Kemper Outdoor Adventure

One hot afternoon at the end of June, we found ourselves set off for another adventure to fulfill out Kansas City Passport to Adventure book.  This time we stepped into the scenic landscape near Lake Jocomo in Blue Springs, Missouri at the Kemper Outdoor Education Center.  It was clear they had amazing day camps where kids were canoeing on a pond andkemper-outdoor friendly camp counselors aimed us on path to hike.  The path took us over a marshy area with a long wooden boardwalk and lead to prairie and forest areas.  With the heat and hungry irritability, we decided we had seen enough and retreated to the cabin to collect our passport stamp.  Inside the kids not only got a stamp, they got to select a small nature figurine.  Parker got a turtle while Jones picked up a plastic ant to take home and fool Mom when she walked in the door.

We were also instructed to not miss the hoofed animal enclosure just a short ride around the lake.  There Jones fed an antelope through the fence with some other patrons who brought carrots.  Since Parker’s mood reflected the heat of the day, I required her to ride with her eyes closed home from Kemper (in hopes she would nod off and get some much-needed rest.)  Jones softly sang a lullaby about stop lights to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle” to her the whole way home.

Kemper Outdoor and the hoofed enclosure were two unique finds for outdoor fun in Kansas City.  I would take advantage of participating in the activities they offer, enjoying another hike or returning to check on the antelope up close – this time I will know to bring some carrots.kemper-outdoor3

Catskills: Part II

The day of the wedding finally arrived.  I readied my little girl to her finest curled perfection and dressed her in the fall colored dress my mom made for the occasion.  I left Parker with my husband and dad so the ladies could all hurry off to my sister’s cabin in the woods.  Thank goodness she happened to pull up the country road behind us to follow her through the winding twists and turns we would never have found on our own.

Heather was radiating with bridal thrills and couldn’t wait to get the ceremony and celebration started.  My sister-in-law immediately went to work on her hair spraying, twisting and pinning.  Her soon to be sister-in-law prepared mimosas, because what bride prep wouldn’t be complete without some champagne?  My sister’s NY family/friends had made amazing individual gift bags of products, I Wedding Cabinshamelessly would never be able to justify buying on my own.  Although I had already gotten dolled up back at the hotel, I wanted to start over with my new colors…  Instead I took pictures and waited by my sister as her cup holder.

Once hair was set and make-up applied, my mom assisted Heather with putting on her dress.  While dress shopping I warned my sister not to find one too fast and to let Mom help with putting it on.  I remembered back to my own dress shopping, my mom was loving trying on dresses more than me.  Not just looking at them, the actual helping wrestle into them, lacing, zipping and adjusting.  I felt like I was taking a favorite hobby from her when I decided on one dress.  I knew that moment between my mom and sister was a special one, the final time she would be zipping up a daughter, I’m sure one or both of them had a tear.  She emerged from the bedroom, adorn with her beautifully simple satin gown to admiration.  Her soon to be mother-in-law helped with the finishing sentimental touches; jewelry from each of the grandmas who wouldn’t be physically present for the day.  Upon final observation at herself in the mirror the bride reported “Damn, I’d marry that.”

All of the guests were present when we arrived at her fiancé’s uncles’ cabin.  It was just the atmosphere they had planned, immediate family and a few close city friends on a cool fall day.  The party was underway as many guests had already poured drinks and were enjoying each other’s company on the deck.  Heather did a little touch-up in the bedroom before meeting our dad on the side of the house ready for her big entrance.  Guests found their seats, Parker and her cousins were ready in their claimed row holding hands.

My sister was stunning and my dad proud as they walked through the row of pumpkins, up the steps and down the aisle towards her waiting groom.  I wondered if he was as shocked as we all had been when she decided to wear a veil, if he was it was masked by the expression of pure happiness when he saw her.  The ceremony was officiated by her fiancé’s uncle, and he spoke to how honored he was to be asked and to be able to share his cabin for the event.

Following the ceremony, traditional wedding pictures were taken.  I acted as the photographer, keeping within the conditions they didn’t want strangers as part of the day at all.  They report they love the pictures, however, it was crazy anxiety provoking to know the pictures they will look back on FOREVER from this day are

I promise there were a lot more wedding pics and they are my sister's to have.

I promise there were a lot more wedding pics and they are my sister’s to have.

ones I am responsible for or responsible for messing up.   And simultaneously with pictures the party began.  A full bar, lawn games, socializing, adventures in the woods and crafts for kids, appetizers and dancing on the deck.  Once pictures were taken, some suits were replaced with jeans.  My husband also wanted to participate in dressing down, except his hodge podge of what he happened to bring must have been frightening to our company of high-class New Yorkers.  Imagine dress shoes, funky dress socks, light blue shorts and a black college hoodie.

