The Journey of a Thousand Miles, Begins with One Step

26 June 2011 

This past weekend was our first of two spectacular adventures while in India. Naomi and I experienced the thrill of traveling along the southeast coast. Our first stop was Kanchipuram, arguably the most holy city in India. Here we visited the temples of the three primary Hindi Gods: Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva. At the Kamakshiamaan temple, I fulfilled my personal goal of riding a beautiful elephant! I found it amazing the elephant handlers, mahouts, took such phenomenal care of these magnificent creatures. They got baths daily, had their faces painted with spectacular designs, and were so people-friendly. After waiting for the elephants to be fully prepared, I got to climb atop the elephant and not only bask in its elegance, but got to experience a short ride around the elephant’s home. Although afraid of heights, Naomi even conquered the elephant climb. I think secretly she even enjoyed it! Our next temple was Ekambranatha where the 192 foot entrance was stunning. Hand carved, the entrance’s structure reaches 192 feet into the air. As we drove into the town of Kanchipuram these figures could be seen from kilometers away. Our next temple was the oldest dating back to 8th century, Kailashnatha. This temple made of mostly sandstone was kept in quite impressive condition. The carvings throughout the temple depicted the stories of the three gods, and even reminded me of a class I took in community college. The epic of creation for the Hindu culture is called the Ramayana. Many of the gods from the Ramayana were prevalent throughout the entire weekend. As Naomi and I were taking pictures from outside of Kailashnatha temple, some young children approached us interested in our picture taking. They were fascinated as we took photos of them in front of the temple; they really enjoyed seeing the pictures on our digital cameras. Last, we headed to Varadarajasany temple where we wondered throughout the temple of 100 pillars. Each pillar was completely different and hand-carved, of course. There, Stephen told us magnificent stories of the 10 reincarnations of Vishnu and told us of the wedding that is held each year between Vishnu and Lakshmi. We then had a superb lunch, where I had my favorite; butter chicken masala and garlic naan. Naomi had a spicy chicken, and we both enjoyed our yogurt drinks; sweet Lassi. and I think the Indian people truly enjoyed having us in their towns. We then headed to our destination: Pondicherry. Once we arrived, we settled into our lodging and started sightseeing. Stephen, Naomi, and I walked from the Indian portion to the French portion of the diverse city. It was absolutely crazy the culture change as we went from obnoxious honking of Rickshaws to the quiet, almost-serene French buildings. The streets were clean, free of street venders, and I think we all enjoyed the change of pace. As we neared the beach I think Naomi and I had no idea what we were in for. The beach was filled with wondering tourists and cheerful locals. There were children and families everywhere. It was so refreshing to see such an upbeat, carefree scene in India. In Chennai, the streets are plagued with trash and dirt. However, Pondicherry’s beach was quite different. We stopped to admire the statue of Gandhi as well as the shrine of his partner in removing of the cast system; Dr. Ambedkar. The beach was a truly enjoyable experience. After, we stopped at a rooftop restaurant where we enjoyed dipping into a quick pool of American cuisine. Chicken burgers and cheese-stuffed chicken was on the menu for the evening. We then continued strolling along the beach where Stephen picked up a fun toy for Roschan and I got a trinket for my younger brother. We headed back to our lodging, FYI it is not a hotel because that is just the name for a restaurant, and we all went to sleep. I stayed up for a while watching some of the local TV where they hosted an awards show for Indy films. It was quite entertaining seeing the same 3 actors receive awards for a few films. One actor in particular lip-sang an entire performance, but everyone clearly enjoyed it. It amazes me how some traditions seem universal between India and the US, even though they are two completely different societies. The next morning we had breakfast and started on our way to Auroville. Here, people devote themselves to living in peace and accepting all religions and beliefs. The matrimidir was a structure unlike anything I had witnessed before. Its brilliant gold sphere shape was colossal. Although I do not completely agree with their society and way of life, it was spectacular to witness the grounds and be exposed to a lifestyle unfamiliar to me. The grounds were impeccable, and I was quite fascinated with the history of their people. The ashram was definitely a new experience for me, and Naomi seemed quite impressed as well. Afterwards, we headed to mamallapuram where we were introduced by Stephen to the stone carvings dating back hundreds of years old. It was amazing how these ancient carvings were from one single block of stone. As we walked around the park area, there was a HUGE rock lying on a rather steep slope. This rock was said to have been the butter that Vishnu dropped out of his hands in an ancient Hindu story. I tried pushing the rock off of the slope, but my lack of exercise lately proved to be the issue. One of the most incredible moments of the day was seeing the wild monkeys on the grounds of the park. They seemed to enjoy their resting spot atop some warm rocks, and it was impossible to not watch their every move. I even got the chance to take a picture within feet of these amazing little fellows. Following the tour of the carvings, we headed back to Chennai. It is nice to be back at the guest house and is definitely time for some recovery from our quite busy weekend. I look forward to seeing my kids at Assisi in the morning, and I know Naomi can’t wait to see little Victor. This week marks our second week of working with the children. This weekend has shown us a unique side to India that I’m not sure we realized existed. It was refreshing to do a bit of sight-seeing, but Naomi and I are both well aware that it is back to work this week. I’m sure the kids look forward to spending more time with us, and learning some more of our beloved language! I am hoping to purchase some balls for the kids at SEAMS this week so they no longer have to play their games with a deflated football. Although the kids at SEAMS enjoy our simple love and affection we give them, I believe that the least these kids deserve is a good old-fashioned play-ball for their dodge ball and basketball games. I want to close this journal entry with one last lesson I have learned this week. I have realized that though life in the States has many materialistic objects that we all enjoy (ie: Xbox, fancy cars, Louis Vuitton, and iPods), the root of happiness comes in the time we spend with our beloved family. Although the children at SEAMS may be lacking this experience, it amazes me that they live life happily through relying on each other and the love that people in their lives show them. I cannot wait to see what more I can gain and I can share with these children.


