Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ta Ta Guwahati

My last week in Guwahati was an incredible whirlwind. I was very busy finishing up projects at the centre and enjoying taking the girls to school the last few days. I continued stressing to them, "I am going home but you are going to school." Lots of last lunches and last dinners at friend’s houses. Lots of tears, hugs, goodbyes, and wondering when I will be back. Because we all know, I will be back. I have never eaten so much (rice) in my whole entire life. For every meal, I was at a friend’s house, saying my goodbyes and learning more and more about generosity. And in India, guests are Gods so they pile on the hospitality and food. I am so thankful for everyone who welcomed me into their homes and into their lives throughout my time in India. They gave me such a sense of community. Without that, it wouldn't have been the same. 
The centre gave me a very nice send off. It was so special to make lifelong friends in a place filled with people who simply care to improve children’s lives. Then, on my very last day, I went to feed the children in Lakhtokia. Those goodbyes and riding away from those children as they chased after me was almost more than I could bear. Rosie, my flat mate, then whisked me away and took me to a dance center that just opened for a Bollywood dance class. For an hour and a half, we danced the departure blues away. It was a hoot and if I still lived in Guwahati I would be dancing Bollywood everyday.

And now, I find myself back in America. In just one plane ride, I land in a culture that used to feel so normal, so right. And now, I am shocked at excess. I am shocked at how my heart legitimately hurts as I think about what Khausitan and Komala are doing at this very moment. Did Kristin have an easy time getting the girls to school today? Is Puja staying out of trouble? Is Abita staying safe from the monsoon? Is Pinky enjoying her new job? Is the centre staying busy with the upcoming mission? Is the “egg guy” selling all of his eggs? Is Rosie enjoying her new Bollywood dance class? Did Mashu have a good day at school? Did Omit make it through another grueling day? Did Hina get past her attitude and walk to school this morning?
If I listed what goes through my mind before I go to sleep, when I wake up, when I am making lunch, then this post would be the longest post ever. I am so thankful for this experience and so thankful for what I have learned. But I am not going to sugar coat everything and say I am having an easy transition. This is hard.  For what it"s worth, I have learned that I love the kids in the slum. I love Renuka, the cleft lip patient. I love Khausitan and Komala; they were a pain every now and then, but their determination despite their surroundings, inspire me everyday. I am filled with love and it is up to me to be able to bring that love and compassion here. I think after a couple of weeks the adjustment will be better. Now, I am grieving. But, I will get back in the groove of things. Even so, I know I will continue thinking about Guwahati forever. Remembering the sensory overload and all of my friends. Lakhtokia and all of my friends there will never leave my mind. I think about them every second of the day.

“Always leave a place better than you found it.” I hope I gave Guwahati what Guwahati gave me. I hope I gave GC4 what GC4 gave me. I hope I gave Lakhtokia what Lakhtokia gave me. I learned something from every person I met, from every experience I had, and from every walk I took.
As my flat mate Rosie said, “India will always be here.” And it better be, because I am coming back for it: I am coming back for Lakhtokia and Pratyasha, I am coming back for Operation Smile, and I am coming back for Guwahati. 

Always sending smiles from wherever I am,

Photos of my last few days in no particular order:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

11 Things India (Specifically Guwahati) Needs:

1. Less Corruption

It all started at the beginning of my adventure (back in September, 2012) when Dad and I went to the police station to get registered. All foreigners who are staying in Guwahati for more than three weeks must register with the local police station. As Dad and I walked out of the musty room filled wall to wall with moldy old files, the "sign in" desk asked us for a tip. We were so confused. A tip? What kind of tip? A tip for doing what? Sitting there, telling people to sign in, and not even give them a writing pen? They told us—and I'm not lying—that they wanted a tip for "tea and snacks." I think you get the picture. And that wasn't the only time I had to pay a bribe.

Let me say that in some government schools, the corruption is hard to imagine. Teachers take the uniforms, books and lunches that are supposed to be free for the kids, and make the kids buy them. If the kids do not buy them, the teachers then sell all of this on the street. Throughout the government, and court systems, when you offer to pay bribes your kids get into any school they want, and your life is just a lot easier. The stories about the government here are unreal, and it's all about the money. 

