Sunday, June 30, 2019

Rickshaw Shopping in Pune

“Cleanliness becomes important when godliness is unlikely.”
-ad seen in Pune while riding in a rickshaw 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

A week ago we were all meeting up in Chicago to start our trip, and now we are navigating the neighborhoods of Pune together. We are at our halfway point in the trip; next Sunday at this time we will be in the Delhi airport waiting for our flight home. 

No yoga today, but I slept long and well. Breakfast was especially nice because there were vegan “omelettes” for us special people. In addition, there’s always oatmeal and bread with mango jam (made from their own mango trees). This morning I partook in a cup of the French press coffee that gets made everyday. (And I’m still awake as a result...I’ve been falling asleep at night writing my blog but not tonight!)

We had five hours on or own today, so our group took rickshaws into another shopping district, MG Road. It was an easy ride today without the crazy traffic we experienced yesterday. We all got out and regrouped; us three chaperones asked the girls to look at the map and figure out where they wanted to go. 

First stop was an arcade of small shops. Girls found earrings and pants, and I found a swatch of fabric similar to what I saw yesterday. Hopefully, I can get the tailor to make me another shirt with it before I leave.

All of the groups then converged on a small handicraft shop recommended by Sangam. Everyone bought loads of souvenirs, and I managed to do my own shopping! The owner has a Sangam sign in his window, and he was offering everyone discounts. We all left a little lighter on money. 

We then went in search of a music store, which we never found. One of my girls did find a chocolate merengue though! We hunted for a stationary store that ended up being more an office supply store. We tried to find a bead/lace/ribbon store, but that didn’t happen. We did run into another group that told us about a jeweler. We all did a little more shopping there. 

The girls are still practicing their aggressive street crossing techniques. I’ve taken to shouting “aggressive crossing” when we have to start making our way into the street. Traffic never truly stops unless there’s a light, so you’ve got to push out and make everyone stop for you. 

We all met up for lunch at Ram Krishna, where we all had dosas for lunch. We all ended up getting Masala (potato) Dosa or  Cheese & Potato. They were big and delicious. My lemon ginger drink was perfect with it. I’ve only had dosa a few times in Chicago, but this one was so good. Everything tastes better on vacation!

We had a fun rickshaw ride home as we kept catching up to other groups. The drivers were clearly laughing at us a bit, but we didn’t care. On our route, we came across three very large cows sitting in the middle of the road; since cows are sacred, they get the right of way, and all the traffic goes around them. A few minutes later, we ran across a herd of goats being shepherded down the road. 

When we arrived at Sangam (after the driver made a wrong turn), we paid him the 100 rupees for the ride. In the morning, it had cost 92 and Sangam said 100-110 was what we should expect. The afternoon driver tried to charge us 150 rupees, claiming it was 50 each. We had asked him to set the meter, but he never did. 

My city girl self kicked in (and I remembered from our rickshaw video yesterday that they would try to charge us more without the meter), and I refused to give in. The girls looked bewildered, and I told them to give the 100 rupees and walk away. When I looked back, he was gone. Other groups paid the 150, but one driver set the meter and the charge was 85 rupees. While 50 rupees isn’t a lot to us ($.75), price gauging tourists is not a trade to support, especially when we asked for the meter. 

After putting away our purchases, the large group met to prepare activities for a session with the Nividita Guides, a local Girl Guide group that meets at Sangam. Our girls decided to teach the girls “cotton eyed joe,” including dance moves. They all put on their trip shirts and braided each other’s hair the same way. Then it was chai break (every day at 4:30pm).

An hour later, the Nividita Guides came. We all took turns doing our presentations for them. Our girls did a great job teaching the Indian girls (& the other Americans and Canadians) the dance moves. We watched different Indian groups doing dances for us. It was fun to see all the girls trying to include each other. 

Then it was time for dinner, which was Mexican food that we put in a chapatti. So good! And it was someone’s birthday, So we all got cake. They also made a small vegan one. Huzzah! 

