Friday, April 24, 2009

On Sweeping Dust and Just is it that is Growing in My Nose?

One of the things that is most notable in New Delhi is the dust. It’s everywhere as no road seems truly finished, as there is a lot of building taking place for not only the 2010 Commonwealth games, but for completion of the Metro, flyovers and various other building projects. Roads are covered in dust, buildings are covered in dust, mangy dogs and cows are covered in dust. When I take an evening shower I can feel the layer of dust rolling off of me. I think that my feet will never again be truly clean.

Some people wear masks over their faces, most don’t. As I walk to the bus that will bring me to the Metro station, I notice many people sweeping the dust to get rid of the garbage that accumulates along the side of the road. So why would someone sweep dust which fly’s into the air and then lands back on the side of the road? I’m not really clear about this, except it does seem to get rid of the garbage. The dust is still there and doesn’t seem to go away as there isn’t much rain. But yet, people keep sweeping the dust.

All of this of course leads to quite strange things growing in my nose. Hopefully my nose hairs are filtering out all of the dust and whatever else I’m breathing in these days. It does make for very interesting people watching. I must say that I’ve gotten into it myself, that is trying to determine what exactly is growing in my nose. As you can imagine the mornings are particularly interesting, never knowing quite what will turn up in my tissues after blowing my nose. Use your imagination or better yet, just come for a visit.

As I’m learning from my two weeks in my job, the amount of need in India is huge. I think on some level I will be able to help, to make a small contribution, a dent, to help build some capacity, to teach some fundraising skills, to develop some strategic plans, to maybe help with some exporting opportunities. Then, of course is the other side.

Yes, we have poverty in the U.S. and it is horrible. In India, poverty stares one in the face whenever one is out walking about. As I was walking home tonight after the metro bus dropped me off, I noticed for the second time in a couple of days a man sitting in the dust. His legs seemed to be fairly mangled and he seemed to be very small. He wasn’t begging but I couldn’t just walk by without giving him a rupee. I haven’t made a practice of this because I have a small salary and I just don’t have enough to give out a rupee or two to every person that I see in this predicament. This entire act of giving this man even one rupee made me think about how I could really help, is anything actually possible?

Children ask me for money all of the time, bringing their hands to their mouths, indicating that they need food. If this doesn’t work they bring their 5 month old sibling to show me this as well. Mothers are not shy about this type of begging either. Am I helping by making a donation of a rupee or two?

It’s not that I can’t help out, but in the long run is it doing any good or causing a dependence and do those people need this money to live on? I don’t really know the answer to this.

If I can rationalize I am actually helping out by being in India and working for the National Trust as I have the opportunity to touch many lives through the 800+ partner NGO’s. Can I really help to develop sustainable infrastructure for some of those partner organizations and to the National Trust? Of course I have to believe that I can, otherwise it might be much too overwhelming. In fact it is overwhelming and is very difficult to imagine. I haven’t seen the full impact of poverty, pollution, too many people and not enough resources, but I may get the opportunity as I will be traveling in my job in order to help build capacity.

Maintaining a great deal of positive attitude is always helpful, no matter what one is doing in life. Letting negativity slip in, even for an instant, can have very detrimental effects upon how one approaches their job and their life. Is it naïve to think that one can really make a difference? I wonder why this question keeps popping up?

Let’s see how it all works out from a very pro-active perspective. This morning as I was hanging my sheets out to dry, I noticed a person with a broom sweeping the garbage from the dust which went into the air and settled back down to its home in the alleys of New Delhi.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I must be at home as I had my usual breakfast of oatmeal (Quaker) and fresh fruit. The only difference was that I had boiled the fruit, ok so I am somewhat paranoid. Nothing else much different, except that I had to manually turn on the gas and light one of the two burners on the stove. OK, maybe there is a difference. Let’s see I also washed clothes, put them into a bucket in the bathroom, threw in some soap powder and then wrung them out and hung them on my back porch. Just trying to be more environmentally conscious and not use too much water. I had a Hindi lesson at 10 AM with Bolbol, the nine year old who lives in the house. Went up to the roof top and watered a bunch of plants. It does feel like home, but yet it is different, I think.

