Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Introducing the Newest Member of CKS

Hello again Friends and Family,

There was an opening to cruise the internet this afternoon, and I decided to post a quick update to everyone.

CKS is proud to introduce our newest member...

...her name name is Sweety, and I think she is around ten weeks old. From what I understand, one of Puthumai's friends had a litter of puppies and offered one to CKS. How could he refuse...I mean come on...

...this is Shubhra's nephew, Snehundu, with Sweety. Anyway, she's been a nice addition to the house. Things are about to get pretty lonely for me, as Shubhra will be traveling to far off places to give trainings associated with disaster risk reduction. Andrew, the latest volunteer who I traveled with in Darjeeling, will also be leaving this weekend to Kolkata. So, it may be Sweety and I for a short while together in the big house this weekend. I'll be sure to keep everything locked down, don't worry.

Also, since returning from Darjeeling Andrew and I have had some time to wrap our heads around some projects. For me, it's pretty much the same ongoing assignments - teaching Spoken English, fine tuning the manual, tying up loose ends with the student group, and taking up one of Loren's projects. Andrew is developing a study on homeless youth, which will surely be an exciting and hands on task. Also, he is taking the lead on developing the CKS library.

This room has been ordained as our classroom. It's very small, but the largest session I've taught was six students, so it's more like I'm tutoring than teaching. Thank goodness a ceiling fan was recently added, because it is getting hot hot hot these days. We don't open the windows in the evening because mosquitoes will come rushing in, so it can get stiflingly hot without the fan.

This is our baby. These are all published scholarly articles and studies mostly about disaster risk reduction or a topic closely related. Since Loren departed (to Seattle), God Bless him, Andrew and I have done some work in organizing the documents that are to be printed. My estimate is that there are around 2,000 pages of published documents to be printed. The photo shows only the documents we have bound...the library is bigger than this...Please believe me! : )

Anyway, beloved Friends and Family - thanks for taking the time to hear the latest in my life. If any of you feel so inclined, it would be nice to receive an email update on your life. For you Christians out there - may Holy Week be a time of sincere renewal in your life.



Saturday, March 27, 2010

Amazing views, amazing tea, amazing people, and lots of memories: Darjeeling

Hello everyone! It's already been a while since the last post, which I promised to add captions to. Some day soon. So, as some of you may know, my gang of hooligans and I traveled to Darjeeling last week. We were there from March 16th-22nd, and had a blast. Cousin Mike and I had been planning to make this happen since Christmas, so it had a hint of epic in it. Another volunteer at CKS, Andrew, happened to be traveling that same week. We banded together and made a great traveling party. For Loren and I, this was our chance to travel - vacation style - during our internship. For Mike, it was many things, but one thing we agreed upon was that the trip helped us see things through a different lens. Jumping straight from Seattle to India has that affect. It's a big wide world out there, and we both are passionate about exploring it.

Andrew spent the previous two months in Kolkata, volunteering with the Sisters of Charity. He met some very fine people there, a few of whom he graciously introduced to us on the first day. Poppy, Marie, and Joe were all-stars, and were a big part in making the excursion such a beautiful experience.

The first day was spent getting situated. Andrew introduced us to Poppy and Marie as we coincidentally passed them on the road. After they suggested Hotel Aliment, we made our way up the hill and booked some nice rooms there. After that, we had a nice evening exploring the town and having a few drinks. The next day we went to Tiger Hill, one of the most stunning look-outs near Darjeeling. Also during the trip, we visited a Tibetan Refugee Center, spent time at a zoo, toured Happy Valley Tea Estate, ate and drank at a styling bar/bakery, and bought some gifts for our loves at home. Please enjoy the photos below.

On our way up. The jeep driver took a short tea break half way to Darjeeling, which gave us a chance to see the hillside and give our bottoms a break. This is Loren enjoying the view.

The Himalayas. This was the view from the terrace at Hotel Aliment, where we stayed for the week. Double bed rooms were Rs. 300 per night, which is about $6.70. They had comfortable beds, a nice restaurant, and access to hot water. Lastly, the owner was a very nice man. He was an older native of Darjeeling, and shared so many nice tidbits of wisdom and his appreciation for the plurality of perspectives he's come into contact with over time.

Look familiar? Here are the names of all the peaks in the photo above. I'm not sure if you can make them out, but if you're interested I'm sure you can look up their names. The tallest one in the middle is called Kangchendzonga, which is 25,794 ft. Everest is 29,029 ft.

