Homeward Bound

We all met in the lobby of the hotel shortly before 1 am to load 3 vans with us and luggage. Four of the hotel guys where there to help load and it all honesty it got pretty funny It's hard for anyone to imagine why 19 people's luggage for 3 weeks looks like but before it was over one of the hotel guys was standing on the roof of one of the vans putting luggage there and then tying it down.

Pallium sent three vans and three of our favorite drivers and of course Babu who is running on not much sleep as he was up all night one night this week with the lady who had a fractured leg as one of our vans hit her. Understand that Trivandrum has a very high traffic fatality rate because of that traffic and I have no doubt that the person our van injured probably walked out right in front of the van. Babu immediately went to be with the injured person and stayed all night but here he was 3 nights later running on very little sleep there to see us off.

Trivandrum Airport & Security
At the airport our friend Rajeev met us with an Iowa Hawkeye shirt on - hard to miss. It was so good of him to come see us off. You all may think check in at US airports is something but think again. Lets see if I can remember the places we got checked before boarding.
1. To even enter the airport - military guards check passports and itinerary.
2. X-ray our bags
3. Check in our luggage
4. Upstairs to go through customs
5. X-ray our carry on bags, scan us and rescan with hand thingy, made me take everything out of my brief case, camera, cables etc. etc. etc and rescanned again.

Atilla the Female Security Guard & Her Friends
There were 4 lines for guys to go through and one for women. The women who did the pat downs and inspections looked like they all were having PMS, really bad days and perhaps had not had a bowel movement for a month. (perhaps our friends from Pallium could help them with a high enema, I don't know). They actually ran Jenna's bag through 5 times - now I tell you there she was with a lovely flowered soft sided bag not looking in any way evil or even snarky but it made no difference. These security women were intent on preventing the next I don't know what. Interestingly enough it didn't appear to me that the men were being scrutinized as heavily.

Angie, a marked woman.
Angie had another whole experience as one of her bags was 4 pounds over and she was going to have to pay $50 for the extra weight. They were pretty crabby with her and insisted that it be in rupees not US dollars so they took her to an ATM so she could get rupees and were not in a hurry about it. Her morning was further made difficult by a woman on the first plane who dropped her seat back without warning and hit her on the head as she was resting on the tray table. When she politely protested the flight attendant scolded Angie because the women in front had a child! Not a good way to start the trip home.

Fortunately we had arrived early enough that this didn't affect our ability to board on time or anything else. We also caught up with Vid a student from UC Berkley who was flying back home to California and had been in class with us.

There were varying degrees of sleeping on that first leg, I myself lowered my head and was asleep before we took off as I had not gone to bed the night before. When I woke up 4.5 hours later I was pretty well rested and in Abu Dhabi!.

Abu Dhabi Airport
Abu Dhabi is a pretty new airport and is lovely. Like many international airports we got off the plane some distance away and were bused in to the main terminal. Abu Dhabi is also were we left Marc to go to England and Jennifer to go visit friends in Germany. Andrew did not take the first flight with us as he was going up North to see the Taj Mahal so our group begins to get smaller. We all enjoyed the airport as it had some recognizable food - our choices were familiar ones and I saw everything from blueberry muffins, to a ham and cheese croissant and a Whopper junior with fries!

We also saw a wall image that explained to us how Adam paid for his trip (image is posted on the blog)- but why wasn't Ryanne beside him?

Iowa Students in Abu Dhabi
Before much time had passed we went to the boarding area where all of a sudden there was a sea of Hawkeye shirts and English being spoken. Clearly many of the study abroad courses in India were taking this flight back to Chicago. After spending 3 weeks listening to a spoken language when we had absolutely no idea what was being said it's quite a change.

14 hours to O'Hare
The plane left on time and were on our way to Chicago on the last flying leg of our journey together. The trip back was pretty long as it was 14 hours of flying with 399 of our closest friends. We got fed lots - 2 full meals, plus a sandwich, carmel popcorn, and some fresh apple slices. It took us longer than usual to clear passport control even though there were lots of lanes open- when you're this tired it seemed like forever.

Our buses were there waiting for us and some of us felt the need to stop at the MacDonalds on our way out the door. After we headed out our bus got called back to the terminal as 2 students had missed it. (not my group!) That little turn back added 45 minutes to our trip home but the driver put the pedal to the metal and we were back shortly after 9 pm.

My Group was/is THE best!
I saw several other of the instructors in Abu Dhabi and in Chicago and asked how their trips had been and they all said really great but in the back of my mind I was thinking all of the time - "your trip might have been fine but mine was fabulous and my students were better than yours!" (and I mean it).