Yes, there was the riding home on the metro last night after work finished and seeing one other person with a lighter skin color, although I’m darkening. There was the bicycle rickshaw from the metro station, with the “driver” huffing and puffing, so much dust, buses, motorcycles, cows, saw a mother pig on the side of the road with her piglets in a large culvert that had this incredible smell. OK a bit different. Then there were the ten boys that I befriended when I went outside my house with my basketball. All of the boys talking at once asking me questions, telling me things, trying to get me to cuss in Hindi, telling me that they would teach me how to play cricket.

I’m listening to very familiar music on my laptop, I’ve hung up “my stuff” throughout my house-a poster of the big “O”, some Napolean Dynamite things, of course farmers’ market posters, my spiritual corner, familiar pictures, but also some posters in Hindi discussing women and Dalits.

I’ll grant you that I’m in India and it still seems a bit off the map to me, but it is also becoming home. The other light skinned person that I saw yesterday surprised me in that when I asked her where she was from, she stated the U.S., in fact, born in Pasadena, but has lived in India for 40 years, her home.

I’ve been here a bit more than five weeks and I suppose that I am starting to settle in, although there is still quite a bit of Delhi, and of course India to explore. Every neighborhood and there are a multitude, seems to have its own character. I hope to get off at various metro stops and just walk, to see the markets, to see the people, to try to get a handle on what it is that makes India, India. This will all take time depending upon the outside temperatures.

My roommate has left, but I do have a gecko, maybe more hanging around and eating the mosquitoes, at least I haven’t been bitten recently. My refrigerator, although not full at the moment, could contain many of the same things that I eat in the States. My stomach at the moment feels fairly normal. I’m going to the YMCA this afternoon to talk about possibly doing some b-ball coaching. Then there is the fact that I brought my clothes around the corner yesterday to be ironed, outside, by a woman with an iron heated with coal. OK, so maybe a bit different. I also understood maybe one or two words that woman said to me, like the cost/piece of 2 rupees or about $.04. Seems to be different, but then I bought some peanut butter and the cost was 99 rupees.

What is home? I suppose that this is being redefined for me. Is it just a state of mind, a feeling of comfort, even if one feels that one is not on the same planet that one was born on. Look, I sat in a meeting yesterday and talked about some structural issues with my employer and some other NGO Executive Directors. Could I have been in southeastern Connecticut talking with other United Way Agency Executives about a program? Sure, except for the fact that the acronyms were different, that the women were dressed in saris, but the facilitator sure seemed as if he could have been any where in the world. The discussion was the same as many that I’ve had in the States or in my training in Canada prior to coming to India.

So back to home, yes it is where one makes it, where one can eat oatmeal with fruit or have peanut butter and jelly, where I can play b-ball with some Americans or eastern Europeans or Filipinos, the rules seem the same. A place where I can hang a picture of Barrack or Napolean Dynamite, the walls are the same walls, although they don’t seem to be made of wallboard. All right so there’s no segregated shower area and the washer and dryer do seem a bit different, but maybe it’s all a continuum, what the so called “developed” countries used to look like, no matter it is home.

This is important to me on a number of levels, I want to appreciate what I’ve been given in life, but I also want to appreciate how others live. I want to understand other languages and why things are done certain ways. Yes, it would be difficult if I didn’t have my music to listen to, but I also get to expand the music that I listen to, the films that I will come to appreciate, the people who maybe were once strangers but are now friends. Why stay in one place for one’s entire life, when there is so much diversity, so much to see, to experience. Why not be that intrepid explorer?

I do understand that feeling of comfort, of knowing, of “security”, but I think that a lot of it is false. Home is where the “heart” is. Ok, I can go with that or maybe it’s only where the oatmeal is.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Process of washing and drying clothes in India

Imagine how great I felt when I found out that there was a washer and dryer in my apartment. Of course, this was from a western perspective. We all know how it goes, you put the clothes in the washer, add a little soap then 50 or so minutes later we transfer the clean clothes to the dryer, fold, maybe iron them and away we go.

