Saturday, November 21, 2009

Our last day in Madurai. Goodbye India!

We're in the Chennai airport now, waiting for our 1.30am flight to Brussels. Even though it's midnight here, its very packed with people. More Westerners than we've seen in the past two and a half months! It's so strange and sad that we're actually leaving, it still doesn't feel real.

We had a very busy last day here though. We woke up early and packed up all of our things. We then had a fun short cooking lesson with Chandra before breakfast! We learned how to make our favorite coconut sweet candy- mixed up the sugar and shredded coconut, melted it together in a pan adding in ghee and cardamom powder. It is so delicious! We also made some of our favorite borrotas, rolling out the dough balls with a rolling pin like we did in Bethania when we made our Chapatis. They then went in a pot full of hot oil to fry, and came out big and puffy.
It was really sad to say bye to our home in Pattiveeranpatti this morning. We sat outside, took pictures and waved bye to the school children sitting out front. We gave Chandra and Vijayasarathy a card with Nanri Amma, Nan Unay Nesekirrain, Paige and Kelsey all written in Tamil. This means thank you mother, I love you! We learned well from our Tamil lessons from our girls at Bethania! We then got in the car for our two hour drive to Madurai. We drove past all of the small villages, rice paddies, food stands on the sides of the roads, small temples. We slowly said bye to the rural village life we have come to love so much. The mountains, fields and coconut tree forests dissolved behind us, and we drove on towards the city.

We had come into Madurai so early so that we could by all of our Bethania children Christmas clothes from the money raised by Atlanta International School. We went to Pothy's, a huge department store. We went through and picked out an outfit for every child. It made us so happy to be able to think about each one of our brothers and sisters, and what clothes they would look good in, what their favorite color is. We loved going through the racks to get the shirt and skirt set for the little girls, shuridas for the older girls, and shirts and pants for our boys. We tried to get everyone's personal style reflected in our selections- Nithya bright red, white and sparkly, Muthumari pink and tastefully decorated, Ramya's bright blue with a white flower pattern, Sathish green and sophisticated, Antony's handsome and all black like he asked for, and of course ChellaPandi and Alagarsamy bright red and pink silk shirts with black shimmery pants. Alagar wanted tight black flare pants, but even in the huge store with hundreds of kid's pants, there were no flare pants...sorry Alagar. I hope black sparkly jeans with silver writing all over is sparkly enough for you. Their mom will love the almost matching sparkly silk, pink and red flowery shirts. Vijayasarathy did not approve until we explained how much the brothers love sparkly clothes. We really wish we could be there to see them all get their outfits and for them to wear them!

We spent a long time at Pothy's and after went for a late lunch at Chandra and Vijayasarathy's favorite Bell Jumbo hotel. To switch things up, we got some Indian Chinese food- really good noodles! And some of our Indian favorites too. We had to stop back at Pothy's after to pick some things up, and Chandra insisted that we buy ourselves some shirts as well, and got some presents. It was really fun to just shop and pick out outfits with Chandra and Vijayasarathy. We're going to miss them so much, our Indian parents, and they have been incredibly kind and generous to us, taking us into their family! Vijayasarathy has said that America has done so much for Indians and has become a home for so many Indians, like their son, he is happy to return the favor to visitors. We're really going to miss them and our home here.

We were lucky to be able to take rest after a packed day of shopping at Vijayasrathy's sister's house in the afternoon. We were awoken and informed by one of the women who works there, that a man was here to take us to get snacks. We joined these two strangers in their car, fearing a possible kidnapping. But instead our new friend Raymond just took us to Bell Jumbo hotel for more delicious food- some nice masala dosa. Thanks Raymond. Sorry for thinking you and your son were trying to kidnap us!

We then met Chandra and Vijayasarathy and drove to the airport. It was a sad goodbye, with lots of hugs and promises to see each other again soon! I know I won't be able to stay away from here for long, India has become such a big part of me. We made a stop at the "Cookie Man" in the tiny, one room Madurai airport, boarded our flight, and set off to Chennai- part one of our two day long trip back home!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Our last day in Pattiveeranpatti, November 19th

We woke up this morning very sad about not being at Bethania and missing all of our brothers and sisters. But we had a pleasant surprise when after breakfast we left for a "farm" visit. We hopped in the van with Vijayasarathi and Rajan, Vijayasarathi's sister's husband, and went to his land a little bit outside of Pattiveeranpatti. We first went to see the rice paddies. He was surprised we didn't know much about paddies and was excited to teach us about it all. We first saw where a huge water tank was that was partially filled with well water. He showed us where seeds had been put in the soil a few days ago, still resting on top of the dirt, and how it will be watered by flood irrigation. We saw where the saplings will be transplanted in a few weeks in an adjacent field.

We then went over to where the young rice was about to be planted. As we drove up to the paddy, we were greeted by a dozen of workers, mostly toothless women dressed in sarees, who all made these yelling sounds as arrived. Rajan said they do this to show how happy they were to see new people and to be able to start the cultivating. They stuck their tongues out and made this crazy screaming noise. The women then set out the tied together rice plants in front of us, and as with tradition, Rajan and Vijaysarathy had to give them money before they could pass. The women were all friendly, smiling and laughing as we took off our shoes and stepped into the mud, our feet and ankles submerged in the squishy mud beside the women. One woman handed out the small rice plants and we stuck them into the mud in lines, while they all laughed. It was so much fun. Rajan scolded Kelsey, saying she was pushing it in the mud too deep, or not deep enough so that it wouldn't stand straight. Think I need more practice before I become a paddy planter! Rajan says that he pays his workers three times more than other workers get because they are so efficient. He says they were very excited to hear that Americans were coming to start the planting today! We took lots of pictures and smiled with them, as they laughed at our lack of planting skills.

Rajan explained us all about the cultivation of rice as we bounced along in the jeep, the beautiful blue sky above us and the coconut trees blowing in the breeze. We passed fields of maize, lady fingers (a long, green Indian vegetable that we ate at Bethania a lot), cocoa plants, Tamarind trees, onions, papaya trees, banana trees, sugar cane and of course field and fields of coconut trees. This area is very famous for their delicious coconuts. We passed through more beautiful, colorful bustling little villages with waving children. Just made us miss all our Bethania children even more. All of the girls in their school uniforms and braids just like our girls. We passed so many smiling children. 'Hey, he looks kind of like Muruganadam!'

We stopped at a beautiful river on our drive, and got out to wash the mud off our feet from wading in the rice paddies. It is where Pattiveeranpatti and neighboring villages get their water from. It was full of big, slippery rocks, and refreshingly cold water. Rajan used to take his little grandkids here to swim when it was hot he says.

We went with Rajan to see a huge dam, with beautiful waterfalls in the green mountains rising all around us. There were three little boys sitting on the dam who lived in the nearby village, so we sat with them for a while, took pictures, and talked, just missing our brothers and sisters at Bethania so much. While admiring the impressive dam, we met the head Engineer for all of Tamil Nadu, visiting from Chennai. He was very excited to see foreigners visiting the dam, and wanted to talk about impressive dams he had seen in America, like the Hoover dam. We talked with him and his wife for a while, who were very friendly, and took the obligatory photos with everyone around. The view from the dam was incredible though, a big lake on one side, the water flying down into a river in a valley beneath us. The green mountains rose up all around us, so tall, impressive and beautiful beneath the blue, blue sky. Vijayasarathy and Rajan were very happy to have met the Chief Engineer of the state, and we talked for a while about how much the state of Tamil Nadu and India as a whole has developed in such a short time. The poverty rate in Tamil Nadu has dropped by 20%, and Rajan says no one is starving anymore, but the politicians are still corrupt which ruins things.

