Thursday, July 28, 2011

Stranded in Paris

Well, the title pretty much says it all.  After a few hours of waiting around the airport, we were told the flight was canceled due to maintenance problems.

I told myself I wouldn't blog again till I got back home.  You aren't assigned free time in Paris and I wanted to take advantage of every moment possible to see this beautiful city.  However, fate has thrown it's second punch at me this trip amid so many graces (the first being my cold), and as such, I've decided to take advantage of my newly given free time and reminisce about my experiences, since India, while they are still fresh in my mind.  I'll try to focus on unique events and not just the standard 'I saw the Eiffel Tower... then I saw Notre Dame... you get the picture.  We did see those for the record.

Paris was also a better chance to test ourselves.  While India was definitely a more dangerous country, we were almost always with the Rising Star Organization.  We didn't have to do much independent thinking or exploring.  In Paris, Nels and I were on our own.  We had to brave whatever challenges came our way together, without any outside assistance.

Last Saturday, Nelson and I departed from India.  I had the whole spectrum of feelings regarding my departure.  I was sad to leave the kids... I was ecstatic to use a western toilet and shower... I would miss doing such unique but purposeful service work.... I couldn't wait to escape the drowning humidity, etc...

When our taxi driver showed up, we were stunned to discover that our man Dominique who originally brought us to the hotel from the airport again was our driver.  If you didn't read about Dominique, see my previous blog entry.   I was surprised to find that he really wasn't a bad driver at all.  Well, at least compared to his Indian counterparts.  I just formed such a poor opinion of his driving skills because he was my first experience with the driving in India.

'Way lead onto way', and pretty soon Me and Nelson were at our lay over in Frankfurt, Germany.  We had a few hours to kill... so of course we had to get the German experience.  We took a taxi around town for a couple of hours, checked out the local iron man race, and relaxed and appreciated the cool climate of Germany on the banks of the Mein River.  Germany is such a beautiful country, and I'm not just saying that because we had been in the Indian country and it's climate for so long.

We stumbled across this awesome fountain while meandering through Frankfurt

Went out on a limb and decided to spice up the poses on the bank of the Mein

Feeling like a million bucks after rediscovering civilization. 

On the plane ride over we met Clement.  He was a 22 year old Frenchman who had spent the last three years living 'the good life' over in the States and Canada.  Although his breath smelled profusely of alcohol and his eyes were glazed over, he actually spoke some pretty coherent English.  Hilarious accent though.  He told Nels and I "Paris is the TRUE land of the free!  You can smoke, you can drink, you can fight cops!  That's freedom!".  Apparently it is pretty hard to get busted for assaulting a cop in France.... perhaps this is intentional because of the aftermath of the French Revolution?

He also told us not to take the taxi we planned on riding in to get to our hotel.  He said "They will take you!"  He instead instructed us to take the train.  "It's free!", he says.
"Are you sure it's free Clement?"
Yah, yah! Well you have to "*insert whistling noise with funny hand gestures* but ya it's free!"

Apparently many of the locals are quite skilled in the art of parkouring over the barriers at the train station and metro.  Nels and I are now also quite familiar with this process.  We really got the hang of these metros by the end of the trip.  A note of caution- look on the other side before you acrobat over the barrier.  You never know when a security guard and his MASSIVE Mastiff will be awaiting to greet you.

A video of some local talent.  He's crazy.

Anyways, our first day there, we went on a Segway tour of Paris.  It was soooo sick!  I highly recommend riding a segway.

Our first solid glimpse of the Eiffel Tower

The next day we toured all throughout Paris.  There were two main highlights of our day.

First, the Arc De Triumph.  The Arc is amazing.  There is a beautiful view of Paris from the top.  It is surrounded by the largest round-about in Europe, and it is noted for how hectic it is.  So, naturally, I thought it would be the best time to put my video game skills to the test and play real life frogger.

The view from on top of the Arc De Triumph.  Figured it was about time to put these long arms to use so I attempted the self portrait technique.

A video of Nelson and I initial Frogger level.  I have actual footage of going back over... but you'll have to ask me in person about that if you want to see it....

The other highlight was ascending the Eiffel Tower and being at the very top during the light show and sunset.  Nels and I have a pretty solid bromance going on... but it would definitely be a place to visit and a thing to do with 'the girl of your dreams'.  As evidenced by the many couples making out up there, it wasn't an original idea of mine.

Kickin it with Nels on the first level of the Eiffel Tower

Three of the nights were spent either up the Eiffel Tower or on the surrounding benches to watch the crazy light show that begins at 10:00 p.m.  The tower has thousands of flashes flicker across its body for about five minutes.

