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October 15, 2012

Well. Another trip to India has come and gone. I have been home for about 4 weeks and I am just now able to think about that wonderful, magical time without feeling wistful.

I left for Delhi on June 30th, 2012. My first stop was Varanasi, I had planned to spend 4 days there–which was about 3 days too long. I did not experience any of the magic that others have experienced by visiting this holy city..maybe it was me, maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the garbage and the incessant harrassment…I dont know, I do know that the city left me feeling less than holy.

But, no worries–I had an adventure at the very least, and on Thursday July 5, I took the train from Varanasi back to Umaria. In Umaria, I was met by the crew from the White Tiger Forest Lodge, the base from which I operate all the activities for ‘the mustard seed project”.

Friday morning, after a breakfast of parathas and chai–I met with the new group “The global tiger awareness society of Bandhavgarh, India”. Its a big name, for a little group–but they will do great things for their community, I am sure of it.








The group is just newly formed with their brand new title and they have recently applied for, and recieved NGO status. Knowing India like I do–I am sure there were many, many, many forms to fill out for this privilege!

At our meeting, it was decided that we would purchase 14 bikes with the funds so generously collected from my church, the staff at Valley Heights Secondary School, and some family members. We had a total of approximately 700$ or 14,000 rupees. Luckily, bikes are fairly cheap in India, and even buying the top quailty utility bike we could buy 14.

Bike Shop









Unfortunately we didnt bargain very much for the bikes–the proprietor of the shop was not interested in coming down a few rupees, and in the interest of time, we all agreed that he was asking a fair price. We agreed on a price, some pumps and delivery.

Shockingly, he assured us that the bikes would be delivered by truck by the early evening. I was skeptical about this, as nothing in india is quite so simple-and sure enough, the bike truck did not arrive at 4 as promised, but at midnight. No worries though, as I was just flabbergasted that we actually purchased and recieved 14 bikes at such short notice!







I can not stress enough how quickly this whole process was implemented. From purchasing the bikes, to delivery was about 10 hours…that’s amazing. I am not even sure that Canadian Tire would have 14 bikes in stock, let alone a small bicycle shop in remote India. When you consider the distances involved, the quality of the roads and logistics involved in the whole undertaking, it was obvious that a bigger power than myself was helping out.







Saturday, bright and early–the group gathered and bicycle delivery was under way.

We decided that each of the schools in the area would get 2 or 3 bikes, depending on the size of the school.

What followed was a day of joy and happiness. The looks on the kids faces as the bikes were unloaded, and they took their first spin around the grounds was worth everything.







The girls naturally held back, and let the boys ride the bikes–but one of the stipulations that was important for me to stress, was that the girls get priority for bike use.







My fantasy is that the bikes will be used for school transportation, to go home for lunch, to get medical aid, to go to the doctor, to go to market–having a bike frees you to explore and gives you access to services the children might not normally have access to.

I hope my fantasy is a reality.

via con dios….

Going back….

March 14, 2012

June 29th. I leave Toronto on British Airways and land in Delhi, India two days later. I AM SO EXCITED!! From Delhi, I will make my way to Tala, and once again hook up with the Anti Malaria Group …however, its a new and improved group now–so I can see what they have been doing, check out their work and give them my support. Its funny, because whenever I communicate with Vedant, the head honcho of the group–he asks for my ‘blessings’ as if I am Jesus or the blessed virgin…I realize of course, that he is asking for my support. Support is something I can give freely.

I plan to stay in Tala only for a few days–I am not sure at this point, if I will be bringing any donations–I will have to process how I feel about that. Maybe–maybe not. I wish I had time to stay for a few months and teach at the school. In third world countries, the way out of poverty is English. English–something we take for granted here in North America-is a pretty hot commodity.

I cant wait until I can retire and I am free to teach overseas for long periods of time-thats my dream-which I can make a reality.

Enroute to Tala, I will go to Kolkota, Varansi, Tala, then probably over to Rajhastan. I will be doing this solo–and I am thrilled. This past year has, for various reasons been the worst year of my life, and I am looking forward to the escape of travel.

Travel gets me out of my head, and introduces me to different ways of living life. Did you know that you dont HAVE to have a 9-5 existence, living from pay cheque to pay cheque to pay off the house and pay for soccer for the kids? You dont.

Thanks to a friend for the donation. The generosity of strangers never ceases to amaze me. Hopefully I am one of those strangers when its my turn to ante up.

Stay tuned….

So! The latest news that is new is that the Anti-Malaria Club of Bandhavgarh is now “The Global Tiger Conservation Society”. The team has gone on to new and better things! The club is also now a registered Club in India, and for that, they should be commended. Doing anything like that in India probably required HOURS of paper work. Congratulations guys!! Their mandate will be to continue with education, charity work and the preservation of the tiger, in their native Tala. I am very proud of them for the initiative it took to sort this out.
I plan to go back this summer, and see what’s what, and what the club is doing.
Another piece of news–if you were wondering why my co-founder isnt writing? He is pursuing other interests now, and so , I am travelling on this path alone…I wish him well on his journey.
Its amazing how a ripple turns into something much bigger than was ever thought of.