After leaving the dam we went up to see Rajan's estate, his expressive face, grey hair and matching grey mustache bouncing around in the jeep with us as he told his stories. We first walked to see the 40 year old mango trees, with the unripened mangoes, still green. He told us about all the different types of mangoes that grow in this area. He grows a lot of papaya up there as well. We went to visit the family that lives on a tiny, one-roomed hut on the land, surrounded by ducks and chickens and coconut trees. It was a husband and wife and a really adorable little girl, who we sat at drank coconut water with and ate tender coconut with. Rajan explained that even though they live in a little hut, they still live well, have a TV and their son goes to school back in Pattiveeranpatti everyday. It was so nice and peaceful. Rajan insisted that we both drank the water right from two green coconuts that had their tops hacked off with a machete right before us. We then scooped the coconut meat right out of it and ate it with our hands and Rajan and Vijayasarathy walked around the land in the hot sun, inspecting the Tamarind tree and giving us some to eat straight off the tree. It was sour but good.

We came home to a delicious lunch of borotas, sambals, coconut chutney, and lots of fruit. The saportas are rippened now from the tree in the yard and are delicious. We have been eating sweet Mandarin oranges from the coffee estate, bananas, and fresh papaya from Rajan's farm. So delicious, we will miss this food so much!

In the afternoon, we played a bit of tennis. It was just for fun, and we laughed at how bad the man designated to be our ball boy must think we are. We kept him busy by us hitting a few balls over the fence though.

We spent the evening packing and talking with Chandra and Vijayasarathy about how much we will miss it here! This feels like our second home, and our Indian family here has been so kind and generous. We will miss our Amma and Appa so much! It still seems surreal that we will be leaving this life tomorrow. No more peaceful villages, coconut in every meal, chickens and cows outside, Tamil lessons or our new family we have discovered here. Aaahhh!!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kelsey's goodbye to Bethania, I love you my 34 brothers and sisters!

Our last two days at Bethania were full of laughter, crying and intense emotions. At breakfast on Tuesday MK came to stand next to our table and talk, as he always does. "You today going?" "No, we leave tomorrow." "Your back come?" "I don't know..." And little Karthi next to him saying, "You no back coming?" "Maybe we will one day, but not for a while." It was so sad. Standing there, MK almost was left by the bus, as we tried to explain that, as of now, we were leaving for good. Saying we may not see them again is so heartbreaking, especially for kids who have experienced such hardship and loss.

We spent the morning starting to clean and pack up our room- we burnt our trash, took down our artwork covering the walls, started to put things away in our suitcases. We then spent the rest of the morning finishing all of the boys' cards, writing their personalized messages and our inside jokes with them, covering the cards with stickers. We dug through our suitcases to find things we know they would like- ziplock bags, little empty bottles, shells, gum containers, corks, and American pennies and quarters. We worked the whole morning, only taking a break for lunch.

At 4 we got ready to get on the bus to go pick up the kids from school. We gave GP a gift- a water bottle from America- which he said his daughter will like and talked with him for a while. He told us that he will write us a letter, and to tell our families Happy Christmas. He said it will be sad to see us leave because all of the students are so happy with us here, as he pointed to the chalk drawings outside that we made with them. We talked about some other volunteers that had been here, and told us we must come back one day. He says Hi to James Brindley, who 'is very height!' like all the kids like to say.

It was nice to surprise the kids by picking them up from school. We had to wait in a parking lot alone on the bus a little while before the kids arrived. Suddenly, the bus was swarmed by probably 50 little kids, pointing to the "valakari!" (white girls) on the bus. The all wanted to know our names, hit the bus to get our attention, and a few even walked onto the bus to talk to us! We didn't really know what to do, just told them our names and hoped they all wouldn't decide to jump on the bus too! We were very relieved when our kids came on to join us. They all told us about their day, Muruganadam and Pandi shower us magic tricks, Pandi gave us cards he'd made for us at school. It was really sweet. They make us so happy! Little Karthi got on the bus with the hugest smile on his face! We started to sing, play rock paper scissors shoot and thumb wars right away. With Nageswari, we sung "Everybody, move your body!" She loves that song, from a Vijay Tamil movie. Muga and I made funny faces and sounds, and she pretended to be a monkey eating me.

When we got home, we passed out Starbursts (or "chocolate" as every candy is called) which made everyone happy. We then took down music, cards, chess, and the rest of the paper, crayons, and pencils. We spent several hours coloring, making and receiving cards, and playing. Alagarsamy was the DJ and in charge of whose turn it was to hold the iPod. No matter how much he loves it, he is always responsible and shares. We listened to all of our favorites until the battery ran out. It was sad to finally pass out the leftover crayons, pencils and markers for good instead of keeping them to use later. It seemed so surreal, we wanted to smile and laugh, keep it happy with the kids and pass out presents and give them everything they want, but I was breaking down inside knowing this would be the last time I'd play cards with M+M, color with Muga, and tell Sethu and Sathiya how to spell every word they wanted to write.

Pandi took us aside during all of this, leading us in the dark to the back of the kitchen. We were confused and didn't know what he had planned. With a big smile, he then handed us each 2 sparklers that he had saved from Deepavali and we lit them, twirling them around in circles. It was so sweet and thoughtful of him to save those! He said, "I now very happy sister!" It was so beautiful and heartwarming, Pandi is such a good boy, who never gets in fights and is so generous, I love him so much.

After an emotional prayer, we had all the kids sit in the dinning hall and we passed out the gifts. We gave each of our brothers and sisters their own individual bag with their names on it, with their personal card and gifts. They were all so happy, a lot of them getting things they'd been asking for the whole time but we were still using. The boys loved their little plastic animals, balls, bandaids, stickers, boxes, and shells. They all got a coin too, everyone wanted to know, "what rupees sister?" The girls loved their jewelry, bangles, and earrings, putting them in right away. The two girls that got them loved the perfume, little girls got hair ties, and they practiced using the bags we'd given them as purses. Veni got my shoes too, since the dog had chewed hers up that morning. MK was most excited for getting the bright blue iPod case. There was some confusion over if he was actually getting the iPod, which the other boys were not happy about! MK loved it and ran over to show his mom, Ishwari. I was so glad to see how happy it made him, especially after all of the candies, bows and arrows, bead rings and biscuits he has given us! I love MK so much, he's such a sweet little boy who has a bright smile and is so loving.

All of the kids with siblings ran over to show their brothers and sisters what they got. Muruganadam sent up his gift to show Nandhini, who had to stay upstairs since she has a fever, and Nandhini sent hers down for him to see. Sathish ran over to show Lavinya his gift as soon as he got it. It was nice to read the kids their cards and show them the stickers and drawings like Antony's chess board. They all looked through eachothers presents in amazement, finding all different things in each one. In Divya's everything was green like our much loved doll Panjawarnam. MK had everything blue, while Eminem's was all red. We left the chess board with Mani. He is very kind and responsible, a leader who speaks quietly but is listened to. He mediates fights between the boys, and next year will be the biggest boy, in 9 standard. He says he will make sure the boys and the girls all share. Little Karthi got the Uno cards. His face lit up and yelled "WOW!" when he saw them! It was priceless. We left the playing cards with our smart Rani, who gets very good marks and who we know will be a great Doctor one day. She's straight-up and honest, while staying very kind and sweet, wanting our assurance over and over that we'll never forget her.

After dinner, we sat with the girls for a while and passed out clothes. We had a huge bag filled with shirts, pants, and even socks, which they say they will sleep in in the winter. It was so funny to see Rani in my green T-shirt and Nageswari in my blue shirt, both way too big for the girls, reaching almost to their knees! They loved it anyway though. Divya got fuzzy green socks that she was a bit confused about, giving us her "What, sister?!" that she seems to ask us a lot! We think it fits her anyway though :) they were so happy to get our shirts and clothes to remember us and wear. Our suitcases seem much lighter now that all the gifts have been given, but are full of much better things- our love-filled drawings, letters and little gifts from our brothers and sisters.

