Monthly Archives: June 2016

Weekend Road Trip to Puducherry

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Friday night, we hugged and said our goodbyes to Tracey and her daughter Meghan as they left for Nepal to do a little sightseeing before heading back home.  Early Saturday morning, the rest of us opted for a weekend bus trip to Puducherry, formerly known as Pondicherry.  Stephen shares that India continues to change names of cities to something more ‘Indian’ …  further establishing their independence from former colonies.  Puducherry was a French colony for hundreds of years and the streets still bear French names.  


 


Enroute, we stopped at a town of temples, Kanchipuram, one of the seven holy cities of India and the only Southern one.  Everyone walks barefoot along the streets connecting many of these temples … shoes are not allowed inside Hindu temples … Stephen had prepped us about wearing socks if we wished … most of us did :).  It was not particularly a goal of mine at all,  but I have now walked the streets or sat and chanted in the temples of three of India’s holy pilgrimage cities … Hardiwar/Rishikesh, Varanasi and now Kanchipuram … may necessitate a return trip to discover the other four πŸ™‚



We luxuriated at a great hotel for the night in Puducherry, enjoying a bit of space, reliable air conditioning, swimming pool, gym, spa and great food!  The twenty somethings of our group explored a bit of the night life near our hotel.  An evening walk along the beach of the Bay of Bengal, an early dinner was all it took to finish off the older generation :). We were all also slightly exhausted after a week of volunteering in the humid hot weather of Porur!  


We walked the streets of Puducherry in the morning, taking in the street scene and markets, walked in silence through a lush flower laden ashram, where folks sat quietly in meditation … pictures not allowed unfortunately for us but not for the community of meditators πŸ™‚ … it was quite peaceful and beautiful inside.  Hari om.   To cool off after our explorations we stopped at a streetside truck stop to savour freshly cracked coconut juice and pulp … delicious and refreshing!   



The bus driver took a different route back to Chennai on Sunday, part of it along the Bay of Bengal, facilitating a stop at one of the most surprising sights I have seen in India!    Acres and acres of rock carvings and formations at a town called Mamallapuram.  Some of these carvings are thousands of years old, amazingly not fenced off for protection, available to all for climbing, touching etc.!!!  I wonder why it hasn’t been declared a world heritage site?   We wandered amongst the rocks for a few hours, walking up to a light house in the midst of it all, for a better view.  So here I go, peeling of yet another historical layer of India I had no idea existed … this country continues to fascinate!   



As I sit at my iPad, attempting to document my time here, I find my mind wandering, wondering yet again, will I return??  I was sure that after six weeks, I would reach saturation point …. well, perhaps not just quite yet :)!!  Discovering more layers of this vibrant, colourful, welcoming, often contradictory and at times totally chaotic country may still be in the cards!  Volunteering added a whole new dimension and at some point I would love to go back and work with Stephen and Sheeba, the children and teachers at PRS school, or tutor young Augustine and Rohitkumar or any child or adult for that matter … all are welcome at my table.  



 Now if India would just do something about the garbage problem!  Read in the local paper that Prime Minister Modi is appealing to every citizen to take responsibility and clean up their own spaces!  There are trash bins and containers scattered about here and there and they always appear to be overflowing, proof that at least some are using them!!    India experiences major problems with flooding during monsoon, the drainage systems not being able to handle the onslaught of torrential rainstorms … possibly outdated systems that could benefit from an upgrade, but personally, I think a lot of the plastic and garbage overwhelms the drains and plug things up!  It is highly likely to be a major contributor!   Let’s hope this starts to improve under the Modi government … by all accounts they appear to be taking the initiative on this important issue.  

And so I bid adieu once again to India, savouring my last delicious mango feast at breakfast before flying home.  Vanakam.  

