A Travellerspoint blog

ANOTHER BID FAREWELL

Within a Hearbeat

With a heavy heart I report that my time as a school teacher has come to an end. Last Friday was my final day and I sadly left my host family the following Saturday afternoon. The hostel boys, Vatsala's brother Ananja and Deven's sister Deepa all saw me to the taxi stand. Everyone bid me farewell with love and gratitude and I felt my heart tugging at the thought of leaving and possibly never seeing this village or it's beautiful people again.

I am still grappling with the idea of altruistic volunteering. I can now honestly say that the choice to volunteer was more for self serving reasons than a pure desire to improve the lives of a village's school children. And I am okay with that. It is what I needed and what I wanted. So without much unnecessary thought I followed the Polka Dotted Unicorn into the forest. If I return to the school, which I have all desires and intentions to do, maybe then I can say my volunteering has been elevated to a more altruistic place. Otherwise, it all becomes a memory.

The other grapple : Was my work effective? I'm sure somewhat. But teaching is HARD and takes more planning than I ever thought. Props to all the teachers reading and all my teachers who molded my adolescent years. Our last lesson was creating a school newspaper for the older kids and rewriting fairy tales for the younger kids. They did amazing work and I think they learned a few things.

original: LITTLE MATCHSTICK GIRL

original: LITTLE MATCHSTICK GIRL

Rewriting Fairytales

Rewriting Fairytales

school newspaper

school newspaper

school newspaper

school newspaper

I attempted with all my lessons to challenge their thinking. Ask them questions they have never been asked and pose ideas that life in a hill station will not ordinarily offer. But with only 5 weeks (4 weeks after all the holidays) of 40 minute classes (30 minutes on Fridays), I think I was a mostly a break from the norm. I was a strange creature that provided a peek into life outside their village.

Class 6 surprised me and EACH gave me homemade cards! I was floored. Some of them even cried. Not for me though. I think just to see if they could cry on command. When you're 10 and your friend cries there is peer pressure for you to cry. So one drama queen started to cry and before I knew it all the children had these sad faces as they tried to get their tear ducts to work! It was the cutest thing. Of course I told them to knock it off and come outside to the playground with me!
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I also got pens, a teddy bear, Nepali scarves which they give to guests kind of like Hawaiians give leis, and this vase.

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Yeah, imagine me trying to stuff that in my backpack. Somehow I did though. Couldn't leave it behind. Tovah I think it should go in your room ;-). By the way, my backpack now weighs about 25kgs. I started with about 13. The ever growing:

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I am now off to month 3 of my journey. A brief stop in Kolkata. A plane ride to Bangalore where I will enjoy some much needed 5 star R&R with a friend and then a 10 day silent Vipassana Meditation retreat. I know! What about the beach right? Travel takes unexpected twists and turns. I'm happily enjoying the ride. Not to worry. I will see the beach...even if it is monsoon season ;-)

Before I sign off here are a few of my favorite pics from my time here:

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MORNING EXERCISE

MORNING EXERCISE

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IMG_20140423_223518.jpgMORNING PRAYERS

MORNING PRAYERS

Chillin

Chillin

football

football

Advaitya: the golden child

Advaitya: the golden child

PRANYAMA

PRANYAMA

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HAUNTING

HAUNTING

MISS VATSALA

MISS VATSALA

PRINCIPAL SIR DEVIN

PRINCIPAL SIR DEVIN

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Ended in a heartbeat. Memory until forever.
Thank you Magno Vale.

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 00:20 Archived in India Comments (3)

THE LITTLE BEAUTY PARLOR THAT COULD

Getting my hair "did" in India

rain 68 °F

So, it's been 2 months and I was eager to get my eyebrows threaded. There's never much to thread because my hair is fine hair and grows at a snails pace but I really wanted to say that I paid 25 Rupees - the equivalent of 45¢ - instead of the American price of $10 for threading. When I asked my host Mom, Vatsala if she could recommend a place she suggested I get a hair treatment too.

A hair treatment? I'm intrigued! And what exactly does that entail? Who cares? Of course I want an Indian hair treatment.

I am always complaining to Vatsala that my short hair won't grow long enough or fast enough. I long for something I'll never have which is long, thick beautiful locks like her, her sister, mother-in-law and every other woman in India. But she said no, it IS possible. You just have to get the hair treatment. Whatever you say girl! If you do it to your hair I want to do to mine!

So we planned the excursion for the first of May because school was out in celebration of May Day. Within one month of teaching, the kids had 5 days off because of holidays. Did you know India celebrates Good Friday, Palm Sunday and Easter?! The death and rebirth of Jesus is a National holiday in a Hindu country. Good stuff.