The evening concluded with a game of Girl Guide / India jeopardy. The girls got into it, and it’s fun to see them all trying to win. Not to brag, but my group won! 

As I write this, the smoke detector has gone off because the mosquito fogger is pervading everywhere. The less mosquitoes the better. I can’t imagine what Delhi and Agra mosquitoes will be like with the heat. We don’t leave Sangam  til Thursday, and there’s still much to do! 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Menstruation in India

It’s an interesting experience having your period in India. This isn’t about the inconvenience of having a period in summer and monsoon season. 

Even before our trip, I’d been thinking about the reality of having my period in India. We knew a local Girl Scout would be giving us period packs to bring to girls here. I understood a little through the news, the Netflix film “Period,” and the girl who was bringing us packs. 

The reality felt different once I was here and got my period. I feel privileged to have enough money to buy the supplies I need. The idea that women on their period are impure still persists. Since people sort through the trash, we have to put our pads in a special newspaper bag in the garbage can; when people go through the garbage, they know not to open those bags.

Last night was Bollywood night, and we watched “Pad Man.” Based on a real man, it tells the story of an Indian man and his creation of a low cost pad-making machine. He is concerned that his wife, mother, and sister have to separate themselves from the family whenever they have their periods. He seeks, ostensibly, to give them a chance to have those days for themselves, for living. 

The movie is quite a “wonderful” B movie, showing how the women face so much shame for even talking about their periods. He clearly did an amazing thing in real life. Yet, it serves as a perfect example of how a male privileged perspective is problematic. There is very little conversation about changing the wider culture. His machine looks like it had quite an impact, but since it’s his story, this sidelines how the women convince other women to give it a try. 

Just a sidebar blog post, since it’s on my mind. I have to process my thoughts somewhere! 

Neighborhood Navigation & Sari Love

Friday, June 28, 2019 Schedule

On our second full day at Sangam, we had a full schedule:

Wadi Challenge 
Hindi Lesson
Zumba-Bollywood Style
Bollywood movie night

We started at 7am with a yoga session by a local woman. Iyengar yoga is the style I do most, so I loved it. The room was packed, and my back was very happy. 

After breakfast, we were given the Wadi Challenge. The girls were given a map, a list of things to find, and a rickshaw bag that had the address to Sangam and some money. Our task was to walk to the Wadi Neighborhood (about 15 min away) and try to find as many things on the list as we could. 

It was a fun few hours of wandering, and while we didn’t do much on the list, we still enjoyed it. We went on the overpass bridge for a great view of the traffic converging from four or five different roads. We went inside a temple and took a photo with a little girl who wanted one. The girls wanted to go into a clothing department store, and they enjoyed looking at all the different clothes. We might go back there before we leave, if they haven’t gotten their shopping fix the next few days. On our walk back to Sangam, the girls were getting the hang of aggressive street crossing; you’ve got to find a gap in the traffic and go for it!

After lunch we enjoyed a Hindi lesson, which included learning the numbers, alphabet, and colors. They had us do a few games with translation and colors, which taught us how hard it is to learn a language and help it stick. 

The highlight of everyone’s day was the afternoon Zumba Bollywood session. We all sweated through our clothes doing it in the hall without AC, but it was a nice compliment to the morning yoga session. Uzma has chosen a great selection of songs and a variety of new moves to each song. 

After dinner, we gathered in the hall for Bollywood movie night. For the first ten or twenty minutes, they didn’t have the subtitles on, and when they did turn them on, we finally understood what was happening. (See my other post on talking about menstruation in India) Pad Man was a hilarious movie about a man’s attempt to get women access to pads. There were amazing moments in the film (like when he realizes he has to test the pad and comes up with a contraption to wear), but a sad lack of music and dancing! Regardless, it was a film I wouldn’t have known about. 

