Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Blame it on the black star.

Final Orissa getaway

My last weekend in India I decided to take a trip with some expats to a Tibetan refugee area Monastery hidden away in Southern Orissa. One 3-hour train ride, one 5-hour bus and one 45-minute walk brought us to our final destination. We actually stayed at the Tibetan Monastery inside the Tibetan settlement at Jiranga area in Gajapati district. They make their own tofu... need I say more? The food was amazing and the monks were friendly but shy. The temple looked stunning tucked away in the rolling hills of rural Orissa. It was a fantastic and relaxing weekend taking in the natural beauty of India.

Brahmapur where we left the train and waited for a bus.

On the walk to the monastery. We were tired but seasoned India travelers and appreciated the gorgeous scenery.

Tibetan settlement at Jiranga area in Gajapati district.

Pond near the monastery.

Saying Goodbye to India

As a VSO volunteer you know going in that the goodbyes are coming. I tried hard not to think about it and focused on developing relationships with my co-workers, roommate, Indian parents and other volunteers as I would in any other situation. However, as I started to feel the pressure of my time running out I had that sinking feeling and slight panic that resembled my last few weeks in Canada before I embarked on this adventure. There is sort of a sad balance to it.

My work organised a “Leaving Ceremony” for me and everyone from The Orissa Association for the Blind had a chance to stand up and say something about me. It was really touching and I spent almost the entire two hours in tears. I also had a chance to say something about the NGO and the people there. I encouraged them to volunteer their time and to teach skills to others to make their community stronger.

I hope that my impact at the OAB is lasting and that they develop and use the database and job matching application. If they do not continue with their project I feel good knowing that I was able to share my skills with some individuals who really wanted to learn.

I'm on an overnight train out of Bhubaneswar to Kolkata tonight. I'm staying in Kolkata with another volunteer and then flying to New Delhi to Brussels and then home to good old Pearson Airport! I had packed up in time for me to have a few people over for some food and hugs before my journey home (JB too!).

The conference room filling up with OAB staff, students and members.

My dear friend Samad speaking about our time together behind the keyboard.

Myself speaking with Mr Bihari Nayak, my boss.

The Orissa Association for the Blind presented me with a flowers, a scarf, and a tribal painting.

As the guest of honour it was my duty to pass out sweets to everyone in attendance. I loved getting a few seconds of chat time with everyone!


I actually found out that shortly after I arrived home that my friend Samad found a job and that he can now support his family. I told him that he deserved all the credit for wanting to learn and spending so much time with me going over internet navigation, word processing, spreadsheets, and database structure and implementation.

Song from title: Black Star by Radiohead

Monday, November 15, 2010

Breeze driftin' on by you know how I feel.

OAB Update

Things are winding down at work. I spent the last few weeks training visually impaired members how to use the software and adding in small modifications to make it easier to navigate. I have handed over all the source code and instructions to VSO and the OAB. It’s up to them now and I'm hoping that they are committed to the project that they planned and organized. I am available to do support for them any time and I'm hoping they take advantage of that. I wish them success.

I was invited for lunch (along with every other member of the OAB) to a prominent member's home. He provides a big lunch like this a couple times per year. We dined on the roof top.

Myself and the lovely Prangya having lunch.

I accompanied the OAB as a chaperone to an arts festival. OAB children are lining up to go to a festival specially designed for children with disabilities.

Travelling in the rickshaw and having a blast!

At the festival exploring a tactile exhibit and learning about snakes.


On Diwali my plans fell through which is something I'm used to in India. Instead of staying indoors (as almost everyone advised me to do)I took to the streets to see the lights and watch the fireworks. I can honestly say that I have never heard something so loud and so constant. It was as if I were in the middle of a war and while walking down the street I came upon a child on a motorbike crying and holding his ears. I thought it was cute and started chatting up his dad who happened to invite to me to his house to celebrate with his family. I accepted (I didn't feel like there would be much of a security risk with a toddler around). He picked me up on his bike a few hours later and I met his wife and family and practically everyone else in the building. I lit fireworks with children on the roof and had a wonderful time.

My house which Auntie had decorated.

My preparations for Diwali all lined up. I set them off on the roof. (It's a concrete roof.)

Diwali friends.

Celebrating with my new friends on their roof.

I'm always an honoured guest

It seems that no matter what function I attend in India some how I always end up on stage. The latest occurrence of this happened at the Clean and Green Environmental Festival in Bhubaneswar. I actually could not attend any of the events except funnily enough, the closing ceremonies. As soon as I was spotted by the organiser I was told I would receive a certificate and it would be presented to me on stage. I did not do anything to really deserve this distinction, however, there was no arguing with the organizer. So, I happily accepted my certificate and just chalked it up to good old Southern Indian hospitality.

Traditional Orissa Dance at the Clean and Green Environmental Festival.

Accepting my rewards on stage. I'm am truly thankful to the organizers for including me last minute.

