//Current Adventure: India, Part II\\
India, Part II
Part II Pictures
Saturday, June 6th, 2006
India is great. All the things you remember about coming here sort of fade away after a year, but just one day has made me remember so many reasons why I love it here.
Taxi rides were something I needed just a little bit of reminding about. I of course remembered how terrifying my first experience with it was last year and the novel but I suppose intuitive use that Indians make of their horns, but I had forgotten some of the smaller details, like how entirely meaningless all attempts at guiding traffic are (signs, lights, road markings), or the way that drivers will start pulling out even if there are people walking across in front of them. It's all good as long as they don't actually touch, which actually makes sense since it reflect the general social attitude. The amount of personal space that Indians expect is approximately 0, which explains why when waiting in lines the person behind you will practically be on top of you, even if the line is stagnant and you are ostensibly leaving a comfortable amount of breathing room between you and the person in front of you (and yes, this was tried and proved true getting on the plane in Dubai and getting off in Chennai).
Speaking of getting off in Chennai, a little note about anyone who may be concerned about customs or immigration when coming into India. First, as for immigration, you fill out the little card on the plane that says your name, where you’ll be staying, where you entered India and on what flight, etc., and hand it and your passport to the guy, who looks at it, gives a few stamps, and sends you on your way. I don’t think I was with him more than ten seconds. What I realized when I got to baggage claim was that I had completely confused the flight number, gotten Chennai’s airport code wrong (MAD instead of MAA), and the location I had given may as well have not been there, since as I found out when my taxi was taking me to the convent, “St. Louis Convent, But Road” is not nearly enough information to find the place. I’m becoming really tempted to try coming to India without a visa. I would love to see how they handled that. Before the baggage claim you and any carry-ons go through a metal detector. I could only smile to myself as I noticed that these were entirely unmonitored by any airport personnel, and for some reason I found the fact strangely comforting. I love India.
Customs is the tiny bottom right part of the card you’re given on the plane, where you put your name, signature, and the approximate value of all items brought into the country. As you walk out of the baggage claim section of the airport you hand this slip to a guy who takes it without looking at it (maybe he checked that all the fields were filled in, but I don’t think so), and then you're done.
That’s where the fun airport experiences end. In the last section before the airport exit there was a booth where I got a taxi to the convent (I could have just gone outside and gotten a little better price, but I didn’t feel like navigating the throngs of drivers who all start demand to know where you want them to take you upon seeing an American). After stopping several places and talking to several people (which is another great thing about India, that you can just pull over and ask anybody for directions, and they’ll tell you whether or not they have the slightest idea what you’re talking about) we got to the convent at about 6:30 this morning. Sister Rita, who was one of the sisters I met when I was here shortly last year, was here to greet me, and she and everyone else here have all been so sweet.
So here I am, my first night in India, sitting in my room, which is quite warm even though it’s not bad outside, listening to some rock concert/motivational speaker who’s being loud next door. My Tamil is limited to formalities so I have no idea what’s going on over there, but hopefully it’ll stop soon, since I am gratefully getting tired even though I’ve already slept a very welcome 13 or so hours today after getting off the plane and being the sort of tired where it feels like your head is locked up in a vice. A cool breeze is picking up (it may even be raining, which is pretty unusual), so assuming I can sleep through the night (which will be pretty dependent on next door shutting up) I may be all set on Indian time by tomorrow… but I have my doubts. Until next time...
Saturday, June 10th, 2006
My body has finally adjusted to India time. Yesterday, our first morning at Madhas School for the Handicapped, I managed to sleep until 6:30 after spending all previous nights waking up at odd hours.
Ian got in on Wednesday and I picked him up at the airport without any trouble. At the Chennai airport visitors can only go inside to the waiting area (which is just the last big room between the baggage claim and the exit) after buying a ticket for 60 rupees (about $1.30). I went to the airport in an auto, a small three-wheeled vehicle, since it would be cheaper, planning then to get a taxi to take Ian, his luggage, and me back to the convent, but the driver assured me that the luggage would fit in the auto, which it did, so we just took that back. All I can say is that if navigating the streets in a taxi is fun (which it becomes after the first time, I think), going around hanging out of a tiny vehicle around luggage that takes up 2/3 of the back seat was a blast.
