Sunday, August 5, 2012


Day 23 – 04Aug2012

The flight home is harder than the flight there.  It seems longer…

Luckily, Amy and I have not had any major hiccups on the way home.  The airline didn’t have our seats reserved when we arrived at the airport in Delhi though.  I guess that because our flights were so crazy on the way to India, something went screwy in the system.  Apparently our travel agency had been refunded the money for our return trip and our tickets were cancelled…but they called them and it all got worked out.  It was a stressful few minutes there at the beginning.  I probably would have cried.  I said a little prayer and it all worked out. 

London’s security is crazy (probably because of the Olympics), but we made our connection.  I’m writing this blog in a word document on the flight from London to Dallas.  This is a LONG flight.  I’ve been in this limbo state of being asleep, but not really asleep.  I’m hungry.  Airplane food is even worse than eating curry for three weeks.  I want a cheeseburger. ;)

I made it through all of the flights and landed safely in SLC around 11:00pm.  I said my goodbyes to all of my new friends and met my mom at the curb.  Salt Lake feels cold in comparison to India.  My mom let me stop for a cheeseburger from In-N-Out.  I actually took a long deep sniff of it before I ate it.  Amazing.  I’ve missed beef.  I enjoyed seeing my dog, Zoe.  I missed her.  It was great to see my parents too!  I’ve been pretty much quarantined from the rest of my family due to my lice…sad day.

I did another lice treatment when I got home.  I only found three teeny tiny buggers.  My mom still won’t let me bring my luggage in from the garage though…not until everything has been washed.

I fell asleep easily, but woke up early.

Good to be home.  God bless America.

Day 23 – Complete

India Complete

Kissing An Elephant

Day 22 – 03Aug2012

We left the hotel with full bellies after our delicious breakfast.  I did have to pay $5 for a bottled water…wasn’t too happy about that, not when you can get one for less than a dollar on the street…not cool. 

I wasn’t excited to load the bus again for the drive to Delhi, but it went a lot faster this time.  Amy and I talked about life and laughed at the precious little things we miss about home.  Our bus was out of commission for about a half hour due to a flat tire.  I was worried we were going to be delayed a lot time, but we weren’t.  We continued driving…and driving…and driving…

Until…Ramesh asked us if we still wanted to ride an elephant.  Of course I did!  We made a slight detour and stopped at little park.  I wish the states had this type of stuff, but I guess it wouldn’t be as special if we did.  Our elephant was beautiful!  He was a big and beautiful boy.  The other girls kept asking if it was a boy or girl and I couldn’t believe it because, well, it was quite obvious…if you know what I mean.  Elephants are no small animal.  I rode him with my roommates.  Even though Asian elephants are the smaller of the two species, he was enormous!  I had to climb a ladder to get on his back.  We rode around the park for a few minutes.  Sarah lost her flip flop along the way so the driver hopped down.  We were alone on that elephant for a minute or two.  It was kind of scary.  He seemed nice enough and well trained, but he was still an enormous wild animal…and he could kill us all if he wanted to.  But before you know it the trainer was back with us.  The elephant had lifted him to his head with his trunk…seriously!  Did that just happen?  Another trainer came to hurry us along and the elephant started running a bit.  I was holding on pretty tight.  I did reach down and touch the elephant’s haunches…he had very long elephant hair (Aleece, Mom – this should peak a memory…).  Before I knew it, it was over.  But the connection the elephant and I had was not.  We posed for pictures…and well, I kissed him.  I don’t usually kiss on the first date, but he had such charisma and was so handsome I couldn’t help myself.  By kiss, I really do mean that my lips physically touched his trunk.  He loved it!  I think. ;)  It was such a cool experience.  I did wipe my lips with a wet wipe when I got back to the bus though.  Sorry, buddy!  No offense…

We finished our drive back to Delhi.  That city really is massive.  We stopped at a mall to eat a late lunch.  It was Dominos and a McFlurry from McDonald’s for me.  We were always a spectacle…even in the big city.  Ramesh took us to one last place.  We stopped at a kind of Zen garden with a Buddha (Siddhartha, actually) statue at the top of a hill.  It was fun to stand up there and look across the big city one last time.

Our next stop was the airport.  We dropped off everyone that flying home that night as well as those flying back to Chennai.  I was a little jealous because I didn’t leave until the next day, but I was glad to have one last night in India.  I stayed at the Hotel Shanti Palace with four other girls, including Amy.  The hotel was nice enough.  It was a bit silly.  I had to physically sign a logbook and the keys were real keys…not those electric key cards you see most of the time.  It was about 6:00pm and we weren’t quite ready to be finished with the city so the five of us headed out one last time.  We stayed together walking along the busy street.  I was specifically looking for henna so I could be tattooed just before coming home, but we didn’t have any luck.  I was starting to get a bad feeling about wandering the streets and it was getting dark so we headed back.  At that time, I was kind of glad to be the “oldest and wisest” of the group because the other girls listened when I said I didn’t have a good feeling and that we should go back.  Later, Amy told me she felt the same so she was glad I said something.  Who knows what would have happened if we hadn’t listened.  I’m so grateful to have the spirit on my side.

We ate some ice cream in our hotel’s restaurant and headed to our rooms.  One of the girls had henna and I decided to have one of them tattoo me.  Her name was Jaime and she actually did a great job!  Amy and went talked until past 2:00am about life, about India...about how we were/are different.  We woke up at 4:30am to catch our flight back to the states.