How silly of me to think that it would be this way in India. Here's the deal to washing clothes in India with a washer and "dryer". First of all one fills up the washer with water, manually because the tube won't connect to the sink, maybe three large buckets or so and then you add the soap, some clothes, set the timer to 15 minutes. Not so difficult right? Well ok, then you put the cycle on drain and add three more buckets of water to get the soap out and then put the washer on a cycle to spin. OK, not too bad so far right, unless you're used to the western way of things. The dryer is very small, interesting I thought. The dryer is actually a spinner to get the water out and then the reality is that the clothes have to be hung up in order to dry them.

Maybe this has to do with why things move slowly, the heat of course is another reason. Can it all be brought back to the wasteful technology that we’ve used in the west of washing drying clothes. Of course using the sun and regulating the amount of water used makes a huge environmental difference. I do know however that the soap that I use seems to take a lot of color out of my clothes, so maybe not so good for the environment.

Contradictions abound, but the process of India is something that I’m now confronting regularly! Maybe when you visit you won’t think that it is a process, but in fact it is.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Goodbyes and hellos


"Serving the world with love and cooperation,you will find your own true Self.As you help those in need, selfishness will fall away,and without even noticingyou will find your own fulfillment."
-- Amma

Goodbyes and hellos
Yesterday I said goodbye to many of my VSO friends as they went off to their respective placements. I know now that my “family” continues to grow and that I will have many places to stay in India and will see all of the diversity that this country has to offer. On one level I was sad to say goodbye, but when I look at all of the talent that the volunteers have to offer and what they will be doing, it is very inspiring.

I brought my dear friend Louise to the train to go to Gujarat. The driver who brought us to the station could not park and so he let us off and we made it to the correct car and seat. I’m looking forward to also taking the train to see the country. When I was in India three years ago it was a wonderful experience to get on a train and know where it was taking me, but not really knowing.

I started my job today and spent a good deal of the time with the Chairperson of the National Trust, Poonam. It all sounds so very exciting, lots of possibilities, lots of new connections, so much to learn, so much to teach. We had a staff meeting and was able to meet most of the staff. My friend Alan, another VSO volunteer from Scotland is also working at the National Trust. We are the first two VSO volunteers in the organization and the first foreigners. It will be so very interesting for me to fit in, develop relationships, become part of this and our partner organizations, to do many of the things that I’ve done in my work life in the States, although in a very different environment.

The opportunities really do seem endless, only limited by my own filters. It will be very positive for me to be able to see things form another cultural perspective. I really hope to take this in and integrate it into my thinking, my feelings, my very being. It is such a growth opportunity for me and to truly be open. I’m really looking forward to making this new life, but being open to the curves that will no doubt come my way.

I went to an Indian wedding in the evening at the Garden of 5 senses. Things do seem to take much longer in India, in Delhi, as the city is quite spread out and full of traffic. The driver was supposed to pick me up at 7:45, but due to traffic wasn’t able to get me until 9:15. We were able to get to the wedding by about 10:15. As I walked in I heard a muzak version of “Light My Fire”. The wedding was for a female disability activist. Although we missed the ceremony there was plenty of food and plenty of people to meet. Since I had eaten something at my landlord’s while waiting for the driver I wasn’t overly hungry, but did manage some ice cream and some Indian treats.

I’ve been thinking more about how in many cases I’m the only non-Indian. This is the case whether riding on the metro, walking in my neighborhood. I actually like this, kind of yes, I am the foreigner, looking to be part of your culture. I’m reminded of a quote/poem from Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

For some reason the above is brought out in my being different but also wanting/knowing how much I desire to share with others, to bring others up to another level, to show other ways of doing things, but also to learn, to find the light in others and become part of that, to add to my light.