2. Yogurt and Cheese

Enough said. 

3. The "Volunteering" Spirit

Most of the time, people from India ask me why I help Lakhtokia. They do not understand why we feed the slum on Sunday or what makes us have the passion and energy to walk the kids to school twice a day. In all honesty, it is not culturally normal for this to happen here and the Indians have a hard time understanding why we do this. One thing Pratyasha does well is change the way people perceive the people from Lakhtokia. And the foundation also helps inspire Guwahati residents to begin volunteering for NGOs, and noticing what is wrong in their society. 

4. Trash Cans

Today I walked from Don Boscoe afternoon school to Lakhtokia slum to my home (a 45-minute walk) with a juice box in my hand. I never saw one trash can (unless you count a massive pile of trash on the side of the road as a trash can). 

5. Meters in Rickshaws

These would calculate how much I owe for the drive and it would save me and the rickshaw driver a lot of trouble. 

6. Brown Rice Instead of White Rice

White rice is not nutritious (brown rice is more nutritious) but it is such a staple in the diet here. I am going to be completely honest, I cannot eat any more rice. My gosh, it is unreal how much rice they eat here. 

7. Fewer People Doing More Things

Whenever you go somewhere, you have to deal with half a dozen people rather than just one. I understand that is how the economy works: there are so many people in this country and they all have to somehow have a job. But sometimes it is stressful walking into a store, needing help, and having six to ten people to choose from. 

8. New Traffic Police

The traffic police here sit on the police stand and maybe wave their arms if they are feeling up for it. If they could really stand up and direct some cars, it might help Guwahati traffic a tad. 

9. Smell Removal Machines on All City Sidewalks

As I mentioned in an earlier blog about the smelly smells in Guwahati, I think such an invention might be a good investment. The place oftentimes just stinks. My Dad even brought his own after shave lotion that he applied liberally to his face every day to ward of the smells. I think that's a little much but hey, it worked for him. 

10. Gutters, Drainage System

When it rains, it floods. 

11. Hannah Dobie

I mean, Guwahati needs me, right? Then, I would not have to leave, right? 

Sending smiles from India,

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

She is smart

During my last week in Guwahati, I am very busy having last dinners with friends, and soaking up every single mili-second I have. It is definitely an emotional week.

This past weekend, Olivia and I held an Operation Smile student conference. 34 students from a couple of schools came to participate in Guwahati's first U-Lead conference. From breakout sessions, to team games, we had so much fun sharing our passion for service and thinking of ways to help Operation Smile. Six of these students will be going to the International Student Leadership Conference in Norfolk, Virginia. This Conference was what got me interested in Operation Smile to begin with and I know that it will change these girls' lives as well.

Kristin Lay speaks at U-Lead Guwahati 2013. 
U-Lead participants listen to Kristin Lay's talk on Pratyasha. 
Playing games. 
Discussing plans and making goals for the year. 


Today, I told the four slum girls I take to school everyday that I am leaving. Because I cannot speak Assamese, I asked the girls and their mothers to meet with me and the Don Boscoe afternoon program coordinator at the school. The coordinator's office is a calm space, and I thought this was the best option. This was the same teacher who at first commented on how the slum girls were unclean, dressed badly, and had to change if they were to come to the afternoon program. Now she is very into getting these girls into school and keeping them in school. I feel that we have helped alter the way she thinks about this matter. 

The teacher explained to the girls and their mothers that I was leaving for America on Sunday. The girls were very confused. They began asking questions, like would I be coming back again? That broke my heart in two. 

She then spoke more directly to the mothers. She explained more about the two schools the girls are going to—Panbazar girls school in the morning and Don Boscoe school in the afternoon. She spoke about why education is important and described how it is every Indian child's right to have an education. Apart from this, she told them that they are mothers to very smart, determined girls who really want to go to school. I think that was a bit of shock to these moms. I mean who has ever told them they have smart children? Finally, she explained how hard I have worked to keep these girls in school and that when I come back to visit, I will be very sad if they are not in school.