Back to it...Monsoon season doesn't start til June but the way it rained on May Day you could have fooled me. Pouring buckets! The rain began just at the end of band practice for the students. Magno Vale Academy is the village marching band champion and practices just started for the competition approaching in August. Even on a day off from school they are expected to attend practice. The girls play recorders, the boys have a full drum line (not like an ATL, historically black, college drum line but you know, like a village one) and this year they are adding the bag pipes to seal in First Place!

When I showed up for the practice, I was shocked at how good they were. Tears began to well up in my eyes as the girls played the school song in unison on their recorders, all the while marching with their blue and white uniforms and perfectly braided pigtails complete with white bows and barrettes bouncing up and down as they marched around the school yard. It was tooooo much!!! How was this even happening in a small village town on the side of a mountain!

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Practice ended early because the rain started to fall and everyone has to walk back on an unpaved dirt road back to town. I headed back to the house for another delicious lunch with the family and then off to the beauty parlor with Vatsala. Because of the rain there was the extra chance that the power, which already goes out at random in India, (my head lamp has come in handy NUMEROUS times), would not be available. As we were about to leave, Vatsala told me to wait so she could check if the beauty shop's power was on. You would think she had to go to the beauty parlor to check, right? So I sat down to read the paper while I waited but she was back in 5 seconds saying we were all good. That scenario still doesn't make sense to me but sometimes in India I don't ask questions, I just go with the flow.

We walked all of 1 minute and 30 seconds sharing and umbrella to the local beauty parlor. It was a tiny 2 chair shop with an extra chair connected to a big hair dryer in the corner. The size of everything made me feel like Will Ferrell in Santa's workshop in the movie Elf. I was so tall and everything seemed to be so small...the people, the chairs, the shop. There were mirrors all around and posters of Asain faces with hairstyles from long and wavy to bobs to edgy variations on the mullet. There were 2 women in the shop and a little boy about 4 years old who attends Magno Vale's nursery school located on the basement floor of my home stay. We waited about 10 minutes for them to call the owner of the shop who was pregnant and probably somewhere with her feet up not thinking anyone would come in with the rain coming down as it was.

She arrived and got started on my eyebrows. Vatsala told me she used to have a shop in Dubai which I guess signifies her worth as an aesthetician. Then came the fun part... The power went out! There we all sat in the dark , me holding my eyebrows like they have you do, an assistant shinning a flashlight on my face and the owner carefully threading away unbothered by the circumstances.

I have not learned to speak Nepali, the local language, but I have learned to figure out what is going on through context clues and the random English words that have no Nepali translation. I was able to deduce that because there was no power, the "hair dryer" would not work and they would have to "steam dry" my hair instead. And so the process began. One of the assistants heated a bowl full of olive oil and began applying it to my scalp with cotton balls. She did this to every inch of my scalp. Then came the best part - THE MASSAGE! For at least 10 minutes she rubbed my scalp, tugged on my hair, kneaded my temples, ears and nape. She massaged up, down, in circles, diaganals, figure 8s. It was maddness and there was a clear method to her madness. It felt so good and with a little bit of hurt too. When it was over I felt like going to sleep right in her chair. But no time for that because the owner then came over and began her version of the same head massage! Altogether 20 minutes of heaven at a beauty parlor in India -actually it could have been only 5 minutes but with her hands and the sounds of rain outside the window, I was transported somewhere free of space and time.

After she finished and I returned back to my body, she began coating my hair with a white conditioner. Then the steam portion. Who needs an electrical dryer when you have a bucket of boiling hot water and a towel? She placed the towel in the hot water, wrung it out and placed it over my head. She left it for about 20 seconds just until the heat began to turn lukewarm and then repeated and repeated and repeated again and again and again. Then the rinse... I was wondering how this was going to go because there were no sinks or running water in the shop. Yet, with as many bucket showers as I've taken thus far, I should have known better than to look for water in any other place than a bucket. She brought over the water and gestured for me to dive in. I covered my face and dunked my head and 4 hands rinsed my hair of the oil and conditioner.

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And then what happened? They repeated the whole thing from the oil and cotton to the bucket rinse! How thorough is that?! My only complaint was at the very end when they towel dried my hair not realizing that curly hair just turns into a frizzy Afro when you rub a towel back and forth through it. But they didn't know what to do with my short curly do. They were not used to hair that is not long, straight and thick so no love lost. Besides, my locks were soft as baby's hair by the time the whole process was finished.