With my sister living half a country away, I was removed from all she had been doing with wedding details.  Her attention to including grandparents into the day was thoughtful testament to how much they both appreciate their families.  On her bouquet was a thread of small pictures of four sets of grandparents. Wedding Day Heather hand painted wine, martini and brewery glasses with trees and fall leaves especially for the day.  Inside the cabin it was clear she spent a huge effort on exactly how she wanted the tables to appear with table cloths, runners, flower arrangements, and candle holders created the day before out of split logs and gourds.  And just like there was no professional photographer, there was no professional caterer, although you would think the fajita dinner was professionally done.

Since Parker already adores her uncle and his family, I was thrilled she would be able to meet his other significant family there.  It was a magical evening to watch her and her cousins interact with his family as if they had known each other their whole lives.  Throughout the day and into the night laughter and happiness came from two people and their families, the pieces fit just as they were meant to.  It was comfortable, intimate and personal just as they had been planning.

On Sunday, we figured since we had made our way to the Catskills of New York, we would need to visit Woodstock.  Disappointed by the fact that the actual farm where the hippie festival took place is not even near Woodstock, we still enjoyed the town, the hippie shops, hippie restaurants and hippie signs warning to STOPFracking.  My husband, parents and child found our way to the Woodstock Flea Market where we searched for an inexpensive replacement wedding band for my husband and settled for a hippie-toy guitar for Parker.  What could be more fitting as a souvenir from Woodstock?  We made one last rendezvous with the married couple before they headed back to New York City.  It would only be a few more days before we’d see them again for more wedding celebrations back in Kansas City.

The Woodstock Flea Market

The Woodstock Flea Market

 

 

Catskills: Part I

What do you mean you pack for him? The criticism was at the forefront of my mind as the cabin doors were closing and I stared at the vacant seat across the aisle from me.  I had chuckled at the idea of my friend packing for her husband on their trips, believing a grown man should be doing this for himself.  Except in the moment when my husband was still maneuvering TSA and our flight was securing its doors, I wished I had just packed his bag.

We arrived at the airport early, like the kind of early I will only wake for travel.  We were traveling as a family with my parents to my sister’s wedding in the Catskills of New York.  To say I was eager to get there is minimizing the feeling, I was ecstatic, the wedding celebrations were all I had been thinking about for weeks.  The anticipation of a year and a half engagement, ten-year relationship and all the suspense in sharing details for where in the world the ceremony would be had amounted to the peak of mania.  Who would have known the airport would have been buzzing with business before six o’clock AM, lines seemed longer than I’ve seen them in years for our convenient Midwestern airport. My parents and I adjusted baggage, ensured my four year-old Parker was holding a hand and prepared to find our way to the terminal.  My husband slowed with a look of confused concern, “I have to check my bag.” He borrowed a garment bag for the trip so that he could carry his suit neatly for the wedding.  My mom stepped in to reassure him the bag can be a carry-on and will fit in the overhead bin.  The concerned expression continued as he realized even if the size would fit he made packing errors which would make it impossible to bring it as a carry-on and began making his trek to the airline counter.

Security agents and airline personnel were as pleasant and accommodating as a box of hungry hedgehogs.  We watched him through the glass standing in the TSA line making slow progress to get closer to where we were.  I boarded the plane with Parker and my parents knowing my husband had not yet taken his shoes off but was literally a few sprints from where I sat.  The stewardess ignored my attention seeking as if it was impossible to stop checking seat belts to address a customer.  When she finally returned to my panic, she frankly reported “The plane is finished boarding.”  On the phone, my husband’s irritation was growing as he explained how they had only one line to accommodate security screens and chose him for a random search.  He added he was one of six people getting slowed down by processes who were meant to board the same flight.

By the time the flight was in the air I was fighting tears, all the excitement I had building about this amazing weekend were starting with a major absence.  I didn’t know what to be more mad about: TSA for only having one line to screen people, the airline for not ushering people who needed to get to flights, the fact that more than 2 oz of body wash is treated like gun powder to carry onto the plane, my perfectly-planned-for-travel pixie pants creating a sad muffin top or that I should have just packed the damn bag and avoided this.  By the time we got to flying over Washington DC (our connecting airport) and circling over for twenty minutes, then landing only to taxi for an additional 15 minutes; I decided my aggression was focused on US Airlines for insisting we had an on-time departure from Kansas City and leaving behind 6 passengers the 35 wasted minutes could have helped.

There was nothing I could do to remedy the situation so I focused on making sure Parker was comfortable with the flying experience, thankfully she laid her head in my lap and caught up on the early morning missed sleep.  One more quick flight and we landed in Albany for the long anticipated weekend.  We drove south down the interstate and then west to our destination in the Catskills.  I don’t think I had clearly envisioned what it would be likeIL01 in upstate New York, though I would have been wrong in a lot of ways.  The rolling hills of bright autumn leaves, picture perfect streams and creeks in the valleys all seemed familiar and foreign at the same time.  And even though my searches on maps and for rental properties showed limited occupied area, I guess I still imagined New York as a heavily populated land mass and was shocked at how rural living looked in the state.  The rich fall colors still clung to some trees when we arrived and by the end of the weekend most seemed to have fallen.

