One more

I am so proud of the girls who helped prepare for today’s India Chapel, and the words, music, songs, and videos that they shared. They constructed the service, had amazing insights, spoke from the heart, and presented a realistic look at their experiences to the entire community.  Their words and other contributions were so powerful.

We’re baaaaacckkk!

The group landed safely Friday morning at Dulles and we made our way quickly through the new Customs machines, then through the lines to speak with a Customs official who checked passports and the attractive receipts that we received from the machines…photos that made passport, visa, and license photos look like fine portraiture! I had such a nice smile from my Customs agent who looked at my passport, asked if I had any food (“Cookies.”), stamped my passport, returned my passport to me, and said, “Welcome back!”

We were met by our drivers who got the luggage on board quickly and headed back to Chatham, where we arrived somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00 Friday afternoon.

A big thanks to Aaron, in DC, and Supriya, and Karan in India, for anticipating needs, keeping us moving, altering the schedule when it made sense, and for having a sense of humor! We were in good hands. And a big thank you to the bus driver, whose name I do not know — he was a skilled driver who kept us safe and as on time as was humanly possible! Arrival at Indira Gandhi International Airport where we had a 9:20 p.m. flight for which we were supposed to arrive three hours early? Six nineteen!

And a big thanks to a great group of students who traveled well, were respectful of the country and its people..and of each other. And of the elephants! India will miss you!

Today in haiku

Up early on bus

Yoga yogi awaits us

Breath, relax, smile.

2015-03-18-23-55-46Business card. They are on Facebook, too! (MG)

Back from yoga class

Eat a quick breakfast and then

Time to face the day

Raj and Karan take

Flexible people around

Jaipur: Pink City

2015-03-18 16.45.11Raj, Jaipur guide, and Karan, with us most of the time, have been great resources and very responsive to our needs. (MG)

First Jantar Mantar

Observatory very

Cool. And kinda hot.

Astronomical Observatory. This place was amazing. Check it out online. (MG)

City Palace big

One king seven feet tall, four

wide. Anomaly.

2015-03-18 13.43.21Detail of Peacock Gate at City Palace. (MG)

Another group seems

all-girls school from USA

Didn’t ask them, though.

 2015-03-18 13.51.09At City Palace. You can see us if you look carefully. (MG)

Lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch

Buffet of Indian food

Drinks not included.

Amber Fort is high

On mountain, up in sky, so

Have to take a Jeep

2015-03-18 15.54.02Our Jeep. Sniff. (MG)

Really a palace

Sky is blue, stone is yellow

Beautiful contrast.

2015-03-18 16.47.27The colors were so striking at the Amber Palace. “Amber” means “sky” in Hindu. (MG)

Monkeys? Again?  [:-)] Though

These are gray with black faces

Looking down at me.

 2015-03-18 16.15.10There were tons of this in and around the palace. (MG)

2015-03-18 16.15.40Really not monkeys. (MG)

Amber Fort room of

Mirrors – fragments that reflect

To infinity.

 2015-03-18 16.33.39This room was unbelievable. There were even gemstones (I think they were…) so that when you shone a light up at ceiling, there were twinkling stars in red, blue, green, clear…subtle, and cool. (MG)

View from palace makes

Me gasp and smile and forget

That I must leave soon.

 2015-03-18 16.25.29Water garden? Lake garden? In any case, eye-catching! (MG)

What? No bazaar now?

What? High-ish end artisan

Market? No plastic?

2015-03-18 17.11.33 Block printer demonstrating how to decorate fabric. (MG)

Okay, it’s not so

Bad, but still want to stop at

Classic street bazaar.

In bus, to dinner

Seems far away maybe the

Hotel would be fine.

Long way through traffic

Finally arrive and wow!

It seems kind of cool.

2015-03-18 19.56.32      Maggie and Abbi dance with other visitors to Chokhi Dhani Resort, where we had dinner. (MG)

Party atmosphere

Music, dance, artisans, corn.

