28 August 2008

Three Years After Katrina

Moss Point
Ocean Springs
Long Beach
Pass Christian
Bay St. Louis
St. Bernard Parish
New Orleans

I have not forgotten. I cannot forget. You are in my heart and prayers. May God continue to give you strength and hope...

24 August 2008

Wrapping up the loose ends...

Well, I’ve finished filling out all the feedback forms and I think I’ve managed to fit most everything back in my bag (plus a few goodies of course). So that pretty much winds down the background part of finishing and all that jazz. I’m not really sure how much I will be posting over the next two weeks as I traipse around the countryside. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a bunch of stuff and throwing it all up when I get back and I’ve also contemplated taking a break from all the writing. So I guess we will both just have to wait and see. Tomorrow I will spend a good part of the day at the Home and will hit the trail sometime late afternoon and head into Delhi.

Real briefly, here’s how things are panning out for the travels:
Monday-Wednesday: Kickin’ in New Delhi
Thursday: Traveling to Jaipur
Friday-Saturday: Hangin’ in and around Jaipur
Sunday: Traveling to Agra
Monday-Tuesday: Rockin’ the Agra (Taj Mahal at sunrise is the main attraction)
After Agra is when things get a little fuzzy... Depending on mood, ambition, etc it’ll either be in the direction of Nanital or Hardiwar/Mussoorie. Either way, the plan is to head for the hills (literally) and find a great spot in the foothills of the Himalayas for some R&R and time away from crazy tourist stuff. Either way, the plan is to head back to Delhi on the 5th or 6th of September and see the boys one more time before flying out early on the 7th. The layover in Mumbai is a long one (17 hours or so) and that means the chance to spend a day there (minus luggage, almost like it was planned that way) before continuing on for the States touching down in Chicago early afternoon on the 8th (i hope).


23 August 2008

Some things I have learned...

  1. As people, we are far more alike than we are different

  2. 11 boys have a lot of energy

  3. One can survive on a diet that consists of very little meat

  4. I am actually pretty functional on my own in a foreign culture

  5. About 18 words in Hindi

  6. Touching stones that were laid centuries ago is pretty surreal

  7. I am better at thinking than doing

  8. Most of India has not learned the secret of peanut butter

  9. I can make it through a day (and a few weeks) without coffee

  10. How to divide big numbers by 40 (roughly the number of Rupees in an American Dollar)

  11. Sometimes life is about showing up and seeing what happens

  12. I tend to overpack

  13. Some people are pretty good at being supportive from afar

  14. Consistent electrical power is a luxury

  15. I don’t think I like being landlocked in a hot climate

  16. Part of my heart is still in New Orleans

  17. My multiplication tables all over again

  18. I have virtually zero aptitude for learning things audibly

  19. Democracy without togetherness makes for very ineffective government

  20. 21 months on the Coast followed by 2 in India makes for one very worn out Kerry

22 August 2008

Spaghetti Strikes Again

I got to cook for the boys again tonight. We had spaghetti with mushroom sauce, bread with jam and mangos all to be washed down with old faithful, Hawaiian Punch. They picked the menu and were ever so helpful in the kitchen (read, I’m impressed the pasta made it in the pot, etc.).

It actually worked out pretty well. Rita has been visiting her mother the past few days and it is definitely a lot of work for Birendra to keep up on his own. Friday night is also the big market night and this gave him a chance to get away for a bit and do some socializing and shopping for the home. It also meant that I got some really quality time in with the boys and we sure enjoyed the evening.

I keep feeling pretty grateful for the way things continue to work themselves out the past few weeks. As far as endings go, I really couldn’t ask for much more. Now if I can just talk ‘em into doing my laundry and packing for me...

21 August 2008

Winding down...

Things continue to move right along here. It’s pretty hard to believe that August is already 3 weeks long and that the summer really is winding down. We have been having some pretty good weather lately with temps being in the low 90s and humidity has fallen some too. So for the most part, it’s been business as usual.

We have been talking quite a bit about my leaving. I currently have outstanding offers of a daily cup of tea, three slightly chewed erasers (tempting), room cleaning service and jelabis (a local sweet treat) should I choose to extend my stay. A few of the boys have wondered if I’m going to be living on the streets after I leave home or why exactly I would want to leave India for America.

