Saturday, March 28, 2009

Links to India Pictures

Friday March 27

TGI Shookravaar. (Thank God It’s Friday)

It was evening and I was up in my room with Joe when Michael came up telling us we had to come down quickly with our instruments, that he had been invited into one of the (slum) homes in the lane. With guitar and dulcimer in hand we strummed down four flights and out onto the street and then a two minute walk into a one room shelter.  We had to crouch down to enter the small door and inside, a single bright light bulb illuminated dirty cloths hanging everywhere they could hang. Beds were stacked over each other, plus three bicycles which took up valuable space, rested near a small red fridge. Not much more personal possessions in this cave like dwelling were evident. Everything was dusty looking and cleanliness was not something that was being honoured there.

Mike sat on the floor with three young Indian boys.  I can’t tell you their ages but somewhere between 12 to 16 and one young girl of about 10.  Joe and I started up a song and we played it through for applause.  Then they all wanted to strum the instruments, to which we were most obliging.  One young boy asked me (non verbally) if he could put my dulcimer on is lap, which I let, and gave him my pick and let him experiment with the sounds while I soaked in the setting. 

A young father walked in with a three month old baby in his arms.  I stood up and stretched out my arms to hold the baby and he gently handed the child to me.  It felt like I was holding air, the babe was so light.  But she looked quietly, but intensely at the strange looking face with glasses and a beard and white skin smiling at her, trying to make sense of this apparition.  Mike also asked to hold the child and it was passed to him.  What a delight.

After letting the kids play for a while we left with this little spice of India in our hearts.

Music melts all the separate parts of our bodies together.
--Anais Nin



Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuesday March 24th

A typical day:

Mediation at 6am. Tai Chi around 7:00. Then breakfast on the roof of the ISI conference center.  An omelette and black coffee around 7:30am. Language classes start at 9am, but before that I am reviewing the previous day’s lessons. Anuji our teacher, who says she can’t say no, is going to take us all shopping tomorrow to the Dilli Haat government market.  Of course it will also be a language lesson.

A snack around 10:30am of a Limca (lime soft drink) or just water then back to playing with Hindi words and sentences.  Although I don’t think I’ve learnt that much Hindi in one week, some things are beginning to make sense. Maybe there’s hope yet.

Today I went with Mike and Mary to the VSO head office in a Delhi suburb.  They had some paperwork to do and I just tagged along to see the office.  It is a small office, in a nice neighbourhood, with small rooms with desks and computers stuffed nicely in each place. I continued to tag along with them to the Indian Foreign Registry Office where they had to “sign in” as foreigners.   It was a chaotic scene of people, colours and noise and I left them there as it was going to take a long time for the bureaucracy to take effect.  So the process of negotiating with an auto-rickshaw began and ended and I sat back for the ride home.

Towards evening, Noel (from the Philippines) and I went to the beer store and bought a few cans which we took up to the roof top (at our residence) with some nuts and Joe and his guitar for our own little party.  We each took turns on the guitar and played to each other while the hawks and other crow like birds landed nearby to listen.  Really there were at least six birds perched close by to us watching our every move.  Two of them deposited a small load on Joe.  Maybe they wanted the nuts. I need a bird book because I haven’t seen these kinds of birds before.

Mike climbed up to our roof top location to ask us to come back down to the street where he was heavily engaged with a few dozen of the local street kids.  He bought pens and paper and had them drawing while sitting on the street (where cars and motor bikes where weaving between them).  Crazy you say, but it is a shared space for all the various activities to happen such as cricket, basketball, music and more.  Joe went down with his guitar and I soon followed with my dulcimer.  All the kids wanted to do was to take our picks and strum the instruments.  They were all quite impatient to have their turns over and over again.  After about ten minutes, both instruments were way out of tune.

Darkness was coming up and Mike had lost most of his pens. The kids gave him their drawings and left.  I suggested we find some coloured chalk and let the kids draw on the roadway.

7:10pm and no one has had supper.  But we’re all quite satisfied.  Nevertheless, the routine of eating sets in and we walk to the local market (a misnomer) and buy some art supplies for the kids along the way before we have a quick meal at Gulabs. One of the merchants starts up a conversation with us and finds out who we are and what we’re about.  He tells me and Joe (as we are both going to Rajasthan) that we will be very hot there. Mike takes our leftovers (as always) from our meal and gives them to some people on the street. A word with the local parking wallah, who, as it turns out, could have used our leftovers and then it up to shower and then to sleep.


Keep away the wisdom which does not cry,

The philosophy which does not laugh,

and the greatness which does not bow before children.

- Kahlil Gilbran




Sunday, March 22, 2009

March 22

A week of language classes with our teacher Anuji.

“mera naam Mark hai” (My name is Mark.)

Not bad for the first week!

