Saturday, July 10, 2010

The dedication

Today there was the dedication of the High School, volunteer house (that I am in right now) and the new dining hall. The students were so excited to see their parents! There was a big program with speakers and dancing. I was in charge of watching the UKG (Kindergarten) kids, which meant stopping fights, keeping them from running to sit with their parents (which I did not like at all) and handing them stars when they got up to sing. They have not seen their parents for a month or two. The parents were waving at them and calling their names. Since most of their families have been affected by leprosy they can’t ride buses so Rising Star picks them up in their vans from train stations, and villages. The students were smashed against the bar windows in their classrooms, climbing up them, looking for their parents. Parents brought home made food and treats for each one of their kids. They didn’t really care about the dedication ceremonies; they just wanted to spend time with their little ones. Watching the dancers that prepared for so long perform perfectly was amazing. I got to braid their hair this morning and help them get ready after one of the house moms helped me put on a sari. After the kids sang “ I’m a rising star” all the families went out into the mango grove, sat on mats and ate lunch. The Marriott catered lunch and they served Biriani with Raita sauce. MY FAVORITE. After photographing as many families as I could I sat down and ate with them. The Marriott donated $25,000 dollars today! It was one of those days where you feel like you are in a movie and a super cool song starts playing as the camera zooms into your smiling face.

The art of the Sari

I’ve never been the kind a girl that wears a bunch of jewelry, but today was special, and I think I have been converted. I was really excited to wear a sari for the celebration today, but I had two things going against me. The first one is that I have no clue how to put a sari on, and the second is that “for religious and personal reasons” I did not want to show my stomach. A miracle solved my second problem. A head band I made for this trip out of black stretchy material fit perfectly over my white belly. The first concern vanished as a house mother pulled me into her room and was excited to help put my sari on. If you do it wrong the whole thing can fall off. You need about 3 safety pins to keep it in place. After being wrapped over and over, the sari finally fit. When the house mother realized that I didn’t have earrings or a necklace to wear she grabbed her jewelry box, pushed her earrings through the vacant holes in my ears, and put a beautiful necklace around my neck. She finished me off with a bindi on my forehead and two red marks above it. I have never felt so beautiful; I even wore my ankle bracelets with bells. I may turn into a toe-ring-wearing, jewelry person.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mogli the man cub

This one is for you mom. They mentioned a mural in the library when I first got here, but when I asked some of the staff they said no way, it would distract the kids. I was kind of relieved to hear that. Next thing I know the people who donated money to the library had given “specific instructions” to have a mural painted in the library and I was asked to do it. I started out with an illustration from “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr Seuss and I ended up with this scene from the Jungle Book. I had to work during our breaks, late at night, and beg for the volunteer directors to let me paint. I will admit I was a bit discouraged about being asked to paint and then not being allowed time to do it. But in the end, with help from my dear friends Dani and Bailey, It was finished. The quote makes it a bit busy, but it’s a good quote. Be the change. Once you see you own the responsibility to do. Becky Douglass said that.

Four Owls

I have in my procession a painting of four owls. Here is the story of the artist. Rada Vamkatasamy is 30 years old and was afflicted with leprosy fifteen years ago. She has been married for those fifteen years, and her husband also suffers from a disability but works assisting doctors. She has a daughter that is 9 years old, Trisha, who is a student at Rising Star. She was accepted at the Bindu Art school in January and has been producing incredible paintings ever since. Each weekday she paints from 9-11 and then from 3-5. She, like the other artists at the school, meditates for 15 minutes before she starts to paint. She paints mostly from her imagination. After coming to the Bindu Art School, each time she paints she has a peace of mind that she didn’t have before. The Bindu Art School was established for and with people affected by Leprosy. Somewhere along the line Rada lost one of her feet because of complications when she had Leprosy. When I first saw her painting she was smiling as she painted pink lines over and over a white Bindu Art School stamped paper. It is amazing to see this group of painters at work. They were able to have an Exhibition in Austria a few years ago and with much negotiation with the airlines some of the artists were able to be there. They have a website, just Google Bindu Art School and you can see their work. I love the four owls. They remind me of the childrens. (I know I spelled that wrong)