Saturday, June 29, 2019 Schedule 

Indian Art
Laxmi Rd Tour

Despite having to get up early, the morning yoga session is so great. Today’s was less crowded, probably because it was raining and people stayed up late due to the movie. 

After breakfast, we split up into two groups for Indian Art sessions. A small group did embroidery, but the majority of us did Waldi Art. This type of art originated in two villages (located between Pune and Mumbai), where for hundreds of years, they’ve done paintings on the walls of their houses. I really enjoyed the lesson about how to make people, animals, trees, and sun/moon/stars. We then had an hour to create our own drawing. If only we’d learned how to draw figures like this, I might have lived drawing more growing up. In Waldi art, you don’t have to draw faces (just a circle and color it in) or bodies (just two colored in triangles make a body). 

After lunch, we took rickshaws to Laxmi Road, which is a market area. Since it was Saturday, traffic and crowds were heavy. We had less time as a result and the afternoon was a bit rushed, but we were able to purchase fabrics, try on and buy saris, and buy Punjabis. I wish I would have bought material for some tops, but I was too focused on helping the girls. I did buy a sari, which I like. We then walked through town to a few different places to buy bangles (bought some for my new Saree), bindis (as a married woman, I bought red ones with a little bling) and henna. 

The girls then had to walk around a fruit and veg market and find a particular item. They were given a word in Hindi and a local language. They had to go around and ask if they had the item, not knowing what it was. Some girls found sellers that helped direct them to the right person. Each group was given 10 rupees to buy enough of that item to bring t back to Sangam for the kitchen. It was a pretty great exercise for the girls, and I enjoyed watching them figure it out. 

We then walked to our dinner spot, Archana restaurant, a vegetarian restaurant. We had dal, rice, and potato and cauliflower. So so good. I knew I’d eat great on this trip!

After dinner, we went out to catch the local buses back. Many girls aren’t city girls, and I admit to being a little intimidated, too, by the rush to board the buses. People crammed in, and we kept each other upright by smashing together. We had to change buses once, and I was super grateful we didn’t have to navigate this ourselves. 

Back at Sangam, the tailors arrived, and we all got measured for the saris and punjabis we bought. I’m a few days, they will be delivered to us just in time for our last night celebration. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Welcome to Sangam and Pune

Friday, June 28, 2019

It’s a humid, sticky day, but quiet and peaceful. I’m the distance, the traffic noise reaches us, the persistent honking as vehicles navigate traffic. Inside Sangam, the birds sing and chirp, a cornucopia of sounds. 

Up early today to do morning yoga. Pune is the home of Iyengar yoga, my favorite type. My whole body could use a good long stretch. Before I start today, I need to reflect on yesterday. 

Yesterday was  the first day of our session. We had the morning to relax, and the girls slept well but were still recovering. I woke up at 3:45, but spent a few hours reading under the peace of my mosquito netting. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019 Schedule:

Opening Flag ceremony 
Sangam tour
Event briefing
Intro to Sangam family
Neighborhood walk
Welcome ceremony

At the opening Flag ceremony, all the flags representing those currently at Sangam were placed. Participants come from the US and Canada. Staff come from India, Australia, UK, Burundi, Malawi, Zimbabwe,   and Uganda. Some have been here for years and some are “monsoon volunteers,” just here for a few months. We are the first session of this season, so it’s the first one for the seasonal staff. 

The Sangam tour got under way just as the rain started. First, we had a brief intro on Anu and the creation is Sangam. Then, we donned our jackets and began to walk around the grounds, learning about the history of Sangam (opened in 1966) and the various places of interest (mango trees!). We were all suitably soaked after the tour, but a little rain never hurt anyone. 

We then had a briefing about the week’s events and the new schedule. They welcomed us with Sangam bags and gave us the basic rules and expectations, including our patrols for the week’s responsibilities. We then formally met all the staff and volunteers who look after us. Each one has a different story of what brought them here, but Girl Guiding is at the heart. 