Anu is a wonderful person. I think she’s the happiest person I’ve ever met.

The weather is getting hotter and I’m drinking at least 3 litres of water a day. Breakfast is always an omelette, butter toast and black coffee out on the roof top of the International Social Institution (ISI).  Which reminds me, I last wrote I didn’t know what the ISI was about, but it is, as I have discovered, a center for social activism here.  There is the conference and classroom building (for our classes and lectures) and a residence building (where I live).  But many different activist groups use this facility such as for advocacy for the Dalit’s (untouchables) and tribal people, gender and human rights, work with HIV/AIDs, malnutrition, and a whole lot more.

Outside our residence is a mini slum along the laneway.  The local children often come up to us and help us with our Hindi.  Mike Rosencrantz (an American vol and basketball fanatic) bought a basketball and has been playing with the kids. Joe and I have brought our instruments down from our room and have played for the kids (and all the other adults that come around).  It’s hard to play because all the little kids want to pluck the strings and turn the tuning pegs.  But it’s fun.

We’ve all been figuring out where to shop and find things and where the best markets are.  Of course, we always pay too much for the auto-rickshaws when we go out. The drivers drive like it’s the Indy 500. We generally kiss the ground after every ride.  I’m slowly figuring out the driving culture insanity.

Joe, Cristina and I went to see the VSO doctor (Dr. Huzuria) to get our Rabies shots (which was highly recommended) on Friday (and we’ll have to go another two times for the rest).  Using a auto-rickshaw to get around is always an interesting venture.  The drivers know their local runs, but when you go more than 15 minutes away from their home base they inevitably get lost.  To their credit they frequently ask for directions, but they will also increase the fare if they’ve made too much of a blunder, as happened when we went to see Dr. Huzuria or our shots.

In any case I am never sure where I am while traveling around Delhi, the roads and traffic circles run in every and all directions and it’s hard to keep track of direction.

Yesterday (Saturday) our group went on a tour of Delhi.  From temples to forts and minarets and museums, we had a long hot day, but it was good to be inspired by the incredible sculpture, artwork and lives of the people long gone.  And of course all along the way we meet and talk with so many wonderful Indians.  It was nice being a tourist, but we did manage to show our passports with our work visas which allowed us to pay the Indian rate instead of the tourist rate for admissions.

Today, as you know, being my birthday, I’m going to catch up on my internet time and then do my Hindi homework.  This evening I’m taking the group out to Gulab’s for dinner.  It’s a vegetarian, second floor little restaurant with good food and low prices. For example, seven of us ate there last week and it cost 300 rupees, which is roughly $10 CDN.  Although, when I settle in and am only earning Rupees, I’m going to have to stop thinking in Canadian dollars.

Happy Birthday to Me.


"We can't solve our problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."  Albert Einstein



Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 15 2009

Sunday, a day off

I got up early to meet up with vols Kate, Judith and Mary to go to an internet cafĂ© that Kate liked. While sipping coffee and eating a really bad toasted bagel, I opened SKYPE to find that my friend Peta in Alberta was online and had sent me a message so I briefly called and spoke with her.  Then I noticed that Kerry in Kenya was also online so we exchanged some typed words. Christina was online too and she called me and we spoke for a while. I turned on my web cam and angled it to show and introduce her to the ladies at the breakfast table.

I called Katie’s cell phone but she didn’t answer so I left a message from her Daddy in Delhi. Our timing hasn’t worked out for speaking to each other just yet and I miss her.

I took a auto rickshaw back to the residence to find that everyone (all the vols) had left and I was on my own.  So I went out walking when I met up with Titou. He is a Sikh man and auto rickshaw driver.  His English was very good and he offered to take me on a tour of Delhi.  We talked about where we could go and the price and I got in and off we went to the first stop: Ghandi’s crematorium.  Titou parked on the main road and let me go in alone.  I was really lucky because as I got to the simple monument there were no crowds, just a couple of people.  So I stayed for about five minutes and then left to pick up my shoes and socks.  While there I felt a quiet mood come over me as I looked at the flame and flowers and thought about Ghandi’s life and his effect on all of us. At the entrance several bus loads of tourists were just coming down the walk.  I have missed them by minutes.  I was thankful for the quiet time with the great man.

Next we went to see a Jain temple in Old Delhi.  Old Delhi is different from New Delhi as it is the original city that did not have any planning.  Tiny twisty roads and an intensity of people, bicycle rickshaws and every other kind of vehicle were moving all together down narrow roads.

Titou parked and he took me into the white temple. Like the streets, the temple was also well attended. Titou paid our entrance fee and checked our shoes and socks in.  Along the way there were various places people stopped to touch the ground, a threshold or a sacred object to receive blessings and offer respect.  I took as many blessings as I could find. I felt very peaceful there.  Titou explained that at this temple, all religions were welcome, and judging by the variety of different types of local dress (costume) I’d say that there was a wide array of backgrounds.