Bags Packed

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go and leavin' on a jet plane in a few hours but thought I'd do this one last blog entry from India. I'm happy to say everything fit into my bag which is always a little concerning as I do have a tendency to bring a few things back with me every time. Thanks to Adam who's once again going to put two lenses in his backpack for me - bless you!

Student Presentations
It was a day when all of the students did presentations on any topic they wanted and the only requirement that it had to do with India. Parents, you would be very proud of all of them as they really did a great job. Topics ranged from the recent rape case in Dehli to elephants, to arranged marriages, to cricket, to Indian food, religion and Nora actually wrote a lovely poem about her experiences which Pallium has asked to have a copy to put it in their newsletter.

Special Video
When the presentations were done the students had put together a video in honor of Pallium and myself. I was deeply touched as I know the folks from Pallium were as well. Pallium and I have a copy and I will watch it again before I leave for the airport. It was well done and heart felt. I also did a DVD with highlights of the trip and made a copy for each student to have so some of you will be seeing that in the near future.

Final Goodbyes
We said our goodbyes to our friends from Pallium - Dr. Raj, Aneeja, Dr. Annie but will see Babu as he's coming to escort us to the airport silly man that he is. (We're leaving at 1 am!)

Tonight we went to the top of a nearby hotel for a really great dinner - all of us. The weather was cool for Trivandrum and the humidity low. I recognize that "cool" will soon be a relative term for all of us as I just packed my winter coat into the side of my luggage.

Darn Lucky
As I sit here in my hotel room I really feel lucky to have been able to bring this group of students to Trivandrum. I told them the first day that I wanted them to open their hearts and their minds to this whole experience and they have done exactly that! I could not possibly be any more proud of them as they represented themselves in the highest academic tradition of seeking knowledge and embracing some amazing situations that are a far cry from anything they have ever seen. You will all enjoy their non-stop talking in the days, weeks and even months to come. Such a cultural immersion is life changing and the three week Winter Term is the time to do it. Thank you for sharing your sons and daughters with me for this adventure.

Last Day

Well it's our last day here in Trivandrum and it's hard to believe that we left Iowa almost 3 weeks ago. We had a day off yesterday as they couldn't figure out how to allow all of us to log on to the server to enter data. Although it would have been nice to do that for Pallium the students enjoyed the day off. Many continued their "retail therapy" while some went to the nearby temple, a couple had facials and their nails done and once again a pretty large group went back to the beach. The group has found a great restaurant to eat at on the beach and enjoyed playing volleyball with the kids until the volleyball exploded. They also did a fair amount of boogie boarding and came back tired and happy.

Last night we were the honored guests of the hotel to a lovely dinner on the rooftop. It gave us the chance to thank the chef's, serving staffs and the hotel as a whole. Dr. Raj, Sagi George, Aneeja and Babu joined us for this meal which meant a lot to us. Babu had been up for more than 24 hours as on Tuesday one of Pallium's van's had hit a lady in traffic and broke her lower leg. Babu stayed with her all night and even after surgery. With traffic as it is here in the city the accident rate has to be very, very high. Clearly the staff of Pallium was most upset that this had happened but if you were here you'd understand perfectly. Last night when I was walking to go to the photo place to pick up some images I felt a motorcycle brush by my right arm - not joking here. I would even be surprised if Trivandrum kept records of how many accidents occur in the city.

We got into picture taking big time last night with a group picture, pictures with our Pallium friends and on and on and on. Dr. Raj said he didn't think he'd had that many pictures of him taken since he got married! To me pictures are what will maintain the memory of this trip. This morning I'll go to my favorite photo place and have some prints made for our friends.

I also leave a full DVD of the images from home visits, patients, pallium staff and of the students so that Pallium can use them for their web site or any publicity they choose - it's the least I can do.

Today we're off until 12:30 when we'll have lunch followed by the student's presentations o their projects. I think this will be very interesting to see what topics they have chosen. It will be nice for me to sit back and hear what they have to say. We also have some gifts to give to our dear friends and some gifts for patients.