We checked into our hotel and waited for my sister and her fiancé to meet us after their wedding prep errands.  She was radiating energy to see us, screams of excitement and long tight-squeezing hugs.  Even her fiancé, with a typical all about business demeanor, showed a glowing smile of enthusiasm which stayed joyfully plastered throughout the weekend.  We followed them into Phoenicia, the nearest town where the main street consisted of a few restaurants, some gift shops and one pitiful grocery store.  My sister pointed out where we would be eating for dinner on Friday night at Brio’s.  I quickly realized the Brio in the Catskills is nothing like the Brio in Kansas City and I seriously overestimated the formality of my wardrobe.

The infinitely happy couple had dreamed of having their wedding ceremony in this outdoorsy romantic location.  They wanted their vows to be spoken in front of immediate family on the deck of his uncles’ resort like cabin retreat from city life.  All of the planning and organizing was finally coming to fruition, they were busy with final arrangements and checking into their own secluded cabin to meet up with us later.

In the haze of fatigue and frustration from the missed flight fiasco I omitted the discussion of plans for the evening and focused on the relief of knowing my husband would be flying out on the next available flight in the morning.  (This was paid for by the airline for recognizing their error in IL02abandoning six passengers.)  Finally when I clued in that dinner plans needed to be created a quick search lead me to finding a restaurant my sister and fiancé had never tried in their trips to the upstate getaway.

We met up with them for dinner at Peekamoose, an adorable spot further up 28.  The restaurant had a dining room, a playroom, a tavern and a patio off the side where you could enjoy a complimentary s’more after a meal.  We sat in the tavern where unique furniture, an eclectic grouping of artwork and tree trunks tastefully strung with white lights made for cozy gathering spaces.  The food exceeded expectations

A meal described as the cheese part of ravioli without the confinement of the pasta. Yum!

A meal described as the cheese part of ravioli without the confinement of the pasta. Yum!

starting with appetizers, bread and spreads.  I even took a picture of my meal, uncharacteristic of me, in the pleasure of the restaurant, the trip and the pending event.  Topping of the décor and the food was the entertainment of the night.  My daughter, deliriously excited and tired, interacting with her equally excited uncle.  At some points it was difficult to tell who was laughing more and by the end it was contagious to other tables at Peekamoose.

peekamoosegroup

Parker and I went directly to bed after dinner and both slept a solid twelve hours.  In the morning when we were nearly ready my parents came into the hotel room talking on speaker phone with my sister.  She added her fiancé’s uncle to the conversation to provide directions to the cabin where we would help them with wedding set-up.  He described turns, streets, crossing bridges, up hills, down hills and crossing back bridges.  IL04Between mascara brushes I watched my parents listening intently as the directions continued to mount.  Our morningIL05 chore was to pick up pumpkins before going to the cabin.  We found a market on the side of the highway to buy pumpkins and have a photo-op with a bear.  Then fearing my parents didn’t write a thing down in addition to no cell phone reception in these remote parts of New York, I didn’t think we would make it to the cabin.  To my surprise, like a comedic skit about two people who have been married for forty years, they bantered about the directions all the way up the mountain following my mom’s lead until we pulled into the driveway of the cabin – not making a single mistake.

Sister, fiancé and uncle were outdoors and dirty to greet us in the middle of potting flowers for the deck.  Not long after we arrived the fiancé’s family, also traveled the day before from Kansas City, got to the cabin.  After all the greeting and explaining why my hubby was not present, everyone jumped into tasks of moving, mowing, and decorating.  The cabin in the woods had a stunning kitchen, a magazine quality bathroom with soaker tub and the deck opened to views of a pond complete with a fountain.  My dad took my husband’s travel delay as an opportunity to escape the wedding prep and we left for lunch at the Phoenicia Diner and then a trip back to Albany with Parker.  At the Peekamoose I was impressed by the emphasis on local foods, then at the diner I realized this was just the norm in the area.

There was no chain restaurants and no franchise locations near the Catskills, it was a refreshing reprieve from my normal.  Except on the way back from Albany, after being reunited with my husband, I needed to kill my chai craving and made my dad stop at Starbucks.  I guess others felt the same withdrawal from franchise addictions because it was the longest lines and wait of any Starbucks I have been to.

