Thursday, January 21, 2016

GUEST BLOG: Teen's opinion about Dreamland Children's Home

This is Jordan again.  I am doing a guest post on my mom's blog.  We spent the last week of the trip visiting the Ajanta and Ellora caves (World Heritage sites) plus working and living at Dreamland Children's Home.  We have not had internet access in over a week so I could not post before now. 

Photo of me and the boys at Ellora Caves.  They are over 2000 years old.  Monks carved an entire complex of temples and statues out of the hillside.

There was a big group of school children at the caves that day.  Only a handful owned shoes.  The rest were all barefoot. A group of them asked if they could take a photograph with me... no idea why.

Then it was on to Dreamland. It took over 5 hours to drive from Aurangabad to the home because it is in the middle of nowhere. But OH MAN what a place. From day one we jumped right in with another entrance ceremony of flowers and good luck stuff and then cricket. 

If you don’t know what cricket is, it’s a national sport which is played between two teams of eleven players each who score runs (points) by running between two sets of three small, wooden posts called wickets. 

This is a photo of a professional cricket team.  You can see the wickets on either end. 

Around the wickets is a much larger oval of grass called the cricket ground. The players hit a ball thrown towards the wicket, and then make runs. If the person running has the two small sticks on the wicket fall off, then they are out. So a good bowler (the person who throws the ball) can hit the wicket with their throw and get you out from the start. Anyway, cricket is a huge sport in India and I and the boys spent most of every day playing cricket. 

The girls spent a lot of time painting a section of walls that was going to be where the kids eat, but I spent most of my time batting during the cricket games or teaching English using the computers we brought with us. 

Artwork we painted on the walls

Teaching the kids how to speak and write English on the laptops we brought with us.  We left the computers behind so the kids can keep learning.

Every meal was curry and every day was a blast playing and teaching the boys at Dreamland. I honestly could have spent months there just teaching and talking to the kids. They were great.

One day we went to a village nearby to see how the locals live.  It was very basic. They have to hand pump their water and carry it in jugs back to their huts.  

We also visited the village school and met some of the kids

Every morning at 6:00 in the morning we did yoga outside with the boys and their pet dog, Lucky.

And every night they put on loud Indian music, mainly Bollywood music, and we had a dance party. The kids love to dance and they have some real moves.

Dreamland is 67 boys as well as a few girls who are the daughters of the cooks and other staff.

On the last night there, we got to watch a huge festival type presentation that was put on by the children's home for the entire village. Lots of dancing and great costumes as well as some skits.

The girls in our group got dressed up in their saris for the show.

The show was great for the first two hours, but by hour 4 it was getting a bit tiring. And it really did last over 4 hours.  

After all that we went to bed to get up in the morning, say goodbye to all the kids and head off on a 45 hour trek home. When we were leaving we all received a gift from the kids in our group, which turned out to be a mug with a picture of us and our team on it. Mine is going on my desk, so I can treasure it always.

Looking out the window of the van on the way to and from Dreamland, you see the most amazing things...

A man herding camels

Oxcart hauling water

A woman bringing home a load of wood while also tugging her water buffalo

We are on our way home now.  Goodbye India.  Great seeing you again. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Blood Moons and Dreamland

Finally,we are back in civilization, with access to internet.  So here is a much overdue update on the last few days spent at Dreamland children's home.

Many religions believe a Blood Moon is magical.  I’m now a believer. We had three nights of incredible "blood moons" while we stayed at the Dreamland orphanage and every part of the experience was indeed magical.

Look at Rainey's amazing photos of the sunsets

It was a 5 hour drive from Aurangabad to Dreamland over VERY rough roads.  Pot holes and unpaved roads were more common than asphalt.  We stopped several times along the way for bathroom breaks (only squat toilets, of course), roadside chai and dodgy-looking - but actually very tasty - snacks.

Starbucks.. rural India style

The roadside vendor had a machine (that grinds out hush-puppy-like snacks) that clearly has been around since the turn of the century. Hand crank.  Open fire.

If you ever want to know what it is like to be a rock star…. visit rural India with a bunch of Western teens.  Within minutes of us stopping for tea, we had drawn a crowd.  Everywhere you looked, in every direction, every eye was trained on you. Several people video taped us on their phones... for all 20 minutes that we sat and drank tea.  Not sure who wants to watch that video... seems totally boring ... but they diligently recorded it.

