Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Elephant with a Capitol "E"

Day 4 - 16Jul2012

I have arrived in India!

We were picked up at the airport by a friendly Marriott driver.  We drove through the city to the hotel.  The traffic here is indescribable.  I can't tell that there are any traffic laws.  There are lanes, but no one follows them.  And all you hear are friendly honks.  In India, no one lays on the horn.  They just honk quickly twice to let you know they are coming.  And when they are honked at, they get out of the way. It seems the bigger vehicles have right-of-way.  I haven't seen any road rage either.

Once at the Marriott, my backpack had to go through a screening and I had to go through a check as well.  They used a security wand (is that what it is called?) on me!  I had no idea they were so tight about security.  We walked in and before I could say anything they said "Ms. Kelsey and Ms. Amy."  They already knew who we were!  We got to the hotel around 7:00AM and Rising Star wasn't picking us up until 10:00AM so we checked into our room for a few hours.  We took showers and then ate the continental breakfast.  And I finally got to email my family to let them know I was ok.  The food was great!  Mini pancakes, fruit juices, cinnamon rolls, and the most delicious strawberry yogurt I have ever had!  During breakfast, Amy and I started seeing other young American girls.  All were with Rising Star.  We made only quick introductions at that point.  Rising Star picked us up and we were finally headed to our compound.

The compound is about two and half hours outside of Chennai.  Along the way, we stopped at a small market.  I went inside just to see it, but didn't buy anything.  It smelled like rotten food.  We also stopped to exchange our money for rupees.  There are 54 rupees for every dollar.  Again, it was really fun to see what the money in India looks like. Like I said before, the traffic is crazy.  Amy and I actually reached out the window and touched a car next to us.  It was THAT close!

When we arrived at the Rising Star compound and got out of the van, I was blown away with the heat and humidity.  It cannot be described.  I am literally drenched with sweat as soon as I go outside (and I do not visibly sweat).  We walked to our home away from home, our hostel, The Elephant House.  A red elephant statue stands at the entrance.  We were greeted by the volunteer coordinators.  They handed us a string of flowers and our name tags.  We found our rooms.  Luckily, Amy and I were put in the same room.  Our rooms are simple; burnt orange tile flooring, a simple desk, built-in shelves, and four bunk beds.  The matresses are only about five inches thick.  However, we do have air conditioning (yay!).  Although there are four bunk beds (sleeping eight), our room only has four girls in it.  The Coconut Room sleeps Amy, Sarah, Cassie, and myself.  Apparently, the other girls will arrive later.
The Elephant House
After we settled in, we met in the center of the Elephant House and had orientation.  They basically just went through all the rules and gave us a tour.  We have a nice kitchen and bathroom.  Our bathroom contains squatter toilets (and one western toilet for emergencies only), which is exactly what it sounds like, I squat to use the toilet.  And then I fill a bucket with water and empty that into the hole as well to kind of flush.  I have no problem using a squatter.  I've got squatting skills from CrossFit (Vanakkam CrossFit family! - that means "Hello").  I also use a bucket shower.  I'll break it down.  I fill a big bucket with water and then I use a little bucket to pour water onto myself.  It conserves water and feels amazing in this heat!

After orientation we were able to go meet and spend play time (PT) with the kids.  The kids are amazing!  They are so outgoing and friendly!  They just run up to you, often jumping into your arms yelling "Auntie!"  And then they want to know what your name is.  I have a name tag so most of them can read it.  I am "Auntie Kelsey."  PT time is an hour and half.  We get to do whatever we want with the kids.  Most of them want to play tag or get pushed on the swing set.  I often play hand games with them.  They love my nail polish and my watch (it has a light feature).  They also ask random questions like what my parents' names are or when my birthday is.  Another very common question they ask is "When you leave?"  They want to know how long I'll be here.  One thing I've learned already is that I have to let go of my insecurities and really be present with these kids.  I knew it would be a challenge, but I love every minute of it.

After PT time, we had dinner.  The dinner was delicious.  I don't know if that was because it was truly delicious or if it was because I was starving (I didn't get to eat lunch that day).  Either way, it was amazing.  The fruits and veggies here are to die for, especially the bananas.  They are little, but pack so much flavor.  After dinner, we went back to the kids' hostel for "family time."

During family time, the volunteers help the house mothers settle the kids down for bed.  The school here is like a boarding school so the kids do not go home after school.  Instead, they live in "houses" with about 15 kids per house.  They also have a house mother who looks after them.  I was assigned to one of the boy houses.  The first time I went to family time, I expected to read to the kids.  Instead, they were reading to me!  The kids are so bright.  Then the song requests started.  I am NOT a singer, but I sang.  This totally got me out of my comfort zone.  But the smiles on these kids faces are worth it.  After an hour of family time, it was time for the kids to go to bed and it had been a long day for me as well.

I took my first shower and put my dirty clothes back on.  I emailed family for a few minutes, but when my head hit my pillow, I was out...

Day 4 Complete

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