By the time we made it back to the cabin, wedding preparations were complete for the day and there wasn’t anything to do except wait for dinner.  My sister was proposed to on her fiancé’s birthday and together they thought it would be fitting to get married on her birthday.  Since there wouldn’t be an opportunity on Saturday for the birthday celebration, we all planned to gather for a thirtieth birthday dinner in town on Friday night.  I left the dress I had brought hanging in the closet and opted for a more casual “weekend in the woods,” attire.  At Brio, our long table of family enjoyed beer and pizza.  Parker plopped herself down in the chair by her cousins where she colored and played contently throughout the meal.  My sister opened gifts and blew out candles.  It was clear her thirtieth birthday would be an unforgettable celebration and it was barely getting started.

IL06

Next: The Wedding Day

 

 

Bula! From Fiji

I met T. Jay and Crystal, also students from K-State when we entered the study abroad program and all chose to attend James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. Despite being nearly strangers, we figured it would be fun to travel together to get there and make our journey there an adventure. In order to get from Kansas City to Townsville, this required six flights, so we decided to take a break for a few days to explore Fiji and then another quick sight seeing tour of Sydney.

8 February 2003:
Bula!
We have finally arrived in Fiji after 18 hours of traveling. The flight to Fiji was the most uncomfortable ride I have ever been on where I was sandwiched between two guys for eleven hours straight. The plane was huge and completely jam packed. Every seat was taken and mostly by college students on their way to study abroad in Australia. Our flight arrived in Fiji at 5:30am and we finally left the airport a little after 7:00.

-cabinA short drive took us to turn at the McDonalds, down a long eroded street and then dirt road to the Club Fiji Resort. We checked in and were lead to one of the furthest cabins on the land (room 24). It’s small, no air conditioning, no phone and no TV – it’s the most rustic we’ve ever been and it’s perfect.

Crystal and I showered the plane off and sat down near the beach to write in our journals. A guy raking the sand stopped to talk to us, his name is Neeko and it turned out he is the activities everything person. He talked us into snorkeling today after breakfast (which really didn’t seem like breakfast since we have been awake for so long).

We met up with Neeko at 10 and he took us on a boat straight from the bay our cabin is on out to a reef. The boat had water in the bottom and a fish swam around inside of the boat, Neeko said he caught it yesterday. The reef, coral and fish were all beautiful, it makes me look forward to learning to scuba dive when we get to Australia. The schools of teal and silver fish that shimmer in the light were my favorite.

After snorkling we showered, yet again, and headed to the center of Nadi for some shopping. The stores are pretty much the same as many islands I have been to, and sellers follow shoppers harassing for a sale. One guy stopped me on the sidewalk and started a conversation. Initially I believed him to be another shopper until he insisted we go with him to a particular store. I dunno if T. Jay wanted to or if he didn’t know any better because he followed him, and we followed T. Jay.

kavaThe guy lead us straight to the end of the store and instructed us to take off our shoes and sit on the mat. We then participated in a kava ceremony in preparation for trying the drink. Kava is made from dried and ground kava root, then mixed with water in a ritual fashion. Everyone in the circle took turns sipping the drink, it really didn’t taste like much – water with a powdered substance in it. It made my tongue numb for a minute and I supposed if you drink more it causes a high effect.

From where I am sitting, looking out across the bay I can see the sleeping giant. Another traveler, Canadian named Murry, pointed it out to us. It really appears like the ridges of the hills are an outline of a man from head to toe. So far, I love Fiji. The people are friendly and the environment is beautiful. It is fun observing the birds, their calls and the unique vegitation. I don’t know what’s planned for tomorrow, I do know as long as we are in Fiji it will be wonderful.
-giant

Gallery

Quieting the Travel Bug

This gallery contains 10 photos.

I hate to set goals with deadlines for myself, I tend to miss deadlines, so by avoiding setting deadlines I can prevent the disappointment of not meeting them.  Still, I broke my rule and set a goal to achieve by … Continue reading

Lost the Fiesta and I’m Not Cursed

So many sports fanatics can relate to the roller coaster of emotions which come with cheering for players, sports and your team. The first time I declared myself to a team was with the Minnesota Vikings, most of it had to do with being oppositional about moving to Kansas City. Prior to this I had only seen football as a slow-paced game where huge men hog piled over a ball. Luckily as my knowledge of the positions, plays and players grew I came to respect the game and love watching the sport.

My real true passion for cheering a team came as a freshman at K-State in the fall of 2000. It would have been near impossible not to get drawn into the sport with the majority of the campus and community clad in purple every Saturday. I remember eagerly turning to the sports page of the university newspaper to measure the rise and fall of our ranking each week dependent upon the game before. And the very first and only game I attended during the season happened to be one of the most memorable games I have ever gotten to witness. K-State played a rival team Nebraska for their last home game, by the end in heavy snow conditions. I stood with my brother, sister-in-law and their friends with heated pouches in my mittens and boots to watch Nebraska get defeated. In my very first game not only did I finally get to participate in the Wabash, I got to storm the field with several thousand other deliriously chilled K-Staters.

