Day 1

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No rest for the weary! When you are only in Udaipur for a few days, and Ian is your brother, you better believe it that you are going to have lots to do and people to meet and things to see starting immediately upon leaving the airport. So exciting! We got a tour of Udaipur, learned about the history of the city. The city has ~ 600,000 people. Marble is in abundance. It is desert-like but there are also beautiful mountains, perhaps the oldest in the world. The car ride back, I’m relatively emotionless, just taking it all in. Letting it sink in that I have actually arrived in India. The traveling part is now in my past, now it’s taking in the invasion of the senses, the smells of spices, of street life, the radiant colors, the honking, the sounds of the city. Udaipur is different from Kolkata, it is beautiful, more landscapes than in Kolkata, more touristy of an area in parts.

We went to Ian’s apartment, affectionately called, the Love Nest. It really is too, the sign on the building is “Love Nest”. We had some breakfast, and got ready for our exciting day of adventure. We went with Panma on a rickshaw drive of Udaipur. We stopped at the kings tombs. Huuuuge marble tombs with ornate marble artistry. Many many many years of history that you are there around. It is being in places like that where you have to just remind yourself of all the history you are standing on, it’s pretty cool when you take a moment to take it all in. Ian carried me to the top of one of the tombs and we could look out over part of Udaipur.

We then drove through the old city, saw the water palaces. Udaipur is a blend of old and new, modern and ancient. The old city has narrow streets, the ancient walls, you just know you are in the old part of the city. The streets are filled with people, rickshaws, camels, elephants, cows, goats, fruit, vegetables, kids, bikes; the city is alive.

After the tour of the old city, we stopped at Ian’s work, Seva Mandir. Wow, is all I can say. The volunteers who are there are incredible. Everybody has a story. Everybody is from somewhere. Some people, like ourselves, are just stopping by on a short stay, others are here for a few months at a time or a few years. Others are getting ready to leave for other adventures in other parts of the world—Malaysia, China etc., others are arriving for their very first time. This NGO is one of the most well respected ones. The people are so passionate. They are doing great things every day. Working in the slums, counseling families and women who have had rough lives. A rough life for a woman in India is something that is beyond many people’s wildest thoughts elsewhere in the world you ask yourself, how does that still happen today? It does.

We went to lunch with some of the volunteers from Seva Mandir and some locals. I absolutely love having Indian food for breakfast lunch and dinner. It never gets old. Everything is so fresh, so potent and so yummy.

Seva Mandir has a relationship with the local residential school for the Deaf and school for the Blind. School just started for the kids again, and so this was their first trip there to begin to figure out what they will be doing with them for the next few months. The program coordinator was thrilled to hear my passion for this population and was estatic to have me come for this site visit and to share any ideas I may have for future programming and activities. They recently provided the school with basketball hoops so that the kids could play. The hope is to come up with ways to expose the kids to technology, and to find ways to improve safety and health and wellness for the boys. Ian, being the brother that he is, had found an Indian Sign Language book for me to brush up on before going to the school. I was excited that I still remembered how to introduce myself in Indian Sign, and remembered the last time I was here that many of the schools are a hodgepodge of languages, because many foreigners and ministry groups come in, oftentimes these kids are learning more American sign than they are Indian sign. Regardless, they get so excited when a visitor comes in who can sign even a little bit. You better believe it. I had the whole school surrounding me introducing themselves, asking questions, wanting to know more about me. Was I Deaf? Where did I learn sign? How did I know sign? Were my parents Deaf? What are schools for the Deaf like in America? Did I live at a school for the Deaf?

When communicating was a challenge, no problem, just write it in the dirt on the ground or on your arm and then teach each other the different signs, both in American and Indian. In school they learn both American sign and Indian sign. Among themselves, Indian Sign of some sort. We brought the book, the Indian Sign Language book. I believe it was the first time these kids had ever seen a book with signs represented as pictures with the Hindi and English word written.

To some of you, that may not sound like a big deal. But, if you could have seen the scene that it caused. Everybody wanted in on this book. The older students immediately took charge, they were the ones who could read the Hindi and the English, so they should be the ones to handle the book. They were so proud that they knew the signs that were in it! They flipped open to the address of the publisher and asked me if I could go there and get more books to bring back to them? They asked how much it cost, on the front page it said, Rs 100. That’s about $2. Let me reiterate this scene, the first time ever seeing a book in their language. It was better than kids picking up candy at a party after a piñata is broken, they were equally as enthusiastic about learning.

We told them we would try to find more books like it to bring back. We have a meeting today with the volunteers at Seva Mandir to talk about ideas for future programs. One idea I had, is video pen pal of sorts with a school for the Deaf in the states. They have a computer, and I was told they could bring in an internet connection sometimes when they come, they could record a video and send it, or use a webcam to live chat with penpals overseas or a school overseas. This would be huge. And 100% do-able.

I saw the dormitories, the dining hall, the cricket area. The kids showed me their school books. We took lots of pictures. The excitement was overwhelming. The ILYs were everywhere. And of course the sadness when it was time to leave…

Every kid in the school rushed to the rooftops and windows to wave goodbye and to share a last ILY or a story as we were leaving. It truly was an incredible afternoon. We went from there across the street to the school for the Blind. We toured the school and met the kids. We played some cricket. And then it was sadly time to leave as well.

We went to Panma’s family’s house for dinner. While the meal was being prepared, we enjoyed family time. Playing hand games with the kids, entertaining questions about marriage, life in America, learning Hindi and teaching English, taking pictures, being silly, having fun. Amazing people and food. We all piled into the one room and sat on the floor and had dinner.

On the rickshaw drive back, it was just so peaceful to take in all the sounds and just to know that I was here in India with Ian, finally meeting everybody who he has been talking about for so long, seeing the life he has built for himself here, and being a part of it.

Ian lives here. He is at home here. You can see it in his face. I have never seen him so happy, so at peace, so much like himself. I am so proud of him and all the wonderful things he is doing in the world. He has done some amazing things literally changing people’s lives for the better. He continues to do incredible things. Secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, I am jealous of him and all that he has done and will continue to do here. This is always a constant struggle of mine coming here and being a part of India. As an adoptee, many always feel a little bit on the outside in America, and a little on the outside in their home country too. Though Ian may feel some of that here in India, he is very much an integral part of this community. That is something I am envious of; as a person with a disability and as a woman, it is not as practical for me to just come and live here for a few months. Though, I am beginning to think it is not impossible, just certainly not easy. It is hard to explain to others why I would even want to come and live here for a year. I want to find a way to embrace India as a part of my life as well. I just don’t know how yet. It is a constant work in progress. But it is invigorating to meet all these people from all over who all share the same passion for living each moment and doing good. There are always possibilities.

After a whirlwind of 48 hours of traveling and visiting and meeting people, I crawled into bed last night just taking in the sounds of the dogs barking, the horns in the background and fell fast asleep. I’m not sure whether it was the long traveling or just being here, but I slept sounder than I have ever slept and cannot wait for what more is to come. You know the song, Feels Like Today by Rascal Flatts? Listen to the first minute of the song. I have that feeling, and something exciting IS coming, and I don’t know what it is yet, but it is exactly what has been missing in my life.

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