When I leave, this is the plan: Kristin will take the girls to school in the morning. Then, in the afternoons, the moms will rotate taking the kids to Don Boscoe. The moms made a plan to alternate days, which made me feel somewhat confident that they have an interest in their daughter's educations. But honestly, it is hard to tell whether they really mean to continue bringing their kids to school, or if they were just saying that because we were all in front of the teacher.

"There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart... I'll always be with you." -A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh).

The clock hit 3:30 and the girls ran upstairs to their classroom while the mothers stayed behind asking the teacher questions. And then, the moms started explaining how much they look forward to me coming in the mornings and sitting in their houses, and how much they cannot wait to cool me down in the afternoons with their hand fans. They described how much the girls love me and how everyone in the area loves having me around. I learned the girls even have been asking their moms to save up rupees to buy me ice cream. I could go on and on, but the teacher's eyes were full of tears, and yes, one tear rolled down my cheek but I quickly wiped it away. I need to learn how to be strong like the slum women. 

And people ask me why I cannot imagine leaving.

Sending smiles from India,

P.S. Nurses Day...

Nurses Day is celebrated around the world to honor nurses and their work.  GC4 celebrated with a special event (filled with speeches and artistic performances) and lunch.  The "non-nurses team/medical team" made a special dance performance. Here, we are performing Gangham style. 

Finishing up the performance... Bollywood Style! 
Most of the GC4 team!
Just fooling around in Lakhtokia!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Motherly love

Two weeks ago, when I interviewed some of my friends who live in the Lakhtokia slum, I interviewed two mothers. Parvati is a tiny young woman who is always the first person I see upon walking into the slum and has a long history with Pratyasha. Puja is a mother who I am curious about because she looks so worn out and exhausted.

Puja came to Lakhtokia two years ago from Nalbari, a small town in the Nalbari district. She and her husband picked up their three kids and came to Guwahati for work. Ever since coming here, they have lived in the Lakhtokia slum. Soon after moving, her husband discovered alcohol and since then he has had a hard time getting a job. He collects bottles everyday, and makes approximately 100-150 rupees (2-3 dollars) per day. Sometimes they have food and sometimes they must skip a meal: “It depends on how many bottles my husband collects,” Puja said. She likes Nalbari and her old life much more because the living conditions were better. “In Nalbari," she said, "I had dreams for my kids, but now it is not possible.”

Puja told me that she is very scared of her house getting knocked down. The police always come on national holidays (like Independence Day or Republic Day). When these holidays are coming, she and her family move from the slum intto the street and lay low for a little while. She explained that the police come and harass most everyone as they knock down all of the houses. She chooses to avoid these scary times and protect her family at all costs.


Parvati has lived in the Lakhtokia slum her entire life. She lives immediately next to the blue temple where we feed the kids on Sundays, with her daughter, a younger brother, and her mother. Parvati is one of the poorest in Lakhtokia. She lives amongst the trash that she and her family collect, sleeps under one ripped tarp, and smells the sewage flowing right next to her home. Ever since she was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, she has become quite close with the Pratyasha crew. Thanks to Kristin and the volunteer doctor, she was cured within six months of her diagnosis (for more information on this adventure visit Kristin's blog- here and here

Parvati is always smiling and waving when I see her. However, we have all seen Parvati get extremely angry. She can bark at people like I have never seen before. I sense that she is a powerful woman in Lakhtokia. Whenever Parvati knows that I am in the slum picking up the kids for school, I am completely safe. The thought that literally goes through my mind when Parvati waves at me is, “Parvati knows I am here, I am completely protected.”

Parvati guesses her age is 26 but she looks about 19. She has three brothers and two sisters, all of whom live on the railroad tracks. Parvati's tarp houses four people: Abita (her 6-year-old daughter), Zehrul (her 14-year-old brother) and her mother (name unknown). Parvati’s husband died of unknown causes when Abita was seven days old. The whole family collects plastic and makes around 50-60 rupees per day (one dollar). If Parvati is lucky, she is hired to sweep and/or mop for the day at a nearby business for around 10 rupees. She confided in me that she often does not eat because there is not enough food for the whole family. That explains why she is so small and skinny. 