Buffet – pass the naan.

2015-03-18 21.03.21 Dinner-time entertainment at Chokhi Dhani Resort.

2015-03-18 21.03.51Happy diners at Chokhi Dhani Resort.

2015-03-18 21.03.04 Smiles and happiness…the yogi was right! (MG)

2015-03-18 21.04.40 Ditto. (MG)

2015-03-18 21.03.59 Dinner winding down. (MG)

Gilda need not fear

There is, in fact, some ice cream

Just not chocolate.

2015-03-18 21.05.03What’s in that bowl, Gilda? (MG)

Dinner over now

Back to bus; hotel gift shop

Awaits my rupees.

JK! I did not

Purchase things in that gift shop;

Went to other one.

Pack, pack, jettison

Stuff I no longer wanted

To create some space.

Out of hotel by

Nine thirty; classic market

Awaits my rupees.

Head to Delhi morn

Hope there is no traffic on

Road of next journey.

EleFantistic? EleFUNtastic!

Okay, so sometimes having a sleep-in and a little free time is the best thing that can happen. You can explore the hotel, discover that you can have an outfit made in one day for $40, find a treasure trove of very reasonably priced scarves, take a walk outside, finally get into a book you’d been trying to read for a few days. Have a massage. Share a good breakfast with a lovely group of people…have lunch with a lovely group of people…

Or it could just be that spending seven hours with a bunch of pachyderms might just be the highlight of your day and trip. Ah, for a brief, shining moment, it was the Taj Mahal!

2015-03-16 07.08.27 Has been. (MG)

EleFantastic is an organization that believes in honoring the sacred elephant and hoping that people will want to experience bonding with these mammoth animals through a series of activities that demonstrate their gentle nature as well as sense of humor.

2015-03-17 13.54.35  Lechme catered to by his rider and trainer. (MG)

You can’t help but be taken in by twelve elephants just kind of hanging out under trees and canopy with piles of straw and clover next to them, each attended by two men who serve as trainer and rider. So excitement over finding ourselves amidst these large animals was palpable. Immediately upon arrival, we were offered water and then asked to pair up with someone and choose an elephant. In order to get to know the animal a little, and to allow the animal some time to get used to us, we sat and calmly fed them. The elephants were quite adept at taking the small bales of hay from us and stuffing them into their mouths. It was peaceful just sitting there – we had to be quiet…no loud voices, watching our elephants swung their trunks back and forth as they asked for even more food.

2015-03-17 13.58.31 Feed me. (MG)

2015-03-17 14.12.06 Keep it coming! (MG)

Suddenly, the two men who were helping with my elephant took him a distance away, stepped up on the elephant’s curved trunk, and climbed up onto Lechme’s back. With the help of the trainer, the rider roped two thick quilts to the elephant’s back, rode him over to an elevated platform, and after sidling Lechme up to where we stood, Nurse Gilda and I climbed on. Eek.

2015-03-17 14.47.36 Rider climbs atop to attach quilts.  (MG)

2015-03-17 14.50.44 Just walking on an elephant. (MG)

2015-03-17 14.52.46 Lechme heading over to pick up Nurse Gilda and me. (MG)

The ride was somewhat lumpy, yet extremely fun and, once again, calm. We were definitely not racing to get anywhere. Other groups followed behind as we followed a path that led us out into a farming area where birds, goats, and cows grazed and flitted. We were probably on elephant back for a good hour, becoming increasingly at ease with the effect on our balance of the elephant going uphill, downhill, around curves…it all took place in slow motion, which seemed to accentuate the movements. There was a wonderful dichotomy of being at one with the animal’s movements and hanging on for dear life! And hanging on for dear life while experiencing a life-altering leg cramp while on an elephant!

