatever room we happen to be in! If I’m in a different room, she finds me and tries to physically pull me back to hers. One day, she and a friend of hers had a fight over who’s desk I would sit at and they were both tugging my arms opposite ways! The KG kids are also quite loud, always yelling and singing. There is always chaos when we go to their rooms. The teachers seem quite patient though, and work with the kids even through their craziness. There is a room in the KG building that they call the activity room. We were there one day, sitting on the floor watching a video called Moral Stories. My hand was on the floor and sizeable gecko ran across it, ran into my foot, backed up, ran forward and bumped into a child’s leg! Then he ran and we couldn’t find him.

I spent one very pleasant games period with a group of standard five girls. They taught me a game which I think is called London London Statue, and we had so much fun! Thankfully this is a game that can be played in the shade and doesn’t require running around in the sun. We tried playing a version of tag and it proved to be too difficult in the heat, even for the Indian girls! We have a standard now….it isn’t truly hot outside until an Indian says it’s hot. Then, you know it must be HOT!

All of the kids seem to be very entertained by some things that we do. For example, I tend to nod my head a lot when I speak, and a few of the students have imitated me to their friends and they all laugh. In Ramnad they speak a language called Tamil, and so the kid will say something in Tamil and then nod his or her head in an exaggerated manner. It is actually very funny! Some students have also imitated the way I pronounce words, emphasizing the “r” and then laughing. There are a few children who have also imitated the way I laugh! One thing that is universally funny to all the kids is Chris’s hair! They beg him to remove his hat so that they can see his hair. He obliges happily just to see the children laugh when he finger combs his hair in front of his face! Then they ask him to put on his sunglasses and all make approving noises. It’s adorable!

The teachers have all been very receptive and open to us interacting with their classes. Some have even requested that we teach their students games and songs. I’ve tried to teach a few classes Great Big Buffalo and The Waterbuffalo Song, but I’ve discovered that it is very difficult to keep their attention long enough to teach them a song in English. They tend to get bored quickly and lose their enthusiasm. But teaching them is so much fun it doesn’t bother me! I have connected with a few of the teachers, and they are so kind! They have such wonderful relationships with their students, and it’s great to watch!

There are also a few support staff at the school who help with the cleaning etc. One of them is a grandmother-aged woman whose name I was never able to get because she doesn’t speak English. One day she signed to me that she lived next to our Ramnad flat, and then hugged me. Even though I couldn’t communicate with her properly, I can tell you that she is the kindest, warmest, and most loving person I have ever encountered outside my own family. She immediately welcomed us, and hugged me. She has the warmest and most vibrant eyes I have ever seen. On our last day at the school, she found us in the office, hugged both Rita and I and kissed our cheeks. I could feel tears welling in my eyes as I realized I would probably never see her again. I only wish I could have spoken with her and learned more about her.

Also on the last day we were in Ramnad, the principal had a beautiful house warming party at her new home. We were able to meet her husband, son, and daughter, and tour her house. She looked so overjoyed, and said that everyone’s ambition in life there is to construct a house, so she had finally achieved her dream! She was wearing an immaculate silk sari with her long curly hair styled loosely and seemed to be glowing from the inside out. There was music and food, and all the teachers wore beautiful saris! It was definitely a wonderful way to end our time at the school!

There are honestly a million more things I could write about the students, teachers, and other staff at MG School, but it would take weeks! Our experience there was wonderful, and we will always remember it fondly! If I remember anything else, I will write it in my next post! Ttfn!

India

Hello again everyone! I hope you’re all doing well! This post is about arriving in India! When I first started writing this, I intended it to be about our first few days in Ramnad as well, but there turned out to be so much to say about traveling here that I decided to split the post in two.

On the flight from London to Mumbai, we flew over parts of Afghanistan, and other Middle Eastern countries that I had never thought to lay eyes on. It was amazing to me that I was looking down on cities and countries that are on the other side of the world. The landscapes were beautiful from above. Rolling sand dunes, huge mountain ranges, rivers and cities. Unfortunately, when I tried to take pictures, they didn’t turn out because we were so high up. Flying into Mumbai was quite interesting because we could see the vast slum areas, which were right next to the airport and other places that looked to be quite wealthy. The slum by the airport had a huge wall around it with barbed wire on the top, and guard towers every so often. It was hard to look at.

