This morning Priyanka and I headed out by car to distribute some items I had brought for children — winter hats, sandals, and baby blankets.  As we slowed down for one road-side spot near a “basti” (slum), what should we see but THE GOAT IN A COAT that I mentioned in a previous post!  We were delighted to see this character again, and the men who were nearby got quite a kick out of me stopping and getting out of the car to snap its photo.  🙂

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Our distribution of items went well overall, but I never bring enough for the crowds of children that gather at the car.  Our method (as I’ve done this on previous trips too) is to stop at 2 or 3 places, and we stay only until the crowd gets too big to accommodate.  I had about 25 winter hats and caps, some baby items including knitted blankets, and 10 or so pairs of sandals for small children.  I will only share one photo of a recipient, because the mother’s face is so expressive.  When we stopped, the mother was in the process of giving the baby a bath in a basin.  So we waited until bath-time was finished, drove a few yards to where the mother was standing, and gave the blanket.  It was a sweet moment. (I also gave her a small white hat which she has in her hands.)


Lastly — as the “last hoorah” before I leave later tonight — we went to a nearby market this afternoon where I got henna on my hands.  Since I hadn’t had lunch yet, Priyanka bought a bit of street food called “Ramdana Ke Laddoo,” which was a ground dal made into a pakora, covered in a green chutney.  She had to feed it to me since my hands were occupied!

(For those who don’t know what the henna or “mehndi” is all about… The men draw designs with a paste that then soaks into the skin and dries up, after an hour or two.  At that point, you rub off the dried paste and the “stain” or “tattoo” remains.  It will darken over the next 24 hours, and then last about 2 weeks before fading away.)

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And now it’s time to say farewell to India, yet again, and possibly for a long while, as I do not know when or how I will get back.  God willing, it will be within the next few years…


BULLFIGHTS & ELEPHANTS! (oh yes, & picnic too!)

Here I was thinking I’d just write a sweet little post about our lovely picnic and day spent in a park with Priyanka’s family… Until the ride back home, where adventure awaited us!  (You MUST read this post to the end.)

Act 1:  The Picnic:  It was a perfectly-perfect day for a picnic in the park!  We packed up a “picnic lunch” (unlike any picnic lunch I’ve ever had before!) and went to Lodi Gardens, which is filled with 15th century mosques and tombs and plenty of open space.  We met up with Priyanka’s mother and father, her sister-in-law, and her 3-year-old nephew Kishu who is such a DOLL!  We played and sat and walked and ate, just “being” together for the day.  The sun was shining, and it felt like a summer day in Maine.  Except with 15th century architecture all around us!  Hahaha.  😀

Some photos of lunch and play-time (Click on the set to see them full-sized!).  Note the “chili guava” juice — quite tasty!

Act 2: The Sellers:  Then, of course, there are the sellers of all sorts of varied products, on the streets and in the park.

The first photo was a woman selling balloons at an intersection.  Priyanka and Anupam bought two for little Kishu.


This second one of this set is a man selling hot foods with a “travel-version” stall he sets up for serving.  🙂   Indian ingenuity!


And… the popcorn vendors along the streets.  The first one here was selling to a busload of school children.  The second one TOTALLY CRACKED ME UP!  He was getting a sale, but the traffic started back up, so he just hopped onto the auto-rickshaw and continued with the sale!

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Act 3: The Animals:  Then, on the way home, we happened upon this fella in the middle of a busy intersection!


And of course I always love taking pictures of the numerous cows that wander the streets all over India… including this white one that poked her head into the car to see what we were up to and to get a little pat on the nose. In the last photo, the guys selling peanuts and other food stuff thought I was crazy.

And — What was the “grand finale” on the way home today?  Two bulls fighting right smack dab in the middle of the street.  So we pulled over and I got out and watched the fight for a bit, along with lots of other people.  The smaller (younger) one eventually won the battle, and the older one huffed off in OUR DIRECTION!  Anupam couldn’t get back in the car and had to circle around the car while the bull wandered on past.

