Serendipitous Traveling

It's all about the adventure

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I met an Indian man at an antique store called The Old Curiosity Shop in Chennai on one of my last days in India. I went into the store on a whim. Having passed it every single day for the past couple of months, I knew I had to see what secrets this place held. The man, a middle aged Muslim, was warm, welcoming us into his store with open arms and an interest in hearing our stories. Carsten and I fell in love with the treasures hidden away in his store, each one with its own story to unfold.

After picking out a couple of items as last minute gifts, we stood at the counter and were enveloped by stories Latif told us about his childhood, his children, his life. He described himself as a story teller, unfolding years of experience to us in just a few minutes. He told Carsten and I about the thing he believed was most important in life: happiness. Having excess money or material things, he said, was not something that mattered. To Latif, it was clear that his family and being able to interact with people from all over the world were the most valuable things at providing that happiness.

He launched into another story, explaining how writing or telling stories and poems was the best form of expression and communication. And masala, he said, was the key to having a good story. Latif told us about how he injects “salt, pepper, and spices” into his stories to keep people interested and always thinking. He didn’t skip a beat. The conversation left me in a contemplative state thinking about the ways I can add masala to my life to ensure that I am always interested and happy with what I am doing.

As I sat on the nine hour plane ride to London from Mumbai, I determined that my summer was full of masala. I thought back to my aimless wandering around Mumbai, being haggled by Delhi auto drivers, eating breakfast with monks in Sikkim, being stared at because of my light skin, crashing my scooter in Goa, discovering my Indian food palette, and stepping completely out of my comfort zone to spread awareness about a disease that almost one-fourth of the country is affected by. The masala was sometimes overwhelming, sometimes the perfect amount, but nonetheless present.
This summer was the experience of a lifetime. I learned so, so much. I look forward to future adventures that will add masala to the story of my life.

(And, of course, I will keep everyone updated as I wait to see if I will be heading back to India next summer to act as coordinator for the International Alliance for the Prevention of AIDS. Really, thank you all for reading!)

Filed under india chennai taumil nadu tamil old curiosity shop indian masala indian food missing india volunteer teaching hiv/aids adventure

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whooopsiedaisy asked: So I just got back to the US after staying three months in India and found your blog on the Tamil Nadu page. I am loving all your pictures and it looks like you had a great trip! You're making me miss it so much!! :,D

Ah that is so exciting! I just got home too and I miss it very very much! It was such a great experience in a beautiful country. I am sure you had a great time as well! Thanks for reading :) 

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cutekid93 asked: Which was your favourite place in India ?

Hmmm, such a difficult question because every place was so unique! I think my favorite was Sikkim. It was such a beautiful, peaceful state where everyone was laid back and welcoming. I stayed close to a monastery and got the chance to see monks performing rituals in a festival. The capital city, Gangtok, lies atop a mountain in the clouds, overlooking a river that runs through the center of the mountain range. Absolutely breathtaking. If I were to go back and visit there, I would take a trekking trip for a few days up one of the mountains to lakes that lie high above sea level. I hear they are incredible and offer amazing views of nature.

My heart, of course, still lies in Chennai. I absolutely love Chennai. And after spending most of my time there, I fell in love with the busy streets, the honking horns, the food, and the embracing people. Although Sikkim tops my list, most of my experiences are in Chennai and I would recommend it to anyone going to visit India. 

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Megan, Camille, Saul, Nikil and I traveled to a slum on the coast for a side project teaching with AIM Trust. AIM stands for Action for Improving Mankind, and was founded by Mr. Balu. Balu started six centers around Chennai that serve as a sort of “after school program” for kids living in poverty. Megan and Nikil were in charge of this side project, and Baul asked them to create a curriculum that would teach the children about hygiene. I attended one of the six of these teachings, and it was immediately evident to me why they were necessary.

