Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Challenge of Living with Integrity

"Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty"

"A concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcomes. In western ethics, integrity is regarded as the quality of having an intuitive sense of honesty and truthfulness in regard to the motivations for one's action. Integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy in that it regards internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs."

Living in India has caused me to think a lot about integrity and what it means. I have to say that I don’t see a lot of integrity in the world, I get a lot of empty words, which leads me to have a lack of confidence in others. Promises are made but typically they are not followed through. It seems that there is a great deal of short term memory loss, selective forgetting or just saying whatever comes to mind without feeling truly responsible for following through. Self-accountability seems to be non-existent in our world with people hardly admitting and taking responsibility when they may have done something wrong.

Integrity is a core value in my life. It has always been this way but has become even more so as I’ve matured. If I say something, if someone sends me an e-mail, if I say that I will do something, I follow through. I don’t make empty promises, say that I will do something, if I cannot. But all too often I find that others say things or ignore an e-mail and don’t think anymore about this.

I have many examples from India, the most recent being a colleague saying that they would visit me, while I was sick in the hospital. I talked to the person about one hour before they said that they would come. They never showed up, never called to just say “sorry”, nothing. (One other person who said that they would come, didn’t, but did call late the next day to apologize). During the work day things are said but action is not taken and if I don’t remind people of what they are supposed to do nothing happens. Just look at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games and the utter lack of integrity on the part of those involved with planning and implementation. It is really so very sad to witness. Consistently empty words.

Examples also come from the U.S. and other countries as I send e-mails looking for information, with sometimes there being no response, and other times people promising to get back to me. This comes not only from acquaintances but also family and friends. (Is it just a discomfort and so instead of responding people just ignore? Or is it by ignoring that it just goes away or is it just a general lack of respect for others?) Yes, life happens and I’ve observed that people become so inwardly focused on their own worlds that they just can’t see anything else. It saddens me to see what I perceive as a basic selfishness, but possibly it is more about being unaware or just feeling so overwhelmed that it is impossible to deal with a bigger picture.

My birth country is so full of people lacking any kind of integrity and honesty. One can see this in the current election campaigns, in the selfishness to do anything, including lying, to get oneself elected. Forget ethics and values, forget any real core beliefs except that one has to believe in “God” and live under Judeo-Christian values. Unfortunately most of the people espousing how religious they are, have little understanding of what this really means. It translates to an intolerance of others, leads to divisiveness and ultimately ends in more lies, dishonesty and cheating others.

Even though I’ve become more of a talker in life, as I feel that there is much to say and I’m not shy, I’ve listened, observed and seen integrity in some others. There are some relatives and friends who seem to possess integrity as one of their core values, some colleagues, but there are not a lot of people who really practice the consistency that it takes. The people who possess integrity, who tend to see the bigger pictures are the ones that I would trust with my life.

We seem as a global society to be so far past ever really being able to get back to any kind of real integrity to save ourselves from ultimate destruction. Our relationships lack integrity and one really has to wonder if there are any world leaders possessing this as a core value.

I will not waver in practicing integrity as it is too important. I will continue to look for those who are aware and also practice this value. India continues to challenge and teach me what I want and what I don’t want in life.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

October A few thoughts

Let me write about a few things, things I’ve been thinking about. For the past three weeks I’ve had chikungunya. I’ve had four blood tests to finally identify this rather painful viral thing brought on by a mosquito bite. For me it started early the morning of September 11, when I tried to make my way to my bathroom, about five steps from my bed. I could hardly drag my aching lower body into the bathroom. My head was spinning and I had a fever. After being tested three times for dengue and malaria and more than two weeks of foot, right thumb and left wrist pain, I tested positive for chikungunya. At least I know what to call it and for now, my thinking of having to deal with arthritis for the rest of my left has been alleviated.

The Tyagi family whom I live with has been so very helpful, feeding me at times, taking me for my blood tests and to my doctor. I think, like most Indians, they just feet it is what they do and they don’t easily acknowledge my “thank you;s”. But I don’t really know what I would have done without them.

The worst part of painful feet is the inability to exercise which has meant no basketball. I can’t imagine my world without the sport, i.e. coaching and playing, but for now it is enough to know that I will eventually recover and hopefully play with President Obama when he comes for a visit in November. (I’ll definitely have to clean my flat prior to that).

I’ve been dragging myself into work, but after I sit for a spell, my putting any weight on my feet to walk is quite painful. So I lean on something for a minute and walk through the office. I’m sure that my colleagues think that I’m a bit crazy and should just stay at home, but…..

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about the Commonwealth Games, that bright, shining moment for India to take its rightful, leadership place in the world. Unfortunately, this just won’t happen, based on so many things, e.g. corruption, ineptitude on the part of officials, waiting until quite a long time to actually build the stadiums, the Delhi rain, the unwillingness of anyone to take responsibility for the issues that have arisen. One can read about the filthy conditions at the Games Village, the collapse of an overpass leading to one of the stadiums, the number of volunteer that picked up their 12,000 rupees games package and then decided they didn’t really want to volunteer.

Yes, I’m going to a semi-finals boxing match with Binesh as I want to see what this is all about. VSO had indicated that they don’t want us anywhere near the games and I understand this based on potential terrorist attacks. But as Binesh has indicated, they (terrorists) like boxing so there is no problem. Anyway soon to become part of my India experience.

I am saddened though by the Commonwealth Games. Delhi has been cleaned up as there are police and soldiers, with real serious looking guns, everywhere. There are new plants, flowers and the area near Parliament and through to India Gate, do, in fact look quite lovely. The ultimate issue though is once all of the glitter is gone, will anything be maintained?

This is a major issue in India. People’s memories are very short and things tend to fall apart. (We may never know how much was actually spent on the Games, but an article in the Times of India on August 9 states that 28,054 Crore was spent. But this is from August and the final tally will most likely be much higher. How much of this went into the pockets of people connected with the Games, we will probably never know this). The police and soldiers will disappear and go back to their regular assignments, the plants will die, the stadiums may or may not be kept up. Are there funds for maintenance, given what I’ve seen, most likely not. What then is left?

The poverty that is inescapable, people just wanting a few rupees to feed their families. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of hope, but in reality what percentage of the population is this? Poverty runs rampant in India, there is no doubt about this in my mind from what I’ve experienced. But what is the actual percentage of the population that struggles to have enough food? We may soon find out from the 2011 census.

Finally, my little pal Golu, who will be four soon has lost her favorite friend and playmate as Momo has gone to England to be with her parents. This means that Golu has been spending a lot of time in my flat. The usual thing is that I get home from work, she follows me upstairs, asks for bread and/or biscuits with peanut butter and jelly. Golu sits on the counter next to the toaster as we get the bread ready for her. We then proceed to either do paint on the computer or watch Mr. Bean animated cartoons.

Before this I had never watched Mr. Bean. What a horrible “role model” for children to see. He is selfish, uncaring and very unconscious of his actions. Comedy, possibly, but he is only out for his own fulfillment, talking to his teddy bear and treating it as if it was alive.

Where does this leave me? Sitting on the couch listening to and downloading music waiting for my feet to stop hurting so that I can play and coach basketball. I’m looking forward to that day.


I've been working in the Disability Sector since I arrived in India in March 2009. I've conducted numerous workshops throughout India, doing my best to build individual and organaisational capacities. Although, I've met numerous people who are living with disabilities and working in this Sector I have only recently started to feel what it might be like to be living with a disability.