On our first full day, our happy bunch booked a jeep to Tiger Mountain, which is a popular lookout where you can see Mt. Everest on occasion and other Himalayan peaks. The view was very nice, but spending time with these fine folks was the real joy. Joe left that same day, unfortunately. However, there's still a chance for me to connect with him, because he is spending the next two months in Kolkata, Thanks for making it such a great trip, everyone!

Wandering the widing lanes in hilly Darjeeling. The red flowering tree at the top is really beautiful, and Mikes face in the bottom right is the cherry on top.

This spot in the market was so jammed with shirts and cloth and other clothing items that it was a bit stifling, yet enjoyable. Mike is in the center, marching in our direction. The market in Darjeeling was similar to most open air markets that you find in India, but with plenty of tea.

More exploring in the market.

This photo doesn't do justice to the slope. Darjeeling is built on a mountainside, so we were contstantly walking up and down very steep hills. Many of the locals had monstrous calf muslces, and there were fewer pot bellies than in the plains where CKS is located. Coincidence? Any nutrition or health sciences people looking for a study topic?

One of the first tourist attractions we decided to scout out was the Tibetan Refugee Center. certainly not it. This was along the road on our way there, and is a private school. Mike said it looked like the school in Harry Potter, which I can't remember the name of. Sorry, I'm more into Lord Of The Rings, not that it has to be a choice between the two : )

A nice view of tea estates and Darjeeling flora on our way to the Tibetan Refugee Center.

There was a whole museum detailing the history of the Tibetan struggle, and I can't match the breadth and depth of the information it contained. However, I will mention that this refugee center is one of many throughout India and neighboring countries. In 1950, the People's Liberation Army led an invaded Tibet. A year later, representatives from the PRC and Tibet signed onto The Seventeen Point Plan, which formalized China's sovereignty over Tibet. Many people fled Tibet, especially after the Dalai Lama became an exile in 1959. Tibetans have suffered greatly over the past sixty years.The refugee center was established in the 1950's, by a group of caring locals. It has grown a lot over the years, and provides education, homes, and job training for aound 500 refugees.

The courtyard, which was surrounded by different types of workshops where Tibetans produced hand made goods. A shop in this same courtyard sold the goods, which raised funds for the center and individuals living there.

Hand made carpets. This looked tremendously labourious, and I can only guess how long it would take to make one. On the other hand, it must be incredibly meditative once they get good at their craft.

These were very interesting. From what I gathered, each cylinder contains pages and pages of prayers. When they sping them, it is like praying thousands of times as the prayers spin around. I like their rationale. On the left: Andrew, Mike, Loren, and someone we didn't know - all exiting the premises.

The cousin-brothers on the top terrace of Hotel Aliment. Thanks for making the trip a memorable one, Mike. I love you so much.

This is one of my favorite photos of the group. This night we were in one of the only bars (that we were aware of) in Darjeeling. From left to right: Marie, Mike, Poppy, Andrew, Loren, Jeff

Mike and Loren. My cousin-brother (as they say in India) and fellow intern. Beautiful people with big hearts.

This was at the entrance of the zoo. Since being in India, I've noticed how much I must take the Christian influence for granted in the US. It must be there, but we're so accustomed to it that it's not big deal. It's been a great learning experience attempting to navigate Hindu society, and in some areas (like a portion of Darjeeling) Buddhist.

Red Panda! Woo! They really did move like Pandas, but looked more like big red racoons. Either way, they were really beautiful.

The Sun Bear was much bigger than any I've seen in the Woodland Park zoo at home. This one was napping on his back. He looked like he was acting out a slow, dramatic death by gunshot. Oh, how boring and demeaning life in a zoo would be.

One of the booths in the zoo offered to take a photo of you dressed up in local traditional garb. Mike and Poppy went all out and certainly reaped the benefits with this photo.

On one of our many wanderings. How can you not love that face?!

Happy Valley Tea Estate - one of the oldest in Darjeeling. It was established in 1854 guessed it...British from the East India Company. It was a nice walk there from the hotel, although Mike was suffering from severly dry feet (to the point of bleeding). Thanks Mike, for toughing it out and making it a nice visit.

Rolling hills of tea. Loren likened it to Napa Valley.

We were given a nice tour of factory, but did not see it in action because we came on the off season. It was great learning about the different steps and machines that are used in the process. Loren or Mike would remember better than I, but all totaled it required five or six steps to make the tea we brew and drink.

