Days 13 & 14 - The 48-Hour Day

(Part 1: Back on US Soil)

Because I am traveling west at like six hundred miles per hour, I get more than two minutes of real time for every minute on a watch (unless it’s Joe’s watch, in which case you get closer to three minutes). I’m living on borrowed time right now and I fully intend to make the most of it… by writing you this blog.

Yesterday we woke up at the ungodly hour of five am. We picked up our tubs (filled with our possessions), our carry-ons, and our aching bodies, and made the three hundred foot move to the bus. Then we resumed our sleeping. The general mood on the bus was pretty low key for the first couple of hours, when people either spent their time sleeping or silently staring out the window. From the bus window I saw some new parts of Tamil Nadu. We passed huge rice paddies with only a hut or two to tend to them, we passed more busy cities, and we passed open spaces that simultaneously allowed pine trees, palm trees, and cacti to flourish. At about eleven, conversation started to pick up, and it continued that way until we arrived at a shopping mall in Chennai at one. With an hour to kill before we were due at the consulate, and pockets still full of unspent rupees, we hit the mall and scattered in search of trinkets and textiles. I ended up getting lured into a souvenir-type shop by a man who convinced me that the shop that I was in was a waste of my time and money. Bored and curious, I followed him into his shop and he immediately began pulling textiles off of the shelves. While he did this, he began grilling me about my life. He asked me where I lived and then followed up by asking me how many girlfriends I had. He said that my girlfriends would all want pashminas and then proceeded to show me five or six of them… one for each girlfriend. He was a little taken aback when I told him that in fact I didn’t have any (a common reaction), but he assured me that if I bought one, I would be guaranteed to get at least one girlfriend. He was a good salesman with a bulletproof pitch. When I walked out of his shop, I had a pashmina in hand. We congregated half an hour later by some stairs, and as usual, snacks were purchased for all.

From the mall we went directly to the consulate. After surrendering our passports and cameras and undergoing a thorough security screening, we were at last on US soil. While waiting in a courtyard Joe planned his escape route from the street in case he needed to run to the consulate for diplomatic immunity. We were then met and ushered into the building. The air conditioning was a nice touch, and everywhere we looked, we were greeted by Barack Obama’s warm eyes. Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton could also frequently be seen staring back at us. We followed someone with a name tag up to a multipurpose room, got settled, and began talking to some junior consulate staff about what the Foreign Service was like. After a while we were joined by the Chennai Console General, who happened to be a graduate of the Garfield Class of 1979. He finished answering some questions about the position and what he does, and then a reporter burst in to the room. We had been expecting to be visited by a reporter from India’s leading newspaper, The Hindu. This was certainly not what I was expecting. The man who came in was a good natured and goofy looking white guy. He announced in a British accent that he was there for the interview, and then he took a seat and waited while we finished up the questions.

With the questions session finished, we left our public relations liaisons Ben, Zach, and Zoe, to represent us in the interview, while the rest of the group split up and took tours of the building. We were only cleared to see ten percent of the building because that’s all that we had clearance to see, but Mr. Simpkin (Console General) assured us that there wasn’t much else to see in the other ninety percent. Of course, that’s the answer that we would have gotten whether it’s true or false, but I believed him and enjoyed the tour. Our group spent a significant amount of the time in the visa offices, where I fully realized how hard it is to immigrate to the US from India. After tours, we had another brief question and answer session, and then departed for the Console General’s house.

We rode the bus a short distance to what was supposed to be the Console General’s house and then deboarded in a drive next to a guard house. We just stood there until the guard pressed a button, and an unassuming wall next to us gave way to reveal a secret passage to the house of the Console General. House is something of a misnomer when used to describe the place. Maybe it’s not a mansion, but it’s pretty close. A career in the foreign service was starting to look really appealing at this point. We started with a much anticipated meal of home cooked pizza and soft drinks, and then progressed to board games, tennis, and lounging. It was incredibly relaxing, and it felt like a good transition and ending to our trip (although the culmination probably came on the 18th). Zach started a game of chess with Mr. Simpkin, who happened to be a former Garfield chess star himself, but the game was postponed indefinitely at midnight, when we had to leave for the airport. We said goodbye to Mutu and his wife and thanked them for being such generous hosts in Karikal, and then bid goodbye to Mr. Simpkin and his wife, who had also been incredibly gracious hosts by putting up with eighteen kids, some of whom were sick