On September 10, I went to bed with no problems after a typically hectic week. Before I fell asleep, I thought about playing and coaching b-ball on Saturday. I awoke during the early morning of September 11, and I could hardly get from my bed to my bathroom, about 5 steps. My legs, feet and part of my back were in total pain and I felt as if all of my former basketball injuries had somehow decided to hit me at the same time. I had no appetite and my head was spinning. I called Dr Hazuria and he recommended a blood test. Fortunately I live with a family that has adopted me and they gave me food and took me for what turned out to be three blood tests over the course of one week. They also brought me to see Dr. H. As it turned out I did not have malaria or dengue but some type of viral infection. However, two weeks later I still am having pain in my feet and right thumb.

I missed six days of work, which is totally unheard of for me and basically laid around from September 11-20.

As I try to search out the positive, the lessons, I've found that I can't resist what is happening in my body and need to just go with it, but more importantly I've developed an appreciation for what it might be like not to be able to walk, be in constant pain and having to depend on others. I realize that it takes quite a bit of courage and persistence to get around Delhi if one has trouble walking. As I've gone back to work, I've changed my regimen a bit, not walking as much, but still taking the bus and metro. Just getting on the buses is so very difficult, due to the steps being very high and the drivers typically not waiting for people to board. Getting to the metro platform can also be quite difficult, although there are some lifts.

The major point is that although I hope to get back to basketball, normal walking for me and moving around without any pain, I now have more empathy for those living with disabilities. I don't think that it is easy for anyone to live in Delhi, but add to that, having crutches or being in a wheelchair and it must be overwhelming. There are very few barrier free anythings. I'm glad to be able to do my small piece in the Disability Sector and can now say this with some further understanding of the population that I'm working with.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Capacity Building

“You’re living in a place you left behind, going around in circles all the time, can see the way your head, it’s like your blind, so open your eyes and…time realigned just what you got, you fall asleep and then the moment’s gone, so open your eyes….You’re always looking over your shoulder.. Keane, Looking Back

Listening to my new favorite song by Keane and K’Naan, sitting in 1-A, my own private compartment with nobody else here, on yet, another delayed train, this time from Patna to Delhi. It’s 2:30 PM and I should have been in Delhi hours ago, but now hope to get in by 7 PM. The train was delayed to start with, should have left Patna at 7:10 PM, it finally got to the station at 9:30 PM on Platform two, instead of three, and we sat on the train until 10:35 PM when it finally left the station. Once the train left, the conductor looked at, what I thought was my 2A ticket, and said you’ve been upgraded. What joy, a big compartment, with only one other person, this is the way to travel.

I contrast all of this with poor Len, who left Patna around 8 PM, on a train that was due to take at least 40 hours, with no a/c, no fans, a sauna, and with no confirmed berth to herself. The train will most likely take more than two days. I can’t talk to Len because my phone has no rupees left. In retrospect she should have come to Delhi with me and then taken a train from there.

But, it’s India, expect the unexpected and be prepared for adventure, no matter where you are in this remarkable country. (We’re riding through very rural areas and I just spotted a dirt b-ball court).

Len and I have just spent a number of days together, co-facilitating workshops in Ranchi, Jarkhand and Patna, Bihar, two very poor states, somewhat politically unstable, with lots of poverty, and with Naxalites having a stronghold in many areas. Three other VSO pals-Efren, Manny and Mabel also attended the workshop in Ranchi and were actively involved. I have to say after doing so many solo workshops, it was great fun to have my VSO friends involved and adding to the workshop experience. I picked up a few exercise in Ranchi which I added to the Patna workshop, some more hands on activities that really helped to drive some points home regarding strategic planning.

I continue to love this work, and although I use power points, which I’m always revising, I’m constantly having to think on my feet, revising what I do based on the level of the participants, who might be co-facilitating with me and the necessity of translating what I’m saying into Hindi. (Now passing some mud huts, lots of green fields).

I keep thinking how there is so much more of India to see and experience, especially through the work that I’m doing, capacity building. I think about the moments of total happiness that I’ve experienced from the most seemingly mundane things and about living in “foreign” countries for the rest of my life and what this might mean for my relationships.

But, in reality, what is capacity building? I think about this a lot as it is at the core of what VSO volunteers do. I haven’t come to any final conclusions about this, but it is in some sense helping to build confidence in individuals so that they can take risks and think about how to expand their horizons. I not only encourage and motivate people to build their capacities, but in fact, I’m building my own capacities.

I do this through the openness that comes from the joy, sorrow, anger, grief, bliss of having lived 53+ years on this planet. As with anybody who has lived this long, my wounds run deep and I do, at times, experience this depth. But the fact of the matter is that the wounds have also helped me to come out of a “shell” that we all tend to build around ourselves, based on our life experiences.

In the capacity building workshops throughout India, more than 15 to date, I squirt just about anybody with my “holi” Nemo fish water gun, encourage people to do Bollywood dancing, ask people to stand and stretch and do the “lion”, all of the time watching others come out of their shells and engage in the work that we’re doing. Of course there are still those who don’t turn off their cell phones and have conversations while we’re working, totally ignoring everybody else in the workshop and I’ve actually taken some of those phones but haven’t had the guts to keep one yet.

All of this though is about building relationships, about laughing together, about sharing different ways of doing things. While in Ranchi and Patna, Len and I had conversations with at least four people, three of them women, about arranged marriages vs. love marriages. This goes so far below the surface of our skins and has helped me to see the complications and depth of this institution in India. (As I tend to do when I feel close to someone I hug many of the workshop participants when we part ways, because I feel a connection and I also know that I may never see these people again. Recently one woman sent me a text stating that this was the first time that a man had hugged and kissed her goodbye. She said that it was joy for her. How can we not part ways by showing our affections towards one another if this is the result?)

Helping others to develop, providing opportunities for others to build their capacities is something that we all do, and VSO has helped me to become more conscious of this. In many ways though I’ve always been doing this whether in my professional or personal life.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Package that May be Bomb

Yesterday, I started the morning off by again going to my favorite dentist, Teena. The last time that I had seen Teena was the morning when my wallet was stolen. I was on my way to see Teena when I discovered that the wallet was gone. As I paid her back the 60 rupees that I had borrowed, in order reimburse the cost of my auto rickshaw ride on that fateful day, she told me about how “bad” things happen in three’s. (I had also just told her about getting bit for the second time by a dog on the previous Saturday. Does this mean that I’ll get bit one more time by another dog?) So another filling refilled, pain, but ok at least another dental visit was complete.

When I arrived at my office I was told that a package was waiting for me at the post office and that I had to get it. But once I told the office staff that there might be chocolate, mysteriously the package soon appeared. I shared some of the peanut butter pretzels which people loved. The package was from my friend Cindy in the US and she had sent some Trader Joe’s stuff and presents for the children in my home. The cost for mailing, I think, was probably more than Cindy had spent on the package contents, but that is Cindy, a dear, dear friend.

In the evening I was committed to going to a wedding, somewhere in East Oshkosh, as we say in the US when a place is out of the way, and my office colleagues and I had to take four metros which took 1.25 hours and then we walked for some time after getting off of the metro. One of my colleagues carried the precious package the entire time. We got to the wedding around 8, and I was ready to eat. The invitation called for dinner to be served at 8 but this is India. As I waited, with the food not being served, I finally decided to leave at 9:45 PM, as the groom had just arrived. Some of my office friends took me out to the street where they said I could take a bus to my metro stop, but of course, there was no such bus. We tried to enlist the help of an auto rickshaw but again no luck. Finally I said I'll take the metro, just get me a bicycle rickshaw.