For my own later recollection: we also went to the top of Montparnasse Tower, walked down the Champs Elysees, and visited the big Parisian cemetery.

The next two mornings Nelson and I went for two early morning jogs through the massive garden/park of Luxembourg.  I'm so glad we did it.  The weather is beautiful in the early morning and because Paris is a night city, the roads and grounds were empty.

We went to the Catacombs.  So fun but creepy.

We also saw some other standard sights but I won't bog down the already long blog with extra details.

The last day we lucked out big time.  We decided we wanted to go on the Versailles bike tour at the last moment.  We made our way through the tangled web of metro tunnels and then scrambled throughout the roads of Paris with a laptop in my hand for directions, trying to find our way to the tour office.  We stumbled in right before they left.  They normally only do reservations... but today two people had shown up, found out how long they had to bike, and then decided not to go.  It almost seemed to good to be true.  Nelson and I decided that we would take advantage of our good fortune and go.

Versailles is amazing.  The grounds are so beautiful.  The Grand Canal is massive.  I swam in it.

Wait... hold up.  You swam in it?

Yes sir.  Nelson and I had a wave of spontaneity run through us and decided that we most likely will only get see Versailles once... might as well make the best of it.  We separated ourselves from the group, stripped down, and jumped in.

Shout out to our tour guide who took the initiative and sifted through my clothes to find my camera.

Our adventure in the Grand Canal almost made the biggest palace in the world take a side seat.  Almost.

The cousins with some new found friends from the tour.  The golden Egyptian is actually a French mime who would put the Buckingham Palace guards to shame.

Our last night we watched the sun go down from the top of Montmartre while we wined and dined on some excellent French food.  We also visited the church up there.  These cathedrals and churches in Paris are absolutely jaw dropping.  You can't help but be lost in some type of reverie as you walk throughout those beautiful buildings.  They really give you a feeling of awe and wonder.

Some closing thoughts:
My experiences with India and then Paris provided a real life juxtaposition oof the human existence.  To go from the desolate poverty of India to the extravagant churches in Paris was definitely a shock.  The people in India were, as a whole, much kinder and happier than the people in Paris.  In fact, the people in Paris are the most unpleasant lot I've ever encountered.  There is a chance that I am just saying this because my pride was wounded many times by the insufferable glares and snide remarks tossed at me by these Parisians.  Or maybe because I am directly comparing them with the Indian people who are the kindest and happiest people I have met.  Either way, this is further evidence in my mind of the discrepancy between happiness and wealth.

To finish- the rest is history.  We wake up early and go to the airport.  Our flight gets canceled.  Now, they pent us up in a close hotel room.  I'm bummed because I am not going to be able to make my tournament in Anaheim on time.  Hopefully good fortune smiles on us and we make it back to the States.


Friday, July 22, 2011

"The Road Goes Ever on and on..."

This is my last blog while in India!  I'd like to give out a shout out to those checking out my experiences from the MLG forums, especially Malibu.  I'll see most of you guys in a week at MLG Anaheim!  If you are just checking out my blog I strongly suggest you go back to the first post to understand what the heck is going on.

I have to apologize in advance for what you will read... I am physically, mentally, and emotionally drained.  My illness topped with physical labor, early mornings, and heart wrenching good bye's with the children make for a poor mental state to write.  So bare with me please.

Before I conclude my India experiences, I will first elaborate quickly on my last day doing construction in the leprosy colonies.  For the most part, it was more of the same construction work.  Filling in holes, moving rocks, playing in the dirt.

First septic tank we worked on today

Some group teamwork on #2.

Even the North American native turkeys made a brief appearance in the colony.

Couple things that were different:

First, it was the same colony that we had medical the day before.  As such, I bumped into a number of people whose feet I had washed and they all were especially friendly.  It seemed like I was an accepted member of the community.

I get a kick out of all their glasses.

Just kicking it with the crew.  A few of these guys were there yesterday.  Where is the poker chips when you need them?

Second, we got to see the local snake charmer playing with a cobra... and then getting bit.  Luckily, he drinks the venom everyday so his body is used to it.

 It's sizing me up.

Proof of the guys bite.  That's nuts.  Literally that snake bite can stop a heart in an hour.  He just was used to the venom because he drinks it.

While construction was fun, the most memorable part about this day was family time at night.  We had to say goodbye to the children and it was really, really sad.

Every other week these children are introduced to new volunteer faces, knowing full well that they will 'abandon' them after their session is over.  Personally, if I were them, I would become caustic towards volunteers, refusing to become attached instinctively because I would be tired of saying so many depressing good byes.  Yet, despite knowing the future departure of the volunteers, these children still keep their hearts open and allow themselves to become attached.