Update: Trisha may not be her daughter, but her neice or cousin..... I still think she is her mom.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Picture me, standing in a bookstore in the airport in New Delhi. I had four books in my hand, trying to decide which one to choose and then I saw it. A blue book with a seagull soaring on the cover, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I remember seeing a movie about this book in 5th or 6th grade and being disturbed by the violent seagulls. Maybe I have mixed up that movie and “The Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock. Either way, I don’t remember liking it. It is now one of my favorite books. Jonathan is not satisfied with just being an average seagull and centering his life around where to get his next meal. The code of the seagulls is “live to eat”. Jonathan’s code; “eat to live” This phrase is written in puff paint on my old green snowboard that I made into a bench. Weird. Anyway, Jonathan is kicked out of the seagull clan because he will not conform, and he is more interested in learning how to fly and flying well. On his way to the cliffs where he was banished a seagull starts flying with him, and this seagull can fly. Jonathan finds out that there are more seagulls just like him that can teach him how to fly perfectly. Once he perfects flying they want him to stay and be an instructor. Livingston declines and says that he needs to go back and give his seagull family the knowledge he has now. Even though they treated him so badly he wants them to enjoy the happiness that he has.
“Why is it,” Jonathan puzzled, “that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself if he’d just spend a little time practicing? Why should that be so hard?”
The people we are working with have been kicked out of their communities, are banned from riding public buses, their children are not allowed to attend most schools. They learn here that they are free. They seem happier than most people I have seen in India. They have learned that there are people just like them, good people, whose lives have been affected by leprosy. There is a real sense of community and love at the Rising Star Outreach center. I can imagine all of them going back to their communities and using all of the knowledge they have gained to help the same people that ostersized them reach the level they have attained. I had one of the older students translate for me as I asked a 6 year old girl, Abisha, some questions about herself. She wants to be a doctor because her mom said she should. What a great way to bless other people.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Skiek Hindu Wedding

Hindu Sheik Wedding
Saturday night we found out that there was a huge wedding at our hotel that would be going on all night. We could hear drumming everywhere in the hotel, and the steps leading to the big reception hall were lined perfectly with pink and white flowers. Strings of Jasmine perfumed the air. I was hesitant to attend a wedding I wasn’t invited to but someone told us that it would be an honor for them to have foreigners attends. I felt very welcomed once we were in, in fact, I felt too welcomed. We were pulled into the middle of a group of professional dancers surrounded by drummers and maybe the mother of the groom. I tried to copy the moves that the dancers were doing and just feel the beat, but I’m pretty sure I looked awful. As we danced a man waved money over us, (for good luck) if I don’t make millions this year, I will be very disappointed. Then the whole procession of hundreds of people moved out into the gardens surrounding the hotel. The groom was sitting in a horse drawn carriage, his face was covered with a diamond veil and he had a younger cousin seated next to him. The carriage was behind the crowd and everyone led the way. Men with torches were lighting our path, we were pulled back into the dancing circle. It was so exciting, but I was still a bit uneasy about being there just because I was a foreigner. I tried to look at it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend a wedding as Grande as this one was. You would have thought it was a royal wedding judging by the crowd, the jewels, and the place it was in. We got back to an entrance to the dining hall and after the groom arrived and was led to a couch/throne in front of the audience the bride finally arrived. She was covered in Gold! Her face was adorned by an enormous nose ring that linked to an ear ring. Her face was flawless! She walked up to the groom under a canopy of jasmine. They exchanged flower necklaces. I was waiting for a kiss, and then I remembered that this is India, there would be no kissing at this wedding. It was a spectacular event. We were served Coke, and led into a banquet hall with TONS of delicious food. Lasagna, ice cream, and a ton of delicious Indian food. A woman saw me eating and directed my attention to an Indian dessert called Jelabe, or Jellybee. It is fried sugar covered in cream (a new favorite of mine : ). The whole even was painted with bright pinks, yellows, and reds. Indian weddings go on all night. On our way out around midnight we met a really nice couple and their grandson. They said we were good crazy dancers. I took it as a compliment. They had a love marriage, not an arranged one. The wife is an artist, she paints silk. I am really going to miss the new experiences that I have every day in India. I doubt I will ever attend a wedding like this ever again.