(Part 2: The Journey Home Begins)

The airport was the same as it had been when we got off the plane two weeks ago, and it was a weird feeling to be back. We went to check our bags at the front desk, and were given our own kiosk from the airline. Even so, everything takes a long time with a group of twenty-two, and this was no exception. We watched as the clock slowly ticked past one, one-thirty, and two, while we waited to check bags. From there, we were directed to a line that snaked its way to every corner of the airport. The clock ticked past two-thirty and three while we were in the line. We were getting dangerously close to the scheduled three-thirty departure time, but nothing seemed to change. It was like a high speed, high stress airport movie scene minus the speed. We pretty much just sat on our luggage in line and stressed. Then somebody realized the predicament that we were in, and we got to cut a little bit. We ended up making it on to the flight more or less on time, and once everyone was seated, we just passed out. From that flight, I only remember waking up to confusing snippets of Night at the Museum 2. At one point, I woke up to find a plate of vegetarian food on my trey, then I woke up some time later and it was gone. Then we were in Dubai. I continued to sleep once I found a spot in the airport, but a lot of people pounced on their first opportunity to visit a real McDonalds and feast on the renowned McDonalds quality. Upon their return, I saw that a shocking number of the people who had gone to the D’s had become too used to life without hamburgers; so much so that they instinctively ordered the inferior, mayonnaise drenched McChicken rather than the standard McBeef.

With food in our bellies, we went straight to the plane that we are currently on. On the way to the plane, we were able to catch glimpses of the world’s tallest building. I was expecting a the hulking presence of a small mountain. Instead, I was greeted with a structure that more closely resembled a beanpole, ungainly in its height compared to its breadth. From my haze hindered view, I was not impressed.

Now we’re on the plane and we’ve found that the movie choices are identical to the ones that we had on the plane ride over. This leaves us with the option of choosing to either put up with the sloppy seconds movie choices, or attempting to do some homework. It’s an uncomfortable choice, but it’s all we’ve got.

See you back in Seattle.

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Day 11 - Finishing the Computer Lab

For almost half of the TSC India Team, the day started earlier than usual… way earlier than usual. At five this morning, they got up and made the two mile trek to the beach to watch the sun rise over the Indian Ocean. Pictures were taken, and then they made the trek back. All of this, and probably more, took place before I was even up. If you are reading this, you are to blame for why I couldn’t go to the beach because it was a late night of blogging last night. When they came back, the ones who didn’t go woke up and started their days. Just before we left, most people gathered in a hall and did some morning yoga. I didn’t partake in this as well, but they all looked pretty funny sitting on the ground and taking deep breaths with their fingers on one nostril.

After yoga, we got on the bus and went to an Indian supermarket because we were running dangerously low on snack food. Barb and Kati wove up and down each aisle without a single section spared. Chips: check. Drinks: plenty. Cookies and crackers: you bet. Assorted other items: got ‘em. Problem solved. We left with six or more bags of snacks. It was an appalling amount considering that the resupply was made necessary because we had eaten through the three duffels of snacks that had been imported from Seattle.

We showed up to the school laden with snacks, and took a little while to lay them out in the room and get comfortable/organized. While this process was happening, a kid who we’d gotten to know named Lucas came in and informed us that it was his sixteenth birthday. We sang him happy birthday, and then instead of us giving him something, he came around and gave everybody small chocolate candies. I don’t think that this was like some cultural thing that is practiced all over India. Someone suggested that it was probably most like how we used to bring in birthday cupcakes or other treats to share with our classmates when we were in elementary school.

