Monday, June 30, 2008

Blog from Wed, June 25- Hygiene Day

I am uploading this entry now. I wrote it on the 25th and was so tired after, I now realize that I never sent it. I was typing emails to our helper Leslie on my blackberry, and then she was uploading them at home onto our blog. I forgot to send this one. Thank you, Leslie, for keeping us connected while we were at Rising Star!

Here are my thoughts on one of the most humbling days, hygiene day at the Bethel Colony.

June 25, 2008

We have been in India for 4 days now. We have been at Rising Star for
3 days. Today was just so humbling. I could hardly speak how humbled I was. We have been reminded here in the early morning session about how often it is mentioned in the Bible that Christ visited and healed the lepers. That he loved and cared for them, those that were considered, as they are today, the bottom of society- social outcasts. They suffer emotionally, physically and socially- but as I have witnessed today they do not suffer spiritually. When we show them tender love and compassion, they are grateful and have a spirit of thanks and gratitude.

Today we served the people in the Bethel colony. There are about 100 of them living there. As the medical van pulled up today, they came out of their homes and down the road to the church where we were set up. They came to have their hands and feet washed and cleaned, toe nails cut, (and polished if they choose by Syd and Megan,) and have their wounds bandaged. They pay 2 ruppies to see the Dr. and to receive their medicine, which is only a couple cents. It is important for them to pay if they can, for their self esteem too. Old ladies with no fingers and toes came, or toes so disfigured you couldn't distinguish toes, but had finger nails that were thick like jerky. It was really difficult to cut their nails since they were so thick and you just had to pick away at them.

Nate, Alex and Andrew had some really challenging cases. One man had his toes bandaged and literally part of his toe came off as they removed his bandages. Another had deep ulcers in his feet, as many of them had- but so deep you could put a finger up into the hole. He was blind with full glossy cataracts covering his eyes. Later in the day, after he had been cleaned and bandaged, he sat close by us by himself with his head down. Amy asked that I go ask his name, of course I can’t remember it, since it has been so hard to learn all the names of all the kids and all the people we have met this week. But I said hello and started visiting with him. He perked up right away and was so happy to talk. He was smiley and wanted to hug and touch me so that he could "see" me. He kept hugging me and I was so happy to hug him and rub his back. I introduced him to my children and to my husband. He was so cute and it was so fun to see Syd just giving him a big hug. She has such contagious happiness in her voice, he just couldn't’t stop smiling. He was using some of his English, "Nice to meet you," and "How are you?" He kept talking in Tamil
and although we didn’t understand him, he kept saying, "Hallelujah!"

After we had walked away, Nick, one of the helpers that is Indian and speaks great English, told us that he said that Jesus must have asked us to come and take care of a little old man. He felt that we were Jesus' helpers. Having the reminder that morning how Jesus had loved and healed the lepers, it felt wonderful to have shown love to this man and for him to be so appreciative- just like the one man who had been healed by Christ and returned to thank him.

There was a woman there named Sandra that was helping out. After we went to her house. She had a nice and tidy home and yard, but honestly not a lot bigger or different than the goat shed we were building, exept it had mud walls. She welcomed us in and we met her husband, who had a Stein Erickson thick head of hair and a great smile. He was bed bound and had collected some bandages and medicine for him. I brought Nate in and introduced him as my husband and then asked the man, why doesn't my husband have a thick head of hair? He had a good laugh.

We then went to another young man's house, who had fairly good English and said that he was in the top standard (grade) and that he was 18. He had a nice home with cement walls and it was a small two room house- where his family of six slept in one bedroom and then there was a small second room, really a hallway with a kitchen. I asked him about the posters on the wall and he said that they were Vijay and Tracey. He asked Nate and I if we had seen thier movies- he was shocked that we hadn't. He then showed us their movie in his "home theater" he called it. It really was quite impressive- he had a tv and dvd and stereo and
4 speakers around the sides. He cranked up the most hilarious music video. It was like an Indian Michael Jackson meets George Michael. The mother brought in a couple of plastic chairs for Syd and I to sit on, we were cracking up at the lyrics.

These people had a nice home, their brother was working and I was impressed that the boy was in school and spoke English pretty well. Walking back to the van, we stopped in another home where women were doing cross-stitch, another cottage industry, and the women were making lovely designs on small linen bags. It appeared that Padma had been here helping to get people going with their own little micro-businesses.

We hugged and shook hands with those that we had served today, we had given them each a bar of soap to keep clean and toe nail clippers and some lavendar oil, which really is amazing in helping heal their soars.

I was so impressed to be working side by side my sister and my daughters and the rest of our family, cutting toe nails, scrubbing feet and applying the oil to their feet. All were busy and cheerful. Syd and Megan were joyful as they ran a mini-salon over on the steps of the church, painting finger and toe nails of the leprosy afflicted. It was great to look over and see Kendall sitting in the dirt, washing the legs of the woman she was helping. It was moving to see her show those she was caring for such gentleness and love. There were several times when the simple act of washing their feet nearly brought me to tears of gratitude, of love, and of humility.

