I just spent most of the month of February in India. For 2 weeks I was volunteering at an Orphanage called Families for Children. www.familiesforchildren.com
It was started in the late 70’s by an extraordinary Canadian woman named Sandra Simpson who still oversees almost all of its operations.
The trip was organized by my good friend Jennifer and there were 6 women ranging in age from 43 to 50, from both Canada and the United States. She challenged each of us to raise 2500 dollars.
Twenty five hundred dollars would help support at least 15 children for a year at the orphanage. Between us we managed to raise nearly 40 thousand with the help and support of families and friends.
Below are the emails I sent out to keep everyone up to date…

February 2nd,2009

Hi all,

Just a short note to let you know after nearly 45 hours of travel we are safely in Podanur.

The orphanage is quite something spanning two large compounds with preschools,and special needs training centres,a canteen, a lending library of 8K books,accommodations for over 350 children ranging in age from newborn to 21, and us volunteers.
They make beautiful raw silk fabric and manufacture on a small scale bags,jackets,etc.
There is a goat farm that supplies milk for the newborns. There is a women’s coop we will visit tomorrow with one of the local volunteers,Kelly.

It is hot,we are a little dazed from exhaustion and trying to stay up as late as possible. Right now there are about 11 volunteers from Canada and the US. Our other 4 friends don’t arrive until next Sunday and Monday.
Jen and I are meeting with Sarah ,a nurse volunteer who started coming in 1980 who will let us know where she wants us to help out.
Manny the driver who met us at the airport has a daughter who married last month and he had a two day celebration feeding 1000 people. He had all the kids to the wedding. What a treat for them.
It will take me awhile to absorb all the names,some are very exotic ones!

Bangalore airport was as modern as any I’ve seen. Marble and glass.Jen says it was as far away from Podanur as Toronto or New York with the Tommy Hilfiger shops and Illy coffee bar not to mention the orderliness and cleanliness..So many well dressed men and women really spoke to the rising middle class of India. And yet there were small songbirds,probably finches,flying around in the rafters and eating crumbs off the floor in the restaurants..too perfect.
Coimbatore in comparison, a cacophony of flowing traffic,human,animal,motorbike,trucks all moving without smashing into one other…It couldn’t happen in North America..too much road rage!

Okay this is a sticky keyboard in a local internet place. More later.

Take care,
Thank you for your support and encouragement..I feel it all the way over here:>
Lots of love to you all

February 4,2009

Hi all

Well we’ve been here two full days and believe me they have been full.

Jen asked me today what my impression is so far and I could only answer the place is full of heart. So many wonderful caregivers full of patience and love for the children. There are about 200 full time staff ,all locals, all exceptional with the kids. It is humbling and slightly overwhelming knowing how much work goes into caring for these children. It is especially humbling after spending time with the special needs children. They have a zest for life that is remarkable and inspiring. It is also wonderful to watch the regular children interact with them. I haven’t seen any of the kids fighting with each other. They always call out Hello Auntie, How are you? They laugh and smile, happy for you without any pretense.
I like very much how much respect is felt for the children, no matter how severe their disability might be. They always seem to be striving for some way to engage the kids whether with a speech therapist or a full time physiotherapist(physical therapist for you yanks:) or taking them outside to be in the sunshine, to socialize, play in the playground,whatever.

Today was the first time we were allowed to visit the young babies. They impose a three day stay to make sure you haven’t any germs to pass on to them. I guess 2 and half days was sufficient in the eyes of Sarah Mama the head Canadian volunteer who has be coming since 1980, since she let us visit with them this morning. ( She lives on Galiano island with her husband who is also here with her.)

The babies are very sweet, some with special needs, but all are fun to play with and tickle and hold.
It is very organized with very young babies in the first room, basically newborn to nearly two or until they start walking, the next two rooms have the slightly bigger babies , ones who can get around but aren’t quite ready to be moved over to the Toddler house . Here boys and girls are mixed together, even in the toddler/ preschool but once they hit Gr 1 they are separated into young boys and young girls and then Big boys and Big girls.The big boys compound is actually a third one which I haven’t visited yet. It is also were the Women’s co op and their paper making project is located. That is where the donation thank-you cards are made.

They have two large buildings devoted to special needs girls and boys..separated of course…about 50 in each bldg. I haven’t visited there yet but have spent time with Sophie’s kids, a small group of physically challenged but intellectually high functioning kids taking them to the library by wheelchair from one compound to the other ..about a ten or fifteen minute walk between the two places. They are great kids! Two of the volunteers who are leaving tomorrow brought in cake to the kids and we had a little party..They loved it and we went dancing in their wheelchairs on the grounds out in front of their classroom. One of the little girls( SURAPATI sp?) can’t speak but can let you know exactly what she wants and we were spinning around together until I was dizzy:) not her! She helps with the other kids and is very bright.

In fact we are having a small dinner send off for the couple so I must sign off. Before I do we visited the goat farm area today and one of the mama goats gave birth to three babies and I got it on film..Tomorrow we get to bottle feed the goats maybe the humans too. They don’t nurse the goat kids because they need the milk for the human babies so switch them (the goat kids) to cow milk in about five days.

