Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Another day in class

Joe demands that his students respect him. Rinky and Sahida are two of the deaf students we work with in the morning.

This is Day One of Joe and Rinky's mural. Rinky is also an artist an works as a beautician in the afternoons.

One of the classes in the slums. They can really pack in the peanuts.

The title of this educational poster is "Digestive System". Every day hundreds of children choke in India because of posters like these. I tried to cross the title out with a marker but my marker died.

We teach afternoon English in one of those rooms like you see in National Geographic. Thrilling!

Joe teaches multiplication to three of the girls while the other two work with Mia on addition.

Pooja says, "Thanks for teaching me math, Mia. You are a great teacher!" You can't hear it though because she says it in sign.

Joe always teaches with a grin instead of an ear twist or a karate chop. The girls have thanked him for that repeatedly. However, they are more than willing to slap each other around for anything from a sassy comment to a wrong math answer.

Deeponker helps Joe get the anatomy just right on a nudie drawing instead of either of them paying attention during English conversation class.

Chandan concentrates on a question written for him by Mia.

Mia uses a drawing done by Joe and Deeponker to explain some things to Sanjay.

Everyone in our morning class loves to watch everyone else work and then give them a good neener-neener if they screw up. Preeti, Pooja and Mia all hold their breath and ready their insults while Sahida works on a timed multiplication problem.

Mia rests her feet after another long day of teaching.

A glimpse of India

It is scary going into other countries and looking around at the children, knowing one day you very well may have to face them on the battlefield. India is going to be a tough country to beat.

Cows are everywhere. They stand in road medians, eat garbage off the sidewalks, and generally act like they own the place. It is perfectly acceptable to give them a good pat as you pass them on the street.

A boy proudly displays a chicken in the slums.

Joe steals people's laundry to sell on the streets. He is like the opposite of Santa.

This is Joe number 'do'. He looks and acts very similarly to Joe number 2 in Tucson. 'Do' means two here.

This is the Indian equivalent of eyebrow waxing. The hair is ripped from your body by rapidly spinning thread. Mia put herself up for display while this beautician taught her class this age old art. Her assistant gouged Mia's eye because Mia was squirming.

Boys run over from a mid-afternoon game of cricket to say hello. Mostly everyone here carries around a cricket bat all the time because an impromptu game can break out anywhere.

Mia pulls a Vanna White in our bedroom. It's a few steps up from our other bedrooms this trip. The room actually changes itself to match your outfit!

This powder is used to make the dots or 'bindis' on people's foreheads. I use it to make clouds of red dust into which I disappear at the end of my street magic show.

This is a view through a door.

Our first day out in Delhi. There are so many things here!

This little girl LOOOOVED to touch Mia's leg while Mia was trying to teach.

A street side fruit stand.

The Baha'i Lotus Temple.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


(by Mia)

Joe and I are still in Delhi and still absolutely LOVING it. It's crowded and dirty and hot and colorful and chaotic and crazy and I think the most all-around fascinating place we've been so far. There are just people doing things everywhere you look. A barber shop that is just a chair by the side of the road and a mirror nailed to a wall, and a guy standing there shaving another guy- right alongside the 4-lane highway!! Or the Indian equivalent; they don't really do "lanes" here. And inches from this barber shop is a juice stand, one guy with about a thousand pieces of fruit and a blender, potential customers trying to push through the herd of passing holy cattle that has decided to graze on discarded mango peels right in front of the stand. Every business here has a sign that looks like it was constructed from discarded scrap metal and painted by a kindergarten class, and then shot with a few dozen times with a bebe gun. Next to the juice shop are a couple teenagers stirring a huge vat of boiling milk over some hot coals and burning garbage. Women are lining up with their pots and pails and pans in which they'll take their milk home and boil it again, just to be safe. Weaving through the cars and rickshaws and motorbikes and pedestrians is an old man on a bicycle pulling a wooden cart of various rubbish, calling out what sounds like "BARAAAYA!" in a kind of sing-songy chant. He buys and sells anything and everything people no longer want, and goes through the crying out this same appeal, a kind of super-convenient traveling garage-sale.

The slums are wild, picturesque in a kind of fascinatingly horrible way. All the ramshackle houses are painted different colors, vibrant teals and yellows and deep deep reds. Once you enter the slums the passageways are barely wide enough for two people to pass each other, yet residents of course have their goats and chickens and everything in there, crowding the lanes narrow lanes, already flowing with human waste and garbage. Yet it's oddly beautiful too. Even in the slums, women dress in ornately decorated saris, covered in tiny mirrors and rhinestones and jewels, layers of flowing pants under skirts under shawls and silky decorative scarves. We pass shrines everywhere we go, little pockets of sanctity carved out of walls or tucked into corners. Miniature images of deities and portraits of saints, where businessmen will put down their briefcases and pause to pour yogurt over the head of a goddess and light a candle in prayer. And there's so much more. I could go on and on.

We're living with the founder of a nonprofit that does outreach to kids in the slums, providing them with classes and tutoring and food and clothes and sometimes scholarships too. Joe and I are teaching a conversational English class to the teachers and math/English/speech class (depending on the student) to a group of disabled girls. From what we've gathered, the public schools here basically have no infrastructure to accommodate students with disabilities, so they're either not permitted to attend, or they're allowed into class but aren't given any special help, so they quickly fall way way behind. Our students have a huge range of problems and are at all different levels in their formal education, so we have to create different lesson plans for each student every day. Today I was teaching very basic addition to a deaf 10 year old and learning disabled 19 year old, while Joe worked on multiplication with 2 deaf teenagers and an 11 year old girl who's lost the use of her legs as a result of polio. Joe's also working on a mural in one of the schools with a very talented deaf girl who's dubbed herself his apprentice, as well as starting up general art classes with another volunteer.