Porur, Chennai … on to something entirely differentΒ 

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After many years as Facebook friends, I finally meet face to face with Stephen Raj and his wife Sheeba, our Global In-Country hosts in Porur on the outskirts of Chennai! …. a delightful couple with a sweetheart of a chatterbox son, eight year old Rochon.  They instantly charm us right from that very first handshake, that so naturally and effortlessly shifts into a warm hug.  They are friendly, loving, giving people.  They have added Augustine, a ten year old boy who was once a student at Assisi Illam into their fold.  A very bright sweet child I would adopt in a heartbeat if I could :)!!!  Giving back to the dissadvantaged, the marginalized in Indian culture (and really …. they exist in every society, every culture!!) …. working at this job is as natural as breathing to this couple.  Inspiration from people such as Stephen and Sheeba, is why I in turn choose to do what I do here in India, reaching out a helping hand in some small capacity :)!!   I place much faith in small steps … I am not looking to move mountains and have long since come to truly understand and appreciate the value of Global’s objectives and goals of bridging peace and goodwill through volunteer postings around the world.   I am an itinerate nomad, a travelling global student and adding volunteering has been a most natural, appropriate and welcome addition to my travels.  Connecting with a heart wide open, sharing just a small part of ourselves, helps open the doors to understanding, friendship and eventually love and peace …. yes, highly idealistic goals from a long ago hippy generation and era but every bit as relevant today.   What I have come to know well in all these years, is that we are all one. Our circumstances and cultures may differ but our need for happiness, love, acceptance remain the same.   

Augustine … 


When I tenderly hold the tiny hand of an orphaned baby in a Romanian hospital, or take the time to talk and share a sandwich with a homeless person on the streets of my hometown Calgary, or share and laugh my way through a silly children’s song with adult students in Cuba, help out the barefoot students with spelling lists in Rarotonga, or discover a heart connection with the soulful eyes of an Indian child in Porur, I know that my tiny ripples of interaction matter.  

The rest of the team arrive at various times over the weekend, tired from long commutes.  We are a team of nine and bond within days as seems to be the case more often than not on Global postings.  Linda, once upon a time a litigation lawyer, switched careers and is now happily teaching at a high needs elementary school in Florida, Tracey a medical doctor and her teenage daughter Meghan, Caoimhe (Gaelic name pronounced Kiva) and her partner Thomas both college students from Long Island, Evette and her son Jonah from Delaware, Neha from California has an Indian background, will be visiting relatives in Mumbai after our post.  Within days, we are into the swing of tutoring high school, elementary and adult students, in addition to basic childcare with children as young as two at Assisi Illam … the pictures tell the story … the nuns, teachers and students are all so warm, welcoming and enthusiastic that we all effortlessly fall into a rhythm, making the learning as much fun as we can, incorporating song and dance, games and drawings :).   Evette, Jonah and I were invited to join in a grade eight yoga class … the teacher takes to us and when the students are dismissed, continues to teach us various meditation techniques!  Our team is spread out amongst a middle school and daycare/elementary school run by the kind Sisters at Assisi Illam for orphaned children or some whose parents simply cannot afford to put them in school or childcare.  Linda stays behind at our homestay guesthouse to tutor two young adults, once students at Assisi Illam.  We all agree that education is the key to rising out of a poverty cycle and help out as best we can, where we can.  Our days start with Rani fueling us with her delicious breakfasts of noodles, sambars, eggs, dosa, iddli, chutneys and various fruits … oh yes, mangoes definitely  :). … still in season until the end of June … horray!!  Sharing some photos of our time together .
Barnabas, our cheerful ‘go to’ guy, prepping banana tree leaves for a feast organized by Sheeba and Stephen one afternoon.  We eat only using our right hands, Indian style … the leaf is our plate …. 


The charming grade 8 ladies at PRS Middle School … 

Rohitkumar, my 8 year old evening student … took a bit of effort but I finally got him joking and laughing with me πŸ™‚

Evette doing her thing … singing her signature song …. ‘Sew’ … kids love it! 

 

Sweet cheerful math and science teacher Bhavana .. 

Stephen and Sheeba, our most awesome team leaders and hosts … 

Linda with her students ….