I was hooked, college football was cemented into my college experience.

k-state tickets

It wasn’t until my senior year when I finally bought my first set of season tickets. My roommate, Sheila, and I attended every game and dedicated ourselves to standing, yelling, high-fiving and absorbing every second of every play. We enjoyed the football as much as our own pre-football festivities with a Game-Day CD blasting our Saturday tailgating anthems. Sheila and I were so invested in the games I remember standing near tears devastated at the loss to Marshall, holding onto hope until the very last second ran off the clock. I picture it raining that afternoon as we stood shocked looking at the scoreboard, maybe that is just how my memory puts me during that crummy emotional state. kstate

Despite the loss to Marshall, K-State went on to have a great season and was invited to play in the Fiesta Bowl. Being an irresponsible new graduate I hopped in with Sheila and a group of friends to road trip to Tempe, Arizona for the game. The whole trip was an adventure from the walkie-talkie game of “Would You Rather” I am happy there is no record of, to the hotel suite way too many of us shared, to the dangerously ingenious ride back after celebrating New Years in the downtown area. The spontaneous trip would have all been worth it, had it not been for the bowl game. K-State entered the stadium with odds against them, a fresh accusation against our prized quarterback overshadowed their ability on the field. K-State lost to Ohio, and I haven’t been able to smile at a Buckeye since.

Fast forward to this year, even a few hours away from Manhappiness, I continue to be a dedicated football fan eagerly anticipating every Saturday with more and more purple added to my wardrobe every year. My friend Crystal and I had decided to abandon mommy duty and drive to visit our friend, JoJo, in Texas. Simultaneously as K-State won games week after week and worked their way higher in the rankings we heard from JoJo, our mini-vaca happened to be the same weekend K-State would be coming to town and she could get us tickets. BEST NEWS EVER!

K-State continued their season undefeated and was finally placed at number 1 in the rankings as we made our way to Waco. JoJo showed us around Waco, introduced us to her favorite places to eat, drink and karaoke, she took us hiking, to the farmers market and to the Baylor campus where she is employed. We merrily enjoyed our freedom from changing diapers and wiping up slobber to have adult conversations for hours on end. And then Saturday evening rolled around, we walked the entire loop around the Baylor stadium and I was amazed at the personally labeled parking spaces and the high-end tailgating equipment sported by the alums. I was used to seeing cornhole, washers and ladder golf at tailgates, not high-definition flat screen TVs.

Fortunately we ran into a familiar sound and crowd finding ourselves at the K-State band playing in the parking lot just before going in. JoJo had gotten us tickets in the visitors section and I was pleased to see so many football fans in purple ready to cheer on the undefeated season. In front of us stood a group of K-State frat boys in button up shirts, khaki shorts and top-sider deck shoes – kind of laughable – yet they were for the good team so it was okay.

Baylor began playing better than K-State from the very beginning and I wasn’t worried. I had faith all of the excitement I had leading up to this game, driving all the way from Kansas City to Waco wouldn’t be for nothing. And then the game just kept getting worse. The refs made some horrible calls where the entire purple crowd cursed and screamed to the field. One of the frat boys in front of me appeared so infuriated, his face matched his shirt when he barely took a breath in his yelling commentary. I almost felt the need to stop my attacks on the ref to comfort the kid and prevent an early heart attack.

At halftime K-State went to the locker room behind in scoring 17:28, my confidence in the win never wavered. “They are a better second half team,” “Snyder is setting them straight now,” “They can do this.” I audibly reassured myself and anyone else near who was listening. And when the second half started, it didn’t get better. I sensed the desperation of thousands of K-State fans witnessing this on television watching the dreams of a perfect season vanish to a team we were/are better than, except I was watching it in person. In the second half Baylor continued to score while K-State floundered. With each Baylor touchdown the green people celebrated with greater enthusiasm jumping and dancing as the stadium played House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”

Over and over it played until the score reached 24:52. “Pack it up pack it in, let me begin…” I tried my best to sooth the lump in my throat and avoid looking at the Baylor crowd. I could imagine the excitement of being a student in attendance at the game to witness their team crushing the number one team in the country, at the same time already beginning to grieve the loss of the number one spot for my team.

I was so sour and depressed after the game we retired back to JoJo’s and went to bed early. Crystal and I got up before the sun on Sunday morning to flee Waco and return to Wildcat country. “Pack it up, pack it in…” popped onto our XM Radio channel within hours of our drive resulting in both of us lunging to turn it off.

K-State went on to play an outstanding season, never regaining a number one ranking, non-the-less they were invited to once again play in the Fiesta Bowl. Despite the temptation of making the trip to Phoenix, I was beginning to wonder if I carried a curse for away games. Logically I know I don’t have any sort of power to control the outcome by simply attending the game, and still the superstition concerned me.