Parvati wants Abita to get educated. Abita began going to the Don Boscoe afternoon program for several weeks but then stopped going. Parvati said that Abita gets too distracted and finds it boring. So, we have to do something about that. (I think it’s time to start our own school for these kids and make it extremely active and fun).

Parvati does not like living in Lakhtokia because of what happens once the sun sets. She said when that happens, “There are lots of drunk people who do bad things.” When asked what the “bad things” were, she did not comment. Like everyone else, she is scared of the police. She said they are always beating up her brother for no reason. She explained that someone in the nearby Lakhtokia market will complain to the police that someone has stolen a shoe, a shirt, an onion, etc., and the police immediately will blame the people living on the railroad tracks. Then, houses get knocked down, and people get hurt.

What I noticed about Parvati is that she is tough because she has to be. But inside that tiny body is a big heart.

Sending smiles from India,
Hannah Dobie

Photos of Avita and Parvati:

Hello Avita! 

Parvati doing Avita's hair.
Avita taking a bath. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Circling Back to Renuka (and other odds and ends)

1. On Sunday night, Menakshi (the child life specialist) and I visited Renuka for the last time. It was really great to see her and hear more about how she is doing. (Past blog posts about Renuka can be found here and here 

Renuka was so excited to see us. When she heard the rickshaw coming, she ran outside of her house and started waving. She looks great and was smiling way more than the last time we saw her. Two weeks ago, her mom and dad came to see her for the first time since the surgery. Her dad wanted to take her back home now that she looks “so beautiful.” But her aunt and uncle did not want to let her go
because they were unsure whether the father would begin to treat herpoorly as he has in the past. The aunt told Menakshi, “We love having Renuka as our daughter.”

But mostly, Renuka does not want to go back with her mom and dad. You can't argue with her thinking. Her dad violently abused her. Why would she want to go back to that when she can be loved by her aunt and uncle? To say the least, her mother and father were not happy about her decision, and they left angry.

When Menakshi and I were speaking with the women in that village, they all said that the arrival of the mother and father had made them so nervous and that they were afraid she was going to have to leave. One of the neighbors told me, “Here, we love Renuka, we do not want her to go.”

Renuka is still going to school everyday and really enjoys playing with her friends. Her hugs are amazing... I wish I could get a Renuka hug everyday. She is just the happiest, sweetest girl. The whole time while I was there she held my hand and did not want to let go when I was leaving.

That night, I spent the night with Menakshi’s aunt and uncle again. Nine people, all under one small roof. There's the two grandparents, their three sons and one daughter. Two of the sons are married, and one of the couples has a baby. They are so sweet and I really enjoy sleeping in the village. No electricity most of the time, so quiet and peaceful. They fed me a lot, as always, and their neighbors invited me over for more food. I will say this again—they live such a simple and sweet life and there is much to be said for that.

Renuka is looking good! 
Best friends. 
Menakshi and Renuka. 
Renuka's aunt, Aunt's son
Socializing outside of Renuka's home. 
Saying goodbye! 

Ta ta! 

2. Khausitan has just completed her second full week at Panbazar Girls School, a government school! On the fourth day of school, her teacher told me that they had moved her to a higher class because she did so well on her tests. That is so exciting! Khausitan has also talked her best friend in to coming to Panbazar Girls School. Although her best friend enrolled at the school a couple of years back, she quit going. But Khausitan is doing her best to get her to go again.

Since taking Khausitan to Panbazar day school, I have discovered that there are two girls from the Lakhtokia slum who regularly to school. Their mother brings them every morning and strongly believes they should get an education. I convinced these two girls to go to the Don Boscoe afternoon program for extra practice last week. So everyday, I take Khausitan and Komala (Khausitan's best friend) to school in the morning and then I take four girls (Khausitan, Komala, and the two sisters) to the afternoon program! Whoohooooo!

Yesterday morning, I did not go to take them to school because I was coming home from visiting Renuka. I wanted to see if they would go on their own. Yesterday afternoon, I was so pleased to hear
that in fact they went to school on their own.