We got off the plane in Mumbai and had to transfer to our plane to Chennai. On the plane from London we filled out Indian landing cards (stating who we are etc), and so in Mumbai we had to meet with a customs officer before we could get on our next plane. So we followed the directions to the customs officers and got in line. When it was our turn, the customs officer took one look at Rita’s landing card and said it was no good. We hadn’t filled out the section that asks for a reference’s address in India because we didn’t have that information on us (it was in Rita’s email correspondence with our first host). Apparently that was not ok, and so the officer told us we had to fill it out before entering the country. We explained to him that we knew the name of the place we were going but not the exact address and asked for an internet connection so we could retrieve it. He just said “No internet” and sent us away. We tried to tell him that without an internet connection we couldn’t get the information he was asking for, but he just shooed us. We walked to a stone counter at the back of the room, angry and not knowing what to do. We had a few hours layover but we couldn’t leave the airport or get  on our next flight without clearing customs and we couldn’t get the information we needed to clear customs without the internet. Rita took her laptop out to check if she had the info stored, and found that there was indeed a Mumbai airport wifi connection! So she tried to log into it, but it asked for a valid mobile phone number. There was an option for a Canadian area code so we chose that, typed in one of our numbers, and clicked continue. However, when the window popped up, it said that a passcode would be sent to that mobile phone. Of course, none of us have our cell phones with us in India! We were hooped. To top things off, Rita’s laptop was dying. Luckily, we also had a tablet!

Just when we thought there was no hope, Rita flagged down a man who looked European and so would hopefully speak English. She asked if he had a working mobile phone and explained our predicament. He said that yes, he did have a phone and he was willing to help us. We were saved! So he typed his number in, hit continue, and we waited. Nothing happened. We waited a few more minutes. Still nothing. On the outside we seemed calm but on the inside we were dying. Then our new Swedish friend remembered that there was a difference in his phone number when he was outside of Sweden, so he tried again. This time, success! The pass code arrived! We thanked our savior and Rita retreived the info we needed from her email. We filled out our landing cards and got into the line for a different officer. He cleared our landing cards and we were free to proceed! We would like to send out a heartfelt thank you to our Swedish friend who saved us in our most desperate hour!

After we were cleared by customs we went to baggage pickup. We all got our luggage, but Chris’s bag had been ripped! Having put our luggage through a scanner, we proceeded to security for our next flight, which turned out to be chaos. Chris was desperately trying to fix his bag so that nothing would fall out of the hole. Rita checked her luggage and I was in line behind her. I turned around to say something to Chris, and when I turned back around, an entire family with a million suitcases to check had budged in front of me! I was frustrated but didn’t say anything. When they were done, I checked my bag. Chris was still trying to fix his bag, and so we decided to ask if there was any tape or anything we could use to repair the bag so that nothing would fall out. The woman at the desk didn’t seem to know, but one of the men who was helping people haul their bags signaled us to wait off to the side. He motioned two minutes. Well, this two minutes turned out to be more like fifteen. When he finally came back to us, he hadn’t brought anything with him. Rita explained again that Chris’s bag had been damaged, and that we needed something to repair it, like tape. The man motioned us to wait again, and a few minutes later came back with some long white stickers that are used to print baggage tags. He used these to tape up the hole. We thanked him and left, pretty sure that he was asking us for money, which we didn’t have. One thing that really struck me was that most of the security in the airport was run by men in military dress. Coming from Canada, I wasn’t used to seeing the military in airports.

The next round of security we had to pass was interesting. Like usual, we had to remove any electronics, liquids, etc from our carryon baggage. However, there were separate areas for women and men. On the women’s side, once you walked through a metal detector, there was a small curtained booth with a female security officer waiting to scan and pat you down if necessary. This turned out to be the norm for all Indian airport security. After security, we had to get on a bus to the domestic flights airport, which is separate from the international airport. I’d also like to add that the Mumbai international airport is probably the most beautiful airport I’ve ever seen! It’s full of carved stone, granite, high ceilings and interesting displays.

The domestic airport is much simpler, but still quite neat. There are large areas and courtyards open to outside, as well as stores, coffee shops, and the usual things you see in airports. Once we had passed through more security and tracked down our gate, we found a little cafe and sat down for a while. We were all tired and sick of being in airports, and sitting on comfortable chairs felt like heaven! We stayed there for a couple hours, and then after passing through yet another round of security, we waited for our flight to board. When we boarded the plane we were taken by bus to the tarmac and climbed a staircase into the aircraft, which was a new experience for me!