2015-03-17 15.45.53 Just grab his ears! (MG)

Back at the center, the lumbering animals knelt in order for us to alight. It would not be the end of a long walk without a nice cold drink, so while we were constantly plied with water, sodas, and mango juice, we offered our elephants a nice long drink from a hose which we held to the up-curved trunks. The animals grasped the end of the hose, allowing water to fill up their trunks and then squirted the water into their mouths. They are not shy about guzzling about 10 gallons of water at one sitting.

2015-03-17 15.45.39 Getting ready to climb down. (MG)

Just when we thought it could not get any better, the elephants were directed back to the covered area and we rejoined ours to paint the elephant. We were allowed to go free-form or to follow traditional elephant face-painting designs. The girls and adults produced a wide variety of colorful and delicate creations, ranging from hand prints on the elephants’ sides to the more traditional paintings on the faces. Only a little paint was spilled as we tried to paint on a moving, wrinkly, living being.

2015-03-17 16.24.55 We’d need to spackle first to cover those wrinkles! (MG)

Our beautiful creations were ephemeral. Our next activity was to wash the elephants with hose and brushes, scrubbing hard to get off as much of the color as possible. Slight traces remained of flowers here and vines there. And then, the elephants trundled off to parts unknown (or their enclosures).

A word about their enclosures. The farm or village, the brainchild of Rahul, is home to 24 elephants, each of which is attached to a home environment. Each elephant is housed in a (large) room that is part of a family home. The elephant is a member of that family, and is tended to by someone in the family (trainer, rider). The farm functions as a small village where all are concerned about the entire family – children, parents, in-laws, elephants. It is a brilliant way to ensure that each animal receives the care s/he needs.

2015-03-17 14.34.42 We inspect one elephant’s living quarters. The human family’s rooms are behind the pale door and to the left.  (MG)

We knew that we were having dinner at the farm, and knew that there was a jungle tour at some point. Well, Rahul told us that turbans were the tradition on these safaris, so we all chose a long piece of fabric and waited while the turban professional wrapped all of our heads as though he had done this before. I had a “So that’s how you do it!” moment. The turbans definitely made the coming event more festive.

2015-03-17 17.05.32 Abbi is turbanized. (MG)

2015-03-17 17.34.04Bindis, henna, and turbans. (MG)

Loading up in the Jeeps, the group headed to the safari, thinking we would just be driving through the park. Well, when we arrived at the location, we were met by our elephants, formally dressed for the occasion with headdresses and drapes and the seat that one sees kings riding around on in movies. The seating platform is made of wood, but has a metal railing around it, and is lined with a quilt and pillows so that there is some padding. Each seating arrangement held two people, so, shoeless, we climbed aboard. If one was lucky, you just headed off on the safari; if you were somewhat unlucky, your seating slid side to side, giving the impression that you might just slide right over, to find yourself in the awkward, upside-down position of hanging from the elephant’s underside.

2015-03-17 17.52.21Elephants ready for an outing. (MG)

2015-03-17 18.04.39 Maggie and Abbi not falling off. (MG)

Peacocks, antelopes, and colorful elephants abounded. The riders (drivers?) were all decked out in formal elephant limo-service outfits and were so careful and reassuring to those of us who did envision having a good view of the elephant’s belly. I guess there is bound to be some slippage when you try to balance a somewhat flat item on a pointy, bony surface. We had tranquil almost-sunset ride around the park, intermittently clutching at the corner posts of the railing for extra assurance that we would not be the one group to topple off.

2015-03-17 18.44.27 Traditionally painted elephant doing tricks.  (MG)

Back at the park center, we climbed off, reshod ourselves, and took a Jeep back to the farm where we found low tables and wicker stools in the green and treed courtyard outside Rahul’s house. He, he wife, mother, and sister, with help from Nurse Gilda (I believe she makes it a habit to only ride elephants once a day…) prepared an amazingly delicious meal complete with basmati rice and chapatis. Fruit, sauces, and a sweet rounded out the meal. The men who served the meal (riders and trainers) were there to attend to our every food need. They were concerned for our well-being and wanted to make sure that our bowls were always full.