After the tour we were invited in for some tea, and had the chance to buy some high quality stuff. The women entertaining us was very charismatic, and we had a good time. Other tourists piled into this small room, and eventually there was something like nine people sitting around a small coffee (or tea) table sipping top quality stuff and getting quizzed on information we were told during the tour. Multiple times, I forgot the most important lesson of all; the name of the highest quality tea - Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe 1, or SFTGFOP1. Each word describes a step in the harvesting process, all of which I have forgotten by now. Leave it to me to forget the most important lesson at a Darjeeling tea estate!

This was posted on a lamp post, and got me thinking. We REALLY must take things for granted in the US if people in other countries win Green Cards in lotteries, not millions of dollars.

Sunrise on the roof of Hotel Aliment.

This was one of our favorite places for breakfast. There, we met a really interesing fellow named Casper. He is from Holland, and quit his job as a business consultant about a year ago. Since, he has been traveling all over, and happened to be in Darjeeling when we were. He also joined us for a few meals and said his goodbyes to us after touring the zoo together.

The reason we first went to Sonam's was because it served good coffee, which is nearly impossible to find in the parts of India I've been to. Coffee here is a warm cup of milk with loads of sugar and a bit of instant coffee added. My first cup at Sonam's broke my dryspell of nearly two months. It was so refreshing and delicious.

Andrew and I managed to make it to Mass on the only Sunday we were there. To be honest, Andrew went several times besides that Sunday, and I only made it that once. I have to give credit to the Vatican, because their goal of making Mass similar no matter where you are seems to have been met at this church. Although a few things were different, it was pretty much the same. That was the first time I attended Mass in India. Here in Bolpur, there are no Catholic churches that I'm aware of. My heart aches for it.

On our last morning in Darjeeling. We decided to go for a nice walk as the sun rose, and stumbled upon a family of lively and super agile monkeys. I'm not sure what species they were, but they were impressive. When Loren got to close to this one, she leaned a bit closer to him and showed him her teeth. Sometimes, there's just no need for words.

On one of our morning walks in the main circle. This looks like something from a Cat in the Hat Book or pieces in 'Dog Tetris' that need to be moved around and fit together. Wild dogs out here bring out a range of emotions in me - they often amaze me, make me laugh, make me faun, and make me sad.

Our last day in Darjeeling together. It was an experience of a lifetime. Thank you, Andrew, Mike, Loren, Poppy, Marie, and Joe. Your presence was such a blessing.

Thanks for keeping up, everyone. I love you all and will continue to hold you close.



Saturday, March 13, 2010

Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS) New Blog

Hi Everyone,

CKS recently put together an institutional blog. If you are interested in learning more about the organization I'm interning with, please follow this link:



Thursday, March 11, 2010

For the Architect and Real Estate Agent in All of Us

Hello Dears,

Thanks for keeping in touch, everyone. Like before, all blog comments, emails, skyping and love has meant so much to me. It's all been keeping me afloat.

This is a quick post. A few nights ago Donny, Kim, (brother and sister-in-law) and I had a skype date. It was a lot of fun catching up and exchanging deep reflections about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, among other things. As it turns out, my older brother is a real estate agent and we got into a conversation about houses here.

For your viewing pleasure, Donny, and all the real estate people in the Fam (Andy and Dad), or people out there interested in housing for whatever reason:

This is the headquarters of CKS, where Loren and I are currently interning. It is three stories with five bedrooms, three bathrooms, two kitchens, and a really nice view of the neighborhood from the upper terrace

This building is actually a temple to Shiva, the destroyer. As you've probably already noticed, the colors used here are very vibrant. This goes for clothing, houses, celebrations, food, etc.
This, in fact, is not a temple or a house. It is a goat sitting comfortably on a public bench in the Nalhati train station.

Um...Station Manager? You might want to start by...

Thanks everyone. If this post seems a bit ridiculous, please forgive me. Late night, sleepy, and full after dinner are ingredients for delirious silliness.



Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Few More Updates and More Than a Few Photos

Hello Wonderful People,

Thank you all for continually supporting me. Every drop of encouragement goes a long way here. I love you all and hold you in my thoughts and prayers.

As mentioned in the post before last, a lot has happened in the past few weeks and I'm hoping to keep you informed regarding those experiences.

Before all that, please allow me to share a bit about my internship and upcoming happenings. Things are really coming together here at CKS. Almost all of the masonry, plumbing, electrical, and carpentry works are complete. If I didn't mention before, this NGO is just getting off the ground. A week into Loren's and my time in India, the house now serving as headquarters was purchased. For almost a month, people were coming in and out of the house daily, often requiring our brief attention. Without these small distractions, Loren and I have a lot more space and time to focus on our assignments. It has been absolutely refreshing to be more attentive to my assignments.