We also got a list of everyones' favorite colors for buying them Christmas clothes in Madurai. While sitting outside, Dhana Packiam have me a Tamil lesson too, teaching me how to write words properly and getting super happy whenever I did it correctly. She is so strong and brave, a girl that everyone else respects and listens to, and who isn't afraid to voice her opinions. She writes really well. My journal is full of beautiful letters- from Saraswathi, big and little Muthumari, Dhana Packiam. They are all so unique and personal, full of beautiful memories.

We woke up early this morning, before we even heard the sound of sweeping outside. We, for the last time, opened our door to see the girls doing their hair, sweeping, washing, dressing, all greeting us with smiles and "Good morning sister! Good sleep?" Dhana Packiam braided my hair, and I put in some goregous purple and orange flowers that Ishwari tied together for us. We had tea with everyone, taking pictures outside by flowers with all the kids. Paige and I led the prayer this morning. Paige picked out a Bible passage and then we spoke our prayer, trying hard to hold back the tears. I prayed for all of the kids to stay happy and healthy, for them to know they will forever be in our hearts and to say thank you for all of the incredible memories over the past 2months. By the end I was crying. Suganya, our fun and goofy 8th grade sister with a huge smile, told me "No crying sister! You no cry!" Muga was so sad, her normally very expressive and bright face in a depressed frown. Eminem kept telling us if we cry, she will cry. Muthumari gave us big, sad smiles to cover the tears.

We brought down music and listened while we ate breakfast and spent time outside with everyone. Our favorite songs lightened the mood and allowed for some fun few laughs. We then walked over to wave goodbye and hug every kid before they got on the bus. We gave them big hugs and said goodbye to our 34 brothers and sisters. Hugging my strong and beautiful Muthumari, sad little Muga, deep and wise Dhana Packiam, brave Mani, precious little MK. We broke down crying as we waved by to our siblings, teachers, students, loves.

We spent the rest of the morning cleaning out our room and moving out of the amazing place we have called home for the past two months. We went outside and ST the bus driver and GP gave us Nim tree saplings. They dug holes and we planted our tree saplings in front of the boys dorm, packing them down in dirt and watering them. Hopefully we will return one day to see how they've grown. GP said they will be beautiful in front of the boys dorm and give good shade.

We got a happy surprise when Saraswathi came home. Even though she had to come home because she had fever, we were happy to see her! She told us that after the bus had left this morning, all of the boys were crying- tough little Sethu, Sathish, Mani. Our little men and brothers, who act so strong and don't want us to see their tears. It feels so bad to have caused our brothers and sisters to cry, and we feel their pain exactly, if only we could stay with them!

After hanging up a sign that we made for all the kids, we left and drove to Pattiveeranpatti with Vijayasarathy. It was so weird to watch the landscape, the mountains, goats, little houses all pass by and knowing we wouldn't be coming back in a few days!

It is nice being back in our comfortable room in Patti, but sad to think we will have to say bye to all of this and India, our new home, so soon!

November 18th. For my brothers and sisters at Bethania. I love you. Paige.

Saying goodbye to our family here was heartbreaking. We have grown to love all of these children, individually, so much. It was so hard to say goodbye to all this beautiful, sweet love and kindness.

We passed out little gift bags we had packed individually for each of the child and a card we had decorated and written individually with special memories, pictures, inside jokes and stickers on them, last night. We picked paper of everyone's favorite colors and stickers of their favorite animals and wrote letters and then extra words and special pictures for everyone. On Muga's of course there was a little monkey, a coconut tree and a dolphin. On little Karthi's there were pictures of his favorite Uno cards (we let him keep the Uno cards) and his favorite words to spell 'cat' and 'dog' with tons of stickers. Of course, a blue lorry for MK and chess pieces and a chess board for our favorite Chess Master, Antony. I love that kid. Alagar's is rose colored and Divya's green. All the kids were so sweet and showered us with Thank Yous and cards and little gifts of jewlery, bangles, and other sweet, thoughtful presents. Nandhini had filled envelopes with her tiny bangles, finger puppets, a beautiful stone and these funny plastic bead like things a lot of the children have given us. Not quite sure what they are. But the kids were also quite confused about the use for the glue sticks, socks and corks we gave them. 'Sister, what use?'

We colored and listened to music together, playing Chess, dancing and of course Uno cards. It all felt surreal. It's impossible to imagine life without these special people. Pandi saved us each two sparklers from Deepavali. And we lit them in the night and watched them burn, spark and sparkle in the dark air, while little Akash danced around happily screaming 'sissteerr!!!' Pandi was so proud. He's such a good kid, with a beautiful, generous heart like his big sister, Muthumari. Mani and I stared at a star/plane in the sky and discussed if it was a star or plane..I say plane, but all the children say star.

Muruganandam gave me the pink pendant he had been showing us magic tricks on the bus with. He's so funny. I would be amazed by his magic tricks, but then he'd explain the trick so I could do it later, laughing.

The day before we left we went to school in the afternoon on the bus to pick up all the children. We sat on the bus waiting for the boys, when a crowd of children from the elementary school stormed the bus, screaming 'white girls!' in Tamil. We waved and smiled at the 40 or so smiling faces calling out sister and asking our names in Tamil. We were relieved to see our children arrive at the bus soon though. Pandi rode up on the back of his best friend's bike. His best friend is so cute and is named Saddam Hussein. We asked a couple times to confirm his name and even ST, the bus driver asked about it. It was funny to meet such a lovely, cute, friendly, Saddam Hussein. He followed our bus on his bike for a while and I stuck my head out the window to yell 'Bye bye Saddam Hussein!' He was excited we liked to say his name so much.

On the bus Muruganadam, Joker, showed us magic tricks with the pink pendant, laughing and smiling. I'm gonna miss that face so much and those funny jokes. Sethu with his sweet smile and lisp. He's so sweet, even when he gets in fights with the other boys, you can tell he's just needing that attention real bad. He wrote me so many beautiful cards with hearts and awesome pictures and then gave me a plastic heart pendant. Smart Sathish hopped on the bus, and of course 'school is good sister!' with that super cute smile and of course he took his spot like always, back of the bus by the window, such a cool kid. Mani was there, handsome with those beautiful eyes, so kind, talking all about school. He's ranked first in his class. So proud! Little chess master Antony was there with his crazy cute smile and skinny little arms and legs. 'Sssiiisterrr!' His voice is so distinctive. Always know it's him. I love all these kids so much! Each one of them special. I'm so happy everytime I see them, and to say goodbye was so hard. It still hasn't really hit me that we're leaving. 'You coming back sister? When? June? Christmas?' Rani keeps wanting us to Pinkie promise that we come back this summmer. Even Lavanya, who is usually so quiet came over, 'no leaving sister!'

This morning when we were saying bye, funny, strong Muruganadam, brother of beautiful Nandhini was crying and it was breaking my heart. 'Don't cry jokeman! Snow White. Joker! Don't cry!' Nandhini and Muruganadam are such good brothers and sisters, they sign all their gifts and cards with both their names and always talk about each other and share their food and gifts. They've been through a lot of pain together. Such strong, amazing people. And big Muthumari, so strong and like a mother for all the girls, always with her intricate stories, and secrets and kind words to share with us. Her tears were breaking my heart. Dhana Packiam, beautiful, intense, wise Dhana Packiam. 'No crying, sister! You cry, all students are crying.' I told Dhana Packiam, 'you are a gift.' She's 15, been at Bethania since she was 8. Grown up there..