2015-03-17 19.28.17Rahul’s wife, daughter, mother, and sister.  (MG)

Rahul asked me to take a survey of the students to get feedback for him. To a person, the girls were amazed by the experience, finding it “magical,” “the best!” and “wonderful.” There were several who did not want to leave and one who wanted an “EleFantastic” t-shirt, but was right in thinking that they were not for sale. A heads up to parents…some of the elephants are expecting puppies baby elephants in about 10-12 months and your daughters will want to come back to see them.

It was such a marvelous day – and tiring, that when given the option of going to a market or back to the hotel, the girls chose to head back to the hotel. Kind of a shocker, but this was a pretty powerful, long, and action-packed day. As there will always be Paris, there will always be shopping (tomorrow from 3-6, or something like that!)

It is hitting the girls that tomorrow is our last full day in India. We have yoga, a fort, a bazaar, and then dinner in a nearby village. I am sure all of those activities will be bittersweet and that the girls will bring their usual good humor and thoughtfulness to all of them.

Taj Ma-where?

Note: Don took astounding photos today. I cannot load them. We’ll keep trying. The bandwidth is not helping!

Ring! Ring!

Hello!

This is your 5:50 wake up call.

Thanks! I’ve been up since 5:25!

We had an early 6:00 departure this morning, as we headed off to the Taj Mahal (Yeah, just heading over to the Taj Mahal…) to experience the monument at sunrise. Climbing on the bus, there was much excitement around this visit. I think that just about everybody aboard the bus understood that this was an almost once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Indeed, when our guide, who had joined us for the two days in Agra, and who was wonderful – knowledgeable and of a temperament to deal with a group of adolescents and the people who teach them, told us of Bill Clinton’s reaction to his visit to the site: “There are two types of people: those who’ve been to the Taj Mahal and those who have not.”

About to become “have beens,” we rode the bus to the park, descended, and walked to the ticket gate where we received a bottle of water and shoe covers. As we walked toward the monument, a young boy galloped a horse down the street – a beautiful sight which took us by surprise. At the gate, we divided into two lines, a typical security system where women are given a private check, whereas men usually pass through a metal detector. We continued on our way to the entrance, where the modus operandi seems to be to some to a screeching halt and possibly screeching, for the view is long awaited and as striking as one could imagine. Our guide took us through the history of the monument, the impetus for which came as the king’s wife was dying after giving birth to their fourteenth child. She gave her husband three commands – to not remarry, to treat all of their children equally, and to build a grand monument to her.

2015-03-16 06.45.30 The Taj Mahal at sunrise. (MG)

2015-03-16 06.46.45 Tired, but happy, really, to be there! (MG)

2015-03-16 06.51.27 Lots of this going on! (MG)

After approximately four million photographs (And that’s just our group – I cannot even imagine how many photos are taken here on a daily basis.), the group dispersed on the grounds, approaching the monument along the reflecting pool and the simple, but colorful, gardens. The Taj Mahal as sunrise takes on a slightly pink glow, though there is no mistaking the fact that it is constructed of white marble. The light was soft, and when you first see the site, you are far enough away that atmospheric perspective softens the lines a little.

2015-03-16 07.22.13 Lucky to be there with such amazing light! (MG)

Climbing the steps up to the first plaza around the monument, this one made of red sandstone, we saw the mosque and guest house to the left and right of the main building. In a moment of payback, I did notice the beauty of the Agra Fort in the distance…it drew my attention for a moment…and then I turned back to the Taj Mahal. Ascending to the white marble terrace that leads to the entrance, we donned our shoe covers (though some students just took off their sandals) to protect the marble. The lines of the monument, are, of course, iconic. What truly caught my eye was the inlay that decorates the outside and inside of the building.