So that is my story of the Little Beauty Parlor that Could. A tale of a tiny, non-fancy salon, in a village in Darjeeling, with 2 chairs and no electricity. They treated me to my finest hair treatment. A service that would cost at least $80 at any salon in the States and I got it for the bargain price of 300 rupees ($5) including the eyebrow threading and a tip. Thanking youuuu!

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 19:32 Archived in India Tagged beauty darjeeling parlor Comments (3)

A Day in the Life of an American Volunteer School Teacher

...and yet another toilet situation

all seasons in one day 58 °F

A Day in the Life of an American Volunteer School Teacher

5:30am- I am awaken by pigeons on the roof rehearsing their tap routine. I roll my eyes and go back to sleep

6am - Grandma goes downstairs and rings the bell to wake up the hostel boys and inadvertently me. She then starts the music... Religious Hindi mantras dedicated to Ganesh, Shiva and Laxmi coming from a small but mighty speaker in the kitchen. I actually enjoy the mantras and lay in my bed contemplating getting up but it's so cold outside of these covers I think to myself. I decide to stay a little longer.

6:30am - The man from the Hindu temple next door to my bedroom window begins chanting "Om Namah Shivaya namah Shivaya namah Shivaya namah Shivaya." This goes on for about 10 minutes EVERY morning. I am fully awake now.

6:30ish am - I begin my own Yoga practice in the small but sufficient space of my bedroom.

7:45am - If the sun is shining and I am not freezing cold I take a shower. In reality this ends up being every 2 days. Showers don't happen everyday here and when I found out the hostel boys only shower once a week, I didn't want to be the greedy American asking for a bucket of hot water every morning. Yes, I said a bucket of hot water. What do I do with that? A shower silly! It's actually quite nice and I have gotten used to it. My favorite part is at the end when I dump the remaining water over my head and it all comes rushing over me like I'm under a warm waterfall!

The one part of the no running water in the bathroom situation (there is running water in the kitchen) that I have yet to get accustomed to is the toilet. Another toilet situation right? I know! So as you can see from the picture there are 3 buckets of water. Those are used to flush the toilet... but only for going #2 because it is too much work for #1. We just let #1s build up until a #2 comes along for the big flush.
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The big flush: You take the top off the back of the toilet where all the inner workings of the toilet live (you know, the parts you hope to never have to bother with) and you pour in one of the buckets of water at the same time you push the lever to flush the toilet. Seems easy right? Well it's the most difficult task I have all day! Things get quite precarious because a bucket full of water is heavy! Holding the bucket, I try to figure out the best way to hoist it over the back of the toilet and not spill all the water when I begin to pour. I need both hands to pour because it's so heavy but I also need another hand to flush the toilet because it all has to happen at once. At this point I am wishing I was one of those Indian deities with extra sets of arms. Velocity is the key here so I have to pour enough water, with enough force, and flush at just the right time to get everything to go down the toilet.
I'm 0-20 folks. Every morning, I leave the bathroom embarrassed and hoping no one is waiting behind me because I can never get it all to flush. Most of it goes down but never all of it. You only get one shot at this game because (1) you don't want to waste a whole other bucket of water and (2) it's just like a regular toilet that doesn't flush back to back. That second flush is always weaker. Soooo...gross fact...there's always a little something extra floating after Ivorie leaves the bathroom.

8am - Breakfast!
Everyday is different. Some days, Cornflakes and warm milk which I surprisingly love. It's very chilly here so every liquid is served hot. Other days, eggs and toast with jelly and a cream cheese spread that I make into an egg sandwich. Sometimes however, just a plate full of bread, biscuits and cookies. Yesterday...chopatis filled with veggies and potatoes. And of course Chai tea.

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Not quite sure who I am these days... I don't like eggs or excessive carbs but I do not want to complain so I just eat.

8:35am - 8 minute walk to school

8:45am - Morning ritual of school song, school prayer lead by the school captains in the front yard of the school. Then one person from each class comes up and gives their fact of the day- some current or historical fact ranging from a short Ghandi or George Washington bio to last night's Cricket score.

on Fridays morning stretches are added

on Fridays morning stretches are added

9:00- 10:20am - Classes 5 and 8 (all classes 40 minutes each)

10:30-11:45 - BREAK
I have tea of course, check emails, plan weekend trips or prepare lessons for my afternoon classes.

11:50- 12:30pm - Class 10 (my highest level class)
For my USA week, while the younger students worked on the maps, we talked US politics. Dem vs Rep and debated issues polarizing the 2 sides i.e. gun control, abortion, gay marriage, immigration, etc. Very hard to tackle these issues in a language that's not native and they did a great job.