We only have a little over one solid week left to work on projects before the end of our official internship with Seattle University. Next Monday, my cousin-brother (as they would say here, referring to a male cousin) Mike will arrive in Kolkata. He will be traveling with Loren, another volunteer named Andrew, and I in Darjeeling and possibly Sikkim. We've been planning this trip for a while now, and I'm so excited to see it all come to fruition. It seems that Mike and I are on our own spiritual journeys these days, and this will be a chance to bring it all together. Along with my older brother Tom and Mike's younger brother Kevin, we were the typical (well, maybe not so typical) roaming band of stinky young people for many years. The band broke up : ) after Mike and Tom got into high school and realized they were hanging out with a ten year old (me), not to say we weren't still great friends - things just happen. What a blessing to have all this come full circle!? So, we will travel until March 22nd, during which Loren and I will visit an NGO. When we return to Bolpur, the last few days will be dedicated to writing up a report about our experience and the role of the NGO in its community, then Loren will pack his things and fly far far away on March 27th. From there on out I will be on my own; not affiliated with Seattle University and all done with the BA in public affairs. Therefore, I will take advantage of this opportunity and stay until May 20th. From then until May 27th I will be visiting my dear friend Abbie in South Korea, where she is currently teaching English. By May 28th I will have reached Seattle safe and sound, and a day before my Ma's B-day.

So, those are the big plans. Of course, there is a lot between now and then. For now, I'm doing my very best to play catch up on organizing a group of international students. The manual for international students is teetering on the brink of completion, and I'm enjoying the final tinkering process.

And now, a bit about assignments -

I'm not clear on how it happened, but last week was a major wake up call. From the start, Puthumai suggested I take a very direct approach to meeting people in hopes of recruiting them for the student group. Now it seems I didn't take the time to fully understand the goal of the group, thus I was less inclined to articulate my intentions when in conversation with potential members. So, before I knew it we had a plethora of friends in Bolpur, and only a fraction of them were international students. I got a bit caught up with maintaining relationships with these folks, just like I would do at home. It wasn't until Puthumai expressed his concerns for the project that I realized how flawed and unfocused my approach was. At home, I don't have much of a filtering mechanism for choosing who to or not to spend time with. Only recently have I felt comfortable snuffing out relationships that are not in line with my goals here - how bad does that sound? Well, it's a reality here. This place is teeming with people and almost everyone wants to brush up on their English, so a significant portion of the population automatically wants to be friends.

After some serious soul searching and brainstorming, it seemed time to return to the basics, just like at Seattle U. With the helpful advice of the other volunteers, Christine and Loren, I threw together some flyers one evening and haunted the local university campus the following few days. So far, the approach has been a success. The most successful sessions of roaming campus were incursions into the men's international student hostel (dormatory). As a result, I was able to meet some good people from Bangldesh and gather a group for our first meeting, which took place last night. It's a step in the right direction, and better late than never. Although our conversations drifted somewhat from the important topics I hoped to address, it seems with a little more nourishment and care the sapling has potential to flourish. Our meeting time and place for next week has been booked, there's time to rally a few more people. I hope to add balance to the gender ratio - it was only males last night.

There's another project I've been working on, but won't talk much about it. I started teaching two spoken English classes this week. It is a really a nice opportunity for me becuase I'm still seriously considering the Peace Corps, and the last time I was in touch with a recuiter she suggested I gain experience in teaching ESL. Because a BA in public affairs is so broad, it offered minimal to no technical skills that could be put to use as a Peace Corps volunteer. Oh, the price we pay for a B.A. (rhyme not intended).

Below is a bit more about experiences Loren and I have had, if you care to keep reading.

From February 21-24th, we traveled to a town called Narayanpur to visit an NGO known as KNDS. The acronym stands for the villages it supports - Kharia Naba Dignanta Samity. It is a rural development organization which works especially to empower disabled women, men, and children in the area. In addition, it took on multiple projects during the aftermath of Cyclone Aila, which hit last May and ravaged most of West Bengal. Puthumai sent us to assess the organization, further establish a connection between it and KNDS, and to expand our understaning of the role of humanitarian organzations in India - especially in regards to disaster management. It is situated a few km away from the Sundarbans - a large wildlife refuge split between India and Bangladesh and one of the last homes of wild tigers. Don't worry we didn't even enter into the refuge, so no tigers.

KNDS - A Rural Development NGO

It's still not clear to me as to why I posted so many photos. It's overkill, but this just kind of happened and I hope you enjoy them. For now, they'll be left without captions. Those will be added later.