near the beginning of my stay in India, my boss asked me in an e-mail if I wouldn't mind picking up a rock for her there. she has collected many rocks from many different places and I said I didn't mind a bit. but I have to admit I laughed because a rock from India is not unlike a rock from St. George or Provo. on my last day, though, I snatched a rock from 3rd grade Nandini, realizing there was so much life to the rocks here.

my first time at P.T. (Physical Training) 2 first grade boys were playing a game in the dirt with small stones. they drew a 4-square box in the dirt, each placing 3 rocks in corners of their choice. the boys started shifting the stones, and then would yell at each other like they were grown men in an argument over a fender-bender. waving their hands and shouting like maniacs. I don't know what they were saying because I didn't understand their accents then. I soon came to learn how to play the game and thought it quite clever. it is akin to tic-tac-toe with a little more complication. I couldn't believe these four and five-year-olds playing a game that seemed to take so much brain power. it was a mind game and I remember thinking that it is human nature to make use of what we have. for these kids, it is dirt and stones. throughout my 3 months, I learned many more games that make the best of a stone and a little South-India dirt.

playing 5-stones was not nearly as fun as learning how to play it from Shree Shakti and other 3rd grade girls. "Miss you should toss the stones, then you should take one stone, throw the stone, then pick up one and you should catch it Miss." her little voice going up and down. I could listen to those instructions every day for the rest of my life. she is so darling. my eyes were fastened on the way their hands twisted when they tossed the stones--their hands so delicate and mature. watching them, I knew they'd done this a thousand times because it looked like they'd done it a thousand times. their apparent experience made them seem like women crocheting. the stones in their hands were so natural and easy. I thought it was beautiful.

and it took me nearly the entire 3 months to learn how to play 4-block. my word! how many times I tried to get Sumathi to explain it to me. but somehow it just didn't work out until some 5th grade girls showed me the ropes. you draw 4 big squares, the way we think of 4-square (with a ball). you and your one team member each throw a "butcha" (that's what it sounds like to me--the Tamil word for "stone") to your respective first block. this is the first game. you hop on one foot, "stamping" (or stomping on) the stone, and then kicking it (still hopping) to the next block. the rules are, you have to stamp it every time it gets to a new block, the stone cannot touch the line and neither can your foot. if you become out, your only hope (the girls would say this to each other: "I became out! you are the only hope for me!") was your team member. if she moves on the next game (ridiculous rules like doing it with your eyes closed and holding your foot up by your waist), so do you--even if you didn't make it on your own. hop scotch was the same elaborate endeavor. same ridiculous rules and the like. but another game of drawing in the sand and throwing the stones.

my roommates asked me today if I learned any Indian games. I told them I learned a ton. they said I would have to teach them for Family Home Evening or something. I told them all we need is dirt and some butchas.
5 stones

Shree Shakti, 3rd grade girl

Sumathi, 3rd grade girl, playing 5-stones



I was just sitting there after dinner, as I usually did. I made all the children, 5th grade and below, say goodnight to me before they headed off to the dorm. one such night the 1st and 2nd graders were incessantly showing me their "shaking" teeth. (shaking = loose; broken = lost e.g. "my tooth is broken!" rather than "I lost my tooth!") Thanuja, 2nd grade, showed me her front tooth was shaking a lot and I teased her, asking if I could pull it out. she didn't say anything, she just nodded her head a little (of course it was the Indian head-bob indicating a yes). so I shook her tooth a bit, thinking it might get it a little more loose and she could pull it out tomorrow. but then, I thought it might come. I twisted it a little and my stomach dropped--but sweet Thanuja just stood there. I couldn't believe it. I decided to go for it--asking her all the while if I could. again, she just stood there. I pulled it out and this is what I saw the next day. isn't she so cute and brave?


the Indian landscape.

I am unpacked and my belongings are settled. so so so happy to be with Lene and can't wait to see Ariel and I miss Rylee. but I am not feeling exactly keen on the Provo social scene. I forgot how to live. and I forgot the anxiety I get in this town. oh to be back in that haven where 200 children automatically love you, forgive you for messing up, tell you your hair is not nice but love you and like you anyway.

