A Travellerspoint blog

July 2017

Monday. Our First Official Day of Volunteering

7/11/17
I love to give not because I have much, but because I know how it feels to have nothing.
-Author Unknown.

When we talk about giving, is it best to give money, material possessions, service, love or a combination? Do we determine what to give based on what we (the givers) determine as need? If one feels they have nothing, could this be in reference to physical objects like food, clothing, money, or a new car? Could it be in reference to more abstract concepts like love, friendship, or loyalty? Do we give based on our personal feelings of what was missing (or is missing) in our lives? Do we give for intrinsic or extrinsic reasons?

According to Global Volunteers, we are not to give gifts of money or material possessions directly to host-country nationals. We are to give these physical items to the host-country manager or directly to Global Volunteers to be able to disperse to host-country nationals as they deem necessary. Global Volunteers adheres to a mission of service around the world through individuals who want to volunteer. We, the volunteers, can generously give our love, time, and labor. Through this service, the idea is to help others help themselves long-term. During our orientation, we shared our reasons for volunteering. I believe, however, that some reasons are deeper in our hearts and souls than what we cared to share.

No matter how, why, or what you give, it seems it is most important to be aware of others rather than to be solely, and completely, self-absorbed with ourselves. This day was full of so much giving. Linda, Lisa, and Devra brought treats and clothes to share with Indian people. A large bag of goodies was brought to the church during the 3rd activity. Lisa and Linda brought snacks back from the grocery store to help with the munchies. Roni and Sheba cooked delicious meals for us to enjoy. Barnabas kept the house in order. The air-conditioner maintenance man came by. He got one air-conditioner working before he fell from the roof. We hope he’s ok and can come back tomorrow. Stephen kindly and happily drove us around to our schools, dodging cows (and stopping to let us take a picture), people, and other vehicles. He also taught us about Indian culture. And, of course, we can’t forget about the kind smiles, helpful glances of understanding across the room, and a joke or two to lighten up the mood.

Where so much goodness comes together, you can’t help but feel this powerful energy of gratitude and love.

All of our service projects focus on teaching English. The 4th-grade lessons for today focused on nouns and verbs. Perhaps that’s why I’m thinking about the parts of speech for the word “volunteer.” This word is a noun, a verb, and an adjective. We, clearly, are all people who perform a service willingly without pay. As “verbs” I see the “doing” in all of the eyes and hands and hearts of the volunteers. Everyone jumps to action when there is a need--even with jet lag, walking in flip-flops in the pouring rain, or while sweating so profusely the sweat is dripping on desks. Mostly, though, I believe we are the “adjective.” Our nature is to offer ourselves in service to others. We are volunteer teachers, volunteer nurses, and volunteer caregivers--every day, not just during this two week period in India.

Today our group of five was divided into two groups. One group went to PRS School. The other group went to Christ King School. Stephen brought group 1 to their school while group 2 planned their lesson. Then Stephen returned and brought group 2 to their school. After dropping off group 2, he returned to group 1 to bring them back to the guest house. At 12:30, he picked up group 2 and brought them back to the guest house.

Group 1 went to Christ King School. Since I was not there, Lisa James, another volunteer wrote about their experience. I include it in my blog because I want to remember what they did.

Today we (Linda, Lisa, and Sheba) visited PRS School in Chennai. We first met with the principal and was first sent to the Kindergarten class. The class had 1 teacher and 18 students (9 boys and 9 girls) and very little supplies.
First, we introduced ourselves and then the children did the same. We recited the numbers 1-10 with the children, and then the teacher modeled how she teaches math/numbers. We said Goodbye and went to the pre-k class.

The pre-k class had a substitute teacher who is the 9th grade teacher at the school. Her class was being tested today and she was free to sub. The classroom was more of a daycare setting. The kids are allowed to eat from their snack bag at any time and play with the very limited toys available. Normally they would have a more structured day, but today it was just a free-for-all.

We put out the rug, and some of us sat in a circle and sang some songs. We then gave out coloring pages and markers and talked about colors when the opportunity arose. We basically played with small groups or individuals at times and just went with the flow. The day ends at noon for the kids, and then we left.

Group 2 went to Christ King School
Today we (Devra, Greta, and I) visited Christ King School. We first met with the Principal who offered us coconut cookies and orange soda. Before we walked into his office we were prompted to remove our shoes. We learned how many students attend Christ King and about the Principal and his family. Interestingly, the Principal works as a lawyer on his off time. After our brief orientation, he escorted us to the 5th-grade classroom. The students were kind and very interested in what we were going to do. First, we introduced ourselves. Then, we taught students how to sing, “If you are happy and you know it, clap your hands.” After that, we had students ask each other their names. To do this, we had students toss a “snowball”(balled up paper) to each other. When they received the snowball, they said, “My name is____.” When they threw the snowball, they asked, “What is your name?” After this activity, we had students write the date in English in their notebooks and the words they learned. For 4th grade, we did a similar lesson; however, we needed to cover more information. We began to talk about the difference between a noun and a verb. The 4th-grade classroom was so hot we were dripping sweat by the end of the hour. Before we left each classroom, we sang the first verse of our song, and we reminded them that we would be back tomorrow.

