Saturday, November 24, 2012

Jalgaon: A Warm Diwali Welcome

Although it's a challenge to update our blog as much as we like, we do not wish to detract from any part of our amazing Indian experience.  The schedule has been busy and rich with culture, vocation, and friendship.  Here is a short update of my Diwali (Deepivali) experience in Jalgaon on November 13.  
Our team gathered together in Akola for goodbyes and a happy journey as Jigesh loaded our bags on the roof rack of the taxi SUV.  We heard "chello" and knew it was time to move on to our next destination, the city of Jalgaon.  Jalgaon is a city of 460,468 (according to the 2011 census), which is a small city by India's standards.  The drive was a little hectic, to say the least.   We had little room to move and were more than happy to get out and stretch our legs after an hour of driving.  The road conditions caused a bit of stress, we were worried about our luggage by the sounds coming from the roof as we navigated pot holes and triple speed barriers.  A thud came from the windsheild and we exchanged nervous glances.  Low and behold, an innocent little bird flew right into the vehicle.  Becky, our bird expert, appeared to be sleeping in the front seat.  All we could do was hope that she didn't see what we had just witnessed!  We carried on down the highway, each hoping to catch a little rest, but not really comfortable enough to find proper rest!  Before we knew it, we heard a bounce, bounce, and immediately turned to check out the back window... no time to share our worried looks!!  Alain caught a peek at our little bird, apparently released from the luggage and taking a hard fall.  I must admit, we were sorry for the little bird, but did feel relief that we hadn't just lost our luggage from the roof.  Before we knew it, we had arrived at our destination in Jalgaon, to yet another hearty welcome from local Rotarians and host families. 

I knew right away that I was in good hands when my host, Rajesh and his mom introduced themselves to me with a warm handshake and hug (you shoujld know that greetings are usually quite formal in India, with hands together and "Namascar" being a typical "hello").  Rajesh drove us up the street to his nearby home and the family had big smiles to share and I met them in the courtyard, each carefully preparing the rangolis for today's Diwali celebration. 
Combined efforts to create the colourful rangoli designs.  Usha is especially talanted at creating these works of art. 

We had conversation, delicious tea, snacks and some photo ops, followed by some much needed rest (especially after that stressful drive!!).  Walking down the spiral staircase after taking rest, I was as delighted as a kid on Christmas morning to see hundreds and hundreds of marigolds petals being removed from the stem and added to the gorgeous rangoli in the entry way of the Jawahrani residence.  The preparations for tonight's celebrations were well underway. 
Gorgeous flower rangoli made with marigold petals.

Together with Rajesh's mom, Prema, Matali and Priyanka, I visited a temple, a local grocery store, the family business, and a children's clothing shop (where I just happened to find an traditional outfit for my sweet Jacob).  On the walk back to the car, we purchased a few more diyas. 

Later on in the evening, when Rajesh, his father (Sitaldas) and brother (Vinod), arrived home from work, the family dressed in some of the most beautiful Indian attire I had seen!  They all looked so gorgeous and handsome.  Sitaldas led the puja (to welcome the goddess Lackshmi into their home), with support from the youngest member of the family, Karan, sitting closeby.  The children sang and Rajesh's mom offered a gift to each family member. 

The Jawahrani family
The Goddess Lakshmi
As the puja ended, the family greeted family and neighbors, exchanging well wishes and sweets.  And soon the festival of lights began.  Candles lined the driveway and crackers (what we call fireworks) could be heard near and far.  The young ones enjoyed lighting sparklers, and the young at heart filled the sky with bright and beautiful crackers.  Reluctant as I was, Rajesh convinced me to light a few crackers myself, "just light it, and run"!  So, that I did!  The excitement for the crackers never wained, but eventually we headed inside for dinner, sitting cross-legged round the mat on the floor, enjoying more company and great Indian food. 

These crackers were new to me and quickly became my favorites.  They spin on the ground! 

Thank you to the Jawahrani family for sharing your special festival with me. 



Sunday, November 18, 2012

Jalgon - A Snapshot

We visited Jalgon for 4 days, during the Diwali festival. We each had the chance to celebrate with our host families, set off crackers and sparklers and to see the Puja, a Hindu ritual to give an offering to the goddess Lakshmi .

We had the chance to visit the Ghandi Museum at Jain Hills. That was an interactive, artistic and detailed tour of Ghandi’s life, teachings and legacy. It was definitely one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. We also visited a small part of the Jain Hills industry – they create irrigation systems and teach farmers how to use them. They also have other sections of their businesses such as manufacturing PVC pipes and processing fruit.

While spending the day with a magician we had the chance to ride a camel – it was quite an experience to ride around a cricket field with children playing while we each had a ride on the tall camel!

We took 2 days to visit some amazing, ancient hand-cut caves nearby Jalgon. The Ajanta Caves, a UNESCO site and Ellora Caves. These caves were built as Hindu, Bhuddist and Jain caves many centuries ago. The magnificence of these caves overwhelmed us – they were made by hand and the level of artistry, symmetry and handiwork is just awesome.