Goodbye India…

Day 22 – Complete

Firsts/Realizations/Things to Remember:  The “view” from our hotel room and the tricks it played on Amy. 

Quote of the day: “You’ll be ok.  Just lower your standards.” – Kelsey 

Taj Mahal

Day 21 – 02Aug2012

I slept like a little baby at the five-star hotel, even with the knowledge of lice.  And my roommates were kind enough not to kick me out. ;)  Unfortunately, six other girls (eight total including myself) discovered they had lice in Agra (none of them were my roommates though).  As soon as my head hit the pillow…wow!  And I woke up feeling refreshed!  I hadn’t felt like that in a long time.  By the second week at Rising Star, my back was killing me from the stiff, five-inch mattresses.  The five-star hotel was a welcome change.  When we woke up, we had a great breakfast.  The hotel had all the fixings: omelets, sausage, pancakes, cereal, pastries, and a variety of Indian dishes.  I’m a lot more open to trying new food these days and actually kind of maybe liked a few of them…kind of. ;)

We met in the lobby to head out for a day of adventure.  I liked seeing Agra and Delhi via tour guide.  It was stress free vacationing.  Our first stop was the Taj Mahal.  I discovered that the reason we could not just fly into Agra because it is a no-fly zone due to the Taj Mahal.  And likewise, we had to leave our bus two miles away from it and be driven by an electric vehicle the rest of the way.  They want to keep the pollution around the Taj Mahal to a minimal so the features of it can be seen more clearly.  When we arrived, we were first met by the archway…and through the archway, was the Taj Mahal…

I cannot accurately describe the view or the feeling I had when I first laid eyes on it.  It simply does not look real.  It is as if someone has a giant green-screen and is digitally adding the perfectly edited image.  It I hadn’t physically touched it, I wouldn’t believe it was real.  Its beauty far surpasses any structure I have ever seen.  The Taj Mahal is made 100% out of Indian white marble.  The inlay flowers and writing on the Taj Mahal are from semi-precious stones that have been hand carved into the marble.  The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum dedicated to an emperor’s wife.  We were able to take all of the famous pictures there.  Our tour guide knew all the right places to take pictures; in fact, there is a contest for our group going on about who took the best picture (if you’re following this, please go “like” it on facebook – thanks!).  You are not allowed to take pictures once inside.  The wife’s replica tomb is directly in the middle of the under the large circle pillar that you can see from the outside.  The real tomb is underground and the public is not permitted to see it.  The emperor’s replica tomb is next to his wife’s and is the only part of the structure that is not perfectly symmetrically placed.  The inside of the large circular pillar is actually an octagon.  The flower inlay is intricate and delicate. It took 22 years to build the Taj Mahal.  Unbelievable…really.

Other tourists taking pictures of us...
Once we were outside again, we took a lot more pictures, but as usual, we had a serious following of locals.  It was funny to have them take pictures of us when they were there to see one of the wonders of the world.  Didn’t quite make sense to me.  It actually got quite annoying after awhile.  Our tour guide told us it wasn’t “safe” to take pictures with them (which they requested often).  I only allowed one picture of me…although many more were taken of me against my will.  I felt…violated…violated by they eyes of Indian men. 

We toured the other structures around the Taj Mahal, but none came close to its beauty.  Our tour guide told us about all of the illusions the Taj Mahal has to offer, like the coloring.  Depending on the colors in the sky (either by sun or moon), the marble will take on different colors.  It was overcast (but unbelievable hot!  Probably the hottest day I experienced my entire time in India) the day I saw it, so it was very purely white.  The four pillars at the four corners are also an illusion.  They seem straight up and down, when in fact; they are tilting towards the outside.  This ensures that all four can be seen at all times.  Unreal…so beautiful and so majestic.  I have seen one of the modern wonders of the world.  Pretty spectacular.

Knowing that I would probably never get back to see it again, I didn’t really want to leave the Taj Mahal, but I had to.  Our tour guide, Ramesh, took us to a marble factory after that, but not just any marble factory; a marble factory owned and operated by the descendents of the real marble workers that built the Taj Mahal.  We were able to watch them as they constructed marble pieces with the same flower inlay that the Taj Mahal has.  I bought an awesome elephant piece, my own little piece of the Taj Mahal.  I did get in a little fight with one of the salesman though…luckily Ramesh had my back and everything got sorted out. 

The group was then taken to Agra Fort.  I kind of wish they had taken us there first because nothing can compare to the Taj Mahal, but the fort was still awesome.  And the coolest part about could see the Taj Mahal from its windows!  The fort held the emperor after his son imprisoned him for spending too much money on the Taj Mahal.  Luckily, the emperor could see the Taj Mahal from his prison.  India has such interesting history.

We were then taken to a store that made and sold real Persian rugs.  We were able to see how they were made.  It can take two men up to six months to complete a rug.  They were pretty expensive so I bought the smallest one I could as a souvenir.  We did some more shopping and reputable places the tour guide knew about.  I finally gave in and bought a sari.  It WAS almost my last day in India, you know.  And I probably wouldn’t get another chance to shop…

We had a nice dinner feast at another really nice hotel.  They had the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever tasted.  Geez…I realize now how much I really enjoyed the food…the Indian food was interesting, but good…and if it was any type or sort of American food, it was delectable.  After dinner he headed back to the hotel.  Again, I slept like a baby.  I was sad to check out of that hotel
Day 21 – Complete

Firsts/Realizations/Things to Remember:  It was Amy’s birthday today!  She turned 26 at the Taj Mahal…it doesn’t really get any better than that. 