I was glued to the TV to watch the opening kick-off return to see Oregon score against K-State. Unfortunately for K-State the Ducks took over, and I was reassured to know I’m not cursed.

Beaches, Temples and Whores – Oh My!

By this time in our Indian travels I was as accustomed as I could get to standing out in the crowds.  I did my best to be respectful of the culture, be polite and not act as though my values were better than what I was observing around me.  I was also feeling more comfortable and safe in my foreign surroundings, even with a language barrier I was gaining sense of who was trustworthy and who was trying to take advantage.  We had been cautioned before the trip and learned a lot during the month about Indian men – not all Indian men are this way!  We had been told when walking in crowded areas to cover our chests so they wouldn’t be grabbed, one of us could have also used a warning about watching her behind as it got slapped by a man on a moped.  We studied the disparities between the laws to provide women with rights/protection and what actually happens with Indian marriages, abuse of women and trafficking.  http://inspiredlivingkc.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/grassroots-for-women-children/

Not only do some Indian men look down upon females in their own society, we learned how Indian men judge American women to be promiscuous.  We get this reputation since American television and movies display women as highly sexualized and dressing provocatively, while Bollywood films don’t contain even a kiss.  While we drew onlookers where ever we went, I tried not to even consider they viewed me as a whore simply for being an American.  The only time this idea of how Indian men view American women came blaring with sirens was on our last weekend in West Bengal.

Our final excursion from Kolkata, during the month in India, was to Puri for beaches and temples.  Our instructor traveling with us from the U.S. was exhausted from the month’s adventures and hosting the students so she sent us with our Indian tour guide Amrit.  He had traveled with us on another trip to Darjeeling and on some sightseeing around the city. (https://inspiredlivingkc.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/one-weekend-not-long-enough-darjeeling/).  “Come, come please.”  He would scurry us along like his little ducklings down sidewalks or through the train station “Come, come.

Our hotel in Puri was right on the beach and ocean fun was exactly what we needed after sweltering in the Indian summer temperatures.  It was slightly confusing for a group of American girls to prepare for what to wear to the beach and for swimming since India is modest and Indian women keep covered.  While many of us had bathing suits, we all kept clothed with pants and shirts for our water recreation.

Amrit reported there to be a dangerous undertow right off the shore and hired 3 lifeguards for protection.  These men were no Baywatch studs, middle-aged and scrawny, these lifeguards wore shelled cone hats tied to their heads in order to specify their hired rescuer status.  The guards stood over the American girls in the water and quickly put a hand on their bodies, even with no legitimate threat of drowning.  Once I saw this happening I chose to only dip my toes in so I could avoid unnecessary wandering hands.

Just being near the ocean and out of the city of Kolkata was wonderful.  We spent all afternoon breathing in the sights and sounds of the beach for a change.  As with so many beaches there were people who approached trying to sell something.  Some of us bought necklaces, massages and even rides on a decorated camel.

View from The Pink House

During our stay in Puri there was a restaurant down the beach from our hotel called “The Pink House.”  The eatery was a patio area covered with a thatched roof.  They served fresh fish and had a mural of Bob Marley on one wall.  From where we ate there was a picturesque view of a gate towards the ocean.

Beyond the beach in Puri, we went into the market area for shopping.  And getting the chance to be tourists instead of students for the weekend, we chose tourist type activities like taking a boating excursion on Chilika Lake with over 200 dolphins living in it.  Our boat of caucasian females quickly became the attraction on the lake and while our cameras were aimed at the surfacing dolphins, the other boating sightseer’s had their cameras pointed at us.   http://www.go2india.in/orissa/satapada.php

Our other tourist activity was visiting the temples and ruins around the area.

Sun Temple

Raja-Rani Temple

Udayagiri Khandagiri Caves

Monkeys at Udayagiri Khandagiri Caves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During our stay in Puri we were invited by Amrit’s friends to come for lunch.  I don’t remember thinking too much about the invitation before we arrived.  We arrived at an apartment on the beach where there was a small kitchen with a cook preparing our meal.  We were chauffeured into a bar area with swinging doors and crab netting hanging from the walls for sailor themed decor.  Our hosts encouraged us to sample the Indian beer and mix drinks however we desired.  Finally a chance to relax with a few beverages and my new fellow student friends, or so I innocently thought at first.

As we settled in and began socializing with our hosts my curiosity lead me to wonder why we were really invited over?  Turns out Amrit’s friends were two well-off men from the city staying at their beach apartment where they travel to on weekends.  The men were likely the same age as the fathers of most of the students in our group, and both admitted they were married.  One man proudly stated the apartment is off-limits to their wives.  At this point I quietly put down my beverage and tried to reserve my judgments for the remainder of the visit.  Did these men think they had won the jackpot with eight promiscuous American women in their bachelor pad?  Did they think I was a Pretty Woman who stepped out of American Pie to act out my Basic Instinct?