Dreamland is so remote that we actually slept on the complex with the kids, something I have to admit I was a hesitant about, but which turned out to be an incredible experience.  Yes, the beds were hard. Yes, we only got cold water bucket showers for the past 4 days.  Yes, we ate curry and curry and curry. And yes, it was magical to wake up every day with the kids and be there when they went to bed.  A really unique and special experience.

But let’s start at the beginning.  Once again we were met by a drumming band and a gaggle of boys: all excited for our visit.

Naturally there was great ceremony associated with our arrival:  bindhis (the dot on your forehead) and flower garlands for “Good Luck.”

Dreamland is a boys’ orphanage run by Baba and Monica Kolkani: a couple with BIG hearts and lots of love.  They have been around for 30 years and got incorporated into the Miracle Foundation organization about 15 months ago.

This amazing couple take care of 67 polite, funny, warm boys aged five to nineteen.  

We each got assigned a team of our own...and my group was - of course - the best !!!

Day 2 was a full work day:  painting blank white walls with murals, teaching English language programs on computers we brought with us, crafts, cricket... you get the picture

With a little effort, we took plain and gave it pizzazz

Pretty talented art work .. with lots of help from the kids and housemothers

The boys do not have any access to computers so the laptops were a big hit.  Going through the English program was a cooperative effort.  First try, first level, great deliberation from the group of boys on how to answer every question, great angst when they got an answer wrong: Score: 97% correct.  Clever, clever children.

Day 3 and 4 at Dreamland were equally special and FULL of activities including a 4 hour dance and skit show, a visit to a rural village, dressing in saris again.... BUT  it is midnight in Mumbai and we have a 4:00AM wake-up call so I'm signing off now.   I'll try and blog about the rest of our time at Dreamland while at the airport or in Istanbul.  So many great stories to tell and photos to show.

Just know that we are all safe and on our way home.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Amazing Ajanta caves

We arrived in Aurangabad several hours later than expected last night (delayed India flight... no surprise there) but everyone was still in good spirits. We're staying at the Lemon Tree Hotel Aurangabad, which is very nice.

It even has a fancy pool area

This morning we drove about 2 hours to the Ajanta caves.  Created by  Buddhist monks over 2200 years ago (yup, that's 200 BC), there are over a dozen caves.  We went inside just five of them.

If you look behind our goofy boys, you can see the various cave entrances dotted in the hillside behind them.

The whole complex is awe-inspiring.  Carved statues flank nearly every entrance to the caves

Look at the paintings on one of the cave walls ... and remember these were done thousands of years ago.  Incredible detail.

Mesmerizing Buddhist statues

Inside one of the caves was a giant Buddhist stupa temple. Kneeling before it were a bunch of Buddhists, all tourists, praying

Next we drove to Ellora Caves.  These cave / temples / statues / carvings were literally etched out of the mountain in 750A.D.  With hand-held chisels, the monks dug into the rock and created an entire temple complex.

The caves offered awesome backdrops for photos.  I have probably 30 more photos I'd love to post but the internet is so slow tonight that it has taken me hours to load the photos I selected already and we have an early start tomorrow.  So here are just a few of the best ones:

Lindsay and Lillian

Ms. Isabella:  Who is nursing a very sore toe but being totally brave.

Pilar and Erica

The boys

The St. Michael's crew

Quick side story:  On the way into the caves, we bought a newspaper funnel filled with "snacks"... which translates into a bizarre mix of nuts, crushed crackers, corn and perhaps some bread product.  Not sure what is in it, but it tastes OK.

We were busy munching away on our "snacks" when a very cheeky monkey ran straight up to Jordan, snatched the food from his hand and ate them all up. So naughty!!

Second side story:  Wherever we go, we are constantly asked to pose in people's photos.  I have no idea why.  But it's a little like being a rock star: always being asked if people can take their photograph with us.  Kind of flattering and kind of creepy... all at the same time.

An entire class of school kids begged us to be in their photo

A family handed Lindsay their child, just so they could get her picture.

Last, look at the colors of India.  Truly breathtaking

We leave tomorrow morning early for the second Miracle Foundation orphanage: Dreamland. This home is so remote we will be actually living at the facility with the kids.  There is also no internet so I'll be out of touch for several days. Don't miss me too much.

Here is something to consider.  We see Indian families every day who live in tents and houses made literally from sticks.

While we get to stay in fancy hotels with door men and room service.  No where do you seriously confront the "there, but for the grace of God, go I" sentiment quite so sincerely as in India.  A humbling country.


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