I drove myself to Provo today. I was halfway to Cedar City, about 20 miles into the drive when I gasped at the fields of sunflowers beside me. they seemed to be passing me while I remained stationary, rather than the other way around. and I remembered a little bit about myself. I love Utah. I love the land and space and mountains and yellow grass (weeds) growing tall on either side of Interstate 15.

driving made me remember my first trip away from Shanti Bhavan--sitting in the back of a jeep (I can't remember what they're called in India? something with a k). I think there were about 9 of us scrunched in there. the landscape was amazing, and I remember feeling so glad that I was in rural India. I enoyed the cities during my stay, I did. but I loved that land with so much vegetation, water, trees.
more than anything I wished the kids were with me. I wished I could tell them about the Wasatch mountains, about Cove Fort, and the pioneers. I wished the 5th graders were all with me to experience freeways and highways. I spent an entire 45-minute Social Studies period trying to explain a smooth, faster road with exits. I thought of a million ways that I could have better explained this.

I rekindled my friendship with the Utah landscape today and thought of how rural India is not unlike Utah. I have never noticed how rural Utah is until today. and though socially I'm unsettled, I'm glad to see my old world in context of the Indian one. may there be many more paradigm shifts.



Thanuja. I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful picture.

I made her stand there in her cute blue dress. all the clothes SB children wear are donated and sometimes they look like they're from 1989. other times they are darling as a button.

I miss these girls.


I hate America. not really. I love America. I am back in the U.S.A. and everything is too normal. 36 hours of flying by yourself is not the best way to spend the day after you leave the 200 most adorable and loving people in the world.

my last few days were incredible. so many moments at Shanti Bhavan were incredible. my last day was my birthday and it started with the choir singing For Good and I was a goner for the rest of the day. to each of my classes (I teach every grade except 11th! I was so lucky to have the schedule I did) I read "I Like You" which I fortuitously found in the SB junior library.

it was so appropriate for me to whisper to the first graders, "you know how to be silly--that's why I like you. boy are you ever silly! I never met anybody sillier than me till I met you."

and my 10th graders completely agreed when I read to them, "when I say something funny, you laugh. I think I'm funny and you think I'm funny too."
the 10th graders

my eyes teared at the thought of their generous hearts as I said "if you find two four-leaf clovers, you give me one"

and I bawled when I had to read, "if you go away, then I go away too. or if I stay home, you send me a postcard. you don't just say 'well see you around sometime, bye.' I like you a lot because of that. if I go away, I send you a postcard too."

I feel an emptiness I've never known before, and the children permeate my every thought. I miss Devraj and his innocent-but-guilty "Miss..." I wished you were on the plane seat next to me Devraj. I miss waking up every morning to the 6th and 7th grade boys trying to act cool, but cheering when I get assigned to go play basketball with them. I miss Pushpa and her diligent violin practice--every day she brought me a new piece to learn. I miss Reena. I keep dreaming of Reena. I wish she were here sweetly telling me about this time she misplaced her pencil or that time she heard someone singing happy birthday to you, you look like a monkey...

throughout my time and on my last few days, the children showered me with cards and gifts--some of which are friendship bracelets. on Friday morning when I departed from the Bengaluru airport, I had 13 bracelets on my wrist. I am so proud of them and promised each child to never remove them. inevitably they have been falling off, one at a time. I am down to 8. I hate that I am losing them. I hate that I am forgetting them and that they are me. but they are still there. they are still learning, still healthy, still living without me. and that thought makes me happy. I trust that things will go on dandily without me and subdue my selfish sadness and remember that they are adapting and I should too.

as for here and now, I don't really remember how to live. I'm not sure I can dress myself, shop for myself, cook for myself, go to work, go to school, drive. the basics. but I will remember that in a few days time. already I am becoming normal again. despite my initial disgust in LAX at the skimpy attire and my amazement at how nice everything is in my room, in my car, and on my macbook, I am living. I saw a movie today. so there. in no time at all I will be forced to remember how to live--just like riding a bike.

things are normal. as I previously said, too normal. I am so eerily used to the red cliffs outside my window, and driving came back to me with sheer ease. my mom's cooking is like I never left it--warm and delicious. I wish I were more culture shocked than I am.

what hasn't come so easily, though, has been my change. I forgot how to live like an American, but that I will remember. what I'm not sure I will remember so quickly is my purpose. I've forgotten why I live--why I live here. why don't I live in Balliganapalli? who said that's how it is supposed to be?

the last thing I want is to put this "experience" in my coin purse and save it for a testimony meeting or a first-day-of-school introduction. or a random blog post here and there. I know people are genuine and have sweet intentions when they say "what an experience!" or "I bet you had a great experience." I don't mean to be bitter--I know I have said the same thing to others and even about myself. but those 200 children are my family. they're not an experience. they're permanent. they're not tucked neatly into my pocket, ready to be pulled out of their compartment for an appropriate conversation. I love them every day. I will miss them every day.

the 6th grade girls have planted a garden! I caught them doing puja and sprinkling holy water over their new plants.