For the most part, there has been a volunteer here at the home since it opened due to the fact that the boys were not in school and needed quite a bit of attention. So next week will really be the first time that there is nobody else living here at the Home. They have also found quite a bit of comfort here in the Home and assume that I as well have found this to be the best place that I have ever lived as well.

The truth is that I am ready to leave. It has been amazing being here and quite the way to spend a few weeks, but I am ready for more than just being a big brother. It has definitely become apparent how much the last few years have worn me out and sapped quite a bit out of me and I’m pretty sure that 11 boys don’t necessarily fill the tank back up.

And so I am preparing to leave. Ready to leave. Grateful for the chance to spend a few weeks just being me and living in the ups and downs that these boys have in their lives. It sure didn’t have to be this good...

17 August 2008

Raksha Bandhan

Today we celebrated Raksha Bandhan. The festival is a Hindu festival that celebrates the special relationship between brothers and sisters and is quite commonly celebrated through out India. Technically, yesterday (Saturday, August 16th) was the day to celebrate, but do to logistical reasons, Udayan Care chose today to mark the occasion.

All of the Udayan Care Homes met up at Indraprastha Park in New Delhi and the afternoon was filled with fun, food and festival. Traditionally, sisters tie Rakhis, or holy threads and bracelets, on the wrist of her brother and the brother in return offers a gift to his sister and vows to look after her confirming his love and affection. It isn’t necessary for the “brother” and “sister” to be actually related and there is quite a bit of exchanging that takes place between good friends as well.

Thus, we festivaled. There was much bracelet tying, and sweets consumption as well as just intermingling and getting to know one another since it is not a common occurance for the Homes to be able to get together. We were quite the big, happy family. Following the tying and vowing was a huge picnic and a chance just to enjoy what was a gorgeous day (well, until a thunderstorm rolled in and we all fled for our rides home).

Today was the third day in a row now that the boys haven’t had school and they have definitely been busy days indeed. I am so glad that this weekend worked out the way it did and I really feel this was a perfect weekend at the perfect time. Not only did I get some quality time with the boys the last few days, but I also was able to spend some good time with them outside of the Home setting and with the larger Udayan community. I’d love to say that I planned it all to work out this way and such, but nope. This all fell together under the guidance of One who understands much better what it is that I truly needed to close out my time here well (and to think I still get another week to boot!).

16 August 2008

National Zoological Park

Today was Zoo Day. We had been planning on going for almost three weeks now and last night the boys were so excited that they all went to bed without even being told. Only one of them, Ajay, had been to the zoo before so it was going to be quite the treat.

We have had pretty substantial rain over the past week and I’m pretty sure I haven’t prayed for a rain free day this much since my days of track and field. I guess somebody was listening, because the day turned out absolutely perfect. Not only was today the first rain free day in a week, but the morning was nice and cloudy with temps a little cooler than normal. Perfect for traipsing through the Park. A volunteer who usually comes every weekend, Ravi, was originally going to join us with his two kids, but was called in to work on Saturday, so it was 10 boys, and 4 adults all packed into the Bolero.

As is the norm with me and groups of kids (most recent event prior that comes to mind is a certain trip to a water pack in Gulfport, MS), I somehow managed to be separated from the caretakers and our driver with 8 of the boys while they split the two youngest amongst them.

No complaints here. It was so great going from exhibit to exhibit and listening to the boys as they searched for which animal was inside and worked on getting the names right. Some of the big favorites of the day were the elephants, lions, tigers and giraffes, but the runaway winner was the gibbons. Regardless of which animal we were watching, the was a constant stream of laughter and it was really great just to listen to the boys enjoy the animals being themselves.

I also really enjoy the fact that being with a bunch of little boys means there is plenty of conversation around why a deer poops little pellets, how much pee the hippo actually peed, which bird is gonna win the fight for the fish, and just how great it would be to have a trunk like and elephant. Learning to read the zoo map was also quite entertaining and since I made them take turns trying to lead we went in circles several times.

After the zoo, we went to the India Gate for a spell to play in the park and let off a surprising amount of energy considering we had just spent a few hours in a zoo. Then we took a vote and hit up McDonalds (unanimous decision and a very special treat) for some lunch on our way back to Noida.

It’s now a little bit after 9pm here and the house is absolutely dead. I deem it a successful day :).