“the journey of a thousand miles, begins with one step” – Lao Tse 

I believe my work with Global Volunteers may be that one step that sparks something greater within me. 

24 June 2011 

“Only when we give joyfully, without hesitation or thought of gain, can we truly know what love means” – Leo Buscglia 

We are our ending our first week of teaching and caring for the children today. I am glad I am able to write this entry as the last day of the first week lends to some great reflection on what we have experienced and done here in Chennai. The first week has seemed to be a time of getting comfortable and adapting to our new home and surroundings. I guess that next week will be a time when a little more of the home sickness sets in and I estimate that the last week will be a week of sadness in leaving the children and this beautiful country and also anticipation to see family and friends. 

The first week we have been getting used to all of the things that are different from home. At this point I feel so much more comfortable here in Chennai. The cows in the middle of the road are now just that, cows in the middle of the road. I have now gotten into the habit of ensuring not to flush my toilet paper down the toilet but rather place it into my garbage can. I have also gotten into the habit of making sure I do not run my tooth brush under the sink (a habit from home) rather, fill my plastic water bottle up and brush with the clean water. I now jump out of the van when I get to either Grace or SEAMS and I know exactly where to go–head to the 1st standard class at Grace and at SEAMS, greet the childern, hug them, give them high fives, say hello and then head straight into the madness of the girls room to see if they have picked up their rooms! It now feels like routine. Comfort. It feels good! 

Today I was feeling a little under the weather. The excitement and business of the week finally got to me. I was doing SO good, feeling so good and staying healthy and then, bam, at 2:45 in the morning I started coughing and I awoke and a cold had visited me. I shouldn’t stay visited, as it is still here, however, it is taking a longer visit! I did go to Grace, regardless of the cold as I was excited to see my students. I felt a lot less energetic then I usually do when teaching them so I had to tell myself to take a little bit easier. I usually go from one learning activity to another with them, mixed with some movement songs and poems. Today, we did 2 learning activities, 2 songs and I then let them color. I handed out crayons and a blank canvas of white paper. It was interesting to see what the students did as they did not just color away. They put their crayons in a pile, and started to draw with their pencils. I then modeled coloring for them in which some then started to do however, they were very hesitant to freely color. My 2nd standard class did the same thing; put their crayons in a pile and drew beautiful pictures with a pencil. They each, all 4 of them, drew the exact same picture. A house with windows and a door, a path leading outside, clouds in the sky, and lots of mango trees. They were so cute and it was so nice to see them just be creative and have a little fun. I try to laugh, smile and have as much fun as possible with the students each time I see them. My 3rd graders were great workers today. We did our morning message, question of the day and we then worked on building and forming sentences. They all worked so very hard. They then found it hilarious that there was a big spider web in my hair. One gal kept pointing to my head, talking to her friend and laughing. Then, they all started laughing. Sweet Victor then was nice enough to come up and say Mam, mam, down (put my head down). He then fished all of the spider webs out of my hair. Sweet, sweet boy. Very inquisitive boy. He seems to always be day dreaming and deeply thinking about something as he is always the last to finish his work and when I ask him questions he doesn’t respond for a bit until he finally realizes I am talking to him. It is pretty funny. After interacting and teaching the students I again sat with the hilarious teachers who I am really growing to be fond of. Their humor is wonderful and kindness is appreciated. They continue to tell me they want my fair skin and I continue to tell them I want their dark skin. We laugh a lot and smile a lot with each other it is so fun. One teacher, Whanita, I am growing a great relationship with. She is around my same age and we both have so much fun talking with each other even though she is still not exactly fluent in English. With patience and trying to figure out what each other is saying, we have some great conversations. She said that I have to come back next year and she will then have her English perfect. I stated, If I come back I will then have Tamlin perfect. We both laughed as we know neither of those is realistic! 