Ashwat. he is the most devilishly handsome fellow in the 7th grade. I love him.

these two are mine. Naveen and Berkmans. as I told Naveen, one of my biggest fears is being understood. and I feel like they understand me.

reading "Where the Red Fern Grows" to my 4th graders. we finished it on my 2nd to last day. unexpectedly, I cried when Billy had to bury Old Dan and Little Ann. in the book he says he feels he buried a part of his life with them.


bium pum pum.

I taught the girls the bium pum pum dance. Kate, Em, and Melissa can appreciate the meaning of bium pum pum.

Lakshmi, myself, Mercina Divya, Vijaylakshmi, Hannah Mercy.
Viji and me.
Shilpa and me.

Ruby Joy and me. I love this girl--about 2 months ago she started calling me "ames" without any coaching.


Maheshwari's question.

I leave in 4 days. on August 20--my 20th birthday. how everything will turn out I don't know. at this moment, I feel like my life has a big question mark attached to it. and most of the questions are coming from the kids. why didn't we have dance class yesterday? why are you leaving? when are you coming back?

when are you coming back. not are you coming back. of course, as anyone knows, I have to answer honestly that I don't know if I will be back. but each time I watched them in assembly, or took a snapshot of their little faces this week, my breath became short and I realized that I have to come back. but again--question mark. money? time? career? family?

as I told my 10th graders, if I leave here the same person I was 3 months ago, I will have failed. but Maheshwari, smart and beautiful with a natural cynicism that makes you question everything, asked "Amy, what are you going to change?"

I have no idea. I'm a good person. I was an ok person before I came here. but really, what am I going to do when I get back? in 4 days. I miss them already. I wish each of you reading now could understand how it feels when their tiny hands come and touch yours, barely fitting around your two fingers. or how it feels when they hand you a card that has a giant rabbit standing on 2 legs, holding a pet dog and some butterflies. it reads "Dear Amy, we love you? I miss you. your dance class were nice. come back whenever you can. love, Thanu." I want you to know how I feel when they beckon me over with a downturned hand, pulling me down to sit by them and eat my birthday cake made of the red, southern India dirt ("mud" as the kids call it). I want you to understand me when I tell you how proud I was of Pushpa for playing the violin to the Tamil song, and how I look in Stella's eyes and see remarkable beauty that stings because I know a portion of what's inside her--pain, happiness, curiosity, loneliness.

how can I tell you of these things? how can I tell you how painful it is for me to leave this place, this haven of peace? I miss my family tremendously. I missed Kate's graduation. a day I wouldn't have missed for the world. but I did. I missed it for India. congratulations Kate. I look up to you in every way and know you will be the best nurse in the world. I wish for the day when you join me in coming back here. but don't get me wrong. I am going to have slice of pizza, a glass of root beer and a bag of peanut m&m's the moment I'm back on the mainland. I am going to get a pedicure with meg, see Harry Potter 6, and catch up on Gilmore Girls reruns. I'm going to be a TA again! I'm going to be with my roommates. I love my roommates! I miss them! I'm going to be back at BYU--one of my favorite places in the world. I'm going to be taking great classes and seeing old friends and making new ones. (p.s. the guy next to me's phone just rang. his ringer was "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely")

it's just that I have entered myself into a world which I previously didn't know existed. and I have to give it up a few moments after I fell completely and irrevocably in love with it. it doesn't seem fair.

it is customary for volunteers to give a little speech at assembly at the end of their stay at Shanti Bhavan. Allegra said it beautifully: it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Tony, the first volunteer to leave when I arrived, taught the kids a great American saying, one in a million. in America, we use the saying to reference a small and miraculous chance. Tony made the kids do a little math saying, how many people are in India? around 1.1 billion. how many of those people are in poverty? about half, so about 500 million. now let's just say, that 200 million of those people are children. how many kids are there at Shanti Bhavan? 200. each of these kids has been given a literal one in a million chance.

