Day 19: Jaipur

After watching the beautiful sunrise and enjoying a delightful Indian breakfast and chai tea, we were off to the famous Jaipur Fort. Here’s a glimpse from my window:

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Normally during this time, you are able to ride an elephant to the top of the fort. But because we were there during a special Hindu festival, the elephant rides were not running. It was still so awesome to be there an see all the men and women lined up to worship, wearing their best garments of the most radiant colors.

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After the fort, we went to the Water Palace and fed the fishes. In Hindu culture, it is part of charity to feed the animals, whether monkeys, fish, etc. It is to show respect to nature and that we are all connected.

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After feeding the fish we were off to do some shopping, first at a jewelry store then a hand-printing press. Both places were so hospitable, offering chai tea, soda, coffee, water, etc. After shopping, the jeweler told me a fascinating legend about their national bird, the peacock. The myths says that peacocks dance when it rains, their feet are bad so it hurts and they cry, then when they swallow their tears, they reproduce. I think I evolved from the peacock.

Our last stop was the Observatory, a place where ancient astrologists used the location of the sun and stars to tell time – with astounding accuracy.

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After all that touring and shopping, we had worked up quite an appetite. So we got a complimentary lunch at a wonderful Indian restaurant, where I tried fried dumplings in tomato sauce, a Jaipur specialty…and of course buttered naan. Indian ice-cream is actually surprisingly delicious too…hard to describe, but quite creamy with an intense fruity flavor.

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We had originally planned to drive to Delhi after dinner, but instead of wasting the night, we decided to go see a Bollywood movie instead. BEST IDEA EVER!! We saw a new movie called “Bang! Bang!” at this famous theater in Jaipur which looked more like an opera house. The theater was packed and full of life – people would shout and cheer every time they liked something or whenever a girl in a swimsuit came on the screen. It was quite the experience. I didn’t understand a word of it, but thoroughly enjoyed the dance scenes, music, action and romance. Just getting to see a Bollywood film in India was such a high for me ūüôā

And then we went home and CRASHED.

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Day 18: Taj Mahal

Today, we left at 6am to visit the Taj Mahal. It is even more awesome¬†in person than it is in the pictures, and I’m so grateful to all the people who said to not leave India without seeing it. How incredible it is that the king loved his bride so much, he took 22 years to build this wonder.

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Oh, and did I mention I had Tom Cruise’s tour guide? NBD.

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Then we started the five hour drive to Jaipur (sharing the road with cows), with a few stops along the way…

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Our first stop was a fort and a sacred temple. In the temple, everyone gets to make three wishes and then tie on a piece of thread inside. It took me quite awhile to get my three wishes just right, and I hope they were the right ones and that they all come true!

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At all of the touristy places we’ve been to, there are several kids out front selling souvenirs. If you so much as glance in their direction, they will follow you for your entire visit. One boy in particular was so sweet and full of potential, and it made me sad that he was doing this instead of going to school. Another young boy said his parents had just died and so he had no money to go to school. Before we left, I gave him 100 rupees, but later regretted it realizing I had encouraged begging in order to get what you want. It also made me think about how blessed¬†the kids are I’m teaching at Rising Star and how they shouldn’t take it for granted.

In the car, we had a little fun entertaining ourselves…

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Then we stopped at an older woman’s hut to learn how to make pottery out of clay. Definitely a learning curve.

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Next, we visited a “step well” which was the ancient way of collecting water. There are several of these throughout India, and tt’s extraordinary how detailed and perfectly geometric they were.

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At last, we arrived in Jaipur, met with glorious views of the city by night. While¬†I expected an ordinary hotel, we pulled up to an old royal cottage that once was part of a castle fort. It is a family-owned establishment, which means we also got an authentic, home-cooked Indian dinner. I am completely in awe and can’t wait to take more pictures in the morning!

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Day 17: Agra!

Today, I arrived in Northern India! What an incredible and exhilarating feeling. On the plane it hit me that one of my life’s dreams is coming true right now. A few years ago, I made a vision board of things I wanted to do in my life and a picture of India was on it. I had no idea at the time how that would come about, and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be teaching dance here to underprivileged kids. WHAT A BLESSING!!!

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I also have the unique privilege of traveling with an Indian tour guide and his wife and three young children. There is so much joy and laughter in this family, and it’s really enriching my trip. After driving four hours from Delhi to Agra and getting to know each other, we arrived at our hotel. Then we were off with another tour guide to visit Fort Agra and a few specialty shops.

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The population in India is 80% Indian, and since they¬†don’t get as many chances¬†to go abroad, they are so awestruck by any white person and come up and shake your hand to practice their English. It’s quite fantastic to be greeted in such a warm, genuinely interested way.

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We ended the night with the most delicious Indian food I’ve ever had. Several types¬†of paneer (my favorite), garlic naan, a special Indian drink with spices, and¬†live sitar music in the background. I could really get used to this.

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Tomorrow, we’re going to the Taj Mahal at 6am to get pictures during sunrise. Internet is a bit slow here, but I’ll post pictures as soon as I can!

Day 16: Banana Bread

Today, we woke up early to go to the colonies. Thankfully, the riots had died down so it was safe to leave campus again. By now, I have become quite accustomed to looking at and tending to wounds, but today I got a little queasy. One leprosy patient had recently had his toe amputated and it was still bleeding as we soaked it and clipped his nails. Luckily, he didn’t feel any pain since leprosy kills your nerve endings removing all feeling.