We played music this morning. All the favorites of course. We played 'Right Round' with the girls upstairs. Sathya danced to the whole song, beautiful, passionate dancing, never stopping. She twirled, the whole time smiling, hands on her hips, all the other girls watching and I'm singing. I gave her my necklace with a seashell. The boys set alarms on the ipod to ring later with their names, and we listened to 'Jogi' and then this morning at breakfast of course 'Gasolina' and 'Aisha.' These silly songs are all their favorites. Alagar, our favorite DJ, ran over to play 'Low.' All the girls kept turning around to look at us eating our idly and coconut chutney.

I'm gonna miss Divya so bad. That girl, she keeps it real, so funny and beautiful. A real friend. I love Divya. She gave us her doll Panjavarnam, so we're going to mail her photos of Panjavarnam all over the world, make a scrapbook. That girl loves the color green. And sweet Saraswathi from Kodai always there to give hugs (which most kids are afraid of) and kind words. I love that girl. She's our Kodai, Barbie girl. And of course, beautiful Ramya, the only art teacher or math teacher I've ever loved. She's taught me more about life and love (and art and math) than any of them. I gave her a blank journal and my watercolors and paint brushes. She's a beautiful artist and beautiful girl with such a big heart. I'm gonna miss them all so much!

We read from the Bible this morning at prayer in English, then the girls read the same passage in Tamil. I was going to read my favorite one about 'ask and you shall receive' in St. Luke 11:11 cause I wish the world for these people, that they have everything they need, happiness and love, health and safety. That God blesses them with everything they ever ask for. That every door they knock on is opened for them. But I opened up our torn old Bible, magic little Bible with no cover, no binding, the pages all yellowed and old, and the first thing I read was Jesus talking to the apostles.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

St. John 15:27

Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If you loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.

St. John 15:28

It's out of context, but I was crying reading it, trying not to let my voice crack, all the children sitting cross legged like always, on the floor of the hall where we always pray. We prayed, all kneeling, and I tried so hard not to cry, thanking God and asking for blessing upon on all these children, that they may be happy, and safe, and healthy, and loved always. That their lives are full of kindness and love and free of suffering. I love these children so much and I wish for them so much happiness and love. They have so much struggle, suffering, loss, pain and injustice in their lives, it hurts to see them cry. I thanked God for all the blessings.

We hugged everyone, giving away the last of our things, earrings, bracelets, everything, as they left for school. Big (little) Karthi gave me a bracelet. I love that boy. He's 'big' Karthi, but he always my little big Karthi, with his sweet smile. I love playing ball with him, throwing that tiny ball in the dark, his beautiful smile and laugh while we play. And Sathish and Pandi gave us both metal necklaces. Sathish is my boy. I love him. His favorite color is green. He's so smart, our narrator in Snow White plays, and always reading. He wants to be in the Army when he grows up, cuts out newspaper pictures of Army men, and he gave me his little Indian army flag pin. He can be so serious sometimes, but when he dances and is outside blowing bubbles, his smile is beautiful and when you tell him how super his reading is. We read so many books together.

Last night we took out all our clothes for the girls and passed them out. It was funny seeing the little girls running around in our big shirts, so silly and happy. M+M in her AC Milan jersey and Rani in Kelsey's green shirt down to her knees. Dhana Packiam in a button down white, Abercrombie shirt and little Priya in a white H+M shirt. We passed out handfuls of crayons, colored pencils, all the markers, sharpies and the last of the stickers. It felt so surreal. All their voices screaming 'Sister!' I'm going to miss all my brothers and sisters grabbing my hands, screaming, 'Sister!!! I Sister!! I sister!!' So much. So much. These children are such a gift. In the words of wise, beautiful, Dhana Packiam 'your love is stole my heart.' Don't worry, girl, I won't ever forget for you.

We hugged the children as they got on the bus. 'I love you' We reached in the windows, holding onto hands. Oh God.

We planted trees with GP and ST after the kids left for school, walked around and thanked everyone. We gave the kitchen ladies a fly swatter to keep flies off the food and vegetables when they are cooking and keep the baby chickens out of the rice. It was funny. I did a demonstration, smacking the flies that lazily hang around all the vegetables and they were all laughing. Watch out lazy Indian flies!

Saraswathi came home with fever and told us the children cried on the bus to school. It breaks my heart to leave them. Saraswathi said to not be sad, that we'll always be in each others prayers. We won't forget. I'm already thinking about all the photos and cards and present I want to send to all of them. We have a list of everyone's birthday and so many beautiful photos. They need so many simple things though, like handkerchiefs, pencils, water bottles, buttons...
And love.

We wrote a big sign with all the children's names and hung it in the dining hall.

'I love you'

Nithya, Priya, Nageswari, MuthuLakshmi, Muga, Nandhini, Sathya, Suganya, Rani, Veni, M+M, Baby, Ramya, Muthumari, Rosie, Dhana Packiam, Divya, Saraswathi, Surya, Mary, Lavanya, Tambi, Karthi, MK, Antony, Sethu, Karthi, Alagarsamy, Chella Pandi, Pandi, Muruganandam, Sathish, Mani, Chennaiya, Muni Muni.

'God Bless you'

'Love, Paige and Kelsey'

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November 16

We spent today writing lots of goodbye cards for every kid. We have their name drawn on the front, a long message inside, with lots of stickers and decorations, and our addresses and emails on the back. We can't wait to give them all their gifts and cards tomorrow! Four kids were home sick from school today with fevers and went to the hospital to get medicine this morning. We both wrote long messages in the guest book today too, it was so difficult to sum up our 8 weeks here in a page! Countless memories and laughs, so many experiences that will stay with me for life.

When the kids came home, we sat in the hall while it rained outside. We all huddled under the overhang, playing music and chess. I played M+M and Muruganadam in chess, and won with the help of our little chess master Antony. Alagarsamy DJed, playing his favorite songs over and over again! It was really beautiful, listening to all the children sing as the rain poured down and we played games and sat all together as the music played. Our chicken friend ran around in the rain.

After prayer, we had our last English lesson with the boys. Kelsey took the five boys in grade 6 and down, and Paige took the six older boys. We wrote out spellings of names of animals that were on the stickers we had put on a sheet from them. We sounded out words to figure out proper spelling with the little boys. The older boys had to spell all the different animals and we made different sentences for them after. They are at really different levels, but as I was correcting grammar and discussing with them, you could see an improvement in their sentence structures. Yaay! We then had a test and all the kids kept their papers with stickers and animals spelled differently. It was a fun last English lesson with the boys!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sunday, November 15

We finally got to have a whole day with the kids again, and they could rest after their 5 days of exams. We woke up at 7.30 (which we consider sleeping in late here!) to a sunny morning. It was nice after it being so rainy for so long. We braided hair with the girls, tried to fit all of the flowers they gave us into our hair, and had tea. Then it was time for church. It was a nice service in the chapel, with the sun shining in, the dogs walking around as we sat on our reed mats on the ground with the kids, in our spot behind the girls. The kids were laughing a lot with the chaplain, and Saraswathi later told us he was making jokes about Christian and Hindu weddings.

After breakfast of idly and coconut chutney, as this is our last full day with all the kids home, we brought out bubbles, music and chalk and played in the beautiful morning weather. We passed out lollipops, while kids danced, blew bubbles and drew chalk on the walls. It was all quite beautiful and very fun. It was very sunny, and kids were very excited about bubbles, and of course, everyone's favorite, lollipops. We took some great pictures of the kids playing in the sun. Satish climbed up the slide and blew bubbles down, filling the air with falling bubbles. Muthumari and the older girls decorated the walls with designs and hearts. Antony, MK and little Karthi posed to take pictures with their lollipops. Muniyappan wanted the lyrics to the "Good Life" song by Kanye, so we played it on repeat for a while as he wrote down every word in his own writing. He says he will learn it and sing it to us before we leave!