Oh, India!  THESE are the kinds of India-adventures that I adore.   🙂

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Two videos of the bull-fight:

Time with Friends

The past few days have been “More of Everything,” including spending time with friends to the extent possible.  My time is so very tight that it’s challenging to catch up with everyone I would like to, but there have been a couple of opportunities to do so.

Here’s a photo taken on the LSR campus (where I first did my Fulbright), where I ran into a colleague Kalyani and also a former student Komal.  Komal was one of the first student I officially “met” as, on my first day of teaching, she offered me a “laddoo” (sweet) that her mother had made.


And here’s a meal I ate yesterday — South Indian Thali.  A “thali” is a collection of food items on a platter, as seen here:


You all know how much I LOVE the street scenes, of all sorts.  Sometimes the moment that strikes my eye is one that is simply one or more people going about their daily lives.  Here are several photos that reveal scenes near a “basti” (slum) community that was across from the school we visited yesterday.

This first picture is an “entry” into the community where children are returning from school, and a man in the center is kneeling to do some sort of work with his hands.


This next picture is my favorite photo to date on this trip.  These boys and the man with the bike were coming out of the community heading different places.  I had seen some men with bikes piled with colorful cloth items, but hadn’t yet captured one on camera, until this moment.IMG_7389

This one was a woman walking down the street balancing a basket on her head.  IMG_7392

Alas, my very favorite sight to date on this trip was NOT captured through my camera.  Yesterday, as we started out, we drove past a street-side “community” where people were just starting to be out and about in the cool morning air.  We looked out the car window and saw… A GOAT IN A COAT!  Seriously.  A goat was by the roadside wearing a winter coat, all wrapped around its body.  But we were past it before I could snap the shot.  Today, as we drove past the same area, we slowed down and searched for the goat-in-a-coat, but we didn’t see it.  You will just need to take my word for it, and imagine it for yourselves.

Last evening I was able to visit the home of my friend Preeti.  I met her mother, and I heard fascinating stories of the mother’s earlier life.  You might guess what I’m going to say next… The food was amazing!

Preeti took me over to the nearby Saket Mall — actually an interconnected set of 3 malls, one of which is quite the fancy-pancy place!  They had done it all up for Christmas, inside and out.  Yes, you are right in thinking, “But I thought India was mostly a Hindu country?”  Well, “Christmas” in India, not entirely unlike Christmas in America, is now more of a secular, commercial, festive time — a fun celebration, but more or less devoid of religion.  Here are some of the mall lights and decorations:

Today, after our two workshops, Priyanka and I headed to the home of an LSR colleague and friend Shama.  Shama had invited my LSR colleagues (from when I was here in 2016), so I was able to see a handful of special friends.

Shama and her mother had made (and bought) loads of “snacky” foods, including samosas and pakoras — YUM!  This was an afternoon “tea” of sorts, not dinner.  So much food!  Her mother was also lovely, and — like Preeti’s — had some fascinating stories to tell about her earlier years as a child and young woman.

Today concluded Day 6 of workshops, with workshops #7 and #8 completed back to back.  They have been a great success!  But it’s good to be at the end of such a frenetic string of them.  It felt a bit like being in a theatrical performance — wanting to give the audience a fresh “show” every time, day after day.   Here are a few shots from the past three workshops (1 yesterday and 2 today).  The bottom three photos are all different schools and presentations.  There is no central heating in these schools, so we are all bundled up against the chill in the air.

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I’ll leave you with this last picture, which was taken at one of the schools today.  This is a type of dal that has been turned into flour and then shaped into little balls that can be cooked into dishes.  They were drying out the little balls here.


Leave me a comment — I’d love to hear from you!

More Food, More Markets, More Workshops!

Three things I never get enough of… food, markets, teaching.

The days here just gallop along!  Today, I did two workshops — one morning, one afternoon — on my own as Priyanka needed to work.  As of this afternoon, we’ve done 5 workshops since Monday, and have 3 more to go in the next two days.  That’s 8 workshops in 6 days!  They have been going GREAT — receptive audiences, lots of interaction and participation, and very positive feedback.  Today I presented at a school that works with both mainstream children and children with special needs, and then at a specialized school for children with autism.  Yesterday, Priyanka and I presented together — and people told us we make a great team.