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After the colony, all of us came home and crashed. I think it was a combination of not getting much sleep and being out in the heat all morning. It felt great to get some rest.

Early in the evening, I played soccer with a few of the kids – scoring no goals but doing a mean job on defense ūüėČ Then it was time for dinner and packing as I leave for Northern India tomorrow morning. I wanted to do something nice for the travel guide and all his hard work in accommodating me, so one of the volunteers graciously helped me make a loaf of banana bread for him and his family. It actually made me quite nostalgic since banana bread is my mom’s specialty. I can’t wait to go home and have some!

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The driver is coming to get me at 4:45am to take me to the airport, so I should finish packing. Next post from Delhi!

day 15: Change of Plans

Last night, I was given the disappointing news that I would have to postpone my trip to Northern India due to riots. Instead of flying out this morning, I will be going Tuesday morning and will miss seeing the Ganges River. Originally, I was super bummed that my plans were interrupted and that we would be stranded on campus during the first part of our break. But the day turned out to be amazing, and I got to know each of the volunteers a little bit better.

We were greeted in bed by a¬†volunteer’s delicious banana bread, I had a mock photo shoot and dance lesson with another, a great workout and tan on the roof, got a voice lesson from my roommate, and had a girl’s movie night watching A Fault In Our Stars. I’m so glad I was here to experience it all. When we give thanks, even in trials, God comes through every single time. Nandri.

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day 14: byes and bikes

Early this morning around 5:45, I went up to the roof to see the sunrise. I was a bit late, but still got some cool pictures of the campus:

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Mid-morning, we went over to the school to say goodbye to the kids before they left for break. Because this is a boarding school, many only get to see their parents a couple times a year. All the families looked so happy, and the parents seemed so proud. As much as I love it here, it made me look forward to seeing my family in a couple months.

Instead of requesting a van, we decided to spend a day at home. A few of the girls and I decided to bike to the junction for some Indian snack mix, soda and jewelry. I cannot tell you how incredible and exhilarating it was to be on a bike, going through the vast fields and cozy villages of southern India. How blessed are we??

Along the way we were greeted by several excited and curious children, women in beautiful garments carrying straw, and many other friendly locals who ran out of their huts to greet us and wave. It doesn’t seem like many of these people are exposed to caucasians, and they are not shy at all in expressing their enthusiasm and asking questions.

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When I used to see pictures like this on past volunteer’s blogs, India seemed like such an exotic, foreign and faraway place. But now that I am here, it quickly becomes a part of your everyday reality and you feel right at home among people you can barely exchange two words with.

*Change in plans…

Tomorrow, I had planned to fly to Northern India to see the Ganges River, Agra, Delhi and Jaipur. Unfortunately, this afternoon we were informed that there were several riots going on in Tamil Nadu due to an undesired trial verdict. Therefore, people are advised to stay indoors, so I am not able to get to the airport to make my flight. I will instead be flying on Tuesday and will still get in a few days of traveling.

I’ve learned that India really forces you to be flexible and deal with disappointment¬†because things like this come up all the time and usually last minute.Though I’m sad to miss getting to see the Ganges River, I am very grateful for the chance to travel at all. Living in a third world country puts things into perspective and makes our inconveniences seem minor.

Basically, India is life. And God ROCKS.

DAY 13: Discowale Khisko

This morning, I woke up early to dance on the roof of our hostel. It was really awesome because as I was practicing I saw the kids waving from across the school across the street. I want to be a good example to them of what hard work and outside practice and training look like.

Then it was time to go to our last colony of the week. I was in charge of nail clipping and oiling, my favorite task. I like pretending like I’m pampering each person with a pedicure and massage. There’s something very special about elders allowing a young stranger to help them with something so basic, yet so intimate.

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Tonight at Life Dance rehearsal, all the kids showed up as promised. After warm-up, I¬†showed them a dance clip from the Bollywood movie “Dil Bole Hadippa” (Indian version of “She’s the Man”). It’s a very high-energy dance number, and I wanted to show them the joy and intensity they should be striving for:¬†https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ccYB6acfzs

It’s my understanding that they are only shown Tamil and American movies, so I wanted to expose¬†them to the Pujabi style of dance like the moves I have been teaching them.¬†By the end of rehearsal, we had an audience of several younger kids and staff members, all eager to join in on the fun.

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To give other kids a chance to join and to motivate the existing members, I have decided to hold auditions again towards the end of November. I explained to the dancers¬†that while it’s their decision how much effort they want to put in, that their decision¬†will determine whether or not they stay on the team. I think it’s only fair that only those who are really excited to be there and to work hard should get to stay.

So far, I’ve realized the best way to relate to children is to give them freedom of choice but make them aware¬†of consequences. That also frees me up to be positive and fun since they already know what’s at stake.

Overall, and perhaps I should have made this more clear to them, I am so incredibly proud of their hard work, enthusiasm and progress over the past week. The best part for me is seeing them so full of joy and the look of gratification on their faces when they accomplish something, whether it be getting down further in the splits, making it all the way through abs, or mastering a challenging move.

These kids are amazing, and I am honored to be here. I will miss dancing with them during their break next week!