Tuesday, January 4, 2011

All soul and no shoes

So today was really amazing.. nothing Ii had expected and beyond unique. We headed out in the morning... all I knew was that we were going into some poor village, I should wear sturdy shoes and that some of hte village people would be receiving awards while we were there

My first surprise was to not only find out that the village we were visiting is supported by an NGO led by an outstanding and inspirational Indian woman but I got the opportunity to ride for an hour in the car with her next to me. Given my passion for women's rights, women's empowerment and self-sufficiency including financial freedom, I can't put into words

how amazing it felt to sit next to her.

This woman who is pretty old still has this intense presence - you don't get a sense of fragility but rather of strength. Very very inspiring.

When we got off the car (the bus with my classmates following us) we had arrived at this elementary & middle school in a small village in the outskirts of Bengalore. The village had a little over 1000 people and was very poor.

After arriving and being greeted by the teachers and students we were LITTERALLY showered with marygold flowers as a welcoming.This was a very poor school and area - less than half of the children had shoes and when we entered their classrooms many were sharing books. It was hard to notice much of those things however given every classroom we entered we were welcomed with the children singing in perfect unison different songs in Hindi or English. Of course we took many pictures and it was fun to take the pictures because the kids felt so special when we did.

Later we were told that most of these kids probably have never had a photograph of them in their hands. So we intend to print some of our pictures and send to them. At one particular classroom, one of the girls tugged at my dress to ask my name... "Pree" I said and she told me her name. I tried to pronounce it and was laughed at by her classmates. That didnt stop all of them from telling me their name, shaking my hand and wishing me happy new year.

I took many pictures but was swarmed by kids so also missed some of the happiest faces I have seen as far as I can remember. At the school the kids had different sports competitions which they held in front of us (all open air, courtyard). After a few games had passed I asked if me and my MBA classmates could also compete in the musical chair competition.

There will be video uploaded of this but suffices to say I was the top winner - after falling on my ass multiple multiple multiple times. The kids obviously loved that I didnt seem to know how to keep my ass on the chair but instead seemed to like to drag the chair and my ass to the ground. They also performed multiple cultural activities for us... several dances, some singing and even a coordinated march/song/dance. It was all very touching... their happiness and excitement to see us, how much effort they put into preparing for our visit, how genuine and heartfelt all of their actions were. Most impressive I think were the 5 or 6 teachers that ran this school - taught all classes, disciplined (in manners and in books) and clearly gave all of themselves for kids who otherwise wouldnt have much at all.

This was certainly my only experience today being this close to NGOs and poor children. I was definitely inspired and touched. These kids just seemed very resilent... and it is such a stark contrast to kids I've seen in other places who take education for granted. We walked through the village where these kids lived ( more on that in a minute) and I can tell you by US standards (or by most educated people's standards) these kids had nothing - barely even necessities and so I was happy to see their effort towards school. it seems they - or their parents - knew that an education is the only thing that is yours forever, no matter what or who it cannot be taken from you. It is the biggest weapon you can have, and these children just seemed thirsty for it. Thankfully actually because it will be them that ensure their village situation improves. These kids are the ones that really represent the future of India and many countries and our world. The highly educated, well fed and clothed children (like me) will certainly play a part but if we are to solve the worlds problems we need these children to help us do it. They know how to do everything with nearly nothing, their frugalness and resourcefulness are what our business world and research labs need; their optimism is what every community needs.

It was certainly very inspiring.

In stark contrast to their attitude however was the village we walked through. Their parents, siblings and grandparents lived very close the school. But in no way would we consider what they did "live". Their houses often didnt have doors, or floors. There was animal feces all over the streets, yards and even in some people's homes. The furniture was minimal - honestly I think it was a bed made with ropes. The kitchen had no food or refrigerator that I saw but did have a stove. The bedroom seemed like it slept 3 to a bed. But certainly in the main room there was a colorful wall with images of their Hindi Gods.

I have certainly never been this close to poverty. It is an experience I dont think I will ever forget, but it is also one that I know I will have to do again. I can't live my life sheltered from the reality that so many people in the world live in. I am excited about the opportunity to work in "developing" countries with P&G in the future. Let's keep our fingers crossed. But you can be certain that for my 3-month sabbatical I will try really hard to somehow include volunteering or visiting lower income areas.

I uploaded some pictures to give you a flavor of my day… these people are beautiful. The children have the biggest smiles, but most touching to me are everyone’s eyes… these Indians connect with you in their gaze…

Hope you enjoy...

Link to Pictures: http://picasaweb.google.com/107210338601390178868/20110104Village?feat=directlink

2011-01-04 Village

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

“One’s destination is never a place...