Two of the children began to cry as I said my good bye's.  Goku particularly affected me.  He was my sparring partner.  He looked down and refused to meet my gaze as I hugged him and said farewell.  He brought me a piece of paper, and mumbling, asked me to write my email so he could write me.  He said he won't have any more fun pillow fights now.  He asked me if we'd see each other again.  I wanted to reply "what does your heart tell you" but I can only pawn off so many cheesy star wars quotes and keep my dignity.  Instead, as I walked out of the room I said, "I hope so.  Goodbye, Cana Puna".

Me and Goku.  On a side note, I'm wearing a lungi.

I asked Joseph Stalin if he had anything to say to the people back home.

I will miss India.  

If one wishes to be happy here, one must quickly adopt 'Indian eyes'.  It would be only too easy to only pay attention to the rancid smell or the trash that blankets the land and makes all of India a landfill.  To only pay attention to the sweltering heating, the sweat provoking humidity, and the dangerous animals that demand one maintain constant vigilance with their foot placement.

But if one looks deeper and puts on the bifocals of the Indian people, a whole new world is opened up.  A world where the most impoverished people are also the most happy people.  A world where the ancient cultures and religions do not just exist in societal interactions but within the very hearts and souls of the individuals.  A world where strangers are regarded as brothers and treated as honored guests.

I know, as evidenced to me by the short time it took for me to become spoiled again after staying in that comfortable hotel in Agro, that I will lose my Indian eyes shortly after departing the country.  After the first couple nights spent relaxing in a comfortable bed it will again become commonplace.  After the initial joy of using a western toilet I'll quickly become habituated to such a luxury.  As Dostovesky says, "Man gets used to everything- the scoundrel!".

So did this whole adventure go to waste?  Am I destined to return to my state of being that I described in my initial post, where I KNOW I am lucky for my lifestyle, yet I don't FEEL that I am...?

When I was younger, I struggled sleeping.  My mind would race and I just couldn't drift off.  I asked my Father, "Dad, how come you can sleep so well?  Wherever we are you always fall asleep before me!".  He then told me "Well Son, it's because one night, when I was a boy scout doing a Winter campout, I nearly froze to death and rolled around all night unable to sleep.  Whenever I am having a hard time going to sleep, I remember how miserable I was that night.  Then whatever problem is keeping me awake instantly vanishes because it can't compare to that night and I fall asleep."

As Barrie says, "God gave us memories so that we might have roses in December".  Or rather vice versa, 'God gave us memories so that we might remember the freezing blizzards so we can appreciate the warmth of the radiant sunshine'.

Because I have the memories of my experiences here in India, I hopefully will be able to put on short term Indian eyes to allow me to FEEL how lucky I am whenever I am feeling ungrateful.

To add to this point, I just finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo again, and on the last page Edmond says "There is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another..."

This journey has helped me better compare the two.

While I'll miss the country, climate, and culture of India, I will miss the people much more.  From the energy filled and loving children to the disease ravaged but happily optimistic 'leprosy affected' individuals, all have found a special place in my heart.  I will miss how much the children in India loved to hug and be close to me.  I will also miss the beaming toothless grin that the leprosy patients would bestow upon us volunteers during the medical and construction days.

I am confident that no poker face could withstand the smile given off by these individuals.  You have to smile in return.  It's truly instinctive.

Look at that smile she has on her face and tell me you could stonewall that...

One thing I love about these traveling adventures is that it forces you to have first hand encounters with the world.  The world, the way it is, not as you have imagined it.  

It compels you to grapple with the limitless kindness and the bottomless cruelty of humankind, and realize that perhaps you are capable of both.  It changes you.

Well, enough of that.  I could go on for a long time about how incredible these experiences were to me.  Luckily, they won't be the last, both in the immediate and in the distant future.  I head straight from India to explore Paris with my cousin for a few days, then I depart to MLG Anaheim.  I am going to be one jet lagged gamer.  I'll keep a less up to date blog about those experiences as well.

The journey won't stop there though.  As Bilbo says, 

"The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say."

I look forward to a life of adventures, wherever they may take me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Medical Day #3 Complete With Symbolism.

Everyone!  I am so anxious to share this day with you!  I have only a few days left in India, and this day was amazing.

After re-reading my blog from yesterday, I felt like the biggest whiner!  Here I am complaining about a silly common cold when I am surrounded by people who's lives have been transformed by a dehabilitating disease.  After today's experiences I particularly feel blessed by my health and am glad I only have to deal with a cold.