Prangya's Village (part deux)

On my second to last weekend in India I was invited once again to visit the village of Bahanaga to spend time with Prangya's family. This time Kate accompanied us and we did the same tour as before: - Panchalingris temple, Jagannath temple and Chandipur beach. It was much cooler at this time of year so I found the travel times to seem shorter. Also at Panchalingris temple the water was really flowing making it a bit tricky and certainly more dangerous to feel for the five images of the gods within the water. The beach was my favourite part of the tour and we spent time walking out for at least a kilometre and the water was only coming up to our knees. Another high light of the weekend was having Pranggya's mother cook delicious food. Vegetable curries and homemade paratha and naan. The weekend severed as a great chance to give my thanks to a family that made me feel like one of their own...on my way out I started dispensing hugs which were well received considering the conservative nature of the village.

A few months ago these youngin's ran every time I tried to take a picture. This visit they forgot about their shyness and posed for a few photos while we took turns asking questions to each other.

My final reach in to Panchalingris and I could only find 3 gods!

Song from title: Feeling Good by Muse (Originally written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for the 1965 musical "The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd")

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I can't tell where the canvas stops.

Trip to West Bengal and Sikkim

About month after being back in country after my trip to Canada, myself and five other brave volunteers embarked on a journey to North-East India. We fought the cool temperatures, crazy jeep rides and endless restaurants with horrible service to get a taste of Buddhist serenity, the Himalayas, and a glimpse in to Tibetan culture. To sustain ourselves we gorged on kurkure, momos and wai-wai and some how made it out alive.

The Cast: Jen R, Jen G, Nancy, Joyce, Terri and myself.


Our first and last stop for most of the gang. Kolkata was still sweltering from the last of the summer heat as we walked and shopped in New Market. We rose to the challenge of taking the city buses that seemed to crawl to our destination.

mmmmm guavas.


This town was just a stopping place to get us to our next destinations. This is the end of the line so to speak... the Indian rail can't go any more north due to the rocky terrain. It's here that you can rent jeeps to take you to Gangtok or Darjeeling. In order to save money on our jeep ride Jen R and I sent the Filipinas to negotiate our fare to Gangtok. This is because if you look really fast Filipinas could be mistaken for North Indians and therefore will not be overcharged as tourists. Jen R and I are basically giant white women so we hid around the corner until the negotiations were done. It took all of 20 minutes and we were on our way. Little did we know then just how bumpy and twisty the jeep ride would be... and it was the first of ten.

In the crazy jeep!


This quiet city tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas was just what we all needed after the hustle and bustle of the larger cities. Right away I noticed that Sikkim was not like the India that I knew. The streets were clean, the cows were non-existent, the dogs were liked and well fed and there was a bar in almost every restaurant. As a plus, no one gave us a second glance as we toured around... unlike the unwanted glaring I am used to receiving in Bhubaneswar. We were in heaven. We spent our time there seeing the sites of Tibetan monasteries, gardens and mountain view points, (via the crazy jeeps) and shopping in M.G Marg.

Prayer flags that line the way to the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology.

Prayer wheels that are believed to say a prayer with every rotation.

Namgyal Institute of Tibetology

Joyce stopping to smell the roses at Rumtek Monastery.

M.G. Marg "A litter and spit free zone."

Houses on the way to Lake Tsongmo

Some men tried to sell us Yak rides around the lake. (poor Yak!)

Jennisa and I at Lake Tsongmo.

Landscape at Lake Tsongmo.

View of the mountains from our hotel in Gangtok. (Hotel is called Kanchen Residency. Great price, good food and excellent service.)


Pelling was even smaller and quieter than Gangtok. It is a sleepy town with not too much going on. We took a tour and covered the sights in a day. Again, it was a nice break from the busyness of a typical Indian city.

Khechuperi Holy Lake

Rice fields

Coronation Throne of Norbugang (park)


Darjeeling was a last minute addition to our trip and I'm really glad the group soldiered on and voted this in to our itinerary. We were only there for about thirty hours but we made every effort to see the most of it...splitting up so that each person could see what they wanted. I ended up on my own and had a great time walking the streets where I stumbled upon a view point for the mountains and a Tibetan Refugee Camp. Our one morning there we rented a jeep to take us to Tiger Hill, unfortunately you could not see ten feet in front of you that morning... let alone the mountain range. We all woke up at 4am to watch the sunrise over the mountains...too bad they did not want to show themselves.

Back to the bustle of an Indian city.


Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center, Darjeeling (Facts)

View walking back from the center.

People crowding around our indoor viewing area on Tiger Hill. Alas, Kangchenjunga did not show!

Relaxing with a little tea tasting.


On our return trip to Kolkata we had a day to kill before our night train back to the Bhub so Jen R and I hit South City Mall to live it up in western luxury. This mall was amazing! They had western stores galore, coffee bars and even vegan gelato! Jen and I spent our time browsing (because we couldn’t actually afford anything), putting on perfume samples and chatting over coffee. We even splurged on Thai head and neck massages which was nice after ten days of those crazy jeeps!

Somg from title: Danny Callahan by Conor Oberst

Friday, October 8, 2010

Road rules apply.