The sisters, whose concern for our wellbeing was virtually unlimited, arranged for our tickets and ride to the bus station for the bus to Kumbakonam, which left at 1pm on Thursday. The bus had air conditioning, but Ian and I got on board at about 12:30, at which point the bus was not yet on but was baking in the midday sun. It was a seemingly interminable 20 minutes or so before we felt the bus roar to life and cold air start coming out. Each seat has one small, non-adjustable vent, so after an hour or so the temperature became comfortable, and after about four hours it was too cold, but we weren't about to complain.
The Kumbakonam bus station is larger and far more hectic than the one in Chennai, which is strange, given that Chennai is a city of several million and the capitol of the province, while Kumbakonam is some little town seven hours away. I called Fr. Antony, who said to find a taxi driver and then call the office at the school, where the secretary would give him directions. It all went off fine, and the school isn't far from the bus station (nothing is, I guess, in a town of this size), so we ended up getting here around 8:30pm. We had some dinner and I showed Ian around the place, but by that time it was lights-out time so we didn't disturb the children.
On Friday morning we say the children, who were very excited to see us. Everybody has an established sign for a name. Last year they decided mine was the sign for "shave" (ouch) and Ian's is "sideburn." I only remembered a few of their names, which I feel bad about, because several of them remembered my name and how to spell it and everything. Names are coming back fast, because every time we see them they are eager to quiz us on names and shake our hands and show us things. I'm having a great time learning more of their sign language, and while I don't think I'll learn much Tamil, the physically handicapped kids know some English (the deaf children don't take English, since their Tamil class is essentially a second language class already), but since all the students, teachers, cooks, and workers know the sign language, it's easier to communicate that way. It's indescribably strange using sign language to communicate with someone who you know can hear, since I guess the instinct would be to start shouting, imagining that they would eventually understand, but most of the signs are pretty derived, so it actually makes much more sense trying to communicate that way.
Today we had been planning to go on a trip with the students of father's teacher training institute that's on this same campus, but we decided we'd rather just hang out around here. When we saw the children this morning they were all very insistent of our coming down for recreation time after breakfast, so we did, introducing them to the Frisbee I brought along, which The smaller kids took well to. Most of the bigger kids, and some of the smaller kids as well, were engaged in a giant game of football in the field that's about 1/4 regulation size, perhaps, with about 20 kids on each team when Ian and I joined the game. It was about 80 degrees and the sun was out in full force, but it was so much fun we didn't care. (My team won) Ian and I both did laundry today, so the one line on the roof is pretty full. After that I went down to find the kids, who were going off to wash their own laundry (and selves, but they didn't seem too shy) at this irrigation tub in one of the fields. When I walked up I thought one of the guys was eating bamboo, but he got some for me, and I think it was actually sugarcane (and you just chew it, you don't eat it). They took me off to meet this old guy who guards the fields who used to be a dancer, so he sang a Tamil song for us while one of the kids beat on a bucket and the rest danced. These were all deaf kids, so it was impressive to see them get out a beat and dance.
It already feels like we're not going to be here very long, which is true I guess, since we only have 11 days left. I'm sure it'll be over before we know it, but until then we'll continue enjoying ourselves in lovely India.
Sunday, June 11th, 2006
Right Now for
No real update today, but I'm getting my stuff uploaded and I thought I should put up something.
Thursday, June 15th, 2006
"Weepy " is a boy in the 5th standard who I might affectionately refer to as my secretary. He is my constant advocate and companion here, and he always insists on carrying my books or storing them for me while I'm playing soccer, which works out pretty well, because after showering I always come back down to study time with the boys. I don't actually know what his name is (he can write it for me of course, but only in Tamil), but I call him Weepy because his signed name is the sign for crying, which is exactly what he tells me he'll do when I leave one week from today. If I could take home one thing from India, it would be this kid.
The last few days have been spent gathering pictures and ideas to put together a brochure that father has asked us to make. We're happy to oblige, and it's going to be one doozy of a project, but it'll be good. The kids have taken on great to Ian, especially in the handicapped 8th standard, where they won't let him leave.
Every day it seems like there's just not enough time to do everything I'd like to do! Between meals, class time with the kids, recreation time, prayers, and study time, the day is booked from 7am to 9pm. I hate to skip out on making the rounds to the classes, but with all the work to do I'm thinking that'll be happening a bit in my remaining time here.