I've been thinking, of course, about what words I can share with the kids when I go. I will tell them how wonderful they are of course. and I will tell them that I will miss them tremendously. but I want to tell them my 2 wishes for them. first, I hope they get as rich as they ever wanted. I hope the vision of Shanti Bhavan is a miraculous reality. I hope that they make millions of dollars, bring their families and villages out of poverty, and that they build 10 more Shanti Bhavans--just as everybody hopes for. but second, I hope they gain what I have gained from them--riches the world doesn't understand.

so to answer your question Mahesh, I don't know who I'll be when I return home. I know I will have an appreciation for Indian culture, and that will be different. on a lighter note, I do not trust myself to go shopping for a few weeks. I have forgetten what's "cute" and "fashionable" and will only be able to pick you out a nice sari or dupatha and maybe some matching bangles. 3-week volunteers (volunteers that come for 3 weeks, how many of them I've seen come and go) have been telling me I've been in India way too long. I don't taste the masala on my almonds anymore. I don't hesitate when I cross the street. I say "telling" instead of "saying." I bob my head. yes. I bob my head. and I don't even notice it anymore. but other than that, I don't know how I'll be different. there's a question mark there.

despite the thousands of Rupees I spent on silks and bangles and toy elephants, I know that I am coming home a rich girl.


hello August.

hello August, month of my birth. and the births of my eldest sister Melissa and my mother. happy birthday Carly. August: the month in which I will leave Shanti Bhavan. I'm reluctant to speak the words I have 3 weeks left here. that statement feels like a lie. on Monday, I was feeling trunky. I was desperate to call home and talk to my family. some time between Monday and today I feel panicked. I can not leave. 3 weeks is not enough time left. I feel sick about it. here's why:

taking weekend trips like the one to Mysore are exhausting. they're physically and mentally draining. India is a sensory feast and my senses are sensitive. it always feels so good to be home and I wished that I'd never left. it is strange how many emotions I am going through here. I don't remember being this unstable or easily affected in the past. I don't ever remember being so tired! this is why volunteer-based efforts are so hard to get accomplished--it's wildly exhausting and hardly accommodating. it makes sense because it's not about you--it has to be about someone else or it's not service.

Sunday night
Summer & Allegra (2 volunteer sisters--I love them so much. they are just so normal and very easy to talk to. not to mention they are both professional musicians. Allegra plays piano and Summer plays cello) put on a SB choir production. it was a great night and the choir sang one of my favorites Getting to Know You from the King and I, but I love that song because of James Taylor singing and whistling it on my childhood favorite For Our Children cassette tape. they sang the song once, sang it twice and performed a marvelous handshake with partners. the third time, they all came into the audience and grabbed new partners. Sumith from 5th grade came to take me, I handed off Summer's camera to Mani (12th grade boy), and I was tugged me all the way to the stage where I was a horrible partner but couldn't help smiling. of course.

today was Amarnath's birthday (4th grade boy, turning 9 years old). a few days before, he got hit with a cricket bat and had to wear a bandage on his left eyebrow. on Monday, Mary Sheela told me he was feeling shy about wearing it on his birthday. luckily, he was able to go bandage-free on his big day. the kids don't get a lot of celebration for their birthdays--just a special outfit for about 15 minutes at snack time, where they get sung to and can hand out chocolates (candy--every kind of candy in India is a chocolate) to the staff and volunteers. Amarnath is uber talented. I've never seen a kid with potential so thick and so visible. he is a brilliant dancer in dance class, he completes his social studies work perfectly, and his athleticism is impressive--winning lightning every other time against the 5th graders. he is the kid to be around. I've never seen him get down or sensitive or become sad over small things, or anything for that matter. but on Tuesday, during P.T. I noticed him not playing basketball with the rest of the boys. I made him come sit by me. he is not usually the boy to grab my hand or give me a hug, but he came right into my lap and started crying. he didn't tell me what the reason was but I got the feeling it was for no reason at all. I always cry on my birthday. it's never what it should be and I imagine he was feeling the tiniest bit homesick. I must admit I know how he feels.

I really am emotional. I wish I was more cheerful. actually, I wish I was more of a lot of things. i wish I was more compassionate. more fun. a better friend to the kids. more flexible. longer suffering. I really feel that I need to work specifically on becoming a better, more personal person. my interpersonal skills are not what they should be. I wish I were more genuine. Robbie, a most loved and zealous volunteer left on Tuesday. I thought the kids might die of sadness. every kid was crying. I don't know but on Tuesday I wasn't sure about my place at Shanti Bhavan. I want to be loved. I am never going to be as popular as Robbie, but I hoped that one kid will be as sad that I am leaving, as they all are that Robbie has gone. thinking, how can I be more like Robbie? I've been listening to a lot of complaining among adults (mainly in my own head) and I started to conclude that some of the volunteers I've met have come to serve their own purpose. and I realized that I was one of them. how selfish it is to wish for a child to be sad on my account. I am working and thinking so hard in order to fulfill me own needs--I should be thinking about the kids' needs.