OAB Update

After two weeks back to work I have won my battle with my NGO and they provided a computer for me that will host the job matching software. I was really beginning to think that it may never happen and that I would have to go home without seeing this year of work finally come together. I have successfully set up the software in the office and I am currently chasing the OAB around for people to train. I keep reminding myself that this is India and this is how things work. The Commonwealth Games fiascos in India over the past little while are a really good example of how some things in India are accomplished. I notice again and again that things do happen but with little planning and last minute luck. It's sort of like this:
  1. Don't talk about upcoming events, holidays, or goings-on until shortly before they happen.
  2. Throw a plan together and execute quickly without too much attention to detail.
  3. Invite import guests and audiences the day before or the day of events.
  4. Frantically call for banners, programmes, prizes, tiffins and flowers very close to the event.
  5. Begin the event about an hour later than scheduled while still setting up.
  6. Complete the event a little off schedule typically meeting your goals.
  7. Rejoice that everything worked out despite the amount of stress and running around it took to get things done.
OK. So I realize this is a big generalization and yes I'm sure that not every NGO, business and person is like this in India but it is something that volunteers talk about again and again. This is how I have seen most programmes, workshops and seminars put together at my work and I have heard story after story from volunteer friends that add up to the same. At this point we just repeat our mantra “This is India!”

So, I am again waiting on my NGO to provide me people to train in spite of handing them a paper with instructions, dates, and times. All they have to do is “fill in names here”. My plan is to stay home creating a detailed plan for my training and making two manuals (one without pictures to be printed in Braille). I hope that my absence will prompt them to do work for me. It has worked in the past. At least I have something with which to keep myself busy.

Here are some stories and highlights of the issues with the facilities at the common wealth games. This situation highlighted perfectly some of my experiences with planning in India.

Dirty Washrooms Picture from

Collapsed Bridge Picture from


It has been a dream of mine to adopt a street dog since I came to India. After a lot of research, planning and finding a good vet in Bhubaneswar I was able to bring my doggie home. The experience has been bittersweet because I had picked out a dog that I called “Jaggy” (after Lord Jagannath) and told him that I would take him in from his street life when I returned back from Canada. He was living outside my work and I would visit him everyday... I have know him and his litter since they were nursing last December. Unfortunately I have not been able to find him since I have come back. I'm hoping he has settled down somewhere else and is not hurt or dead. I waited as long as I could (there are timed vaccinations I wanted done before Canada) and then chose another puppy that I had befriended that is actually from the same Mother... meaning that he is Jaggy's brother. So, Shea and I have named him JB as a tribute to our lost dog and I have had him with me at home and in the office for about a month. He is smart, playful and sweet. Can't wait to get him to Canada.

A day before I took him home.

Sleeping on his bed.


Song from title: Shirts and Gloves by Dashboard Confessional

Monday, September 20, 2010

I throw my hands up in the air sometimes. Saying "AYO!" Gotta let go! I want to celebrate and live my life. Saying "AYO!" Baby let's go!

Home and Back Again

After a much need hiatus back in my home country I have returned to Bhubaneswar now more motivated and focused on completing my placement. I had travelled home to attend my sister's wedding and took a couple weeks to catch up with family, friends and camp (it's what Canadians do!).

Canada was a whirlwind of activity that was over all too quickly. It was hard to part with my loved ones especially my fiance for the third time this year but I am taking comfort knowing it is the last time... and I can really only describe this feeling by quoting no other then Homer J. Simpson: "NEVER LEAVE AGAIN"... even though I'm the one that is leaving.

Leaving had allowed me to rediscover India and really pinpoint all of the things that I will be missing when I'm home for good... aside from the obvious like my roomie Jen and my great friend Prangya. I'll give you the short list (in no particular order):

  1. Volunteers (I have made some great friends and it will be hard to leave not knowing when and if we will meet again.)
  2. My workmates and OAB members (I still have people that stop by my office and thank me for just being here.)
  3. Food (such good vegan food.... and the "veg" and "non-veg" menus everywhere making it really easy to eat vegan)
  4. My animal friends. (I have routines with certain dogs, cats and cows...including pets, snacks and general greetings. I doubt anyone else will be showing them the love and attention that I have been providing.)
  5. Dancing at HHI Underground. (Our western-ish club hangout on Saturday nights where we do our best Bollywood dancing to pop-Hindi and our special cars home thanks to the wonderful management who always take care of us.)
  6. My many rickshaw drivers who always go out of their way to say hello and get me where I'm going.

... I'll leave it at that. More to come on this subject as I'm settling in at home.

Highlights from my trip home.

Taking part in my sister's wedding. A truly amazing day.

Happily walking with alcohol in hand... nothing to be ashamed of here.

Playing games with niece and nephews.

Blowing out the candles on my vegan birthday cake.

Hearing the ringing of silence while staring out at beautiful Algonquin park. (no screeching horns, no chai-wallahs calling, no cows mooing, nothing!)

Song from title: Dynamite by Taio Cruz