With my two work bags and Cindy’s package I set out and finally got on the first metro around 10:15 PM. Two hours and three metros later, green, red, orange and blue lines, I was at my stop. (I don’t think that there are any other metro lines at this point. The green line has the best cars!) I had sat on the package some of the way on the metro to be comfortable as there were no seats. I thought ok it's only about midnight and I'll get home and go to sleep. But before I got off of the metro, I received a text saying that my phone account had automatically been charged 30 rupees for placing some Hindi songs on my phone. I was tired, pissed about the charge and the inevitable pushing and shoving that goes on in the metro and tried to write back but the text wouldn't go through. (Of course in my own American fashion the body of my text included the fact that I would sue for this charge of 30 rupees/month, about 60 cents, which I had never confirmed). I was also already feeling a bit upset by the fact that I had no dinner and the metro ride seemed endless.

I got off of the metro at my stop and as I got downstairs I realized that I had left the package on the metro! I immediately started cussing, thinking about my lost wallet, and where this package had been to, from the US to India to a wedding. I went over to the Metro customer care and said you must get my package. I was brought upstairs to the Station Manager who called the train and fortunately, after a lot of heavy breathing on my part, they said that they had found the box three stops away. (You must also realize that everyday the English recording on the metro says, “Stay away from packages as they may be bomb”). The Station Manager said get on the train, but since it is the last train you won't be able to come back and you will have to take an auto in order to get home.

I made it to the station, Dwarka Mor, and sure enough after two officers and three staff came up to meet me they had the package. After thanking them all profusely, I offered some pretzels but there were no takers. I was so relieved, because after carrying that box everywhere I did not want to lose it.

I went downstairs to try to get an auto rickshaw at 12:30 AM or so. The first guy said sure I'll use the new meter rates. He brought me to his rickshaw and pulled out the wires of the meter and said not working. I proceeded to cuss even more and left his rickshaw. Two rickshaws passed quoting outrageous prices. I finally got into another rickshaw and after .3 kilometers, his rickshaw died. I again got out cussing the world. (Somehow my cussing has come alive here, hmm….) Another guy came by and quoted me a high price and then another. Finally I settled for 70 rupees after a great deal of haggling. Once we got to my house though the guy said 80 and I said fine. I went to bed around 1 AM.

This morning the package was still in my apartment and I had a wonderful breakfast of granola, dried blueberries, almonds and fresh fruit. What a fantastic treat.

When I got to work I asked for help in removing the 30 rupee/month Hindi song charge. One of my office mates called Air-tel and they cancelled this charge, but said that it had been authorized on June 17. What can I say?

I have such a love-hate-love relationship with this amazing country. I’m trying to decide whether or not I should stay past February. I guess that it really depends on the day or the moment. But, what would I blog about if I went back and lived in the US?


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dalhousie-Final Part 4

June 20, 2010
I’m back in Delhi, with all of its glorious humidity, sweating after showers, while cooking, while walking. But a few, final words on Dalhousie.

I left early the morning of June 14, taking two buses to get to Amritsar my departure point for getting back to Delhi. On the train to Delhi, about six hours I sat next to this family with screaming monsters, climbing all over the seats, not too much fun, but I made the best of it. The last few days in Dalhousie were spent coaching, attending a wonderful party for Myna and Onky’s 25th wedding anniversary, staying with some friends of Mohan’s, who I just love, attending a prayer service for the Dalai Lama at the Tibetan crafts center and making photo prints for the many people who let me photograph them. I also befriended a number of children at a nearby teashop and gave them a number of pictures of themselves. One of the children was a one year old boy who only smiled and easily let me pick him up.

The prayer service at the Tibetan Center was something that I stumbled upon and I just went and sat down, was given tea and was greeted with all of the friendliness of me being part of instead of an external person. The prayer flag man was serving some food and he came up to me and shook my hand and was so very friendly. I was offered lunch but Onky and Myna were hosting a lunch for their anniversary.

I was so very happy to be able to attend Onky and Myna’s 25th anniversary celebration. I wasn’t able to attend their wedding, but the fact that Onky and I have been friends for almost 30 years made this very special for me. Additionally, I’m treated as one of the family. The party was sheer celebration and happiness and Myna’s parents came from Amritsar and her brother and family came in from Dubai. Myna, like me, lost a sibling and although we didn’t talk about this, I’m sure that she was missing her brother at this celebration.

Since the house was full with relatives, I shifted to some friends of Mohan’s for two evenings. They live right next to the Tibetan Center and they don’t use servants. (I’ve become somewhat comfortable with servants and although I would never have any, I am able to engage with those who I come into contact with. I gave Monhan’s personal assistant and his family so many pictures and played with their children). I felt so very comfortable with them and they were both full of so much love. They told me about their children, one of whom resides in Milwaukee, and their grandchildren. I was able to help them load pictures onto their laptop and also taught them how to clean up their hard drive. We watched together as a huge monkey sat in their yard and ate the one ripe apple from their tree. We also walked up the hill together to go to Onky’s. They live in Delhi and I’m hoping that they contact me when they come back here in October.

I love Dalhousie and I’m so grateful to Onky, Myna, Mohan, Anant and Zorby for allowing me to share in their joy when they go into the scrumptious mountains. There weren’t as many daisies this year, but I did see rainbows, snow and lots of monkeys. I walked and walked and found love from Tibetans, coaching school boys, Indians and even those monkeys, which I still treasure seeing. Will I ever go back to Dalhousie? I’m not entirely sure, but I will always have incredibly fond memories of my times with my Indian family in this very cool hill station.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dalhousie Part 3

June 8, 2010
Coaching in Dalhousie. What an opportunity. The Kakar family is friends with Guru Dylan who is the owner/principal of the Dalhousie Public School, a fairly prestigious institution. At a number of parties I had mentioned to him that I would be happy to coach basketball if he liked. At papa’s party yesterday he again said, “yes” and I said that I would come on Tuesday.

I walked to the b-ball courts around 3 PM and it was about a 20 minute downhill walk to the school. I talked to a guard who didn’t speak English, but a teacher happened along and I was able to tell him that I was there to coach. I saw a b-ball on the court and went down and started shooting. After a number of minutes the students started arriving and watched from their hostel balconies. They cheered when I made a shot, and then many of them flooded onto the courts. I thought that I would try to organize them into some drills but there were just too many children, very excited, to see a westerner, especially one who they mistakenly thought might be a former professional.

Around 4 PM a few of the physical education staff came to the courts and lined up the approximately 400 boys. There are six houses at DPH and they each have a b-ball team and these were the boys that I worked with. I took them through a number of drills so that I could see the quality of play. They were surprisingly good.

I taught them the “lion” defense drill and they were very loud, no embarrassment at all. Incredible energy! After we finished, I told the children that I would come back tomorrow. As I was leaving many asked for my autograph on paper, on their hands and on basketballs. So very funny!

This little activity again reminds me to always ask. People can always say no or do nothing about the request, but if I don’t ask then I won’t find so many opportunities. I need to remember this in my basketball school of life.

June 10, 2010

The issue of class has come up more than once for me in India. It’s especially noticeable in Dalhousie where you have the more affluent both younger and older crowd, military officials, but also the servants, laborers, tea shop owners, etc. The two crowds mix but in a very “know thy place way”. Fortunately I can mix with both, although I’m not sure that I’m very well accepted by some of the older, more traditional affluent Indians, who focus quite a bit on the fortunes of their children and how much money they have. This isn’t that different from any other country, but for me it does stand out given the number of people living in poverty, the work that I’m trying to do and my somewhat na├»ve idealism.

I have difficulty with the “formality” that I’ve come across. Again, maybe this is not that different from anywhere in the world, but to see it firsthand, in so many cases, causes me discomfort, i.e. people are treated differently depending on their perceived societal rank. There is fussing over some and the talking down to others. I wonder if some of this is a holdover from colonial times, where some Indians moved to fill in the gap left by the British?