After our time in the schools, we headed back to the guesthouse to eat. It was wonderful reuniting after our two school visits to hear the different experiences.

Lunch ended, and we had about an hour to work on our lessons for tomorrow. We were also waiting for a group of college students to arrive. We took advantage of the time to learn how to use Google Drive and a shared folder for pictures, the journal entries, and our daily quotes. Everyone has a Smartphone, so we got the app set up and made sure everyone knew how to upload photos. It was fun to see how the integration of technology makes lives easier--even in India.

Finally, six students arrived with their professor. The students are studying hospitality and need English to be successful. After an introduction by Linda, we all paired up with a student. Linda had two students. Since our goal was to help them with English for their professions, we all had conversations around houses keeping, front-desk work, and being a chef. For the entire week, we are going to stay with the same student. Next week we are going to rotate so students can hear different accents.

When the students left, we had a couple of minutes to breathe and get some caffeine. There is a lot of talking and energy to try to get students to talk. This volunteer service would be extremely difficult for an introvert.

The following was also written by Lisa James since I did not go to the church.
For the evening (3rd session) Lisa and Linda went to a church to work with any child from the village that showed up for English practice. They worked with 4 boys, 3 in 5th grade and I in 4th grade. We played 2 visual games and asked and answered questions.

Greta, Devra, and I worked with Stephen’s kids and nephew tutoring them in English.

After dinner, we sat around and Stephen explained the history of Gandhi. Lisa and Linda took a break after they washed the dishes (thanks, ladies!) to go to the supermarket. They brought back tons of yummy snacks like Yumfills, Mom’s Magic, and Good Day cookies (thanks, ladies!). Stephen went home to his family, and the five of us sat in the common area, talked, and ate lots of yummy goodness.

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Posted by venisha 20:05 Archived in India Comments (0)

Orientation

How wonderful it is that nobody wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
~Anne Frank

Sunday, July 9, 2017, is the day a group of five women (Devra, Linda, Lisa, Greta, and Venisha) from various parts of the United States came together in a guest house in Chennai, India to begin their plans to improve the world. After a delicious breakfast, Stephen, the country manager, explained the mission of Global Volunteers, led the group in an ice-breaker, and helped us establish our group goals. We divided the goals into five categories: To hang with cool people (build community), to help others, to experience India, and to gain perspective. To establish these categories, each volunteer wrote the top three reasons or goals for coming to India, and when we shared them, we grouped them together--amazingly so many of our goals were similar. We also established our expectations for our group norms. These ranged from acceptance and patience to flexibility and humor. Afterward, Stephen shared cultural norms and any laws to be aware of while in India. We learned that women should have covered shoulders and knees. Through observation today, we noticed that showing the midriff is acceptable. Personally, I think my midriff is more risqué than shoulders and knees but so go those cultural differences. We also learned that we shouldn't buy alcohol because the places to buy alcohol are sketchy for women. Stephen offered to buy it for us if we needed it. So far no one has needed it. Hopefully, by the end of the week, we still feel we don't need it. We also learned some key Tamil phrases like, “Thank you” and “I’m sorry.”
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We talked about the schedule and our projects for the week. Our jobs will be to teach conversational English in grades K-1 and grades 4-5 for the morning session. For this session, we'll be going into two different schools. After this first session, we will return to the guest house for lunch. After lunch, a group of university level students studying catering will stop at the house for English lessons for their professions. For so many Indians the ability to speak English is necessary to secure a reliable trade in a land with so many languages and a substantial global economy. Our third session will be focused on informal, conversational English at a church nearby. Any neighborhood kids can stop by and play English games and try out their language skills. Finally, we spent some time talking about free time activities and our weekend plans. Our group decided on saree shopping today, visiting the big flower, fruit, and vegetable market, seeing a couple of churches, and visiting an orphanage. For the weekend we are thinking about a visit to a neighboring city and an overnight stay in an air-conditioned hotel with real showers.

This orientation was productive and a great way for us to get to know one another.

The afternoon was a blast. Global Volunteers sponsors students from the orphanage to go to university. Several of those students stopped by to practice their English and talk about their experiences. This was extra fun for Linda as she was here last year and knows many of the students. One of the drop-ins was a man who has finished college and now works in his profession. One of the female college students traveled two hours to the guest house and had to travel two hours home.
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After we had finished with the conversational English practice, Sheba, Stephen’s wife took us shopping for Sarees.We also stopped off at the grocery store for refreshments and snacks. I chose the quality and hygienic ones and decided to pass on the chicken lollipops.

