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!

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