I don’t feel very exotic looking in the states, but I’m exotic here.  And that makes me feel pretty special.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Day 20 – 01Aug2012

The morning started off incredibly early.  I woke up at 2:00am to finish packing and cleaning my room at Rising Star.  The Rising Star vans then took us to the airport at 3:00am.  I think I slept about an hour before the van ride and an hour during the van ride.  When we reached the Chennai airport, we said our goodbyes to our drivers and to our session coordinators.  It was bittersweet.  I was happy to be heading off to a new adventure in Delhi, but sad to be leaving the experiences and friends I made at Rising Star.

The airport in Chennai was a bit interesting.  I sent my checked bag through a screening before I could even get my boarding pass.  The airport workers zip tied my bag shut.  After we checked in, Amy and I tried to go through airport security.  We were stopped at the beginning of the line because our carry-on luggage did not have a tag on them…a tag?  Yeah, we didn’t know either.  So we started to head back to the ticket counter, but luckily one of the other volunteers had extra tags for us.  We got in line for security and were about to get our laptops out, but all of these men kept butting us in line.  They were looking at us funny and speaking in Tamil or Hindi (not sure which).  One of them even laughed at us.  A minute or two later, a nicer man told us that there was a separate line for ladies.  Yup, didn’t know that either.  It made sense afterward when we realized everyone in our line was male.  The only reason they have a separate line for ladies is for the screening.  They use a wand and apparently that is a bit invasive in their eyes so we had a female airport security worker do it for us behind a partition.  Interesting. Once our carry-on bags were screened, they stamped the tag indicating that it was safe to fly with.

Nothing spectacular happened on our flight from Chennai to Delhi.  I slept the entire flight (which was about two and half hours).  When we arrived in Delhi it was raining.  It is monsoon season here.  Luckily it is still very warm…even with the rain.  All the volunteers’ luggage made it to Delhi!  We were all excited about that.  Benson Massey from Abish Travels greeted us.  He will be our tour guide while we are here.  We were given flower leis and loaded the bus. 

Seriously uncomfortable from over-eating..
Our first stop was a restaurant for lunch.  On our way, we passed the president’s house.  It has 340 rooms!  It was enormous!  Benson also told us that the population of Delhi is 10 million…10,000,000!!!  And you can definitely tell!  The traffic here is unreal.  The restaurant was called “Have More.”  It was DELICIOUS!  By far the best food I’ve had since I’ve been here.  We were told that north and south Indian food is different, but you don’t really know that until you experience it.  I had some type of spicy vegetable rice with butter chicken and butter naan.  I ate until I was stuffed.  I have not been that full my entire time in India, including when I ate pizza!  The street vendors attacked as soon as we left the restaurant.  This time they were selling post cards and Kama Sutra books.  There were child street performers begging for money…literal slum dog gypsies.

Our next stop was Red Fort.  Benson organized for us to have a pedal rickshaw ride through the old market of Delhi.  My pictures will not do this place justice.  Our driver was a younger man and he was quick.  At one point, I looked back to see the other volunteers and their drivers, but they were nowhere to be seen.  The old market was jam packed with people.  Amy and I could and did reach out and touch the other cars and motorcycles.  The streets were very narrow, but our driver handled the rickshaw well…even if we did hit a car a couple of times…and we almost got hit a few times too!  I was legitimately scared for my life a few times…He pointed to the a little step we were supposed to put one foot on and said that it was our seatbelt…to keep us in the rickshaw if we hit anything.  Our driver’s name was Alum.  He took us through the wedding district and we were able to see all of the beautiful saris and colorful wedding dresses.  We emerged from that street and saw the capitol building.  We stopped at a spice market.  The owner knew very good English and talked with us about the different spices.  I tried real bark cinnamon.  I didn’t buy any spices because, let’s be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Indian food. ;)  We returned to our driver and he drove us back to Red Fort to load the bus.  He was racing the other drivers.  I think all of them must have been friends because they kept calling each other funny names.  I don’t know they meant, but they were all laughing so it must have been good. 

The bus ride to Agra was about eight hours.  I didn’t realize it was going to be that long.  I think if we were able to go 65 mph the whole time, the distance would only take about two hours.  However, when you can only drive 10mph most of the way, it makes the journey a LOT longer.  We stopped a couple of times along the way for bathroom breaks.  I’m actually writing this blog in a word document while riding the bus.  I’ve slept a little, looked out the window a lot, and watched a movie and we still aren’t there.  I’ve been sitting pretty much all day long.  I’m ready for a comfortable five star hotel, a hot shower, and a comfy bed.  As always, we’ve a spectacle the entire day.  It’s not every day these people see a van with 25 American girls.  Young men wave at us and blow us kisses.  Older men make eyes at us and raise their eyebrows.  I feel famous. 

Near the end of our bus ride, we were able to stop at McDonald’s for dinner.  The Chicken Maharaja Mac was a tempting option, but I just stuck with plain chicken nuggets. ;)  I also had an Oreo McFlurry and fries!  Don’t worry; I felt sick after…but almost a good kind of sick.  We hadn’t eaten in over nine hours, so this McDonald’s was a special treat.  About a half hour later, we arrived at our hotel in Agra. 