Afternoon chai is already a favorite break. Sweet chai with snacks. Today there should be soy milk for Ashley and I, which will make it even better. 

After chai, we took a walking tour of the neighborhood across the street. We went into a temple for Ganesha (symbolized by an elephant), passed by a Mosque, a Christian Church, and entered another temple. It was interesting seeing all the forms of houses, the wall art, the school. 

We stopped in the home Dara Bai, a woman who worked at Sangam for 50 years. She generously showed us her house and her pride and joy: the kitchen. As we were leaving, she gave us a blessing, which included giving us Kum Kum (red) and Haldi (turmeric) on our foreheads, followed by gifts of sugar candy. 

After dinner, we had the official welcome ceremony. The staff were in the most gorgeous purple and gold sarees. They hired professional photographers, so we didn’t have to fumble with our cameras; we could just be present and enjoy the experience (they smartly took all our phones/cameras to the side during the ceremony). They came around and gave each of us a blessing, which included rice on our forehead, incense, and a garland of flowers. This was then followed by a piece of coconut and sugar. We then each lit a candle. It was such a beautiful ceremony, and I know all of us will always remember it. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Not Everything Goes According to Plan

“Impatient on road
Patient in hospital”
-road sign on the Mumbai to Pune highway 

It started relatively simple: we’d land in Mumbai, grab our luggage, find our shuttle driver, and head to Pune (a 4 hour trip). We’d get here by 7am, have breakfast, and just enjoy the day. It became a series of misadventures that still brought us to Sangam safe and sound. 

First, we arrived an hour late due to a delayed takeoff from Dubai. When our driver found us, he seemed to forget where he parked, so we went up and down elevators until he seemed to realize that we were already on the right floor. 

Second, the shuttle was too small for us and our baggage, so we had to pile up our suitcases all around us with barely enough room for all of us to sit. Our driver wasn’t interested in helping us get the bags in the shuttle (and to be fair, we had a lot), but one of our girls handled it wonderfully! 

It was 5am when we began making our way through Mumbai. People were just starting to come out for work, lining up at bus stops. It was busy traffic, but we seemed to move through the city pretty quickly. I found myself getting emotional. I was finally in India!

Soon we were outside the city and surrounded by trees and mountains and sporadic high rise apartment buildings. The sun came up as we were nearing one of the mountain passes. The highway was full of semis, buses, and cars, and it was slow driving. 

Finally, around 8:30am we made it to Pune in what was a heavy traffic day. It seemed like Sangam would be just around the corner. We were in real India traffic in Pune with people, bikes, mopeds, rickshaws, cars, buses, and trucks all competing for space. It was more entertaining than terrifying. People were confident, no matter their transport, and it was clearly an offensive/defensive strategy that worked for almost everyone. 

We noticed several groups of people marching, men in white, women in saris with potted plants on their heads, Orange a dominant color. After an hour, our driver pulled off to the side of the street, indicating that the road ahead was blocked. He hopped out and went to go discover the problem. 

For the next 45 min, we were in a limbo state in a hot bus, waiting for him to come back and turn the bus back on so we could have AC. Trapped by all our bags, we were getting hot. The staff at Sangam eventually were able to come help our driver figure out how to get us there. It took over two hours of sitting in the bus, then driving around, until finally he dropped us off at the same place. We would have to walk our bags to somewhere a rickshaw could pick us up. 

More Sangam staff came to help with our bags as we crossed the crazy road. They weaved us through the back areas of homes and buildings, bringing us to the main road. 

The Palki festival was in full force and there were easily tens of thousands of people. We weaved our way across the road and through the marchers to where the rickshaws could pick us up. One of the Sangam staff told us that it was a saint day, and people were coming from all over. They start at one temple outside Pune, walk through town, then walk another 14 days, ending at a final temple. 