Evette, Jonah … Stephen, Sheeba and their son Rochon

I Have A Peaceful Easy Feeling …Β 

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Morning Kriyas, shortly after sunrise .. Ayurvedic start to the day …. nasal salt water neti pot flush, salt water gargle, rosewater eye flush πŸ™‚ … 


Cashew fruit with nut at bottom … loved unaltered fresh from the tree cashews!  Had a small bowl with breakfast every morning  … mixed with dates and raisins! I am not quite sure when this quiet stillness set in, but I like it!! … I guess a full month of virtual solitude, daily yoga, meditations, vegetarian food and the absolute quiet of Devaaya Nature Retreat will do that!!    It is a small place that could probably host up to eighty guests but during this monsoon off season period, rarely were there more than six or seven guests … at one point only a Swiss/Romanian couple, Max, Gabriella and I were the only guests.  Needless to say, the staff of fifty were doting on us!!  Divar Island, with about 7,000 friendly folk, is so removed from the rest of India … a calm oasis in the midst of chaotic crowds!   Everyone working at Devaaya also live on the island.   I feel as though I am on some alternate universe most days.  The owners keep all staff employed year round even though business slows to a halt for monsoon months, June to the end of September.  This generous policy makes for very loyal staff.  They are all busy repairing or working on maintenance projects during this slow time.  Winning formula!  

My cottage πŸ™‚


As anyone who meditates regularly is aware, a peaceful quiet moves in, much like cool fresh air replacing all the endless chitter chatter and preoccupations that generally take up residence in the mind … after a long meditative retreat, a quote by Leonard Cohen, comes to mind … “the less of me there was, the happier I became”.  He became bored with his own dramatic storyline and embraced what was around him instead …. I totally get that!!  We become so immersed in our own stories, our self absorbed lives that it is easy to miss the miracles happening all around us every day.  

On an evening walk I came across this happy lady fishing … no words necessary, just smiles

A veritable mini UN on my last day at Devaaya …. Daniela and Elsa from Italy, Mohammed from Saudi Arabia, Volha from Belarus, Saravana from Dubai and Canadian me :).   A family from Delhi arrived later in the evening.  Waiters Antonio and Mario never cease to put a smile on my face …. friendly funny guys … Mario knows some Finnish he picked up over the years from tourists, giving me an opportunity to practice mine :).  With Mohammed, I revived a few words of Arabic, surprisingly retained from my past life in Kuwait :)!! 



We were invited to join in a prayer session with the staff one evening … Christian prayer service in Sanskrit πŸ™‚ .. learned Volha from Belarus is a professional violinist! … she picked up the violin of one of the staff who had played for us as we chanted prayers and entertained us all further, playing the Beatles ‘yesterday’  beautifully!  



Most travel brochures of tropical Goa and India in general, do not show the garbage that line so many streets!  Few are comfortable discussing this problem … but impossible for a clean freak like me to ignore!   Everyone assures me there are government initiatives in place addressing this problem.  Devaaya, on the other hand, is spotless … the outside maintenance crew is always working hard, tidying, sweeping, picking up, keeping the retreat in pristine condition!    I take a few street pictures in the capital of Goa, Panajim … The Portuguese colonized this part of India five hundred years ago leaving behind a lot of very old churches … resulted in many converts to Christianity (build and they shall come) .  My pictures are not works of art but they are real street scenes.  I do not gloss, edit or attempt to make something over … I leave that to artistic photographers :).  My pictures are just ordinary … exactly what I see as I walk along ….. had a few guys offer me their sugar cane juice bought from a street vendor πŸ™‚


Max, Gabriella, Claudia (a young German lady who joined us at Devaaya for a week) and I exploring a tiny island beside Divar

An unusual abandoned bird nest … Max took it back to Switzerland with him … a bird watcher …


Scenes around Panajim, Capital city of Goa



An iconic view of Old Goa and below … ….. the garbage strewn area I had to stand in to get above picture 😦


A unusually clean Goa beach!   

I will surely miss this location for morning yoga πŸ™‚


And I will never tire of Alfonso or Mankurahd mangoes ❀️

Mohammed and Volha enjoying the sunset ….

Churches are full on Sundays in Old Goa … I sat awhile savouring …