Jen and I are taking a group of kids to an elephant sanctuary on Saturday… should be fun not to mention exhilarating.

More later..

Lots of love

February 10,2009
# 3

HI All…please forward to anyone I’ve missed

Saturday we took 14 children, 7 boys and 7 girls ages 9 and 10 to an elephant /wildlife sanctuary. We also had a Big Girl, Meena and a Big Boy Kalimandan and our driver Mani, Jennifer and myself..all jammed into an extended Land Rover. It was hot but great.
When we arrived at the compound to meet the kids the little girls showed up in frilly dresses, shoes and socks, some with bindi’s on their foreheads, all of them with some kind of decoration like earrings and or necklaces, full of excitement and shy big smiles. We played a game with them briefly to learn their names and then it was time to get the small boys located in a seperate compound nearby. We didn’t have time to learn their names but they piled in all dressed in clean smart shirts and shorts. Equally excited and thrilled to have been chosen for the field trip.
You have to understand these are children who don’t get into the country at all and for them to go into a forested area was a big deal let alone to see the elephants LIVE.
Most of the girls were in the middle seat while the boys were in the far back..seat belts don’t exist and rules of the road are a figment of our western imagination. As anyone knows who has driven in Asia or parts thereof it is always exciting to spend time in a vehicle here.Thankfully Mani is an incredibly competent driver and very calm. At times the two lane highway was turned into a four lane highway all going in the same direction..forget about oncoming traffic! Needless to say the exhaust fumes can be a wee bit off-putting…or putting off in English speak here:)

Anyway enough of the roads suffice to say they are an adventure in themselves and crossing the road almost anywhere is a lesson in taking your life into your own hands.At least they honk (a lot) to let you know they are coming!

The sanctuary is about 72 km from the orphanage and borders another one in the state of Kerala. It’s called the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park and is about 1000 sq km. Wildlife is using the term loosely but we were able to take the kids on an Elephant ride which was a HUGE hit. They scrambled on without any fear..almost…a few of the girls were a bit scared but mostly everyone was on top of them without a second thought. There were two elephants available so we broke up into three groups…not very even ones given the excitement. Mani rode with 6 of the small boys, I rode with 6 small girls and Meena, then Jen went with Kalimandan and a small boy and girl.

I brought disposable cameras for the kids to use. We had used one already in the car so every body got a chance to try it, then I gave each elephant ride one to use. Everyone loves to get their photo taken here. In fact it’s almost impossible to get a natural shot. As soon as a camera is pulled out it is Auntie Auntie Photo Photo with fingers pointing at themselves eagerly and expectantly hopeful for a shot. They love the digital camera when they can look at themselves right away.
I’ll take in the cameras this week to get copies for the kids. A couple of the kids wanted to hold onto the camera and just click away then wind it even when the film was finished. It didn’t matter to them at all. They just loved having it in their hands.

We rode through the forest which was filled with Teak and Rosewood trees and saw one sloth bear in a tree(we think). I was told it was a forest cat and Jen was told it was a monkey but when I zoomed in on my photo it looked different from either of those. At any rate the kids loved riding the elephants. We were on VJ Lakshmi a 56 year old female and the boys were on Ragnash a 52 year old male. Gentle Big Asian elephants seemingly benign but massive. They lumbered along slowly until we were nearing the end of the route then VJ picked the pace a bit in anticipation of a treat I guess.
After lunch Mani took us to a spot near a creek to have lunch. It was so great to see the kids running and laughing and just being kids somewhere other than the small patch of dirt in front of the building they live in.
We had to wait for some time before we were able to go down to the area where the elephants are bathed and fed but that was definitely a highlight. A bit of a bone rattling journey to the small valley where they live but we got there in the late afternoon with beautiful light. A small very green area with elephants of all ages and sizes roaming around..Very cool. The trainers who were bathing the elephants had them spray the kids who loved it. One 2 yr old baby elephant called Tamblin we were allowed to pet and he wound his trunk over our heads and arms..very sweet…a little mucky. Asian elephants only have one lip instead of two like the African ones. I’ve got lots of shots to share when I get home.

The ride home was hilarious when Mani cranked up the music and the boys in the back danced and lip-synced their way almost all the way home. They were buzzed! The girls on the other hand were crashed and one by one fell asleep on the seat, heads tilted one way then the other. Jen described the few sleeping boys like puppies all tumbled together piled onto the narrow bench in the back.

Such a high to bring this short but memorable trip to these kids..no one complained, no one asked when are we going to get there, no whining or fighting,everyone patient and respectful, very different from North American kids we all know and love.
They had so much fun, appreciated whatever was given to them..one little boy even handed a 10 rupee note to a beggar that came to the back of the door when we were waiting at a short pit stop. It wrenched my heart to see him do that..someone with so little giving it up to another. More of life’s lessons.

Okay I have to run.. more later.