I will therefore share with others, my privilege in being born to a middle class family in Los Angeles, to share what I’ve learned and the skills that I’ve acquired along the way. My journey is so far from over, when others talk and think about retirement, not that I don’t, I truly feel like it is all just starting, that there really isn’t any room for ever stopping the work and the joy that I’m finding in being in India and who knows where else in the future. Maybe I will stay in India, maybe I will work and make some more money and then do a VSO assignment again, I’m not really sure at this point in my life. I know though that this is only the tip of things to come, as long as I do stay healthy, and can find a basketball court where I’m living, where I can find others who have similar interests in serving. It’s all such an adventure, the spice of life as someone once said to me and I am just fortunate and blessed to be living it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Taking a bicycle rickshaw is an amazing experience in Delhi. Typically two people fit on the back of the rickshaw and let’s say that’s a total of 300 or so pounds. Add that to the weight of the bike and the weight of the driver and maybe we have about 500 pounds. Now, the driver is usually small and is driving in traffic with other bicycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, cars, motorcycles, buses, cows, dogs and the occasional monkeys. It’s not the same thing that one sees in New York with their own kind of bicycle rickshaw.

The roads have numerous bumps and are dusty, the buses are spewing pure pollutants into the environment, the smells at times somewhat overpowering. Due to the constant traffic stoppages, the drivers often get off of the bikes and have to push them to build up momentum to move forward. Maybe you get the picture, but perhaps you don’t. Maybe the Indian traffic patterns, which can be disputed work.

The fact that millions of people live here and more continually move to the urban centers gives me pause about how the spreading megalopolis will ever stop, will truly provide a decent living for all. Going back to the bicycle rickshaw driver I wonder how he can make a living by providing Rp$30 drives. Obviously he has no medical insurance and if he gets hurt, which must happen frequently does he resort to begging, something that one becomes immune to rather quickly?

The bottom line is that it is not fair and will never be. The so called developing world, from my perspective will never be able to totally get out of poverty. People resort to whatever they need to do to earn a few rupees, the kindness of others, the so-called overpaying the auto rickshaw drivers 20 more rupees (40 cents) because one is a Westerner. But yet we argue about this as we become part of the game.

India again makes me realize how I would like a partner in life, someone to share this all with. A friend recently wrote to me and said that she felt lonely and didn’t want to die alone. I wrote back and stated that this was valid but that in fact she had friends and family and that she wouldn’t die alone. In the end is it really about that though?

I think that it is more about life and how we live it. Two of the volunteers are a couple who have been doing development work together for many years. Seeing them brought a lot of joy and happiness to me. It made me realize how possible it was to find another adventurous soul, who wouldn’t settle for the usual kind of thing. Not that this is negative in any sense, but maybe all it does is provide a false sense of security. I don’t think either that it’s about being bored easily, but it seems to be more about an unquenchable curiosity about life. Yes, it can be a hassle because it’s not the way that it is at home. But on the other side it is about a love of diversity, about making a home for oneself in what might seem to be a foreign place, about eating foods that upset your stomach. But it also is about becoming part of something that one didn’t know existed, that even though one moves half way around the world, one can still find a roommate from Los Angeles even though one wasn’t looking, it means finding people who also speak English but don’t really seem to be.

I read a quote from Gandhi in the Delhi Times today, “Immature love is saying to someone I love you because I need you and mature love is saying I need you because I love you.” Isn’t this so very true, subtle, but a difference and do we really think about this in our love relationships?

No matter where I look though we all seem to cherish and want similar things, although this does take on very different meanings. There are so many people that I see sleeping on the pavement with a dirty blanket over their heads, no place to have any privacy, nothing really to call their own in the western sense of things. Are they happy? I really don’t know.

The injustice of it all really makes one feel somewhat hopeless.

April 5, 2009
Today I clearly experienced both advantage and disadvantage. I went to a wonderful brunch with Onkar’s family who have really adopted me as one of their own. I feel so very comfortable with everyone and was invited to a cousin’s 5th birthday on April 26. I can’t wait to attend as there will be over 30 children. We went to a 5 star hotel for brunch and had southern Indian food, dosas. I didn’t see the bill but there were at least 16 or so of us. Mohan, Onky’s dad was there with his two brothers and their families.

On the other side of the coin, I made a mala or garland with the women outside of the Indian Social Institute. I get so much joy from just hanging out with all of these people. I’m not sure of their caste, but they appear to be as happy as can be, no matter what their conditions seem to me as a Westerner. I held a three month old baby, which I had referred to previously and she peed all over me. I joked, later in the day with the Indian women, saying that I would one day attend the baby’s wedding and remind her that she had peed on me.