2015-03-16 07.28.55 A sample of inlay. (MG)

When the king set about the make a monument befitting his wife, he outdid himself. The inlaid semi-precious stones that cover the walls, both creating passages from the Quran and a stylized floral design. Malachite, onyx, lapus lazuli, along with other stones weave delicate patterns up all of the walls and around the tomb inside. The artists used different shades of stones to create shades and individual petals. We later learned of the process and that the family that did this inlay hundreds of years ago continues to practice to this day…and holds the secret to the special glue that has allowed this inlay to stay intact all this time.

2015-03-16 08.00.30 Wow! They are sooo tall! (MG)

All good things must come to an end, and after an hour on site, we took some final photos and then headed back to the bus (We were hungry, after all!). At this later hour of the morning, we had our first real encounter with street sales people. There were magnets, and books, and, my favorite, a Taj Mahal snow globe! It was so glittery and shiny that it was hard to leave behind, but I did just that (Kind of regretting it now!). There were also live camels harnessed to carts for rides. As we were nearing the bus, Bonca said, “Thank you adults for bringing us here!” She, along with the others, just seemed to be so happy, excited, thankful, and energized to be there and to have at least one thing in common with Bill Clinton! As the bus pulled out of the lot, Bonca was heard to say, “We are leaving the Taj Mahal! We are leaving the Taj Mahal!” She wasn’t lamenting this — she was reminding us all that we had just visited the Taj Mahal!

So, back to the hotel and time for breakfast. I wish I had thought to video this…The hotel features an extensive buffet which included Indian entrées, eggs, cereals, fruit, pancakes and sausages, a whole section of pastries, beverages, toast (Did I mention the Nutella sauce for the pancakes? Did I?), so, a ton of food. I was quite pleased to see that the Chatham Hall girls, miles from home, had it in them to make quite a dent in the buffet, necessitating replenishing the fruits, the donuts, and, I think, several of the other pastries. There was abundantly happy chatter around the table…the early hour of our visit perhaps seeming like a dream at that point.

Nine forty-five came around and we simultaneously moved our luggage to the lobby, exchanged money, checked out, paid the bill…boarded the bus, and headed off for Jaipur, with stops at Fatehpur Sikri, a palace half an hour or so from Agra, and, first, a visit to the workplace (and retail store) of the family that continues the tradition of inlaid semi-precious stones in marble in the same manner in which is was done at the time of the construction of the Taj Mahal.

2015-03-16 10.10.58-1 Man in white shaping thin pieces of semi-precious stones into tiny flower petals, leaves, vines… (MG)

2015-03-16 10.14.09 Man in blue explains process. (MG)

2015-03-16 10.18.09 Table top. I do have a school credit card… (MG)

Good idea: it was fascinating to see the stone shaper manually work the stone grinder. Some of the pieces he shapes are about the size of a (sorry if this is gross) fingernail clipping. Some of the inlays are that delicate. We were shown a variety of tables, chess boards, cutting boards that were made by this family, and saw the process by which the stones are inlaid. And, we found out some of the ingredients in the secret glue.

Bad idea: Next, we were set loose in the retail shop, which, at first glance, comprised one room. Hah. It was four floors! The girls made wise purchases, and I am sure that the guides earned a decent commission.

2015-03-16 12.01.43 Pilgrims to the Fatehpur Sikri, where we are headed. (MG)

Four to five hours later (probably just an hour…time stands still when there are no windows…) we reboarded the bus for our stop at the Fatehpur Sakri. We could see, upon nearing the site, that we were in for another treat…and then we were accosted by salespeople. They are good. Not aggressive, but extremely persistent. We made several purchases before boarding the bus that would take us up the hill to the palace. In the “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” vein, we became very good at bargaining after a few false starts. It really pays to just walk away. If I had done that the first time, I would have paid a more reasonable price for one item…and later bought not one, not two, not three…but five bracelets for what I had originally be asked to pay for one. If you are planning a trip here, spend a few days in front of a mirror feigning disinterest.