12:30- 1:05pm - LUNCH
I walk back home for lunch. It should be noted that when I walk through the town EVERYONE stares at me as if I was doing grand jetes through the streets. They can't quite figure me out... She's brown enough to be Indian but too tall... maybe her parents are Indian? Indian American? And she's definitely not dressed like an Indian. (While my sense of style is not lost, there's not a whole lot of options in my backpack, so right now my style is a mix between a librarian and a hippie. Not dressing to impress these days.)

1:10- 3:10pm - Classes 6, 7 and 9

3:30pm - Back home for tea and biscuits. Read the paper and my latest book, plan my classes for the following day and play with Advaita, my host family's son.

6:00 - 7:30pm - TUTORING
After school tutoring for Classes 9 and 10 in the hostel students' homework space at the my homestay. Class 10 is prepping for final exams which will place them in a junior college in the bigger city of Darjeeling so Sir Devin insists they do extra tutoring. Class 9 will become Class 10 which takes on the responsibility of being the leaders of the school so Sir Devin feels they need the extra time as well.

8pm - DINNER
I must mention how amazing all the food is! I have not had a bad meal yet! When I travel on the weekends, I find that some restaurants are no comparison to my home cooked meals. The women of course prepare the meals- that's Grandma, Sister and Wifey. They are so cute because for the first week they cooked an American version of every meal for me that was less spicy. Now my taste buds are adapting and I'm asking for them to pass the chutneys!

My host family teaching me secrets of their kitchen

My host family teaching me secrets of their kitchen

Cooking lesaons

Cooking lesaons

We have meat three times a week. Yes, I've been eating meat and eggs and there's no almond milk so I'm drinking cows milk, no quinoa so white rice it is, you saw the carb situation at breakfast and of course I'm eating lots of potatoes. Who am I? And how have I not gained 15 lbs?! My theory is that the food is prepared with love and I eat it with gratitude so the pranic value is high. My gluten free section of Whole Foods will be waiting for me when I return to LA. And Tovah got me excited because she just vsent me a Snapchat of my favorite Brown Rice Tortillas now available at our local Ralph's!!

8:45pm - Yoga Private with Advaita :-)

9:30pm - Fight sleep until it's useless and lights out

Weekends - On most weekends I take time to travel to places nearby. So far I have travelled to:

Kalimpong where I spent time with some other volunteers and visited my first Buddhist monastery,

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Darjeeling where I walked through the tea plantations and pretended i was Julie Andrews while singing The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music.
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this funny lady runs the tea cafe outside the tea plantation

this funny lady runs the tea cafe outside the tea plantation

And just this weekend, Gangtok, Sikkim (get your maps out folks because if you're not Indian, I'm sure you have no idea where that is)
Sikkim is a magical place even cleaner and prettier than Darjeeling. On a clear day Mt Everest is visible. This is a sign on Mahatma Ghandi road in the center of town.
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And here I finally had my 5 Star "Treat-yo-self" weekend.
I stayed 2 nights at this place with lots of wealthy Indian families

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view from balcony

view from balcony

Then 1 night at this place, Hotel Pandim, with my other Budget travellers.

IMG_20140419_171303.jpgview from balcony

view from balcony

All that complaining about my 5 Star and I think I prefer the later!

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 21:02 Archived in India Comments (3)

SOUL TRAVEL Part III

Yes I am Still Here!

all seasons in one day 55 °F

After leaving Varanasi, I travelled 17 hours on yet another train to West Bengal to begin Part 3 of my Indian Soul Travel. India and I were back together and stronger than ever after a beautiful visit in Varanasi. So strong in fact, that she was able to convince me to travel Sleeper Class (as in 2nd class, as in not First Class) on this trip.

The first 10 hours were a breeze. I boarded @6am and it wasn't until nightfall when the roaches decided to wallpaper the train and seats that I had to use every Yogic bone in my body to not jump off the moving train.

"Roaches are really interesting creatures" I lied to myself. "They must be important to the ecological function of this world because they've been on Earth for so long. Without roaches something would be amis."

Thoughts like this were my mantra for the remaining hours of my ride. I did have some comic relief to take my mind off the roaches whenever the trannies passed through the train car. Every 2 hours or so, at least 5-6 transgendered Indians, dressed like they were on their way to Tuesday Night Drag Queen Bingo, stormed through the aisle of the train with antics straight off an episode of Ru Paul's Drag Race.  They used their feminine charm on all the single men to ask for money....Maybe the down payment for that final sex change surgery????

No, in all seriousness, at the time of writing this, transgendered Indians won a Supreme Court battle which makes India the first country to recognize transgenders as a "third gender!" The win grants them eligibility for government assistance with jobs, education and social services. text to link here...

