Greetings from India

Well this is long overdue… While I haven’t been updating my blog I have been keeping a journal so I will bring all of you up to speed and then go into some more “detailed analysis” later.

RECAP

I’ve been in India now for just over a month and I cannot believe how quickly that month has gone by. It feels as though I’ve been here for much longer because I’ve adjusted so well and I’m very comfortable in my new milieu. My host family is amazing, to say the least. Roopa (my host mother) is so loving; I can go to her for anything - even on those days when I just need a hug! She’s wonderful. I couldn’t have asked to be placed with better people. There are no children, as Roopa’s only son has moved away to Chicago – and is expecting his first baby girl in September; very exciting – but the house is definitely bustling with people. There is Roopa’s husband, Ravi, his mother, Fenella, and two young nurses helping to take care of her, who I’ve grown really fond of. One nurse, Karthika, is the sweetest thing ever, and the other nurse, Subbu, is like a bigger sister to me. Since they don’t speak English very well the plan is to help them with their English, and in return, they will teach me Tamil - which is a bit of a stretch because the language, although it sounds beautiful, is quite difficult to grasp. My Canadian tongue cannot get used to the pronunciation of some of these words, but nonetheless, I’m trying! There is also a cook, Pavarthi, like the Goddess, whose cooking is simply divine! If I come back 20 pounds heavier, it’s because of her. Speaking of which, the food here is to die for! It’s so full of flavour, and while they have boasted about some dishes being spicy, I haven’t had anything that I couldn’t handle (I love spicy food; my parents cook with pepper all the time!) Some of my favourite dishes include: dolsa, especially egg dolsa, egg parotta, chippatti (roti), curd with rice, and biryani, which is basically fried rice, but it is one of the most popular dishes prepared in India; it is guaranteed you will have biryani at an India function/gathering. I guess I should mention that I have mastered the skill of eating with my hands! Yes, no more cutlery for me, just my right hand and my fingers to do all the mushing! In India, the left hand is associated with bad luck, so it’s uncommon to eat with your left hand, or to be left-handed in general. Luckily for me, I’m right handed and I really hope Jen is as well! The first week Ravi would hand me a fork and spoon at every meal. Then after a week or so of observation – there really is a skill that you have to master otherwise your food will end up all over the place – I went for it. Haven’t looked back since! What makes the food even better is that fact that it hasn’t made me sick, although last week I drank a bottle of water from Sudar ( I made the assumption that just because I volunteer there, the water would be kosher) that tasted strange and that did me in for a couple of days. And, like my dear friend Krista, I caught a ridiculous cold for a few days. But all’s cured now and I’m doing great.

OUTINGS

I haven’t been as adventurous as I thought I would be, but then again, I’m not surprised, I've always been one who prefers staying in. Besides, I find little things very adventurous here in India, like driving around town in an auto, taking the bus, walking through a village, walking around the neighbourhood – I find a lot of pleasure in these things because everything in Madurai is so different and beautiful. The funny thing is, what I find beautiful (like the many dilapidated buildings you see while driving around town) some would find grungy. I don’t know what it is, but seeing all the bustling people on the roads, the animals (cows, goats, dogs, bullocks - which make me nervous because I don't want them to attack me) roaming the streets amongst the people; its’ just so mesmerizing. I was driving on my way to Sudar in my auto and I saw an elephant! I almost lost it because I was so excited. I made him drop me off then went back to the street to take pictures and I touched its trunk! AMAZING!! It’s just been little things like that that make me excited and drawn to this country. I did go to the Gandhi Museum but I have yet to go to the Meenakshi temple. I’ve been in the vicinity, however, and saw one of the towers; even then it was quite fascinating so I can only imagine what my reaction will be once I see the temple up close and personal. It’s either the amount of time I have left, or my comfort level here at Roopa’s that has made me a little bit of a “home-body”, but like I said, that’s exactly how I am in Canada. Roopa has noticed this herself and I think she was worried that I wasn’t enjoying myself because I was spending my evenings with the nurses or reading. While she was correct in saying that I am a “home-body”, she need not worry about me not enjoying myself. I am having the time of my life here in India and I am loving absolutely every moment of it!

VOLUNTEERING

So remember in my last post I mentioned how I messed up on my presentation and presented information about Sudar instead of the orphanage where my placement was actually supposed to be? Well I’ve been volunteering at Sudar for the month of May because the girls in the orphanage did not come until June 7th. I was helping out with the Spoken English classes, and everyone was excited to have a Native speaker helping out in the class. I found it quite interesting that these girls have been learning English (grammar, literature, spelling, etc.) in school since they were 6 or 7, up until grade 12, but they were never taught, or given the opportunity, to speak English in class. They would simply learn and memorize an English paragraph and reproduce that material for the exam and forget it afterwards (sound familiar?). The girls also know how to read, but the comprehension is not there, so they have no clue what it is they’re reading. Talk about backwards learning. So the purpose of the class is to give them an opportunity to practice and become comfortable speaking English. Many a time the classes would veer into question & answer sessions about myself, my family and friends, and Canada, but it was for good cause because it was another way for them to practice!