I know that the reality is that this is not only India, that this type of “class” based society is found everywhere in the world, even in the so-called socialist or communist countries. There are always some that are much better off than others, no matter what type of system is in place.

Dalhousie Part 2

June 6, 2010
I ate so much food yesterday! The parties continue, the people, the socializing, the formalities. We had lunch at Guru’s. He runs the Dalhousie Public School, a very prestigious boarding school and his lunches and dinners are populated by the upper crust of the area. Yesterday, the guest of honor was an Air Force General or something equivalent. There were also a number of other military officials, Guru being an ex-military officer. Guru and his wife own three Mercedes benze’s. I found the lunch, which was held on his very green front lawn, to be scrumptious. He had this kind of a French bread, so fresh, and as soon as I ate it, I identified the loaf as something that I missed in the US. The rest of the food was equally tasty, capped off by a trifle, ice cream and cream dessert which I mixed together. Once the chief guest left everyone else vacated the premises.

While doing some work at “home”, a number of guests came over to visit the Kakars and therefore, although unplanned, more food. We followed this up by going out to the home of the principal of another school in Dalhousie. All meals begin with starters, which is more than enough food for a meal, but this is followed by the entrees and finally dessert. Needless to say, I am not eating much today as I totally gorged myself yesterday. Enough! Bas!

June 7, 2010
I watched the Lakers lose game of the finals today and boy did that bring me down. At least there are more games to play!

Today is Mohan’s 78th birthday and every year he holds a huge luncheon for his friends, gives away blankets to many and also holds a luncheon for others on the grass of the rental cottage. My role is that of barman and photographer. I get to interact with everyone so really look forward to both roles. I feel in my own small way that I’m serving. The thing that I like the best though is serving the people on the rental cottage grass.

This year there were upwards of 75 people who I served, took pictures of and somehow helped people to laugh. There is a pillar of the “Fish Philosophy” about “making their day” and I think that I do this a lot just by being me, by wearing a courta, an Indian hat, the way that I serve food or water. I heard people laughing when I sat down on the ground with my pot of food and served it. I watched another guy serving and he held the pot in one hand and served the food with a spoon in the other, never quite stopping.

I make people laugh by showing them pictures that I took of them. One little girl who didn’t look quite right, brightened up after I showed her a picture of herself. Something awakened in her and she was immediately happy pointing at the picture, showing it to her mother. People laugh because children make funny faces when they see that I’m taking a picture of them. It is quite remarkable what a camera can do, it somehow enlivens people and brings them out of their shells.

But it’s also about my vain attempts at speaking a few words of Hindi, and my asking if others speak English. I’m finding that many people do speak English, but one has to ask about this. I spoke with two young women on the lawn and they, in very good English, told me about their computer schooling in Dalhousie. I told them that they must tell their husbands, after they eventually get married, that they want to continue working. This, of course, brought a smile to their faces.

The people on the lower lawn seemed to have few “airs”, they were happy to be together with one another, they didn’t interact, i.e. walk around, like the people in the upper area, but seemed to enjoy the meal just as much. It is something that I look forward to, and feel good about helping to make someone’s day, even if I’m only being me.

Dalhousie Part 1

June 4, 2010

In Dalhousie again. The road has come from Amritsar and the Golden Temple, magnificent, to Jallianwala Bagh where upwards of 1000 unarmed people were massacred by the British in 1919 on the command of a General Dyer, many jumping to their deaths in what is now known as the Martyr’s well. (You can see this episode recreated in the movie Gandhi).

My memories of Dalhousie are great from 2009, the paths hiked, the people that I met and the Great Gatsby parties, the feeling of comfort in my body in moving from the “Delhi oven” to this very comfortable hill station, my Indian papa’s birthday celebration.
This year is proving to be no less memorable as Indian religion becomes both more illuminated and confusing to me, the parties become even greater, the rain comes in downpours with massive thunder claps and lightening, lighting up the night sky, the temperatures in some places hovering around freezing.

I feel comfort in knowing that I can go off by myself and get back to “my home”. On our first day in Dalhousie, I went off by myself to the market with a definite mission in mind. I wanted to make some photo enlargements for my dear friends and also buy some toys for some of the “servant’s”. Upon arriving in Dalhousie I noticed that one of the servant’s children was playing with a battery. This indicated to me a need for toys and in between the freezing raindrops I meandered through the GPO (General Post Office), or town center and found a wonderful toy store. I went through many toys and finally found a set of plastic, kind of legos and an array of rattles for the new two month old. After bargaining I felt that I had the perfect toys.

Does it make sense for me to introduce these types of toys into a household, that includes two adults and two children living in one room? (The servant’s quarters are essentially a number of one room living spaces, a cowshed, and I think a kitchen area. An older couple, with the husband managing the rental, and two of his sons, their wives, and now three children all occupy these homes). Is it my arrogance that needs to feel that these children should have educational play toys or can it just be my fatherly instinct to give to those with less? But less only on the material side, because from what I can tell there is a great deal of love for these children. The father who is a personal assistant to my Indian papa, is a lovely man and his wife, has one of the loveliest smiles that I’ve ever seen. Recently when I was playing with two of the children, this woman was holding her new baby and humming and every time that I looked up at her she had that sweet smile on her face.

Last year I had tried to purchase prayer flags, but unfortunately there were none to be had and this year I wanted to make it a point to find these. On my second Dalhousie day I went back to the Tibetan crafts village and after watching a number of people weave incredibly intricate, colorful rugs I walked to the second floor of one of the buildings where I knew the prayer flags were made. There were a couple of dogs that I needed to get past and was able to call out to a man finishing a rug who called the dogs off and brought me into the prayer flag room.

The Prayer Flag Man spoke very good English and he had one very long prayer flag that I could purchase. I also asked him to make me a short prayer flag which he very willingly obliged, but prior to this he showed and told me exactly how prayer flags are made, how the mold is cut and the black dye is placed and then stamped onto the material. After paying he walked me through a short cut, the Tibetan School, and brought me to an area where I could easily walk home. (When I arrived home one of the servants who had taken me last year to find prayer flags, pointed me to the umbrella basket in the front hall of the house, where after pulling everything out, gave me a gigantic prayer flag). (All of the prayers flags are now hanging in my apartment as I’ve recreated a mini-Dalhousie, but unfortunately, without, the cooler temps).

There are about 800-900 Tibetans living in Dalhousie in a number of housing complexes. They always smiled warmly when they saw me and I printed many of the pictures that I took of them which brought even more joy to their faces. The Tibetans operate a store at the GPO, where the products made at the crafts village are sold, but there doesn’t seem to be much future for the younger generation. (I have a picture from my 2006 visit to India in the Tibetan Refugee Centre in Darjeeling in which an artist is working and in the dusty window, above her, there is a hand written message, “Save Tibet, Tibet is not part of China, U.N.O. we want justice”. Being in this village reminded me of this picture).

On Friday we drove to a path that led us to a walk to this incredible temple. We did this last year on a beautiful day and I have a video of a herd of goats on the path, with so many daisies populating the mountainsides, like the poppies in the Wizard of Oz. However, the weather was not that great this year as we walked up the path and by the time that we made it to the temple, the sky was dark and the clouds had rolled in so that the snow capped peaks, visible during the ascent, were now gone. We all pulled out our umbrellas on the descent and it must have been around 7 C or so. The Delhi oven may have been baking, but in Dalhousie there was only talk of the cold.

As in New England in the State, in Dalhousie the weather changes quickly and by 1:30 we were able to go onto a picnic with a number of friends. This picnic was no different than any that I’ve been to in the States. Of course, the food was different, but everything else seemed to be comparable. Once we arrived home I spent part of the time playing with two children and the legos. Although the two women watching us play, spoke no English, they seemed approving and one of them gave me a cup of chai and some crackers. The children seem to really like playing and understanding how to use the blocks. By 7 PM Friday night the wind was whipping and it started pouring, lightening and thundering. The storm was a wonder to watch and soon the power went out and all we could see were the lightening bolts.