Soon after, it started to rain again. Paige and I were sad that it wasn't nice and sunny anymore, but all the girls were happy and laughing as they ran outside to grab their clothes drying. Muthumari was surprised to learn that in America people are sad when it rains and just want it to be sunny all the time. Dhana Packiam yelled as she came back inside soaking wet, "I am raining!" We listened to music with the girls for a while, and played Uno and cards. Somehow M+M won every single card game of war that we played. Muga decided to invent her own tactic of putting all her big cards on the front of her deck, acting like no one could notice. Very clever girl.. We did a lot of picture browsing, music video watching and Alagarsamy DJing after evening tea. We brought out the last of the nail polish to use and let the girls keep, along with the rest of the nail stickers. Nagehwari was adamant about getting a sticker on every nail, and was not pleased she got a dog sticker that had been split in half and only had the dog's hind legs. "Do not like dog buttocks!"

A lot of kids are getting sick with fevers again. Four girls have been staying just in the sick room. We're trying to stay away from the sick girls, as we don't want to have to be stuck in quarantine in an Indian airport.

We had a lot of sad talks sitting out in the hall today with Rani, Muthumari, M+M, Ramya, and other older girls, about us leaving. Rani told me "You don't be sad now, 2 more days at Bethania! You be sad third day! You sad now, all the girls sad now. You laughing now, all the girls happy and laughing now." We're trying to keep everything fun and happy, but the thought of leaving so soon is really difficult to deal with. We're not ready to leave our brothers and sisters! They're all writing us going away messages in our journals, giving us lots of presents that we're not allowed to open until we get home. It's going to be sad to have to take down the artwork that we have taped up in our room, covering an entire wall. We miss our families and loved ones at home, but these children are like our family now. We have to keep reminding ourselves about the warm showers awaiting us at home, or it'd be too hard to say goodbye to their sweet faces.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

November 13th and 14th

November 13th
We woke up at 4.30 this morning because the girls wanted us to wake them up then so that they could study. The power was out then though, so they couldn't do any studying until 5 when the lights could turn on. They love this new alarm clock discovery and keep wanting us to set it for them! They have one more day of exams left on Saturday since there was no school on Monday. Tomorrow is Nehru's birthday, so is celebrated as "Children's Day".

This morning all of the children were very happy that Bethania has running water again! For the past 6 months no water has come out of the taps because it has been so dry. Finally yesterday, the kids could wash their plates from the outside running water tap instead of pumping it from the well or getting it from the rain water buckets. In our room we finally have running water too and a toilet that flushes! Everyone is very excited that the recent rains have been sufficient and all of their praying for more rain has worked :)

We spent the morning doing some stone collecting in the mud and writing our going away cards. We did some wash and hung it up inside, as it rained more in the afternoon. The 8th and 6th grade girls came home at 3, and we played some card games with them. We tried to teach them BS, which took a while to grasp. No one really understood at first that they were actually supposed to lie, so would just tell us, "No sister!! No 7!" "Shh!! Don't tell us that!" Once we got the hang of it, it was fun though. We did some hair braiding too, and Rani put about 10 of the yellow flowers that she'd picked in Kelsey's hair. "Garden head!" It was pretty hilarious looking, with yellow and purple flowers from the girls and Eishwari in my head and more hanging from my braids. Dhana Packiam told me I look funny! I loved it anyway!

The kids came home at 5, and after tea there was Christmas practice and Tamil studying. The kids' dance is really cute and getting better! They all studied a lot in the evening for Tamil exams the next day.

November 14th
Even though it was a Saturday, we woke up some of older girls at 4.30 again so that they could study for their Tamil exams today. Thankfully the power was on this time! Some girls were already awake and had gotten up at 4 to study in the hall. We took some pictures of everyone at breakfast- every girl had bright yellow flowers in their hair and looked really pretty!

We spent the morning peeling onions and trying to keep the three really cute baby chickens out of our onions and bowls of rice. These chickens pretty much go everywhere- walking through the kitchen, office, dining hall. Our other unofficial job was to make sure the dogs and Zues didn't eat our adorable chickens.

The boys came home early, around 11.30, right before it started to pour again. We had lunch with them, passed out Starbursts, and then listened to music, played chess and Uno. They are so sweet and funny and hanging out with them never gets old. Little Karthi's dancing never ceases to entertain. And Chella, Sethu and big Karthi generally accuse someone of Uno card cheating, so the no beating brother rule needs to be enforced. Satish has invented a new version of Chess, where the King really has no special importance and the game can keep being played after the king has been taken. But, 'Sister no teaching' because she doesn't know the new chess game! Hahaaa.

When the girls came home, we hung out with them, talked about the exams, colored pictures, played cards, chess and took rest. After rest, we enjoyed some delicious kaseri, sweet grain with cashews and cardaman along with tea. We fed some to one of our favorite baby chicken friends and the skinny puppy, because that poor puppy doesn't get enough food with all the other dogs around!

Tonight Ramya asked us if we had a handkerchief because she doesn't have one, and a lot of the kids are getting sick again. We don't have any to give the kids, so we gave her a thing of paper table napkins we bought in Madurai. Here, a place without real disposable paper products, everyone was extremely perplexed by the tissues, and laughing hysterically. Ramya made us take pictures of 'sister giving American handkerchiefs.' We would try to explain that they're actually from India, which didn't make it any less exciting.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

November 12th

So this morning Kelsey got attacked by a chicken. We were walking around outside with our tea to see the kids pumping water out by the well, and as we turned the corner of the building we encountered an angry chicken. She wasn't happy we'd surprised her and invaded her space, so she attacked Kelsey's leg with her whole body, wings and claws out. No permanent damage though. Guess chickens don't like vegetarians more.

We did field work this morning, moving all of the bricks and other remnants of the broken kitchen stove that had been lying in a giant heap on the ground. We built a brick, trench-type wall with them, on either side of a little stream where the excess water from the well flows. We then spent a few hours collecting stones from the wet soil. We're so happy to have rain, but it makes our stone collecting a lot muddier! Our two really cute puppies were helping us by running around and rubbing more mud on us the whole time too. Oh puppies. What would we do without you?

After hauling a few buckets of water up to our room, we spent the rest of the morning organizing all of the 34 gifts we're giving to each kid before we leave. We have little bags, jewelry and toys for everyone and we're really excited to give it all to them! These kids get so excited about little things. We didn't realize how much 'stuff' we had, until we saw how much they appreciate it things we'd even consider throwing out. So we went through everything we have, picking out things to give as gifts and little bags for everyone. After lunch and a rest, our 8th and 6th grade girls came home- little Muthumari, Suganya, Rani and Veni (the twins), Nandhini and Sathya. Muthumari and Nandhini braided our hair and all of the girls gave us bundles of bright yellow flowers. They had picked them from "Grandmother's" (the old woman who lives next to Bethania) field. M+M said Grandma was joking about charging them 150 rupees because they pick so many flowers from the field on their way home from school.

When all the kids came home after we'd had tea, we brought out some new chalk. There was some intense chaos bringing it out, all the kids jumping on it and taking five pieces at a time. Once it all calmed down it was fun though, writing on a huge blackboard on the side of one of the houses. We took adorable pictures of all the kids and their artwork. Mani drew a mountain, Muga drew a bunch of butterflies, and Pandi little stick figure Paige and Kelsey people. It was really fun, they all love the brightly colored chalk and coloring. We spent the evening watching Christmas practice and having an English lesson with all of the elementary school. We brought out our iSpy books. The kids took turns reading and finding in the books, and then we picked useful words like coconut tree, angel, ball and egg to spell. Sometimes these kids books can be frustrating because they write about things the kids can't relate to at all, like The Statue of Liberty, snow and Autumn leaves. "Eloise" is a tough book for the kids to understand, even though in America it's fun. It be nice to have more universal children's books. We had fun spelling contests at the end and passed out tons of stickers, like usual. It's fun, sticking stickers on everyone's cheeks and hands, at the end of a good lesson. We had a delicious dinner of dhosai and beets, and after being instructed to wake up the girls at 4.30 in the morning to study, went to sleep. I'm reading the note on my hand now: "4.30 A. RAMYA DHANA PACKIAM WAKE UP!"