Lots of love,
Thanks for your notes glad to know folks are reading these long winded notes,

xoxox janie

February 14,2009
# 4

Hard to believe we are near the end of our stay. It has been a very full week, starting Monday when the rest of the ladies arrived to complete our group. To boot it was a full moon and after introductions and Jen filling us in on the week to come we howled in anticipation of a fabulous week.A couple of us did some yoga under the full moon(a first for me)

The Guesthouse we are staying in is rented by the York School(a private school in Toronto) who sends students every March break to come volunteer at the orphanage. With six grown women filling the place it is hard to imagine it full of 16 teenagers and a few teachers,especially with the spotty water and tempermental toilets.
Most of the time we have water but the occasional power outtages and daily dry sinks are challenges that in fact are fairly easy to live with..although at the end of the day when you’re hot, sweaty and dirty, it is refreshing to rinse off the dust. Sometimes a cold beer has to suffice.
It never ceases to amaze me how clean most of the Indians look even in the heat of the day! Whites that are white, colours that stay bright…unless you dry them in the sun then things become bleached right away…maybe that only happens to us foreigners…they ought to do more laundry detergent ads over here!

The people manage to maintain an air of serenity that is enviable. Nothing is too much,never a problem,”okay Auntie”, “what do you need?”. Everyone is very friendly, eager to offer assistance,directions, suggestions, even if they don’t understand a word of English.
It is in the intention of helping that there is a beauty. There is a level of patience that North Americans could learn very well from. Like many parts of the world,there is time and then there is time…here it is I S T, short for Indian Standard Time. Not unlike Manana Time, or Jamaican Yah Mon Time or name your country…But there is a lovely peace to the ability to wait and see. Wait for whatever might develop,patience to not have to fill in the spaces,allow life to come forward as it is meant to.

Time and again this patience has been exhibited this week by the children. Wednesday evening FFC offered to put on a show for us, A dance recital, with a yoga performance and a young woman singing. It was supposed to start at 5:30 then 6:00 and finally got rolling around 6:30. The whole time the kids waited excitedly but patiently for things to get going. No whining or complaining, No “I’m Bored!”. They were putting it on in our honour and it was very sweet..even asking us to sit up front for the opening ceremony where they blessed us and then asked us to speak/give a blessing to the children. Jennifer spoke first and was extremely eloquent, saying it all for all of us. Imagine our collective surprise when they passed the mic on to each of us! The recital finished with all of the volunteers up front dancing then pulling the kids up and dancing together. Such a blast! So natural and fun.
I have to mention one performance by a downs syndrome man who is in his 30’s I think. He is the most flexible person I have ever seen(except maybe the yogi I witnessed in Pushkar a couple of years ago.) He had his legs up behind his head with such ease and dexterity it was boggling.

Thursday was a VERY big day for the kids. We took a bus load, 65 children ranging in age from 10 to 14 to Black Thunder, a water park about an hour and a half drive north of here. This event was being talked about for days beforehand and is still being talked about, even by the staff, several days later.
Imagine Disneyland,Canada’s Wonderland,the Exhibition all rolled into one and then scaled down significantly…to these kids it was super(soopah) “soopah Auntie”, Sister very jolly”, “very nice”, AKA cool, neat, fantastic, etc.
They were so pumped and thrilled to be away from school for the day plus to be on a field trip like Black Thunder..it’s a big deal. Amazingly it was pretty clean and incredibly refreshing to spend time in the water!

Of course we were fully clothed, dressed in our Selwar Kameez’s, since we are ladies. MAny we saw were in Sarees. The young girls could wear long shorts and shirts and the boys of any age could wear shorts and t shirts but as ladies, who might promote bad behaviour, we had to cover up. No matter that the outfits clung to us as soon as they were wet and were probably as provocative as if we had been in swimsuits. Thankfully we didn’t have to wear the scarves we are to wear (to cover our alluring chests:) when we’re dry. One of the many curious anomalies here in India.

Not having spent much time as a mom on endless class field trips back home I haven’t anything to gauge their behaviour on but the others here are constantly remarking on how much more fun this trip was then the ones at home where kids would be told to sit down in their seats, no dancing in the aisles, to be quiet and to follow the rules as they are laid out. The only rules as far as I could tell was ..hmmm…oh right, there weren’t any.
The kids had a great time on the ride over singing and dancing, and on the way back yelling the lines out to the Bollywood film the driver played on the tv for them.

At the park they were told lunch at 1pm and then they could go, which they did ..all over the park..although mostly in clusters.At one point it felt like we’d lost 65 kids. NO one seemed too worried about whether anyone could swim(lots of them can’t), no one seemed too concerned about timing, but everything flowed and moved nicely. No one got hurt, no one was crying, no one complained..of course if they had I don’t speak Tamil so wouldn’t have known anyway:) but I’m pretty sure they didn’t!

Everyone had fun..even us old broads as we raced down a multi slide not once but several times! There was a wave pool that was seperated with a rope down the middle. Men/boys on one side ,ladies on the other. At one point there was a line of young men lined up the rope just staring and flirting with the girls on the other side. A couple of the young girls said to me, “Auntie very bad those boys, very bad” as they waggled their fingers at me.