Here are a few photos from the workshops from the past two days:

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As for markets, yesterday I visited Janpath, which is a street market with loads of handcrafted items, especially handbags, bed covers, pillow cases, clothing, and other sorts of cloth items. I bought a pile of Christmas gifts!  I never get tired of these markets, and I must restrain myself from buying endless piles of things.  Priyanka helped with some of the bargaining, and we got some amazing deals.

Here are some photos of Janpath market area: (Click on the set to see bigger sizes.)

And as for FOOD… Seriously, I don’t know how I manage to live without authentic Indian food when I am in Maine.  I can never get enough of the food here, and I love the spices.

Here’s yesterday’s “breakfast on the go” (on my lap in the car) — noodles with spices and extra chili sauce:


And here’s some masala chai made with black tea, milk, sugar, ginger, cardamom, and Indian basil (stronger and sweeter than Italian basil)… I was so excited to have some made “from scratch.”  Priyanka laughed and said, “But that’s how we always have tea, ever since childhood!”  (To her, it’s like someone being in awe of, say, oatmeal.  🙂 ) . You haven’t had “chai” until it’s made like this.  Really.


And here’s some additional meals and snacks I’ve had in the past couple of days… The last one is mutton curry — sooooo good.  Gosh, I miss the food when I’m back in Maine!

And on that note, as I leave you drooling over sweet and spicy dishes, I am heading to bed.

ps.  I have been trying to pick up some Hindi over the past couple of years — slow going.  But I have learned to say, among other things, “I have 5 children, and 3 children from India.”  “Merai panch bachai hain, aur teen bachai bhaarat sai hain.”   And just for fun, Priyanka and Anupam also taught me to say, “I have 6 cows.”  “Merai chai gaie hain.”  Hahaha!  Just in case I someday need to tell someone that.  😀



Today, Priyanka needed to work, so I was “on my own” for much of the day.  This afternoon, I gave another presentation for teachers and it went very well.  Priyanka had arranged for a driver to come and drive her vehicle, which he will do the rest of the week as well.  My US friends, you will never believe the charge for hiring a driver for EIGHT HOURS — The total cost per day is 600 rupees, which is less than $10 for a whole day!

During the morning, I had a very special experience.  To explain, I need to go all the way back to my Fulbright time in spring 2016.  During those 4 months, I hired a woman named Sudha to clean our apartment daily, which is necessary given the dust that settles everywhere.  She also did dishes and helped with any additional chores to be done.  Sometimes I hired her to help me get dressed in a sari, and sometimes she ironed the girls’ school clothes.  Occasionally, she would make an afternoon “snack” (more like a meal to us), which was always amazing and delicious.

Sudha became part of our family while the girls and I were in India, and we grew very fond of her.  However, as much as we loved her, we also became poignantly aware of the deeply-embedded structures of class, position, status, and power in the Indian culture and society.  I can’t go into details about these challenging realities here, but I found myself struggling to wrap my head around how Sudha was perceived in the world around her.  To me and the girls, she was a godsend and a friend.  I couldn’t manage without her, and she was able to help me navigate some very tricky aspects of life: how to wear a sari, how to use a pressure cooker, where to find the best bargain on kurtas.  She was, in many ways, a cultural broker for us and we shared hearty laughs as the girls chatted with Sudha about their school days.  We adored Sudha — who was cheerful, kind-hearted, fun, and honest.  We stayed in touch through her son’s email, and I have visited with her briefly on each subsequent visit to India.

This time around, Sudha invited me into her home for lunch.  It was an incredibly moving gesture on her part and an honor to be welcomed into her home.  Her two boys were also there.  (Her husband was at work.)  She also took me to meet her parents who lived nearby.

Sudha cooked up a feast — two different snacky items, including palak pakora and potato/cheese sticks; plus a big meal of rice, poori bread, yogurt with dal-based balls, and a dish with choli (chick peas).

Here are some photos of her family and the meal! (Click on the set to see them in bigger view.)

I also must include a couple of street shots:  one of a cow, of course.  And one of women who were working at the roadside mixing and spreading cement.  It is not at all uncommon to see women laborers in these types of jobs, and I am always brought up short by the sight of it.


