Monthly Archives: May 2012

Riding through the streets of India on a motorcycle and sneaking baggage

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I had though that I was done posting about India, but our last few hours were rather dramatic. On a positive note, neighbors kept stopping by to share their regards and to give us presents. Very sweet, very thoughtful. (Note to thoughtful people though: when packing to move around the world, paint your own garden rocks are not an item that can be taken along due to weight concerns!)

Overall, we had so much stuff and we were painfully aware of how difficult airlines make it to fly nowadays with baggage. We kept weighing, and weighing our bags and were trying really hard to avoid too many extra bags since we would have to pay the fees twice due to our stopover in Europe.

While we were packing in a frenzied manner, the complex  manager stops by with a very large unpaid electric bill. We soon learn that the electrician and the security guard were not reading the bills properly and were undercharging us by a lot.  When I explained that I had in fact tried to pay the correct amount and it had been returned to me for overpaying, the four men ended up in a shouting match in our apartment, with the guy in charge storming out and saying it would come out of the other guys pay checks. Our flight was leaving in three hours, but we spend a large amount of energy quarreling about this bill, with the workers knocking on the door with several iterations of the amount owed. In the end, I had a bill of over $200 due that evening. I had drained all of my rupees already since you aren’t supposed to take them out of the country and therefore you can’t exchange them in Europe or the U.S.  We had no driver booked until it was time to leave for the airport.

So, I ended up getting on the back of the property manager’s motorcycle and racing down the road to get money out of the ATM. I was not dressed to be out and about in India, let alone on the back of a motorcycle. I had on short shorts and a tank top because the house was so hot and I was moving around 50 pound suitcases. I definitely heard some cat calls coming out of the buses. And in true India style, the first ATM was out of order. Then we drove way into our local commercial district. The second ATM was closed to refill the money. Finally, the third ATM gave me the needed cash. And it gave me the opportunity to teach the property manager the phrase, “Third time is a charm!”

I had often wondered what it might be like to ride about Bangalore on a motorcycle. Little did I know that I would have the opportunity in my final hours in India.

Getting to the airport, we had been very worried that our checked bags would stay under the 50 pound limits. That proved to be no problem. But the big problem–our carryons. I had overloaded the carryons. Legos filled the bottom of each bag.  Shies and water bottlshoestring tied to the outside of the backpacks. Plus before boarding I had each child put on a heavy sweatshirt plus tie two jackets around their waists! We just had no room at all.

Much to our surprise, Lufthansa really allows only one carryon, not one above and one below like in the U.S. I  had crammed the kids backbacks with stuff plus each of us had a roller board. Each of those counted as the carryon–no personal item allowed on Luftansa unless it is super small. So the backpacks counted as the one personal item.

We were shocked. Especially since none of these rules were an issue flying into India. PLUS, the were weighing the carryons at the gate. They couldn’t be more than 9 kilos. Some of ours were 22 kilos, because we shoved some of our heaviest items in them to avoid the checked baggage limits. In all my years of flying I have never had my carryons weighed. As long as they were regulation size, I have never had an issue. In the end, we had to pay $70 per bag to check our carryons–$210. It was only due to some quick thinking and some efforts to confuse the airlines on our part that we paid for three additional checked bags rather than five or six ( which would have cost over $400 more).

We had to do this all over again in Frankfurt after our Paris adventures. At the hotel, I repacked all the bags including leaving lots of stuff at the hotel for the maid to find–nearly all of our underwear, socks, toiletries, umbrellas, notebooks, and more. Bangalore didn’t weight back packs, only roller boards. So I put heavy statues in all the backpacks. My backpack alone was about forty pounds.  Then I weighed the carryons to 9 kilos but had an extra bag of stuff in each so that if they weighed and it was  over, I could easily pull out the right amount.  (I should add that 9 kgs equals a half empty rollerboard–even when only putting in clothes in the bag; same is true for our checked bags–none of them were full but all at exactly the weight limit.)  The walk through the airport with all that weight on my back was insane, but we made it. Thankfully Lufthansa was MUCH nicer in Frankfurt. Plus, I voluntarily gate checked one carryon, and thankfully by being friendly they didn’t charge me the $70 fee.