Because the program cycle is reversed for the last two days, my group was assigned to medical a day earlier than normal.  The previous two medical days were a little commonplace and I was eager for a chance to get some hands on work in the colonies.  My wish was granted.

We arrived at a local medical facility (aka small rundown house) and began to set up our stations.  There was a station to check the colony member's blood pressure, pulse, and blood glucose level which required the group member to prick their deformed thumbs.  Another station was used to cut off the bandages and take pictures and document the numerous sores and ulcers the individuals had.  Following the documentation, there was a foot washing and nail clipping station.  Accompanying that job was a place where the individual would get their feet massaged with some type of oil (neema?) that kept bacteria and, more importantly, rats away so that they wouldn't get their digits gnawed off in their sleep.

I volunteered with my cousin to head the foot washing station, knowing full well that while it is the most gruesome station, it also has a lot of symbolism behind it.  I remember growing up and hearing how, in the scriptures, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.  As a small child, I didn't understand why that was so interesting.  Jesus is a nice guy, and he wants the people he cares about to have nice clean feet, so what is so remarkable about that?  Picturing the task before hand, and having seen some of the disease ravaged feet I was about to wash over the last couple of weeks, comprehension of the task Jesus preformed to his disciples began to dawn upon me.  The feet Jesus washed weren't the typical pedicured western style feet that stays protected in shoes all day.  The feet he washed belonged to people who walked around 2000 years ago without shoes and often with bare feet.  Before the Koreans and Vietnamese were able to establish day salons that perfect the figure of a foot down to the smallest cuticle.  I imagine the disciples feet were much more similar to the feet I washed today.  And, to top it all off, Jesus was the Master of the apostles.  No wonder the apostles were so flabbergasted when Jesus asked to be allowed to wash their feet.  All of this was running through my head as we set up the stations.

We were told to wear two layers of gloves as well as a surgical mask to prevent whatever sicknesses the patients had from spreading to us.

I'm not going to lie, I was tremendously apprehensive about washing the feet.  It was a simple enough task, but I had symbolic thoughts running rampant throughout my mind and to me I believed the gravity of my task was greater than it perhaps was.  As my first 'patient' sat down, I took a close look at his feet. There were massive and deep ulcers on his knees, shins, ankles, toes, and on the bottom of his feet.  And I'm not exaggerating when I say they were massive.  They put the ulcer my Grandpa Nelson had once to complete shame.  To make the grim picture worse, there were countless flies landing on the ulcer... and it appeared like they were dining on it.  There would be four or five flies on, or inside, each ulcer just bathing in it.  As I gazed at the flies feasting, or doing who knows what to his festering wounds, I felt a few land on me.  I understand now why people think flies cause such a hygiene problem.  I felt the beginning of a wave of anxiety threatening to wash over me but I quickly squelched it.  If I got sick, I got sick.  There are medications for that stuff.  What mattered was helping this man in front me.

As he approached I smilingly told him "Vannakum!"(the traditional Tamil greeting)  I asked him, as I directed his feet into the wash basin, "Unga perdna?" (What is your name?)  His reply was lost to an untrained ear.  I poured the soap and water onto his feet and wounds, scattering the flies for mere moments before they again hungrily dove back onto his wounds.  Looking up at his face, I could tell he was a little nervous.  Despite largely not having any feeling in his feet, getting your feet washed can make one a little anxious or self conscious... particularly if they aren't exactly in pristine condition.  I tried to reassure him with my smile and my body language that it was fine, and I believe, as I continued to rub away at his feet and ulcers, he began to become more comfortable around me.  It was dirty, but I believe he enjoyed it so it was worth it.

I won't go into all the thoughts that I had while washing feet.  It was definitely my first big emotional/spiritual experience I had here.  Also, the symbolism behind everything didn't escape me.  My religious upbringing came into play and I couldn't help but thinking that as I physically scrubbed away at the deformities and wounds of his flesh, I also spiritually scrubbed away at the deformities and wounds of my soul.  The thought occurred to me that perhaps this act so perfectly echoed and followed in the footsteps of Jesus that perhaps it would be sufficient restitution of my own sins.

Despite having a lot of thoughts percolating in my psyche, I managed to correctly wash his feet and moved on to the next patient.

Here are some pictures.  I'd like to thank Amanda, the wounded volunteer for taking pictures as we worked.

With my first guy

Now that's what an ulcer looks like.

My man making another appearance.