Lastly, tonight Priyanka made an awesome dish called rajma, which is made of red kidney beans in a sauce made of onions, tomatoes, and spices.  I surely ate well today!


Good night, all!

What’s Not to Love?

I love many things about India — the colors, the spices, the startling sights and moments, the living of lives (so many lives being lived!) — but, of course, there are also aspects I find challenging.  One of the reasons I love India so much is that these joys intermingle with the hardships, insisting upon reflection and self-reflection: Who am I in this world?

Generally, over a handful of extended visits, I have adapted to the ebb and flow of life in Delhi, a city of 18.6 million people (about 14 times the population of the entire state of Maine!), but I try not to become complacent or desensitized to either the joys or the challenges.  I remind myself to “keep the familiar strange and the strange familiar.”

But today, I must make mention of one of the things I very much don’t love about life in Delhi:  the smog.  Much of it apparently originates from the burning of crops in a different state altogether, the smoke carried on the air to sit in a stale holding pattern over Delhi.  But other factors add to the mix, such as vehicle and industry pollution, creating a thick, heavy, choking fog that feels almost apocalyptic.  Some days, the smog disperses, making way for beautifully-temperate sunshine, like yesterday.  Other days, like today, the smoky air fills lungs and eyes and throats. It has become a serious health crisis in Delhi, and a cause of great concern for those who live here all the time.

Today, I walked around the area near the President’s home, Parliament, and other government buildings.  You will see very few cars because this is a highly restricted area for travel, and heavily guarded.  The famous India Gate was just down a street, but completely invisible today due to the smog.  Here are a couple of photos from that area, showing the buildings as well as the thick smog.  The top one, at the center (where the road “vanishes”) shows ministry office buildings and — theoretically, somewhere behind the smoke — the President’s house.  The bottom one shows Parliament.


Ah, but remember, there is much to LOVE about India!  Meeting people, seeing monkeys, new babies…

We had an interview today with the Secretary of Education, Mr. Anil Swarup, who greeted us warmly.  The area around his building had LOADS of monkeys, including adorable babies! (No, kids, we cannot have a monkey!  And no, I’m not bringing one home.  Even a cute one.)

After the interview, we visited one of my LSR colleagues and friends, Deepika, who had a baby 4 months ago.  Her baby boy is a joy, and I got him laughing by tickling his nose with his foot.  (Click on the set to see each one in bigger format.)

After that visit, Priyanka and I traveled to a program that works with adults with developmental challenges to offer vocational supports and handicraft sheltered workshops (such as making candles, bags, or cookies to sell in their shop).  We presented the first of our week’s workshops and it went very well.  We drank tea and enjoyed their special homemade cookies — yum!


That’s it for today — time to head to bed!  Another full day tomorrow…

Street food? You bet!

Today (Sunday) was one of the only “free” days I’ll have on this trip, so what’s a person to do but… go shopping in a street market!!  One of my favorites is Lajpat Nagar which delights and assaults all the senses at once.  Priyanka and I took a rickshaw to the market where we browsed, made purchases, and ate DELICIOUS street food.  (I know, I know — “don’t eat the street foods…”  Unless you have been disregarding said rule for a long time now.) .

Of course, to get to the market, you first need to pull over and wait while your rickshaw driver runs a few errands — drops something off for the street-side tailor, buy a newspaper, and grab a quick bite to eat… (Our driver is the guy in the red turban waiting for his food. He has already dropped off the items at the tailor to the left…)

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Once at Lajpat Nagar, here are a few of the day’s sights.  Notice the crazy tangle of electical wires.  Sometimes, walking down streets, you need to duck out of the way of ones that hang down.  And note the little temple in the square!  The dogs, the kids, the food stands…  (Click on the set to see each photo separately.)

And remember the street food?  Oh my goodness, there is simply no way to capture the tasty joy of the “bun tikki” and “aloo chaat” — the photos will have to suffice.

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Here are a few of my colorful purchases: a couple of kurtas; a table cloth (a gift); a colorful scarf (another gift):

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And then home again to work on our presentation we are giving tomorrow… Unless, of course, the work gets interrupted by a WEDDING PROCESSION right outside your window.  So — after a few minutes of pretending it’s just totally normal to have throbbing bands playing so loudly you can’t hear yourself think, really what’s a person to do but go investigate? (Two videos below… Give them a sec to load.) (Blog continues after the videos.)