Feeding fish…..

August 20, 2011

So I’ve been thinking about that slogan-remember from the ’70s ” give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime”…I have been thinking aobut that in response to my work over the past few years with the mustardseedproject. I dont know if charity efforts like the one I described here are really helpful–perhaps I should be redirecting my efforts into something more meaningful and lasting–like teaching English. If a third work resident has english–he has the world open to him. Also, have been reading about the most recent third world scam that capitlizes on the ‘do good’ craze from bored westeners–“VOLUNTOURISM” you know, where ppl pay big bucks to volunteer –give a few hugs at an orphanage, dig a ditch or two, hand out food at a school–and they pay big bucks for the priveledge. Seems that a lot of ppl are taking advantage of this, and setting up fake NGO’s and fake orphanages–just for the cash from these ppl. Interesting dilemna. Will explore this later in future posts.

Bargaining Power.

February 10, 2011

Bargain Hard. Walk Away. Make them sweat. Dont give in. Stand your ground. Name your price. Decide what its worth….Such is the advice that is given to readers of guide books and ‘how to’ manuals when it comes to the art of bargaining in third world countries. And you know what?? It’s all true. I love bargaining, and being Italian and used to the bargaining scene, I am very good at it. I have no problem walking away–having the article is not a matter of life or death to me, so walking away is not difficult. Not that I have ever HAD to walk away, it just hardly ever gets to that point. Most of the time, the seller is all to happy to have me purchase the article, albeit at a reduced price.
However, I have never bargained so much as I did for the purchase of school equipment and blankets.
When you are buying in mass quantities, a little bit of a discount goes a very long way. You have to forget that things in India are cheap anyway–you have to look at the facts.
For example.
A quality wool blanket was 375 rupees. I had over 35000 rupess to spend. That meant, that at that price, I could buy 93 blankets. I wanted more blankets. Each rupee became very very important. Sure, individually having ONE blanket cost 325 rupess is not a huge savings…but it makes a big difference when you are buying en masse!
At 325 rupees, I could now buy 107 blankets. Thats 14 more blankets! Thats 14 more homes. Thats often, over 30 kids. Thats STAGGERING!! for the difference of just 50 rupees…which is about…1.10$, we could cause over 30 kids to keep warm at night!!! Suddenly, bargaining took on a whole new meaning!!
I became like a crazy woman. I fretted, I fussed, I cajoled, I walked away, I got angry, I got flirtatious, I got mean, I got soft….I WANTED A DEAL DAGNABBIT!!!!!!
In the end, I was just annoying.
I got my deal though–and was smug in the knowledge that I had done the best I could. In the end, I bought 96 blankets, 15 soccer balls, 5 cricket sets and 1 badminton set. I did good.

Bargaining for Soccer Balls

The Blanket Shop--let the bargaining begin!!

The Deal is Done.

You know, we often are asked that question “what makes you happy” and often things that come to mind are truly the esoteric things–the important things like family, friends, a good job and health. But when you think of it, there are so many things that can make us happy–and for a few days in January I knew that happiness is a warm blanket.
You know when you are in bed, and you are lying there cold–and you know that you should get up to get a blanket, but you dont want to leave the ‘warm’ bed, because you know that as soon as you throw the covers back, you will get colder…and so you keep lying there–cold-thinking of getting up, but too cold to get up? and on and on and on?? How happy would you be, if someone were to say–Hey, do you want this blanket? and they would cover you, without you moving a muscle? How nice would that be??
Now, picture that same scene–but this time, you are just lying there cold and you HAVE no blanket. Getting up is not an option, so you lie there huddled up in a ball for warmth, because you have nothing with which to warm yourself. Being cold is a fact of life for you.
Well, I am happy to say–that for over 150 people in Tala, India…that is not going to be the case anymore. Now, thanks to the generous donations of people in my church and the London, SDA church some folks in this far off corner of the world, will be warm. And, that dear reader is going to make them happy.

Upon my arrival in Tala, the representatives of the Anti-Malaria Group were there to meet me, as usual. After my long long journey, they were a very welcome sight. We exchanged pleasantries and scheduled our first official meeting.
I had never been to the White Tiger Forest Lodge when the Park was open, and I must say what an incredible difference the Park makes to the hustle and bustle of the village and hotel. It was hoppin’!!! I was reminded that a whole economy was dependant on the tiger–and if it goes, Tala would become just another remote indian village, forgotten in time.
The meeting with the Anti-Malaria Club group took place that evening at 4pm. In my absence the club has been very busy connecting with the villages, offering free medical care and regular visits to the school.
One of the club members, is a homeopathic doctor who has recently been employed with the Corbett Foundation.