The school year here starts at the beginning of June, so new kids are still arriving every day. The smaller kids usually cry a bit their first days here, but the other kids are so good about cheering them up and keeping them company. I was pretty surprised to learn this, but none of the deaf kids I've talked to so far have families who know Indian Sign Language, so while being able to read lips pretty well, their first real access to language is at the school. This is of course of great interest to me, but I would think anyone would be able to see the amazing value of a place where children who live in a silent world can interact with others in their own medium and for the first time in their lives to be able to fully express themselves.
We got quite a bit of rain yesterday, which was very welcome, but sort of freaked the kids out, I think. When classes were over we found the fields in a very wet state, but that didn't stop the intense soccer action. Some people got pretty covered in mud, myself included (although the only pictures that show it are on Ian's camera, since my battery inconveniently died near the end of recreation time). Cleaning my clothes was a royal pain and I thought the mud would, quite literally, never rinse out, but it was so worth it.
Saturday, June 17th, 2006
Right Now for
It certainly does.
I took Ian to the 12th standard English class yesterday since the professor didn't think he was visiting any classes (not true, but I thought I'd satisfy his frustration), so we got to read some Julius Caesar (I guess if they can understand Shakespeare they can understand anything). I went around more classes for the rest of the day, as usual, and then we played soccer in the afternoon, so there're pictures of that. There are several picture updates, actually, but I'm only slowly getting through them on the stone-age connection here, so maybe the pictures from yesterday won't make it up until tomorrow.
After free time everybody went to clean up, as usual, and then there's study time, during which I go sit with the kids. While we were sitting inside we could see the lightning starting up to the south, and sure enough, by the time evening prayer got started (7pm), the rain was a-pouring. I ran upstairs to grab my flashlight since I figured the power would go out, and the sun sets around 6 here. Running back upstairs through the rain was really nice, since it cools everything down, and they can always use the water.
Raj, one of the boys, came to get my flashlight with me, and on the way back down we were called over by a few other boys to the area where the boys' possessions are kept. When we got there we saw that they had killed two scorpions and were in the process of trapping another, but it was caught in a little river thing that runs through the center of the area to drain water. They pulled it out and slapped it down on the ground, where it started walking a little before it was squished. During all of this the power did go out, so we were happy to have the flashlight while they searched around for more scorpions. There is a generator here, but it usually takes a few minutes to kick in after a power outage, so when we had finished we ran back to the chapel through the pouring rain to provide a little light for the children. By that time they had finished prayer, and since the power wasn't coming back any time soon we parted ways for dinner time.
When I realized I didn't have my flashlight (I had left it with Raj), I went back downstairs, where I ran into a few of the girls who I hadn't really spent much time with, which was nice. The boys were moved to a different part of the building because the hallway where they usually sleep was quite wet, so we hung out a little in the one of the rooms where they were sleeping. They said they found one more scorpion, but it was killed with no trouble. When lights out time came around Ian and I went back upstairs and talked to father a little bit before bed. The power didn't come back until morning, and I'm told that no more scorpions were spotted.
Today's Saturday, and that means the kids pretty much have the day off. There are a few chores to be done, but things are mostly taken pretty easy around here. I walked around before and took some pictures of the handicapped children, who are stripping palm fronds for the thin, stick-like fiber that runs their length, which they use to make their bundled brooms here.
It's just about time for afternoon soccer and some of the kids are waiting at the doorway of the office to pull me away, so I must be off. More to come...
Monday, June 19th, 2006
Many of the kids are orphans or have parents who can't visit, but for those who are able to make it, Sunday is the day for families to come by. I've gotten to know all these kids here at the school, so it's pretty easy to forget that the life they grew up with was actually in their homes, for many, with their families. Walking around and seeing all the kids I've gotten to know interacting with their families is great. They're so proud to show me their relatives and introduce me to them, though communication is pretty minimal (a few of the parents do speak English).
Today father took us to visit the National Shrine of India, which I visited last year with Grace and Steve (If you feel unsatisfied with the pictures from this year, you can look here). We didn't spend a lot of time there, leaving early in the morning and returning in the early afternoon, which was just as well with me since our time here we are rocketing towards our return to the US with insane speed. We got back in time for some afternoon recreation, which was the usual all-intense all-the-time soccer game. It seems like they have established teams, with each having adopted one American since our arrival. I think my team has more little guys (I've never really gotten a chance to count, I guess), but a lot of them are pretty good. When you have two or three of them swarming around even the best older kid, he's not getting that ball anywhere.