I really wanted to "kiki" with them; get a pic, have a Chai and a mind's eye but I was too afraid to ask (they aren't as friendly to women and in their defense the vice versa is true) so you'll have to use your imaginations as to what that scenario looked like.  Anyway, with the help of the trannies and my Roach Mantras I made it to the other side of my train journey.

I arrived late in the evening, so I waited till morning to ride 5 hours North into the mountains with at least 17 people in a 10 passenger Jeep towards Darjeeling, my new home for the next month. We passed this sign on the way and I had to laugh out loud as I looked to the back of the Jeep to see 16 other bodies squashed atop each other.

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I am happy to report that in this part of India the trash has been reduced in half and there is still littering in the the streets but in nicer, neater piles.

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The rickshaws have been replaced by Jeeps to better face to mountainous terrain.

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The mountain air is so much cleaner! Although India doesn't believe in Smog Checks so when riding in the Jeeps you still suffer from the toxic smell of car exhaust. The faces have changed from brown in color with sharp noses and brow bones to fairer, flatter Mongolian features.

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Buddhist prayer flag color the hill stations.

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Bamboo trees are everywhere and every view is spectacular!

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Unfortunately, it is FREEZING! Okay, maybe not freezing, but I live in LA now and Las Vegas before that, so anything below 65 degrees is pushing it. I suppose this is my Karma for sending all those beach and palm tree Snapchats to my friends and family suffering through Chicago winters. By Day 2 in Sukhia Pokhri I was sick and borrowing winter clothes of my host family.

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But I was taken care of! Mothers in every country know exactly what you need!
Soup and Chopati for the Soul!

Soup and Chopati for the Soul!

All in all, relative to any other city I've visited in India, there is a much calmer, cleaner and more serene pace to life... and the boys are cuter! The men unfortunately, not so much. Somehow after 30, many age into haggered versions of their younger selves complete with bellies anywhere from 4-9 months pregnant.

SO WHY AM I HERE? Since I am now a teacher we will break it down into the 5 Ws:

WHERE: A small, mountainside village called Sukhia Pokhri.
40 min outside Darjeeling city in the state of West Bengal.
Next to Nepal's Eastern border.

WHEN: I am here until the beginning of May for a total of 5 weeks.

WHO: I am staying in the home of the school's headmaster called by the children, Sir Devin. Sir Devin started the school with only 2 classes in his home over 10 years ago. It has since become a staple for the town of Sukhia Pokhri serving around 200 children from Nursery age up to Class X (age 16). Below is a picture of the school which is undergoing construction of an additional level, a new roof and western toilets for both children and staff.

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As you know, it is tradition that Indian families all live together generation upon generation, which means I am living in a full house! There is Devin's mother, the spicy Grandmother who basically runs the show,  his wife Vatsala, his sister Deepa, the wife's brother Ananga and the heir to it all, Devin and Vatsala's son. He's a 5 year old, adorable, spoiled only child who makes me give him Yoga privates every night before bed.
But wait! There's more. On the first floor lives 10 boys ages 6-16 who board at the house year round because the school is too far for them to commute everyday. The family feeds, tutors and cares for them everyday. And there is a cat who just gave birth to 2 kittens. There is never a dull moment in this house.

Me and the hostel boys!

Me and the hostel boys!

WHAT: I am a volunteer teacher for grades 5-10 ages 9-16. I teach 6 classes a day 9am-3pm. And what am i teaching? I ask myself that everyday! We all know that I am nobody's school teacher but I can teach Yoga, I've taught dance to kids, I did my time at a University and I've lived a pretty interesting life thus far that has taught me many a lesson. So I figured I could wrap all of that up nicely and my new students might buy. 

There was no initiation or training period for me either. Devin just gave me a day with each class- ALONE - and the next day told me to go teach! Luckily I spent a day with 2 British volunteers, one of whom is a certified teacher, and left me with tons of great ideas and supplies as their volunteer month had just come to an end.

Don't laugh. Here is my very first chalk board lesson inspired by our discussion on how America and India both have the British in common.

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Then we did a week on USA (what other country would I have chosen?) Geography, neighboring countries, foods and major industries culminating with these beautiful works of smart art!

each class 5-8 made one!

each class 5-8 made one!

Class 7

Class 7



Next week - GRAPHS!
Does the tallest Magno Vale student have the biggest feet?

WHY? Why am I doing this?
To help out the kids?....Sure.
To be of service to someone other than myself?.... Why, of course!
Because I feel guilty about being privileged enough to take a 3 month trip half way across the World?.... Uh, mostly.