Inside the temple there was music playing, harmonium, tablas and voice.  Many people were sitting on the floor while others were paying homage to the various Gurus pictured. I sat with Titou on the floor for about ten minutes just listening, people watching and feeling the calmness of the space.  Pictures online soon.

March 16: Language lessons started.  I wish I could say more, there’s so much to learn, especially just listening to the sounds of the words.  Anu, our teacher repeats in my ear a sound she wants me to make, I respond, she says no, we continue for several tries and I just don’t get it.  Maybe I will have to buy one of those hand held  translators after all.




Saturday, March 14, 2009

March 13, 2009

In India

Good News, my luggage arrived when I did. 

Going through Indian immigration was easy.

Two wonderful smiling faces,  Manmadha and Raj, with a VSO sign were there to greet me at 1:30am in the morning.

But I was not the first or last to arrive.  We waited for another 5 vols to arrive about an hour later.  Amongst them was Joseph Spence from Lancaster, England, a young lad of 20 who would be my room mate and the closest vol (volunteer) to me in Rajasthan. He’ll be in Jaipur.

We hit it off right from the start, he came in carrying his guitar and noticed my dulcimer on the cart.  We were jamming within a few hours.


We stuffed ourselves into a taxi with all our gear and meandered through corridors of darkness Delhi until we arrived at the India Social Institute.   I’m not quite sure what this place is but we have a small room about 8 feet by 12 feet, with two single beds, two wooden closets and a private WC with a shower (with hot water!).  And yes, the toilet is the chair, not the squat, kind. (pictures to see coming soon)

When we arrived at this rooming house, we were all given a first aid kit, mosquito netting, DEET, a stack of papers and maps to read through and money for the month. (I’m only here for the month after all.)

In the stack of papers was a lot of detailed information about what we will be doing for the next month, such as schedules for language classes,  health and country courses, and a whole lot more.  Plus all logistics that we need to do such as registering with our embassies, and the police and the Foreign Registration Office. And things like opening a bank account, the costs of rickshaws, where to eat, shop, and places to see.

Contact and emergency contact numbers were supplied and who are the people at the India VSO office and how to contact them. 

Actually there was a lot more information in the Volunteer Manual but I wanted to give you a quick briefing of the important stuff.

Joe and I couldn’t sleep so we unpacked and organized our gear and tried to read the materials provided. And we played our instruments softly together too. About 5am we decided we should try to get some rest before breakfast at 7:45am.  We tried but we only sometimes dozed off.

We were the only ones there (from the VSO contingency) for our (supplied) breakfast which consisted boiled eggs, toast, cereal, milk, coffee/tea (with the milk already in it) and bananas. I had to ask for some coffee without milk of course.

Then we decided to walk to a nearby landmark called the India Gate.  The temperatures were already rising and we were sweating before long.  Crossing the streets was insane and possibly suicidal.  But after about an hour we managed to get to the park where the monument was.

Some Indian guys were sitting on the grass in the shade and called us over to talk.  They were just interested in who we were and where we came from and had lots of questions of us.  As we left them two other guys asked us to pose for a photograph for them.  Somehow we had become the tourist attraction.

Then we decided we would stop a rickshaw driver to ask him if he knew where we could find some place to eat and take us there. It wasn’t easy to get one in the heavy traffic and when one finally stopped his English wasn’t that good and he claimed, like all the other rickshaw drivers, that his meter didn’t work and told us it would be 50 rupees to go to Connaught Place.  We started to haggle when another rickshaw cab came along.  The driver in the second cab spoke English well and told us it would cost 40 rupees so we got in with him.  If you’ve ever ridden a go-cart in downtown traffic (anywhere), that’s what it’s like to ride in one of these three wheeled motorised carts.

After being let off a young man came up to us asking if we needed a cab. But he stayed with us anyway and told us where a good restaurant was and where we could get a free map of Delhi from the government tourist office.  He also told me I look like an Indian.  That was the second time I heard that today.  Maybe my Tilley hat, camera and backpack gave me away.

After our first Dosai in Delhi we walked around before we haggled with another driver for a ride back to the residence.

The vol girls from the airport of that morning were just waking up when we got back.  They were going out and Joe and I decided to take a nap.  It lasted only five hours.

Later wee met up with the girls and went out to supper at an …. wait for it … Indian restaurant. I found an internet place on the way back and wrote a few quick “I’m here safe and sound” emails.

Joe and I gave a mini concert (based on the first jam we had in the early morning which turned out to be quite marvellous, Joe writes his own songs and is an accomplished player and singer)

So I’m off to do some more reading. Tomorrow all the vols get together to meet each other and some facilitators and discuss the upcoming events.

What a first full day.  And I know I haven’t told you everything!