We were a novelty and many people wanted to take a photo with us. It was so hot, and we were so tired, and the Sangam staff politely told everyone no. Kenya, one of the other chaperones, is from Puerto Rico, and she said it just felt like a normal day to her, but she said all the rest of us were red faced. 

Finally, the rickshaws came, and we took turns getting ourselves and our luggage to Sangam. It wasn’t a long ride, but we weaved through the masses of people walking, resting,and eating. Our drivers just honked their horns the whole time and laughed. Once at Sangam, the staff showed us our rooms so we could use the bathrooms, change, and cool off. We all hadn’t been drinking much water because we weren’t sure when we’d get to a toilet. 

Sangam is a pretty property with a courtyard feel, with a pretty garden and pool in the center. It felt like an oasis on such a hot day. Thankfully, Ashley and I had requested an AC room, which we were immediately thankful to have. The marchers and music continued throughout the afternoon, providing a peaceful soundtrack as we settled in. 

Rice and samosas for lunch were delicious, and we had a brief orientation about the table rules for getting food and cleaning up. It’s a Girl Scout place after all! 

We told the girls they couldn’t sleep until after dinner, so many of them hopped in the pool to cool off. We all lounged in various states of jet lag. At 4, they served chai and a snack, which were also equally refreshing. I tried to elevate my cankels, but I ended up nodding off for a minute. 

We met more people at dinner, but we were all fading fast. The girls went straight to bed, and most of them slept a good 10-12 hours. I tried to Skype or FaceTime with Todd, but it was all a little spotty and the mosquitoes were active. By 8pm, I was asleep under my mosquito net, thankful for sleeping in a bed after two nights on a plane. 

Tomorrow we officially start the planned program, “Essence of India.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Chicago to Mumbai

On Sunday, June 23, 2019 in the afternoon, the group collected at HI-Chicago to start our journey together. Girls came from Illinois, Wisconsin, California, New York, Florida, the Carolinas. One of the chaperones has come from Puerto Rico. Despite a few flight delays, everyone arrived safely. The girls dove right into getting to know each other, and laughter and chatter reached us chaperones, making us smile. 

Our Trip Shirts!
Our group started with a presentation from a local Girl Scout completing her Gold Award. She put together 150 menstruation packs to bring to girls in India, which would allow them to still attend school while on their periods. These reusable cloth pads were hand stitched by volunteers and many items were donated. Our 12 girls stuffed those packs into every nook in their suitcases, and we used an empty duffel bag to pack the rest. Everyone cautiously weighed their bags to make sure they were still under the 50 lb allowance.  

We held our first group meeting, reminding everyone about safety, what to pack in what bag (lithium batteries!), jet lag, and looking out for each other. Girls had excellent and practical questions, which we could mostly answer. 

Our local Chicago area girls planned for a deep dish pizza dinner, so we walked just after the rainstorm to Pizano’s for Chicago style pizza. Then, a walk through Millenium Park to see the Bean and the face fountains. Back at the hostel, girls continued to repack, since we had to check out right away Monday morning. 

After a not very restful sleep, it was breakfast. I love being at the hostel and seeing all the individuals, families, and groups traveling. It’s a wonderful mixture of people and ages. We stowed our luggage and went out into the city. 

Local girls led the way to the first stop: Stan’s and Do-Rite Donuts. I enjoyed two delicious vegan donuts from Do-Rite. After donuts, we went to Navy Pier for a few hours. We did the Ferris Wheel while the weather held out, and just as we exited, the rain came down. It passed quickly enough, so girls were able to go in and out of the pier. 

We then hopped a bus to the Hancock for 360 Chicago and the Tilt experience. I wasn’t keen on the tilt, so I watched as they all got tilted to view the ground below. I haven’t been to the glass floor at the Sears Tower either. I did the CNA Tower in Toronto, and my knees definitely knocked! 

