Day 2

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We had another exciting day in Udaipur. We went to Seva Mandir to have a debriefing meeting to discuss our visit to the school for the Deaf and school for the Blind.

We all went around and shared our initial thoughts with the visit. My thoughts and impressions some of which I wrote about yesterday was just the overwhelming amount of potential that I see there. The kids have so much curiosity and there are so many little things that can be done and sustained. Other volunteers shared their first impressions of poor cleanliness and the need for the schools/dormitories to feel more homey. The school did very much have an institution feel to it, the walls are bare, not a lot of colors which is rare in India. The other concerns had to do with how segregated the kids are from the rest of the community. They are locked in there, and many locals don’t even know the schools exist in the area. Everybody had such great questions about the typical life for Deaf and Blind individuals in India, what happens when they finish school? Are they taught a trade? What is it like when they go home on holiday? Are they accepted at home? I recommended everybody read the book, Deaf in Delhi, that I read actually the last time I was here. They also expressed concern for the fact that there are no girls at either school who board. At the school for the Deaf there are a few girls who come during the day, but where are the others? They have to be somewhere.

We brainstormed many ideas for programs/activities as well as little things that can be done around the grounds. One of the challenges many of the volunteers face at the school for the blind is not knowing Hindi is a tremendous barrier to communication because all visual cues and gestures are useless. We talked about ways of engaging other senses, tactile and smell. I met one little boy who was exceptionally curious about the textures of my wheelchair. I presented an idea of a sensory garden to capture some of the herbs and spices of India right there on the school grounds. We talked about making sensory books for the kids with different fabrics that can be found throughout the streets. So many possibilities. They want to start a radio program with some of the older kids too as a way to bring music and running an operation to the school, something they can be a part of and also reaching out to the community as it was broadcast.

We talked about the numerous possibilities at the school for the Deaf too. Ideas for dance and theater productions, getting them a video camera to record some of their own mini-videos. Reaching out to other schools for the Deaf in India as well as schools for the Deaf abroad. Using technology to introduce them to Deaf adults in India or abroad; Finding Deaf adults and centers in Rajasthan. Numerous challenges, but a ton of potential nonetheless. It was so exciting to be a part of this, I only wish I could be there to implement some of it. The volunteers also expressed the desire to have a study done, case study and interviews with some of the Deaf and Blind students and their families to find out, what is the typical life of a Deaf child in India—are the same affordances available to them, i.e., marriages, working etc. Nobody seems to know the answers to these questions. How great would it be to find out these answers, another reason to become fluent in Hindi…another new goal.

After leaving Seva Mandir, we had a wonderful rooftop lunch looking over the Monsoon Palaces and hundreds and hundreds of years of history. As we were up there admiring the view, you just have this realization that pictures can give no justice to the beauty of Udaipur. Every place you look is like a full page spread in National Geographic rich with history, colors, and life. \

After lunch we went to City Palace to experience some of the history firsthand. City Palace was incredible. Getting in to City Palace, well that was a little bit more interesting. We arrived via rickshaw and the officials took one look at my wheelchair and said, no. Too many stairs, not possible. We told them, no problem, be carried. The first guy agreed and said okay, free for her, handicapped, others pay. Well, in order for handicapped to get free ticket you have to show proof of disability with a government issued disability card. I don’t have one of those, so we were told to go talk to the guy who signs off on the papers. Ian went in to negotiate with the man, but he did not believe that I had a disability, he thought Ian was trying to scam him. So he said he needed to see me, Ian pointed down the stairs to where I was, he wanted me to come meet him. Ian carried me up. The short version of the argument was that he would sign off for me to go but not my wheelchair. He said no flat places anywhere, not allowed. Ian, having been to City Palace before, knew yes there are stairs but on each level there are plenty of flat places to explore before moving on to the next level. We knew we needed my wheelchair to come with. That was simply not allowed. Other individuals with disabilities began to form a line to also get signed off, the paperwork they had came from the hospital and it counted as their physiotherapy for the day. One man tried to help me, to show me his papers and to ask why I didn’t have any. I explained I was from America, born in India, but no papers. The man was getting quite angry at this point, arguing back and forth with Ian and giving many unhappy looks to me. At one point he said, “handicapped cannot travel from abroad!” It was a brand new thing for him to ever have a person with a disability there at City Palace who was a tourist; even though it is one of the busiest tourist areas around. Wow. He tried convincing us that it was not worth going up, bad view, no fun. After about 15 minutes of yelling and arguing and negotiating, Ian miraculously got a ticket for me AND my wheelchair to enter.

Now, this place is filled with security guards and workers, none of whom had ever seen such a spectacle. Ian reported one security guard who was following me around a little bit and then looks at me and my wheelchair looks around at the stairs, the palace around us and just shakes his head, he was 100% dumbfounded at how I had made it up to that level and just could not wrap his mind around it. Interestingly, as we reached the top, one of the last rulers in the palace in 1955 was “a invalid” and he used a wheelchair, which was on display there, along with an explanation of how because of him ruling, an elevator was installed in the palace, also there on display. Too bad it was on display only. This concept is so interesting that an area that is so anti-disability was able to accept a ruler who was disabled, made accommodations no question, and yet people with disabilities may never know that if they can’t get in the door. Ironic or something.

Again, just a taste of the challenges. I must say I am duly impressed with Ian’s ability to negotiate that one. And I am so grateful that he did, because the Palace truly was breathtaking.

After City Palace, we came back to Love Nest to nap and rest before dinner at Santosh’s house with her children and Raj’s children. On the drive back we stopped for some amazing corn that is cooked over a fire right there on the street and seasoned with lemon and salt. I also saw something out of the corner of my eye, a handcycle! It was relieving to see that some people with disabilities are able to be out and about. We have rented a bus for tomorrow’s excursion. We are going to one of the most beautiful places in the world, a Jain Temple with over 1000 UNIQUE marble columns. I am so excited. We are also taking some of Santosh’s children, and Raj’s children with us, as they would never have the opportunity to do this otherwise. It will be a full day adventure, as it is about 3 hours away by bus. And then on Monday, my Udaipur adventures will be over as I head to Kolkata for the next chapter of the trip.

Until tomorrow…

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