Though I sensed it to be odd, nothing happened during lunch to confirm my suspicions.  However, Amrit scheduled another meeting with these men before we headed back to Kolkata the last day.  This time we were to meet them at their country club.  When we entered the building, we were greeted by Amrit’s friends and some head people at the club including a president and manager.  Confusion set in, in my mind we were just students, nobody important enough to draw attention from important people…

Our group moved upstairs to a room where we would be eating lunch.  Us students observed the room quickly and looked at each other, the bathroom and closet as you entered the room along with two headboards nailed to one wall indicated this was a hotel room.  The furniture had been cleared out and large clothed tables had been put in place for the meal.  More guests began filing in and man after man introduced himself to us, soon the men out numbered our group of female students.  Similar to the meeting before alcoholic beverages were encouraged, except this time most of us declined.  Concerned by the hotel room and all male company, one of the girls asked Amrit to clarify what “country club” meant to Indian’s.  He informed us that Indian clubs sometimes have golf, pools, tennis and other sports along with rooms to stay (sort of like buying a timeshare to a hotel/resort.)

During the meal we did our best to make small talk with our hosts, some of the men hardly spoke English or were very difficult to comprehend.  Finally when the visit was over we all made our way out to our awaiting vehicles.  One of the hosts from the country club came running out after us to ask if everything was okay because he had seen a trail of blood.  All of us looked around assuming it was unrelated to us, except the last student to get into the vehicle.  She hadn’t realized she was bleeding despite a heavily dropping cut.  It wasn’t until the country club was in the rear view mirror when she finally explained what had happened.

Before we had left the building, one by one we used the restroom and then trickled outside towards the vehicles.  She was the last student and regrettably none of us realized we had abandoned the buddy system and left her inside.  One of the male guests from our lunch tried to corner her and kiss, she reacted in a haste and somehow managed to cut herself on the door in her escape.

Five years after my travels to India I am still trying to understand what that lunch, with grown men in an empty hotel room was all about.  Their intent in the invitation was unclear.  I feel conflicted between what my obvious fear was during the day, and not wanting to unnecessarily judge a situation to be negative out of fear.  I guess part of me just wants to hang on to hoping people I encounter are honest and sincere towards me.

Puri was quite an adventure.  The Indian beaches and temples were worth the trip, though, we were not American whores.

This post is part of a series I am writing about my month abroad in Kolkata, India to study the social welfare systems.  Feel free to look back on previous posts – here are a few:

https://inspiredlivingkc.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/my-indian-summer/

https://inspiredlivingkc.wordpress.com/2012/05/27/step-one-assimilation-to-traffic/

https://inspiredlivingkc.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/lessons-in-love-the-mother-teresas-homes-kolkata/

https://inspiredlivingkc.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/when-it-rains-it-floods/

Abode of Peace

Rabindranath Tagore was a name I had never heard of before visiting India.  Not that I know all of the Nobel Prize recipients, or have heard of all the top influential poets, and I definitely don’t recognize every major historical leader’s names.  After stepping foot in Kolkata, it’s impossible to ignore the name Tagore.  He was a philosophical and spiritual leader through his literature and later through his University and world traveling.  His influence in West Bengal is undeniable, though his lessons in music and poetry continue to ripple throughout the world.

His family’s home is now a museum in Kolkata which we got to tour early in our travels to India.  Several weeks into our excursion we took a train to Bolpur and Santiniketan.  Tagore and his family traveled this same path many times as Santiniketan was their family’s second home.  Tagore’s father actually gave the name to the town with the translation meaning abode of peace.

Visva Bharati – Banyan Tree

Rabindranath Tagore built a school, which grew into a university in Santiniketan with the principle of learning with nature – or utilizing outdoor classrooms.  He named his school Visva Bharati and aimed at joining India with the world in arts, languages, philosophy and literature at his campus of banyan trees.  Not far from his university was another Tagore treasure we got to witness.  It is a river gorge with picturesque trees and red sandy earth, a scene Tagore used to treasure to escape to write.

Visva Bharati – Sewing House

Tagore’s Prayer House on campus

Banyan Tree

Tagore’s River Spot

Rural Bolpur, West Bengal

Rural Bolpur, West Bengal

In Bolpur, our group of students met with women who participated in micro credit programs.  Our teacher translated their statements and our questions to discuss how the system works and how it has helped them.  The women appeared to be full of pride to talk about how they are given a small loan in order to create a business and better their family’s

situation.  The women work to repay their loans within a year – making small payments.  Their yearly loan amounts range depending on their experience with the program and what they intend to do with it.  Some women purchase goats and sell their milk, some women use the loan to purchase supplies for making crafts or sewing clothing.

