21 April 2014

Spring Break India: Jaipur, Ladli, and Monkeys . . .

I left for my second trip to India with a curious thought in the back of my head . . . Should I be repeating a trip? Going somewhere that I have already been? I only have one year left in Singapore, so repeating trips seems a bit of a waste when there is still so much left of Asia that I need to see. But I've been to Bali twice and I'm planning on going again. I loved India the first time around, so I got on the plane and hoped for the best.

I arrived in Delhi at 10pm. It's always crazy to arrive in Delhi because hundreds of drivers are waiting for people after you walk out of the airport. Hundreds! All carrying little signs with printed names in small font. I would imagine it's like being a celebrity and having hundreds of photographers waiting for you. But there were no cameras for me, only tiny signs that my sleepy 39 year old eyes were having a hard time deciphering. Then--in a sea of white signs--I saw a young man holding a yellow sign with my name handwritten in large letters. It was even spelled correctly. Success! My driver, Gajendar.

I hopped in the car and he took me to my little AirBNB flat that I booked way back in December. It was completely dark out, but somehow we made it. I carried my one bag up three flights of a spiral staircase, found the bed and crashed.

The next morning, Gajendar picked me up at 5am. He had packed a cooler full of juice, water, and diet coke. We were off to Jaipur.

Side note: Jaipur is about 5.5 hours away from Delhi. Road trips in the US are very different than road trips in India. It's really important to have a great driver, one who is kind and drives safely but efficiently. In December when I went to Jaipur and Agra, I had the misfortune of having a horrible driver. He was cranky and very unpleasant. But Gajendar is super nice and conversational and interesting. He knows where fun things are and very rarely has to ask directions. He is the perfect driver for long road trips. Call him when you go to Delhi! I will hook you up!

We made it to Jaipur in record timing and went straight to the room I booked that very same morning (at 3am mind you: I was a bit behind on my travel accommodations). I was staying in a room on a private floor of a family home. The lady of the house loves having visitors, so she sort of turned their home into a bed and breakfast. Once I checked in and unloaded all of my things, Gajendar took me out to Ladli.

Ladli was the reason for my trip to Jaipur. 

"Ladli is a self-owned social enterprise of street children, young adults, and women belonging to disadvantaged communities. Ladli ensures empowerment and sustainable opportunities for its beneficeries by creating quality handmade products based on the principles of fair trade." 

I will be working with Ladli during the 2015/2016 school year, teaching creative workshops and entrepreneurship skills. So I was meeting with the organizers of the program to discuss next steps and get an overview of the housing and programs being provided to the participants.

What an incredible organization . . . I loved meeting all of the young people there and they were all so welcoming!

The vocational center has two open-air classrooms and a computer skills room with 10 donated desktops.

The boys' home was located in this amazing art deco-style home at the end of a street, several kilometers from the vocational center. The boys were all so lovely! When we walked in, everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to us with their hands in prayer and said, "namaste". Then they went back to running around and playing, as boys do . . .

The top floor of the boys' home has a studio room filled with sewing machines and fabrics. The boys do a lot of sewing work for their contribution to the social enterprise side of Ladli. When I walked in, they were working on piping for beaded necklaces and tote bags. An expert tailor measures and cuts everything and facilitates the items being made in the room.

The girls' home was about 40 kilometers down the road from the boys' home. When I walked in the front door, they greeted me with a shower of flowers all while marking my forehead. Some of the girls were working on schoolwork, some of the girls were playing, and some of the girls were drawing in their sketchbooks. The girls' portion of the social enterprise focuses on designing greeting cards, jewelry-making, and various other fabric and paper-based products. I love the picture above: the girls look completely worried, but two seconds earlier they were smiling and giggling. On the other hand, I look like a regular crazy person. 

The last home I visited was for little girls, maybe ages 4 - 7. They were absolutely precious. They were so active and happy to see me. They all showed me their workbooks where they were learning to write numbers. I kept looking at their happy, smiling faces and thinking: how did they get here? What is their story? Where are their parents?

The young people working on the Ladli social enterprise side of things get paid for all of the work that they make, and the money is put into a savings account for them. When they leave Ladli, at the age of 18 or 20, they have a bit of a nest egg to work with. One of the girls I met had been at Ladli for 10 years. She was now in nursing school. It's an amazing organization, and I look forward to working with them.

After leaving Ladli--almost crying happy tears--Gajendar and I went to the Monkey Temple. This is the same place I went on Christmas day last year. And it was even more amazing then I had remembered . . . And unlike my irritating driver in December, Gajendar hiked to the top of the mountain with me. We bought peanuts to feed the monkeys. But much to my dismay, a smallish monkey walked over to me, looked me square in the face and slapped the bag of peanuts out of my hand. Three monkeys proceeded to eat all of the peanuts. A cow lumbered over to get in on the action. After a few bites, the slap-happy monkey smacked him in the face. I couldn't help but laugh because it was a straight-up, open palm bitch slap. From a tiny monkey! Hilarious!

We got to the top of the mountain a lot faster than I remember getting there last year. Perhaps it's because I knew what to expect. But we got there right at sunset. And it was just the most sparkling view. Jaipur glistened in the sun below, like little flecks of pink and teal glitter. It was beautiful! After the Monkey Temple, we went out to dinner at a restaurant that featured puppet shows and Rajasthani dancing. Good times . . . 

The next morning, I slept in a bit and had the most amazing breakfast where I was staying: omelettes, toast, mango, bananas, cookies, and tea . . . Gajendar picked me up at 10:30am and we made our way over to the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing. I had to see that space again! I loved it so much the first time around.

We took in some roadside sites on the way out of town . . . 

Once we got back on the highway, we started on our way back to Delhi. And I saw the sparkly beauties hanging from the bottoms of trucks again (just look how fabulous they look when in action, below right). I wanted them really badly when I saw them last December, but my driver wouldn't help me get them. I just couldn't take it anymore: I had to have them. So Gajendar stopped and I bought 6 of them from the young man in the picture below. He asked me to take a picture of him. It was the only time I saw him act like what he was: a child. Before that, he was all sales. No smiles. I'm going to use my sparklies in a video I'm making this summer in school. I can't wait . . . 

Next up? Saree shopping for the big wedding and other fun things.

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