We are staying the Wyndham Grand Hotel, a five star hotel.  We arrived just before midnight.  This hotel is amazing!  I feel like I’m staying in a palace.  I’m rooming with two other girls, Amy and Tavia.  We have a giant king size bed, but they brought in an extra mattress.  This hotel really is incredible…AND we have a real shower…and a western toilet!  We arrived so late that I wasn’t able to get a whole lot of pictures…but they are coming.

I thought I’d just get the room and crash, but there was a girl on the bus who discovered she had lice so I decided to get checked too.  Just one of those things you have to do in order to sleep well, you know?  So here I was, sitting on a grandly padded ottoman being checked for lice in a five star hotel…Berlyn was very thorough as she looked through my hair at my scalp.  She paused and I asked, very hesitantly, “Berlyn?” She said, “It’s ok, relax.”  She continued looking and to my utter dismay said, “Don’t freak out, but you have lice.”  She uttered the dreaded words!  I have lice!  I only had a minor freak out…very minor.  Luckily, I brought RID (the lice shampoo) with me.  I spent the next two hours treating my lice.  I had to wash my hair with this very strong shampoo, rinse it out and then meticulously comb through ever strand of my hair with a very fine-toothed comb.  My hair was being pulled out, but I could see the little buggers and their eggs on the comb so I kept brushing.  Luckily, they had already been murdered by the shampoo.  I have to do another treatment in a week to make sure that I kill any remaining lice that I may have missed.  Amy was with me every step of the way and kept reading me fun facts about lice as I combed through my hair.  She’s such a good friend. ;)  Amy and Tavia do not have lice.  I’m the lucky one.  As I was laying to go to bed, I kept thinking of all the things my head has touched in the last few days…the Rising Star van seats, the airplane headrest, my travel pillow, the seat on the bus, my headband…I’m sure there will be few more victims of lice because of me…

Day 20 – Complete

Firsts/Realizations…Remember:  I’ve never seen trees counted before.  In Delhi, someone has painted trees with their corresponding counted number…
Delhi is very modern compared to Chennai. 


Day 19 - 31Jul2012

I woke up this morning with the surreal realization that this is my last morning here at Rising Star.  I feel as though the time has flown by...and yet, I feel like I've lived in India for a very long time.

My last rotation was construction, but we didn't go out to the colonies.  Instead, we stayed at the school.  They spilt us up into two groups.  The first group spent the day cleaning the grounds of Rising Star.  The second group, the group I was in, spent the day in the school's clinic putting covers on and binding the kids' medical record books.  It obviously wasn't as strenuous as normal construction.  The kids would stop by and visit us in between classes and during recess.  I looked out the door of the clinic into the school's field...I can't believe I'm leaving.

During our downtime between rotations and play time, we all had to pack.  It was bittersweet.  I'm ready to go home, but now that it is really happening, I'm not as excited as I thought I'd be.  Amy and I had a few clothes that needed to be washed before we packed them, but since the wash wouldn't be done in time, we had to do it ourselves.  Up until now, we've had awesome Elephant House maids that did our laundry for us.  Amy and I washed our clothes in buckets and hung them on clotheslines.  Yet another thing I take for granted...washers and dryers.  It wouldn't want to wash my clothes like this every day, but it was a fun experience.

Jayanthi and Anitha

Vicky and Peter
The kids were extremely mellow tonight at play time.  I think they were a bit somber because they know we are leaving early tomorrow morning (3:00am).  I was able to take pictures of and with all my favorites.  Vicky was by my side the whole time.  Our connection really only took hold a few days ago.  He helped me find the kids I wanted pictures with and was my own personal photographer.  I told him he should go into photography when he grew up and get paid to do it.  He just smiled.

Dinner was delicious.  I actually like the curry they serve on Tuesdays.  All of the volunteers took turns saying what they hope to take back with them.  I said perspective...perspective about what really matters in life.  I watched the sunset through the palm trees as I listened to the experiences that everyone else had here.  I still can't believe I'm leaving.  

After dinner, we headed over to the dining hall.  The kids were going to dance and sing for us.  The performances were so cute.  I sat with Jayanthi part of the time.  She seemed a little melancholy and she told me she was sad that I was leaving.  After the performances, the volunteers stood in a line and every child said goodbye to every volunteer.  I was crying as soon as they got into their houses to start the procession.  I cried more with some than with others.  When Jayanthi reached me she gave me a huge hug.  She quickly moved on before I got to look at her face.  The line continued and a few minutes later I heard her behind me..."Kelsey."  I turned around and she had tears streaming down her face and her eyes were welled up with more.  I gave her a huge hug again and then tilted her head up to look at her in the eyes.  Tears were streaming down my face as well, but I managed an "I love you."  She hugged me again and Mymonisha helped her walk away.  She waved a little...I had no idea I was so attached to her and the other kids.  As the line moved on I said goodbye to Satish, Aravind, Kristraj, Vicky, Gracy, Agalya, Anitha, Vimal, Vignesh, Ranjith...the list goes on an on.  Every child that made an impact on my life here...Ranjith was fine through the line until he got to me.  He also gave me a huge hug and tears welled up in his eyes.  As he walked away, I turned and called his name.  He smiled and waved goodbye.  Some kids wished me a "happy journey."  Others told me not to cry and wiped the tears from my cheeks.  I can't imagine being these little ones and having to say goodbye to all the volunteers who come through here.  What an example they have set for me of unconditional love...I love them.  I will miss them.