I haven’t had a lot of chances to talk to Zach today to see how his morning went as Zach is too, feeling under the weather. He is having a bit of some stomach problems. So, we both got struck this Friday! The week caught up with the both of us. I think we are both looking forward to a nice, relaxing and enjoyable weekend in Pondicherry. We both did not go to SEAMS tonight. I felt terrible not going as I love to see those beautiful faces and get those great hugs and I know the chilldren love to see us as well, however, a few minutes before leaving to go I figured it would be best to just stay home and take care of myself so that I am fresh and ready to go on Monday, the start of our 2nd week in Chennai. Stephen and Sheeba so graciously took care of me and my bugger of a cold. Sheeba made some ginger tea which felt so good on my throat and Stephen went to the pharmacy to pick up some benedryl and lozenges. He then was sure to explain some tips to staying well in India. Do not drink cold water after lots of sweating or sit in front of the air conditioner right after sweating. Good to know! I hope to feel better very quickly! 

This experience in India has given me so much already. Having done a Global Volunteers program before, to Ecuador, I am feeling the same thing; I feel as if India has already given me so much more then I have given them. However, whether that to be true or not, I will continue to give all that I have. Here is to a good nights sleep, health for both Zach and I, a good night for the children at SEAMS, a relaxing weekend for Sheeba and Roshan, and a safe and fun trip for both Stephens, Zach and myself to Pondicherry. 


22 June 2011
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.
— Vincent Van Gogh
I chose the above quote because while one volunteers in India for only a short 3 weeks, it is sometimes hard to imagine that you are really making a difference in the childrens lives. It is easy to be hard on oneself if we do not see huge gains in the children from what we are teaching them during our time in Chennai. However, we must remember that our efforts coupled with the efforts of the previous volunteers and the volunteers yet to come, will produce great things in these children! 

Well, another early morning rise here in India. I am unable to sleep in, however, I like getting up early as it lends me to writing emails, talking on Skype to family back at home, reading, getting some things ready for school and just reflecting on my experience here in India. The experience gets better each day as I become more and more comfortable with the Indian way of life, my “home”, and the children. I look forward to getting up to see what is on the breakfast table and drinking my morning coffee. Today we enjoyed a steamed baked rice dish called Idli, with peanut chutney on top and also, our beloved mango’s. I then look forward to going to Grace to see what the children will do to melt my heart today. Teaching here in India is incredibly different then teaching back at home. There is a lot more structure at home and also a lot, repeat, a lot more supplies to help engage the learners. Here in India, because of the lack of supplies the children have access to, you must be very creative! However, it is amazing how much these children appreciate even the smallest of activities you bring to share with them. Yesterday I spent a lot of time with my 3rd graders practicing answering a variety of questions in English. Simple questions such as, “What is your favorite thing to drink”. They loved interacting and answering those very simple questions. I also had them write their names on a piece of paper so that I can begin to remember and learn their names. When I read them off of the paper the students would laugh and laugh and laugh as it was obvious and clear that I was not pronouncing them right. However, they displayed such patience and were so willing to help me learn how to pronounce their names in the right way. My first graders were a bit tough today since there are a lot of them and also because their attention span is a lot smaller then my 2nd and 3rd graders. However, all in all, they did a pretty good job. We talked about different animals and I then had them come up front individually, draw a card and do that animal sound. The rest of the class had to guess what the animal was. They had fun with this activity. My 2nd graders did a morning greeting called “stand up”. This greeting greets everybody by name while also incorporating movement into it. They LOVED it. The 2nd graders were amazing today. I am really starting to feel the relationships grow with this group as well as my 3rd grade group. My 3rd grade group was also amazing today! We did a morning message on the board in which they had to help create and write in the the notebooks. We also did a question of the day where they had to come to the board to answer it and then we had to talk about the question and answer. They enjoyed this activity as well. Anything that gets them active, the appear to really enjoy. At lunch time the school found that a child was missing when the mother came to pick him up. Although I could not understand a word that was being said, I picked up very quickly on what was going on based on the tears and yelling from the parents. It was interesting to observe this interaction however, i also felt so bad for the teachers as well as the parents. The child was found, thank goodness, and everything was okay. Just left a lot of hears thumping very very fast. 

