If I summed my first couple of days up into one word it would probably be…wow. Luckily, I love to ramble so there will be plenty more details than that =) I feel like there is so much to tell already….
Upon exiting the airport in Chennai, I literally started laughing. It really was like a scene from a movie or something with people appearing to be stacked on top of one another holding their signs in hopes of finding whoever they were picking up. There was actually a guard pushing the mobs back to let the exiting travellers through. I’m glad I thought it was funny since I had no idea if I would find my pick up myself. At the very end of the mob, I did indeed find my ride to the Rising Star grounds. (oh in advance, I apologize greatly for any misspellings of names of people and places here, still getting used to what letters combine to make what sounds). We stopped for milk for the school and continued on our two hour journey to the school as I marvelled at my surroundings. It’s not every day you get to see a cow hanging out at the bus stop, well at least not in NY haha. I love it already. And everything is just crazy all of the time. Things like….the driving. Lines are just a suggestion Mani (my driver) explained to me. Everyone I’ve met here loves to ask us if things are the same and what is different in America. Like how farming works, and about superstitions we have, and the driving, etc. Later, on and outing with the volunteers, we learned that they have a superstition about sneezing and instead of saying “bless you” they say that god hates you, lol.
Going back a smidge, when I arrived I was shown to the volunteer hostel, which is awesome. Seriously better than any hostel I’ve chosen to stay at while travelling. Since we aren’t here during the summer program that RSO runs, there are only 5 of us in the hostel for the moment which means, there are only 1 or 2 of us to a room, we get to use the western toilets and showers (although remain conservative), have full fridge and kitchen access without it getting crowded, and technically laundry whenever we need. RSO employs all of their workers from the local villages so we are well cared for here in order to keep jobs for these people. And the kitchen is available for our use, which I have been using for breakfast, but they also make three meals a day for us, which I get to for lunch and dinner. And I must add that it is delicious. I have already found my eating changing a lot, and they aren’t kidding about the protein cravings. You get hungry so quickly here. I didn’t know when I would say this again, but I am sooooo excited that chicken is on the menu tonight! seriously. Maybe I won’t be ravenous in the middle of the night tonight. The staple foods pretty much consist of various types of rice and potatoes so far. we did have one dish with some chickpeas the other day, and one with green beans. everything is very tasty but the starchy carbs don’t get you far, especially as we are all adjusting to the heat. And the house mothers laugh at us because all of our water is pink from emergen-c. I should clarify, when I say us-there are 4 of us newer volunteers.
Jamie, the VP of Promethean Spark, is the current Dance Master that I am learning from who is going into her 4th week here. Chris is the EMT for the campus and she plans to stay here a year but only got in a week before me. Rebekah is Jamie’s friend who after living in Italy for 2 months came to volunteer here. She has yet to get her return ticket at this point. And Celina isn’t in our little crew as much as she has a lot of other things on her plate, but she lives in the hostel with us, and she is the principal of the school for this year. There is also a family from the states that have been here a year, that run the RSO program for the time being. The rest of the teachers, and administration, and workers are locals.
So we are definitely assimilating quickly =) within my first day, I was already “shopping” in the stores of clothing at the school for traditional dress with Rebekah, eating with my hands (which the house mothers are helping me perfect the art of), and walking around barefoot half the time. its kind of awesome. Actually today, I went over to the student hostels to hang out with some of the kids and besides making me dance for them and being in love with my camera, I got my hair braided and was bindi-ed. They all agreed after that, I officially looked beautiful today lol. It was a lot of fun. They are honestly the most beautiful children I have ever seen, each and every one of them.
In terms of the school programs, the kids were out of session the first day I arrived. And through a random series of events, we aren’t starting the official schedule until this week. Jamie and I have kept busy though-meeting with Life Dance (the company they have started here with the goal of touring once a repertoire is set, we work with them 5 times/week), developing a worksheet and going to all of the classes to hand out homework, I was also getting trained in the documentation process as well as working on the lesson plan and this semester’s curriculum, we had to meet with various people to figure out what the schedule would be, etc. And we have luckily been able to review the set warm up together daily and make sure we are on the same page. We still have lots to do but have a starting point for this week which is great.
Tomorrow will be our first day together in the colonies. Since we can only see each class once per week we have condensed their schedule into 3 days so that we can go to the colonies twice per week. Our work here will include introducing movement therapy to leprosy infected individuals. I am very happy to have Jamie with me on my first run, as we are breaking new ground into areas that have not experienced this and I have heard there are often mixed results. There are some locations we will be returning to regularly that have already responded really well, and there will also be new places where we will drive out with the medical van, turn on some tunes and see how it goes. Needless to say, having someone to go through that with on the first time is definitely reassuring. I am excited for it though. And I’m sure it will definitely give me a deeper understanding of the effects of our work here. It’s completely different to bring movement to someone that may have lost some part of their body, or have not been able to appreciate their body for a long time. As opposed to the school here, where the kids already love it so much. I wish I could show you the look on their faces when they heard I was the new Dance Master. Of course, we have a lot of lessons to teach them through the program, which is why it is a program to teach life skills, but they are already adjusted to the concept. Actually there is a huge list of things we could teach these kids that is already evident within a couple of days so I hope that through the lesson plans Jamie and I are working on, we are able to make a definite change in some of these areas by the end of the semester.
Oh and I almost completely skipped over the elephants! how could I haha. On the day we went into Kenchipurum (again my spelling is atrocious), we got to go to the elephant temple. Unfortunately, due to some kind of festival, the elephants were not there. They were at another temple that we couldn’t get to until later. We walked around the elephant temple, and this guide attached himself to us (who later let us know that our tip was too low despite what our actual guide/fellow employee at RSO deemed acceptable lol), so we made it to various different areas including seeing the holy mango tree that is 3,500 years old. We then made it to lunch at quite a nice place that Vikram (the employee from RSO) knew about. It was absolutely delicious, and we used utensils for the occasion. and it was cheap. A full meal cost at a sit down restaurant with ac cost us about $5 each. yes please. We then went to pick up some groceries at the More Store, which is apparently more western like and pricier. I got nuts, a soda, jam, dates, rasins, rice puffs, and instant coffee for less than $6 dollars. I can handle the western prices here I think. And gratefully so considering I didn’t exactly have time to save up for the trip.
After a few other stops for school supplies to take back with us, we made it to the elephants for our blessings. aka you give the elephant a rupee and he bonks you on the head lol. We couldn’t ride them that day because of the festival, but perhaps another time. We made a couple final stops, one of them for quite a while at the “board of education” where us ladies were left in the car. doors locked mind you, as not only were we stared at a lot (one instance actually caused a bike crash) but also as a precaution to a few persistent males desperately wanting pictures haha. it was actually hilarious. Rebekah had jumped in the driver’s seat to make Tex laugh. Tex was our driver who earned the nickname after driving through a mini lake for us and a comment of “nice driving, Tex!”. As she sat in the front seat, some boys in front of the car were pleading to get one shot of her on their cell phone. She would look up and they’d beg, and she’d quickly look down to leave them looking devastated. Pretty funny in context. Even more hilarious, when Vikram and Tex returned to the car, Tex acted unphased jumping in the back seat, letting Rebekah drive down a few of the back streets. She was awesome especially since some of the streets didn’t even look like our van would fit. All in all we had a lot of fun, but after a long day and work to do when we got back and jet lag, I was definitely tired that night. mmm ok I’ve been tired every night haha. but hopefully with a work catch up day today, I will be more on track and my body will start adjusting.
Can’t wait to jump into the heart of the program tomorrow!