And this leads me to a larger discussion on the subject of altruism. Is it really possible for humans to do a nice deed with absolutely no self-interest? Is not everything we do somehow fulfilling some subconscious desire? A fellow Yogi I met in Rishikesh says NO and that even the most compassionate acts of service are related in some way to duty, guilt or that great feeling you get when you make someone's load a little lighter. I cannot speak for all, but I can say with certainty that the work I am doing with these amazing kids is doing me more good than it is doing them. And I must also be honest and admit that I knew this would be the case before I even arrived. Not to diminish my service but subconsciously, I had a need and in providing for other's needs I managed to meet some of my own. Not a coincidence.

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 01:53 Archived in India Comments (3)

INDIA and IVORIE: REUNITED

A Story of Unrequited Love in Varanasi

sunny 90 °F

I fell in love in Varansai.

Fell in love with a Gypsy Soul.

A sweet soul but a hard soul and with a guard up so strong even the sharpest knife breaks upon puncture. I know this soul well so I disappointed myself by falling so hard and so quickly. We only met 3 times. Everyday around sunset at my favorite Chai shop on the river before my trip to the Cremation ceremonies just up the river.

Yes, India and I are back together. I am really low maintenance so all it took was a hot shower, a meal and the sunset on the Ganges.

There I sat with my new German friend Oliver drinking Chai and the Gypsy walked right over to us, one hand on her hip, the other arm embracing a basket of flowers for Puja (a daily prayer ritual done in honor of Mother Ganga).

"You buy!" she said as if she was someone's pushy Grandma.
"No. Not today."
Awwwwwe. One flower Ma'am" she said this time with a lot more honey in her voice.

She was only 8. She wore a long, dirty, purple tunic over black leggings. Skin the color of Chai, dark hair and dark almond shaped eyes. There was a fire lit within her. She was so alive. She was wise beyond her 8 years. She was not a child and probably never given the opportunity to be one. She went to school in the daytime and by 5pm she was at work selling flowers.

I fell for her immediately. She was quick, witty and smart and she could sell some flowers! I caught on to her game though and began mocking her. She did this fake crying bit when you refused to buy so I started crying too. She looked up shocked and then mid tears cracked a smile. She knew I knew her game so we moved on from flowers to hand games, thumb wars, blowing bubbles and questions about each other. I showed her pictures of home, California and my family.

"Your Mom, she light. Your Dad dark. Hmm. Your Mom light like mine" she said while looking through my camera phone.

She told me I needed to cover my shoulders one day when it was so hot I said 'to hell with it' and went against Indian tradition and wore a tank top! A young girl walked by us also wearing a tank top. I pointed to her and asked why she could and I couldn't.

"You big, she little."

Then she roughly pulled off the scarf from my head to cover my shoulders.

"Better" she said.

I was too tickled. She could do no wrong!

When I came back the next day, I saw her eyes light up and I knew she was happy to see me. The cynical German told me she only lights up at the sight of a customer. I knew he was probably right but I carried on trying to stay blissfully ignorant.

"You buy flower today. You say yesterday you buy today."

Ok. I will buy after my Chai."

She took my word as an excuse to put down the basket and play with me. Her sister (selling postcards) and her little brother came by to play also. Intermittently she whispers to me, "you buy 2 flowers, okay?" I save for you" as if to keep me on task. Oliver and I noticed an older boy sitting behind us. The overseer. I wondered why she kept going back to the sell. Then I realized he was there as a reminder that this was work and I am the customer, not the friend. He kept her from drifting...drifting towards the freedom of childhood. I wouldn't admit it to him, but cynical Oliver was right. I am the foreigner in town a week only to leave her in the same place selling flowers. She knew her boundaries. She knew our roles. She was my first but I was not the first to fall for her.

My Chai Guy

My Chai Guy

On the third day, my last day in Varanasi, I arrived late hoping to see her one last time. I sat and had Chai but no children. At this moment, knowing I might have missed her forever, I realized how attached I'd grown in only 3 days. I sat talking to the owner of the Chai shop and there she appeared one hand on the hip the other holding the basket! She came over to me but the Chai owner scolded her in Hindi telling her not to bother me about buying. She was dressed up with a sparkly dress and I complimented her on how pretty she looked today but she ignored the compliment. All the children have an unwritten code not to accept anything from rich Westerners. No candy. No biscuits. No compliments. Only $$ and only $$ if you are buying from them, not a handout.

When my Chai Guy wasn't looking, she whispered in my ear, "You buy 3 flowers today okay?"

There weren't many left and what was left was bruised but it didn't matter to me. "Okay, 3 it is!"

Impressed at how easy that was she took it a step further. A big step. "You buy ALL okay? Only 7 left."