2015-03-16 12.45.38 Oh my gosh! How could I forget to mention the snake charmer! That’s a cobra in the basket! (MG)

The palace itself was again a monument to exquisite and detailed sandstone carvings. A wonderful blend of the reddish-orange sandstone and the green spaces. What impressed me most was a multi-faith temple at the center of which was a column with carvings honoring six major world religions: Hinduism, Persian, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, and Buddhism.

2015-03-16 13.13.13 Multi-faith column. (MG)

So, we headed back down and were greeted by a new group of sales people. Men with bags of bracelets, necklaces, carved elephants with a baby elephant inside…all one piece, and bindis surrounded us, hypnotizing us with their wares. More sales were made, but this time, with greater willingness/ability to walk away from the sale and not feel as though we were being rude.

2015-03-16 13.56.31 Savvy bargain-hunter. (MG) 2015-03-16 13.44.48 Don set up this photo. I just happened to take one, too.  (MG)

We hit the road for Jaipur, stopped for lunch along the way, and despite a series of restroom stops, managed to arrive in Jaipur by 8:00? Kind of way past our predicted time, but because of a leaking air conditioner in the bus, we stopped to see if it could be fixed. The issue was that water was running down the overhead shelf, so that whenever the bus braked, water flew off the front end of the rack. Important to note that. Luckily, there was a souvenir store at the place we stopped, so we piled in there and made a few more wise purchases. At some point, I walked out to find Don Wood laughing his head off because, having made some changes to the AC, the bus driver was using the scientific method to see if the problem had been solved. He drove the bus in tight circles around a tree, frequently jamming on the brakes to see if water continued to flow.

2015-03-16 17.32.21 Bus finishes a lap around the tree; water problem sort of solved. Packing tape is a life-saver! (MG)

We arrived at a lovely Ramada (very lovely and comfortable) in Jaipur, happy to be here, and settled in to dinner shortly after receiving our rooming assignments. The dinner buffet was again, extensive, and the girls tucked into their plates and were their animated selves. It was a long travel day, but it began with the Taj Mahal and ended in comfort with a lot of fun in between.

Tomorrow, a well-deserved sleep-in and then free time until one o’clock (Well, free time if people wake up before 1:00!). There is a pool, um, shops, er, a mall…and then we head to Ele-fantastic!

Onward…

Note: Still not getting the bandwidth necessary to upload Don’s photos, which are, to say the least, much more beautiful than just about any photo I’ve taken. Maybe in Jaipur!

We had an 8:30 departure time set from Pardada Pardadi, and I am proud to say that we were on the bus and ready to go 15 minutes early. It felt strange pulling out of the gate for the final time, as this school was really the central focus of our visit. It is also the place where we probably learned the most about India and its people, developing, with help from Sam Singh, an understanding of the caste system and how the work Sam is doing enables the girls of the “Kanjar” caste, “the Untouchables,” to pursue an education.

14Sammg Sam Singh inviting us to a Pardada Pardadi reunion this summer. (MG)

And we were off for our four four and a half five six six and a half hour bus ride to Agra, where we were to see the Taj Mahal. Distance-wise, four hours would have been enough time, but one has to factor in how slowly one goes through the villages and small towns. Dodging cows and scooters and carts and dogs and rickshaws and people, the pace is slow and the beeping is constant. We stopped at a service area when we were on the highway. Nurse Gilda ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, which apparently was one of the best ever…so if you’re ever traveling from Anupshahr to Agra… Karan, the young man who had been our guide in Delhi joined us and took us to a restaurant for lunch once we’d arrived in Agra. Supriya called and suggested that we go to Agra Fort today and then visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise tomorrow. So, after lunch, and after the rain had cleared, we headed toward the fort.

Well, “fort” is perhaps not the word I would use to describe what is really a palace – and a beautiful one, at that. It must suffer, however, from being the younger sister to the Taj Mahal. Not only is it located nearby, one has striking views of the Taj Mahal from the Agra Fort. And, the fort is a work of art in its own right. Replete with detailed carvings, inlay, green spaces, and a wonderful contrast of sandstone structure and white marble – based on the preferences of the two kings who had a hand in building it, the fort offered nice texture and color for the eye to appreciate.