He works closely with the Anti-Malaria Club and this partnership increases the impact of the Club because now they have direct access to the needs and conditions of the tribals in the area. If the Club continues to join hands with the Corbett Foundation, they increase the scope and the impact of their efforts–and thats a pretty good thing.

In our meeting, we discussed the current needs of the people, and it was unanimously decided that since it was so cold out, that the money would be used to buy thick, woolen blankets and not mosquito nets this time. It is about meeting the needs of the people after all.
The blankets were estimated to cost around 4.50$ each, so we figured that with the money available, we should be able to purchase around…100 blankets. I felt pleased that we would be impacting 100 families. Pleased that little children would be able to be warm tomorrow night…and that old people would not need to feel the chill in their bones.

Will I stay or will I go?

January 7, 2011

So my return trip to India got off to a rocky start, I was stuck in that ‘airport shut down, nothing you can do about it ‘game. I get to the airport Friday, December 17th, only to find out my scheduled flight from Toronto to Amsterdam was cancelled–as my plane never left Amsterdam. What followed was spending hours on the phone with a myriad of airline reps ( who I firmly believe were all in cahoots to prevent me from flying anywhere) I got nowhere. The best I could do was a flight out via Paris, on Monday December 21. Saturday and Sunday were very surreal–kind of lost -but not really.I just holed up, checked weather reports, and googled ” airport closures” too many times to count.

Monday, I was all set to go Toronto/Paris/Delhi –only to find out that THIS time, Paris was snowed in, and my plane from Toronto would be delayed by 6 hours. This meant that I was going to miss my Paris/Delhi flight. The next flight from Paris to Delhi was on the 28th of December….seeing as I would have to come home, 2 days later–that seemed pointless. Airlines were cancelling people’s holidays all over the place. However, because I was a single person, and just needed one seat, they could get me Toronto/Paris/Paris/Moscow/Moscow/Delhi….an overall journey that would take 2 full travelling days. I was a bit freaked out about taking a Russian jet ( I mean come on, have YOU heard of Aeroflot?) but I had no choice, so on Dec. 22nd at 1am Canadian Time I set off.
I loved it.
I felt like such an adventurer—off to see the world, on my own.
I didnt even care that i had to spend 9 hours in Moscow at the airport…i was just moving, and thats when I am happiest.
Moscow airport was weird. The people are weird. The airport is weird. The people were just plain mean, and the prices were astronomical. I paid 18$ for two coffees and a water. ( and that was after I resisted buying anything until I got the point where I would sell my soul for a latte)
Paris airport was not much better, but at least the prices were in Euros…I understood euros. Russion Rubles?? At first glance I had no idea how much that coffee and water was costing me. ( sometimes ignorance is bliss!)

Anyway, 2.5 days later, I arrive in Delhi at midnight. Excited, scared and invigorated. My business gets fought over at the taxi stand, and an hour later, I arrive at my hotel. Dodgy to say the least, but still, its India, and if you are polite you can get anything–so after I got my room sorted ( sheets for the bed and a towel) I settled down to a fitful sleep.
The next day, I took a train to 15 hour train ride to Tala, luckily I had a sleeper car, so I just holed up, and went to sleep. I was the happiest I had been in eons.
15 hours later, I arrive at my destination, and rendezvoused with my mom. Needless to say, she was very very happy to see me, especially as it looked like I was never going to meet up with her!!!

The following commentary was not written by me. I found it on a travel blog, and I unfortunately cannot source it as I dont recall where I found it now. I am including it here because it captures succinctly the hope, tenacity and resilience of the Indian people. I have seen similar things many times. The students improvising with writing utensils–sharing each others pens and paper.

The kids using garbage for sports equipment, not complaining or questioning –just playing–a can is the soccer ball. When you have nothing, you learn to improvise. A skill that our young people often lack, because they have not had to do without. When you do without, you learn resilience.

While volunteering in India, I taught disadvantaged young adults interview skills and English conversation. After studying interview skills, we orchestrated a test interview with another volunteer they had never met. The students were very nervous to try to conduct an interview in English and with a stranger.

That morning I smiled as they all walked in with their best clothes on they could find; one even wore a tie. We had talked about how important it was to dress your best – whatever level that may be. I watched as nervous students did their interview one by one. However, I noticed that as one left the interview room and came out they would quickly swap shoes and that single tie with the next person ‘on deck’. The flip-flops came off and the one pair of shared dress shoes went on. This was one of the most moving experiences for me during my time in India. I could only hope that one day the kids would learn enough to get them hired in a real interview and eventually buy their own pair of nice shoes.

For me, travel is about knowledge building. Through travel, you learn about other countries and cultures; you are also exposed to various levels of poverty, sadness, and despair.”–Unknown Source