In Tamil, “vellaikara” means “white man.” As we were walking through the village, there was a group of small children that were repeating this over and over and pointing us out to their mothers, who were laughing and sort of rolling their eyes at their kids, but also watching us pass at the same time. Mr. Balu smiled, but said something back to the kids in Tamil, and we continued on our way.

Nikil speaks Tamil, so a couple minutes later he shared the meaning of the interaction with me. The kids were referring to us as “white men,” and immediately Balu said to them in Tamil something along the lines of, “no they aren’t white men, they are friends. They’re with me, see?” And then he just kept walking.

This meant a lot to me and really hit me hard. First of all, Balu did not say this to put on a show for us. He said it because he truly meant it. He did not even translate what the kids were calling us, because frankly it does not matter. He just quickly corrected them, and moved on.

Also it made me realize that we really are one race: humankind. We were guests in their village, but not as “white men”- not as their superiors,as their incorrect connotation suggested. We were their guests as equals- as friends

Before the teaching Balu took us to the beach. The “beach” consisted of a very small area of sand that looked out over the beautiful ocean. He acknowledged the fact that the beach was small by making a comment like, “here is our huge beach.” Even though he made this joke, we could tell that he was proud to be showing it to us. 

Two little boys ran up to us when they saw our cameras and asked us to take pictures, and we are going to make sure they get a copy of them.

The teaching was a ton of fun! We sang a lot of songs, taught the kids how to be healthy, and shared a lot of smiles. Afterwards, we talked to the kids about what they wanted to be when they grew up, and the majority of them said doctors or engineers.

Afterwards, Balu walked us to the bus stop, and it started raining. As we were walking, he pointed out all of these beach mansions that were literally a 3 minute walk from the slums. I asked him if anyone that lived there ever visited the slum. He laughed and said of course not. He said that most of the people living there are rich- either involved in politics or sea captains- and that most of them want the slum to be gone. He said there are 1-2 people living in each of the huge mansions for maybe 2 months out of the year, while right next door there are 12-15 people living in a 2-room hut year round.

It really makes you think.

After we got on the bus, Balu rode beside us on his scooter in the pouring rain and in the dark just to make sure we got home safe. Acts like this that we have experienced countless times while in India never cease to amaze me.

Megan is working with Mr. Balu to hopefully create some American connections with AIM Trust, so I am so excited to see how that develops.

What an AMAZING experience this was. I could not be more humbled by the things I learned while teaching these children and I am so excited to be working with AIM Trust and helping create networks for them back in the United States. I am so thankful to everyone who helped make this happen for me! And I am especially thankful to Annie for posting these wonderful pictures of our experience!

Filed under chennai madras india tamil nadu tamil friends aim trust volunteer iapa health hygiene teaching slums beach

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Our final night all together before departing to finish the rest of our summers apart. Saying goodbye to all of the amazing people I met this summer was bittersweet, but I will be forever grateful for the things they have taught me. I can only look back on my summer in India with fond memories, and I am anxious to return again (hopefully sooner than later!). At least I know I will always have a place to dance in Chennai! 

Filed under chennai india tamil nadu madras saree indian volunteer iapa dance

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The IAPA Summer Volunteer Program 2013! A group full of hard-working, passionate people who I have enjoyed spending the past two months with. Thank you to all of the volunteers for making this summer unforgettable. Thank you to Louis and Sheema for holding together this organization. Thank you to Niraj and Molly, our coordinators, for taking care of us and teaching us everything you can about this country. I am so lucky to have had this experience!

Filed under chennai india tamil nadu asia volunteer iapa international alliance for the prevention of aids hiv/aids hiv awareness hiv teaching

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As our summer volunteer program comes to an end, we are forced to face goodbyes and hope that they will soon become hellos again. I have met some of the most amazing people on this trip, both from America and from India. This is our entire volunteer program and each of the four groups that were out every single day in Chennai spreading awareness of HIV/AIDS!

Filed under india chennai tamil nadu tamil madras iapa international alliance for the prevention of aids volunteer hiv hiv/aids hiv awareness