Crisis averted but very stressful. I will try to avoid flying Lufthansa in the future.While some may view my theatrics as a bit ridiculous, I find even more ridiculous the fact that on an international flight an airline thinks that 30 kg overall should be sufficient baggage. The airline seems to disrespect travelers more each day. Given the costs of flights these days, to have to pay hundreds of dollars to bring my clothes and souveneirs along is a crime.

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Connections made in Bangalore

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It has been four months of memorable moments in Bangalore!

wearing uniforms to school and making friends from around the world at the Canadian International School

sharing a passion for cricket with Dada

spending time with old friends

receiving temple blessings at Nandi the Bull and elsewhere

sliding down the boulders on a plastic bottle

yummy buffet lunches at hotels

Uncle K’s walk into the wall at the Lalit Ashok hotel!

ice cream–lots of ice cream!

playing Holi!

 

visiting schools of all shapes and sizes

Being sought after for photographs like we were movie stars. And meeting kiddos from all around Bangalore in the process.

seeing student voice in action!

wild monkeys!

Mojitos and milkshakes at the Taj after a nightmare autorickshaw ride!

raising a glass with new friends!

Bollywood dancing

building international relationships in my professional life!

yogaaaaahhhhh!!!!

shopping for treasures

neighborhood friends

One country, seven states, ten cities…..

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Here are some of our most memorable moments while travelling  in India!

spotting the leopard on the Kabini Safari

safari trip of a lifetime at Kabini! Sloth bears, elephants, leopards, otters, crocodiles, peacocks, oh my!

The lion blocking the way of our safari bus in Bannerghatta National Park

parasailing in Goa

houseboatig in Kerala

elephant encounters in Dubare

Young monks at Bylakuppe

palaces, temples, markets…and chess in Mysore

Kochi sunsets

Mumbai adventures with Kim and Leti–especially eating seafood!

Easter morning at the Taj Mahal

Camel riding at Chokho Dhani, Jaipur

snake charmers in Jaipur!

Elephant riding at the Amber Fort

Fun meals in exotic locales! Mango tree, Hampi

Elephant blessings in Hampi

Sitting amongst ancient history, Hampi

Parikrma–making a difference in the lives of kids in Bangalore. I am inspired all over again!

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I found another school to inspire me and hope it will inspire others as well. I had the pleasure of visiting a Parikrma Learning Centre and meeting its founder Shukla Bose. I am frustrated that I only had the chance to visit this school in my last days in Bangalore. I would have spent lots of time here, otherwise!

Parikrma differs from Ananya in that they keep the kids at home (Ananya is a residential school). But they both serve the same slum kids who otherwise would likely not be attending school at all.

The scope of Parikrma is much bigger, though. Parikrma started nine years ago when Bose left the corporate world to make a difference for children She began first by spending her own life’s savings and since then has spread from one school in the Koramangala slum to four schools and one junior college.  Parikrma has served 1,300 children, from kindergarten to getting a job. She shares the Parikrma story in a TED talk given in Mysore recently.

What stands apart for me in the Parikrma model is an understanding of a child as a social system. The group begins with the end point–What is necessary for this slum child to become an employee of IBM? Content is a big focus here. Also instilling a belief in each child that they are special and can make a difference in the world.

Two other aspects stand out–one is the importance of the schools being English medium schools. Bose was adamant that one of the great power differentials in Indian society is the ability to speak English well. Thus, English is the focal point of most lessons.

Second, learning is much more than the classroom at Parikrma. Attention is given to the whole child. How is the child’s health? Nutrition? What barriers are preventing the child from learning? The school offers classes for the mother sat night. It also offers alcohol rehabilitation since the majority of fathers are addicts. The school then works to place the fathers in jobs once they have rehabilitated. Each of these pieces helps to lay the groundwork for the stability necessary for the children to succeed.

Among the students graduating from Parikrma, 11 are in hotel management school two are in college for engineering; one is in college for law. Student has become national champions in many sports–indeed the school is the city champion in sports. Other students have travelled to San Diego for a conference. Still others have worked with Duke University faculty. Others are working on a Robotics lab.

Bose’s corporate background shines through in her clear and compelling presentations of the schools’ vision such as this video. Below, Bose and the headmaster of this Learning Centre.

While the school was officially closed for summer break, groups of children were attending for remedial preparation in math and English. They also were attending to ensure that they received a mid-day meal–perhaps the only meal they will receive today.

As I was leaving, the headmaster and this little fellow presented me with a card to thank me for coming. What magical, magical place.