15agrafrontmg Inside the fort. (MG)

15agrabuildingmg Red sandstone and contrasting green. (MG)

The fort also featured women wearing the most dazzling saris I had yet to see. The colors and styles were varied and seemed to jump out from the surroundings. Color has been a quality that seems to be a very important part of the Indian culture. Wherever we go, we see the commonplace brightened by the addition of flowers, streamers, ribbons, and banners. Something as mundane as a dump truck is painted with typical Indian designs and are then draped in flowers and bright garlands.

15truckmgTruck with colorful painting and tassels hanging off back. (MG)

Just as the rain started up again, we jumped on our bus and headed to our hotel. Well, “hotel” is perhaps not the word I would use to describe what really is a palace. The Jaypee Palace is a very high-end hotel to which I hope the girls will not become too accustomed, as we are only here for one night. They seemed pretty happy to be staying in such a magnificent place. Dinner was an amazing buffet of Indian food, pasta, a bread smorgasbord, vegetables, fruits, cheeses…quite an array of choices. With my stomach being a little sensitive the past day or so, I wisely bypassed the entrées and went straight for the almond ice cream. I am pretty sure that Nurse Gilda approved of my chosen cure.

There is a outdoor pool that some of the kids will be checking out – others will be happy to be in the lap of luxury, taking hot showers, perhaps catching a Bollywood film before turning in (Do you hear me, girls? Turning in! Going to bed!). We do have a 6:00 a.m. departure time for the Taj Mahal!

Today portended to be mostly a travel day, but we managed to fit in a wonderful visit to the fort, learn from a knowledgeable tour guide, and grab a sneak peak at the Taj Mahal. Not a bad day, all in all!

 

Wrapping it up at Pardada Pardadi

Note: I am having a dickens of a time uploading photos here. I will add them when I can. Until then, here is how our final day went at Pardada Pardadi.

Well, this was it! Our last full day at Pardada Pardadi, and our last day of contact with the girls who have been such a vibrant part of our experience here. Luckily, the schedule allowed for significant time together before the PP girls left for the day. A final soccer match ended victoriously for Team Pardadi when, with minutes to play, the ball went flat. Game over. We all then took a tour of the elementary school, which, while not sharing the name, is managed by Pardada Pardadi. We entered each class greeted by deafeningly excited “Good mornings” and, in some classes, the chanting of nursery rhymes. If you listened closely, you were transported back to childhood by a beautifully accented, “One, two, buckle my shoe…” I am pretty sure we were all captivated by the joy and energy of these young children.

 

Time was set aside for some important together time among the CH-PP girls. They sat out on a green in front of the school and exchanged information, wrote in each others’ diaries, and found wonderful ways of getting ready to say good bye. Victoria had brought a Polaroid camera and snapped a shot of each pair of girls, giving the photograph to the Pardada Pardadi student. The American students all approached Don about taking a shot of the photo so they would have a copy of it. When we broke to prepare for our next adventure of the day, several Indian students tracked down the adults in our group, presenting them with hand-painted cards full of kind words and good wishes.

Boarding a bus with the PP girls and several men affiliated with the school, we headed off through farmland, beeping and passing carts pulled by yaks and bison, loaded with sugar cane and other local vegetables. The ride was gorgeous – a soft green countryside punctuated by the colorful saris of women working in the fields. Our destination was a women’s work collaborative in a nearby village – maybe 10 kilometers away. Unusual, certainly in this rural area, the women did the farm work, earning 100-200 rupees a month, which was put in the bank for them. The collaborative met every month to make decisions about proposals from other women who wished to start businesses. Quite a forward-thinking plan organized and coordinated by a group of men, whose buy-in one really has to have in order for this to work.