Agra Fort

If I was an emperor I would want my palace being in the center of a fort guarded by my armies. The great Mugals, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb all lived in the Agra Fort. A HUGE fort that covers 94 acres. Our guide told us mostly about Akbar and his reign in the Fort. He had over 500 Harems and had wives that were Christian, Muslim and Hindu to show his acceptance of all religions. The palace part of the fort was incredible. Fountains with shelves carved out of stone behind them to hold candles, a large library, and a huge courtyard for the harems with a huge bathtub in the middle of it. The walls of the palace have a hollow space in them so that dirt and water could be poured into them to keep them cool during the hot summer weather here in India. Each of the wives had an area they could go to that had a view of the city and a place where they could lounge in a hammock and cool off in the breeze. There is a movie about Akbar, Jodhaa Akbar Movie that I have to see now. Everything you hear in India you could spend the rest of your life researching.

The Taj

Going from a village to a 5 star hotel was a welcomed change. We arrived in Agra after a four hour long van ride. We were served a florescent green drink in chilled glasses, and our rooms were upgraded to suites for no reason at all. The Jaypee Palace lives up to its reputation. It has perfectly manicured gardens, a gym to die for, and a breakfast buffet that has everything from cereal and omelet’s, to traditional Indian dishes. We left the next morning at 5:15 am so we could get to the Taj Mahal before the crowds did. Nitan, our guide, was like an Indian Wikipedia, explaining everything and more. As you walk towards the Taj Mahal it appears to get bigger. A white giant that, although it is made of stone, feels alive and warm. Seeing the Taj has made the top ten things I’ve done in my life list. It is a mausoleum built to fulfill the dying wish of a Mughal emperor’s favorite wife. It was interesting to find out that the emperor that built it, Shah Jahan, was put in prison by his son because of his poor use of money in a tower that looked out at the Taj Mahal. All of the decorations are inlaid stones, not paintings. There are passages from the Koran around the entrances. The towers around the Taj were built so they lean slightly away from the Taj Mahal, so that if there is an earthquake they will fall away from it and not on the tombs of the Emperor and his beloved wife. It is a building that screams perfection and symmetry. The only thing that is not in perfect balance is in the center of the Taj, where the imitation tombs are laid. There is space on one side without a tomb, it was left empty. The real Tombs are below the Taj Mahal where they are kept safe. Shah Jahans wife’s tomb is inscribed with 99 names of God. This is what the emperor said about this magnificent building,
Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator's glory.

It is hard to walk away when you are in the presence of something so magnificent. But the breakfast buffet ended at 11:00 and we still wanted to see the Agra Fort.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Driving through New Delhi on a Rickshaw is like being on Old Prospectors Railroad ride at a theme park. The streets in Old Delhi have canopies of power cables, and are so narrow that only one rickshaw can pass through. We visited the first Jain Temple in New Delhi. We had to remove our shoes, any leather products and our bags. Inside the temple there are gold plated sculptures of many different Gods, but they are really all forms of the same God. Each marble sculpture is washed with milk each day, and everything smelled like sandalwood. There was a sculpture of the Mother of God. She had about twenty arms and each was holding something to help her. It was fascinating. After we left the temple our guide took us to the spice market. We walked passed men carrying huge sacks of spices into a covered alley way and up some stairs. There were so many smells you couldn’t breathe without coughing. We climbed the stairs and got above the spicy air and reached the roof of the market. It was Friday so we got to see Muslim men washing before entering their Mosk to pray. We ate lunch then realized that my sister in laws purse was missing. Picture a long chain of rickshaws speeding through the bumpy streets of Old Delhi trying to find the purse. We went back to a place where we bought Bengals, drew a crowd of about thirty men as we searched the place. We never found it. Luckily she had her passport in her bag. We loaded up into our van with a huge TOURIST logo on it and began our 4 hour drive to Agra. We drove all night and were greeted at the Jaypee Palace by our guide Niten.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Diabetes Testing in the Leprosy Colonies