View of Ajanta Caves from their point of discovery in 1801

One of the thousands of hand-carved depictions in the Ellora Caves

We took the train to Nashik, a definite highlight for me as I love to travel by train. Nashik is our last stop before heading to Mumbai to get on the plane to come home (or to continue traveling, in Jean’s case!)

- Sarah.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Getting a true taste of Indian Culture

Outside my host's house
The best part of the exchange is getting a taste of the Indian culture.  Thus far, all of our hosts have gone out of their way to ensure that we get a feel for what it is like to live in India--eating Indian food, participating in Indian traditions, wearing Indian clothes and learning a word or two of Hindi.  I've had the honour of living in families that truly "adopted" me and took the time to show me as many traditions as they can.  In Aramvati my host family not only included my immediate hosts but all of the friends and neighbours near by.  Although, we had some difficulty communicating orally, we managed just fine...very well in fact.  But since we were a family of few words, I'll tell our story with pictures.

Learning a traditional Indian dance.

Visiting Akancha's school.    

Visiting a nearby school (that the children in my house had or will attend) and my neighbour's son attends.

Getting tattooed

Part of my family

All dressed up!  I had 6 women get me ready in my sari.

Friends, neighbours...fantastic.

Apparently a white woman in a sari is a bit of a spectacle.

A busy day in Akola

Today we had the oppotunity to visit several of the projects run by various Rotary Clubs of Akola. We first visited the Dnyaneshwari Marathi Primary School where we met a group of beautiful and talented students. This school is sponsored by the Akola Central club. We were warmly welcomed and enjoyed singing by the students and got to see some of their artwork. The students were very well-behaved, especially as it was their last day of school before Diwali holidays!

We then visited the Damani Eye Hospital which performs eye surgeries for both paying and non-paying patients. They see about 5000 patients per year and the Akola Main Rotary Club helps cover costs for the patients. We got an extended tour of the facilities although nobody volunteered to undergo any procedures!

The next project took us outside the city to see check dams along a small river. At many times during the year the water dries up so the dams allow better access to the water and to irrigate agricultural land. They were designed by a Rotarian from the US who made them in an arch shape to make them very durable. When we visited people were using water from the dam to wash their clothes. 

We also had a chance to see part of the project where Rotarians installed approximately 240 toilets in the village. Both the dams and toilets projects are sponsored by the Akola Midtown group. On our way back to the city we got a close-up look at a cotton field - a great experience for Jean, our fibre artist. Akola is well-known for having the best cotton around!

The final stop was to the Science Park, sponsored by the Akola East club. It is an outdoor park with lots of interactive stations for children to learn about science. 

After a shopping trip (jewelry, sandals, and clothing) we were treated to a beautiful meal in the garden of the president of the Akola North club. We were even serenaded in Hindi by some very talented Rotarians!

A great and full day in Akola! Tomorrow we will have a bit of rest and Monday will be vocational visits and a visit to the Shegaon Temple. 

- Sarah.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Journey Continues

Green Bee-eater
We stopped at a lake on the vast campus of Amravarti University, one of the largest in India for some bird watching and a visit by some friendly oxen.  

We visited Amravarti's University library and had presentations and visits to several departments.  

Saying goodbye to our Amravarti friends.  Becky's hosts dressed her in a beautiful saree!  Bystanders were gathering on the street to take a peek and take photographs.  We moved to Sanjay's residence to meet some family and friends.  Thank you for the delicious breakfast and the send-off.

We will miss you, Amravati!  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Amazing Amravati

Since our arrival in Amravati, we've again been shown superb hospitality and are seeing a new city with slightly different food and culture than Nagpur.  Our host families are treating us to delightful new dishes and yummy treats.  I had a dessert made with custard apple on Monday evening.  My hosts are Bakul and Neeta Kakkad and they have included me so much in their language (they are VERY patiently helping me with names and a few words.  The language and dialect is so different from English that I find it very difficult to recall words that I have been introduced to).  

Neeta has an early childhood school called Naveem.  She loves children very much and we have had many talks about teaching and education in general.  After seeing photos of her children, talking about her students and programs all week, I finally met her students as headed to her school this morning.  It's Diwali season in India right now, and the teachers had been working hard with the students to welcome me and sing a Happy Diwali song.  I will upload some photos when I have an opportunity.  Following the Diwali songs, the children shared a series of songs and dances that they have learned since coming to school.  I was able to share one of my students' favorite songs, "Five Green and Speckled Frogs", too.  Thank you, Neeta, your teachers and the children.

We are off to a Rotary Club meeting and will present this evening.  We are also celebrating Alain today on his 30th birthday.  

More to come soon.  Glad you're following.

We received beautiful flowers from students at a village school.  Neeta removed the rose petals and arranged them beautifully in a bowl of water.  