Zach reported that his morning at Assisi went well expect he is finding that he just might have to make India his permanent residence as little Danny has grown quite fond of him and will not let Zach out of his sight without crying. Oh, poor little guy. But, what a sweet thing. He has grown close and comfortable to Zach very quickly. Zach displays a lot of patience and care to the children in which I think the children really appreciate. We went back to the house after our morning work sites to have lunch. Today’s lunch was fish with vegetables and bread. And….a mango!! It was a delicious meal as always. I then retreated to my room for my afternoon nap and Zach proceeded on to his work site in the afternoon, Grace. This team is only the two of us, Zach and myself, however, I feel the two of us are giving all we can to the children and leaving imprints where ever we go and in the end, that is all that matters. 

One thing I have noticed, appreciate and love about the children is that they are endlessly happy. Especially the childern at SEAMS. How, you may ask, can the children be so happy with such few clothing, food, family, etc.? These children are a stunning example of how life should be lived. It doesn’t matter what we tangibly have in our life. We must wake up each day and fully enjoy and dive into life as much as we possibly can. The children at SEAMS do this each and everday. It is truly amazing to me. You can not help but consistently smile because they are consistenly smiling and it is so infectious! 

The teachers at Grace have been exciting and hilarious to talk with. I look forward to talking with them each day. We laugh and laugh about the different topics we talk about and we also laugh because we sometimes just can not understand each other! Silve, a teacher, informed me that since my 2nd toe is slightly longer then my big toe, that means I control my “husband”. HA!!! She said if your big toe and second two are equal then you and your partner are equal. If your 2nd toe is smaller then the first, then, your husband controls you. Now, I do not think I believe in this too much, however, I do think my toes are more equal then anything! 🙂 They were also making fun of my t-shirts because they have tiny little pockets on them. They could not for the life of them figure out what the tiny little pockets are for. Honestly, I couldn’t tell them because I do not even know what use they are!! Just “decoration” I guess. My clothing, which consists of usually a shade of brown pants or capris and a solid colored, tiny pocket, t-shirt do not compare AT ALL to the beauty in the sarees the woman wear. I just love to gaze at their sarees, jewelry and jasmine flowers they wear in their hair. So very beautiful!!! I am on a misson to buy a couple sarees in which I can wear a couple times while I am in Chennai. 

Many have heard and experienced that India, espeically Chennai is HOT. Hot, hot, hot. Yes, i agree, it is very hot here. However, I have managed to remain pretty healthy and feel pretty good. I am surprised at this because I often do not handle heat well. However, I have found that the recipe to health success in India is to make sure you eat and have plenty of nutrients in your stomach, drink A LOT of clean water (I add an electrolyte tab that I boutgh in the states at REI. They are peach tea fizzle tabs. One of my best purchases for India), get a nap each afternoon (around 2pm), be easy on yourself, and just go with flow-let what ever will happen in India happen: do not stress out, do not put high expectations on oneself-just go with the flow, enjoy the beautiful country and most importantly just enjoy and love the children. 

Tomorrow will be Thursday and we are approaching the end of the first week. I am happy how this week has gone thus far and my oh my, is it flying by. I look forward to many more hugs from the children, big brown eyes staring at me and wide smiles being sent my way, great conversations with the teachers, more knowledge about India and life from Stephen, great meals from Roni, the company of Sheeba and Roshan, and more experiences in this beautiful country! I am happy to call Chennai, India home for now! 


21 June 2011 

“Now that economic realism has finally arrived in India, the future lies in becoming a strong economic power. Dominance in the world will come only from how well a nation can cope with economic realism and towards that India must work, must find its own place under the sun.” 