There were a couple of women that were like nurses that helped us cut off the dead skin off the leprosy affected people's feet around the ulcers and helped bandage their wounds. They were so good about cutting away the rotten skin on their feet and wrapping the wounds. It was really gnarly, and humbling.

This evening the people from the Marriott Courtyard showed up and brought speakers and balloons and music and games, and dinner for the kids. They had the kids playing cricket, which I understand more how to play now, and I also learned to play the game "co-co." There is a line of children facing back to back of every other- 3 people are being chased and one person is chasing. The person chasing has to run around the line of people but the chased can run between the people. If you can reach them you an touch someone that can run after them. You go until you have caught all those that are running.

They have thought of everything at Rising Star, because it is great for these kids to have Americans come and be their friends and teachers, but it is fantastic to have Indian role models; successful Indians that speak English, have great jobs and love and show them respect. The manager of the Courtyard Marriott in Chennai is amazing and comes out with a bus of volunteers to play with the kids and brings them dinner and has fun with them, once a month. The kids love them. They brought a big stereo system and some of the kids were dancing around, bouncing the balloons they brought for the kids.They also brought us a surprise and brought us dinner with a pasta bar and desserts and set up on the top of the dorm a great buffet. It was so thoughtful and fun to eat up top by candelight and such a nice treat for the people that work at Rising Star.

Well, I am so tired, I am going to sleep. Great, inspiring, humbling and a beatufiul experience. I am so grateful.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Last Day in India

June 29, 2008

We rose early this morning at sunrise, around 5:15 a.m. and through the steam of our window we could see the Taj Mahal in the early morning glow. Last night we arrived at our hotel in Agra after a 5 hour drive. We were greeted by men in turbans and who took us through a beautiful stone carved courtyard with lit pools and small fountains, beautiful Moghul style architecture. We enjoyed a delicious traditional Indian dinner while listening to a woman playing the sitar and a man playing some small hand drums, sitting on colorful Indian pillows. It was a wonderful welcome to Agra.

As we entered the gates of the Taj and then turned through the courtyard to see the Taj up close and personal, I have to say it was overwhelming. It truly is one of the 7 modern wonders of the world. There is so much attention to detail, from elaborate inlay of semiprecious stones in the white marble,to the onyx and marble patterns set in the red sandstone surrounding structure and mosque, the symmetry of design and the tricks used to create straight lines for the minarets- they made the top of the minarets wider so that perspective would not make them appear smaller but straight all the way up.

It was breathtaking and a photographers dream. You couldn’t help take hundreds of photos. It is too bad that the emperor that built the Taj was taken as a prisoner by his son, who stole the throne from him after killing off his brothers. He had planned to build a large mausoleum for himself out of black onyx and connecting it to the Taj Mahal with a silver bridge! We walked the area and were awe struck by the grandeur- it exceeded all expectations. It backed up to a wide river, where you could see people bathing and had a good view of the surrounding area. It didn’t register from the photos I had always seen, that the Taj is placed up on a large pedestal, essentially. It makes it look like it sits in the sky; there is nothing that detracts from its beauty.

The inlay is world renown and the art has been kept by the descendants of the original craftsman. The Taj took 20,000 workers 12 years to build. You get it when you see it. The art has been preserved for centuries being passed down from family to family. There is still a village right outside the gates of the Taj that is filled with these inlay craftsman. There are only 250 people now that know how to do the work that was done on the Taj. The fact that no pieces have fallen out, the glue they have made is a trade secret that no one knows outside this village. They still make their living through this detailed, precise work. They do their work in their individual homes. It is a cooperative and they share the earnings amongst themselves, since some one does the design, someone does the carving into the marble and then others do the intricate cuts of the semi-precious stones, someone glues and someone sands.

After we returned to the hotel to eat breakfast, swim in the pool and repack, we headed to one of their cooperatives, where patrons can see them working and where you can purchase their art.

It was fascinating to see them take so much time shaping the tiniest petal of a flower, which is just one of 12 small pieces in an inlay flower that is less than a ½ inch. We looked around their showroom and saw the most intricate inlay work I have ever seen, it had thousands of semiprecious stones, all cut and set in onyx- it was $15,000, which sounds crazy but you could see the time and effort that went into it. The man said that the plate took10 months of nonstop work from one man. Fun to look and admire, but more like museum pieces and prices.

We toured The Red Fort. This was the huge palace of the Moghuls, the ruling emperors that were responsible for so much of the fantastic architecture of India and who ruled up until the English. Inside the Red Fort were some intricately inlayed rooms with the same beautiful detail of the Taj-built from the remaining the stone of the Taj. Here’s where the emperor was imprisoned when his son took over the county. When he was imprisoned he only asked that he would have a room where he would have a view of the Taj. It had a beautiful balcony that looked out over the river at the Taj. After being imprisoned for 8 years in this room, he died here. His remains were left by his son and later his daughter came and collected his remains and placed them beside his favorite wife inside the tomb inside the Taj, where they are today.

Before we left Agra, the girls really wanted to get a Henna tattoo. We went into the small local town and found some artists that set up on the side of the street. For $5 Kendall and Syd both had their feet done and Nate got an elaborate design on his arm- watch out Ski Utah, Nate has gone native!