15 August 2008

Independence Day

Today is India’s Independence Day. Just like the States, everybody get the day off from school and work and all that jazz. But the texture of the day is a bit different. It has only been 62 years since India won her independence and the immediate fall out from the British leaving and bisecting India into the nations of Pakistan (majority Muslim) and India (majority Hindu) was a very messy and bloody affair. Millions died in the scramble to get to the right side of the new border. The first generation to taste independence is still living, so the stories are real and independence means so much to those who lived when it did not exist.

We had our own little flag raising ceremony up on the top deck and sang a few songs commemorating the struggle and then the national anthem of India (and by we, I really mean I hung out while the boys did the heavy lifting since it was all in Hindi). It was great to share that with the little dudes.

The day was not all ceremony, though. I had put together some history on the Indian flag that we went through with the boys and this was topped off with a contest of ten flags from other nations with the one who identified the most getting a bag of potato chips.

Then the best part of all was we spent the entire afternoon flying kites. Not the plasticy-can’t-really-fly-but-are-dirt-cheap-at-wal-mart-so-we-still-buy-’em kind. But the real, bona fide paper kites that every child on the sub-continent grows up flying (if you’ve read the book “Kite Runner” then you’ll know what I’m referring to. If not, pick it up, it’s a great read). It was the perfect afternoon for it and the hours just flew on by. It was also pretty special in that the caretakers here at the Home, Berindra and Rita, were able to leave and see family for the afternoon so that meant that I had all the boys to myself for a good portion of it.

All in all, such a great day and a chance just to remember that many of the things we enjoy in life came at a huge cost to others in our past as well as enjoy the simple things like paper kites and string and being together for an afternoon...

14 August 2008

Hard Work and Water

I was back at the Noida Girls Home again today. Since they have tomorrow (Friday) off for Independence Day, I wanted to at least make sure that they understood their homework for the weekend. They are still struggling with basic names of letters and simple addition which makes doing things like working with nouns and learning division (their assignment topics) really tough. Needless to say, it’s slow going. But progress continues to be made. All three worked incredibly hard all afternoon, which is definitely a first for my time with them. I absolutely love it when they cross the threshold to understanding and things just click. The sparkle in the eyes, the radiant smile, the excited posture and sometimes the all out victory dance are all incredibly beautiful instances of grace and redemption...

In other news, I managed to get completely soaked on the way back. Surprisingly this is the first real drenching I’ve received this monsoon season. Instead of taking the long way around on the major roads, I usually cut through the sector between the boys home and the girls. Needless to say, I am one of very few foreigners who have ventured into that neighborhood and am always greeted by so many curious children. Today was even better than usual since I got to surprise many of them by joining in their puddle jumping fun...

10 August 2008

A Tale of Two Worlds

This picture embodies a lot of what has struck me about India (click the picture to zoom in for a closer look).

In the foreground is a group of homes that have been built from whatever materials could be found. They are probably home to a bunch of construction workers and their families. The workers tend to migrate to wherever they are working with their families and when the job is done, they up and move on to the next one, family and all.

In the background, you can see a huge mall complex being built. Some of the tenants in the foreground may actually be helping to build it. Soon it will be filled with all sorts of goods and services and the surrounding neighborhoods will appreciate its close locale.

I know what it’s like to live in a world of malls. To go shopping and have options of what I would like to spend my “expendable” income on. I don’t know what it’s like to be in the other world. I have not had to struggle to put food on my plate. I have never had to choose whether my kids should work or go to school. I have never had to struggle for existence in a world that seems impossible to overcome.

Yet as I go though India, I can’t hope but notice that there are far more people living in the world that I don’t understand than in the one I do. Far more people toil for the comforts of a few than the other way around. I refuse to believe that this is due to laziness or a lesser intelligence or just dumb luck.

This disparity is also not unique to India, although the swelling population and social structures may make it more obvious. The system is broken, yet for those of us who benefit so greatly, it’s business as usual. I cannot reconcile this...
Two weeks.

That’s all I have left. Crazy. I cannot believe how fast the time has been flying by. We had another quiet Sunday around here today and it was great to slow things down and relax. It is strange how all of life here has become the norm. Except for the heat and humidity... I’m convinced my body will never think of that as normal.

On the flip side, I am definitely tired. It has been non-stop action and the boys don’t slow down for anything. It takes quite a bit to keep up with them as well as quite a bit of energy just to function out ‘n about. Erin and I have been starting to finalize our touring plans and I am getting really excited to jump into the tourist role. I’m trying to be a good planner...

