What do you say on your last day in India?

Last day for this trip, that is.  Whether or not you plan to return to somewhere or not, I think foreign countries have a way of sucking you in, especially if you meet it’s children.  How could I not pledge my return at the faces of so many big white smiles from around my hips as clammy hands grab my arms and say “Auntie, why?  When coming back? Auntie, so sad!”   So I told them I will return, though I know not when.  And had it just been the Indian countryside asking me this question, maybe I could have restrained and said ” I am not sure that your mosquitos and palm trees and mangoes have tempted me enough to promise return.”  But in the face of children that one has let into the heart, there is no chance for no’s.  They will grow so much, and if I am able to return in a year to dance and share and laugh and grow with with them again, they be only that much more wise and joyful and loving.  What I can’t bear is that I would never again see the faces of these bright souls I have treasured so deeply.  They are not merely kids.  They are kids who have no REASON to be sweet and kind and giving.  They have been given little by India, and their caste will continue to shove them into a corner.  But they DO give of themselves, not realizing that their love is more valuable than all the rupees they can earn, and that their education is the foundation for changing the world.  I can do nothing but love them and pray to and with all gods and goddesses that I will see them again.

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Some days you will remember forever

If someone asked you now to make a list of the most memorable or important positive days in your life, how many would be on the list? Depending on age, are their 5, 10, 20 that come to mind?  Instantly I can think of about 5-7 and then there are others that I could add if I thought about it.

It’s special when you can have a day and know that this will be one of those days that will be in the top list of days of your whole life, no matter what happens from then on.

I would love to write more, but I have been awake for 20 hours, and spent the day in a sari (which is about 6 yards of material wrapping you to your feet) in the sun and on my feet, hoping and praying that things would close enough to plan that everyone would enjoy this ceremony and performance.  Unlike just any event, we were dedicating a new few new buildings on campus, which rarely happens, and all the parents, students, teachers, and many many donors and officials and respected individuals were in attendance.  The surprises of the day were the music not working until about 30 minutes before the program was supposed to start, the power going out about 5 times within a 5-minute period during the speeches, and the most surprising of all, that the audience never actually stopped talking during the speeches, so that most were not heard.

Our part of the program, the dance and performance portion was a hit because not only were the students amazing, and I was so proud of all of them, but the music was loud and everyone actually paid attention.  Parents stood to get a look and for the first time that day, all eyes were on the stage. Despite minor difficulties, no dance stopped, all girls got into their costume, and the students even managed to smile now and then.  After 4 weeks of work, I was so proud of my leaders and their hearts pouring out on stage.

There is so much more to share about this culminating amazing celebration, and it will come, but not tonight as I force my eyelids open.  I am not attached to India, but I am attached to these children and with one day left to play with them, I must sleep so I have enough energy to give them.


A few of my favorite things…

The way the girls scream “Shiloh Auntie!” when I walk by the school or the student hostel and say “Dance today????” or just grab your leg and grin up at you

How the power goes out and no one flinches, says anything or moves… happens often enough, even now at 10:30 at night that all goes on business as usual.

How there are goats EVERYWHERE!! Today we even saw a baby goat laying next to a puppy.  Can you get any cuter??

The way that all Indian people bob their head from side to side in a not-yes, not-no sort of way that makes it truly difficult to know if any question you ever ask is going to get done or not.

The huge bright smiles of the kids and the way you instantly become a mother figure.

The Indian mornings, with birds singing and the sun gently rising, before India gets hot and loud, it’s a land of peace and the essence of inner peace.

The way all the boys insist on showing me their straddle stretch whenever I walk into the houses, after we taught it to them in classes.  They always want to show that they can reach farther than yesterday.

Watching the residences of the leprosy colonies painting with peace in their hearts.  They paint every day at the Bindhu Art school in Bharatanapuram and you can tell they have opened their hearts onto their paintings.

That I will get to wear a sari for the first time this Saturday.

That I have physical proof of my hard work by the way I tumble into bed at 10:30 most nights and am out within five minutes.

That eating off of banana leaves has becomes completely and totally normal.

The taste of the mangos

The magnificent Indian way I have learned how to de-pom a pomegranate that is SO much easier than ours!

The gratitude it has given me to be an American woman who has amazing rights, won’t be burned in my kitchen if I disobey my husband and who doesn’t sit separately from men in public settings and who can wear whatever she likes and choose whatever career she likes.

Megala, the 13-year-old philosopher

Last night after dinner, as I was cruising the kids’ rooms helping with homework and singing songs, I stopped to talk to Megala.  Don’t mistake me when I say “kids’ rooms.”  One “family” has about 25 kids of all ages in it, with one house mother that share three concrete floor and walled rooms.  There are no beds and no furniture, just mats and pillows that they pull out for sleeping.  There are no desks, no bookcases, no dressers, but shelves on the wall for clothes and shoes and everyone sits around on the floor doing their homework, playing games, and generally happy.