I gave the mala to Onky’s Chachi and she loved it. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I was connecting two very different worlds. Do they ever see each other? I’m not entirely sure of this, but I certainly do. I’m so aware of the differences in just about everything and I can somehow straddle both which I will need to do to be successful in my position with the National Trust. It’s not just about empathy but it’s truly experiencing the life of others, which I am so fortunate to be able to do.

If I had my choice which world would I want to be in? Could I actually always be in a very public place, take bucket showers, work seven days/week and all hours in order just to survive? India has made me wonder, to start to question, which I was hoping that it would do. Again, when someone tells me that they’ve made Rs$100 for the day, about $2 US and then asks me what my camera costs, about $300 US it makes me question, how can it not. Whenever I’m stopped in an auto rickshaw people come up asking for money, especially women with young children. How can this not make one question? Wherever I go I see people living and sleeping on the sidewalk. What really can be done to help all of these people?

April 9, 2009
There are so many vignettes from my fellow volunteers-
Two of my friends, Joe and Mark are just incredible musicians. They wrote a song about our Hindi teacher and then we all performed it for our teacher and at a VSO party. I played the drums and added the Hindi lines. I’ve captured it on video and can show you when you come to India.

My good friend Noel from the Philipines bought a pair of shoes at Jamma Masjid. They were very inexpensive and were “knock-offs”. The next day when he tried them on he discovered that the left shoe was larger than the right. Interestingly enough these shoes fit Noel perfectly as his left foot is larger than his right.

Naomi, a woman from the UK was telling me about how she is “anal” when it comes to cutting boards, yes back home she has one for every different kind of food and would never mix them.

There was the trip to Jamma Masjid, a Muslim area in Old Delhi where we were supposed to meet up with an organization that works with homeless, but somehow we didn’t connect. We ended up driving to an area and all of these children were suddenly around us. I picked up and held a little blind girl, who I felt seemed to be so happy at just the touch, letting other children just hold my hand and spinning them around. I then walked over to this gigantic tent and found many men preparing a huge feast for a wedding. Gigantic copper pots, earthen stoves for preparing rotti, mounds of chicken.

Everywhere one looks, there is magic. You don’t have to look very hard, just have to be open-all of your senses and you have to possess an attitude of wonder. It’s about a curiosity, a wanting to see others for who they are. It’s about connection with others and appreciating the similarities and differences. But, most of all it is about appreciating all of the gifts that everyone has to offer, no matter who they are, no matter what caste they might be in. It is about listening and hearing. It is about being aware that we are all very complicated and if one takes the time one can hear the life stories that we all have.

Magic is everywhere, it is however up to each of us to sense it in our lives.

Friday, April 3, 2009

An Indian Haircut

An Indian Haircut
I asked some India VSO staff if they thought that my hair was too long for the job and they replied no. However after eating dinner again at Ghulab’s, since Joe was going for a haircut I decided to get one as well. As I was watching another person get a haircut, I saw the barber giving the patron a very interesting massage and this helped me to decide to also get a haircut.

The barber that I wanted to get my haircut from had just finished with another customer, but another barber jumped in and must have said it is my turn. Not wanting there to be an altercation I went with the second barber.

The scissors were sharp and clean and after cutting my hair, the barber took out a razor. I immediately said what is that for and he replied with, this is new and it is just for your sideburns and back of the neck. After this the massage started.

The barber would clap his hands, massage me and then clap again. At times it was a pounding to my head. It was not just my head, but also my shoulders and down my back. Since I haven’t had a massage for quite some time, it, at times, was quite ticklish. I’ve had haircuts where my scalp is massaged a little bit, during the wash, but never anything like this.

The cost was 25 rupees, but it would have been about 15 rupees, if I hadn’t gotten the extra massage.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

India and Basketball-Some Thoughts

April 2, 2009
Another day of Hindi classes. I so hope to learn this language and fortunately will have lots of time to practice in my new home in Dwarki. The family living on the first two floors consists of 14 people, the mother and father, the three brothers, who are in business together and their wives, with each of them having two children.