It was terrific day and the kids were very sweet as they got off the bus when we returned thanking us for the day.

Today is Valentine’s day and we split up and spent the morning with different groups of kids making Valentine’s cards. They weren’t really sure what they were for but they got into it and by the end had covered the paper hearts we had cut out for them last night with stickers and glitter glue and coloured heart paper. Such a joy just to spend time with them watch them work together,make do with the limited supplies of scissors and glue and share nicely without yelling and screaming at one another.

My days in between have been spent with the babies, the younger grades, and a class of special needs kids who range in age from about 8 to 21 or so. I had brought some plain wooden Ikea frames and glitter glue and photographed each of the kids in the class. Then we decorated the frames together and now they will put them up in their sleeping/living areas.I’m not sure why I was drawn to the class but I was and followed the pull. One small boy Mutharaj really tugged at my heart strings, and although he can’t speak, his eyes are incredibly expressive and compelling. At 12 he is tiny,has some kind of palsy and will drag himself around the room. When we decorated his frame he knew what he wanted and didn’t want on it. I left him with a small stuffed Beanie baby monkey because he reminded me of a playful little imp which I am sure he would be if he had the physical capacity to do so.

Tomorrow is our last full day here. But we won’t in fact be at the orphanage, we are taking the Training girls, the ones who have finished high school and are now being trained for some kind of trade, cooking, sewing, working with the babies,etc., on a trip to the Isha Temple and a waterfalls, and something else I think. Jen took a similar bunch when she was here last year and thinks we will all enjoy seeing it.
I’m sure it will be fun,many of them have come up to me and expressed excitement at going. It is a bit bittersweet not to spend our last full day actually at the orphanage but the ability to take the girls out of here even for a few hours will be worth it.

One of the many things I will take away from here is the ability to experience unadulterated joy and enthusiasm for life even under very bleak circumstances. We have so much to be thankful for in our lives. I am grateful for the abundance of blessings in my life each and every day, and for the capacity to give and receive love. Especially the love from these children, it truly is heart expanding.

This is my last missive from here..maybe another next week, who knows but we will be touring a little so not sure of any internet connections. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
Speaking of rides, yesterday evening I watched a young woman in full saree who was on her motorbike, two children holding on behind her. She looked quite regal especially with the elbow length white gloves covering her arms! Don’t you just love India!

xoxox janie

February 27,2009

Hi all,

Now that I’m back in Portland it feels like one last message should
follow. Its a long one.

After I left you on Valentine’s Day I went to join the other women at
the Training girls quarters. Four of us opted to have Henna treatments
also known as Mehindi on our hands and feet. Two young talented girls
worked on us, Meena and Nithia.

Meena is 18 and going to beauty school where she is learning the art
of beautifying others. She showed us photos of her “advance wedding”
where they are dressed and adorned in all their Indian finery. She
looked gorgeous in her bridal wear, even though she isn’t attached to
anyone at the moment nor does she seem all that interested in becoming
attached in the near future.I was told by the co-director that the
girls at FFC are quite independent and most aren’t in a rush to be
hooked up with someone. FFC will act as a matchmaker if the girls
request it but don’t push them in that direction by any means.

Nithia is 16 or 17 and in 11th standard which I believe is equivalent
to grade 11. I don’t know if she has aspirations for further education
but she struck me as someone who, given a chance,could go far. She is
sweet and smart and has an incredible natural talent for the
Mehindi,drawing very intricate designs from her imagination after only
a brief look at some of Meena’s sketches.

We sat on the concrete floor that the girls sleep on, leaning against
one wall in their small spare room, their sleeping mats were stacked
to the side. On the opposite wall large gray lockers lined and filled
the space. It was dark despite having windows on two sides, and the
fans overhead spun lazily to stave off the heat even in the late
afternoon, music played on a portable IPod thanks to Shannon. It felt
like girlfriend time.
It was a day off from school and work. Some of the girls played Carom
in the corner, others gathered around Shannon’s computer while she
shared photographs from home, Meena and Nithia worked away applying
the Henna, a few of the girls were in and out of their lockers.
It all felt natural and comfortable. Of course there was a lot of talk
about the trip Sunday.

While I waited for my turn I went upstairs and retrieved Harani who
lives in the big baby room. I think she is between 4 and 7 years old.
She has severe deformities caused by webbing between her joints so
that her arms and legs can never stretch out. Jen introduced me to her
our first day and I soon understood why she was one of her favourites.
She doesn’t speak but has some of the most expressive eyes with a
sweet smile that lets you know when she is happy to see you. She
doesn’t have all her fingers on either hands and the ones she does
have are thin and claw-like enabling her to grasp things, almost like
a vise, quite readily, especially if its a cookie or a toy she wants
to hang onto. One day I played a game with her making noises and
moving my arms and hands and she mimicked me by flipping her arm in a
wave and making grunts and sounds. A shy but pleased grin on her face.