Although micro credit is intended to empower women and allow them an opportunity to create an income for their families, many women reported how the money they received as a loan went directly to their husband.

We were welcomed into the villages in Bolpur, women excitedly greeted us and proudly displayed their business ventures.  The energy of happiness was all around despite how it was apparent that everyone had so little.  The huts didn’t have running water or electricity, they had very little space, privacy or personal belongings.  Yet, the smiles shared between the residents of Bolpur and their foreign visitors exuded joy and contentment.  

A documentary film crew creating musical masterpieces from intertwining musicians from around the world also ended up in Bolpur & Santiniketan.  “What About Me,” has been shared as a series on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.  One of the film makers and world traveler, spoke highly of the people of this community.  In the below clip he talks about how he thinks when people are good, friendly and kind enough to reach attainment they are reincarnated and sent to Santiniketan.

Grassroots for Women & Children

If you examined the laws in India you might consider the country to be progressive in human rights, finally putting person equality before cultural traditions and religious justification.  As a society with its own history of discrimination, we can understand how the attitudes don’t immediately change once a law is put in place and it often takes decades for perception to shift and acceptance to find its place, even then there are some exceptions.

So why is it that despite laws being in place to protect the rights of women and children in India, there is still such blatant disregard for their welfare?  The Child Marriage Restrain Act was established in 1929, yet there are still too many cases of children under 18 being arranged to marry.  This is only one of many issues – human trafficking, child labor, infanticide, and the exchange of a dowry.

A dowry is one representation of why women are not valued in Indian culture, it is a gift or form of payment a women’s family must pay to the family of her future husband.  Although dowry became prohibited by law in 1961, it is still common practice in India.  A daughter being born does not benefit her parents at all, she is seen as needing to pay off a debt from a previous life.  The daughter will be taken care of then a dowry raised to marry her into another family where she will help to take care of her husband’s parents – not her own.  Since a son is valuable in terms of meaning and future roles he will play for the family, a boy is what Indian parents want.  Because of this view gender selection has begun to curve the ratio of male to female in India.  Infanticide happens with poor or rural families who cannot afford to care for a girl, and aborting a female fetus occurs with couples who can afford the prenatal care and want to avoid the stigma of a girl.

The dowry perpetuates the idea of women being less than men and leads to so many other problems.  Despite the laws being established to protect rights, the laws don’t appear to be enforced for the welfare of the women and children.  Beyond corruption in the systems and the desire to hang on to how things have always been, slow progress is occurring because of the lack of knowledge women have.  Most Indian women believe they are nothing without a man, either their dad, brother or husband.  They don’t know what their rights are or where to get help.  They are born into a world where they are looked down upon simply for being a girl and limit themselves accordingly.

One of the field trips our group went on in Kolkata was to an organization creating changes with their grassroots effort.  Child in Need Institute (CINI) focuses on empowering women with the idea if you can help the mother you can help the child.  They have centers throughout Kolkata serving different purposes.  CINI focuses on the health of the mom’s and their infants, educating them about nutrition and conducting support groups.  Health workers act as a first means of contact going door to door in villages and slums to provide basic health needs and resources, then can help support mothers and children in getting in to the CINI offices if further medical assistance is required by nurses or doctors.

We toured one location during a time when there was a free health clinic.  Hundreds of bright-colored sari adorned the women gathering with their wide-eyed infants.  They weighed babies, obtained supplements, and met with nurses or doctors for medication.  Another CINI location we visited was in the middle of the city, it was designated for street children.  Kids could go there for safe overnight shelters or attend evening school.  Even though the Child Labour Act has been prohibiting this practice since 1986, many children work as child laborers and miss out on gaining an education.  CINI provides education to help reintegrate children back to regular schools within 6 months to one year.  Making this program even more impressive is considering the behavioral problems some children have from both trauma and the need to be independent to survive on the street.

Because of the efforts Child in Need Institute, and other programs like it, has made towards bettering the lives of women and children there is hope for changing the culture in India.  With women coming together to gain confidence in how to do things and knowledge of how the laws protect them, attitudes will turn.  And with the next generation of youth pushing to gain an education, they will be different.

Much of the beauty and intrigue of India lies in its cultural and religious practices.  Their dances, food, and tradition are uniquely Indian and should be valued and preserved as such.  I wonder, is it possible for India to maintain their rich traditions and religious practices while omitting the inequality?  Maybe as the women take power…

If you are interested in learning more check out the Child in Need Institute’s website.  They accept donations to continue their work and proudly contribute 90% of donations directly to the women and children – greater than average for an NGO.  http://www.cini-india.org/

This post is part of a series written about my travels to India as part of a social welfare class.  Feel free to look back through previous posts about my experiences or return to see what’s been added.