Friday, June 22, 2012

Alwar Day Two

The day started bright and early on the winding road through the mountainous desert of Rajasthan. We saw shepherds, sheep, camels, peacocks, dogs, and boar as we made our way through the dry rocky mountains. We arrived in Reni village with only a few children on the outskirts who hesitantly waved and then took off running. We got out of the car and walked up to what looked like a concrete compound which was very neatly swept with a clothes line drying colorful clothes and a corner with harvested onions lying in a large pile. As we got closer I could hear the chatter of people beyond a doorway, but we were told to wait. I don’t remember the last time I was so nervous and excited all at once… I thought I would faint!! Finally we were waved in and we stepped through the threshold to find a roofless common area packed full of the local villagers all smiling and waiting for us.

We were given a traditional welcome with a wreath of flowers and a bit of red powder on our forehead called Tilak, or Tika. We were then ushered under a beautiful tapestry for shade where they performed beautiful song and dance to welcome us.

 After that were introductions before Dr. Lall talked about Mrs. Lall, who has passed last year, and how her work in the village has inspired him to set up a foundation to continue her work there. This is hopefully going to include scholarships for girl’s higher education, exposure to global markets for the artisans in the village and their pots, and possibly a storage facility for the pottery being produced that the area relies on. This news was received happily with applause and smiles, and they all sat down to work out more details as the rest of us sat back and ate some of the delicious traditional snacks they had so generously made for us. It was hard to keep back tears through all of this as Dr. Lall talked about such an amazing woman, the future work he planned on doing in the village, and just soaking in the absolute love and generosity these people gave us. Every time I smiled or made a silly face at a child a ripple of giggles would float through their group, every woman and man smiled and nodded back eagerly when eye contact or a wave was made… It was a feeling I can’t describe completely. To be such a stranger but such an appreciated member of the community so quickly…it’s not something I’m ever liable to forget…something I hope I can show others, and something that I hoped I showed them as well.
I spent the rest of the morning making silly faces with the children, interviewing the principal of the local school, and talking to the teachers about the positives and negatives of the village school system. I was very taken back about the passion and innovativeness for teaching these men were so freely showing me. One of the specialty teachers even spoke of his desire to create a  ‘sensory garden’ of learning for his special needs students. I was blown away. “Yes!” , I nodded. “I totally know what you’re saying and that’s fantastic!” We did not need translators here. J   
The principal made Dr. Lall aware of a summer school program for local deaf students and we were invited to visit which we did right away. The school visit was possibly indescribable. For those of you that know me and my love of children and passion for teaching, maybe you can understand? For those who don’t I can say this: Take something that you are passionate about, that is good beyond question in your mind, and exciting in its ability to teach you and allow you to teach others, and then imagine the pinnacle of this situation happening quite suddenly without warning. This was that moment for me. From the moment I walked into the classroom I was bursting with happiness and joy to be there. I didn’t see the faults, or the needs, I only saw the children. Children who weren’t in school before, who weren’t prioritized in care because of their disability, but now they were all here sitting in a room being taught due to the school’s outreach program. They had only been there for 15 days and they already all knew the English alphabet written and in sign.

 They had a teacher, a blackboard, a rug to sit on, a window with light slanting through, a fan overhead (off then due to a power outage), and an eagerness to show us what they learned. I don"t know if maybe I thought teaching would be awkward with a different culture and in a different setting, but I was overjoyed to meet every student and was comfortable immediately.   I never once thought anything different of them, but it was so pronounced that we were meeting from so far away and the opportunity was not lost on any of us. I took out the puppets I had brought and showed the students how to put them on (which they loved), and then presented the principal with the books, flashcards, and other learning items I had brought for the school.

 The little boy that tried on the pig puppet followed me around for the rest of my school visit and we became fast friends pretending the puppet and my hand were playing (ok…fighting J).   I was given a tour of the physical therapy room for special needs students and I was so impressed that it was even there! They had an exercise bike and walking support bar for gross motor skills, a zipper and tie board for fine skills, a map lined with felt for the blind, and much more. The room was lacking in much, but its existence and ingenuity were such a joy to explore. These people are so committed to helping the children of the area and I was proud and honored to tour their school. I told the principal it is my hope to continue to work with this school from home and we have exchanged information to make this possible. I can’t wait to get started in helping improve such a wonderful school and give them the resources they are so eager to utilize.   I left the school with waves and handshakes as I signed thank you to the group of boys in class. I left with joy, but also a heavy heart that I wouldn’t be coming back soon. Someday I hope. Someday J

We came back to the village for a delicious lunch the villagers had made us, and I wandered around to meet the buffalos I had seen peeking through the tapestries earlier.

  We left for meetings with some government officials and a local doctor  before heading back to the villages for interviews at some local homes. 
After our last interview we were leaving and the local president of a woman’s self help group said that I must come have tea with her sometime. I said ‘absolutely’ and she took that as an agreement so we all got back out of the car and walked down to her house for tea.  She flapped out a fresh blanket for the cots, pumped water from the well, sent a young girl out to milk the buffalo, and got ready to boil the tea in a clay pot over an open fire in the roofless common area of her home.

Meanwhile the local children gave me a device you place on your head for balancing pots and demanded I try it, so I spent a few nervous minutes trying to balance what they so easily do every day. One little girl even danced with hers on her head! Amazing… and sooo adorable.

The tea was finally served and it was THE BEST TEA EVER. I don’t know how she did it! I guess you have to have a well in rural Rajasthan, cow, open fire, clay pot, and awesome tea skills because I’m pretty sure that experience is never going to be topped. This woman is one of the coolest and most inspiring people I have ever met. She received training to do early childhood and pre/post natal care in the village, runs a self-help group (inspired and coordinated by Mrs. Lall once again!) of women who take care of each other’s needs and discourage local youngsters from getting married as children, and tries to further her education on the side. Such strength and beauty…she is an inspiration and I’ll never forget her.

   Our coordinators were now hurrying us to get back to town so we made our farewells. They asked us to stay for dinner, they asked us to stay the night, they laughed and shook our hands. I will never forget them waving goodbye as we pulled away for the last time.  Here’s an idea of my view: I saved the last look for my mind alone.  My heart brims. 


  1. Wow, you described all of that so elegantly and precisely. Sounds like a day you'll never forget. Very cool :)

  2. How inspiring! What a beautiful experience.

  3. I really want some tea now.

  4. Amazing. Simply amazing.

  5. I always love that though you're such a huge travel blogger.
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