Afterwards, we had to clean the Elephant House to prepare it for the next batch of volunteers.  My group was in charge of cleaning the bathrooms and the Mango room (the common area).  The coordinators had a surprise for us.  They put together a cute slide show of our time here.  It is amazing all he things that can happen in a couple of weeks.

Rising Star Outreach of India...such an amazing experience.

Day 19 - Complete

Firsts/Realizations: I don't have to travel half way around the world to do service. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ulcers and Fingernails

Day 18 - 30Jul2012

Today was my last day of medical.  We went out with a bang!  Today was absolutely unbelievable.  We arrived in Bethel Nagar not knowing how many patients we'd treat.  We unloaded the van with an assembly line as usual.  We waited for a few minutes and all of a sudden patients started trickling in.

I was at the oiling station for the first part of the day.  Patients would have their old bandages removed, their feet washed, and then they would see me.  I rubbed paraffin oil all over their feet and up their legs to about the knee.   Some of the patients were nervous that the oil was some kind of medicine that would be painful so I tried to talk to them in a pleasant way while I applied it.  They didn't know what I was saying and I had a face mask on, but I hope they could see that my eyes were smiling and that I was friendly.  I tried to massage their tired feet and legs.  Some of them smiled at me, but I don't know what they were thinking.  I must have oiled 15-20 patients' feet today.

Two patients stood out to me.  The first was an older gentleman.  He spoke very good English.  His eyes had drooped and I don't think he could see.  He and his wife were being treated today.  He did not have any fingers or any toes.  He had lost them to this horrible disease.  When he was finished with his treatment, he sat by the entrance while his wife finished up.  I sat next to him and talked with him.  We held hands as we talked about his family.  He has a son and daughter who live not far from where we were.  I can imagine the sweet spirit that resides in his very debilitated body.  A spirit, that for whatever reason, was chosen to come to India at this be afflicted with this disease.  He was an amazing man and I feel blessed to be able to serve him, even if it was only for a brief time.

The other patient that stood out was an older gentleman as well.  He was our very last patient.  I had traded stations by this point and was now doing bandage removing.  When he lifted his foot, I could smell his ulcer through his bandage, his shoe, and my face mask.  I knew this was going to be a challenge.  I removed his shoe and noticed that the discharge from his ulcer had actually soaked the bottom of his shoe.  I started to remove the bandage.  It was stuck onto the wound and I had to cut the bandage all the way around it before I could remove the main gauze.  Right before I did, the smell overtook me and I had to turn my head away.  Unfortunately, I could not hold back the urge to gag.  I felt awful because I'm sure he knew how terrible his infection was and I didn't want to make him uncomfortable.  I readied myself and held my breath to remove the final bandage.  Once the bandage was removed, I could see that he no longer had toes and that the ulcer was to the bone.  I sent him on to washing.

He had a difficult time walking, so I helped him up.  After that, we decided to move all stations to him so he didn't have to get up too many times.  I sat with him during oiling because he was having some pain.  I held his hands on his laps and he kept looking at me and smiling.  He spoke in Tamil.  I did not understand what he said, but I did understand when he performed the sign of the cross.  He is a Christian.  He lifted his hands to the sky and continued with a prayer of gratitude.  Once again, I did not need to understand Tamil to understand his prayer.  After he was finished with all stations, I helped him put his shoe back on.  I helped him stand and walk out of our clinic.  Before he left, he took a few of us, including me, and gave us a hug on both sides and touched our heads and then raised his fingerless hands to the sky.  Such expressions of gratitude...I was emotional at that point.  What a wonderful feeling.  I didn't do much...I cut his bandage off, helped him with his shoes, and helped him stand and walk.  In the grand scheme of things, I did nothing, and yet for him, it was everything.  This just goes to show that service does not have to be grandiose to have meaning.  He continued his prayers until we drove away in the van...

Being on the bandage removing station, I also had the opportunity to cut nails.  It is a task they don't trust to just everyone...because you have to use a nail clipper for pets.  Of all the assignments I've had, that was by far the scariest.  Two men had pinkie nails that had grown so long and curved, that the nail was actually physically digging into the opposite sides of their fingers.  One man cheered when I was finally able to cut it to a normal length for him.  It took some interesting angles and I used instruments not meant for nail cutting, but I did it!  He was so happy!
After our water fight...we are soaked!  Little punks!

Overall, this was the best, most fulfilling service experience I have ever had in my entire life.  I hope I can have more experiences like it.

When we got back to the Elephant House, it was time for a water fight with the kids.  The kids are ruthless!  I learned that Jayanthi has a sister that also attends Rising Star.  She is older and is a very pretty girl.  The water fight was our play time.  Dinner was fun...can't believe we are so close to leaving.  I played cards with Ranjith and Peter again tonight during family time.  They always.  It was our last family time.  I said goodbye to them all...but I'll see them tomorrow.  The kids know we are leaving so a few of them were a little sad.  But soon, they will have new volunteers to play with.  I can't dwell too much on leaving them.

Day 18 - Complete

Firsts/Realizations:  It does no good to dwell on how deprived the lives that people have here are.  It is all they know and therefore, they do not realize how little they have.  To them, they have everything they need...and they are happy because of it.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Saris At The Mall

Day 17 - 29Jul2012

Today was Sunday and I woke up super early to get ready for church.  I asked one of the house mothers to tie me in a sari for church today.  It was a process!  The sari is so much fabric!  The belly shirt goes on first and then the sari is tucked and pinned all over the place.  Say goodbye to going to the bathroom...literally!  I had to ask to have the sari tied higher than usual so it would cover my garments.  Usually, the entire stomach is uncovered so you can see it from the side.  It was really fun to get all dressed up.  The little Rising Star girls loved seeing me dressed up too.  Seven safety pins later, I was ready.  I even put on some makeup that I borrowed from my roommate!  