We are headed back on our 5 ½ hour drive to Delhi to catch our midnight flight. Again we watch the rolling movie of sights and sounds as we drive down the road.

As we leave the exquisiteness of the Taj and reenter the streets of Delhi, we are reminded of what we experienced this past week, as children come up and beg. We are told by our guides to ignore them, but after what we have felt this week towards those that have begged, it is hard, especially when they are so aggressive. I have put my arm around some, Syd frantically tried to get some food from the car to give these two small kids that were begging in the middle of the crazy traffic, who couldn’t be more than 8 years old- it was so distressing. The question is, what would Padma want us to do? She believes that if we just continue to give to them for free, they are the same off a couple hours later. We should love and show them respect and help them help themselves, so we tried to purchase items from those selling things on the road, better than just giving a hand out, and we tried to acknowledge them all.

It is so hard to see the suffering all around us and the beautiful children begging.. We have tried to show compassion, but what can you do when there are millions of them? I think what Padma and Becky would approve of, and what Christ would want us to do is, to show them all love and respect and if you can't do for all of them, do what you can for some. I have been taught and I believe that the greatest commandment is to love one another, if we do this with our heart and our actions, we will see change in ourselves, in others and in our world.

Thank you for letting us share our experiences this week through this blog. We are grateful.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I have to say, I booked a very nice hotel in Delhi before our trip thinking that we would be ecstatic to be in something so nice. Although the hotel was beautiful, it being a lovely 75 year old hotel in the heart of New Delhi, built by the English with inlaid marble and wood floors and the smell of jasmine in the hallways, it did not have the same impact on us that we thought it would . We were just grateful for a place to sleep.

This morning we started off by driving around New Delhi, which was built in the early 1900s by the English with broad streets and lovely parks. We went then to the Jama Masjid Mosque in Old Delhi. It was huge and built out of the same red sandstone that many of the old decorative building were made out of. It was built in the 1600s by the Moghul emperor that built the Taj. The architecture, tall turrets and large square surrounded by arches are what makes it unique and beautiful. There is nothing ornate about it, but its size and location on the top of the hill overlooking Old Delhi is very impressive. As we walked around men everywhere were looking at the girls. Our guide translated that they were talking about their blonde hair and blue eyes. They would pretend to be taking pictures of something else and then turn and take a photo of the girls. The girls were a bit nervous by all the attention. From the mosque, there was a great view of the chaos below and the grandness of the Red Fort, which is the old emperor's palace, and the large bazaar around the mosque. In old days the Emperor would travel by elephant to the mosque from his palace and the way was lined with fountains and pools.

We took rickshaws from the mosque to the Red Fort through the crowded street, with vendors on all sides and crazy drivers. The electrical lines that hung from above us where wild, tons of wires all lumped together crossing every which way. After touring the grounds of the Red Fort we then went to the Mahatma Ghandi Memorial. It was outside the city a bit and was a beautiful memorial garden with a simple black piece of marble marking the spot where he was cremated. It was peaceful, which was his way. 60 years ago Ghandi was cremated here 24 hours after his assassination. It was the largest attended funeral documented, 5 million people came to what was then a wilderness area. There was such a fire built and so much incense placed inside the fire, that those that came to mourn could truly be a part of the ceremony. The cremated remains were not sprinkled for 60 years, at the request of Ghandi. This was because during the time before the remains are sprinkled, there should be peace and no quarrels. Just this past January his remains were sprinkled in the Sea. Our guide gave us a great quote from Martin Luther King in respect to Ghandi, " Jesus gave us the message, Ghandi gave us the method."Ghandi was about doing great things through peaceful ways.

As we were walking out of the memorial grounds an elephant went walking by, carrying his "lunch"- a bunch of green tree branches, on his head along with what I will call a jockey- a slim man riding atop the elephant. There were motorcycles and cars going around him, it was amazing. There was also a snake charmer with two cobras in baskets. It was just like any cartoon I had seen -a man with a turban on, waving a flute around with the cobra's head moving around in the basket. We told Nathan to go and get near the cobra for a picture. Nathan was a bit nervous about that, he is terrified of snakes- we all had a good laugh. The man then motioned to me to pick up the basket withe the Cobra. When in India,.... I picked up the basket and the cobra was moving around and I was so terrified that if it darted at me, that I would drop it and the cobra would come slithering out! It was all very entertaining.

After a good Indian lunch of kabob and some other dishes I can't start to spell, we went to the outdoor markets to do some shopping, which also means bargaining. I do not love this side of the shopping here, although my mother and Uncle Dick would be loving it. They love to bargain. We found several things at one stand. When the vendor gave me the price in dollars Syd said, "Mom, that is such a deal!" There went my bargaining chip! But, I was able to talk them down to a better price, which is expected and part of the Delhi experience.