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Our dinner tonight was at an Indian restaurant. The meal was delicious. My favorite was the garlic Naan bread and the Tandoori chicken. After the meal, we got caught in a monsoon rain storm with crazing lightning and thunder. We tried to walk back to the guest house as quickly as we could without getting hit by motorcycles and open taxis. Luckily we all made it home safely.

At the guest house, after hanging our wet clothes to dry, Devra, Greta, and I talked through our lesson for tomorrow with our 4th and 5th graders. We also thought about what we would like the whole week to look like. Devra is a nurse in Dallas, and Greta is a science teacher in Milwaukee. I have my ten years of ESL experience, so our plans took all of our strengths into account. We've decided to focus on body parts, hygiene and health, and introductions. Our week will be full of songs and lots of English speaking.

Linda and Lisa are dealing with jet lag after just arriving last night super late. They did an amazing job of powering through the day like champions. Devra, Greta, and I arrived the night before so we have had more time to adjust. While I have been in Egypt for a week, and Greta in Abu Dhabi for a day before India, there is still a time change for us. It's late now (11:30 PM), and I am finishing up the daily journal that we are required write and share at the beginning of each new day.

All in all, it was a fabulous day full of laughs, reflection, conversation, and new friends.

And so the journey begins to improve the world with kindness and English conversation.

Posted by venisha 11:41 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day 1: Arriving in Indai

India is like nothing I have experienced. Stephen met me at the airport outside the gate. Meaning I had to walk outside like I was looking for a taxi. He was hidden in a mass of people holding an 8x11 white sheet of paper that read, "Global Volunteers". I had to walk the passage several times before I found him. This nice policeman kept encouraging me in broken English, "Try again. Try again. Look on the left side this time. Look behind the first row of people. Look on the right side again. Maybe you try again --slower this time." Look, I'm not going to lie, I felt a little anxiety. I had a smile from ear to ear when I finally saw that sign. I had flown in through the international terminal. We walked over to the domestic terminal to pick up another volunteer. She had a connection through Mumbai (Bombay). We had to wait for about 2 and a half hours. Since there weren't any places to sit, and there were masses of people, we just stood searching for a foreigner to walk out the doors and through the passageway of taxi drivers and family members. When she finally arrived, her smile was contagious. Greta is her name and this is her second Global Volunteers trip. Her first was in Cuba. She's a real spit-fire.

Stephen, Greta, and I piled into a brand new car for our drive back to the guest house. Ok, I have written about Cairo traffic. I had no idea how crazy driving and traffic could be until now. Not only are there no lanes used here, but there is also a mixture of human beings and animals weaving in and out of the roads as well.

The guest house is exactly like what I saw on the website for Global Volunteers except it is really hot inside. None of the windows open except for the kitchen, which has no screen. There are fans in the main areas and an air-conditioner in each bedroom. It seems the rooms should be just perfect temperature-wise; however, we turn them off the poorly working air-conditioners when we leave and it takes a very long time for the room to cool down. Stephen asked if we would like to share a room. Greta was super kind and said, "No problem. Whatever." I said, "No thank you. I would really like my own room." Having my own room seems selfish, but I want to be able to wake up when I want to wake up, get in my workouts in my "hotbox" without bothering anyone, and not worry that I'm keeping anyone up.
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Greta and I walked around our neighborhood after settling in. We went next door to change dollars for Greta, found our first cows in the street, and admired the mixture of Hindu and Christian statues and posters everywhere.
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Stephen had to go and pick up Devra from a hotel. She had arrived the night before. The three of us had the entire guest house to ourselves that night. Stephen lives across the street with his family and there is no security guard as mentioned on the Global Volunteers' website. Devra got her own room, too. All three of us are on the second floor. Greta and I share a bathroom. Devra has one in her room.
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Boy, did we have some laughs! Devra's door didn't shut so Greta, the Physics teacher, fixed it with a hanger. Greta doesn't have a light in her room, so we went through the rooms in the house looking for lightbulbs. We didn't find one. Devra brought the wrong adapter, so we tried to get another country one to work. FYI the adapter for Europe will work.

Posted by venisha 11:34 Archived in India Comments (0)

Cairo

If you visit Egypt, use Memphis Tours. You will not be disappointed.

My first morning in Cairo, I got off the elevator at my hotel and turned the corner to find smiling Tarek waiting for me. He was such a refreshing sight before I went into breakfast. He wanted to make sure everything was working out at my hotel, and that I was ready for the day. Thank you, Memphis Tours, for going that extra mile to help me feel at ease In Egypt.

