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. 

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