P-WHY runs a women's center as well, a home for women who have had to leave their families (usually because of spousal abuse) as well as a vocational school for women in the slums. I had the girls in the beauty class do my eyebrows the other day. They use a piece of string, twisted in the middle around a finger and held with one end in the hand and the other between the teeth of the beautician. She then uses her thumb to gouge the eye of her client (in this case, me) to keep the skin taut, while quickly tightening the twists in the string and in one quick motion -- ripping out the eyebrow hair by the root. It's painful but very effective.

The house we're staying in is amazing. The founder of the organization and her husband have spent a lot of their lives abroad, as have their kids. Anou is beautiful and well-traveled and politically active and spiritual in a new age, yoga, businesswoman/advocate kind of way. And her husband Ranjin is the quintessential Indian Colonial British gentleman, with his scotch and cigars and love of Elvis Presley music. He'll gather us all into the "drawing room" or whatever after dinner and play old rock and roll and quiz us on who sings this and who sings that, and then scold Joe and me for not knowing our own cultural heritage. And they have servants. I know Joe wrote about this is the last blog, but WOW! It's just so, well... foreign to us. Even now I can hear a faint voice in a far away hallway calling out, "Deepak?! Chanda?!" Joe just bought a used motorcycle, and he and Deepak spent yesterday afternoon cleaning and polishing it (Deepak's idea), two very excited boys with new toy. They're making big plans for when Joe's good enough to carry passenger's- how they'll go down to the milk shop together and back. Watch out Delhi!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Welcome to India

Hey Everyone,

We are now in (New) Delhi, India. We arrived on the 4th of April after a great few months just hanging out in Malaysia (which I still need to write about, hopefully soon). We have hooked up with an NGO here called "project WHY?" Don't ask me what it means because I don't know.

Our initial introduction to India was great. No hassles at the airport and a great hotel for a great price on our first night here. We got such a good nights sleep. We woke up in a neighborhood in central Delhi where the narrow streets are filled with poop and mud and trash and cows wandering around eating the mixture of poop, mud and trash and motorbikes and tractors are swerving around hoards of colorfully dressed people who all dress like they are straight out of the 70's. The 3 -4 storey buildings that lined the roads each have their own individual architectural style. Wonderful.

After our single night stay in a touristy little area we got in touch with the project creator named Anou and set up a plan to meet her at her house. On the way we met a man named Romeo who was very helpful and even offered to let us just rent a room in his home for the three months we are here. We went to check it out but found it was too crowded. That seems to be a problem here in India. I have never seen so many people in one place before. On a 30 minute walk back and forth from Anou's to Subway (yes, the American sandwich chain) I estimated that I saw 3,000 human beings. That's too many. How can I possibly get to know all these people and memorize their names.

We are now staying in the home of the project creator as I mentioned. It is a 3 story mansion in the Chirag Enclave which is, from what I gather visually, a very wealthy neighborhood. We are staying on the second floor in our own spacious room with satellite cable, an attached bath and a king sized bed. The home has a styling that makes it seem like it was left over from British occupation, though it was build much more recently. It has high ceilings, many sitting and music rooms and multiple marble stairways so you never feel like, "Ugg, THIS stairway again!" The decor is sort of Old Fashioned World Traveller. Many paintings and photos of Prague, a hall full of African relics, another hall fill of Indian portraits. In the music room there is a giant tiger skin rug tacked to the wall next to a black and white photo of the tiger laying dead in the grass near the proud hunters.

Anou's husband Ranjin recently quit his job to pursue his life's dream. Can you guess what it is? That's right! He wants to open his own air cargo shipping business. Don't worry, I didn't guess it either. However, as of yet he has not opened it so he can be seen coming and going throughout the day in an assortment of different outfits suited to his activities. A fancy smoking jacket, a golf outfit, a Quality Lubricants polo and slacks. I was confused by the Venetian gondola paddler outfit but felt it better not to ask in case the real answer was less exciting than my own imagined answer. He often sits in the music room and plays the piano. The music washes through the old house and drapes everything in a sort of forgotten era feeling. He is a great piano player. Mia threw me under the bus and said that I also play piano so he spent an afternoon trying to get me to play, but I only know like a third of one song and I can only play it with the notes taped on the keys so eventually he gave up.

We also have 4 full time servants in the house who clean our room, cook for us, do our laundry, and will perform any other task you may need. Do you need some tea? Just yell, "TEA!" at the top of your lungs. Same with, "TOAST!" If they don't have the ting you want in the house it will be there within ten minutes. If it is something more complicated just yell the name of the servant who best suits your needs. If you don't feel like getting up off your bed to plug in your laptop with the dying battery yell, "DE-PAK!" Depak will arrive shortly and plug it in. Don't feel like dressing yourself? "CHO-PRA!" She get the job done.

Andy, the recently self appointed volunteer coordinator, took Mia and I out on our second day here to the Baha''i Lotus temple near the house. It was a very impressive temple when we first toured it... but then we went to the visitor center on our way out and watched a movie on how they built it. This thing is like 150 feet tall and looks like a giant marble lotus flower rising from the ground, totally hollow in the center, surrounded by pools of water. Turns out they built the whole thing using tools like a stone tied to a stick and just a plain stick with no stone at all. The movie of it under construction looked like a 70's film about the building of the great pyramids or something. Wowza!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Petting tigers

Hey, I don't know why I didn't put these up earlier. Probably because I was too busy running through the streets at a full gallop yelling, "Did you all see that?! We just petted us some TIGER!!"