There was a crowd of boys along the street who ran in and out of the fun.  When they saw me, they crowded around me and showed off their dancing skills.  Alas, it’s not all fun and games, folks, so we headed back inside where I went back to pretending like it was just an ordinary “day in the life…”   Here are a few shots of our dinner.  Note that there are no utensils near my plate — I’m learning to be pretty dang good at eating with my fingers by scooping the food into the bread.

And now it’s truly time for bed.  Tomorrow starts a very busy week!


Landmarks — Or Not!

Even though this is a short trip, and I may not have much to write about in a bloggy way, I’ve decided to go ahead and add ramblings and photos here, as the best place to record details, stories, and photos.

I arrived in India late last night (Friday night, more like 1:00 AM Saturday (today)), after about 24 hours of total traveling time, about 14 of which was in airplanes.  The moment I stepped off the plane in Delhi, I found myself grinning idiotically as the unique “smell” — a smokey but not-unpleasant mix of heaven-knows-what — of India hit my nostrils.  Getting through Immigration was a breeze… I said “hello” to the man at the counter, and he looked at me with surprise and said, “You speak Hindi?”  Confused, I said, “I’m working on it, but no, I don’t.  My name is an Indian name though.”  He said, “I didn’t see your name, I just heard your voice and accent.  You said ‘hello’ like a Hindi-speaker.”   !!!  Apparently, I enter India and even my English words become India-ized.

Once outside, I located the pre-paid taxi stand and paid for a taxi to my friend Priyanka’s home.  As I walked toward the taxi, a man grabbed my luggage and rolled it the few yards to the waiting vehicle, then tossed the large suitcase unceremoniously and unsecured onto the top of the car, where a small “railing” contained it.  The man asked me for a tip, and I refused.

I am not opposed to tipping, and tend to be overly-generous doing so in India, but I realized how far I’ve come in understanding the nuances of these moments.  First, the man hadn’t asked whether he could take the luggage; he simply did so, thinking it would earn him a handful of rupees.  Second, it was literally a few yards to the taxi, with a rolling bag that I was able to manage myself.  I said as much, and he mimed that he had had to toss it to the top of the car, as if that had made all the difference to my ability to function on my own. 🙂    These are the moments when I suspect I’m being “taken” and I’m learning to be better about saying no, but it’s never easy, and I’m never quite sure of the “rules” — explicit or implicit.

The taxi driver eventually got me close to Priyanka’s, but then got lost and meandered all around the various “pockets” in neighborhoods that all look more or less the same to me.  Because I love the ordinary street scenes so much, day or night, I snapped a couple of photos — of the stray dogs that wander the streets, of a wedding being set up (at 3:00 am!).  The driver’s phone wasn’t working, but I could use data to text Priyanka.  As I tried to give her a landmark as to where I was, I mentioned “a wedding tent.”  Later, she laughed and reminded me that this was “wedding season” with a “wedding tent” on every corner.  She said, “It’s like telling me you are near some dogs.”  I had to laugh — those were the only two photos I had taken: wedding tent and dogs.

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After a great night’s sleep, I awoke to a gorgeously sunny day, with temps in the high 70s.  I’ve enjoyed coffee on the balcony and shared the space with curious chipmunks and pigeons.  Do you see the bold fella in the second photo, waiting for me to move so he can come on inside?

You may be wondering what the heck I’m doing back in India this time around… As you might recall from my previous trip in April/May that I was able to secure some grant money through Bates to do research around Inclusive Education in India, in particular for children with developmental challenges, both cognitively and physically.  Last spring, we did interviews at 11 sites (schools and programs).  This time around, we are presenting workshops at about 8 of those sites.  We also have one interview on Monday with a government official to learn more about the realities within “government” (public) schools here.  It’s truly a whirlwind of a trip, with a jam-packed schedule.  Exciting stuff!  But… mostly work with not much time for play, this time around.