We made our way to Agra tonight, which is a five hour drive from Delhi. It has been like a movie, looking out the window. We have seen everything you can imagine. cows grazing on the medians of the roads with crazy traffic on either side, 15 people piled into one motorized rickshaw- a motorcycle with a bench on it, women working in rice fields, children tending goats in green pastures, large mosques and small temples, people climbing into large trucks looking for a free ride while trucks are stopped in traffic, trains and buses stuffed with people- standing room only, colorful fruit markets, children so dirty playing under a tree by the road with big smiles on their faces, people sleeping on the side of the road under a makeshift shelter, an old man digging through a trough of trash, men riding bikes just piled with probably with 15 wicker chairs tied to it, men flying around with their whole family on their motorcycle, including tiny babies, bikes with metal water jugs strapped to them and for that anything that you can image tied to their bikes, women carrying metal bowls filled with rocks doing construction on the road in their colorful saris,.. Once it got dark on the road to Agra, the towns were still busy and bustling. Fires were burning on the road side and people were gathering to visit together.

They say "Incredible India." I would have to agree.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Our last day at Rising Star


It is hard to put into words the emotion that we felt yesterday. There is so much, too much almost to express in events, emotions and gratitude and love felt today to put it into words.

I woke up to having slept maybe 2 hours on the cement floor of our bunk room under the ceiling fan that was working, since our one luxury of AC was out in our room and it was about 90 degrees in our room though most of the night. The heat just does not let up and without some breeze, it is just too much. I was at least glad to see day come and was looking forward to the day.

Today we began on the roof, where we had a morning thought about taking home with us what we have felt here, that we can feel this same overwhelming love when we are serving at home.

We walked over to the school, just a 2 minute walk from the hostile, to see the kids coming in today. I went in looking for my new friends, Tiirhika- is how I now know to spell her name, and Divya- who had come from the village. They were anxiously looking for me too. They were excited to show me around to where their rooms were. They were then called to assembly out on the back area of the building and they did their calisthenics and morning prayer. After, the kids came looking for me again before they had to go to their classrooms. We were hugging and saying that we loved each other. Their beautiful and sweet faces filled my heart to overwhelming, knowing that I might not see them again, I hugged them and told them how good and smart they were and that I loved them and would send them photos from yesterday and that I would try to find them before they left for home today and give them cards.

They waved and went off. As I was walking back they were waving and saying. "Auntie" from their room. My heart just split open. I then came across the beautiful Vijaya, the house mom of my family and her deep kind eyes looked at mine and I nodded to her in respect and she smiled so kindly at me, a moment of respect for each other. I could not hold in my emotion and began to run back to the hostile. I saw the other little sweet girl, whose mom was a house mom too, and she waved and smiled at me as I was coming into the hostile, I just could not handle it. I went into the bathroom and stood and sobbed with an overwhelming heart of love and gratitude for the children and the women that had allowed me to love them and let me stay with them in their home.

I was especially touched by seeing Vijaya, who I had visited with each day and night as we had helped put her kids to bed each night. She had two daughters there with her at the school. Teresa had had her birthday the day before and to see her present her daughter with a birthday cake and her other daughter make flowers for her hair and see the good family they were- gave me great respect for them. I had learned more about her family yesterday when the Harrisons had come back to tell us about their day doing hygiene at the colonies. They had cleaned the feet of her mother. They had showed me a picture of the most unbelievably horrific thing I have ever seen. Her foot was yellow and grossly inflamed with a huge hole through the bottom of it and all the skin dead around it. Debbie, my cousin, had said that as they put hydrogen peroxide on it it had gone all the way into her foot and came out the other side, she had a hole on the other side. It was so terrible and she was wincing in pain. The Doctor there had to tell her that she was going to have to see the surgeon and have her for foot amputated. She cried deeply, as did everyone there. She didn't want to loose her foot primarily because then she would be a burden and as she told the doctor then she would not be able to take care of her husband who was bed bound. Debbie had described her as a beautiful woman, like her daughter, with a grace and dignity about her. To see her weep and to know her unselfish reasons for her emotion was such a disturbingly sad moment.

We went out to the Villadama (sp?) colony today to present the goats in a ceremony to the people of this colony. We arrived and the village was out around the newly constructed goat shed. I was so impressed with the lashings that the groups had done and the dried palm roof. The colonists were proud of it too. We had taken on the bus with us 3 children that I knew well from RSO, Devi, Mary and her brother. They were from this village, although I had not known that before. You forget that these children that are cleaned up and look healthy and are starting to speak English were just in this village, living on dirt floors exiled to this community, were just living here a few months or a year or so ago. When we got off the bus, we followed Devi to her home to see her mother and her little sister, who were waiting by their hut. Her little sister was about 5 and was dressed so pretty- it was clearly a special day. Her mother welcomed us into her hut. It was very clean, her dirt floor swept and tidy and her jugs all cleaned and lined up. We told her mother what a smart and good girl her daughter was. Devi smiled. It was strange though to see no hugging, which I had to be reminded that in their culture that it is not common to show affection. At RSO we are all hugging and they come to us and hug and kiss us, but at home they do not show the same kind of affection.