Also at Sudar, I taught a work shop on resume writing. That was a very good experience for me; I’ve never seen myself as a teacher (I still don’t) but I really enjoyed being around the girls and teaching them something valuable. To be honest, I wasn't even nervous! And I usually am whenever I have to perform anything infront of people. I wonder, what is it about India that allows me to come out of my shell? I question I'll try to answer later... Anyways, it was great and I got a really good response from the girls and the staff at Sudar afterwards.

I’ve made some great friends at Sudar as well. They’re all younger, my sister’s age, but age has never been an issue with me. I can hang out with 7 year olds, 13, 23, 30, 40, you name it! These girls are all so bright and being able to connect with them and interact with them has been very special. They’ve showed me around, I went to Lady Doak College with a couple of girls to see if they got accepted (they didn’t know their application number so we didn’t find out the results), and I’ve even had the opportunity of going to one girl’s home and meeting her family :)

Now that the orphanage has reopened, I will not be able to spend as much time at Sudar, but I’ll make a visit there at least once or twice a week and spend time with the girls outside of the organization which is even more exciting, if you ask me.

On June 7th, I met with the girls at Kirubai Illam (Mercy House in Tamil), a YWCA orphanage set up for girls who have a family member that is, or was, affected by leprosy. I thought I enjoyed my work at Sudar, but once I stepped on the grounds with Roopa and was surrounded by 50 girls with beaming smiles on their faces and each one shouting their names at me, I was overjoyed. My heart just melted. There I will be continuing to put my English skills to use and teaching the younger children how to read (I'm trying to get them "Hooked on Phonics") and helping the older girls with reading comprehension and grammar. Right now, I won't lie, it’s a little difficult trying to teach young girls who are somewhat enamored by you. It’s exactly like Joanne predicted! I’m the new attraction for the time being so I’ll have 20 girls pulling me in every direction wanting to show me new things, they all want me to learn their names so I am constantly being quizzed lol (which really helps because after 3 days I know more than 3/4 of their names), and they’re always complimenting me and asking me questions that have nothing to do with reading! Needless to say, there are plenty of distractions and at times it gets a little overwhelming, so I have to put my foot down every once and a while. I’m sure after a week they’ll be sick of me and we can just focus on reading lol – at least I hope so. I will keep you updated on the progress because I know, for me, I could easily skip reading and just play with the girls - they’re that much fun. Overall, I couldn’t be happier!

Some pictures:


First Day of Spoken English Class


Going to the Exhibition with Subbu and Karthika


Ravi, his mother Fenella and Roopa


Girls I taught at the Resume Workshop


Pavarthi, Karthika & Subbu


Some of the girls at the Orphanage

The Elephant!!
The tradition: The elephant collects money, and in exchange, he taps you on the head with his trunk! Must be good luck!



Dhanapriya, Myself & Manimala; friends from Sudar


A Local Market

Until Next Time :)

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5 Response to "Greetings from India"

  1. Friendly planet says:
    June 14, 2010 at 6:42 AM

    ok,I'm so unbelievably jealous about the elephant I teared up when I read that part!!!

    I'm so glad you have decided to post, it's so nice to be able to catch-up on what's going on in your part of the world. I think that our experiences of orphanages might be similar we should compare notes at some point.... stay weel, and KEEP blogging!! ;)

  2. Krista says:
    June 16, 2010 at 4:46 AM

    Thank you for posting!! i was wondering when you were going to tell the world about your adventures!! I'm totally jealous about that elephant - but I know it must of been amazing :) I miss you and I wish we could share our experiences by being together - but for now, just keep blogging!! i will be reading! <3

  3. Joanne Benham Rennick says:
    June 18, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    You got an elephant blessing! How wonderful. That was a highlight for me too. You've got to get brave enough to go through Meenakshi - but go on a high energy day. It's a little nutty :) I'm so glad that you are loving being "mamma"ed by Roopa (told you so!) and that you are enjoying the girls. I'm also happy to see that the you have chosen to blog without any pressure ;)
    Stay well.

  4. Elyse says:
    July 8, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    Raquel!!!!!

    I am so happy for you.

    Seeing your pictures really bring me back. I got a letter from Roopa the other day and she wrote about how well you are doing

    Keep in touch :o)

  5. JennB says:
    October 19, 2010 at 9:44 AM

    Raquel!!!
    I read this before, but reading it from in the middle of it is so strange! im just about where you were when you were writting it, just over a month in and getting into the feel of things, is so neat!! the animals in the street are so crazy they are everywhere. and auto rides are fun but slightly terrifying! and YES! no matter how many times people tell me the food is going to be spicy it just tastes great and so full of flavour... though i do think i will be off rice for a while once im home :p ... There's nothing like it until you are here!! I saw a man riding an elephant down the street last week too! it was the highlight of my day! ahhh i cant wait to be home and talk about madurai! did you go cafe coffee day at all?? you must have, you were friends with kelly lol..!
    Hope all is well!!
    xoxox Jenn

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