There were a few others that grabbed my attention in the big baby
room. Brahma who has hydroencephalitis(sp?), Mandan and Priya who are
downs syndrome babies with the biggest smiles and most addictive
giggles you can imagine, Kevin who is healthy and very active inside
the room. but as soon as you take him outside he is quiet and
wide-eyed, absorbing everything around him, and finally Shanthi who
has Cerebral Palsy, is blind,hears but can’t speak, and has some
alertness. Joe and I decided we wanted to sponsor a child at FFC and
it looks like it will be Shanthi.

I’ve never met anyone with Hydroencephalitis but I’m glad Brahma was
my first experience. He is quick and attentive able to communicate
without speaking, again through his constantly roving eyes. You can
see him drinking it all in both in the the toddler classroom and in
the big baby room. I was a bit nervous to take him outside for fear of
hurting his neck but Shannon who is trained in Feldenkrais thought he
was a good candidate for that type of therapy and if given the
opportunity might be able to actually build up enough strength in his
neck muscles to be able to sit up properly instead of spending his
days lying on a bed or in a stroller. What a treat that would be for
Mandan and Priya had all of us in stitches with their happy contagious
giggling. Each time they were tickled they would break out in
spontaneous laughter.

Shanthi I didn’t meet until the second week and wasn’t sure the first
time I met her if I was up for the job of sponsoring her. But she won
me over fairly quickly and it was cemented the morning before we left
with the training girls on their excursion. I took Shanthi up to the
rooftop to spend time with her and as I held her and played the game
where you pretend you’re dropping a child by loosening your grip and
then grabbing them again she laughed and giggled loving the sensation.
I wanted to cry knowing how limited her life will be but happy too,
while in the moment of her childish exuberance. It made me realize how
every person deserves the opportunity to experience life to their
fullest capability. In this case, as with most of the children at FFC,
no child is left behind.

Ganga, a tall beautiful 21 year old and one of my favourite training
girls, came to collect me in the big baby room. Ganga works at the
canteen serving and I called her my Tungachee(sp?) “little sister” and
I was her Aka “big sister” although we both just called each other
She had come to let me know everyone had assembled and were ready to
go. I said goodbye to Shanthi and joined the rest to head out for
another fun full day of adventure.

We had two vehicles filled with the six of us, plus one other
volunteer, Sarah from Sherbrooke Quebec, who was celebrating her
birthday, 2 drivers and 15 training girls. I expected wild blaring
music, girls singing at the top of their lungs, somewhat akin to the
young boys coming home from the elephant sanctuary a week earlier.
Nope, at least not in our car. The group was surprisingly subdued and
while they chatted loudly amongst themselves and we did have some
music on it wasn’t the raucous ride I had expected. I did hear from
the gals in the other car however that theirs was blaring throughout
the day and that Gayle was ready for an Aspirin pronto by the time we
got home.

We started the day with a stop at the Elephant temple. Actually called
Pattisvarayer. A 2000 year old structure that had been in its most
recent incarnation for about 400 years. We left our shoes in the cars
although we could have added them to the piles just outside either
side of the entrance. As soon as we entered we went to the taps found
on a wall on the left side to rinse our hands and feet off. Following
Mani the driver we circled the main part of the temple paying our
respects to each shrine located around it. Sometimes offering rupees,
other times pulling the swirling smoke to our chests or foreheads in
supplication. When we finally entered the main temple it was filled
with masses of people everyone pushing forward through a small doorway
to be blessed by the priest. Just before you go through the door is a
statue of Nandi the bull who is the vehicle for Shiva. I was told if
you whisper in his ear he will grant you your wish. I asked him to
lend a hoof with my book. Got my fingers crossed!

The reason its called the Elephant temple is the large pachyderm that
stands inside, who for a few rupees dropped onto his snout/lip will
bless you on the head with a light bop of his trunk. It is truly
enchanting to receive and watch others as they get theirs. I could
have stood there for hours but alas we were on a schedule of sorts and
so allowed myself to be pulled away. We bought ourselves and the girls
bracelets and necklaces and other momento’s to take home.

From there we left the city and headed out into the country where we
saw more agricultural land under cultivation, rice paddies,corn
fields,groves of coconut and date palms interspersed with betel nut
trees in between. We passed a cobra house on the side of the road
which we learned starts out as a large ant hill. At some point a cobra
moves in to eat the ants and then people begin to add more soil to the
colony leaving offerings of flowers and food and turmeric until the
hill grows quite large. A cobra house might have only one maybe two
cobras living in it. Apparently there used to be a cobra house at FFC
up until the construction of the canteen when it was either removed to
somewhere else or destroyed. Don’t know which.
We saw another one later in the day that was located right next to
someone’s home. I don’t know about you but it gives me the willies
thinking about a poisonous snake living next door.