Nelson the future doctor

As we continued working, I managed to keep my emotions under the surface.  Soon, an elderly lady needed her foot washed.  She was just bubbling over with excitement.  I looked at her and smiled and laughed with her as she put her feet into the basin.  What she did next completely caught me off guard and went straight to the heart and past the defenses.  She pointed to Me and then to Nelson, crossed us, and then said we were Jesus.  Nelson looked a little confused because it was so random.  But, having that symbolism running through my head, I knew exactly what she meant.  Suffice it to say for a little while my emotions weren't under the surface.

The lady with the glasses is the one responsible.

I had to get one with her.

 Here is a video of her I took as we were packing up.  I'm sure you'll be able to get a better picture of her personality.  So cute.

Right before we packed up, Nelson and I got transferred over to the blood pressure/blood glucose checking station.  Our job was to prick people's fingers and...uh... check their blood pressure and blood glucose.

Nelson and I manning the station

Some additional photos:

That's all I'm going to blog about today.  I would have come to India if today was the only day I could spend here.

p.s.  Doesn't her voice in the video sound like an ewok?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Three in One

With so many things to do here in India, it has been pretty difficult staying up to date in my blogging.  As such, today will be a special three days in one post blog.  Hopefully I'll still be able to touch on some key points I want to bring up.  With that said, I'm excited that after today I will be all caught up.  Especially because I feel a cold coming on and I will be wanting to spend my free time sleeping to recover.

I'll start of with:

Construction Day #2:

After arriving at around midnight from the trip to Delhi, I hit the sack fast.  I had a promise to keep with Joseph Stalin, one of the kids here, to train him in the art of everything.  At 5:30, my alarm went off, waking me up.  I sat and stared at the bottom of the top bunk for a few minutes, trying to muster up the courage to get up.  I said to myself "David, you are going to make this kids day by showing up and training him.  He probably couldn't even sleep tonight because he was so excited for the morning.  You will be a schmuck if you blow him off".  With those words silently playing in my head, I jumped out of bed and made my way outside to the track.

The shoes were tied, the water was brought, the track was open, and there was no Joseph Stalin.  Thanks Joseph!  Looks like I don't even need the children in my presence to humble me!  Later that day I found him and started to give him a hard time.  I asked him what happened and he said "I woke up at 5.  I was tired and went back to sleep".  Well hey, thanks for at least not trying to spice up your excuse to make me feel important!

After starting the day on such a uplifting note, my group departed to do construction in a nearby colony.  Our job for the day was the building of 6 different septic tanks.  This required us to lift some hefty concrete circular donuts and place them on top of each other in a pre dug hole.  We then needed to fill in the holes with dirt.  It's too bad Mike Rowe wasn't contacted about this job, I bet he would have taken it on.  What with the great crowd of leprosy afflicted individuals, local wildlife, snake charmers, and the miserable and relentless humid heat mixed with lots and lots of dirt.... It was a dirty job.

Here is a picture of some of the slabs and team member Kyle incredulously pointing about fifty yards away saying "wait... we have to move these there?!?"  Yes Kyle, we move them there.  One by one.  Four boys to a slab.  Watch your step.  Watch for snakes.

Step one complete, now time to lower in the slabs with rope.

With that done, time to fill it in.

One down, 5 more to go.

We eventually were given a break, took a group picture, then had around 15 minutes or so to mingle with the locals.

This woman was extremely ravaged by the leprosy bacteria.  However, her face lit up and a smile managed to break out upon her face when I asked to take a picture.  Afterwords I came and gave her a hug and she had a smile the rest of the day.  After the lesson Joseph Stalin gave me that morning, I knew her smile wasn't because she thought I was a dashing young man, but rather, because she has been so deprived of human touch throughout her life that receiving it was like an anti depressant.  Her need was met.

One of the kind elders of the village.  I still get a kick out of the laughing they have when they see their own photo.

We spent another couple hours hard at work and then prepared to head back to Rising Star.  Before we left, we visited the local snake charmer.  Here is a quick video:

That about wraps up the construction day.  A few side notes:  

While women are treated fairly well in India (husbands still are legally allowed to beat wives unfortunately), the Indian men do not like women doing heavy lifting.  They got mad at Kim our coordinator when she was trying to assist in the dropping of the concrete slabs by holding onto the rope.

Human touch and interaction is as much a necessity to happiness as any other necessity such as having enough food, water, shelter, etc...  I recommend watching this link to observe a very interesting experiment regarding the necessity of human touch and interaction.  Note that the experiment is done to a baby, specifically an individual whom has yet been socialized into society and hasn't yet been taught the needs our culture demands that you have.

Maybe this video will dissuade you (especially you younger ones whom may be reading this like my sister Carli!) from giving out the silent treatment to someone.