One girl—Khausitan—has inspired more girls to expand their education. At first, I was disappointed with only one girl having so much interest in going to school. But what has come of that is very exciting.

Khausitan and her sister on the first day of school. 
3. I leave for the USA in just under two weeks. These last two weeks, I am just going to continue living my day-to-day life: wake up, exercise, walk to the slum, take the girls to school, walk to the centre, finish up all my research and social media projects, walk to the slum, take the kids to afternoon school, go back to the centre to continue working, and then pick up the kids from afternoon school, and walk home.

I am really sad to leave, so I just will not talk about it until the time comes. But I am going to enjoy these last two weeks as much as possible. Soak it all in!

Sending smiles from India, 

More photos from the week:

Last week, I went to the wedding of the pediatrician who works for the Operation Smile center. Congrats, Bhabesh!  
A beautiful, simple wedding. 
Monsoon season is coming. This is outside of my apartment building.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Omit's Dreams

On Wednesday, I ventured down to the Lakhtokia slum to learn more about their lives. I took along a translator to help me conduct some interviews with the kids and mothers who I constantly think about from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. This was the only way I could think of learning more about the atmosphere there without living there for a week.

Thanks to Trideep, my translator/friend, I had around 10 conversations with the people who piqued my curiosity. There's definitely a "process" to doing this. In order to really understand what they're saying, I must hear their answers to my question in the voice they said it in. The translator has to really express their meaning to me so I can hear their "voice" and the "way" they said something. Trideep got that.

So I grabbed a notebook and a pen, met Trideep and drove the scooter to the slum. We walked in and I just decided I would interview the first person that I saw. It was not weird for me to be in the slum, I go two times a day, most people know who I am. However, this time people were curious as to why we were sitting and talking to people. So it was a challenge to keep the the interviewees focused on the task at hand. The slum is a hard place to sit down and just have a conversation, but we tried our best. We conducted several of the first interviews sitting on a log, outside of the temple and then moved on to going to people's homes. 

The small temple in Lakhtokia. Photo by Operation Smile - Peter Stuckings
The interviews were all really great, and one that really sticks in my mind is Omit’s story. Before I begin, Omit is someone whom we all really respect and love. I like to call him my “boyfriend.” Kristin, Rosie, Olivia and I all notice something different about Omit. He willingly runs up to us and gives us hugs, always looking forward to our limited Assamese conversation. But if we run into him on the street while he's picking up trash, he is so embarrassed and ashamed. If we try to say hello to him, he runs away and never looks us in the eye.

Omit has lived in the Lakhtokia slum his entire life. He is an 8 to 9-year-old boy (he does not know his exact age), he has an older brother, and his other two siblings have died of unknown causes. His dad was a victim of human trafficking one year ago. He has no idea where his dad is or what his dad is doing. He does know one thing: “I will never see my Dad again.”

Most of Omit’s time is spent picking up trash. The money he collects each day supports his older brother, his mom, and himself for the day. He said in an average day he can collect anywhere from 20 Rs (37 cents) to 100 Rs (2 dollars), and, “if I am lucky, 200 Rs (4 dollars).”

Unlike most boys, Omit does not sniff dendrites. He did not explain why but I assume it is because he spends most, if not all, of his day wandering around Guwahati with a massive bag on his back sifting through the dumpsters and does not have time to get high. Like most other people in the slum, Omit is very scared of the police. But he continues to work hard to support he and his family.

Every interview that I did, I asked people, “What is your biggest dream in life?” When Trideep asked this question to Omit, he sort of sat there for a little while thinking. After ten seconds of what looked like intense thoughts running through his head, Omit said, “I want to be a good person. I want to be different from everybody else.” Trideep then asked him, “And how will you do that?” He sat there again, thinking very hard about how he was going to be different. “Hmm… hmm…” and then his Assamese poured out. Trideep turned to me and said, “Be prepared: He said, ‘I haven’t quite figured that part out yet.’”

And so it goes.