At the end of the day when we were going to go back on the bus, I went to find Devi to tell her it was time to go. She had not come to the ceremony, since her family wasn't receiving a goat, but had stayed with her mom and sister. As I came close I said it was time, she just gave a wave to her mom and nodded at her sister and walked away. Her little sister stood by the door and was watching Devi. I asked Devi to go back and give her sister a hug, she looked at me like, do I have to? I asked her to give her a hug, that I knew she missed her. She went back and gave her a hug and the little girl just beamed from ear to ear and hugged her back, they were both smiling and had a little laugh. Her little sister stood by the door and watched Devi with a big smile as Devi walked towards the bus. I think that everyone needs to be shown love, no matter the culture and to be touched and shown affection, it can change lives- you see this with the kids at Rising Star. They receive so much attention and affection and apparent love, that you know it is what is helping them grow and develop at such a rapid rate, it really is amazing.

After each of our families presented a goat to the families of the colonists that had taken out the micro loan for a goat, it was a proud moment for the villagers, they then tied their goat to the shed and we all gathered into the small church. It had been a social event with us visiting and having photos with them before the official "handing over of the goats" and then the ceremony of thanks that took place inside the church. All of us volunteers, Becky and Padma (co-founders of RSO) and Amy (who helps run the day to day of RSO and it's and volunteers in India) and the volunteer coordinators- Hunter and Brett, and then all the colonists that had help us build the shed and were receiving the goats all gathered and sat on the benches and floor of the church. Padma then spoke and said that the villagers had asked her to tell us that they appreciated their help, that we could work together on this and they were grateful for our hard work, our time and help and that we could work with them. Then the older man with the coke bottle glasses, who had help direct the work the final day telling everyone how it should be done, who seemed to me the elder in the group stood and spoke and Padma translated. He said that he was thankful that we could work together as families to build this. They were grateful for our hard work in the hot sun and for coming and finishing it and for being their friends.

Ron Harrison, my cousin Debbie's husband, then spoke for our group. He did such a wonderful job. Padma translated to the people. He said that we had appreciated working with you all and that together we could work to build this shed for you. We were grateful that they could teach us how to build a shed. We learned from them, we had not built a goat shed before. That our families could work together and learn from each other. The colonists all nodded and smiled. You could tell they felt proud of the work we had done together. They were grateful for the words of appreciation too and and being acknowledged for being teachers and valued for their work.

Just when we thought the ceremony was over, the oldest man in the colony stood, he had no fingers and toes and I didn't think but a couple of teeth and a shriveled up face. He stood spontaneously and gave an impassioned speech. With a loud voice, unexpected from a man that looked like he had suffered much. He spoke for several minutes and the villagers were all nodding and looking at Padma with great respect. We asked what he had said, Padma just said, "He was talking to me, telling me thanks, that's all." She sat down. Becky, the co founder of RSO said that she was being too modest and asked her daughter, Esther, whom she had adopted from India and was with us, to translate. Esther said, that this man had given such great respect and acknowledgment and thanks to Padma. He said, "That because of her, that we do not have to beg, we can live in our small colony and work and be with our families and that it had meant so much to them that she had given them a chance and respect and that she had their greatest respect and thanks." It had made sense, understanding his words, since he had spoken with so much passion and emotion. It was a very powerful moment, the tremendous gratitude and then acknowledgment of thanks from a humble man to a humble woman.

As we loaded up, Mary and her brother came back. She was an orphan and lived with her aunt. Her aunt had been the fiesty one the other day that had not been excited about the goat shed infront of her home. She came back on the bus with a new little bracelet and a bag of some clothes that her aunt had given her. It was a moment that showed to me that although some have little they will provide for their children.

We sat on the bus on the way back, trying to take in all that had happened at this special meeting of thanks inside the small church and our visit with the colonists. It was like there were no separations between us; people of this colony, who had been poor in many things now had goats and had pride in their work and the respect of new friends that had worked with them, and us, Americans that might be perceived as having everything but who found their greatest value today in being valued by their new friends.

I know this is going so long, but the day was just amazing. As we pulled into RSO, Kiirhika was waiting for me outside the bus, it was their lunch time. She had waited to see me and when I got off she grabbed my hand and just kept looking up at me and smiling. I don't think I have ever felt such joy and love towards another than my own. She had held my hand the whole walk to the village yesterday, almost afraid to let go of it. She walked me back towards the hostile where the rest of the kids were eating lunch, and where I saw Divya. I told them I would find them before I left and give them my cards. It was so hard to say goodbye again as they headed back to school for the rest of their day.

We gathered on the roof and heard some incredible stories from Becky. She and Padma are truly like modern day Mother Theresas. They have given their lives to making the life of others better and healing and helping people through genuine love and service. It is so humbling to hear them speak. Padma is the past prime minister of India's daughter who could have a life of ease,but she spends every day of her life giving hope and value to those that are the most unwanted and "untouchable" in India and calls them friends. Becky has created a school for children that will help them change their lives, given them respect and be able to make a living and be healthy. The two of them along with Amy, a beautiful American woman in her early 30s who has given the last 4 years of her life living here and organizing volunteers and coordinating projects, along with the others who have been there serving, are really changing lives- not just those of the Indians, and the unwanted, but of the volunteers. It is amazing the life changing experience it has been for them and for those that they have served.