We drove the two hours into Chennai to attend church services.  My chapel at home is five minutes away.  Just another reason I am so blessed.  Three missionaries spoke in sacrament meeting.  Two of the missionaries were from India and the third was from Washington state.  Everyone spoke in English. The Rising Star members doubled the size the of the branch.  The members were extremely friendly and helped some of the other girls out when they had issues with their saris.  My sari was too pinned to move so I was just fine.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true in India.  That is really all there is to say about it.  Very cool experience.

After sacrament meeting, we went to Spencer's Mall for a brief shopping day.  The mall was really cool!  And, as always, we were a spectacle.  EVERYONE wanted to see the white girls in saris.  A few men even made eyes at us.  I bought a few chudidars to wear in Delhi since I won't have the nice Rising Star closet with me there and I didn't really bring any outfits from home besides construction clothes.  The mall had Pizza Hut and you'd better believe we got some.  I found that I could find better prices at the mall than on the streets.  We shopped at the J. Crew of India - FabIndia.  I wish we had had more time to spend at the mall, but it was soon time to head back to Rising Star. 

The kids of Rising Star put on a talent show for us tonight.  A few of them sang and other presented their drawings.  It was really cute to see how excited they got about it.  The volunteers even performed a song and dance.  It was one of those moments that I just had to forget that I don't like being in front of people and just go all out because they're just kids.  They loved it.  After we performed, the talent show was over.  The dance director put some music on and the kids went CRAZY.  Some of them can really bust a move.  My camera died before I could take any pictures of the mad dancing skills that I observed, but it was fun nonetheless.
I played that crazy version of the card game "War" that I mentioned a few posts ago with the boys during family time.  They cheat!  And Ranjith actually slapped me when I beat him to the slap.  That is such a habit for these boys and he quickly apologized.  I'll miss those little boys.

India has definitely rubbed off on me.  When I first got here, if I felt a bug on me, I'd quickly slap it to get it off of me.  Now when I feel a bug, I take time to look and see what it is first.  If it is a non-scary bug, I brush it off without killing it.  If it is a scary bug, it deserves a little harsher treatment. ;)  I do the "ok" head bob on a regular basis.  I can handle eating with an ENORMOUS number of flies flying around me and landing on me and my food.  Smells go unnoticed.  I can sleep while driving in the middle of the crazy traffic without a worry in the world.  And cows?  What about 'em?  They are everywhere.  Isn't that just normal?  And the heat...I know it is hot, but I don't dwell on it anymore.  It is amazing how your mind and body can adapt to a new environment.  

On the other hand, my roommates and I keep getting sillier.  The weirdest things are funny and the inside jokes abound. 

Day 17 - Complete

Firsts/Realizations:  I don't fear change, I fear being stagnant.  

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Day 16 - 28Jul2012

I slept in this morning and took time to reflect on who I am and who I want to be.  I have never been so sure of myself and yet so unsure of myself.  I know that doesn't really make sense, but it means that because I am so sure of myself, I have never been more acutely aware of where I am lacking and what my flaws are.  I guess I needed to come to India to learn that...

Today is Saturday and I have the weekends off, but today was a special day.  The children still had school and although I didn't wake up intending to tutor them today, that is what I did.  I headed over after recess and tutored during the last two class periods.  Reading and math.  My first student did NOT want to read today.  I wouldn't want to be in school on a Saturday either.  My second student was a boy from Basha's what did he call me?  Yup, Lady Grinch.  I don't think I'll break away from that nickname anytime soon.

Today is special because the Marriott came out to host lunch and a cricket game with the kids.  The lunch was a little different than was NOT curry!  I ate in the dining hall with all the kids and I decided that today, being a special day....I would eat with my hands!  Yup, no utensils for this one.  I made sure my hands were clean first. :)  It experience that's for sure!  The kids laughed at me like they usually do when I try to be like them.  And they corrected me when I ate with both hands.  You should only eat with your right hand here in India.  I didn't know that, but I do now!  I talked with Mymonisha and Jayanthi.  A few days ago they asked me to bring back "so many chocolates" for them from Mamallapuram.  And sure enough, they asked me if I had fulfilled my promise.  I did. :)  I gave the chocolates to one of the coordinators to put in the Star Store.  The Star Store is based on a point system.  Each student gets star points for doing well in school and behaving in the hostels.  Once they have enough stars, they can purchase different things from the Star Store (like candies or toys).  This helps the children understand that they need to work for what they want.  Hopefully this will aid in breaking the cycle of begging that most of them are familiar with.

M. Nisha

After lunch, our boys' cricket team faced off with the adult Marriott players.  It was obvious how much the kids enjoy this yearly event.  The excitement was in the air!  M. Nisha found me and sat on my lap for a long time.  Nisha is the albino Indian.  She has such a sweet personality.  We talked about her sponsors and I learned that she wants to be a scientist.  I told her that I was kind of a scientist in America and she was really excited about that.  I don't think she can see very well, but it doesn't stop her.