I’ve had very vivid dreams since being here, I’ve dreamt about paper shopping bags, my mother shopping and monkeys taking over the kitchen, bats flying around and then biting my hand, with an inability to wake up until Anant woke me, and President Obama being asked to played basketball and appearing at a meeting in the Groton Town Hall, knowing me, but not knowing me.

The walks continue on a daily basis, strenuous, really getting my heart pumping. I like the walk back from GPO which is at about a 45 degree angle, as I pass a number of Tibetans who must live in the area. The area is somewhat urbanized, based on the people who summer here, but also maintains its rural feel, with cows kept in cow barns, fresh milk, butter and cream, herders leading their flocks to graze, Tibetan women dressed in traditional garb. It is and is not India, providing a glimpse of possibly what life used to be, but also a glimpse of what India has become.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Letter to President Obama

President Barack Obama
White House
Washington, DC

Dear President Obama:

I’m an American citizen, a native Los Angeleno and life-long Lakers fan, living and working in New Delhi, India since March 2009. I’m hoping that when you make your visit to India in November I have the opportunity to meet you and your family and also would like to invite you to play basketball at the American Embassy School.

My name is Mike Rosenkrantz and I am a Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) volunteer working for the National Trust, which is part of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment-Government of India. We work specifically in the field of disability and have over 900 partner citizen’s organizations (NGOs) throughout the country. We provide funding for a number of programs and schemes designed to help those with disability to be empowered and live a full life.

This assignment has been perfect for me as I’ve worked my entire 25+ year career in local government, with citizen’s organizations and in farmers’ markets, which I know that you and your wife are very interested in, and which I thoroughly love. My job is that of capacity builder for our partners, providing workshops throughout India on subjects such as fundraising, strategic planning, grant writing, sustainability, communications and human resources. I’ve also been involved in developing and coordinating a disability awareness raising campaign throughout India called Badhte Kadam, or stepping forward. Mid-November 2010 will be the start of Badhte Kadam II. I am also a fundraising advisor to National Trust and have been successful in obtaining funds for Badhte Kadam, as well as working on a number of other proposals.

While in India my love for the game of basketball, which I’ve played for over 40 years has grown. I coach (volunteer) every Saturday night at the Delhi YMCA for young Indians between the ages of 8-30. I also play with an international group of people every Wednesday and Saturday at the American Embassy School. Since being in India I’ve made contact with the NBA and have met Troy Justice, who became the NBA Operations Manager for India this past March. As you might know the NBA is really going all out in promoting basketball in India and I’m doing my little part by teaching the game of basketball to about 30 people every week.

I live with an Indian family in West Delhi and have become integrated into Indian life, although I haven’t really been able to learn Hindi. While in India I’ve also, again as a volunteer, helped student community service programs at the American Embassy School, with planning. I do love India and would enjoy providing you with my perspectives, and of course, running a bit on the court with you.

I know that you will be incredibly busy while in India, but I would welcome the opportunity to meet you. I also want to let you know that you are doing an incredibly great job with the United States and I was so overjoyed when you were elected President!


Michael J. Rosenkrantz,
Organizational Capacity Builder/Fundraising Advisor
National Trust-Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
Government of India

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The art of simple

This morning as I took a cold shower for the second day in a row, I thought, “a small thing, but something that makes me really happy”. As many of my VSO friends can attest, after baking in the heat all day, the water tanks on the top of many Indian roofs ensure that all house water is heated. This is not very positive during the summer. (Of course, during the winter the opposite is true). Typically when I take multiple showers in the evening, the first two seconds are cold and after that, it’s fairly hot. But for the past two days, although it is still hot, it has been somewhat cloudy in Delhi, leading to a more positive shower condition, i.e. PSC.

I’m reminded of this as a relative of mine was recently complaining on their FB page that they didn’t have hot water in their house. I’ve realized through my own Indian experience and reading about those of other vols, how much we’ve all adapted to existing conditions, i.e. AEC.

Other simple things that I’ve come to appreciate are:

• Electricity, especially when it is a hot Delhi evening and I can’t run my a/c, power outages are numerous even though the Delhi government said that there would be no black outs this summer;
• Indoor toilet/plumbing, when I literally see so many who don’t have any indoor plumbing;
• A great apartment, when I see so many who sleep in a one room, windowless hovels or in very makeshift tents, (I often see people in a space one day and then someone else the next) never escaping the heat;
• Being able to download as much music as I want, when so many don’t have any access to internet and when they do don’t really know how to use it;
• Litter free environment in my home, when it is common practice to just throw garbage any and everywhere. I’ve been on a kick to remind people not to litter and last night I made my basketball “children” take an oath not to litter. I’ve also started doing this in my capacity building workshops. (I do however, throw my organic waste out my balcony every day, hoping to compost and grow something, although I think the stray dogs eat the waste every night).
• A few raindrops and a breeze, which are often non-existent in Delhi;
• Smiles from most people that I see and a request to take a picture of them, when so many, including my “tailor”, are constantly working and never seem to stop;
• A good job with lots of work, when so many, seemingly having jobs, but are doing nothing more than sitting all day and doing mindless, waiting, maybe selling fruit/veggies, or having to work construction in the Delhi heat for a few rupees a day;
• Skyping and Facebooking to keep me in touch with loved ones, when so many leave their villages and homes for work and see their family once a year, even though they are married and have children, but have to do this in order to survive;
• Being able to blog about sports, when so many don’t have the free time to do anything more than survive;
• Having clothing, even though most of my underwear is full of holes, when so many have one maybe two, if that many, sets of clothing;
• Being able to wash my clothes in a tub in my bathroom, even though many have to wash their clothes in the street and hang it wherever they can to dry;
• Having, food every day, when so many are begging for a few rupees to have some roti, some dal;
• Sweet children in my home, who treat me as a playmate, when so many have only dirt and garbage to play in.

India is an amazing country and I’m constantly reminding Indians about this, which may be somewhat arrogant of me. India is also a country in constant struggle, at times, making me wonder how it could really ever be a superpower. Health and safety, e.g. five people riding a motorcycle, only with the driver wearing a helmet, driving however and wherever a person would like, men urinating every and anywhere. India has, however, made me realize that living on 18,000 rupees/month. Less than $400, in a fairly comfortable lifestyle is not so impossible. This country has made me realize how to do more with less.

I remember my former spouse reading some book about living a simpler, more with less, life. I think that I can say that I’m starting to understand this. When I do eventually make my back to the US for a visit, please have lots of patience with me as I expect that I might be somewhat less than empathetic when I hear that one is without hot water for a day or a week. At times like this I do understand what it is like to live in another culture, LiAC.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

“Beware of Pickpockets in the train and station areas.”

“Beware of Pickpockets in the train and station areas.” How many times have I heard this woman’s voice with an English accent while taking the metro? Well at least enough times to be aware, but not really.

Another Monday (May 24, 2010) going to the dentist. It seems that my US fillings are all starting to have cracks in India, part of that may be the heavy diet leaning towards sugar and my craving for sweets. I don’t eat a lot of candy, but the chai, and everything else has enough sugar to make one’s teeth ache.

This morning after my walk, I took the bus and paid my five rupees out of a ten rupee note and put my wallet back into my cargo pants, in the lower pocket. I thought I should button this up, but since I usually don’t I didn’t.