When we arrived, we walked through the village to in order to get to the home where we would meet the women. As we approached, we were instructed to sit on tarps that had been laid out for us, next to one where the collaborative members sat. They were a sea of color, some holding very young children. We heard one of the men who speaks English explain the work of the women, and the head of the collaborative answered questions about the work they did, which was quite interesting, but let’s face it, there were babies present – very cute babies with big brown eyes and engaging smiles, and tiny feet…so, soon, women were passing babies over others’ heads so that we could hold them. That bliss lasted for about 20 minutes until we had to leave to get back to the school for lunch. Walking back to the bus, we were followed by townspeople who were kind, friendly, and happy to have us among them. If the girls had one comment, aside from “Cute babies!” it would be that they would have liked to have helped with the work in some way.

After lunch, the girls assembled on the front steps to say good bye. Tears, hugs, sadness, laughter, gave way to a realization that three school buses awaited, mostly full with kids who were ready to go home. The two groups, blended into one body, green and yellow uniforms mingling with the variously colored t-shirts of the American girls. More tears, more hugging, and the girls boarded the buses and waved themselves off the property.

Several of us visited the manufacturing rooms here at the school. When it first opened, students received both academic and vocational instruction. Now, the craft rooms employ sisters and mothers of students and students spend four hours a day (six days a week) on academics and four hours on extra-curriculars. In any case, we were able to see some of the products of these women’s labors, and we made purchases that will tie us to this place for a very long time: pillow covers, table runners, bags, quilts, and other handmade goods.

Sam Singh is not one to let a group leave without engaging them in conversation about their experiences at Pardada Pardadi. He gathered us together to explain further his role in the school’s history (not from a “Look what I have done” angle, but from a “How can we help even more girls?” perspective.). He asked the girls if they had any questions about the program, and one that had come up several times among us was how girls were chosen for the program. Sam answered by asking, “How do you tell if one girl is more poor than another? How do you tell if one girls deserves this more than another?” There is an application which asks different questions than what students found on the CH application: How many rooms in your house? How many cows do you own? How do you get your water? were among those that Sam mentioned. He then said that is all Mom, after that. Until kids are in the upper grades (six through twelve), it’s really the mother who makes the decisions, so it’s about making sure they are on board. Sam then went on to say that there is more absenteeism in the earlier years until the moms understand how things work and the importance of being in school regularly.

Another girl asked about vacations, because we had come to understand that girls were in school all year round. Sam explained this to us as, “People have to eat every day.” The school is open all year round to allow for that, and, interestingly, and in keeping with wanting to support girls’ voices, students are allowed twelve days each year that they may choose to miss while still earning their ten rupees a day. They may miss an additional twelve days and forfeit the ten rupees. After the twenty-fourth day, the school deducts 20 rupees from their account. Brilliant! The voice part comes in the form of the school allowing the girls to choose their absences (illness not included in these numbers) and to plan. If there is a family wedding in April, plan your days so that you will still have to number of days you need toward the end of the year. Sam just inspires us – his knowledge of how to arrive at a favorable conclusion for the girls for whom he advocates is very powerful. He spoke of twelve graduates who did not have jobs and who really belonged in higher education. Just today, he invited the families to the school to engage the fathers in such a conversation. At the end of the day, he had altered five girls’ futures by explaining to fathers how finances would work and how it really would be possible for their daughters to attend university.

Loud Indian music emanated from the Common Room in the main school building beginning at about 7:00. Students went over to enjoy the pre-dinner dance party, ate dinner, attended a meeting where we made plans for tomorrow’s departure: breakfast at 7:30, bags down in the courtyard by 8:15, and pulling out of here at 8:30. We’ll have a 4-ish hour ride to Agra, eat lunch, settle into the hotel, and, at 3:00 sharp, head over to the Taj Majal. Whaaaat? The TAJ MAHAL?!?!?! That may be my first viewing of one of the Seven Wonders of the Manmade World.” Unless the Chatham Hall Library is now on that list. That’s pretty awesome. Awesomeness comparison in tomorrow’s blog!