Our second destination was the Kovai Coutralam a jungle/forest
preserve that has a large waterfall in one section. After we passed
the sign at the entrance that said, ” Birds and the Bees are the
reason we are here, Don’t you be the reason we are not!”, we parked at
the base, ate some lunch, and wondered briefly what had happened to
the other car which had been right behind us at the gate. Soon they
arrived with tales of a flat tire amazed it had been fixed in about
five minutes..kind of like the keystone cops..everyone out of the car
and back in after a few circles round.
The hike into the waterfalls was a pleasant 1 km on mostly rolling
flat terrain. The woods were filled with teak and rosewood trees much
like the elephant sanctuary we had visited the week before. There were
steeper valleys around us and Mani pointed out a peak opposite us that
he told us was a popular pilgrimage hike and one that he had done
several years ago. I think he said it’s an overnight walk done at
night because it’s cooler but lit because of the danger of snakes.
Two of the training girls with us were blind and another walks with
some difficulty but everyone made it into the falls. Just before you
get there a number of vendors set up alongside the path selling
pineapple slices that they top with chili and salt or unripe mangoes
that are quartered and slathered with the same concoction. I tried a
little on the pineapple and it wasn’t too bad. The mango I tested with
a small bite but it was too odd for even me.(no pun intended)

The waterfalls stretched up the hillside but its base consisted of
three pools with varying sized drops, small,medium and large. There
were tons of people, mostly young men in various states of undress,
completely unabashed by their outfits. A lot of them were in tight
underwear, some only with towels around their waists, others in shorts
and t shirts.
The girls/women who were there ahead of us wore sarees or their selwar
kameezs much like at the water park.
Change rooms were available and a lot of our girls climbed into jeans
or tights and shirts to accommodate the need to be discreet but not
have to wear their good clothes in the water.
They had a ball in the water dipping under the pour-overs shrieking
with laughter as the cold water dumped onto their heads. Although the
pools were formed out of the natural rock the top two sections
appeared augmented by man. The big rock faces reminded me a little of
the granite rock you find in Georgian Bay especially the section down
to the bottom pool.

Even Hennah and Nirmala the two blind girls joined in the fun. Mani
our driver shared a poignant story about Hennah who sometimes travels
with him when he runs various errands for FFC. She loves to go out
with him just for the sheer joy of an adventure away from the confines
of FFC. It doesn’t matter that she can’t see anything. She asked him
that day to be sure to drive slowly so that the day would last longer.
Both the girls exclaimed how “Very very very very very very happy they
were to be there Auntie.”
It was here too that I learned Ganga was from Andra Pradesh, the state
directly north of Tamil Nadu. It turns out she and her brother ran
away from home at the age of ten and somehow ended up at FFC. Her
mother had died and while she liked her father, she didn’t get along
with her grandmother and chose to leave. Makes you wonder how bad a
situation is to motivate such a young child to escape.

We probably spent a couple of hours playing and relaxing at the falls
and then it was time to go on to one more place. It was a bit of a
trip watching the girls get cleaned up, primped up, and primed for the
next phase. We tumbled back into the cars and headed off to the Isha
temple and yoga centre. The Isha foundation was started by Sadhuguru.
This was quite a bit different from the first temple we visited. Full
of foreigners, tidy, sleek, and a little slick for my taste. The
temple itself is a gorgeous domed structure made almost entirely of
bricks without any centre support. Inside the round mediation hall is
a giant Lingam which is an image used to represent Shiva. A Lingam
has a distinct phallic look to it but it is meant to embody the deity
of Shiva and wouldn’t necessarily be considered as phallic as
westerners might interpret it to be.

Before entering the temple we took part in a bathing ritual inside an
open air hall that had an incredible painting stretched across its
ceiling of various gods. The bathing area is located below ground
several steps down from the top, at the bottom is a pool situated
perpendicular to the stairs. Inside the pool is a mercury lingam much
smaller than the one in the temple. Bathing times are every half hour
with segregated sexes. Jen had been eager to take part in the bathing
since she had missed it the year before so when we arrived we had to
hustle to make the woman’s bathing schedule.
We were told it was a good idea to remain in the frigid waters for
atleast 12 to 15 minutes to receive the full benefits. Believe me it
was COLD. We entered the woman’s changing area and slipped out of our
clothes and into rust orange coloured robes, one size fits all. These
were robes that had just been used so there wasn’t the luxury of
climbing into a dry one only cool damp ones. Jen, Sarah, and I were
the first ones there and we made our way down to the pool and into the
breathtaking waters in plenty of time.
Once we caught our breath we made our way to the lingam and joined the
other women and placed our hands on it. It wasn’t long before Jen was
shaking from the cold and we took turns leaning into each other for
some warmth.

I practiced a breathing exercise Jen had taught us earlier in the week
which surprisingly helped me stay slightly warmer. The rest of our
group joined us, sans the training girls, and at one point the seven
of us all had our hands resting on the lingam. It was quite a moment.
On one end of the pool was a steady stream of water pouring in and
when I’d had enough of the lingam I swam over and dunked my head under
the mini waterfall. It was invigorating to say the least !

After a hot shower we each made our way over to the main temple where
many people were meditating. I’m new at meditation but found it
incredibly peaceful,save for the odd cell phone going off.
Around the outer perimeter of the temple are recesses large enough for
someone to sit inside on a mat cross legged. I really liked the
cubbyhole feeling it gave. Around the base of the giant Lingam was a
small rectangular raised pool area with flowers floating inside and
lit offerings around its edges. It was really beautiful. I’m not sure
how long I lasted but noticed even some of the training girls had come
in to join us and when I got up to leave a number of our group did as
We stayed a little longer enjoying the surroundings and then finally
it was time to head back to FFC. We made a few pit stops on the way
back, once for ice cream, once for a donation of oranges, and finally
for the last of my photos which because Sarah was staying I asked her
to pass out to various people I wouldn’t see since our departure the
next morning would be early.