Pratyasha is here for this: to help those who are stuck in this cycle and cannot get out, to help Omit learn how he can become different from everybody else, to provide opportunities that can help kids accomplish their far fetched dreams. Now you understand why Omit is so shy and ashamed when we run into him on the streets as he throws cardboard into his trash bag. He wants to be different, he is not proud of where he comes from, or how much trash he collects during the day. Omit wants something totally outside of this. Instead of being graded on the quality and quantity of trash he collects, Omit wants to be graded on the knowledge that is inside his churning brain.

I collected a ton of stories. And after this day, I realized that every single person has an amazing story to tell in the Lakhtokia slum. Girl, boy, woman, man, young, old, jobless, student, shack owner, tea stall worker, and trash picker: they all have some sort of story. They all have something to relate. And they were all so happy to tell someone.

Just the fact that someone was interested in what they do on a day-to- day basis meant a lot. They do not care what I do with these stories. But they care that I want to know about their life, where every day is a constant battle.

Sending smiles from India,

Photo courtesy of Operation Smile- Peter Stuckings 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dear Auto-Rickshaw Drivers,

Dear Auto-Rickshaw Drivers,

Thank you for driving me around Guwahati. Thank you for putting up with my Taylor Swift music while you honk your horn. Thank you for ripping me off again and again. Thank you for teaching me how to be aggressive. Thank you for forcing me to learn Assamesse so I can understand what you're saying about me. Thank you for being jerks .

You always let me sing aloud to the music playing through my earphones. When I ask you if it is okay, you say of course and then start singing your own Assamesse song. I love our singing festivals. This is something good I will remember about you.

I will also remember your kids who attend the Don Boscoe afternoon school. They will do great as they are knowledgeable, sweet, and hard working. They know what they want and I guarantee they will get there. You only speak Assamesse and you are the reason I understand so much. Somehow, with hand motions and signs, I have learned what you are saying and how to say it.

I understand that you struggle and I understand that you have families. I am sorry that I have yelled at you so many times over the past eight months. But, after the first month of living here, I realized you all were just playing games with me. What should have cost me 80 rs, you charged me 150 rs instead. Your favorite thing to do is to rip people off. I felt bad when I caught you at this, imagining whom you support with the money you make off of driving me. Most of you all are Bangladeshi immigrants who move here for a better life and must start all over again and you have many mouths to feed. And I completely understand why you all want to rip me off: I am a blonde- haired, blue-eyed foreigner in a sea of locals. The concept definitely makes sense.

You laugh at me as you drive away with my rupees. I do not like people laughing at me, and I do not like people playing games with me. Walking up to your rickshaw stand and approaching your posse is like getting prepared for battle. I say the place I want to go, and you all gang up on me with one ridiculous high price. After fighting to bring down the price in my broken Assamesse, you do not budge and you refuse to take me. Bummer for you, because I walk away and you do not get paid. Being the object of your gang disgusts me and I choose to fight this.

One day we will be friends. I have trust that we can develop such a thing. Let’s try to be friends within the next couple of weeks. You try to understand that I want to pay the regular price. And I will try to understand that this is your job.

Much love (and sending smiles from India),

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Moi Tumak Bhal Pau

The other day, Kristin was out of town so I borrowed her scooter to drive to work. Along the way, I realized that everything that was new to me the first couple of months is now so normal. Once I could not navigate the unpaved streets, and now I know how to get around town. I used to think the town was smelly and dirty, but now it all seems ordinary. I always stared at the barefoot men carrying tons of
bricks on their heads, but now I do not even blink an eye. Honestly, I feel when I am walking and driving the streets here that I am home. The people walking past me are my neighbors, the friends I have made are now family, the vegetable market is a normal grocery store, and the man selling the veggies and fruit knows exactly what I am coming to buy every other night.