I didn't eat much at lunch so I was starving by dinner.  We had chapati (Indian flatbread).  It was delicious and my banana leaf was as clean as could be by the time I was done.  Because it is Saturday, it was movie night tonight.  I watched "Cars 2" with the smaller kids.  Jayanthi wasn't there because she was being punished for doing something earlier in the day.  Mymonisha was there though.  I followed Mymonisha to her hostel to say hello to Jayanthi for a few minutes and to ask a house mother to wrap me in my sari for church tomorrow.  I have to wake up super early to let them beautify me before church.  So it is off to bed!

Day 16 - Complete

Firsts/Realizations:  I did the "ok" head bob today without thinking about it.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Ocean - It's What It Does

Day 15 - 27Jul2012


We drove to the beach town of Mamallapuram today.  We were able to spend the morning shopping and then hit the beach at the Ideal Beach Resort.  Sarah and I were separated from the rest of the girls when we stopped at a shop to buy pillow cases and jewelry.  The man running the shop was a very nice man and an extremely good salesman.  We must have spent an hour just in his shop.  When we left his shop, Sarah and I started walking in the direction that we had last seen our group go.  We were encouraged by a street vendor to look at this huge government pond with lily pads.  We entered and took a picture with the "guardian."  A woman gave us a lily pad with the water from the pond on it.  It was some kind of holy water...I'm not really sure, but I spilled it...oops!  As we went to leave the guardian kept touching my arm and asking for something.  He wanted to be paid for that lily pad!  20 rupees later...we were allowed to leave.

We knew a few of our friends were going to be eating at a restaurant called the Blue Elephant so we asked one of the shop owners where the restaurant was.  He pointed us in the right direction and we finally found our other two roommates.  They were on a street that we should have been shopping on the whole time!  We visited a few shops and I ordered a chudidar to be made to fit my body.  I bought several awesome souvenirs.  We stopped by the ruins for a few minutes and then hitched a ride by taxi to Ideal Beach.

Ideal Beach was exactly that, an ideal beach.  We paid about $8.00 to use their beach and their swimming pool.  We changed into our suits and dove right in.  It's not every day that you get to swim in the Indian Ocean.  Sarah and I had a grand old time playing in the water.  The rip tide was VERY strong so we didn't venture out past our belly buttons.  The beach was phenomenal, but the sand was less the kind.  The sand for the Indian Ocean is large and grainy.  We played in the water until our food order, french fries, and Miranda (yup, same stuff as Romania).  Delicious!  We order American food every chance we get!  We spent about an hour enjoying the ocean.  I felt like the newness of India has faded and therefore the shopping experience we had today was not as spectacular as it was in Pondicherry.  While we were sitting at the beach, I mentioned that the ocean had made my entire day.  Everyone agreed.  The ocean - its what it does...

After we had our fill of the beach, we bathed in the resort's swimming pool.  If I were to take a vacation in India, this is where I'd stay.  The pool was breathtaking.  The water was divine.  It was a much needed break from the sweaty lives we usually lead here.

We stopped for paratha on the way back to Rising Star.  We got home late.  The day was glorious!

Day 15 Complete

Firsts/Realizations: A bird pooped on Sarah's head.  Funniest thing that has happened all day!

Also, I was told that the snake from "Snake Wrangler" was poisonous today...yikes!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Leprosy Art

Day 14 - 26Jul2012

I was on construction rotation today.  The last time I did construction was the first full day here and after two days in a row of tutoring, I was ready for a break.  We headed out to a colony to work on installing a few bathrooms.

Our first job split our team up.  I was assigned to work with three paid Indian workers with two other volunteers.  Our job was to help the workers move the dirt they had dug up for the bathroom.  At first we formed an assembly line to pass the dirt in these huge bowls to each other.  The Indian workers didn't speak any English so eventually they just motioned to us where they wanted us to stand and where they wanted us to throw the dirt.  We worked liked this for a couple of hours.  To pass the time, the other volunteers and I started singing primary songs.  I know the workers couldn't understand us, but there had to have been some spirit surrounding those songs that they could feel.  I felt it.

About half way through this assignment, the little old woman who lived in the house we were building a bathroom for came out and talked to us in Tamil.  Since we definitely do not speak Tamil, we just acknowledged that she was speaking and she left.  When she returned she had orange sodas for us.  We were grateful for the sodas!  However, we soon realized that the glass bottles the sodas were in were not for the drink she gave us...Pepsi is not an orange soda...we drank them anyway even though they had probably been refilled because we didn't want to be impolite.  We figured that the carbonated water would kill anything that would hurt us.  It has been over 12 hours now and I have not had any symptoms...dodged another bullet...hopefully!

The art school.
We broke for lunch and enjoyed about an hour break to explore the colony.  We were able to visit the art school in the colony.  The art school is a place where leprosy patients can paint and then the school sells the paintings.  It is a great way for the patients to earn some money since most are not permitted to work anywhere else.  The wonderful thing about the art is that most paintings are done by patients that are missing fingers.  I bought a beautiful painting that I love and was able to meet the painter.  She is a beautiful woman.  I'll love that painting for many years to come.

After lunch we went back to work.  This time we used these weird shovels to shovel rocks into gunny sacks.  We then hauled the sacks to various houses for the bathrooms.  As always, it was extremely hot and I was extremely sweaty by the time we finished.  The work here is hard in a good way.  Romba Kaaram had a great time working today.

On the way home, we stopped at "the junction" for some of the girls to buy henna.  I saw a monkey climb down from the roof of the shop.  Scared me to death!