Time for some lunch (oh, the food!!) and then buckling down to get some work done.  🙂

A Pakhala of Sorrows and Joys

What is Pakhala?  (Pronounced: Paw-Ka-L(r)aw, and, US friends, don’t even bother trying to pronounce that L/R sound!  If you insist on trying, it’s an “L” but with the tongue rolled far back on the palate.)   Anyway, pakhala is yet another food-eating experience of a specialty dish from the state of Orissa where my friends Priyanka and Anupam are from.  I had the grand adventure of eating pakhala today at lunchtime.  The steps:  In a bowl, scoop in some rice (using your hands), then pour in lots of water.  Then add unsweetened (natural) yogurt, lemon or lime juice, hot chili pepper, and salt.  Then take an assortment of side dishes, such as eggplant, potatoes cooked with mustard oil, various veggies, and more.  Add a bit of flavorful mango Indian pickle on the side. Then take a bit of this and that, dunk your hand into the water-and-rice, and scoop it into your mouth!  Here are photos (Click on the set to see the sequence):

And a video, in case you are curious as to how a newbie approaches the adventure of eating pakhala:

The mix of flavors (spicy and tangy and salty) and textures (liquids and solids and crunchy and soft) delight the palate, while the whole body engages in the moment hand plunging into the rice mixture, body bent forward so as not to make a mess.

And so — it becomes a metaphor for another of the day’s adventures — distribution of the “kid kits” to children on the streets.  A mix of tangy, salty sadness that simply can’t be helped; the crunchy fact of never-enough against heartbreakingly-overwhelming numbers; the sweet-softness of just-plain-joy on the children’s faces and the fluidity of unfettered childhood that engages the body, heart, mind, spirit.  Laughter and tears, all mixed together.  Concern mixed with joy, beauty with hardship.  A “thank you” side by side with a shove out of the way.  Please try to see these children through my eyes — not as some sort of voyeuristic cyber-tourism into desperate poverty, but as a slice of time and place with families and children who (sometimes) give me hope and make me smile.  I may not be saying it right or well, but maybe the photos will help you understand…

As you all know, I seldom post pictures of people in need, for all sorts of complex reasons.  I also want to be crystal clear about the fact that these kits were distributed in the name of the friends who provided the funds for them.  These are not from me, but from you:  Cathryn, Peter, Wendi, Anya, Miriam, Sharon, Beck, Amy, Linda, Jenny, and Betty.  The joyful smiles of the kids are for you, as is my deep gratitude.

Here are a few shots of the kits themselves — 60 in all.  (Wish it could have been 600…)  Each kit had: shampoo, soap, comb, bandaids, tissues, toothbrush and toothpaste, flipflops, some candy and a sticker.  (Click on the photo set for bigger pics.)  I had labeled each bag with the name of a donor and a little blurb about him/her.  You can see those in the third photo.

Out of respect for the children and families, I have blurred the eyes in the photos… with the one notable exception of the last one.  Sorry if the blurring makes the pictures less aesthetically pleasing, but it’s the only solution I have in this type of situation, where the circumstance is an obvious “hand-out,” rather than just a snippet of daily life.  The un-blurred last photo I have explained below.

We had a smooth system in place to distribute the kits:  Priyanka drove, and I held piles of the kits on my lap and at my feet.  (Note that everything is reversed from the US — Driver is on the right; cars drive on the left-hand side of the road.)  We pulled up along the road near areas where we knew there was a need, or when we spotted a child.  We would call, “Child, come here!  Bachhe! (Child!)”  That child would approach, we would hand over a kit, and we would ask that child to go find more children.  Within moments, children would appear from all over, and we would hand the kits out the window one at a time.  We did this at three different spots, and the 60 packs were gone within about 20 minutes all-told.  At the second spot, although there were many more children waiting, we decided to move on when the crush of the children became too much.  I was concerned for their safety, and minimally for ours as they reached into the car.  In this particular set, there’s a story for the last photo of the two boys.  They were in a spot where we were not swarmed, and the boy in the white checked shirt took his kit, and grinned from ear to ear, and then jumped up and down.  I wanted a photo of him jumping and grinning, but when I asked him to jump again, he called the other boy over to do a back-flip for us!  Anyway, in the photo, you can see his beautiful smile, if not the jump. 🙂

When we came to the third spot, we had only 6 kits left, but luckily there were fewer kids.  One boy told us that he had a baby at home (presumably his baby sister, or possibly a cousin?).  We did not give kits to anyone who told us there was a child at home, only to those we saw directly.  So he asked us to please wait, please, and he would go get her.  He came running back with her in his arms.  This is the final picture that I have not blurred — because I didn’t want to blur those beautiful eyes of the baby or the sparkling ones of the boy.

