Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Birthday Weekend India Style

Last weekend I celebrated my third (wow!) birthday in India. I turned 27 in Delhi when we made our very first "look-see" trip to India. Now it's officially two years since we made the decision to move here, and honestly despite all my complaining, I don't regret it for a second. 

Things aren't always easy here. There are days that are great and there are days where I have total meltdowns (as seen in this post).  Going to Elefantastic was a great reminder of why we came here in the first place. This was an experience that I couldn't get back home, and it was truly a birthday to remember. 

So let me tell you about Elefantastic...
We have known about this place forever. Our other expat friends who live in Delhi have been here twice and raved about it. Matt and I have had intentions to go forever, but were trying to spread out our touristy things. I was also skeptical that it wouldn't be as advertised.

But to my surprise, it was exactly what I hoped for, and surprisingly exactly as described on their website and on TripAdvisor. Very refreshing when often times nothing is as it seems.

Elefantastic is owned by a young guy named Rahul. He used to ride elephants at Amer Fort (I wrote about that post here a year ago)! However, he wasn't approving of the way the elephants were treated. He created this place where the elephants have plenty of space, are well taken care of, and they don't use the hooks to poke at them which they use most other places in India. There are about twenty female elephants and one male. Each one has a full-time caretaker, and that person along with their family live on the Elefantastic grounds.

When we arrived, we got acquainted with our new friend for the day, Sampa.

Sampa was a very gentle elephant. Some of her friends were a little rowdy, so I was glad we had her.

The first thing we did was feed her. She got to know our smell and trust us because we filled her belly! After we fed her from a never-ending pile of "grass" stalks, we were taken to lunch at Rahul the owners home where his mother prepared a nice veg meal.

After lunch we came back for a short ride on Sampa.

While on our walk, we saw some elephants cooling off in the lake that was made just for them.

I had no idea that an elephant could kneel like this! This is how we got off of Sampa.

After our ride, the elephants took a break and ate some more. Apparently all they do is eat. Here is the one huge male elephant who also came out for a snack.

After their rest, we got the paint the elephants! Elephants are often used, especially in our state of Rajasthan, for celebrations and holidays. During these celebrations the elephants are painted in traditional patterns. Our painting wasn't very traditional, but it was really fun! Sampa was very still and patient with us, eating away while we painted.

I thought painting Sampa was pretty awesome...but then we got to bathe her!

It's a shame my eyes aren't open in this picture. Let's just call it an action shot!

We scrubbed, or "massaged" Sampa to remove the paint, and she certainly had plenty of water to drink.

After Sampa's bath, she went to eat some more and hang out with her friends. I was drying off and packing up my camera but was soon surprised to see that Matt had arranged with Rahul for a little birthday celebration!

They had made a cake we all got to share. It's not every day you get sung "Happy Birthday" to, while surrounded by elephants!

Elefantastic was seriously just what Matt and I needed. It was a reminder that despite the challenges of living in a foreign country, there are certain experiences that make it all worth it.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Monsoon in Jaipur

It's September and monsoon is still going strong. Despite the mosquitos, humidity, and flash floods that the rain brings, I found enjoyment in it today.

Mud + sticks = happiness!

I took the above picture just as "activities" were starting at school. Just minutes later a downpour began.  This inspired Shahina didi to do mud sculptures during her usual arts and crafts.

A bowl of mud and a few sticks can provide great entertainment! 


My turtle making skills were unsuccessful, so I made an awesome smiley face

I can say with certainty that if I was presented with a bowl of mud a year ago, I would not have been quick to  dig in. However, there's something very freeing about playing in mud, in the rain.

Happy Monsoon! :)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Today has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day."

"Today has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My mom says some days are like that." -Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Let me count the ways in which today sucked...

1. After a lovely breakfast at a local restaurant that actually has real orange juice, Matt and I began our Sunday morning stroll back to our apartment. Just about every time we get home and ask ourselves why we didn't take a tuk-tuk. Sunday mornings are the only time of the entire week where walking anywhere is somewhat manageable, and yet its always regrettable. After only walking a few blocks from this restaurant, we were approached by three street children delighted to have encountered two white people.  I knew immediately the right thing to do would be to give them my delicious leftovers of ginger-banana french toast with a side of pineapple and pomegranate seeds. MISTAKE!