We then boarded a bus back to the hostel, where we all prepped our bags for carryon and checking. Even as an experienced traveler, I can forget things; these girls have various amounts of experience, so lots of reminders were given, some heeded. All of us are on malaria pills and taking them at various stages of the trip, so those needed to be accessible. We had a few minor worries at check-in because girls had brought more than one carryon that they needed to check. One girl forgot to pack her large quantities of sunscreen and bug spray in her packed luggage and lost them in security. 

We flew on Emirates, which is a new airline for me. We all boarded and started choosing our tv/movie playlists from their extensive offerings. While the flight was long (13 hours ish), I managed to sleep decently on and off. I watched three movies I never got to see in the theater, and the vegan meals were great. I’ve always been a lover of airline food. 

While sitting in O’Hare, One girl said,  “I’m kind of excited about jet lag.” When we landed in Dubai, the girls were all in decent stages of awake and not suffering too much jet lag yet. We all wandered around the shopping area of Dubai airport before boarding our short 3 hr flight to Mumbai. 

We land in Mumbai at 2:30am, which is followed by a 4-5 hour bus journey. By the time we get to Sangam in Pune, we will have been traveling for almost 30 hours from hostel door to Sangam. 

One of the girls told me about a speaker she heard once. The woman psychologist had called traveling and doing challenging things outside your comfort zone as good for your brain, terming it “Stretch your rubber bands.” I think this is a great way to look at travel, especially to places like India that will be far different from the US. Despite my travel experience, I know my rubber bands will be stretched!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Girl Scouts Will Travel: From Wyoming to India

In 1986, I was a nervous 7th grade Cadette Girl Scout applying to attend my first Wider Opportunity. I completed my application and found three references. On interview day, I put on my Girl Scout uniform, was driven to the Girl Scout Office, and nervously answered questions about why I wanted to attend National Center West in Wyoming to ride horses for two weeks. Seven months later, I was boarding a plane for the first time and by myself, hugging (and probably crying) my family as I walked though the gate (back then your family could see you to the gate).

For the next five years from 1987-1991, I attended five Girl Scout Wider Opportunities. In 1987 and 1988 I traveled to Wyoming to ride horses. In 1989 I went to Topeka, Kansas for a volleyball camp at the University of Kansas. In 1990 I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In 1991 I studied marine biology in San Francisco. 

1987 Wyoming: Me with Morton

1988 Wyoming: Me with Freeman

1989 Kansas

1990 New Hampshire

1991 San Francisco

Girl Scouts gave me the foundation for a curiosity about the world and a love of travel. As an adult, I studied abroad in England (University of Nottingham) and South Africa, earning my Master’s from Rhodes University in South Africa. I have visited 29 countries and have lifelong friends around the world. 

Since leaving high school, I have been a volunteer for Girl Scouts. I was in Campus Scouts in college, assisted with a Girl Guide troop for a year while I studied in South Africa, volunteered at events, and in 2007 took a group of girls to the WAGGGS World Centre Our Chalet in Switzerland (read that blog!).

Since 2012, I have been volunteering with GSGCNWI on the Global Action Volunteer Team. Our team works to make sure that girls learn about global issues, and we share our love of travel to help inspire girls to see the country and the world. Girl Scouts can still apply to Destinations (formerly called Wider Ops when I was a girl) for travel all around the world. It’s an especially important time for girls to stay connected and educated with issues that effect girls around the world. 

Our Global Action Volunteer Team logo!

One of my bucket list items has always been to visit the WAGGGS World Centre, Sangam, in Pune, India. This summer I finally have that chance, as a chaperone on a GS Destination to India. This trip is for the girls, but I am beyond excited to experience a new country (my #30!) as they do. We will visit Pune, Delhi, and Agra  (Taj Mahal!) over the next few weeks. 

The girls (and one chaperone) fly in from all around the US, and we will meet in Chicago Sunday to start our journey together. Our local girls have planned some activities in Chicago for Sunday & Monday, and then we are off to India Monday night!

I hope you will follow along as we go on this journey to India!