... but a new way of seeing things” – Henry Miller

Tomorrow I will walk barefoot on the Taj Mahal… the Taj Mahal… the universal representation of eternal love. As I lay here wanting to fall asleep I can’t help but let my mind wonder into the thought of just that ‘eternal romantic love’…

Since we are little girls we’ve been told one day a prince in shining armor will come; we’ve watched movies, read stories, fantasized about our future and witnessed as our friends find their princes. With more heartbreaks than I care to count, I can’t help but wonder how much of this whole eternal love and prince charming are just another Santa Claus that we are made to believe as children. Maybe there will never be a prince charming, much less eternal love.

I’m still young and have many years ahead of me, but Im learning Im ready to meet ‘the one’. Im not saying Im ready for marriage just to find the one who will bare witness to my life and I to his. But the truth is I don’t believe there is “one”, and therefore I don’t believe there is “the one”. Is it then fair to believe there a right match and a wrong match? Isn’t it more realistic to believe there are acceptable matches and not-as-acceptable matches?

One of my greatest mentors once told me timing played a much bigger role than anyone ever thought and that honestly timing was often the ultimate deciding factor as to whether 2 people would work out.

The brat in me things that timing has come and until life decides it is so I’ve gone ahead and also made a list of qualities I’d like my life partner/husband to have… I made this list a few years ago, revisit it often but the more time passes the shorter that list gets.. not because I am compromising but because I am learning to distinguish what matters and what doesn’t.

But as I lay here thinking of the building I will see tomorrow and how much love it represents I also can’t help but remember a lesson I learned from a new friend… maybe the list, the timing, and the Taj are all inconsequential. Maybe I need to start from scratch… basically my travel friend asked me a few simple questions…
• Do you have an ordinary life? And by ordinary she meant for the most part you are born, live and die in the same general zip code. So for me the answer is no, I don’t have an ordinary life.
• Do you want your future to include living overseas, being mobile, flexible, international? Anyone that knows me also knows the answer is yes, I want that life.
So her last point was simple…
• if my life has been not ordinary, and I want my future to be extra-ordinary, then why do I illusion myself by looking for average or ordinary relationships? Shouldn’t my expectations and plans be different as well?...

I thought she made a great point. I realized that today I already expect my friendships (the real friendships) to be flexible and different… I don’t expect my best friends to live where I live – I know they cant meet me after work to celebrate a raise, or come over and share a tub of ice cream amidst emotional tears – instead I expect friends that understand, support, and adapt to my extra-ordinary life.
If that is the case with friendships, shouldn’t my expectations of a life partner be different as well?

So if that is the case… I definitely need to toss out all the fantasizes I’ve been fed about prince cahrmings, I need to probably tear up my current list of qualities for a guy and start from scratch… the problem is, I don’t even know where to begin.

Maybe being at the Taj will bring me answers… or bring me clarity…
For now… Im off to sleep in the city of Agra.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

First 72 hours: Lessons, observations and priceless moments

Lessons and Observations
- just because you have an address and directions and phone number, doesn't mean your cab drivers will find the places you need to go to
- best description of traffic in mumbai: trying to drive out of super bowl parking lot right after the game ( non stop loud honking, people crossing in all directions amidst cars, something that should take 10 mins takes 60)
- I've been to NYC but Mumbai is a city that REALLY never sleeps
- reminded that people in my life stage, regardless of color creed or location, are experiencing what I'm experiencing.
- we have too much in America and not only take it for granted but waste too much.
- the street is an integral part of many Indians' lives - from down right living, to eating, dressing, marrying, you name it.
- the variety and experience is just as much for my nose as it is for my eyes (but to stay healthy keep your hands away from it all)
- anti-malaria pills mixed with lunch and followed by shaky cab drive can make you super queezy.
- you can almost train yourself like a dog: going to the bathroom on the few times you are "let out"(or you find a restroom that you can realistically access)
- reminded how selective my memory is: while I love to travel I somehow forget every time all these really not pleasant aspects of it (being in high alert,.being target of scammers and beggers, being lost for hours more than I'm comfortable with, paranoid about getting my passport stolen, missing ' normalcy')

Now for the top moments and bloopers of the same hours...
* siting in a cab, in a random busy street at 1 am, lost with my only contact in india not answering the last 25 calls to give directions to the cab who had been driving me around for almost two hours( oh..did I mention he basically didn't speak english?!)
* my face, thoughts and pallet as I ate street food - especially paan (this "energizing"leaf stuffed and coated with too many things and textures I can't begin to describe... )
* being pooped on by a bird...and finding the poop not only when it happened but also remnants hours later
* chatting about last weeks episode of Glee with new friends who live in mumbai
* being questioned by immigration officer if I was really Brazilian because I looked Punjabi
* telling some indian people I couldn't understand if they talked to me in hindi when in reality they were speaking english but with an accent
* geeking out in Gandhi museum: saw a hand written letter from Einstein to Gandhi and one from Gandhi to Hitler
* listening to someone play the guitar in the patio at the hostel with five other nationalities gathering around at the end of a long but fun day

Alright.... Eight am. To hunt for breakfast and then head to the beach...