November 11

At 4.30 am, Kelsey's alarm went off. We'd been instructed to wake up the older girls then so they could study more before exams. So at 4.30, Kelsey went to wake up the girls and as if on cue the rooster started crowing and the dogs howling. Paige was a verryyy annngrryyyy sister. But luckily we were able to go back to sleep eventually and wake up in time for tea and prayer. Unfortunately, an outside pipe broke this morning, so Joseph and three boys were holding it down to keep water from spraying everywhere. A lot of infrastructure problems recently! We enjoyed our delicious breakfast of idly and coconut chutney and said good luck to all our students. A few kids requested lucky pens/pencils before the exams, so we were rushing around putting peacock stickers on pens and such. Little Antony was so cute with his pen. The kids are so sweet. If you ask them to give back the pen when they come home from school, they always do.

We went to work in the kitchen, peeling onions like usual. It's crazy the kitchen women are cooking all the food for about 40 people on a tiny outdoor camp fire. They were steaming maybe 150 idlys this morning over a tiny camp fire with a pot of boiling water. We peeled and chopped onions for a long time with them, then decided to take advantage of a day without perpetual pouring rain to do wash. It was so nice to do our wash, and not have to worry about the drought, but our clothes have yet to dry from this morning. We have them all hanging in the inside hallway against the wired wall to hopefully dry eventually, next to all the girls' clothes. We are setting aside so many things of ours to leave with the kids. They are so appreciative and have so little, we want to give them everything. They are all calling things they want. It's funny, things we would just toss in the States the kids get so excited about and ask to keep, like zip lock bags and those plastic gum boxes.

Ishwari gave us beautiful purple flowers for our hair again today. We enjoyed a delicious lunch of spicy green bean-like vegetables, pepper like-vegetables and curd rice, and then took rest. When the kids got back we handed out Starbursts candies to everyone at tea, with different animal stickers on each one. It's fun cause we know most everyone's favorite color, or favorite animal.

Everyone has been studying really hard. After tea, we played with the younger kids, drew pictures with the little boys and practiced counting with little Akash, Joseph's son, who is five. His counting was impressive, able to write and count at least up to 70, with few mistakes. Little Karthi wrote everyone's initials and laughed at Paige's. 'PB PB!' His little smile and crazy laugh are so sweet. He also drew a picture of all of his favorite Uno cards. The boys wrote us sweet letters and drew beautiful pictures. We're currently trying to set up an email account for Muniyappan, the 17 year old boy, who will be able to use it when he goes to college next year.

There was more Christmas dance practice, and lots of studying. Ramya explained food webs and food chains in Biology to Paige. She should be a teacher, she's so good at helping people to understand and being sweet. But she says her aim is police woman and artist, because kids ignore teachers except when the teacher hits them, and at least as a police officer, you get to catch "dentists". She later clarified, that she means to catch "terrorists", not dentists, but the first one seemed like a pretty good reason to be a police officer to me.

At night all of the girls sat and told us about their homes for a while before we left them to study. Muthumari says she loves going home to watch TV, which she does for hours! All of the kids go home or to stay with a relative for the month of May and then come back to Bethania. Ramya says when she stays with her Grandmother she doesn't have a TV, and has to do a lot of kitchen work. All the kids seemed happy to think about their families back home, and the thought of living at home for a month over the summer.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 10

We woke up at 6.30 to spend time with the kids before they had to leave for their exams. We sprayed all the girls with "scent, sister!" and passed out pencils to every kid. It's sad how they don't have enough school supplies, and keep using pencils even when they're just two centimeters long. We decorated each pencil with stickers, and have them all an eraser too. They were so happy about it, and they're glad to have new supplies to use for their exams. Hopefully it will give them good luck for their English exam today!

After the kids left we did kitchen work, peeling onions and cracking coconuts to make chutney. While we were working though all of a sudden we heard a big thud and smoke and dust flew out of the kitchen door. We went inside to see the clay stove had literally fallen out of the wall. It is built into the wall, made out of brick, clay and gravel. The clay is formed to hold giant pots of boiling water where they build fires beneath. The clay structure pretty much had collapsed, and the ground was covered in dirt, ants, brick, rock and burning wood. No one seemed that concerned. There were some unhappy looks, but also laughs. Not too much shock or anger. Soon after we all went back to peeling onions for a little while. When the men came to help, W
We quickly went to work picking up the hot bricks and carrying them outside. We dumped the gravel on the ground outside the kitchen while GP and ST scooped up the hot gravel and piles of dirt into the metal bowls and hit the wall to make more stones collapse onto the floor. We carried water to put out the remaining fire and cool the ashes. We carried bucket after bucket of dirt until it was all scooped up.

Since it's exam week, the boys walked home from school and arrived just as we were finishing lunch. Eishwari had given us a beautiful strand of purple flowers that she tied together herself with string to wear in our hair- it was so nice! The boys came home and did their washing. Muruganadam walked around with the big hose, spraying water, and saying "I am fire patrol!" It was so funny. Pandi gave us flowers to wear in our hair, and Sethu threw a fistful of petals into the air and all into our hair. The boys are so sweet, and love doing nice things for us. It's funny how some of them keep a tough appearance, like Chella Pandi, but inside are so happy to get love and attention from us and do cute little things to make us happy. We let them play chess and then rested until the rest of the kids came home.

At tea we helped to serve everyone the delicious sweet rice with coconut, and passed out chocolate. Muga pretended to be a monkey and to steal all of our chocolate. She is so expressive, laughs a lot and makes the funniest faces, we love her! We still have a lot of presents and candy to give out before we leave. Time has gone by so fast. There seems to be so much left to do here, and we're not ready to leave yet at all. We're organizing now the gifts that we will leave with every kid when we leave. We are going to write a card for each kid and have lots of toys and presents to give as going away presents.

After tea we spent some time over by the boys dorm. It feels like we haven't seen them as much lately, so it was good to have time with them. It's hard because whenever we walk outside of our room, the girls are right there in the hall, asking us for games, music, to help them study or something. They don't like it too much when we tell them that it's the boys' turn for Uno or see us taking the music over to the other dorm. It's too hard to tell them that we can't help them study when they need us to explain something or go over English with them! Its was still raining on and off all afternoon, and it's not fun having to get soaked to go see the boys!

We did some drawing, chess playing, and email reading and writing with the boys until prayer. They're all writing really sweet letters and drawing cute pictures in our journals for us. They all tell us to not forget them- it's so sad, and also would be impossible for us! We went over finding our "native place" on a map with MK for a while. He was convinced for a while that we are from Japan. All the kids also had Christmas dance practices, which are so cute! Then we helped the kids with studying. It was really hard to focus on really helping one group of girls, while other kids were coming up and asking for help the whole time. Kelsey taught Rani, M+M, and Veni math. They were so surprised that math was the same in America as in India. They really are learning all the same math concepts as we do in America, just with smaller numbers usually because none of the kids have calculators. It makes it so much harder for them to learn more difficult theories when they don't have a calculator to help them, and have to us the fraction 22/7 for pi. The problems that they had to do were similar to what we'd studied, but it seemed like a lot of girls were missing the basic concepts behind the problem solving. These 8th grade girls have memorized formulas to find the area and length of an arch of a circle, but when I went over the formula to show them how it was derived, they had no idea. Some didn't even know that there are 360 degrees in a circle. They can solve the problem with their memorized formula, it just seems like they'd have no idea how to apply it or what it actually means! Meanwhile, Ramya decided that Paige was the one who needed math help. This was a very accurate observation. She taught Paige a math lesson and gave her homework, instructing Kelsey to not help her. Paige thinks that Ramya should be a teacher, as she explained things very well, and Paige finally understood some math!