Matt gave them the food, and two of them ran off while one harassed us for the next four blocks. Not just your typical begging, but touching, grabbing, standing in front of us to prevent us from walking, etc. etc. It was the most frustrating thing because I felt I was being punished for trying to do something good.  Giving this kid any money was not an option because as I've said before, it is a system that I absolutely cannot contribute to. And of course..where the hell is a tuk-tuk when you need one?! At least six tried to give us a ride on our walk to breakfast, and now that we actually want an escape there's none to be found.

Eventually we did flag someone down, and told him to drive while this six year old kid is still hanging off the door about to get his toes run over. After chasing us a ways, we eventually lost him and got out and walked the rest of the way home. Ticked off and defeated. I feel terrible that this is my reaction to the situation, but giving a child anything but food is promoting and enabling a vicious cycle.

2. While attempting to have a relaxing Sunday movie night, I heard a sound that was clearly gushing water. Matt and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and continued to watch our movie. When the windows and doors in your apartment don't shut properly, there's a whole bunch of outside noises you learn to ignore.

However...a gut feeling prompted me to get up shortly after to find that the water heater in the bathroom was spewing steaming hot water all over the bathroom floor and into the adjoining bedroom floor.  The heater apparently got so hot that is essentially burst causing the pipes to disconnect and spew scolding steam and water everywhere.

Now, this wasn't just a total bummer because it made a mess of brown "sandy" water, but it was the only shower with hot water! The shower attached to our bedroom already has had a broken water heater for weeks on end. If only our apartment complex could get a proper "handy- man."

3. Sometimes not having a clothes dryer really sucks.  There are not enough hours in between me waking up to wash our sheets, and going to bed. So now I have to sleep on damp sheets. Ugh...

4. Ok here's the last and probably biggest reason why today was a total bust...Matt ate all my chocolate! All I wanted after a day of frustration is a nice piece of chocolate. But no! He ate up my stash without replacing it. :( Lucky for him I'm a forgiving person.

So yes, today was a complete bust, but tomorrow will be better...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Back to School!

There was no better feeling than returning from my summer travels to big hugs and bigger smiles at Vatsalya.  I'm really loving being back in some sort of a "routine", as much as one can have here.

Lots of changes have happened at school, with a new principal and teachers, the addition of a phy. ed. teacher, and many new students. I am attempting to memorize lots of new names, and adjust to the various issues that arise with a class full of new students who don't understand a word I am saying.

The children who have consistently attended Vatsalya and live at the orphanage have some pretty amazing English skills, so I heavily rely on them to help me translate information to the newer students. They are also helping me with some of my Hindi so I can better communicate myself.

One thing that the students I've worked with the past year are familiar with is my iPhone. It is the best teaching tool I have. I can use my translation app to help students understand a word that I have difficulty explaining, or Google photos to show them something new. I also have video taped them reading so they can hear what their English sounds like.

The new children, however, have likely never seen an iPhone and are completely obsessed. Everyone wants their picture or video taken, and honestly I can't blame them. Cameras and even mirrors can be rare, so getting the chance to see what you look like and see this technology is pretty cool.

That being said, my phone has gotten good use these past few weeks. I have some videos and pictures to share. "Take my photo Didi" seems to be the new favorite phrase.

Here are some of the boys after a big sports tournament in Jaipur. Dinesh won second overall in track!
-photo courtesy of Vatsalya

Here are the girls about to leave for their tournament. 

Here are two adorable videos I took at school...

These are some kids in dance class during activities time. Laxshmi is a great dancer and teacher. The little ones are doing their best to keep up.

This clip is a rare moment of peace during prayers before mid-day meal. Aakash, however, noticed me video taping and just had to get in on the action halfway through the clip.

And as always, remember you can donate to Vatsalya here!!!