Two weeks to continue waking up each morning and seeing how the day unfolds... gosh it’s so simple :).

09 August 2008


I’m not a huge fan of throwing facts around, but they do help to add insight sometimes... Here’s a collection of different facts about India that I’ve been collecting as I go...

1.027 Billion - Population (2001 census)
16.7% - Percentage of the World’s Population
53.7% - Literacy Rate for Women
75.3% - Literacy Rate for Men
41% - Families living in one-room homes
1st - World Ranking for reported HIV positive persons
60 million(est) - Number of Child Laborers
350 million(est) - Number of Persons below the Poverty Line
35%-40%(est) - Percentage of the Population that lives on less than $1(US) per day
2035(est) - Year in which India will surpass China as the most populous nation

08 August 2008

The Life of a Volunteer

I went into New Delhi again today. The initial plan was to do an advance scouting trip because we are going to the zoo next Saturday, but that was foiled by the fact that the zoo is closed on Fridays. Oops. I also had plans to meet up with Rajiv, my program coordinator for Volunteering India, the organization that has been overseeing my whole experience here, so it’s not like the day was completely out of sorts.

It was pouring rain most the day, but we still managed to have a great time. Our first stop was the Lotue Temple. This building is absolutely gorgeous and there is something about walking barefoot over the marble floors (they literally take your shoes) and sitting amongst quite the worldly contingent present there (quite the precursor to the Olympics country-wise).

Following our stop there, we headed over to the Defense Colony for some incredible South Indian food. Absolutely delicious.

After lunch, we headed over to Gandhi Smriti, which was Mohadas Gandhi’s final residence as well as the site of his assassination in 1948. As mentioned earlier, I’ve been reading through his autobiography lately and it was really great to see more about his life and times as well as have Rajiv there as a guide.

Even with all that on the agenda, I still managed to make it back to Noida in time to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics with the boys. They really enjoyed it and we spent most of the time with a globe in one hand and the list of countries in the other. I am much better at my geography now (even if they aren’t)...

07 August 2008

Good Days

I spent the afternoon over at the Girls Udayan Noida Home today. They needed some help with homework and apparently things haven’t been going very well as of late.

Let me step back a bit. These kids come off of the streets and face a huge task off the bat of adapting and adjusting to a life that is way more structured and regimented than they are used to. Then you throw a bunch of other kids in the mix with just as many background issues (if not more!) and try to let peace and harmony rule the day.

Once they just start to get the hang of things, then they are enrolled in school. Not some “normal” school, but the best they can find and afford in the area, and classes are in both Hindi, which all speak well and only a few can write, and in English which none come to the home speaking well and none can write well. Since education is of high importance to the decision makers of these homes, each child is place approximately one grade ahead of where their skills and knowledge actually are in hopes that they will rise to the occasion and apply themselves. So they are faced with the double barrier of language and skills with the expectation that somehow it should be okay. Oh yeah, and on top of all that, the girls started school about 4 or 5 weeks after their classmates had already started...

So I spent the afternoon at the Girls Home today. One of the girls had some kinda of appointment or other so it was just me and the two younger girls. One is in UKG, which is Upper Kindergarten and we spent the afternoon working on writing and spelling numbers one through ten and trying to get the order of the ABC’s down. The other is enrolled in first grade and we spent the afternoon working on first understanding her homework assignments and then mostly on mental and written math. She doesn’t know all of her ABC’s particularly well either and since most of her assignments are written out in English, she has a hard time even understanding what she is supposed to be doing.

Frustration is a constant companion and the littlest things can boil over into big things in a hurry. This only adds to the challenge of keeping them both engaged and on task. I have had similar interactions with the boys, but since most of them have been in the home and in school longer, they are definitely further along in some aspects.

We had a very productive day today. Part of it has to do with the fact that I don’t see them very often and they enjoyed someone new helping out and part if it had to do with it just being a good day. In a world and systems where progress is most always marked by quantity and efficiency, I find myself in quite a different reality (one I found while working on the Coast as well). Good days are to be celebrated not because of how much stuff got accomplished or how efficiently everything worked out, but simply because they were good days. With the myriad of barriers and challenges present in these kids’ lives good days tend to be hard to come by in terms of confidence and peer interaction and identity. So it becomes all the more important to pause when they come around and recognize them for what they are... Good days

06 August 2008

The illiterate population in India is equal to the entire population of the United States.