The afternoon was hard as we left. I took my letters and began to walk over to the school and saw that they kids had already been let out. I started running, so afraid that I would miss my village kids and not be able to say good bye. I couldn't' see them and couldn't see my 2 girls. I ran around the corner, they were just loading up their backpacks onto the motorcycle of one of the villagers parents that comes and takes all the backpacks so the kids don't have to carry them on their long walk home. When they saw me they ran up to me. I have Kiirhika her card, she was confused since I hadn't spelled her name right and she didn't' think the card was for her. I looked at her backpack, and saw how to spell her name and quickly took my pen out and scratched her name out and put the right spelling on it, she smiled so big knowing it was for her. I gave my card to Divya and the older girl in the group read the cards for the girls. They were happy. I handed them each a pack of gum and told them to share it with their friends, they both nodded. I gave them each a big hug and told them how much I loved them. I hugged all my friends, all those we had walked to their village with yesterday. They were wonderful. They then headed out, they were excited that I was going to see the Taj and going to Delhi. I told them I'd miss them so much and that I would be thinking of them at home and thank you so much for being my friends. It was so hard.

It was time to go, I went back to the hostile to gather Syd and Megan and Monica, the bus was ready to go. As I turned the corner I saw Syd and Megan and Monica surrounded by kids, maybe 40. They had kids in their arms and were sobbing, just sobbing, Priya was in Syd's arms and she was crying too. They were saying they loved them and would miss them and were trying to hug and kiss them all. I told the girls we had to go. I looked up and heard some one that said, "Karen". It was one of the girls I most respected at the school, Magala. She is about 12. She was always doing her studies, not caught up in the pictures and all the hugging and attention, but a girl that had great inner strength and dignity. She would without request nurture the ones that needed help and were crying in her family, help the older girls that weren't as good at their homework. I came into their room last night and she was reading her Bible in Tamil and translating to her friend in English. She would smile at me and give me a head tilt of hello. I would nestle her into my arm and tell her that she was smart and such a good person and would be a great woman and leader when she was older. I truly believe this. She was the girl that was teaching me to write the girls names in Tamil the first night. Magala waved to me from the balcony above, typical that she would not be part of the emotion below and I called up to her, "Thank you. I am proud of you. Thank you for having us in your home." I was then so full of emotion, she waved and said thank you and nodded.

I had to pull the girls away, they were distraught. Syd told me how could she go, she loved them. She didn't want to leave. Monica walked with me and told me that she felt like a mother who had to leave her children with the thought that she would never see them again. Our hearts were so full of love. I saw the head mother who I had talked with the night before I had left for a while out in the yard at night, she was a great woman. I told her thank you, she gave me a hug. My heart burned.

We came to serve and we were served. We showed love and were given such great love in return.

Kendall had come up to me this morning and said, "Mom, thank you so much for bringing me here and for this great experience. I am so glad we came. " Syd on the walk back said "this is the best trip we have ever taken. I want to come back, not to tour, but to just be here with the kids and do what we did". I am so proud. Kendall and Sydney didn't complain once this week. They worked so hard in the amazing heat, they cared so deeply for those around them and served so well and they learned so much from their experiences. Although we were only there for a few days, we feel changed. Tonight as we had checking into our fine hotel in Delhi, I said to the girls that I felt guilty being here. Syd responded, "I feel grateful."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thursday, June 26

Today we tutored the kids. I think it was the hardest thing we have done here. It took a lot of effort to pick up with a child where the last tutor left off and to keep them totally engaged for 30 minutes, while sitting on the hard ground on mats- our back were killing. Most of the kids I taught could read some words and write most of the words but they didn't understand what the words meant. I spent a lot of my time on comprehension.

We sat on mats under the mango trees just outside the school. The kids would come out to us and sit with us on our mats. We had flash cards and books and word building games that we could do with them. We had each child for 30 minutes before the next child came out. We worked from 9-3:30 and then we had centers- where our group, Berthas and Raffertys, were in charge of keeping 150 kids engaged for 1 1/2 hours. We organized paper airplanes- Kendall, making jump ropes- Syd and Megan, charades- Sandy and Monica and relays- the boys. As the kids will tell you it got a little chaotic. The hit were the jump ropes. We brought thousands of rubber bands and lots of wooden handles that our contractors at home, Jim Preib and Greg Petit, offered their time to cut and drill. The kids sat and learned to make them and were thoroughly engaged. They were loving it and it was fun to see all the kids chatting and making their fun jump ropes- some were really long and some were short. They all were great and to see Syd sitting there surrounded by kids, helping each one of them was terrific.

Kendall was over airplanes, which the kids loved making. Though, the lesson learned was: only bring out one paper for each child and don't offer them colors- everyone wanted a certain color and it was hard to meet the demand, but she was great.

Today I finally met my sponsor child- Divya. I had looked for her all week and then today I finally met her. I picked her group to teach today to make sure I got to be with her before I left. Rising Star only takes a certain number of villagers and she was chosen. She is adorable and sweet and tried so hard. All the kids were excited about Divya meeting me- I had asked about her all week. One adorable girl Kitiyaka (sp?) brought her up to me during lunch, back at the dorm, since I hadn't had her for tutoring yet in the morning. She proudly presented her- "Divya Sponsor" she kept saying. Divya had bright orange flowers in her hair and a sweet crooked smile. She immediately gave me a deep, loving hug. She was beaming ear to ear and immediately took my hand. I realized there would be no eating lunch.