(I will add pictures when I get my camera back) We pulled up to the leprosy colony that is next to the bindu art school just as the occupants of the old folks home were starting to gather outside, awaiting Dr Kumar. Summoning up all of the courage that is within my freckled soul I decided to do the diabetes testing. Blood has been somewhat of my arch nemesis, but that day it was different. Rather than thinking about how I was pricking them with a needle and squeezing blood out of the small wound it left, I focused on the people. They were scared just like I would be and have been before getting pricked. I thought about how lucky I was to hold the hand of all the people in the colony as I tested their blood. These people have stories to tell, you can see it in their eyes. I tried to talk with my facial expressions and let them now that I did not want to hurt them but that this would be fast and help them in the long run. I didn’t test one patient because she had dementia and would have tried to bite me. I was pretty scared about that, even though she didn’t really have any teeth. My days are starting to run into each other. I feel like there is a collage of events at the leprosy colonies from last week in my mind. Early in the morning one man from the first colony we went to was taken to the hospital because of a heart attack. When Dr Kumar heard this news he was very worried. He walked back and found the man’s wife sitting in the opening of her hut, with her head in her hands. She got up and walked to Dr Kumar and started crying. She looked so nervous and sad. Dr Kumar said he had never seen her not smiling. I cannot imagine my husband being taken to a hospital after having a heart attack and not knowing what would happen to him. She put her head to my chest and hugged me, and she did the same to the other girls that were with me. Having her that close I could almost feel her sadness. I never found out what happened to her husband. The patients at the Colony with the Bindu art School seem to be in much better shape. One of them is a Yoga master; he showed me some pictures of his poses, very impressive! The others told me about the Austrian photographer that put forth the funding for the Bindu art school. What an amazing man he must be. He has made such a difference to not only these people but the people that see the paintings they create. At the colonies we wash feet, check blood pressure, check blood sugar levels, put new bandages on patients and paint fingernails. I checked the blood sugar levels at each colony. At one colony a woman walked up to me and sadly said, “Sagayamary?” Someone mentioned that her daughter was at Rising Star and I made the connection. I pulled my camera out and went to a picture I had taken a few nights before of all the girls in the room we are in charge of. Her eyes lit up as she saw her daughter with a huge grin on her face in a group of young girls. She wanted me to show it to the others at the colony. They all recognized her and smiled. Dr Kumar told me to make sure I put gloves on when I tested Sagayamary’s mom and dad. They are both HIV positive. I wonder if Sagayamary is as well. They are going to test the children and the staff at rising star because HIV is becoming a real problem. I cant see Sagayamary in that place, living in the colony, but that is where she was born and grew up. It will be exciting to see Sagayamary’s mom hugging her at the dedication of the High School.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Library Mural