Kasitan, the girl who we take to school every afternoon from Lakhtokia, has been sick with a virus this week. I have been checking on her every day. I walked into her house on Tuesday and found
her throwing up. When she was done, she came to give me a kiss on the cheek… yummy. Today, I walked two other slum kids—cute Avita and Ajbanu—to get some food. (Sidenote: There is another
NGO in Guwahati that also helps Lakhtokia on some weekdays by providing lunch--so I was taking Avita and Ajbanu to this NGO. It is so comforting to know that more people are providing for this
community.) We were walking in our usual way, holding hands and dancing and laughing. All of a sudden I heard, “I love you.” I said, "Excuse me?" I looked down and Avita looked up and she said,
“I love you.” I did not think she knew what that meant. So, I asked her what “I love you” in Assameese was. Luckily, I had a pen and paper in my purse and wrote I what she said to me. When I returned
to the center, I asked my Assamesse friends how to say, “I love you” in Assamesse. And they said, “Moi Tumak Bhal Pau.” Which is exactly what I had written on my piece of paper: “Moi Tumak Bhal Pow.”

This is one of those moments that you read about and that you hear about. This is one of those moments that you never think will happen to you. I love these children but sometimes you cannot tell if they really understand that. After this happened, I realized why this has become such a familiar place for me, because love is everywhere.

Sending smiles and “Moi Tumak Bhal Paus” from India, 

Photos from earlier in the year: 

Ajbanu after her major haircut!
Avita washing up on street kids day. 
Avita and me earlier in the year. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Southern styles

I decided to post another story about southern Indian life because I find it so interesting that things can be so different within one country. I have mentioned before that the southern attitude towards education is different than what exists in the North. In addition to education, there are numerous other examples of how the South is so culturally different than what I am used to.

1. Because the South is so humid and hot, the girls put loads of oil in their hair to keep their long black locks tamed. The oil makes their hair sit there, with no volume, and never move. Every girl's hair was long (almost down to their bottom), drenched with oil, perfectly held together with a wooden clip, and adorned with a flower. It was as if their hair were straight out of a magazine. It was always so beautiful, and would sometimes involve complicated braids and other intricate styles. To keep everything in place, the wooden clips the girls use are sold everywhere on the streets and come in a variety of designs. Attached to the wooden clips are fresh Jasmine flowers. People could tell that Archna, the Indian girl I traveled through the South with, was a tourist because of the simplicity of her hair. She told me one day, “I look northern.”
A southern woman's hair is quite a sight. 

Trying to fit in with other Kerala women: wearing Jasmine flowers in my hair. 

2. India is known throughout the world for keeping the gold market in business. Everyone in India wears gold it seems. And not just all of India. I've heard it said that 90% of the gold bought in India is bought in the south. And I can believe that. Every woman is loaded down with gold. Whether they are just running errands or going for a morning walk, an Indian woman in the South is usually wearing at least five pieces of gold that might include two elaborate earrings, one necklace (either extremely heavy and large, or a simple chain), one bangle bracelet, and one ring. My friends told me that people in the South save their hard-earned money to buy gold. It's not only wealthy people wearing it: no matter the class, women have it. At weddings here, a bride is covered in so much gold that you can barely see her

3. The men can usually be found wearing a type of sarong, which is either a white dhoti or a colorful lungi. Honestly, I sometimes feel uncomfortable with how short their “skirts” can get. But this is normal, and nobody else thinks that is weird. For the final party, two Operation Smile people bought dhotis and wore them. They said they were complicated to tie, like a sari.

Two mission participants sporting their dhotis! 

4. Just as southern food in the USA is delicious, southern food in India is fabulous. Loaded with curry, the food is light and not as heavy as northern Indian food. In other words, when you're finished eating, you do not feel as if you have a brick in your stomach. Especially in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, there is a lot of seafood. Southerners also have their own kind of bread, called parootha. If you know what naan is, this bread is like naan but not so thick and heavy. The breakfasts especially hit the spot. Three main breakfast items are verda (sort of like a donut without the icing), idly (steamed rice cakes), and dosa (thin crispy bread). All of these are eaten after you dip them into curries. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, I saw far more fruit stands that I am used to. I guess that is obviously because the south is more tropical than the north.
Alleppey snack sand with lots of banana chips. 



Verda and idly
5. The driving is nothing compared to the north. Guwahati has some of the worst driving in India. It is extreme. But the driving in the south was pretty calm.

Sending smiles and southern lovefrom India,