I got onto the metro, took my usual 12 stops and went to the office, dropped off my laptop, saw that the Dodgers and Lakers had lost, and went back to the metro to go the dentist in Hauz Kaus. The metro was very crowded when I got on, given that it was 10 AM, prime rush hour. I didn’t take much notice, squeezed on and got off at Central Secretariat. I then boarded a rickshaw. The excitement began when we got to the dentist and as I reached for my wallet it wasn’t there! I’m sure that the rickshaw driver thought that I was crazy as I started feeling and looking around everywhere.
OK, so I had 5 rupees in my pocket and no wallet. I walked into the dentist and asked to borrow 60 rupees, which she gladly gave me and proceeded to make some calls, to my office, can I get an advance, please cancel my bank card, to VSO, they offered to give me an advance.

People were very helpful and then I walked into the dental lair where she proceeded to take out two fillings, one with novocaine and one without. (My teeth on the left side of my mouth have been filling the extreme coldness that a popsicle brings) As the drilling commenced I thought about the movie the Marathon Man and how Dustin Hoffman fared without any anesthesia. I felt a bit feint in the dental seat, so we stopped for a moment and then we cemented the relationship. I’ll be back on June 21 to put in the final bit of silver.

The day went on, I felt pretty down, plus there were the usual things that happen in any office, but they were made more difficult by how I was feeling.

After work I went and reported the loss to the Metro Manager at Karol Bagh who told me to see the Metro Police at Raja Garden. I was told that they were in back of the metro station behind a parking lot. There is a large sign indicating the Metro Police but as I walked straight all that I saw were a group of young men and a large mess area. They told me to go to my left. I walked into the metro police, a room with a number of men, none in any kind of uniforms. I told them my story and they said you must write it down.

They gave me two pieces of paper, inserted a carbon in between and stuck it all together with some pins, so that it wouldn’t all blow away due to the fans. There was no pen in sight and they went to find one. I wrote one page, then we flipped over the paper and carbon and I wrote the second page. After reading my statement the officer told me that I should rewrite this. They went off to find some more paper and I abbreviated my thoughts. They gave me some chai and told me to come back tomorrow, to pick up a typed copy, which I have done. There was only one typo, not bad.

Yes, I lost money, rupees, dollars, credit and bank cards, rupees that I had saved from 2006 the last time that I was in India, pictures.

It’s very disheartening, when I think about the reasons as to why I came to India and what I’m doing. I know that there are people who are desperate, less well off, and this is framed for me every day that I’m here. I also know that I stand out on some level maybe I’m targeted by people in both positive and negative ways.

The phrase “what to do” comes into play at times like this. Things can be very frustrating and this is one of those times when I’m feeling this. Often I’m able to shrug things off, but right now, I’m not able to. The cultural differences stand out for me and that becomes difficult. I know that I’ll get over it, but for now, it’s not that easy.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

National Trust Capacity Building Workshop-Gwalior or “Make sure that you have a large enough bed sheet so that your feet don’t stick out”

As I talked about strategic planning goals in my Gwalior capacity building workshop, I said to the “audience”, there is an expression in English about not “biting off more than you can chew”, have you heard of this? As this expression was translated into Hindi and then back to me in English I was told, “Make sure that you have a large enough bed sheet so that your feet don’t stick out”.

From May 10-12, Gwalior, MP is the site of my most recent workshop. A community of one million people, I’m told, about 350 km south of Delhi. I arrived on Sunday to scorching heat. From the train station, I was whisked off to a guest house at a sports university and of course one of the first things that I noticed were the basketball courts! .I saw the incredible Gwalior Fort which I would go on to see again on Tuesday evening for a more thorough investigation, including a sound, in Hindi, and light show with a group of people from the strategic planning workshop that I was conducting. Simply amazing the things that one can see in India! I recommend touring this 1400 year old Fort, carved out of a mountain, that has, like anything this old, quite a unique history. (The Mansingh Palace built much later, is over 500 years old and included a “telephone” system, a swimming pool in the basement, later turned into a jail and torture chamber, and a system for cooling off rooms).

I’m loving facilitating workshops as I become so engrossed in the art of presentation. My family includes many fine performers-sister Robyn, daughter Sarah, brother-in-law Michael, who are musicians, movie makers, dancers, singers, actors, etc. My “stage” however is built on in presenting information about strategic or fundraising planning , writing a grant proposal and staff development and retention. One doesn’t hear much about these types of “performances” on the stage, but in fact, giving a presentation, which relies keenly on “audience” participation, is my way of being an artist.

I sing some and also dance a little, but I’m more of a dramatic comedian, in which, I use very silly humor, and perfect Indian soap opera drama, always making strange faces. For instance, I can take out a “holi” fish “gun” and squirt the “audience” when they aren’t listening to the speaker, and they actually smile and want more. (Of course, when you’re “performing” in a room which is 95 F or 42 C, people always do want more). I can try to say Hindi words in which everyone cracks up, because no matter how much I think that I’m repeating what people tell me, I’m apparently not, and I can lead Bollywood dancing, which I know very little about, while standing on a chair. All the while, the “audience” is laughing.

I can also talk basketball, my love for the game and how it come to represent my life. About how there is no benefit in being a point guard and looking down while dribbling, because if I do I can’t see the entire court and am not “performing” my job. Just like if people in organizations don’t have their heads up in order to see the entire playing field they’re bound to miss out on opportunities. I can teach yoga, the lion, which is actually how I teach people at the YMCA how to play defense, while everyone is laughing, but also staying awake after lunch.

The main thing is that people do understand the components of a strategic plan while drawing silly looking people, using a head to represent a goal, the body to represent an objective and the appendages to represent the strategies and activities. They are understanding how a vision and mission and that silly looking person that they’ve just drawn, all fits together and they are able to develop a “roadmap” for their organisation, including all of their stakeholders in this process. They also are now able to facilitate a strategic planning process.

I can talk about how important it is to develop relationships in successful fundraising and point out resources galore. I can also talk about how in India, people generally just throw their garbage on the ground, even in historic forts, and after pointing this out, get everyone to make a commitment not to liter and remind others that they shouldn’t be littering either.

On many levels “performing” is not being afraid to put oneself out in public and to also truly be in one’s body, knowing full well what you’re doing. I find that I can think very clearly as I take my time, choose my words and make my points. I’ve been fortunate in having very good translators to help me with this, for without them, my words would be empty shells, with the “audience” just glazing over. I also feel fortunate in being able to just be silly, while at the same time building capacity in individuals so that they can build capacity in their organizations. I know that I’m building capacity as I start to become part of the “audience” because they are now becoming the “performers”.

On some level, as volunteers or “foreigners”, we are treated as “celebrities” as “stars”. After all, we might be the only non-Indians for many, many kilometers. I am called “sir” a lot and people open car doors for me, want to ensure that I’ve had plenty of water to drink, make sure that I’ve had a good dinner, etc. Today, at the end of the strategic planning session, a few people asked me for my autograph!

I know that on many levels, I’ve found a niche in life that I truly enjoy. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and am getting to do this, at the Delhi YMCA teaching basketball, through capacity building workshops and through just being a “foreigner”. Today, I know that I’m helping to make a difference in some lives, as a few people in the “audience” told me that they’ve learned strategic planning in school, but didn’t really know how to apply the theory to practice until now. Ultimately this is the type of “performer” that I want to be, helping to “touch” other lives and having them “touch” my life.

At the end of the day today while I was still in the Central Park hotel, the venue for the workshop, I ate a piece of good, old apple pie and it tasted just like something that I could get from “home”. Because, at least for today I was “home”, and although I was full that apple pie tasted damn good!