A little note about Sarah. She was returning to FFC for the first time
since she had been adopted from there at the age of 7 months, 29 years
earlier and had no memories of the place. She grew up in Sherbrooke
Quebec, was fluent in French and spoke very little English. She
remarked to me how very weird it was to come back here and to see so
many people that looked like she did as I guess there aren’t a whole
lot of Indians in Sherbrooke. I could on occasion see how she was
grappling with her time there but I hope she manages to stick out the
6 months she has committed to staying. She was/is a great kid/woman,
young in some respects but with a dry sense of humour.

When we got back to FFC the girls thanked us but scattered fairly
quickly for their room. I was feeling more sentimental and was
surprised at the relative ease and nonchalance of their goodbyes. When
I mentioned it to the others Jen reminded me of the transient nature
of their lives with volunteers coming and going which of course I can
understand completely but she also reminded me that sentimentality is
very much a western notion and that Indians seem to live in the Now
much better than we do. I suppose. When I think of the few Bollywood
films I’ve seen I’m not sure I completely agree with that assessment.

We left the next morning for our migrant travels. The first night we
stayed in Ooty which is in the Nilgiri hills, northwest of Coimbatore.
Nilgiri means blue and because the eucalyptus trees(imported by the
Brits) have blue undersides on their leaves they make the hills look
blue,therefore Nilgiri HIlls. They are marked also by tea plantations,
cooler climes,and a very colonial feel to the towns. It was a nice
change to be up around 9000 feet. Greener and cooler. I certainly
noticed the change in altitude when walking back up the hill towards
our hotel after dinner.

Earlier in the day we had stopped at the lush botanical gardens and
taken a walk around them. We passed lots of Bonnet Macaque monkee’s on
the road up and saw a number of Pointsettia trees, not bushes but
trees, planted throughout the plantations. For any of you who haven’t
seen a tea bush I personally think they look like Tea Biscuits with
their rounded tops. They were the same as I remembered them from Sri
Lanka 20 years ago. Only the newest three leaves in a bunch are
plucked from the tops which I guess accounts in part for the bushy
look of the plants.

We also visited Higginbothams Book Store and bought some cards and
books. It is famous for having existed for 100 years opening its’
doors when the Brits began arriving in numbers. One other random thing
I learned is that snooker was invented in India by the bored Brits in
colonial times.
The hotel King’s Cliff Bungalows where we stayed was up above town and
had a lovely garden along one side. Our room was small but overlooked
the garden. And when I came in from my late night walk they had a fire
going in the fireplace and a hot water bottle between the sheets! Pure

We were up before dawn with the intention to hit the road early,
unfortunately our driver, Wenti(sp?) and guide Joe were a bit tardy
and our early departure evaporated which as it turns out was too bad.
I heard from a pair of brothers in Mysore,our destination that day,
that they had left Ooty at 5 am and on the way over through the
Mudamalai forest preserve had seen two bull elephants crossing the
road in front of their vehicle. Darn..that would have been very cool
to see. By the time we made it through it was later in the morning and
warm enough that the animals were further into the bush away from the
road. Ah well, we did see a number of spotted deer and a Langur
monkey way up in the tree. Small consolation.

In Mysore we visited the Chamundiswari temple, walking around on the
outside of it and a smaller Shiva temple on the inside. One of the
unusual aspects of the smaller temple is that the statue of Shiva is
given a distinguishable face rather than some kind of an icon or
symbol like the lingam to represent him.
Inside hanging out between the inner and outer sanctums of the temple
was a young cow. It had one back hoof completely overgrown so that it
was curled over on itself, causing the cow to hobble. As we left the
young priest decided the cow had to be moved whether for our benefit
or just for something to do, he took up a piece of cloth slapping it
on its back while yelling at it to get out.
In fact the square around both temples was filled with cows wandering
benignly through the throngs of people. A few of them were noshing on
the left over garbage piled in the corners,others ambled past. I saw a
woman with a dustpan and broom scooping up cow dung and dumping it
into a small cart. One of those never ending jobs.
Wherever we traveled it never ceased to amaze me how cattle and dogs
could be in the middle of a car/truck/bus choked road and not get hit.
Dogs are generally dispensable in India but hitting a cow constitutes
a major fine and ostracism from your neighbours. Headlines in the
newspapers even.