05 August 2008

All in a Day's Work

We’ve been getting a ton of rain lately. Now, I know, it’s monsoon season and technically that’s what supposed to happen. But really monsoon just means that there is a good chance of getting some rain every day. The last few days we’ve been getting buckets. I mean, if you don’t mind being soggy all the time, transformers across the way getting waterlogged and making their own fireworks (and the subsequent power outages) and if you have no reason going outside at all during the day, it’s pretty great. One of the nice little things about it is last night a front went through and the temperature actually dropped below 90* first the first time since my first week here (and how did I convince myself that I should leave Mississippi this summer so I could escape the heat?). The best part of all was that this afternoon, no matter how hard we tried, we could not find a dry spot to play soccer. So into the mud we went. Yuppers, 12 muddy boys walking home after the fun is a pretty great way to end the day...

04 August 2008

Box Factory

        We ran a box factory today... Well actually it was nowhere near factory standards or efficiency, but we made quite a few boxes. Apparently the boys received a school assignment last week sometime that they were to go home and gift wrap a box and each class would have a competition. Somehow that never got communicated to any of us older type folks around the place.
        When the rest of the boys went outside to play football, the two younger ones, Vijay and Rahul approached me and asked me to help them make some boxes out of cardboard. We had a lovely afternoon designing, building and then decorating boxes (yes, I know how to use wrapping paper correctly, although ribbon might be a different story). It was only after I returned downstairs after a quick shower, that we then discovered that all of the boys were supposed have them done for tomorrow. Funny how it was the youngest that were the responsible ones...
        Thus commenced the “Great Cardboard Hunt ‘08” followed by a lot of chaos, fighting, and eventually, box making. The end result is 10 gift wrapped boxes ready to rock ‘n roll tomorrow and lots of Fevicol-ed (a brand name of glue) fingers and a dining room littered in cardboard, paper, ribbon and the like. We definitely decided that I was best at drawing and assembling box parts and Rita was the queen of making them look giftable. Birendra was mysteriously nowhere to be found...

03 August 2008

Afternoon Football

I took these pics a while ago, but just haven't gotten 'em up yet... enjoy.

02 August 2008

'Twas a good month

Whether you count by days, weeks or go by date, I have been here a month now. The time has really flown by and I’m pretty sure the next few weeks will as well. August is already looking a bit different than July turned out to be.

For starters, Steve, my fellow American here at the Home flew back to the States this morning. It was so great to have him here and have someone to ease my transition into things. He will definitely be missed and it still hasn’t sunk in with a few of the boys that he will not be coming back any time soon. As far as where I’m at with all of that, I’m doing pretty well. I feel as if I have become fully functional on my own here and while it was nice to have somebody join me in all my little forays into the neighborhood and beyond, I don’t really see myself holding back for lack of a buddy.

I’m pretty excited to see where things go in month two with the boys. Now that we know each other pretty well, I hope that relationships can continue to grow and mature. I have already seen so many changes in each of them, whether it is asking a question properly in English (still got some work to do there) or seeing an improvement in study habits or even playing soccer a little bit more like it’s a team sport. They are still at most 10 months removed from a life that I cannot understand or imagine. Yet they are still boys and most days tend to be better than the one before.

I have no idea what surprises are in store for the next couple of weeks, but the beauty of this thing is that I don’t really need to. For me, just like the boys, every day is about waking up and giving it our best shot, helping each other grow and become better people, looking for the little markers in just how far we’ve come.

Now if only I can find a way to make August 10* cooler than July...

01 August 2008

A Not So Typical Morning...

I got to drive the Bolero today.

The home has an SUV to move the boys around and even though it’s really made for only 7 adults we squeeze the boys in it every morning to go to school. It’s big as far as Indian cars are concerned, but in American terms it’s not much bigger than a Ford escape (although the diesel engine makes it sound tougher and any vehicle with a spare tire on the back door says “don’t mess with me”).

Yuppers, I got to take it for a spin. An by spin I mean: the-driver-guy-was-horribly-late-and-the-boys-needed-to-get-to-school-ten-minutes-ago-so-let’s-see-if-the-American-will-do-it-in-an-act-of-desperation. It takes a little getting used to with the shifter knob on the left and the blinker controls on the right, of course not to mention the fact that you also have to drive on the left side of the road and India’s roads are notoriously chaotic and congested.

We made it to school safe and sound with no problems. Good times had by all :)