After I showered and came downstairs I found a crew of boys picking the mangos from the tree down by the main entrance, which is down outside our room. I came down and helped out a little, and then moved on with them as they went to the pick lady fingers, which is a long, thin vegetable whose outer skin is made up of all these little fibers you can't chew or swallow (or at least shouldn't). Lady fingers grow on tall trees, so they used a tool that had a blade on the end of a long stick. I was surprised by their efficiency, and especially when when one of the smaller guys got up and started climbing the tree like a little monkey to reach some higher ones. I'm not sure how much is shows in the pictures, but he climbed up really high.
When they finished I wandered into the adjacent field, where some
of the older handicapped kids were studying. I got some pictures before
continuing in to where the rest of the kids were. If you're wondering what
the last few pictures are, it turns out Raji and Gobi know a good deal about
folding clothes (they could hardly believe that my general procedure is to leave
them wadded up in a basket), so they were showing me how it's done.
When I came down after showering this evening, I found a group
of kids at work around some kind of plant I'd never seen before. I still
don't know what it was, but the "shell" looked a bit like a really dark peanut,
many nuts long. These need to be shelled, which I saw can be done in a
variety of ways as I looked around. Some carefully picked sections off,
while the little boy next to me spread a bunch out on the ground and then
started pounding them with his fist. Inside are long strings of sweet
little pits that I guess you suck on and then spit out. They taught me to
pick out which pods were rejects, while the keepers went into baskets (although
when whoever was in charge would leave, the pods would go a flying. It was
a pretty good time).
This morning the kids all gathered outside for us to take a giant
group picture. There's really quite a few of them, so in the end I decided
they could just stand in a big group and I'd take the picture from three stories
up. They came out pretty nice, a that I took of Ian with the group and
then a few he took of me with them. I had some time to see the kids for a while this morning,
although I had to keep sneaking up at breaks to get my packing finished.
Our bus was scheduled to leave at 2:30, so we left classes a little early to go
eat lunch and get all the last-minute stuff done. I managed to get a few
recipes out of the cooks that I'm excited to try out at home, but I don't think
my results will be nearly as tasty. We brought our bags down to the car, where the children were
waiting. I waded into the crowd to say goodbye to everybody, and the
children stayed close to the car as we left, hovering outside the windows.
It was sad to say goodbye, but it was nice that they got to be the very last
things we saw as we left. Innumerable hugs and kisses later we made it to
the bus station with plenty of time to get on the A/C bus to Chennai. The
sisters were waiting for us there and took us to the convent, where we had some
dinner and are now turning in for the flight tomorrow morning. It's going
to be really weird to be at home again.
95°F It'll be a hot one today, but I won't be here to see it. After a pit
stop in the United Arab Emirates it'll be on to London!
When I came down after showering this evening, I found a group of kids at work around some kind of plant I'd never seen before. I still don't know what it was, but the "shell" looked a bit like a really dark peanut, many nuts long. These need to be shelled, which I saw can be done in a variety of ways as I looked around. Some carefully picked sections off, while the little boy next to me spread a bunch out on the ground and then started pounding them with his fist. Inside are long strings of sweet little pits that I guess you suck on and then spit out. They taught me to pick out which pods were rejects, while the keepers went into baskets (although when whoever was in charge would leave, the pods would go a flying. It was a pretty good time).
This morning the kids all gathered outside for us to take a giant group picture. There's really quite a few of them, so in the end I decided they could just stand in a big group and I'd take the picture from three stories up. They came out pretty nice, a that I took of Ian with the group and then a few he took of me with them.
I had some time to see the kids for a while this morning, although I had to keep sneaking up at breaks to get my packing finished. Our bus was scheduled to leave at 2:30, so we left classes a little early to go eat lunch and get all the last-minute stuff done. I managed to get a few recipes out of the cooks that I'm excited to try out at home, but I don't think my results will be nearly as tasty.
We brought our bags down to the car, where the children were waiting. I waded into the crowd to say goodbye to everybody, and the children stayed close to the car as we left, hovering outside the windows. It was sad to say goodbye, but it was nice that they got to be the very last things we saw as we left. Innumerable hugs and kisses later we made it to the bus station with plenty of time to get on the A/C bus to Chennai. The sisters were waiting for us there and took us to the convent, where we had some dinner and are now turning in for the flight tomorrow morning. It's going to be really weird to be at home again.
It'll be a hot one today, but I won't be here to see it. After a pit stop in the United Arab Emirates it'll be on to London!