On the way down the Chamundi Hills we stopped to visit a huge Nandi
(bigger bull means bigger wishes granted perhaps?)which was built at
about the 7 or 800 step mark of the 1000 steps leading up to the
temple. The steps were carved by the 10th king in a Dynasty of 24 and
it is said one will receive an extra measure of blessing if they make
it to the top.
Certainly one would deserve it after the climb:)

Some of us had a quick bite in the Lalithmahal Palace. A fabulously
over the top hotel that had once been a Raja’s home. The Wedgewood
blue balcony with white highlights around the dining area had fans
hanging down so that servants could stand there and fan the Raja and
his court as they lay on their cushions listening to musicians and
eating Pomegranates? Jack Fruit? Dates?
Throughout our meal we had the pleasure of a sitar and tambla player
without the fruit or fans.

We stopped in for a look at the Maharaja’s Palace ( a different
Maharaja I believe) and ogled at the opulent meeting rooms one in
particular the Peacock Hall, turquoise blue, full of peacock motifs
and peacocks in stain glass on the ceiling. The hall was used primarily
for weddings and social functions. Adjacent to it were the public and
private meeting halls both spectacular in their painting and frieze
work and size(public one). The public area was where the Raja would
meet with his subjects,listen to any grievances, and mete out justice
Raja style. The private hall was where the real business got done.

By now we were all ready to have some R and R and we were dropped off
at the Indus Valley Ayurvedic Center, IVAC, for a couple of days of
very relaxed rejuvenation treatments. IVAC is more medical than spa
oriented although it is for the most part extremely comfortable. We
each had an initial consultation with the ayurvedic doctor who
prescribed different treatments for each of us. Because we were on the
rejuvenation track things weren’t too taxing. If we had had enough
time for the 7 to 8 day Panchakarma our schedule and diet would have
been much more rigid and focused.
For those who want to know, Ayurveda is described as a Life Science
consisting of three Doshas or energies; Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. I’m a
Vata Pitta which means I’m out of balance with my Kapha but it also
isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Honestly we barely scratched the surface of the 5000 year old tradition.

If you ever find the chance to go to IVAC ask for the villas which
unfortunately Peggy and I didn’t experience but the two that Jen and
Shannon and Gayle and Barb stayed in were quite delightful, in both
their settings and their interior layouts. The rooms in the hotel are
called cottages which is truly a misnomer. It wasn’t that the room
wasn’t comfortable but it definitely lacked that quaint quotient
quality we had loved in Ooty.
Thankfully most of our time was spent being massaged or at a yoga
class or in a facial or lying by the expansive aquamarine pool. We ate
wonderfully healthy vegetarian food and had lots of down time for
reading, journaling, thinking about those things,and visiting with one

The second and third night we took turns seeing a Vedic Astrologer.
The good news is I have a creative brain with the opportunity to
succeed in the arts/film field and it will last a long time. The bad
news is I’m going to have to work at it! Snap of the fingers..darn! ;>
Seems I shouldn’t have left the film industry after all.

One endearing aspect of the treatments we received was that each time,
whether a massage or a facial, or a basti, the therapists would start
the session with a singing prayer/blessing. It was lovely and a sense
of really being held in the space was created each time.
Also one of the yoga instructors had this wonderfully nasally voice
that he used as we went through the positions. Imagine if you will
someone repeating over and over in a soft nasal tone,
“Relax….Relax….Relax your body… If you think that way… You’ll
feel that way… Relax…Relax….Relax your body…”

It wasn’t easy to leave IVAC but our final day we were geared up to do
some power shopping in Bangalore. It was here I started my journey
three weeks earlier in Bangalore’s very modern airport so seemingly
incongruous with my images of India, and of other airports I
experienced in the north. Bangalore is a busy, dirty city filled with
IT workers, and a growing middle class. We spent some time shopping
not far from our hotel searching for the elusive deal, quickly
breaking up into smaller clusters when the first Cauvery we hit kept
having power failures.
Shopping was such a far cry from being with the children. I had done
some in Coimbatore but that was mostly for clothes that were suitable
to wear at the orphanage. On the one hand it felt perfectly natural to
want to bring home gifts and on the other superfluous in the need to
fill my bags with just the right thing. I did find a few things that I
liked but mostly I was keen to spend my final night with the women I
had spent two intense weeks with both at FFC and then on the road.
Two of the six I knew well, the other three were completely new to me
and I really enjoyed connecting with each of them.

We had a few drinks to celebrate and I made the miscalculated overly
exuberant decision to have ice in my drink while at a reputable hotel.
Bad mistake. No matter how pleasant the waiter and their assurances of
filtered water…AVOID the ICE. Thankfully my Delhi Belly didn’t
strike really until I hit the ground in Seattle. A couple of days
later and I felt like eating again.

I’ve been home a week now and when friends ask “How was your trip?” I
don’t feel as articulate as I might. Descriptions don’t roll off my
tongue as fluidly as they could. The first few days home were wet and
gray and dreary and I couldn’t get over how green it was outside. I
felt like I still had one foot in India and one foot here in Portland.
Couldn’t quite figure out where I was.
I’m convinced I will go back one day, just not sure when. I think Joe
would like it too.

Well this was a longer missive but I had the luxury of time and a non
sticky keyboard and it feels more complete to have shared the last
half of the journey.
Thanks again for joining the ride.

xox janie

Jane W. Manchee
971 544 0948(h)
503 804 8577(c)