The kids have recently realized that all the pens and supplies that we had brought from America will be up for grabs when we leave. This fact has made them all very happy :) we have huge lists of who gets what when we leave- including perfume, gell pens, pens, plastic cup gum containers, creams, and lip glosses. The empty clothes spray "scent!" bottle has already been claimed. We just want to give them all of our stuff, we feel like we don't need all these possessions we came here with, stuff that would mean so much for the kids to have, when they own so little.

It has been so busy here with all the studying, and tomorrow Kelsey has an alarm set for 4.30 set by Dhana Packiam and Muthumari and has been told to go wake the girls up then!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

November 9th

Today we woke up early, thinking we'd spend time with the kids before they went to school. But at 7 the kids started shouting and running to come hug us and let us know that school was cancelled today because of rain! Dhana Packiam and Muthumari (who are best friends like Paige and Kelsey, they informed us) sprinted into our room to give us huge hugs. No snow days in India, just rain days! They were supposed to have exams all this week, but since they are state exams, if any regions of Tamil Nadu can't go to school because of heavy rain, no one can take the exams. We taught a lot of English all day, studying, answering questions and making practice tests. The English books are frustrating. Some are almost 20 years old, missing covers and pages and with complicated English lessons. It's hard to understand and I'm good at English! To get an idea, they talk about Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia and the USSR in them!

It was fun having a whole day to spend with the children, without school. We're sad about having to say goodbye to all our amazing brothers and sisters. We're trying to make the most of all our time here.

We had our tea at 7.30 and read all of the emails we'd received for the kids. They are so happy to have personal messages coming to them. We wish there was a way for them to email us after we leave! After a delicious breakfast of coconut chutney and dhosai we drew pictures with the elementary school girls to keep them away from the older girls who needed to be studying. Sweet, little Nithya drew many pictures and was laughing, 'Muga say Paige Sister, coconut tree!!!' Today Muga decided Kelsey sister is a dolphin. 'Hello coconut tree sister! Dolphin sister! I am monkey sister.' Muga is so expressive, dancing around pretending to be a monkey, then a crazy dog, then a dolphin. The best by far is the baby chicken impression. The baby chickens are big enough now to be wandering around Bethania, three little white chickens travel around in a pack, tweeting, squeaking and getting into trouble in the office, in the dining hall and with the dogs. During the heavy rain, watching these three little white baby chickens running around in the rain was quite sweet and comical.

The kids have been asking for 'scent' a lot recently cause their clothes haven't been drying fast enough with all the rain. So we took out Kelsey's 'Downy wrinkle release spray' and a tiny sample of perfume and spent the morning spraying everyone's clothes. The girls brought out all their clothes and most everything they own to be sprayed with 'scent sister!' It was funny. Nagehswari took the spray and sprayed her entire cupboard, as well as each article of clothing that she owns, individually. After we learned more about the internet by introducing some of the older girls to Google images. We googled Tamil movie heroes all morning to the amazement of everyone. Dhana Packiam now is asking incessantly to Google Vijay, everyone's favorite Tamil movie hero. It's a lot easier than M+M's request to email Jesus though!

Today was full of drawing, games, music, watching Christmas practice dancing. Their dances are so cute! The elementary school girls and some middle school boys dance in lines next to each other. It started off quite sunny, but rained on and off for the rest of the day. We went over a lot of English grammar with M+M, Muthumari, Rani, Dhana Packiam, Divya, Surya, Saraswathi and other high school girls. Kelsey helped Mary with math homework too, she asked me how I knew all of the same math that she was doing in school! It was difficult trying to figure out what the questions in Tamil were asking, but the math problems themselves were the same as we did in IB math in Atlanta!

In English we studied active and passive, direct and indirect voice, antonyms and synonyms. It's frustrating with their English books and notes that include mistakes and many words the kids do not know the meaning of. They have to memorize synonyms and antonyms for words they don't know the meaning of. We also helped with prefixes and suffixes, which can also be difficult with their often limited vocabulary. Some of the girls, like Rani, are so smart it's impressive what they can do with so little.

We stayed out late tonight in the hall helping the older girls study, and will wake up early for them. Some girls will wake up at 4am tomorrow to study! It seems crazy to us, but is normal for the older students during exam week. We'll wake up a bit after that, that seems a little early!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

November 8

Today we woke up early and sat outside in the hall with the girls and read all the emails they had received. They were all so happy. It was so sweet. They all were so excited to read what our families and friends wrote to them individually and couldn't wait to respond. Kelsey did yoga with Muthumari- seven poses, breathing exercises, stretches. It was very nice! Muthumari is disappointed that I still can't touch my feet to my head over my back though. It was fun, with Ramya and Saraswathi and Suganya joining in. Meanwhile Paige sat with the other girls with the phones to supervise and assist with more email writing. We'll probably start using the email writing exercise as a good English lesson, but for now it's sweet to be able to hear their voice in their writings. Correcting their English or doing something like adding spaces between the words they write would just ruin that personal touch :)
There's nothing like an email that says "Lintsehhowyoryoufinthank you" and "ukitchenworkeverynice"! Still not sure how M+M knows that our mothers' kitchen work is very nice, but she likes to include that in her emails. It's so sweet!

It was nice to be up early and have a lot of time to spend with the kids before Church. At 7.30 we had our morning drink- coffee instead of tea! That was a huge shock to our routine! After everyone finished washing, getting dressed, braiding and putting flowers in our hair, and a few thumb wars with MK and Karthi, we had church at 9. The minister came and spoke about technology (from what we could understand from the few English words in his Tamil sermon "European", "ATM card", and "internet"), which was a fitting topic for our lessons about emailing! Afterwards, little Muthumari told us, "I write email to Jesus, sister. Give me phone, I email to Jesus, sister!" Paige informed her that "Jesus doesn't have a computer!" Kelsey told her that praying was like an email to Jesus. Paige appreciated Kelsey's "Knee-mail, not email!" joke! Cute Kelsey sister. Cute.

We enjoyed a delicious breakfast of idly and coconut chutney, sharing from our table our extra chutney with the kids which they were really excited about. They love coconut chutney. We then began our Sunday games. The middle school and upper school have exams all next week so they had to study today. We drew, sent more emails to Jenna sister and Ella sister, listened to music, danced, played chess, played, looked at pictures, took many pictures, braided hair. The boys played some cricket for a while in between downpours. Some family and visitors came by- the son of Tangapandi (our bus driver) and Suvinya (one of the kitchen ladies) named John Kenadi, and a girl who is in college now and used to be at Bethania, named Ramya. Mani's mom, Mary and Rosalie's grandmother, and other relatives came by too. The kids are always happy to see them, and get little gifts. We all had lunch sitting in the covered hallway to stay dry, and played the eating "out!" game as always, where you are out if someone sees you put food in your mouth. At least we're getting better as our eating with our hands skills improve! We told them how our mothers would be angry if we ate with our hands in America and they all asked why. 'You eat only with spoon sister?' Saraswathi told us she doesn't like using a spoon or a plate, and that banana leaves and hands are the best way to eat. True say.

This evening, after a great nap, we awoke to a delicious snack and tea. Some visitors from Kodai are stopping by on their way to Madurai for a wedding. They were very nice and enjoyed their time with the children a lot and ate dinner with us. We drew pictures with the elementary school girls, listened to music (softly) and played chess. It was a lot of fun, drawing pictures and writing cards. Nithya loves to write everyone's name and then Jesus really big at the bottom it's so sweet. She writes 'Paige, Kelsey, Ella, Jenna, Nithya, Jesus' and then colors in everyone's names and gives it as a card. It's so sweet. Muga's favorite joke right now is, 'Paige sister is a coconut tree.' Paige has a bunch of drawing of coconut trees from Muga and a beautiful sign reading. 'Paige. is. a. coconut. tree.' We took pictures with our well-loved green doll Panjavarnam with Divya, before heading to sleep early to let the girls study!

