Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Taking our Monkeys to the Zoo...

One of the leprosy colonies we serve...Vandalur...is right next to the zoo in Chennai. We went there earlier in the summer with one volunteer group and had the privilege of going again today.

We are so blessed to have seven WONDERFUL short-term volunteers here for this week of Thanksgiving! We love them and wish they could stay much longer than 5 days!

There are even a little girl Avery's age and a little boy just a year and a half older than Cohen. They have been having a blast...pillow fights, soccer games in the courtyard, races around the track. It has been so great to watch them play.


We arrived at the colony ahead of the medical van...so we had a few minutes to walk around and visit and we were immediately taken to see the baby goats. They were irresistible!  So cute.

Is there anything as cute as babies? Human or otherwise...they are so precious!



Here is my little Berlyn...she is an "unofficial twin" to Brooklyn. Their names are so close and they are only months apart in age, and she has become my fifth daugher--my India daughter.


I even let Cohen hold one for a second and he was in HEAVEN!!!


Here is our volunteer group in the medical line. Abraham (the patient) is singing and leading them all in a song. Lon wrote a post that spotlighted Abraham HERE. It is beautiful and poignant.



Here are the kids playing a game of Ninja while they wait for us to finish cleaning up.



This is one of the patients at Vandalur. She is a beautiful, sweet, smiling woman and she loves to see the kids. 


After Cohen walked away, she just hung on to Avery's hand for a while....
(I am pretty sure this will be one of my all-time favorite photos from India.)



The zoo is SO MUCH FUN!!  It costs 30 rupees for an adult (50 cents!!) and 10 rupees for a child. Then, you can rent a bike for only 10 rupees an hour. So, for $2.00, Cohen and Avery and I got to enjoy a beautiful afternoon riding around the zoo with some wonderful people. What a blessing to be constantly spending time with the kind of people who spend their hard earned money and vacation time coming to India to serve!!





Here is Avery being stopped by some women to shake the baby's hand and say hi!

It is a good thing that I have been in India for quite a while...otherwise, I do not think I would have been able to handle the "toilet" experience at the zoo today. First of all, you have to pay for the privilege of stepping into the most disgusting row of OPEN squatty potties you could ever imagine.

Anyway...it was DIS.GUST.ING!!!

But, I had to laugh at the sign on the outside...at some point it was painted over, but should say 
TOILET TARIF.
And, apparently, at some point you paid different amounts depending upon your intentions once you entered the toilet.

But, now, it is an even 2 rupees for Urine or Defecation...phew...because who has time to stop and decide which one you need to pay for when you are desperately dismounting your bike and rummaging for coins in your purse. ; )

Because, let me tell you, only PURE DESPERATION leads you to walk into an Indian Public Restroom!

But...all's well that ends well. 
India teaches you to roll with the punches and always carry hand sanitizer!

On the way home, we got to see a whole group of monkeys at the Junction...including some adorable babies. Luckily, I had bought a banana and they absolutely LOVE eating the peels.


Christmas Elves in India!

It has finally cooled off over here and has settled into a beautiful, breezy place...with lows around 65 and highs around 78 or so.  It's LOVELY.

But if you ask the locals...it's COLD!!

Our dance teacher, Summer, and Brooklyn and I have been going out on early morning walks through the village. Now that it is "cold", everyone has their winter hats on.  And all the babies look like little elves.
And never mind that they are in sweaters and hats but completely naked on the bottom half! ; )


This is a little boy...trust me, I am absolutely positive. ;) And all the adult women (including our housemothers) are now wearing these little knitted head-kerchiefs in the mornings and evenings.

 I caught this little boy without his winter cap on. And right after I snapped the photo, he actually broke out crying and ran down the street. : )

There is a beautiful mist blanketing the countryside and we decided to veer off the road onto a cattle path.  It was simply breathtaking.






I have never thought a cow was cute before I came here...but, seriously, look at this little guy. I took this photo specifically for Cohen who is obsessed with baby animals over here.



And here is the same little elf just this morning. We are so conditioned in the West to think pink=girl, so I have to keep reminding myself that I am looking at a boy. ; )



And here he is with his Grandfather...