End of Day 1 of cycle

Medical Day #2:

Medical day seems to be the Rising Star Volunteers favorite day in the cycle.  Most medical days you go into the colony and re bandage wounds, administer medical supplies, and wash feet.  My first medical day was pretty boring however, being used as fast pass.  My second medical day continued the pattern of getting a tedious job.  The volunteers are split into three groups, each one assigned to one of the three program rotations.  On this medical day however, my individual group was split into three smaller ones.  The majority went into the colonies to do the above mentioned activities.  My small group... meaning me and Nelson... were assigned to go with three of the students to the dentist to get some teeth extracted.  While I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bummed out about being assigned to do something that is often done in America, I was glad to get a chance to again connect better with the two students on a personal and individual level.

Basha walking with me towards the dentist office.

The kids were so brave.  I could tell they were nervous by the way they would cling to me a little longer than normal and because their eyes were so wide.  However, besides these two barely noticeable things, they showed no signs of being scared.  I felt bad for the girl in our group.  She had a pre dentist student working on her and the woman just could not extract the tooth.  Too much digging around.  She was really tough though.

As we were waiting in the lobby for one of the kids to finish their extraction, the other two kids asked for me to play some music on my ipod.  Unsure what they would like, I picked the rendition of "Only Hope" by my cousin Paul Garns for some sentimental value.  I told them he was my cousin and they got so excited!  They said "He SO good!"  "Does he know David Archileda?" (David Archileda came down to Rising Star once and performed for them so he is now infamous down here).  Paul, even the Indian children thing you are an amazing artist!

Here is a picture of Basha's swollen cheeks after his extraction:

We waited in the lobby for a few hours for everything to get finished up.  It sucked.  We literally got swarmed by mosquitoes.  At first I tried to slap at them and try to deter them to suck the man next to me. They liked white man blood though, and after some strange looks the local Indians gave me, I gave in and resignedly let them feast.

Here is a video I took on the ride home.  They got ahold of my Ipod and scrolled through the album pictures and saw the artistic drawing of the 'Gorillaz' and wanted to listen to them.  THey loved it.  Notice their cheeks.

Once we got home, we had an hour of free time, then left to go play with the kids.  Randy Rigsby (the Jazz man) brought everyone basketballs and a couple hoops, so the kids were ecstatic.  Most of my playtime was spent trying to dribble all around the kids who were assaulting me trying to steal the basketball.  They thought I was the next Allen Iverson.  Hopefully when they get older they don't watch to much basketball and realize I was a bench warmer for my high school team.

Me with the Protege Sonjey

End of Day 2

Education Day #2

After a terrible night sleep, accompanied by a runny nose and a sore throat, I have deduced by sheer logic and reasoning that I have a cold.  I mean, I don't wanna brag, but people call me Sherlock.

At around 6 am, Nelson and I with some other volunteers played some 3 on 3 volleyball in the sand pit.  Being surrounded by a train of army ants, a cloud of mosquitoes, and hearing mysterious jungle noises set the ambience perfectly.

I've decided the quality of the education day is dependent upon the quality of student I receive.  Yes, I know that I should be super excited to assist the struggling individuals with their illiterate problems.  Unfortunately, the language barrier and the sincere inattention possessed by some of the students is enough to dissuade me from attempting to obtain a job in the foreign kindergarten teaching occupation.  It takes a better man or woman than I.  The way I see it, I need some type of foundation or baseline to jump off from and teach.  Maybe a language similarity.  Is that too much to ask?  Obviously, my health/lack of sleep/weather made me in a lesson patient frame of mind today.

Alright, I'm done venting!  I had some amazingly bright students today who must have had IQ's in the genius range.  They picked things up fast and quickly assimilated new knowledge to their world view.  I also had some kids who, putting it bluntly, should have been in a special education program in India.  And I say India because they didn't know almost any English.  Very happy kids though!

The intelligence gap found in India is similar to the one found in America and just goes to show that one country's kids aren't necessarily born smarter than another country's kids.  Each have their genius's and their dummies.  What's important is the quality of education received to help develop each child to their maximum intelligence level so they might reach their potential.

A couple of pictures of my happy illiterate friend.

Nelson smiling with the next Ramanujan, Sonjey

I also had the same girl for math as last time.  This time, it was long division I was supposed to teach her. HOLY COW it was hard.  How do you teach someone long division who believes 5 divided by 2 is 48?  Either she has a crazy way of dividing in her mind or she is just throwing out numbers.

During intermission (recess) I took a video of some of the kids.  You'll notice Goku, the neighborhood crazy, in a starring role.  They are all Cana Puna's. (first lesson in Tamil in the video).