a day to win all days. 10 British teachers from an organization called Leaders Quest came to visit Shanti Bhavan to see, in their words, what they could learn from us. I've never seen so much hullabaloo in my life. the kids were dressed in their nicest saris and the boys wore shirts and ties. they looked so beautiful! 4 of the 12th graders challenged 4 of the teachers with a debate on the topic "The world will be a less stable, less secure, less prosperous place 25 years from now." I've never seen a better debate. Viji is incredible. I'm sure he is one of the smartest 17 year old boys I've ever met--if not the smartest. he commands a room with his wit and articulation. Rajini quoted Macbeth beautifully and faced his opposition fearlessly. Mala's eloquent speech on technology affecting the poor filled me with pride. and Pushpa is the strongest, most independent young woman I've ever met. she is brilliant and her words on climate change were solid and powerful.

the volunteers also had a private meeting with the British people. we talked for a short 30 minutes about our experience here--and what it is the school really needs. Shanti Bhavan's message is simple: first, the kids are from the poorest of the poor. second, look what they've done. third, look who they are. they are polished, well-mannered, and tomorrow's leaders who are going to break out of the cycle of poverty. fourth, as volunteers, we've been here and we know that a dollar given is a dollar well-spent. it will not be wasted.

after the debate, the choir sang the most beautiful song I've ever heard. I vaguely know what it means (it is in Tamil), but each time I hear it I cry. the best part of Thursday was seeing Pushpa accompany the choir on the violin. she is a brilliant violin player, despite her not having a teacher for 2 years. she has never performed in public before and her playing was beautiful. I am still bursting with pride for her accomplishments. she is a testament to how inadequate I am. she has SO much potential as a violinist (among other things), but I am not enough to teach her what she needs to know.

the whole point of the Tamil song was to set up 5 vignettes put on by the 11th and 12th graders. the vignettes or role plays were meant to be an illustration of what the kids' lives are like when they are not at Shanti Bhavan. if you were there you would not have believed the sheer talent and confidence with which they acted out these real experiences. it was a shocking juxtaposition to see them acting so brilliant a scene so real and so tragic. many times at Shanti Bhavan, I have cried. the kids are always asking me "Miss, why did you cry?"

after the role plays, the British teachers were crying. some of them uncontrollably. I wanted to explain to the kids why they were crying. I discussed it on a whim in 8th grade and in 10th grade I was shocked when I had their full full attention, something that almost never happens. I'll never forget the attention Keshavan gave me. his eyes were looking at me, waiting for an explanation with genuineness. I asked them why they thought the British (disclaimer: I am sorry for constantly referring to human beings according to their nationality. they were really nice people and more than just British people. but that is what I am referring to them as now) people were crying. they gave me a right answer: they were touched.

I explained to them the concept of a Sunday School answer--that there are some times when we answer a question with whatever we think the person asking the question wants to hear instead of giving a real answer. they understood that when you give a Sunday School answer, you're not really thinking about the question and you're not thinking about how you feel about the answer. you're not thinking about the significance.

finally, I told them the reason I thought those people were crying, the reason people cry, the reason I cry, is because of the juxtapositions that exist in Shanti Bhavan. the combination of how beautiful and brilliant they are and that the scenes they are acting are real to them. and not even real. "real" is a word that is so over-dramatic and overused. to them, it's not real, it's normal. the reason why those British people are crying is because it is shocking that these kids come from villages were female infanticide is normal, and where their uncle wants to sell them into prostitution because their parents are both dead. and it is unbelievable that the kids playing Fantasy Impromptu on the piano have come from homes where the dad is alcoholic and abusive. that the 17 year old Indian boys have nicknamed one of their friends Gomez because he has a light mustache (they can make you laugh hysterically at the drop of a hat) come from homes where girls can't go to school after 8th grade. their families can't use the village well because they are of the "untouchable" caste. that is unbelievable because here they are singing For Good from Wicked.

I continued to tell the 10th graders that one reason why people are so "touched" is because when they meet them, they feel the need to change. if I leave them the same person I was when I came, I will have failed myself.

am missing you all and will see you very soon. until then, I will feel anxious about leaving my family of 200 kids with soft hands and smiling faces.