My clothes are covered in drips of green paint! I started painting the mural I was asked to do in the library. It is a scene from the jungle book. Mogli is there, Baloo, Bagera, Sheer Kahn, and Kaa the snake. While drawing the mural my pants that I had tucked into my “underclothing” fell completely off. There weren’t a lot of people in the library just my two pals Kacy and Shelly, the two children they were tutoring, and the librarian. I don’t know if he saw, I just tried to be calm about it, reached down, pulled them up and kept drawing. Luckily the tops we wear are down to our knees so no harm done. (I hope) I was asked to teach two classes an art lesson, so I taught 3rd and 4th graders how to paint a flower. I love this lesson because we all start with the same pink flower and the outcome is like a whole bouquet of various flowers. Some with blue dots others had faces. I love artwork created by children. I felt honored to teach at such an incredible school. The students are so intelligent. All of their lessons are taught in English, and they have one notebook to write in that they are responsible to keep track of. They keep their pencil until it has been widdled to the eraser! In between painting and teaching I also discussed with the teachers how to use art to enhance their lessons. I spoke to them about the need children have to express themselves and how important creativity is. It went well. The only thing is I sort of committed to get the school more art supplies, so now I need to figure out a way to make that possible. It will happen, things just do. I feel less and less in charge of the direction my life is going and more excited to just look around and be amazed at where I am. I don’t know if that makes sense, maybe the paint fumes are getting to me. Last night Bailey and I worked on the mural, dripping wet with sweat, and singing the Across the Universe soundtrack and dancing. It was awesome, except for the mosquitoes and bugs that are now glued with green paint to the library wall.

"party on", Hindy festival

My journal entries are dated with statements such as “two days ago, yesterday, maybe Thursday”. It kind of feels like I am not even living in my body anymore, I am just an observer. Today I will try to get them back together again. Driving through the villages and towns a few days ago we started noticing neon lights strung up on the side of the road (the long ones you normally see on the ceiling) and large lit up Hindu Gods placed next to small temples near the roads. It turns out that the villages have a yearly village festival honoring their God and most choose to do it in June and July. Sunday night we walked over to a nearby village festival. We could hear drumming and bells as we got nearer to the crowd. It smelled like jasmine and fresh fruit. At first all we could see was the back of a cart with a large neon rainbow on it. As we got around the huge cart, weaving in and out of villagers carrying trays with half a coconut, fire, and a small Hindu sculpture, we saw dancers and Brahman? Priests that were offering fruit to the village God, and giving blessings. The dancers were jumping and taping their bell clad bodies to the rhythm of the drummers. The villagers seemed happy to have us there for the most part, they offered us some dried fruit and put fresh strands of white jasmine into our hair, then put some orange and white powder of our foreheads (a blessing). The cart was being pulled by a tractor and every ten feet it would stop and the villagers would come and offer fruit and receive a blessing. Others would place offerings and babies in front of the procession. A family grabbed my hand and brought me to the front of their house and put a tiny baby girl in my arms. Then they just smiled and watched as I held her. Allot of people wanted their picture taken. I’m not sure if it was so they could see it on the screen after or that, hopefully this is not the case, it is because I am white. No celebration is complete without henna so I got that done; they used a stamp and a shoe polishy paste to apply it. This was the point where I started to feel a little bit sick and realized that if I didn’t find a bathroom post haste it would not be good. All systems were down, all systems. So I talked to a sweet woman that works for rising star and she led me to her friend’s house. I walked over at least ten sleeping bodies to get to the place, and was led around back to a nice little room with a squatter in it. It was a really nice bathroom, I think I need to write them a thank you or something or bring them some jackfruit. I went back and joined the girls to watch a comedy show on a small stage. We headed back pretty late and just as we left fireworks started going off. We were escorted by some men who work for Rising Star. I am pretty sure they were there so we didn’t run into any cobras, but they kept saying, “No cobra!” Why were they carrying sticks and keeping their eyes on the sides of the roads then? I kind of want to see a cobra now.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Take it in