After education, I went back to the Hostel and chilled for a bit.  Being sick blows.  We had another play time and then dinner.  After dinner, we went back over to the children's house for family time.

Family time consists on helping the kids finish their homework, playing odd games like marbles and rock paper scissors, and then some pillow fights.  I wish everyone could have seen the massive pillow fight that five of the ten year olds had with the bear killer.  Ever heard of the facebook quiz 'how many 10 year olds could you take in a fight'?  The answers you may choose from are typically 20, 50, 100, and 1000.  Let me tell you, maybe they breed these Indians to be fighters, but I see no way I could take on fifty of these kids with pillows.  Goku just drops the pillow and goes straight for the crotch so you have to watch yourself.  I felt like a boss though.  I was dealing out some serious damage to these guys and they would just keep bouncing up and taking more.  It was the older brother to younger brother beat down I never was able to have growing up.  They loved it though.

Some pictures of family time.

This is the bed that the kids sleep on.  Not one complaint.  Sleeping on a rough rug on some hard concrete... And here I am waking up in the morning and complaining to my roommates about how my back hurts because our beds are so hard.

The kids cubbies where they store all their possessions.  One cubby per kid.  Most of the cubbies aren't even stuffed.  I don't think many people back home can really put themselves in the other kids shoes... or rather should I say one pair of sandals... on this one.

Alright guys, no musings really in this one.  This blog is long enough as it is.  I am now officially caught up again though!  I hope I feel better soon because I feel I might have short changed some of these kids today in education.  Tomorrow, the rotations for the programs have reversed so I will have medical.  FINALLY, my group will be going into the colonies and I am excited for that.

Thanks to those who have been texting me while over here- I don't text back because it costs lots of money but I read them!  And mom, the meds I brought, alas, only cover leprosy, typhoid fever, malaria, and bacteria infections.  The common cold has defeated us again!

Till then!

Monday, July 18, 2011

"The Mass of Men Lead Lives of Quiet Desperation" Delhi Part 2 and 3

This blog may prove to be quiet the long narrative.  Slightly ashamed of just reporting what happened in Delhi in the last post, and fearing I may fall too far behind, I will put both some personal musings and Day 2 and Day 3 of Delhi in one post.  Hopefully it doesn't get too long, and more importantly, I hope I don't bore you.

First, some thoughts.  What does the quote by Thoreau, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" mean to you?  Personally, I believe this quote describes that look of resignation printed upon the baggers face in the grocery store, or the unfocused eyes of the person on the city bus as he heads to work.  This empty gaze that is etched upon the faces of people I've seen back in the States silently testifies of the lack of meaning and purpose found in our western culture.  Having conquered our hunger and our basic needs, we Americans and other highly developed countries face a serious alienation from ourselves.  It makes evolutionary sense- our purpose is to survive and multiply.  Once we have satisfied our requirements to survive and multiply, many of us just don't know what to do with ourselves.  It seems like a good problem to have... but I think too many people, including me at times, are suffering from some form of existential crisis and trying to find meaning and purpose in life.

In India, it has been refreshing to see the vivacity of the people here.  People have a quickness to their step that is often lost to our home country and affirms the meaning that the mass of Indians have here.  What is my purpose of waking up today?  To get food so I can feed for my family.  Why do I labor in such unhygienic and dangerous conditions?  So that I can get the medicine my wife needs to defeat her dehabilitating disease.

I think I need to try and keep it simpler back home.  I often have so many layers of reasoning for doing this and that we can lose sight of the purpose behind doing it.  I do this so I can survive.  I help her because I love her.  I wake up so I can thrive.  I get an education because I love learning.  I'll have to work on not letting that gear get stuck up in my head and letting my thoughts run rampant.  I regretfully concede to the validity of the generic saying "Live, Laugh, Love".   I need to keep it simple.  It makes for a happy life.

Glad I got that off my chest... now onto the good stuff!

Saturday morning our group woke up at 5 a.m. to go to the Taj Mahal.  As we entered the grounds and made our way to the famous north entrance, a blanket of fog settled down in our path.  With monkeys making their rounds on the outer wall is if they were the Indian guards of ancient history, we pushed forward towards the Taj.  It really made for an epic entry.

Northern Entrance

This the place where the stereotypical Taj Mahal picture is taken.  This day however, the fog teasingly does not allow it.

Some quick facts on the Taj Mahal:  It is one of the seven man made wonders of the world.  It took 22,000 people, with the help of elephants, over 22 years to finish the entire complex.  The King built the Taj to bury his wife and to show his love for her.  The marble is the best marble in the world.  It is not permeable and is known as 'mystic marble' because of the way the marble changes colors according to the lighting.

