Letters from the Heart (Beccah flies solo), India 2013

June 1, 2013

 "Welcome home..."

This is the first message I received on my "What's Up App" (the easiest way to communicate in India) after stepping off the plane from Dubai from our dear in country coordinator Karnika. Home is strangely exactly what India has began to feel like. I get a pit in my stomach and a smile on my face as soon as I hear the buzzing of rickshaws and smell the evening fires. There is always this singular purpose you feel when you are traveling you get to let go of the multitasking and just be focused, it soothes the soul. India amplifies this driven focus in me I love all the energy, movement, colors, noises and smells moving so fast and yet still it is so foreign it's like being in a symphony each thing blending into the next.  

I have only been here 5 days and it feels like so many things have happened. First of all let me start with it is hot so bloody hot! Literally a low of 91 and a high of 119 so I am doing all I can to stay hydrated and awake basically 50% water and 50% coffee all day long. But it is so worth it. It has been a number of years since I have been to India in the summer and it is definitely a different place but it also has an added sense of reality and the struggles throughout the year our communities we work with here go through. 
I first arrived in New Delhi around 8pm and hired a public cab to take me to my hotel where I'd be staying for the next two days. We were terribly lost and what should have taken 30min took about 2 hours most of that was because we had to wait for 2 trains to pass at a cross and it took about 45 min there. No wonder India is the founder of Yoga you have to learn to enjoy being patient and how to make life into a moving meditation. In the words of Karnika, "Beccah, you can not let time rule you, you must resist and learn to rule it." Such a good lesson and something I need to work on always.

I decided to stay in Delhi 2 days so I could meet DrKumkum, the founder of Vihaan and too many other amazing things to list, she was there on business and we usually don't have the opportunity to just sit the two of us and talk about the school. She spoke to me about the many struggles of the school and trying to motivate the children's parents to keep them in school. Their main current struggle is that the owners of the property the school is on has been suddenly thinking that after 8 years it may be more profitable for them to rent the property to families for living or they want to double the rent for the school which would result in not being able to afford teachers.

Which lead us to sit down in Jaipur with the land lady, Karnika and some Vihaan staff to negotiate a bit. Karnika and I tried to relay the message of what great people they are for doing something like aiding in educating their area and how proud everyone is of them, I even wrote them a letter last night congratulating them. So far it seems like some positive psychology has done some good as they gave it a rest for a while.

At Vihaan the kids were actually on Summer Camp. The school works hard to provide this for a number of reasons the first is that if the children take a break in school the parents will often send them to pick trash and then once they make even smallest amount 5 Rupees (less than 10 cents) in a day it is hard for the parents to send the child back to school. So offering some supplement during summer break is essential. They also open the summer camp to kids for free throughout the slum that don't regularly come to school in hopes to gain their parents interest and grow their students. Vihaan usually charges $1 for the first child 50 cents for the second and free every child after that, most families have between 4-7 children. Yet most of the time the parents never pay this small fee but the school never makes consequences as it is so difficult to convince much of the community the deep need for education.

Every day at summer camp there was Bollywood style dancing, singing, art, English class and science. It was full of laughter and excitement but I still couldn't help but notice how skinny the children are due to malnutrition and how I never saw one single meal and only once saw one bottle of water. Summers are difficult here and they are trying hard to smile through the difficulties they are dealing with right now.

There was also an open workshop at Vihaan for the mothers of the slum to learn some textiles skills through Khunar a slum development program our in country coordinator Karnika is working with. These ladies were the most beautiful gentle woman I have ever met. They had all been through so much, abusive husbands, divorces that caused them to be shunned by their families, giving birth at 13 and 14 years old, and the list goes on. But they were graceful and sweet never a scowl on their face and they paid proper attention to each thing they were learning. They all wore beautiful saris and would hide their faces under them each time they giggled. They all could have walked the runways in NYC they were so beautiful but they tried so hard to be wallflowers. On the last day the woman knew I was a hairstylist and asked me to cut their hair and give them a little eye shadow it was so cute. Goes to show we all just want to feel pretty sometimes and self care goes a long way. They all were so relaxed as I brushed their hair and put some lotion on their skin with their eyes closed and a little smile, I seriously could have done this forever it was so gratifying taking care of these beauties for a moment. Their gratitude was unspeakable it was almost embarrassing. As abrupt as India can be their is definitely a balance in this extreme sweetness the people here can extend. 

