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.