Here are some other little beauties that we saw on our walk this morning... 





She is the granddaughter of one of Rising Star's drivers. They have the same eyes! 



This grandma was so proud of here little grandson. Yes, I promise....this, too, is a boy!




I love this home.... Every time I walk by it, I chuckle at the juxtaposition. Two huts...and old rickety bike...a baby cow tied to the post...and a satellite dish.


This is a brand new Public Health sign painted on the wall of the village school. It made me laugh so hard. It is by Unicef...and, though I don't read Tamil, seems to be encouraging people to use the toilet instead of the bushes. :) 



Just a little India craziness to start the day!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Week in Paradise...

We had such a wonderful vacation to Sri Lanka!!

(Thanks to India's Visa regulations, we had to leave the country in the middle of our year here...
and lucky for us, the nearest country to visit is the "Hawaii of Asia"!)

Seriously, I kept thinking, "This is amazing...we are so dang lucky!" I never imagined being able to take our family to a tropical island. Ever since Lon and I went to Hawaii in 2010, the kids have been asking when they would get to go to Hawaii and I always answered...When you are grown up, you and your spouse can go! ; )

I must say, the trip had quite a rocky start. The older girls had SO much schooling to finish  before we left to complete their term. (I have refrained from writing a post where I rant about how much I HATE online schooling--it is SO much harder for the student!) ...and THE INTERNET WENT OUT for six days before we left. It was so stressful. We were finally able to get our PC laptop to work but we kept on having issues with the sites being blocked and we had to constantly seek out our tech guy in the office and have him fix it for us.

 Our last day here, the girls spent ALL DAY in Lon's office where there was a second laptop available. I was packing and trying to get everything else ready, Brooklyn (bless her heart) sat down with Liberty for 6 hours straight to help her understand matrices and get through a slew of math assignments and the test review so she could take her term final. Camry had an AP Calculus test that had to be done and she kept getting kicked off and having to email her teacher (remember there is a nearly 12 hour time difference...ugh) to reset the exam. It was so maddening. Camry ended up finishing her final at 3:30 AM (!!!) and could only lay down for 15 minutes before she had to shower and get packed for our 4:30 AM departure to the airport. Needless to say, she felt so sick all that first day and totally crashed the moment we got to our gate at the airport.

We had a delay of 1 1/2 hours because our plane was late and then when we arrived in Sri Lanka, immigration was a little bit frustrating. Luckily, our driver was still waiting (we were 2 hours late) and we all climbed into his van.

Then the fun finally began...

We had been driving for just about 15 minutes when we saw this amazing sight...





Seriously...when can you look out the window and see an elephant walking down the road???
It was absolutely surreal...Jumanji, anyone??

And it had those huge tusks! As you will see, none of the elephants that we see later in our
 trip have tusks. 

Our driver took us to our first rental house way up in the mountains near Kandy and we got all settled in. This house was quite grand and in the most amazing setting, but it was also clear that it has been years since someone actually lived there. It was pretty bare and the furnishings were a bit threadbare...but we ended up having a great time. (We stayed there three nights.)






The kids loved sleeping under mosquito nets.


This was our amazing view out over the jungle. Every night, we sat outside and watched huge bats fly overhead. That was actually how we spent our Halloween night...no candy, no costumes...just huge amazing real-life bats swooping overhead. : )



The kids also enjoyed the old swing out in the front yard...


And Cohen loved the resident dog. He belonged to the caretaker of the home who lived over the garage area. Since coming to India, Cohen has decided he wants to have a farm where he can have a dog, a cow, chickens, goats, pigs, and guinea fowl....all the animals he gets to see here everyday.



On Friday, we went to the Botanical Gardens and I am so glad we did. They were indescribably beautiful. SO CELESTIAL! This garden is what I imagine Heaven looking like. It was so peaceful and lush and restful. The tropical foliage was so vibrant and colorful.





Cohen got the chance to feed these huge fish in the Orchid House. He got scared when the huge thing popped out of the water and forgot to let go of the food. : )

They had the most amazing trees...this was an enormous tree that puts down roots wherever its branches come close to the ground. This "eye" made it look so lifelike---like an sprawling octopus.


