Tuesday, December 17, 2013

India Adventure: initial impressions

One month after moving back to the US from Nairobi, I embarked on another adventure.

At the airport. Here we go.
I flew through Zurich and Mumbai to Bangalore, a city in South India that has been "home" to my friend Sowmya for the past few years.

Sowmya, another American yoga teacher, Maddie and their Taiwanese and Indian colleagues are transforming the lives of adults, and special needs youth and their families through yoga, dance, energy healings, and art instruction. Their week is full of classes - some are taught at Sowmya and Maddie's home where I am staying, while others take place at businesses and schools. Profits from the classes will be used to start a nonprofit organization Prafull Oorja.

Members of the Prafull Oorja team.
I got to assist Sowmya with a yoga class taught to three autistic children under the age of ten. I've also gotten to take a yoga class from Maddie, and a meditation class from Sowmya. Both classes were taught on their private rooftop space that overlooks residential Bangalore.

Sowmya's meditation class.
Other than yoga, the other constant in my life this week has been Bangalore's many street dogs and free roaming cows. Sowmya introduced me to her friend Shilpa who volunteers for the Bangalore nonprofit Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA). Shilpa and I walked her two former street dogs one morning, and then enjoyed tea and breakfast back at her house. 

Shilpa's dog Joey Tribbiani, so named because when she first brought him in off of the street all he did was eat and pass gas.
Shilpa told me that street dogs with notched ears have been spayed/neutered and vaccinated by CUPA. Some of these dogs are fed by good samaritans. Others have been adopted (and collared) but are left to roam free because they are used to roaming and are dirty. Some of these dogs will accept my vegetarian food offerings, but others continue to nose through the mounds of trash that dot Bangalore's streets. 

CUPA has a van and staff with nets who answer calls from residents who have restrained dogs that need medical care. It is always hard to see a skinny dog nosing through trash, but the physical evidence of untreated injuries is even harder to witness. Shilpa and I are both aware of a grown, skittish dog with a mangled neck. Shilpa thinks someone tied a string around this dog's neck when it was a puppy. The string is now embedded in the dog's neck. I cringe each time I think of this dog, and that is often. I am regularly checking the street where I saw the dog last week, with the goal of capturing it alongside CUPA. Please send this dog your blessings.

Hindus, the largest religious community in India hold cows as sacred. As a result Bangalore's many privately owned motorcycles, cars, "autos", bicycles, and buses are constantly dodging the dairy cows and calves that serenely meander the crowded streets. The cows' owners cannot afford to feed them so they let the animals roam through Bangalore and eat trash. Shilpa told me that when CUPA's vets slice open cows' stomachs to perform surgeries, they find a lot of plastic. Sowmya, Maddie, and I have started bringing nearby cows our compost scraps.

Riding in an auto, Bangalore's version of the taxi.
Since this trip is about relaxation and reconnection, I've been spending a lot of time running. There's a nice park near the house that has paths lined with flagstone. While running during the lunch hour a man sitting on a park bench waved me down and told me it was time to take a break and enjoy lunch. Even though Bangalore is India's richest city (and technology hub) the city's slower pace is more similar to the pace in Kenya than the US.

I'm adjusting to the slower pace as well as the safer environment. It was hard to walk out of Sowmya and Maddie's guarded apartment complex gate on my first night in Bangalore. I couldn't believe that it was safe to take an open-air auto, driven by a stranger, on the streets after dark. I couldn't relax in the auto. Walking down the street from where the auto dropped us off to the restaurant we were headed towards was a challenge. I'm now able to walk down the street in Bangalore alone after dark, but not as comfortably as I might have done before living in Nairobi.

Another difference from Nairobi is that Bangalore homes are enclosed by walls and fences so low that I can see over the tops of them, to the sometimes beautiful architecture. I felt more comfortable when visiting a community on the outskirts of Bangalore, where the new construction is enclosed inside of high walled compounds much like Nairobi.

I went for a beautiful run along curving country roads one day last week. I ran through the heart of a small village where the buildings were painted in mediterranean pastel colors, past young men playing volleyball and cycling who shouted out friendly greetings in what I imagined was the local language, Tamil.

This time it's not just a new language, but also a new alphabet.
I am still haunted by memories of a bony, nursing dog that I saw in this community, that was nosing through a trash heap that was adjacent to a polluted river. Like Nairobi, the streets here often smell of the rivers of raw sewage that are sometimes visible from the road. Plastic trash is everywhere.

My run ended at a religiously affiliated home for special needs women, where Maddie used to teach yoga. Maddie and I were there to attend the home's Christmas Party/talent show. One teenage girl was introduced as a very good dancer. She walked up to the front of the room using a walker, and then sat down in a chair. She danced to a Bollywood song played on CD, while seated in her chair, with a radiant smile on her face. It was the highlight not only of the day, but of my first week in India. It reminded me that India is not just a country with a fascinating history and culture, but a living, breathing, beautiful community.    

Play performed by residents about the birth of Jesus. Photo credit: Maddie
And that was my first week in India.

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