Being here alone this time has proven to be very productive as I was able to spend a lot of time with the teachers and hear their stories. First Vihaan often has an issue gaining qualified teachers because it is looked down on to work with the cast of this slum and can "damage the reputation of a teacher". These teachers are incredibly brave for breaking the mold and showing up for barley any money each day. They are only from a cast slightly higher but still it is a risk. I learned that they all have to take a few buses and walk quite a ways to get to school so it takes them about 2 hours to get to the school each morning and 2 hours to get home and this is no 270 commute in an AC car listening to music. The woman are often harassed, they have to leave plenty of room for delays on buses as well as brave the heat. Two of the female teachers have been divorced and had been treated terribly by their husbands, getting a divorce is not to be taken lightly in their lives as there is no chance to be remarried and often your family will be devastated over your decision and may not speak to you. They risk everything to stay and everything to leave, I can't begin to even imagine what it must have been like and to still be so devoted to life and children you continuously make sacrifices day in and day out to be part of the Vihaan School. They make such little money none of them had ever been to Delhi (4hours away) or Agra to see the Taj Mahal (3 hours away) actually none if them had even ever been able to afford a train anywhere ever. Every year we go to the Taj Mahal on this beautiful Shatabdi Train with meals served and comfy seats tickets to Agra are about $12 round trip (indian resident) and entrance to the Taj for Indians is about $1 such a small amount but to us it would be like taking the time and saving the money to travel for a year around Europe or something. So we invited them to join us in Agra and to ride the train with us, the faces were priceless if only I could have taken a picture. There is 9 teachers at Vihaan and they will be joining us in January on our next Yogamour trip one morning to Agra and see the Taj then take the train back in the evening. It will be the best $13 we could have ever spent on a person, I can't wait to see the Taj with these devoted teachers that so deserve a little something special. It is going to be such an honor.

 "So many more stories to share..."

I have also been spending a lot of time at Khunar Slum Development Program. They make some beautiful clothing and teach textile design to adults from the slum. Most of the time there is no electricity in the building but everyone diligently works away in a sea of beautiful recycled sari fabrics. I brought in tow a few fashion magazines for them to see some western designs and see how we could fuse some Indian & western charm in with what they are already making. We came up with 3 dress designs and 1 yoga bag design. It was so fun and they made each piece better than I could have imagined . Geni and I have already been selling some of their products at Bazar's we throw but now we will have some of our very own designs and will take part of the proceeds to fund future projects in India. I cannot wait for everyone to see these beautiful pieces and see all the love and labor that they have put into the details.  

I also have been having a little non work related fun and spent an evening with our friend Rahul. He always takes me for my favorite adventure in Jaipur, riding on the back of the motor bike through the bustling streets of Jaipur. I am obsessed with it hitting traffic lights and everyone on top of each other and people giggling at the foreigner on the bike. It makes you feel like you are flying through a colorful heaven filled with lovely faces. Then I spent another evening with my new friends I made this January, Palak and Rajat who are a delightful brother and sister. They are live in Jaipur too. They came to Vihaan and were volunteering through an organization Rajat's college friends had started that support slum schools all around Rajasthan by providing nutritious meal as often as they can. Pallak came to pick me up one evening to go meet Rajat and go to Tapin an amazing tea house and restaurant on a roof top over looking a park and a temple. This was another side of Indian I haven't seen before, it was young and progressive in a weird way it reminded me of California. I have been to a lot of top notch restaurants in Jaipur but they are usually much more traditional this was a new age coming through. We ate Maggie which was my favorite these thin noodles cooked with spices and loaded with tons of chopped olives. I sipped on Hibiscus Iced teas and we took in the views. They are the most infectiously fun brother and sister. I love the joking manner that most Indians embody and it is amplified in a sibling relationship as they were constantly playing little jokes or telling an embarrassing story about each other. They asked me to go meet their parents with them and go out for a special sherbet in the old city I of course said yes! So we went to a dosa restaurant in this lovely garden to meet them where they were on a little date night. They were so darling and full of kindness and playfulness just like their children. We all rode together into old city and went on one of the back streets where cows were sleeping under the awnings of stores for the evening and then there was this beautiful little jewel box of a shop serving this rose sherbet over graham flour noodles it was so sweet and delicious after a long hot day. The mother has invited Yogamour volunteers over this January to learn how to make dosas! She also gave me a gift of two aryuvedic candles for no reason other than Indian hospitality is the most amazing thing ever. Their dad was so kind and treated me to the sherbet and as I left the man working the counter wanted to know where I was from and said he was so happy to have a foreigner in his shop. I mean the sweetness and sincere interest people have here makes you feel like a celebrity. It is so addictive and everything feels like a grand adventure. 

I am currently heavy hearted as I am leaving Jaipur now and riding on a train to New Delhi. It gets harder and harder to say goodbye each time I come. I made my rounds to say good bye in the slums yesterday and everyone was so kind inviting me into their homes and giving me blessings for my travels. I am glad to be spending the next few months devoted to this type of work and can't wait to see our newest addition to our Yogamour project in Kerala India where we will be supporting 2 disabled children's homes.   

Sending lots of love and light too all of you. Thank you for all of your support and we look forward to having you come along with us on one of these adventures...

Lead with your hearts,