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And so I’ll end this post with wide-eyed wonder and the twinkle of a doting older brother, just in time for Mother’s Day on this side of the world.

Today’s Question: What’s a BaLA School?

Let’s cut right to the chase today and get at the answer to the burning question of the title of this blog post.

“BaLA” means “Building as Learning Aid,” where the building itself becomes a tool for learning.  Today, I visited a school in a “basti” (slum) community, where an organization called Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) has revitalized, renovated, and rebuilt a government school and neighborhood over the past 10 years.  There is a great deal more to the story, but the pictures will give some idea of the ways in which this organization has injected new life into an abysmal reality.

Imagine a government-run school in such squalid condition that opening your mouth meant having flies swarm in.  Literally.  Imagine a place where teachers don’t show up, where health hazards abound, where children are hit for minor infractions.  And then imagine trying to transform that environment into one of cleanliness, learning, positive energy, warmth, and well-being.   Here are a couple of photos illustrating the before/after pictures of this particular school:


As for BaLA elements, check out the details in this set below… halls lined with chalkboards at children’s level (lower half of the walls throughout the building); art filling the walls and spaces; doors opening to reveal angles on a curve; window features teaching fractions (pie shape) and even an abacus!; stairwells with numbers, sound-makers, and other playful activities; and more.  It was amazing to see!

Outside, AKF was able to transform a plot of land that was being used as a dumping ground, where rag-pickers (trash-pickers) and drug-dealers used to roam.  Now — it’s a playground for children.  And a similar lot nearby?  It’s now a park for women and children — designed to provide women, who are often vitamin D deficient, a place to get some fresh air and sunshine in privacy and safety.  Because the area is largely Muslim, many of the women cover their heads and faces in public, so the private women’s park is a place where they can let down the coverings to get some sunshine. The park also has been equipped with exercise stations to help the women stay active. The park for women is to the right of this picture behind the wall (for privacy and safety of the women).


This particular school doesn’t cater to children with disabilities, but they do assist with locating appropriate placements for those kids from the community.  Also, have any of you heard of the Hole In The Wall computer kiosks?  There’s a very well-known TED talk about the initiative which places computers at random places mainly in slum communities, to allow people to explore and develop skills “organically” through free exploration.  This school had one of those stations just outside:


And just for fun, take a look at this barefooted boy from the neighborhood playing cricket!  The children are just starting their vacation:


I’ve gone to a great variety of others schools in the past two weeks — too many to describe in detail for each.  But here are some photos to give an idea of the inclusive settings that I’ve visited.  This set is mainly from one particular school that takes children with cognitive impairment, autism, and other developmental challenges.  Note the ways in which they create picture-boards for non-verbal children — including a set of cards on a “key ring,” velcroed items on desks (words as well as pictures), booklets and bulletin boards. This school also had a small wading pool for the kids to play in, and a place where they made crafts to sell.  And of course, a food shot of the lunch they gave me, from their cafeteria!  South Indian food — dosas and idlis.

And while we are on the topic of food, here is a sequence of photos featuring “jalebis” — very very sweet and syrupy treats.  Priyanka and I picked some up from a street vendor, and brought some home to enjoy with ice cream.  First, the dough gets squeezed into loops in hot oil. Then, they get dunked into the heated syrup.  They are best when enjoyed hot and fresh, but also quite delicious a bit later with “date palm jaggery” ice cream.  🙂


And what’s that you say?  More street scenes?  More cows?  Well, ok!  And we’ll end this post with these scenes, since it’s getting too late on my side of the world to still be up! (The one of the gorgeous pink tree was actually at another school visit.) (Please click on the set to see them in full size.)