Check out pics on FB!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Death and Life

I’ve been thinking about my sister Deanne who was born on February 22, 1959 and died on April 15, 1984. I see her quite a bit in the young Indian women that I notice throughout Delhi, as Deanne’s skin was dark, something like my Uncle Alan. I remember her through my son Daniel, named after Deanne, and who, like her, is a very kind person. (In the Jewish religion we only name people after those who are deceased).

I guess that we all go through this thinking or feeling about those that we’ve known and who are no longer here, at least physically. Still 26 years later, I can still feel the pain, and a sense of loss, when I let myself feel it, when I delve deeply into my inner life. It’s not something that is with me all of the time which is fine and would tend to make me unable to live my life, but it lies there. A choice on my part? Maybe, but a part of my life.

Daniel, my dear son, will be turning 25 on May 15 and will be entering the postulate at Self-Realization Fellowship in July. This means that he will be on the road to becoming a monk. This is an amazing thing to me. Recently my parents visited Daniel at the Hidden Valley Ashram and they planted a tree for Deanne, a very touching action.

What does it mean that Daniel will become a spiritual figure in my family? Well, of course in my family, one thinks of rabbi’s, but no that’s not what is happening here. SRF is more about the larger world, i.e. the spiritual world and takes its teachings from a number of religions. I’m reading a book about the founder, Yogananda, perspectives from his brother, in order to try to understand further. I try not to be overly dogmatic in my spiritual practices, see the rationale in most religious practices, realistically view the contradictions when one tries to practice what is in religious books.

Daniel’s training will require that he is cut off from the outside world for a period of time. A two year training, with the first six months consisting of no outside contact. My sister Robyn was recently trying her best to explain this to me-one must go deep to really get in touch with one’s inner life and great artists all do this kind of thing. Yes, I can understand this on some level. Daniel is happy and hopefully will only become happier in life. What more can a parent ask for?

With feelings though there are always so many levels. As a parent with a really good relationship with Daniel, I want to maintain our contact, even though it may only be once/week, which is about what is happening now due to Daniel having limited e-mail access at the Hidden Valley Ashram. I’m told that this is not possible.

Yes, I suppose that a large part of this is about letting go. I’ve thought quite a bit about saying “my” when it comes to one’s children, because there is no “my”. I don’t want to possess another human being and I do want “my” children to be independent and find their own paths and both seemingly have at a very young age. (It’s funny for me to contrast this with the conversations that I’ve had with young adults in India and how involved parents tend to be). (I think that part of this is also letting go of how I was treated as a young adult and the inability, on some level, for my parents to let go resulting in me forcing the issue, but ultimately changing the way that I interacted with my parents, which has been positive). But, yet it is still difficult and I feel this deeply.

Ultimately, this will all work out, I have no doubts about that, because there is no other way. I feel as if I have given both Daniel and Sarah a good value base, that I’ve shown by example what it means to live in the world. I think in large part due to my divorce, both Dan and Sarah have been able to find themselves. I think that on some level they were forced to take paths that they wouldn’t have chosen otherwise, this being self-explanatory.

In the moment then, I can continue to have e-mail conversations with Daniel through July when he starts his “work”. In six months, in January, we will again hopefully be able to resume some contact, and we will both be different, certainly Daniel will be. But, maybe that’s part of the issue as well. It is indeed something to look forward to.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The NBA come to India (and the YMCA)

Last night, right before I started coaching, Troy Justice, the new Director of Basketball Operations in India, came up and said hello. (Troy is a former athletic director as well as the former coach for Athletes in Action) As you can imagine when I saw him approaching me, I knew that it was Troy, as we had become Facebook friends. Troy, with a huge smile, shook my hand and gave me an official NBA cap. We talked for a few minutes and then I started coaching, a bit nervous with Troy there. Troy stayed until 7 PM, talking with a local coach, the person that I coach Saturday nights with and the father of one of the children who at 11 years old is 5'11", a young girl. Before Troy left he came out onto the court and said hello to all of the children and told them that he would come back to do some drills. Troy is off to Mumbai as the NBA is starting a new league, in a select number of cities.

After Troy left and I was talking to the children, I told them how excited I was and how excited they might be, on the ground floor of the NBA coming to India. Last week I had told the children that the NBA is coming and this week they actually saw it. The magic of India continue for me and I feel chills throughout my body as I write this.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What I saw/heard this morning

7 AM-Alarm goes off
7:03-Call from Anil, we have a new baby boy in the house born at 3:30 AM
7:30-On balcony, lots of children running around on the street, apparently girl children are treated as goddesses and get presents and money today.
8:10-During my usual walk to the bus see lots of piglets in the totally dirty stream area.
8:11-See some holy men dressed in orange with a number of large monkeys sitting next to them, all eating together.
8:40-On metro-see one woman twirling a finger in her nose, not so unusual, a man with a big butt, jamming it next to some passengers so that he can get a seat.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Just Thinking

Sitting on the train to Delhi from Kolkata. It’s still in Howrah Station and we have at least a 25 minute wait. I was in Kolkata visiting Onkar, who is continuing to have a rough time at work and therefore his life. When the time comes and he can get out of what he is doing, he may once again be the lovely person who I befriended 28 years ago. But for now, times are tough. Myna, Onky’s wife, has been a beacon of strength. She stands pat, not wavering.

I’ve been spending the past two weeks in somewhat luxurious style, first in Puri and then in Kolkata. (The army just walked by in force with a bomb sniffing dog).

In Puri VSO held its annual Program Area Review (PAR). The hotel was lovely and I shared a room with Len, which, of course was very good. There was a pool, a work out room, a beach, good food, a shower with hot water.

A fishing village, close by, where people used the sea as a toilet, was where I got nipped by a dog. I’m not entirely certain why this dog nipped me, but it did break the skin on my left leg. As the children and one adult informed me through sign language, I needed to get a shot. I proceeded to the local hospital, l with Len by my side, and received both a tetanus and a rabies shot. The cost to enter the hospital was 1 rupee and the medicine, including the syringe, etc., was about 350 rupees. Not expensive for me, even on a volunteer’s wages, but expensive for those living on the street. (I ended up getting one more shot three days later as part of the rabies regimen).

I’m very much enamored by the fishing villages in India, but as I approached this one I noticed men squatting and pooping. There seemed to be little regard for people looking on or for polluting the ocean. It was just the way that it was. Fresh fish coming to shore and fresh excrement leaving the shore a perfect ebb and flow.

Upon leaving Puri, Len and I jumped on a train to Kolkata. My ticket was RAC which meant that I had to share my space with another person. We bought Len’s ticket at the station, a general admission, kind of thing, and I told her just to come and stay with me. Sure enough others showed up and we convinced the conducted to let us both sleep together on the lower berth. We went to sleep around 11:30 PM and were awoken by the conductor at 3 AM asking for the remainder of the fare, which we gladly paid and returned back to sleep. (I’m sitting facing another person at the moment and there is not enough space. He is scratching his foot, dreadfully close to my laptop and hopefully no flakes will fly off. Of course, who knows what kinds of things are already brewing inside of my laptop).

Arrival in Kolkata took place on-time around 8 AM and there Len, Jim, another vol and I stood waiting to be picked up. The driver was close, very close, but it took us almost an hour to finally find him.

Onkar’s home is very beautiful, full of art, due to Myna’s business, and servants due to the Kakar status. There is a cook and his wife, another servant, a sweeper, quite hunched over, a driver, other people who open the gate, a shared expense, a gardener. One person made our bed, brought us water in the evenings, nimboo pani, tea, served us dinner. At the meals table, a bell is rung to call the servants. It’s nice, and one can become quite accustomed to this.

People waiting on others, serves many purposes, economic mainly I would guess. While staying at Onky’s I went to a few people’s homes and they all had servants, just goes with this class of people. It’s expected, it’s part of the fabric and probably many earn some kind of living from this type of work. I don’t really know anybody in the States, or for that matter, elsewhere, who have servants.