Breakfast following 6AM yoga.  The round orange treat on the left is a tasty sweet cooked in oil and then dipped in syrup.  One of my new favorite treats.
This is Neeta's early childhood school, Naveem.  She has 22 students and she is maintaining a teacher-student ratio of 5:1.  The teachers and students had been busy preparing for a Diwali celebration.  

Well, my Canadian teacher friends, these talented ladies
performed a traditional welcome dance and lit candles
to begin Diwali celebrations.  
One of Amravati's rising stars performing a Happy Diwali dance.
Paper mache Diwali lamps.

Lunch at Neeta and Bakul's on Wednesday.  The chipati on the right is made on special occaisions.  It is prepared with a sweet filling (it's not all spicy food, here!!).  The dish on the top left is spicy and made with the white flesh of watermelon.  Delicious and juicy!

Bay-backed Shrike
We headed out of town to bird watch this afternoon.  Becky will have to help with naming the species.  The sounds all around were bird calls.  So peaceful.  We had chai with the local farmers before heading back to the city.

Happy Birthday, Alain!  The Rotarians arranged a cake for  Alain's 30th birthday and they helped us get a cricket bat for him!  

Monday, November 5, 2012

धन्यवाद Nagpur!

धन्यवाद  (thank you!) to the fine Rotarians of Nagpur.
You have shown us a most hospitable time in Nagpur over the past few days.  We appreciate the send-off and are excited to have arrived in our second friendly city, Amravati.
Take care and keep in touch!  

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Art of Block Printing

I thought it about time I took my share of the blog happenings,here goes.  This morning the mother in law of my host Tauby, gave me a tour of the Bakery in the back of the house to select my breakfast.  It was so interesting to see them decorating the cakes, making the sandwiches and calzones and see the gelato machine, most impressive and it took a blueberry muffin and 2 chocolate cookies, very healthy but hey who was looking.  We sat and relaxed and I shared my photos of home, family etc.  I am so lucky to be in this family, the house is a colonial style and I love old homes so I feel very comfortable here.  Tauby took me shopping for some Indian clothes and I was
very pleased with my purchases.  This family is really lovely and so easy to be around.  Thanks to all of you for making me so welcome.

We joined the group for a visit to Spacewood a furniture making factory, which was huge and most interesting, we were treated to another lovely Indian lunch and then got to see the showroom.  Forget the bedroom the kitchens were what Kelly and I wanted to see and dream about, Kelly went for the Olive Green and White combination while I went for, yes you guessed it - dark purple and white, which was so sharp I could have walked out with it on the spot, it had amazing features not seen before. Lotto tickets needed to buy this one.

Next it was on to my vocation day and what a treat to indulge my passion. Rotn. Geeta Rao's workshop where she does block printing.  We saw an orange and wine border print on unbleached cotton and a demonstration of a 3 color block Print, consisting of first one color the an overprint of another of the same block and a third smaller in another color. They do all sorts of things like bed sheets and we also saw 2 plain saris which had been block printed and what a difference it made, a unique sari.

Next on to Geeta's Shop where her one of a kind items thrilled us girls, Alain not so sure, we shall have to work on that aspect!!  Thanks to  Geeta and Shiv for both last night and today from a very grateful GSE 7810 team.

I will go to bed happy tonight after a fabric exciting day.

- Jean

Library Visits!

My first vocational visit took place this morning and wow, what a morning! The day started with a “snack” (a.k.a. a full breakfast) at my host, Dr. Pratibha Siriya’s house where I was greeted with gifts (earrings and a bracelet!) and a full plate of delicious food. Dr. Siriya is the president of the Nagpur Orange City Club.

We then headed to a public library for a quick visit – they are open from 8-10 and then 5-8 in the evening. It was fascinating to see a public library up close – it was a small space but there were many books packed in! The library also had a reading room for the public to enjoy the many newspaper and magazine subscriptions.
A public library visit - the library manager on the right
We then headed to Dr. Ambedkar College where we visited 3 libraries – the main library, the commerce library and the law library.

Main library, Dr. Ambedkar College

I was extremely honoured to be shown the original Constitution of India from 1949. Dr. Ambedkar, after whom the college is named, actually wrote the Indian Constitution so the library at the college keeps the original copy.

Signatures on the original Indian Constitution

We then visited the main Nagpur University Library, a very large university library, as well as one of the campus libraries. It was interesting to see how similar these libraries are to Canadian college and university libraries. There were many students around and I got a chance to speak with some commerce and law students – they were quite surprised to see me walking around their campus!
Something I found very interesting is that in almost all of the libraries the books are kept in metal and glass cases rather than open shelves. I wasn’t able to take pictures inside several of the libraries (security reasons), but I did manage to take a few “snaps.”
A big thank you to my host and her Rotarian friends – it was a great introduction to Indian libraries!

- Sarah.