The flowers were only 10 Rupees each. Seventeen cents people. Money was not an issue.

"I'll buy 3 if you do a Puja with me."

"Okay. No problem."

All the while I knew I would buy them all and I am pretty sure she did too.

We went down to the river to send off the flowers into Mother Ganga. My Chai Guy offered his boat so we could properly send the flowers off into the middle of the river. As we got into the boat, I felt her becoming uncomfortable. Too intimate. Crossing boundaries. But our time had came to an end. It was time for payment. I bought all 7 flowers for 70 Rupees. I gave here a 100 Rupee bill. "I don't have change" she lied. Wasn't she clear that I was too smitten with her to ask for 30 Rupees back.

"It's yours" I replied embarrassed that I didn't give her more.

There was half a moment where I felt she wanted to hug me.

"Okay, bye" and she turned abruptly and ran off like I might change my mind and ask for my change back.

I watched her leave hoping she would turn around and give me something. A wave, a look, a smile, anything to assure me that this feeling was mutual. That I was not a psycho tourist but that we shared a moment...moments. She liked me, I know she did. I wasn't the same as the others. I saw past her games, her schemes. We had something.

I tried to remember her name. Hmmmmm....she never told me,

Varanasi Gypsy

Varanasi Gypsy

Varanasi Gypsy

Varanasi Gypsy

Varanasi Gypsy

Varanasi Gypsy


She didn't want to take any of these.

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 10:06 Archived in India Comments (3)

I MIGHT HAVE TO BREAK UP WITH INDIA

The Going Got Tough

Everyone, every Blog, every guidebook says there will be a moment when India gets the best of you. I was starting to feel lucky because it has been one month and every moment continues to be better than the last. I didn't think there was anything that could steal my joy and my love for India... that is until I went to AGRA to see the TAJ MAHAL.

It was my fault really because I was DOING THE MOST and thought it efficient to book 2 train rides in one day, one being a 13 hour overnight train from the TAJ MAHAL to VARANASI. Every traveler recommendeds NOT to spend the night in AGRA because the TAJ MAHAL is the beginning, middle and end of that city. I was arriving at 11:30am and departing at 11:50pm. 12 hours. Perfect! Well, 12 hours was 8 hours too long!

Do you know when all the flaws and idiosyncrasies of a new lover go from being pinch-their-cheeks cute and endearing to stupid and maddening? So, India is my new lover and we recently got into a HUGE fight because she was getting on my last nerve!!! All those things I overlooked upon arrival and ascribed to being "just the way India is" where now the bane of my existence.

It seems incredulous that an ENTIRE country can be so FUCKING FILTHY (excuse my language but I don't know a more fitting description). No, really. Not just filthy in poor neighborhoods or crowded city centers, filthy in ALL neighborhoods. And the citizens of India act like they do not even care. They throw EVERYTHING (also excuse the excessive Cap Locks. I don't know how else to convey my feelings) onto the streets, the floor, the train platforms. Inside the trains- banana peels on the seats, chip bags, crumbs. You've never seen so many crumbs. A 500 calorie meal if you scrape together all the crumbs from one train car. I witnessed a boy, all of 2 years old, throw his plastic Chai tea cup with force and conviction right onto the train platform, left over tea spilling everywhere. It is learned behavior. It is SAD. A movement is in order.

Agra Train Station Filth

Agra Train Station Filth

Agra Train Station

Agra Train Station

But it was not just the filth India and I were arguing over....

It was HOT which make all things unsanitary more unsanitary.

I had 2 huge pimples om my face because all the curry I've been loving is probably cooked in a shit load of butter. I haven't been able to get a decent piece of fruit since Rishikesh. Sorry no photo documentation of that ;-)

No Yoga in 5 days because I don't have a mat and afraid to do it on my hotel room floor.

The men spitting tobacco everywhere, so that i have to dodge it as I walk down the street. And the men spitting up phlegm. All day long there is the sound of men hacking up the day's accumulation of dirt and pollution and then ever so gracefully spitting it wherever they saw fit. Real sexy guys. A sure way to snag a wife.

The INCESSANT honking of horns of EVERY vehicle. Buses, trucks, motorcycles, cars, rickshaws and bicycles. All day. Everyday.

The poverty in Agra seemed to be on overload. Should not have affected me so much as it was no worse than Delhi or Jaipur but like I said everything was exacerbated. It made me question how a country lets such a huge portion of it's population live like this?

The SHIT in the streets. Cows are holy animals so when they shit the streets it's like a gift from Lord Shiva. To date, I have avoided stepping in any and I am thankful for my Mom telling me to bring my boots.