The Novotel breakfast buffet was yummy. I ate something I'm going to call Egyptian porridge, a hard-boiled egg, and some honeydew melon. I could have ordered an omelet, but I didn't give myself enough time. I wasn't sure what it would be like to sit alone in the dining hall. I hadn't seen any other foreigners, and the women I'd seen had all been in pairs or groups. It wasn't an issue, though, for future reference.

After breakfast, I met my guide and driver from Memphis Tours. My tour guide was a woman! Yeah! Wonderful! I couldn't have been happier! Shahinaz M. Madany, a Muslim Egyptian woman, was fabulous. She is an Egyptologist. I also met my driver who was a kind Egyptian male who had the skill needed to weave us in and out of Cairo traffic without fail and managed to keep a cool car waiting in the 103-degree desert heat.

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Our first stop was the Pyramids. I read about how they were on the outskirts of the city, and there is another city currently being built on the other side. Soon, the urban sprawl will surround this archeological oasis. After I had gotten over the quantity of garbage along the road from Cairo and Giza, I was able to focus on the construction and history of this wonder of the world. I even rode a camel for the first time.

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Wow! Shahinaz and I had some laughs at the Sphinx.
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While we visited the Coptic Church, the call to prayer sounded over the loudspeaker. It was the first time I heard this. Given the recent bombings at Coptic churches in Egypt, it seemed ominous. My guide translated the words. Throughout my travels, I know I will hear this a lot more.

And, best ever, Kristin Haagensen showed up at 22:30. So nice to see her. It's been too long.

Posted by venisha 05:46 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

Waking Up On the Nile

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Last night I arrived to Tarek Magdy's smiling face at the Cairo airport. I immediately knew I was in good hands with Memphis Tours. He used his fast pass to expedite the visa and custom's process. Mr. Superstar driver was waiting to "whisk" me through the very busy Cairo streets at 9:00 pm. Portland traffic is nothing compared to Cairo traffic. Although there do not appear to be any traffic lanes or order on the roads, it seems the horn honking, light flashing, and quick cuts across to make a turn are simply understood. Maybe these rules are in the driving manuals you must study prior to getting a license.

After an amazing night's sleep at Novotel Hotel Borg, I awoke to the Nile. Not a bad view from my 5th floor window. I guess I'll just take a stroll over to see one of the great wonders of the world today.
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While traveling, I love the newness of everyday tasks like taking a shower and needing to figure out how to get the water on AND at the right temperature.

Well, no time like the present to take on this foggy cool day. Let's do this!

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Today I woke up to see the Nile River.

Posted by venisha 22:06 Archived in Egypt Tagged the wonders of tours world nile memphis Comments (1)

PDX to MSP to CDG

Part 1: Portland to Cairo via MSP and CDG.

I felt very sad leaving my boys today. I talk so much about wanting to live the life of travel. Then when the time comes to turn my words into action, I get all sad and homesick. Hopefully, as I make some distance in the air, my unease at leaving my loved ones fades a little.

Little Henry was, I'm sure, convinced he was coming with me since he rode to the airport with us. He's been sleeping with his head on my backpack for a couple of days thinking he'd catch me slipping out the door. As Chris drove away his little head poked over the top of the rolled down window willing me with his eyes to stop the car and get him! My hope is that he realizes he needs to get back in the car to pick me up at the airport and doesn't sleep by the garage door for a month.

I feel so fortunate to have such a sweet and supportive husband. He knew I was a little on edge, so he let me behave like a spoiled rotten nincompoop. He didn't yell at me once as I was giving him instructions on how he can take care of Henry as I do. Truthfully, though, aside from Kristin Haagensen, Chris is the only one I feel like is the next best thing to me. Chris will be okay and so will Henry and Stewart.

And, so, off I go for a summer adventure.

Arriving at the airport this morning and printing my boarding passes, I was surprised (should I have been?) to see that Air France changed my seat from MSP to CDG and CDG to CAI to middle seats in the back of the planes yet again. WHAT? Luckily I got a solid 5K run in this morning, so I was feeling calm, cool, and collected. A nice Delta agent got me moved to aisle seats in the backs of both planes and printed the boarding passes for me. I'll check in MSP again to see what Air France has done.

I typed my first "real" travel blog entry on the plane to MSP. My mind is finally starting to shift to vacation mode.

All my possessions for the summer are in two bags--one that weighs 11.9 Kilograms and one that weighs 8 Kilograms. So often I find myself a slave to material possessions. I need a better laptop bag, new pants, a particular hair product. It's easy to become enamored with all the things one could possess. When I left for my first backpacking trip to South America in 1995, I had the biggest bags. I asked my dad to help me carry them out of the house and into the car. He said, "No. If you can't carry them on your own, you have too much stuff." Thanks, Dad, for that valuable lesson. This trip will be a great reminder of what I need in life to exist.

Posted by venisha 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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