Tonight Megala decided to share some of her poetry with me.  At 13, my poetry was overly dramatic and petty, so I expected little more.  She explained that her poems are in Tamil, so she would just have to explain them to me in English.  Even through her accent and grammatical errors, my jaw dropped lower and lower as I listened to each one. This brave young girl, who lives far away from her parents at this school, from a leprosy colony, who is learning to dance with me, is a magnet for truth.  I taught her the word philosopher, and told her “Megala, you are not just a poet, you are a thinker for the world.”

Megala’s poems

Your friends may love you

Your mate may love you

Your teachers may love you

All people may love you

But nothing equals a parent’s love


you and I can both read

you and I can both write

but it takes a good hard working person to help another


Like an eye is to the body

Like the root is to a plant

So is love and friendship to life


We can eat a sugary thing

and we can love each other

But when you compare the two

the love is sweeter.

(The above photo is the only one she wrote in English:)

Choose the Right

When we take, chocolate we have to remove the paper and eat only the chocolate

When we take fruit, we have to remove the seed and eat only the fruit

When we take our life, we have to remove the bad and take only the good thing

Heart matters, pitch doesn’t

One of my daily delights is singing the Rising Star song with the kids at their prayer time before dinner.  This song “I’m a Rising Star” was written by Shaun Parry, the director of my program, Promethean Spark, specifically for the children of this school.  Katie and I began teaching it to them a few weeks ago and they already love it.  Words and motions they can do full out with all their hearts.  Correct pitch, not so much, but their voices are beautiful all the same.  We are so looking forward to singing it with them at the dedication performance next Saturday, when all the parents and dignitaries will be present to hear them proclaim that they are the next biggest thing for the world to watch out for.


I am free to be all I can be.

I love life and I love being me.

I can choose to let my light shine.

The world is waiting.

Whose turn is it? Mine!

I’m a rising, rising star.

I’m a rising, rising star.

Spread the word near and far.

I’m a rising rising star.

I will live like the sun sharing light.

I will shine in the darkest of night.

I will laugh and learn and through any strife,

Live a long, happy, healthy and loving life.

I’m a rising, rising star.

I’m a rising, rising star.

Spread the word near and far.

I’m a rising rising star.

Choke me up

It’s the little moments that get me here.  Fridays are one of my favorites.  We teach four classes of the older students a class we call here “Moral Science.”  It is one of the only times in their day that they get to talk about how they feel and learn values and lessons that are different than “OBEY the teacher” and “OBEY the housemother.”  Today we started something called “The Kindness Bank” and explained that even though we know all the rules, we can still do things that are just from your heart that no one tells you to do.  Any kinds things they tell us that they have done go on a slip of paper and in the bank (a plastic tub) and when the tub is full, we all get a prize.

Indian students are fantastic memorizers.  But they are not usually asked to think creatively.  When you ask a question with no right answer, the students are often stumped until you give them a hint.  Today 7th Standard was no exception, but once they got going, we had lots of talk of loaning each other pencils and helping younger students with homework.  We work everyday with these bright, loud, fun, sometimes disobedient, vibrant children, and it is easy to forget that most are from leprosy colonies all over India.  Not only are they from colonies, but they are from the most worse-off families, often no parents, one parent, or parents missing limbs from leprosy deformities. But we don’t see that daily, and the colonies really don’t come up in conversation.

Today in 7th Standard, Deepenraj, also known as Steven, raised his hand for the kindness bank, stood up and explained through imperfect English that “I am from colony, leprosy colony, and I give to my street… mmm… new years time we always eat a cake, but there is no money there, so I go and I give a cake to my street for new years.”

I just spent yesterday in colony, taking blood pressure of those with no fingers and and no hearing, the disease having claimed all the most important parts of their body except their life… when Steven stood up today in class to share this tidbit like it was as obvious as sharing his pencil, all I could imagine was him bringing a simple cake probably worth $2 to people just like these with so little that five Rupees for medicine (2.5 cents) is hard to find.  Right in the middle of class I wanted to let my tears run down my face, and just hug this bright young student who stands out as a leader and an all-around good guy in everything he does with a genuine smile that matches his heart.  We forget they are from colonies because of their light, and with this bright bright light, maybe the rest of India will begin to believe with us that these children are just as special as anyone else.

Our dear Steven, or Deepanraj

Beyond the school gates

Weekends are a time that we sometimes leave the school to see and learn more about the country our kids are from. This Saturday we went to Mahibilapuram, also known as Mamalapuram.  Yes, only the cool towns have two names.  It has a temples from the 600’s, lots of icecream carts, a wonderful shopping street of 3 dollar pants and hand made leather shoes and men chiseling away at half a Ganesh, and resort you can pay a few dollars to get in and go to the ocean.  I came here hoping to spend every day with the kids, all day.   But after a hard, amazing, but exhausting week, it was rejuvenating to spend a few hours somewhere else.

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