The last day of teaching at the Chettenanga Hindu School, where they had me teaching English, Drawing and Yoga, I gave each student a new pencil and as many as I could, new erasers. The female teachers all were given a woven handbag from the Kanyakumari market and the men ball-caps. I wished I could give more, (like good books) but there are challenges trying to mail things in…many things go missing when customs opens the boxes, so one never knows what will actually make it through to the intended destination. So I just did my best to purchase things locally. Next year, if I come back, which they made me promise to make every effort to do, I will pack some children’s books to bring with me.
What I never expected, however, is that a small group of boys from the 6th grade class (I think), would present me with a gift of their own. They made a box and put a few tokens of their own in it, writing their names on the top, and brought it ever so sweetly to me during the last hour of my being there. I was moved to tears by this spontaneous and humble gesture of appreciation on their part. I wish I’d had my cellphone with me so I could have taken a photo.
A few other gifts arrived from other children soon after that…and then the teachers all came for a farewell session with me, and they presented me with a few gifts as well. Oh my, I was teary off and on during this farewell.
This final volunteer gig of my India sojourn, was everything I could have hoped for and really better than I imagined. The unexpected aspect, as I wrote in my last blog, was to be enthusiastically embraced as a drawing AND a Yoga teacher aside from teaching English. I wish I had a photo of the kids and I doing our poses together in the dirt of the courtyard! They were really earnest students and it was a joy to work with them in this way. We always seemed to return to the classroom more grounded and focused. After yoga I often taught the drawing, and again, their earnest efforts were a joy and their pride in their drawings very heartwarming.
The courtyard had shade trees, but even so, I was always sweaty by the end of our sessions out there. The women were always amused, I think, at my physical-ness, at how my hair was always slipping out of its moorings, and at the state of my general attire within the first hour of school. But they took great care of me, bringing extra lunch portions to share each day. Living at the hotel, it wasn’t possible to pack a lunch really. Those lunches were full of laughter, sometimes hilarious mis-communications and persistent questions and answers.
Here they are all walking me out to my chariot (Rickshaw) on that final day. I bonded with these women!
Then, on that final evening, which happened to be Valentine’s Day, which an Indian woman brought to my attention, I had four young male college students as dinner companions. Two of them, Rahul and Canan, were the ones I’d met my first day in town. It was Rahul who coordinated the school volunteering and my visit to the university where I spoke to a business management class. (photo: Raj, me, Rahul, Canan)
The next day found me in Bangalore on the way back to Goa. There was a huge, truly huge Temple Festival happening in the city over-night and the next day that I had known nothing about previously. They were expecting 100,000 people to participate! I’ve no idea whether those were very exaggerated numbers or not, but I was told by hotel staff that streets would be closed to traffic in a five km range of the downtown area where I was staying overnight. Though I was curious about it, I had no intent to miss my flight the next day, so once I awoke at 4am I decided to scuttle out of the festival-zone and get myself to the airport, even though it meant a long wait.
I snapped these photos long before dawn, from the Rickshaw, as thousands of women were preparing their cooking pots to make a particular sweet as their part in the festival. There would have been many, many thousands of small cooking fires being lit along the city streets to do this. There were loud speakers, it seems on every major corner, with music playing constantly, and the streets were seething with activity. The photos look like daylight, but it was just lit up by strong street lights.
I was anticipating a rather boring and long wait at the airport, but after arriving, I approached a woman who seemed to be all by herself in a section of seats. I asked if one of the seats was available or were they claimed by family. She wobbled her head, so I sat down beside her. We chatted briefly, as her English was limited and my Malayalam is non-existent. But shortly her family members began to flock like birds landing in tree branches. They were all ages, girls, boys, teens, parents and an elder, tiny little Great Granny. They all were curious and engaging, and within a span of 45 minutes together the elder teen girl and I, upon her urging, sang a song for each other.
So that’s my final unexpected sweetest gift – being sung to at the Bangalore airport while being surrounded by a handsome local Muslim family! After our song exchange, they saw their elder Aunt off on her once-in-a-lifetime journey to Mecca (with a group of 80 others). And then the two teen girls raced back to their seats opposite me and begged for me to do a sketch of them, which I did. Instead of sketching them in my journal, I did it on a blank sheet of paper so they could take it with them. At first, I was afraid I would offend them, because in Islam, I thought they didn’t allow or condone images of people, but they assured me it was fine.
So now I’m back at my beloved Agonda Beach for a final week or so before heading for either Mallorca or southern France to meet up with my niece. I’ll be heading home after that.