We all walked out on the Suspension Bridge that literally bounced up and down as you walked across...just a little unsettling!




The trees had these amazing root systems that spread out in all directions.



And we thought this looked like it came straight out of a Dr. Suess book...




On Sunday morning, our driver came to pick us up and take us down to the coast and we had him snap one last picture of us before leaving this beautiful mountain home.

As we drove off, the kids were pretty excited.  This was the day they have been waiting for since the moment we decided to come to India

They were going to finally ride an elephant!! 

Lon and I did not ride elephants, so we were just able to get lots of great shots.
(We are going to ride elephants when we go to Delhi next month for our 20th Anniversary Trip...and we are so excited because my sister and her husband are meeting us there and then coming home with us to see Rising Star and what we are doing here!)

 What an amazing opportunity this was...so fun. Not something I ever imagined us experiencing!!!










We all got to feed Lakshmi some fruit. She loved it and was pretty impatient to get it into her mouth!


And we got to wade out into the river and give her a bath...which involved scrubbing her back with the husk of a coconut.



After the scrubbing was over, Liberty, Avery, and Cohen climbed on for their "Elephant Shower". 


They were sprayed 5 or 6 times until Cohen and Avery were absolutely drenched...


After saying goodbye to our guide, we walked next door...to visit a "companion" business--a business that, out of necessity, is right next to the Elephant Foundation. Here is their sign...any guesses what they make??

It was an Elephant Dung Paper Factory!!! And we had the most entertaining and eccentric guide you could ask for. We had the whole process explained to us...including how most of the colors come from feeding the elephants a certain diet. For example, if they want to make yellow paper, they simply feed the elephants a diet of bananas....wait a couple hours....collect the dung that evening and make yellow paper the following day. No joke!
It was so cool...we just had to buy a little pack of note paper on our way out.
You know you all can't wait to get a little note from me now....  ; )


After the elephant adventure, the driver brought us to our rental home in Negombo. It was a BEAUTIFUL and homey little cottage. So well stocked. New. Clean. We wished we could have stayed there for a month! We were greeted by the wonderful owner that lives next door. He had milk, bottled water, and orange juice waiting in the fridge for us and we were all delighted to see the TV, DVD player, and a basket full of great movie choices!!  There was a beautiful garden in the back with banana trees and a little cabana structure to sit under.

And can you possibly believe that this cost $45 a night??? Things are crazy cheap around here! 

It had an outdoor shower that the kids said was freezing. ; )


We stayed in Negombo for four nights/three days. Lon and I went exploring the first day...just to see where things were, to grab some groceries, and to check out places the girls might want to shop.

On the second day, the girls and I ventured out on our own and did a lot of fun shopping. Sri Lanka shirts for everyone and some great deals on some Christmas presents. We were hoping to meet Lon and Cohen to go to the beach, but then a literal monsoon started, so we caught a Tuk-tuk back home and enjoyed a cozy evening at home.

On our last day there, the sun was shining and we were able to finally go the beach. We had a great time...even though we had to deal with a lot of peddlers on the beach trying to sell their wares to the "rich" white people. : )






After we were all worn out from swimming (and more sunburnt than I care to think about), we did some shopping in the little touristy stores on the main beach road. Liberty got an adorable elephant carved from a coconut and I got a new hand fan and some more Christmas presents to squirrel away. 
Then we called our tuk-tuk driver, Sarath, to come and pick us up.  When we all went out, we had to hire 2 tuk-tuk drivers and I was able to snap this shot of half our family in one. It is quite an adventure to ride in one of these things! (In India, they have the exact same things--they just call them auto-rickshaws.)


We were all so sad to head home and we SO wish that we could afford another week or two in Sri Lanka before we flew back to the other side of the world. But we are so grateful for this wonderful experience and just feel SO lucky to have spent a week in such a beautiful place.

Life is good and God is good!

Oh...and this means we are officially half-way through our time here in India. Five months down, five more to go. The time is speeding by and it breaks my heart to think about saying goodbye to all the kids here and heading back home...
not knowing when we will make it back over to this side of the globe.