November 7

Today was a fun, long, rainy Saturday at Bethania! We woke up early, had tea at 7 with the kids and spend time with them as they did their huge Bethania dirt sweep before the rain started. We got some beautiful white flowers by the chapel from Divya, and were chased by puppies relentlessly. MK made us some rather ingenious bows and arrows made out of reeds and string. They're actually very impressive, and can go quite far. He's really smart with coming up with little inventions and engineering things, if only we could get him to read now! After breakfast, we helped with some girls in the kitchen, slicing Indian green beans and carrots for lunch. As we sat in from of the kitchen it started to pour out. Later we were sitting upstairs in the girls' hall and it started to rain very, very heavily. All of the girls got very excited, got on their knees and told us that we had to pray! "Pray for more rain coming sister! Thank you God sister." It seems like a good thing to pray for, still even though the last three days have been very rainy! They get so happy every time it begins to rain hard, the girls scream and laugh and the little kids dance around. The kids pray for seemingly everything here- for Bethania, good grades, health, for kids who are sick, for Sister Paige and Sister Kelsey, and even for longer hair (Muthumari swears that her hair was short, so she prayed and prayed for longer hair and it grew very fast and is now long and beautiful!) In a blue striped poncho, Muniyappan hauled our big water drum out to collect rain water, which we'll use later to shower. It was very funny seeing him wearing that silly poncho, but there are a lot of comical outfits here at Bethania. Alagarsamy and Chella Pandi are two brothers in 7th standard who always have the funniest, brightest outfits. Their mother brought them new clothes of Deepavali, both brand new shirts that were made of sparkly fabric, Alagar's bright purple and Chella Pandi's bright green. So sparkly, these shirts reflect the sun like mirrors. The best though, is definitely their bright, glow in the dark orange shorts. They both have these shorts that are huge on them and the brightest orange you can imagine. Literally when the power goes out and we're playing chess at night, you can still see the board if they are wearing their orange shorts while playing. They glow in the dark that much.

We had a fun morning, getting caught in the rain on and off. We listen to a lot of music, played a lot of chess, took many pictures, played cards, and played Uno. The calculator function on the iPod was discovered by the girls, and has now been called "number game" which is actually something that's "played". Very fun game for Muga and M+M! They loved it. 'Go Fish!' which is referred to only as 'four cards sister!' or 'Sethu looking my cards sister!' was also played all morning as we sat under the awnings out of the rain. It's a pretty intense game. Little Karthi, my partner in the game, and in 2nd standard couldn't get a hang of not showing his cards, so when I would take them from him he would scream out the card he wanted till I gave it to him, and another boy promptly took it from him. We had lots of fun, despite 'Sister. You are losing again sister!' Karthi's fun was not impeded though, as he stopped the game often for a dancing break, where he and Akash would dance excitedly around the circle to Muniyappan's dj-ing. Akash has taken to wearing a ski hat recently, as it is 'winter.' We googled the temperature today cause all the kids are wearing sweaters and talking about how cold they are all the time. It's 78, but feels like 83. Hahaa. Still sometimes we feel a bit chilly, especially after a bucket shower. I guess we're just too used to normal Indian climate!

The kids were all practicing for their Christmas show dancing today. Mary and Rani are the two front dancers, and were practicing for a long time in front of a computer playing the music and video of little kids dancing. It was a "Happy Christmas" song in Tamil. The dance is very Indian- hand waving in circles over their heads and down over their faces. They are so adorable! Later all the other dancers- 6 boys and 6 younger girls joined in, making 2 lines behind Mary and Rani, copying their movements.

At night we did and English lesson with the 10th grade girls (they had to go to school today, an extra day for exam preparation, but came home early because of the rain) and a few other older girls. We thought they wanted help with studying for their exams that start next week, but we just played games instead. We played games where we had to write as many words as possible starting with a certain letter, and played hangman, which they loved. They all liked making up the sentences, bad spelling made the game a bit more difficult though! We also helped the 12th grade girl, Lavinya, with her English homework. It was difficult- deciding which tense out of 7 or more to write a sentence's verb in. They don't understand why we don't know what present past continuous tense means! The book seems to complicate English a lot, and she was struggling, just wanting us to give her the answer while we wanted to teach her and for her to learn. It is so hard though, even if she gets the verb tense right, she doesn't know how to conjugate the verb properly anyway most of the time!

Tonight we taught the girls about the internet after dinner. We got out our blackberry's and they got so excited about sending emails. They've never written an email before and many girls didn't really understand the concept. They were so happy though, sending emails back and forth between our two phones and to Jenna and Ella sister. They wanted to write to our families and friends and see pictures of America. They were also very excited for everyone to write them back. :) it amazed them that it would be sent all the way to america instantly!

Here are some of the emails sent tonight:

"Eminem how are you ella? I fine thank you I meet you america jenna sister meet america kelsey sister meet america paige sister meet america

Every time you very very happy you don't no cry. Me every time tell kelsey I miss ella sister. "

"Muthumari jenna howare you I dont fargat you! $i$teriloveyou yuocome bethania comevisiting! I dont forget! I love kelsey and paige and jenna"

"Hi paige! How are you? You have rain." -Dhana Packiam

"You very beautiful girl" -by Ramya

"NanDhINi hi Paige sister How are you?"

Their typing skills are improving dramatically :)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday, November 6th

After the kids left this morning, we worked in the field for a while with GP, while it drizzled on us. We collected bucket, after bucket of stones. It's good that the fields are turning green again with the rain and we don't have to pump that well dry anymore trying to carry water. It was the third day of rain, which is so good, we need it! So many plants have died in the drought, including the coconut trees planted last year.

We were so happy and surprised when the kids came home very early from school, at 3.30. We had even more time to play! And it was great, the sun came out in the afternoon so a lot of cricket games were played. We brought out our new tennis balls to play with, splashing in the mud. Nithiya was very excited to play several different versions of catch with the mini soccer ball- smacking it back to me with her palm, making a bat out of her fists to hit it back to me. It was fun, she has so much energy! We played chess, with the new board we bought in Madurai too and taught a new card game! There was much excitement about 'Go Fish!' with the new playing cards. It was so much fun, laughing, screaming, and policing several very intense games of 'go fish!' The nail polish came out again, we had our nails painted and re-painted by the kids. The boys painted their nails red and blue too, along with the girls. It was fun having all the kids lined up under the covered hallway while it rained again and they played chess, Uno, cards, painted nails... They fought for who was going to play chess next, while little Anand yelled while changing colors in the Uno game "Very, very... GREEN!", and while Muga did whatever it took to make sure no one saw her hand of cards. We later looked through our pictures on the cameras with the girls. All the kids want me to show them the pictures I have of them and their families on Deepavali. It's so sad that most of them don't have pictures of their family to look at. Ramya was so excited to see the photo of her, her brother Sethu and her grandparents (Patti and Tata!)

A huge food delivery came in a truck tonight, which the kids told us was "Food King sister!" After evening prayer, which was interrupted by everyone trying to get a particularly huge bug out of the hall, we had a boys' lesson. We played charades- having them act out words like giraffe, elephant, sleeping, eating, dancing, apple, chess, Uno. We had them spell the word after they'd guessed it too. It was a good activity and they seemed to enjoy it, though its really hard to figure out who got the answer first with all of them yelling, jumping and running around! Some of the older boys could spell easily, while some other younger boys like Sethu had trouble even repeating the letters after we'd told them how to spell it.

We had a good chapati dinner, filled up our water buckets for our shower outside in the dark, and sat out taking pictures and talking with the girls for a little while before heading to sleep!