Take it in. It’s so late but my mind is not ready for bed. Becky showed up, she is the founder of Rising Star, and she has been telling us about the big picture and how lucky we are to be here and be a part of something that could make history. I wondered about how the children were selected to come to the incredible school. Becky explained that they choose children from each of the leprosy colonies and all of the students that were chosen have one or more parents that are afflicted by leprosy. They can’t accept all of the children because there would be thousands. Most of these children would have no opportunity to go to school because of their association with leprosy. They live in colonies and are even referred to as untouchables. The stigma of leprosy has existed for thousands of years, I had no clue it still existed until I heard about Rising Star Outreach. In India there are fines if you kill someone, but if they have leprosy it is less than if you would have killed your neighbor’s dog. I don’t want to go on about all of these horrible things and how awful women are treated in India, and the atrocities that these children have experienced, but it is something that can’t be ignored. There are people in India that are trying to change things. One of these women is Padma Venkataraman. Her father was the former president of India and she has made it possible for Rising Star to be able to be here in India. She is speaking next Saturday at the dedication of the High School and I am so excited to listen and learn from her. Back to why I can’t sleep right now. The Children. I remember seeing commercials about donating to a charity to help feed children and thinking, “Does that money ever get to them? Does sending them money really help the problem or does it just stick a band aid on a broken arm?” Living in a place that runs off of donations and seeing the need and the gratitude that the people here I know that there is some higher power in charge of this organization and that these children are going to have a great role in changing the stigma of leprosy and poverty. The school offers them a chance to not only succeed but to have dignity and self worth. I was asked to learn about a girl in the room that I help each night so that I could write her Biography so she could get a sponsor. Each child has a sponsor that pays $30 dollars a month for their education, housing, food, medical expenses, everything. As I have started to learn about her, her name is Abisha, I have a feeling I am going to end up sponsoring her myself. But I will also post a picture of her and write what I have found out to let other people have the opportunity to be blessed by helping these special kids. I am going to try and fall asleep and think of all of the good things these kids are going to do in the future.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Incredible India

On the weekends we get to be tourists. Saturday morning we loaded up in the rising star buss and headed to Mahabalipuram. A beach town, Historic landmark, and tourism mecca. We saw everything from ancient ruins to stone carvers making their Hindu sculptures. “It has various historic monuments built largely between the 7th and the 9th centuries, and has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”(Thanks Wikipedia) We walked through the jungle around ancient stone temples and a huge rock called the “butterball”. One of the temples is dedicated to the God Vishnu, and on one of the ball reliefs there is a man slowly turning into a cobra as he descends into the depths of the earth. I will figure out what it means someday. The city was packed full of shops and restaurants. I got some delicious chicken tikki masala bought some things then headed for the Ideal beach resort. I’m trying to get the complete India experience which wouldn’t be complete without an Ayurvedic massage. It began with warm spicy oil being poured onto my forehead and then massaged into my scalp. I would highly recommend it! Be aware that you will be pretty greased up by the end. I slid out of there, jumped into the pool and headed to the beach. The Bay of Bengal is beautiful. The gray-blue water is lined by white sandy beaches, palm trees and brightly painted boats. The water was the perfect temperature and if I wasn’t so scared of salt water crocs I would have dived right in. I took a stroll down the beach and saw a fisherman mending his net and some boys launching their boat out into the crashing waves. I took one last dip in the pool, took a picture of Dani doing a sweet back dive, enjoyed a real shower, and loaded up into the bus. I opted for the front passenger seat. By the way I keep trying to get in the driver’s side of the car and it confuses everyone, especially the driver. The whole way home it felt like I was in a video game that is somewhere between grand theft auto and cruising the world. Our driver, Veel, weaved in and out of motorcycles, rickshaws, cows, people, and buses loaded so full people were clinging to the outside of them. He stopped to show us a family of monkeys and baby pigs. I almost cried they were so cute. As we got near a village we could see the outline of a temple on the top of a tall green peak, Tirukalukundram is the name of the village and I am going to figure out how to get back and climb the thousands of steps to get to that temple that is so close to heaven. Then it started to rain. Buckets of rain! The streets turned into rivers, motorcycles clung together behind big trucks, rickshaws sputtered through the deep water. I have sore arms from clinging to my seat. I’m going to think twice before I sit in the front again. Oh we saw jackfruit on the side of the road. I have been told it is what juicy fruit was named after. Hopefully I will get to test that theory out soon.

I will explain these later. . . .