I’m excited about really becoming more rooted in New Delhi, but also somewhat sad about all of the volunteers disbursing. My VSO family continues to grow and it would be really great just to hang with all of them, but I know that we have our jobs to do. Of course we will all meet up during conferences and such, but still.

This experience is all about transitions and being extremely flexible to the environment. I truly feel that this is the only way to survive and thrive. But of course in being flexible the world opens up. Let me give you an example.

On Sunday I went along with five other volunteers to a sports complex. For Rs$100 one could play basketball outdoors, go swimming, play tennis, shoot, play badminton, squash, etc. I saw a bunch of basketball players sitting near the courts. They were dressed like guys in the States and I made this assumption and thought, “What are these African American guys doing in India”. Well, of course, when I asked them where they were from it became quite apparent that they weren’t from the States, but were in fact from Congo. I also met a guy from France who later in the week came to the American Embassy School.

The NBA has done such an incredible job of marketing basketball throughout the world. The guys from the Congo were amazing players with one guy able to dunk and actually do a goal tending on one play. I can’t wait to play with them and apparently they play year round even when it gets up to 45 degrees C, which is really hot.

I do spend an inordinate amount of time on basketball, following the Lakers, teaching the sport and of course playing. This sport is so much about life to me in the sense of it is a way of living. It not only keeps me physically fit, but also keeps me mentally fit. When I play basketball there is nothing else happening in the world, so that, in some sense it is a form of meditation. I’ve now met Eastern Europeans, who are just a blast to play with, Americans, who want to live their lives in Delhi, and will meet guys from the Congo. How incredible is that?

I always go back to Phil Jackson’s book, “Sacred Hoops”, which I’ve read a couple of times. In the book Phil talks about the Chicago Bulls and how he molded them into a “team” that was able to win championships, something that other coaches weren’t able to do even with Michael Jordan.

The fact is that basketball has such a beautiful flow, a dance, to it when all of the five players are working together. So much about life when we cooperate with one another towards achieving common goals. We all have our places and when we realize what those places are, amazing things can be accomplished. It’s somewhat letting go of the ego for the good of the larger “team”.

Even though New Delhi is highly polluted it is a breath of fresh air, in that, everything is so very different than what I’m used to. On Saturday my VSO Canadian friend Mark and I went to Old Delhi, a very crowded area with narrow streets. We went to a market leading up to the Jamma Masjid, which I believe is a Muslim temple. There were many things that seemed familiar, as vendors were selling shoes, plastic toys, western clothing, etc. But then there is the unfamiliar, the Muslim hat vendors, the women wearing saris, the extremely narrow streets lined with a multitude of shops, the man crouched on a counter, putting raw dough for chapattis into an inverted oven, the many goats, a mongoose crossing the market walking path, the fruit and vegetable vendors pedaling from carts and it goes on.

The newness of it all is something that I hope doesn’t change. There seem to be surprises everywhere one goes and one really does not have to look. If variety is in fact the spice of life, then this is what India is about, of course literally with the food, but also with the people and the place.

Traveling in India is something that I will do to really understand the diversity that this very magical place is. Yes, of course, there are the McDonald’s with no meat, in fact a sign states that “we do not serve beef here”, and the KFC’s, Subway’s, Adidas Stores, but most of it is so unfamiliar. The small entrepreneur seems to be the method that most people use to make money.

The poverty can be overwhelming, but overall people that I meet seem to be quite happy. The caste system is alive no matter what anyone says, although I really admire the Indians for being somewhat open about this. In the U.S. we are much more subtle and although we don’t ever talk about a caste system, people are born into certain families and therefore have certain opportunities more available to them than others. No, we don’t have so called “arranged” marriages in the U.S. but of course people typically marry within their social class. India is different, but not so different when it comes to these matters.

I’m looking forward to moving into my quite “Western” living arrangements and becoming a family member of the owners who live downstairs. They seem incredibly sweet and welcoming as Indian families tend to be. There is nothing like being welcomed into another culture. I think that others can tell when one is open or closed and I feel very open to the possibilities and opportunities. I think that being open is something that suits me well as it has brought me to the incredibly enriching place in my life.