We had to take off our shoes or put on shoe covers when we ascended the steps onto the Taj.  I thought it added to the effect, even if it was a little 'eh' on the safety side.  A few more pictures:

Nelson looking so suave

Picture of the eastern mosque taken from inside the Taj Mahal

With our new friend Junvay

Inside the Mosque trying soooo hard to break that door down.....

Gotta get in the cousinly love photo

Parting shot of Taj

Nels and I with some new friends from Wales.  I think Tiffany (girl immediately to right of me) wanted Nelson bad... :) .

Truly, words can't describe what it was like being at the Taj Mahal, one of the Wonders of the World.  My eyes were not capable of handling it.  The size of the thing defied and denied any attempts from my eyes to grasp the depths of it and made my eyes play tricks on me.  Mystical Marble.

After the Taj we checked out this HUGE fort called... The Brick Fort.  In my last post I had a video that showed how big this sucker was.  All I could think about is how many men could optimally be used to defend fort and the best way to break into it....

On a side note, every bus stop we would be surrounded and assaulted by a large crowd of street sellers.  It was nuts.  They would try SO hard to get you buy there little trinkets.  They would start off saying "1000 rubies!" and depending on how well you negotiated, you could whittle that price down to almost nothing.  Through the weekend I bought a whip, a miniature chess set, a miniature rickshaw, and some jewelry.  A combined 3000 (80$)rubies value brought to me for a combined total payment of 450 (11$) rubies.  The secret was just to show initial interest, then scorn at their initial price.  You then ignore them as they keep  chasing you and lowering their prices until you are getting close to bus.  You hesitate on next price, say no, and then walk onto bus.  They will grab you and almost in tears, give you the trinket for pennies basically.

The wall of street vendors awaiting our arrival, as well as an extremely deformed individual which is very sad. 

David negotiating with the venders at the bus doors.  David was the champ at negotiating.  He loved it.

We also stopped at a marble making shop and a rug making shop.  We were able to observe how both were made.  I don't know how the rug makers kept their fingers... they were so fast.

Finally we made our way back to the hotel and spent the night.  A few others and I hit up the pool/gym/steam room on the roof of our hotel.  I'm not ashamed in admitting how pampered we were.

Quick side note:
When I first arrived in India, the weather was nearly insufferable.  The heat was sweltering.  The humidity was suffocating.  Surprisingly, after a few days, I began to adjust and really didn't notice my discomfort at all.  However, after spending a couple nights in a nice hotel, the next day the weather was again unbearable.  Goes to show you how quickly one can get spoiled.

The last day we began our journey back to Delhi.  We had two stops.  The first stop was at a random park area... that had an elephant, monkeys, camels, and stray dogs.  I was so excited to ride the elephant and play with the monkeys.  I had been anticipating this all trip.  It's a good thing too, because I honestly felt sick to my stomach with the way the animals were basically enslaved.  The monkeys had chains around their necks, and the elephant basically had to keep performing the same taxing tasks that would have driven me insane.  He couldn't have been happy.  But... I had to ride an elephant.  And I had to chill with the monkeys.  So I did.  Let the record show that I found fault with it and hurt alongside those animals though.
Some pictures:

I want a monkey.

 Checking me for lice- thanks bro.

The monkey REALLY liked Nelson's hair.

This animal was an intelligent behometh.  I'm of the opinion that one can tell the intelligence of a life form (whether human or another species) by looking through it's eyes.  As they say, the eyes are the mirror of the soul.  I'm being a bit melodramatic here... but I kept looking into that poor giants eyes and I could tell he wasn't happy.  Or maybe that's me putting my own morality and my own opinions into play here :)
Regardless, the ride was sweet, but petting it and playing with it was better.

Gotta have appreciation of the balance the elephant had between it's power and gentle nature.

Mounting the elephant... definitely a little sketchy

Cous shotttt

Elephant breath is nasty

After we finished riding elephants and cuddling with monkeys, we made one last stop off before the airport at the lotus temple.  We went into the visitors center and I was honestly intrigued by the message the Bahai'i had to share with us.  I think everyone should culture themselves and learn a little bit more about it.

Nelson giving us the upper half of a lotus meditation position in front of the lotus temple.

After the temple, we headed to airport and flew home to continue our charity work in Chennai.  I definitely feel like I've experienced a lot more variety of what India has to offer.

Sorry for the long blog... but I had to catch up.  Now I'm just 1 day behind.  Toon in next time for Construction Day 2!

Oh and for the record, monkeys like orange soda.