In the evening, I added my name to our portion of the wall.  Our theme is "It's All About Love."  Family time was really fun tonight.  I played a version of the card game "War" that I've never seen before.  The rules these kids make up are pretty cheeky.  It took me about 10 minutes to understand all of them.  It doesn't help when they try to explain it to me in Tamil.  And just when I think I understand, I'd make a move and then they would tell me I couldn't do that.  I kept telling them that I thought they were cheating and they'd just laugh at me...I think they were taking me for all I had.  I shuffled the cards at the end of the game and they really liked that.  I tried to teach Vicky how to do it, but his hands were a little too small.

Tomorrow we are going to Mamallapuram for shopping!

Day 14 Complete

Firsts/Realizations:  Everyone squats differently while using the squattie potties.  I believe my squatting technique is the most efficient.  Also, Top Ramen is the most delicious food item on the planet...right now. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lady Grinch

Day 13 - 25Jul2012

I was on education rotation again today.  I spent the morning tutoring kids in reading and math.  During math class tutoring, I met the most interesting of kids.  She goes to school at Rising Star, but does not live in the hostels.  She goes home after school in the village closest to us.  She is an albino Indian.  Her name is Nisha.  She has the whitest of white skin (even whiter than me, which is saying something).  Her hair is brown instead of black and her eyes are hazel instead of dark brown.  She is the most exotic looking person I have ever met because besides that, she has extremely Indian features.  She is a sweet girl and we sat and talked with each other during recess.  Two boys came up to us during recess to point out that our skin color matched.  I can only imagine how she must be teased here by the other kids.

I tutored Captain Karan today - yes, that it his name. :)  Funny name for a funny boy.  It must have been an off day for him because he did NOT want to read.  I also tutored Agalya.  We worked on phonics and every time she finished a page, I'd make my fingers into an "ok" sign and say "super!"  She loved that.  Such a sweetheart.

I had my first food dream during a nap today.  We were having a BBQ here in India - hamburgers, Dunford donuts, and seven layer dip (great combination!).  I was pretty upset in the dream because the chips were gone and I couldn't have any seven layer dip.  Needless to say, the curry tonight was less satisfying than usual.

UKG through II Standard (Kindergarten through second grade) had a fun craft class today during play time.  They did finger paintings.  Annu and Jayanthi picked flowers for my hair and we took some photos.  Several of the girls snapped some candid photos of just me which I love and others were not so candid ;)

During family time, I noticed a bug on my leggings and Sathish quickly killed it and made a funny noise.  I asked him what it was and he made a creeping motion with his fingers and pointed at his head...lice.  I thought for sure that I had it this time, but I was checked and I'm lice free!  Dodged another lice bullet ;)

Day 13 - Complete

First/Realizations:  The nickname "Lady Grinch" has stuck and all of the boys from Basha's house call me it. :( I did learn that it has to do with the outfit I was wearing a few days ago though and not for any other my attitude.  Because I've been most happy and content here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Serious Matter

Day 12 - 24Jul2012

I was on education rotation today.  Not my favorite of rotations, but I had a better time doing it today than I did last week.  I've gotten to know most of the kids now which makes tutoring fun.  Before heading to school, I was able to Skype with my mom.  She had some great news for me!  I've been accepted to the LSAC (Licensed Substance Abuse Counseling) program at the University of Utah.  I made her hold the letter up to the camera so I could read it for myself.  I'm really excited, but also really nervous to go back to school.  I never thought I'd go back to school after getting my bachelors.

I tutored mostly in reading today.  I was able to tutor my favorite girl, Jayanthi.  I know I shouldn't have favorites, but I do.  She is behind in her reading abilities, but it was fun to have her sound out a word and then recognize the word later on and read it without sounding it out.  Tutoring kids for five hours can be draining, but it is very rewarding.

It was too hot to play "catcher" during recess so I sat on the steps in the shade.  Jayanthi and some other girls talked to me about my face.  They wanted to know what the dots on my face were (freckles) and they touched my fake eyelashes.  Then the grooming began.  They went through my hair looking for bugs.  Lice is such a common occurrence here that all of the girls know how to do checks.  They didn't find any lice, but they did find a mole that they seemed quite concerned about.

I took my iPhone to play time...big mistake.  If I bring my camera or phone to play time, that is all the kids want to play with.  My phone is in one piece and working perfectly, it just causes drama.  For example, if I have the rule be that each kid can take five pictures, without a doubt one of the kids will break the rule and make the other kids upset.  That happened with Anitha.  She took 20 pictures.  And when I told her that wasn't fair and that she would not get another turn, she was upset with me.  Jayanthi came to me and pulled me away from the other girls for a "serious matter."  The "serious matter" was that Anitha was no longer going to be my friend.  Such drama with these girls!  I've decided not to take my camera or phone to play time from now on.  I'll just have to get pictures from other people.

Family time was better than usual for me.  I sat with a small group of boys and folded paper into those four square mouth you know what I'm talking about?  I used to make them in church with the sacrament programs.  All of the boys really liked that and I made one for each of them.  The boys were really mellow tonight.

I took my usual nightly shower, but the power went out.  It was out for about five minutes and I showered in the dark.  Power outages are common and happen multiple times a day.  They usually only last a few seconds, but sometimes it can be minutes.  I figure I haven't really taken a bucket shower in India if I haven't done it in the pitch black.

Day 12 Complete

Firsts/Realizations:  I feel like I've lived here forever and yet the days have gone by so fast.