I went to the volunteer room and pulled out the game Chutes and Ladders and took it up to the kids dorm floor. I sat it in the hallway and there was such insane excitement. As I set up the game, no short of 20 kids were hanging over Divya and I . Katiyaka, her sister Moniyka and Divya and I played with the kids hanging on my back, off each side and over my head. It was so fun to see them so excited about playing. Divya won and all the girls were saying "Divya winner!!!"

After school got out I had to ask Divya if it was ok if I came to her home to say hello. She was so excited. When it came time, she could hardly wait to have me come. Nate and I gathered our stuff and we told our kids we would be back. I thought she lived right outside the gates in the small village. I was surprised to see her father who rode up on a bicycle. He collected all the kids backpacks and looped them on his bike. I thought, that was nice for her dad to meet them an d collect their bags for such a short walk home. What I didn't know is that their village was about 5 km away!!

As we walked, we were surrounded by 8 kids and then many more as we passed through one village after another. We were a novelty, people would come out to see us. Many women would want us to take pictures of their babies. It was just like the pied piper. I must have had 10 kids on me the whole walk to Divya's home. They were all so happy to have us come

An hour and a half later we got to the village after taking several "short routes," mind you that it was about 100 degrees with 100% humidity. Good thing Nate was with me because I have no sense of direction and we had taken so many turns through fields and towns. I was amazed that all these children walked so far to school. They told me that they get a ride in the morning. We saw their school bus this morning- 2 motorcycles with at least 4 kids on each bike. They walk home 1 1/2 hours every day after school.

The kids loved Nate too. When he stopped to take pictures of a local temple the kids said, "Nate is slow" and I said, "No, Nate is great, but late." They thought that was so funny and made combinations of Nate, late and great for a while. We would stop in different villages and the kids would drink water from the towns' drinking water. They would offer it to us. Some people would come out and offer us water from their metal containers, we would say thank you in Tamil "Nandri," but we would have to pass.

When we finally got to Divya's town the mom came out in her pretty sari. She welcomed us and invited us in. Divya was so proud to have us at her home. The mom pulled up chairs and there were two coconuts sitting on the floor. The mom picked them up and a minute later we had coconut drinks with a stem for a straw. She lopped off the tops and we drank coconut juice. It was so great and then the kids all wanted to turn on the small tv and have us enjoy ourselves. We told the kids thank you and what a nice home- it was very tidy and was a small 2 room cement house. We thanked the mom and hugged Divya. I gave her the box of Jelly Bellys I had bought her, which she shared with all her friends and gave her my fan/water bottle that she had played with and used for the whole walk home. She was thrilled. Kityaka then wanted us to go to her home and meet her mom- we went a few doors down and she welcomed us and invited us in and offered us coconuts. We realized that we really must go, we didn't want to get back after dark- not great the two of us walking back after dark in India. We hugged everyone- took lots of pictures and headed back on the windy dirt path. There were no cars, just bikes and women and children coming to greet us along the road.

We had women who wanted their pictures taken, jovial and friendly ladies and then right before we would take their pictures they would put a serious face and hide their teeth. The next second we would show them the picture and they would all throw their heads back and laugh at their photo. They thought it was great and so funny.

We had older women express that they didn't know why we were walking and not on a bike and offered to give us a bike ride. We had people walking out and offering us food and drink- these are people mostly living in huts with no more than a bucket worth of possessions, offering to share whatever they had with us. It was touching and generous and just kind- more civilized than the country I live in. It felt like the Samaritans of Bible times, although we were not injured, but those passing by wanted to help- even someone that is often persecuted or misunderstood is willing to help the weary traveler.

We made it back from our adventure having gathered children along the way in each village and colony we passed. No one begged, except to have their photo taken, no child wanted more than to hold hands and be with us.

We returned home to see Syd, Megan, Michelle, Monica and Sandy still doing jump ropes and the kids sitting in groups making them, engaged and having lots of fun. It was a great day! I made lots of new friends.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wednesday, June 25

Today we went into a colony with leprosy affected people. I saw some of the most amazing things I've ever seen in my life today. When I first came I was afraid of some of the things we would do today, washing the lepers hands and feet.

The fist man whose feet I washed came and sat down and he didn't seem that thrilled to be there. But as I started to talk to him for a bit he seemed grateful and was sweet and then offered his hands to us and started smiling at us with his missing teeth.

I had brought some nail polish for this trip for the people, so then Megan and I started painting people's fingernails and they were so happy about it. Even a mom came up to us with her little baby boy and wanted us to paint his fingernails. Then one woman who we offered to paint her nails only had one toe on one foot and four on the other. She said to one of the translators, "why should I have them painted if I only have one?" Then we had him translate to her that it didn't matter that she didn't have all her fingernails, that it would still look pretty. When we were done painting the nails red, they all wanted red, she was so happy.