I know that I really love being in a foreign environment, probably has to do with my curiosity, my wanting to see things. In the movie Avatar, there was this thing about really seeing the others and things in the world. Maybe it’s the same kind of thing, but I’m always looking, maybe to the point of appearing somewhat disconnected or spacey. I know this about myself, I like to see, those little things that are there, but not always apparent. I suppose that I could look for these kinds of things in the US, but, on some level I know what they are. I don’t know that I’ve looked for the surprises though, at least on a regular basis.

Take for instance my parent’s “retirement community”. It’s the same thing, everyday, the weather, the pool, the what shall we have for dinner. Maybe it’s the same whenever one is in the same environment for a period of time. I don’t know, when I was staying with my parents, if I truly looked at things. Don’t get me wrong, because in India there is somewhat of a sameness, I mean there’s dirt almost everywhere, I don’t know that communities all look that different, there is that kind of Indian look to things. But there still remain surprises, but it may just be my state of mind, wanting to see more.

I think that I could make a career of this, i.e. living overseas, as a volunteer. I could also get an overseas job, however I do enjoy the freedom. Even though I’m working for the Indian government I do feel as if I have a lot of freedom to somewhat decide how I do my job. One doesn’t need that much money to live on, but there are the trade offs, not seeing friends and family as often, having people come and go like we’re in Oz. I do miss those connections and it’s not the same through Skype, but I wonder if I can go back.

But maybe it’s not going back because I haven’t been there yet. There would be some type of newness as to how I approach things just because of this experience, but there would be the sameness of just being with Americans. Yes, the US is a diverse country and I suppose that I could live in a large city, but then I would need more money to live on. What to do?

In reality I need to keep feeling what is right for me and then channel my energy towards that. Sitting with this can be somewhat uncomfortable. I could settle for the sameness, but that makes me grimace. I just don’t think so.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Southern India/Back in Delhi

It has been so long since my last post. I continue to enjoy the magical moments which happen quite frequently for me in India. I wouldn’t trade this past year for anything.

I spent December 31-Feb. 8 in southern India in the cities of Chennai, Bangalore, Thrissur, Cochin and Pondicherry. I did four capacity building workshops and was able to go to a number of organisations to view first hand the great work that is occurring throughout India. Very memorable for me will be the two nights that I spent at Baby Sarah’s Home in Pondicherry, an orphanage for 107 children, some disabled. This was pure magic with the children showing so much love towards one another. My hosts for all of the workshops were just wonderful treating me with so much kindness. There was the stay at Indian Social Institute in Bangalore, the visits to the Spastics Society of Karnataka and KPAMRC, the stop off in Combiotore to look at a potential ARUNIM project, the incredible hotels in Thrissur and Pondicherry, the elephant Park, the joy of spending time with Len in Ft. Cochi, the one evening where I got sick when we came back from Mamallapurm and the incredible markets in Chennai. The surprise of being the Guest of Honor at a swim meet in Chennai, the fun of hooking up some people to build a basketball court, seeing a court paid for by the NBA and meeting with the Commissioner of Agriculture Marketing in Tamil Nadu to discuss farmers markets, all added to the fun. All that I love, including dosas I found in the south.

I have found love in India with another volunteer, Len, who is from the Philippines and lives in Chennai. Len and I first met in July at a restaurant, with other newly arrived volunteers. I thought that she was shy and we really didn’t get to speak, although we were sitting across from one another. A few weeks later there was another get together of volunteers and I talked to Len for some time, but thought not too much about this until she sent her phone number to me through an SMS. Being one to take advantage of opportunities, I called and we started talking. In mid-August before Len left for Chennai we spent a good amount of time together, flying kites on Independence Day, and through the magic of Skype and cell phones we grew closer and realized that there was love between us. The time that I spent in the south was a time to realize love and to grow closer to one another. That initial excitement is maturing into something more which feels good.

My friend David recently visited from the UK and this provided me with another opportunity to show “my” world to a good friend. David hopes to come back and I certainly will welcome him with open arms.

My work continues to intrigue and interest me. There is always so much to do and at times things seem so very scattered. A new Deputy Director of Administration began his job this past week. I was asked to sit through an interview for a volunteer fundraiser position. The entire interviewing process is so very different then what I’ve experienced. I would definitely change the process if I was asked to do so, but given that I haven’t been, I can only provide my observations, which I’ve done. I do provide many observations and ideas to my bosses, but ultimately it is up to them as to which things I follow through with. At this point, they want me to focus on fundraising for Badhte Kadam II, and a new building, develop Badhte Kadam II which starts next week with a presentation to our State Nodal Agency Centres (SNACs), continue working with ARUNIM to develop their Strategic Plan, continue to help facilitate an India wide fundraising network and numerous other projects that I’m sure will develop. My colleague from Scotland, Allan, will be leaving March 19, so I may very well pick up some of his work. As I say quite a bit recently, “Let’s see”.

India continues to be a place of great contrasts for me. I see the dire poverty everyday as I go to work, but also the wealth. By poverty I mean the children that are half clothed, living in a room with countless brothers and sisters and other relatives, with no sanitary facilities. Tents everywhere which are people’s only piece of shelter, but which don’t provide shelter from the biting cold or oven like heat. It’s very difficult for me to see on a daily basis and I haven’t come to the point where I just ignore this part of the landscape.

When David visited we spent some time with Onkar’s relatives, people who I will always treasure. They definitely have some wealth, a few servants and such. It is always a pleasure for me to go there and this time they treated me immediately, without even asking, with a glass of fresh lime-sweet. But it is also a very different kind of experience for me as my life is based on 17,000 rupees/month. I’m not complaining in any sense because this amount is enough for me. I can even do some travelling and I live in a very middle class home. It is just a different feeling, which I have to admit that I’m quite comfortable with.

I’ll never truly know what it is like to be financially poor-I own a house, have some retirement, a bit of a savings account and “stuff”. You can see it in people’s faces when they’re “poor”, but one can also, unexpectedly see many smiles. It is even as simple as the children, half clothed, see me and just want their pictures taken. “Uncle, uncle, photo, photo” they say to me as the little ones are carrying even smaller ones. All of their mothers look beautiful in their brightly colored saris. In some sense it’s not about wealth in my sense, it’s more about a happiness of just being.

I keep needing to have more, downloading music and movies, wanting to ensure that I’m making a difference. It’s a world away from the just being. I’ve been feeling that I cannot do enough here, as I continue to see so much need, things that maybe could change from the visa office to my job, to how people treat one another. Len has said to me that at times I sound quite arrogant. As I witness this in others I can identify with what she says. I certainly don’t know what is “right”, at times I’m not sure what is “right” for me. (It’s a little thing such as when I saw some young men littering and I told them to stop. They laughed at me and continued to litter. It was the way that I “told” them, instead of talking to them).

Today on the b-ball court, first time playing after two months which my body is now feeling, I witnessed an altercation. Stupid stuff, but I understood, as I can also get caught up in the heat of the moment. I turned to another player and said no wonder the world is so messed up. For me this is so very true, this thing about how “my world” is the way that it should be. Yes, it’s more complicated than that, but it most likely does come down to this simple statement. I want to be more aware of this, because the words and how we say things does matter. It’s also open to other’s interpretation of what we say from their own world perspective.

I do continue to learn, everyday, from the people who I come into contact with. It is a blessing for me and sometimes I learn and sometimes I don’t. But, thank goodness that I now have someone who cares enough about my character to tell me that I am, at times, arrogant.

I wonder what will happen over the next year. It remains very much an open book and I will do my best to just go with it!