Today marked the second day of our service trip in Chennai. Naomi started by going to the GraceSchool where she has become quite fond of the children as well as the teaching staff. She has been teaching the kids using her expertise in her job field as an educator. She plans to use the “zoophonics” method to correlate animals and the sounds of letters. I started at Assisi daycare where one of the young boys, Danny, became quite interested in me. He is an anglor-indian, meaning his father is British and his mother is Indian. He continually called me “papa” and was very affectionate with lots of hugs. It was very sad to leave him yesterday as he would not stop crying. After, the GraceSchool was quite interesting as I was explaining to Esther, the principal, and all of her teachers some of the basic cultural facts of the United States. They did not understand the concept of a girlfriend, so I helped to explain that it’s someone you meet in college have a fun time with. They were familiar with the term “lover” which I categorized as more of a passionate relationship. It was a very funny conversation! I worked with the kids at Grace on forming sentences using a given noun and verb. The kids took very well to it, and some of the children who previously struggled with sentence formation, were doing exceedingly well. At the end of the day, we headed off to SEAMS where we worked with the youngins’ on phonics and flashcards. They really enjoyed playing a game called “snapcard”. The kids were very familiar with the English nouns and subjects, but definitely still need some assistance with forming sentences. 

On another note, I am amazed every single day by the culture shock I am surrounded by. In the US, we pay $400 for running a stop light; whereas in Chennai it is only about $10, yet almost never would the Police enforce this law. As we drive to Assisi Illam it is very common to become stuck in dead stop traffic. But rather than an accident or rush hour, it is because a cow pulling a cart is taking its time through a busy intersection. The smells, sights, tastes, and sounds absolutely amaze me. Every morning, Naomi and myself are awaken at 5:30am (on the dot) by chipmunks making a high-pitched scream! The neighbors clearly enjoy sweeping at 5am as well. The food has been awesome so far, Rani has been cooking up a storm of fine cuisine. However, my stomach is starting to yell at me more frequently as this is my fifth day of attempting to digest the goodness. 

Stephen has been an amazing guide so far. My inquisitive mind continually tests his knowledge of the culture and history of India, and he has yet to fail me in answering my questions. We have had interesting conversations about the economy of India, and it amazes me still that in the midst of this poverty-stricken area that a modern high-rise building can exist. This didn’t make any sense to me until the words Foreign Direct Investment were mentioned. When a foreign company places a replica corporation in another country to offset costs or take advantage of a different business climate it is called Foreign Direct Investment. This was made aware to me how realistic this concept was when the one large, modern, and quite impressive building in Chennai happened to be owned by none other than IBM computers. The fact FDI is used throughout India is commonly perceived as “outsourcing” especially for call centers. However, IBM has clearly benefited from the Chennai climate as it is low-cost and high-skilled labor that provides 5,000 jobs to local citizens! It has been really interesting relating my economic background with the local culture in Chennai. 

I can’t wait to continue working with the children while experiencing the full culture that India uniquely offers. Nineteen days remain and I can’t wait to see what is in store for us volunteers! 


20 June 2011 

“The true meaning of life is to plant tress under whose shade you do not expect to sit” 

Today marked our second day in India and our first day “on the job”. Zach, a 20, almost 21 year old from California and myself, a 28 year old from Minnesota, make up our very small, yet, power packed team #99! Yesterday we spent the day doing our orientation. Going through what we will be doing in India and information about India and global volunteers. We also came up with our goals for our team. We came up with four goals in which we agreed upon well. These goals include, Care and Love the children, teach the children, learn about the Indian culture, and effectively work as a team to carry out the Global Volunteers mission. 

After orientation, Zach and I ventured out for a walk around the city of Chennai, being sure to keep an eye on the water tower so we know how to get back. Wow, it pretty much what sums up how Zach and I were feeling. The culture, atmosphere, and way of life is so very different then what we are used to in the United States. It was truly amazing to see and experience. I found such beauty in all of the colorful saris the women wear. Their dress is so beautiful! The people also appeared to be very kind along the streets. While walking back to our guesthouse we spotted a cow just walking along the sidewalk among st the people. Zach and I both found this incredibly amusing. 

And now, the main reason we are here, the children. We visited the children of SEAMS orphanage last night and today we went to our designated work sites. I went to Grace Nursery and Primary school where I worked with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms. Zach went to the Asissi Home, which is a daycare that cares for orphans and semi orphans. We both enjoyed our work and enjoyed the children. All I can say is seeing those children’s beautiful faces, hearing their laughter, and experiencing the joy they express just from our presence, is amazing and makes this trip worth while! They yearn for just simple love and affection and such simple interactions like doing hand claps together. They are truly amazing and I am thrilled to be a part of their lives for 3 weeks. Let the adventure continue! 


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