We also came across a man who was old and had no fingers and only a couple of toes, he was the happiest man, hugging all of us. He was laughing and saying "hallelujah" when we took a picture with him. Then the translator later told me what we said when we took a picture with him. He said, "I know Jesus must have told you a little old man needed his hands and feet washed. ' This made me so happy that I helped someone really in need of my help. It was so sad, yet rewarding to see him walk away with a smile on his face.

It was the greatest thing knowing we helped someone today.

Tuesday, June 24

A great day. We start with a morning prayer and we end the day with us going around the table at dinner and saying, "What I saw today was....." So here is what I saw today: my children working so hard in the heat without complaining or needing to be asked, friendly people happy to work with us and capable of lashing poles together without hands, children playing with other children joyfully, family spending time together serving, little children who love to be loved and have such trust and hope that it leaves you awestruck.

Tonight one of my favorite girls, Devi, greeted me and wanted to know which colony I went to today. I told her and she was so excited when she found out it was hers. I showed her pictures and she pointed out her family. I told her we built a goat shed at her colony and she was so excited. It is hard to believe that she lives there when she is not at school. She is learning to speak English and is so charismatic and with her hair all done up and clean you can't believe where she comes from, although her friendly personality is characteristic of her colony.

We pulled into Devi's colony this morning, about an hour away and went around and said hello to those that lived there in their small, 8' x 8', dirt floor, thatched huts. One old woman, who I believe was nearly blind and possibly mute who had some other deformities as well was in her hut, starting a fire for some tea. When I leaned in and said hello she smiled. Outside the doorway she had drawn lovely white chalk designs on the dirt out front. You could tell she was trying to beautify her home. She had done a beautiful job decorating other peoples doorways as well. We shook hands and chatted up with many of the residents and then started on the goat shed.

We picked up a mason along the way and he helped mark the spots for us to dig. Kendall was my partner; she would dig away with a long metal tool, and then I would dig out the hole with my hands. We would take turns until we had an 18" deep hole. While we were digging a near 70 year old woman went out into the road with her metal bowl and was collecting rocks for when we needed to backfill the holes. She would carry them back on her head and dump them near the holes. Others from the colony, a couple with thick glasses and deformed hands, almost no fingers, pitched in- helping take turns digging alongside us.

It was very hot, but we had a bit of a breeze and a large tree that had shade right by us. When we took a lunch break, I offered some of my dried mango to the woman that had been such a great helper, who worked beside us. She sucked on the mango, with her possibly 4 teeth and was really enjoying it- giving me a smile and a nod. I gave her some more and instead of hording it, she took it over to the others and shared.

We ate our lunches inside a small stone church inside the colony that had pictures of Christ on the wall and a couple of worn old benches. There was a small woman, no more than 90 pounds that lay on the step of the church, behind the small makeshift table/altar. I went up to her and rubbed her back, she turned and smiled and nodded. She only had a couple rotten teeth that made up her smile- it was still beautiful. I offered her some of the dried fruit and she was so pleased and put a piece in her mouth and then laid back down with the rest under her hand and gave me another smile. I found out that she was a mute like others, since the leprosy affects their throat and they often lose their voice.

After we started digging and had several posts in, a woman walked back to her hut, that is right next to the goat shed. She was fired up and wondering what was going on. Nate joked that she was probably saying to us, "I leave for lunch, and I come back to find a goat shed parked in front of my house?!!" It was some nice comic relief, while one of the men quickly told her that we were building a shed for their goats- she got real quiet and nodded and then she was so nice and offered to have us come sit with her.

We lashed together long skinny wood poles and finished what we could do that day, with the help of the "mayor," the 40 or so man that looked pretty healthy, he seemed to be the leader of the group- full of pride and fairly serious. By the end of the day working alongside us he became more and more friendly. The people there were so friendly and nice. We hugged them, shook their hands or their club hands and thanked them. They wanted to thank us and have their picture taken with us. We all gathered in front of the small church, even the woman who had been laying on the floor, she gathered her scraf and stood for the picture.

It was so hot by then, we got in the Rising Star van and headed back to the school. I was so proud of Kendall and Syd- they never complained once. They were down on their hands and knees working with these people and loving it.

Tonight we played with the kids from 4 pm until bedtime. The kids love to be spun around. We played games with them and then when it was bedtime we laid in their rooms and sang them "I See the Moon" again, hoping we can pass this song on to them before we leave. They learn so quickly. Nate read them a book and then we sang each child to bed. There are 25 kids in each room and the group of girls we have could not be any cuter. I feel bad because we try to remember their names but they are so different and not familiar. We try and they know we are trying. We sang a bunch of songs with them before we said goodnight. I have never seen kids that are so loving. They are smart and want to learn. The girls have beautiful deep pools for eyes with braids tied up on their heads with black bows. The boys are just wild and fun little boys. I can't not hug them and kiss them. They are so affectionate. It is amazing to see Syd and Kendall surrounded by kids, Syd had two baby girls, one in each arm and then others were gathering towards her and she just had to sit down. The older girls are attracted to Kendall and just want to talk with her and hang out with her.

Tonight we are all so tired. I am on the roof of the hostile/dorm typing. There is a tiny breeze and maybe it is about 85 degrees with the breeze, but very humid. It has been a full and rewarding day.