The hustling. No, for the 12 time, I don't want anything. I don't want a ride. I don't want to stay at your guesthouse, I don't want a tour of your cousin's silk shop. I don't want flowers for Puja. I don't want to buy any drugs. This one guy thought he was slick by complimenting my earrings (as if they were not like every other pair of earrings in India). He wanted a photo of them because they were "so beautiful!" But it was too dark outside to capture the picture so he needed me to come to his brother's guesthouse so he could put them against a white piece of paper to get a better picture. Another example of the banana in the tailpipe. Sorry sir, not falling for it.

And you would think one of the Wonders of the World would brighten my spirits. Yeah well, the TAJ MAHAL? A RIP OFF! 750 Rupees to enter and it does not include entrance to any other of the Forts near by. You have to pay an extra 250 Rs for that. And what do Indiana pay? 10Rs. Then they move you through the Mausoleum like cattle. Guards are blowing their whistles at you not to stop too long in one place. I mean can I live?!? I thought one guard was being nice when he flashed his his light for me to better see the beautiful floral detail on the marble wall. That was until he held out his hand for a tip. For flashing your flashlight Buddy?!? Ummmmmmmm...noooooo! Then he rolls his eyes at me like I'm the one with the problem. RUDE!

Agra (24)

Agra (24)

You've seen it a million times. Looks the same in my pictures too.

The Indian motel where I left my bag for the day was so gross. If you are scouting that perfect place to shoot a junkie overdosing on heroine this was the place. Yet, I was grateful because I did not pay for storing my bag. A Swiss guy I met on the the train , named Markus, let me leave my bag in his room. He was 1 month into a 10 month around the world journey. We spent the day at the Taj together playing Charades because his English was limited and my German non existent. He was also unimpressed with his Taj experience.

Sarees!!

Sarees!!

Not even the beautiful sarees all the women wore on their visit to the Taj were cheering me up. I was OVER India. So over it that I called my Mom and Dad! We Skyped and I whined for a five star hotel with unlimited towels and toilet paper. Actually a Holiday Inn next door to an IHOP would be amazing right now. I felt like such a baby calling them but it was that kind of day and I was DREADING the 13 hour train ride that still loomed ahead. And I was traveling SLEEPR CLASS! AS IF! From high to low, there is 2AC, 3AC, Sleeper and then Second Class. I was at the bottom of the totem pole people and on the day I felt like I was turning into a hypochondriac. I wanted to throw a tantrum.

The difference between First Class and Sleeper. First 2 photos are 2AC . Last 3 are Sleeper.
Inside Class 3AC

Inside Class 3AC

Bunk Beds

Bunk Beds

Train Life SLEEPER CLASS

Train Life SLEEPER CLASS

Train Life Var-NJP (1)

Train Life Var-NJP (1)


Train Life- one of a million

Train Life- one of a million

I did throw a tantrum. I was such a baby that not only did I call Mommy and Daddy but- Im embarrased to say it- I upgraded my seat to First Class. I didn't even ask either. With full Western entitlement, I boarded First Class and climbed into an empty birth, pulled the privacy curtain and stuck my headphones in my ears. I learned on the first 2 train rides that the conductor will eventually pass through to check tickets but this sometimes does not happen for hours and maybe since the curtain was closed he wouldn't even notice. But Indians are nosy and within 5 minutes, a conductor came by with about 6 Indian teenage boys peeking behind him. Before boarding, I mistakenly showed one of them my ticket to find out where my seat was. I think when he saw me board First Class he told on me! It was all good. I had no qualms paying 515Rupees or $9 for the upgrade.

But, when I woke up the next morning, with 4 hours still left of my train ride, I realized I was still mad at India. It was like she wasn't even trying! She still smelled and the men were still hacking up wads of spit. Come on guys! Even in First Class?

When we arrived in Varanasi-a magical city I had been looking forward to visiting- I was still OVER IT! I usually sit in the back of my rickshaw on the way from the train station, snapping pics of anything and everything. Not this time. India probably thought it was 'that time of the month' because there I sat with a scarf over my mouth and nose and my arms crossed UNIMPRESSED. She hadn't cleaned her act up one bit! Everyone still honking, more dirt, dust....Inside I was screaming....AAARGGGHHH!!!!

I dug real deep to keep myself from telling the rickshaw driver to turn around and take me to that five star hotel. I had researched a couple while suffering in Agra in case this very moment came to past.

I was really beginning to worry about our future, me and India.
What if this want going to work out? We still have 2 months left together and if something doesn't change....well....IDK....

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 04:23 Archived in India Comments (4)

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