Arriving in Chennai was chaotic. After we got off the plane, we had only thirty minutes to board our next flight. We were told that our luggage would be transferred, so we didn’t need to worry about checking it, but we had no idea where our gate was. We were given bad directions twice and had to clarify. I was also feeling ill because of motion sickness and had to excuse myself to the washroom at the worst possible time. We were relieved when we were finally given proper directions to our gate. However, we had been told by an airline employee in London that we would not need to go through security in Chennai. This turned out to be wrong. We waited in line for security, Rita and I on the women’s side and Chris on the men’s. Rita and I cleared security and were waiting for Chris when we noticed that an officer had directed him to a different line. Apparently the tag on his carryon was wrong and he needed a new one. So he had to wait in another line, and then in the security line again. Finally he passed security! We rushed down the corridor to our gate, and had to board a bus to get to the plane. But there were military officers checking tickets and passports, and one of them stopped Rita because her carryon had the wrong tag. She insisted on searching through Rita’s entire bag herself! I would like to note that my bag also had the wrong tag, but the officers at the door didn’t stop me! Finally the officer allowed Rita to board the bus. And then it was off to Madurai!

When we got off the plane at Madurai we were all so exhausted that we could barely walk. We collected our baggage and found our way to the doors for arrivals. We tried to find a currency exchange in the airport, but it was late at night and so none of them were open. There was an ATM booth outside the airport so we decided to use that. Before taking out rupees, we found a taxi booth and ordered a taxi to Ramnad. We had forgotten to write down the address of the school we were going to when we found it in Rita’s email, but we had written down our host, Harsha’s phone number. Unsure of where we were asking to go, the man at the cab booth tried to call the number. But we had written the number down wrong! Eventually we worked out that the cab driver kind of knew where we were going, and so we set off into the night for an hour and a half taxi ride!

This was our first experience of Indian traffic, and it was definitely enlightening! Cars, motorcycles, scooters, busses and trucks seem to weave in and out and pass each other willy nilly in an ever changing mosaic of motion. Horns are honked constantly to signal to other drivers what you are doing. Technically, one must drive on the left side of the road like in England, however, if you have to drive on the wrong side of the road for a little while, that’s ok too. I think we were all so tired that we didn’t really care about how our driver was driving. He seemed to be in control and know what he was doing, so we all dropped in and out of consciousness. However, the windows were open the entire way, so I did note the various smells of India. India smells like flowers and curry, hot humid air, roasted chicken, exhaust fumes and garbage. I could smell all of these things on the wind from inside the cab. The most shocking, of course, was the occasional whiff of garbage, due to India’s lack of garbage collection. People are forced to toss their garbage wherever they can, and so it ends up collecting in vacant lots, on the side of the road, etc. It is definitely not a smell that is familiar to me, and seemed quite disgusting at first, but in that moment in that Indian cab I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t allow it to ruin my experience of the beauty of India.

After the driver had stopped at a outlying building to ask directions, we began to make our way to our destination. The organization that runs the school we would be volunteering at also runs a hospital, and we were instructed that the hospital would be easier to find than the school. So the driver brought us to the hospital and a security guard let us in. Our driver explained to a nurse, a beautiful woman clad in a flowing white sari, who we were and what we needed. We were instructed to sit and wait. The nurse made a phone call and we waited some more. Eventually, our host Harsha came to the school and led our taxi to what would become our flat for the next ten days. After everything was unloaded into the two bedroom apartment, we sat and chatted with Dr. Harsha and his friend Dr. Sam to learn a little bit more about Ramnad, the customs of the people here, what we should wear to the school, and other pertinent information. A man named Thava came with some bread, jam, cake and bottled water for us. We were told that even the locals here don’t drink the water, so to only ever drink bottled or purified water. A bus would come at 9:30 the next morning to pick us up and take us to the school. After the two doctors left, we showered, settled into our rooms, and fell fast asleep.

I will leave the next bit for my next blog post! Thank you for reading, and I will talk to you all again soon!

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Our apartment living room

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A bedroom

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Another bedroom

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Our kitchen

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Fridge room

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Shower

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View from our patio

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Patio

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Our garbage bog

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The streets outside our house