Tuesday the 15th

Yesterday was a classroom day and today to Pallium
We spent yesterday in our last full day of classroom work which included some of the history of Pallium, self care for professionals, energy fields, acupressure and had a lovely woman who was a former patient of Pallium come speak to us. She has arthritis and had spent six years of her life bedfast from the disease and at age 28 that's a big part of your life. Pallium was able to find a school that wanted a project so they raised 200,000 rupees to get the job done (that's 2 total knees for $4,000 total) Are you getting the idea that the US Congress ought to consider sending folks to India for their health care?? Lila had an amazing story to tell and she also has a lovely singing voice and she sang for us. The fact that she came back from so much immobility is close to a miracle. We also found out that she had never been in a hotel before! She stayed for lunch but needed a little down time so she rested in my room, a treat for her. Her mother had accompanied her so the two of them had quite a remarkable day and a truly remarkable woman! And no she wouldn't qualify for palliative care in the US with this problem but …..
Today the plan was to go to Pallium India at SUT hospital and do data entry for them. They have done so much for us that it only seemed right to help them out a bit so we went armed with about 12 computers ready to rock and roll after having our previous effort quashed. We surmounted the first hurdle and all got on the network! However after that we were only capable of logging on with 3 computers so three teams spent their day doing data entry for Pallium. The rest of the students worked on their final projects and a variety of other tasks of their choosing. The day ended by meeting with Raj and talking about ways to improve the course - always helpful. If they get the log on problem solved we'll go back tomorrow and run ten computers and do data entry on a large scale.
Came back from Pallium's office and went out to dinner with Angie, Jennifer, Nora and Jenna - a great meal and then Jennifer and Jenna escorted me to my favorite place to buy silk scarves Allapat Silks! They never disappoint.
When we returned from Pallium the manager of the hotel asked if we would be the guests of the hotel on Wednesday night for dinner - a gracious invitation which we accepted. However by not having that shopping time several members of the class headed out for their retail therapy.
On a sad note while we were at the hospital today a lovely lady that we visited last week that had a special connection to Jennifer had been admitted in liver failure secondary to advanced breast cancer. We were able to spend time with her today and I think it is unlikely she will be of this world for much longer. Clearly a lovely lady may she rest in peace and her family be comforted.
Hard to believe our time is coming to an end… it has gone very quickly.

Kanyakumari

Today was a day trip down to the tip of India where the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean meet. We left around 7:15 in a very nice air conditioned bus for the trip.

Many roadside markets had sugar cane for sale today and lots of folks could be seen taking a stack home to cook it down to sugar. Interesting place this country.

Padmanabhapuram Palace
I couldn’t pronounce the name of it to save my life but there it is. It’s the former capitol of Kerla before it moved to Trivandrum which is where we are staying. Part of the palace was built in the 1500’s and has amazing teak carvings and granite and is 4 km long. It’s unbelievable the workmanship and knowing how difficult it must have been without the tools we’re used to. The palace has lots of marble, mica, teak and just goes on and on and on. Teak doesn’t rot which is why some of the original is still there - the carvings are breathtaking. The banquet hall could hold 1,000 people. I’ve been through it twice so I decided to stay and watch people and take pictures.

Meeting People with Your Camera
It was a blast - one family in particular, I started with the little kids and then it was clear that the parents of those folks would like their picture taken and then the Grandfather got in the act. He put his hands on his hips and wanted his photo taken and then one with his wife. Before it was over he took my camera handed it to one of his sons who then took a photo of him and I shaking hands. I think it’s possible that I’m now a member of the family. We parted with such a good feeling, it was just pure fun. None of us knew a single word of each other’s language but it didn’t make a difference it was just smiles, laughs and a sharing. Loved it!

Taking photos of children in foreign lands is so much fun because there is NONE of the paranoia held by Americans if you want to photograph their children. All you have to do is smile, point to your camera, take the photo and then show it to them. It’s also a great ice breaker to say hello and the little kids love to practice their English. They often take your photo in return if they have a camera and it’s just pure fun. Most giggle when they see themselves. Two years ago when we were here there were virtually no smart phones that has changed dramatically.

Sea Salt
From the palace we went to a place where they allow sea water in and dry it to make sea salt. They clearly are waiting to flood that plane again and start another process. We also saw some wind turbines in this area and I’d never seen those in India. Across from where we got back on a bus was a small temple with little tiny cribs hanging in it. Aneeja told us that parents who are having difficulty trying to conceive children purchase those little cribs and hang the there and pray that they can have a child.

The Vattakottai Fort
Then an old fort that actually protected a pearl harbor and also had the exit from the palace we had just seen 25 kilometers away! It had a nice view of the ocean but probably the single best thing that happened there was there was a group of probably 20 kids that met my group. Lots of photos were taken and lots of laughs as well. As we were getting ready to leave we ran into them again and Jennifer got to dancing with them and the joy was magnified several times over. This is BIG fun

Kanyakuari
Next stop was the city of Kanyakuari which was very busy as they are celebrating the 150 birthday of a local god. Nonetheless we took the ferry out to the island where there is a shrine to 2 different gods and had a great time enjoying the cool sea and watching people. As we were walking out we stopped by a coconut stand where a guy was chopping away at the coconuts so several of the students decided to try the milk. I’m pretty happy as on one of those photos shows the spray of milk as the knife strikes it.

Then it was back to the bus and home at about 6 pm.

Fun day! Class tomorrow and we’ll kind of start to wind down… hard to believe.