Once settled, we began the day’s work on the computer lab. When it comes to setting up the computer lab, I usually just do as I’m told without much of an idea of what’s actually happening. However, it didn’t seem like there was as much to do today. We plugged in the network cables, and then made them neat and out of the way by zip-tying and putting them in a plastic channel that runs along the wall. Minh is reading this, and he says that the reason it seemed so easy for me is that he, Devon, and Laura did all the work cutting and measuring. With this task done by early afternoon, Joe rallied a lot of people together for an expedition to the local Mercy Burger. The reason behind the name remains an enigma, but it holds a special allure because the logo is a large McDonnalds-like M. Unfortunately, our quest for a burger (even if it was chicken) and fries was cut short when we found the building locked and dark. It looks like this branch doesn’t have an all night drive through… or even a lunch menu.

As with all things, there is a silver lining if you look hard enough and Joe, fueled by hunger and a desire to drop some rupees, found it. He asked some local kids who were loitering across the street from Mercy Burger where the good food was. They pointed him to a hotel restaurant a hundred feet away. We walked into the Nandha hotel lobby, and had second thoughts. Many people realized that they weren’t that hungry, and maybe not willing to commit to a sit down affair. Thankfully, Joe was relentless and he was able to convince people that it was the right choice. I had to leave before the food came, but it is reported to have been the best we’ve had yet. Good work Joe.

The reason that I couldn’t stay and eat is because I wanted to find the internet café before we were due back at the school. In itself, that’s not very cool, but on the way back Jenny, Lynna, Barb, Kati, Laura (Ahn), and I got to ride on an auto rickshaw. We got back, and in the next couple of hours, people worked in the lab, played cards, or went to take a tour of Karikal’s government run hospital. At one point during this time, internet was turned on for all of the computers, and those still at the school flocked to it like geese to whatever geese really like. It was like a scene from the end of a romance movie, where the long separated couple is at last reunited. It was glorious. Facebook, email, and Winter Olympics were the most commonly viewed.

As usual, there was a lot of playing (which entails running, volleyball, badminton, and occasionally soccer). Today, arm wrestling caught on and a huge crowd of the boys at the school got really into the matches. They would pick a favorite before the match and then cheer during. In the end, Joe emerged as the undisputed arm wrestling champion. Molly however, had the most people who wanted to wrestle her.

Sometime after dark, our day at school ended and we got on the bus to Mutu’s house. When we came in, we heard his daughter singing and playing an instrument, but when we came in she packed up and stopped. We all sat down, and after a lot of encouragement, she agreed to perform for us. The instrument was like a weird accordion box that she played by inflating and compressing an air chamber. It was a good performance. Then Mutu took out a flute like instrument and showed us Indian scales. To my ear, they didn’t make any sense, but the music using them sounded good. Then we had dinner. After dinner we made our nightly pilgrimage to the ice cream shop and then walked back to the bus, only to find that it was broken. Unsure what to do, or when it would be fixed, we boarded the bus and just sat there. The bus finally revved to life and everybody cheered, but it promptly died again. Again we sat and waited in hope of a fix. When we heard the engine begin to move, we perked up in hopeful anticipation and luckily, this wasn’t a false alarm. We pulled out and drove to the orphanage to sleep… and sleep we did.

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Day 10 - Guest-Written by Zach

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Geyman: I regret to inform you that your son, Benjamin, was tragically struck by a foul, vile case of violent traveler’s diarrhea, rendering him incapable of blogging.

I’m just kidding. But I was kind of bored, so I convinced Ben to let me caress the blog with some of that traditional Zach Wener-Fligner flava. Here goes nothing.

Mick, Ben Huppe and I had planned to wake up before the crack of dawn to greet the sunrise and see if it was worth it for everyone to wake up at an ungodly hour. I assigned Ben to the task of getting me up. Needless to say, when I was awakened not staring into Ben’s brilliant blue eyes, but by light streaming in the windows, I knew Ben had failed. I guess the sunrise can wait.

We forewent breakfast at Mutu’s and opted instead to meet him at the school. Today would be a day that would separate the men from the boys, and the boys from the girls. It would be a day of crimping.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I can crimp a networking cable in seconds flat. I was eager to show off my prowess. So needless to say, I was disappointed when the group quickly ran out of RJ-45s, the heads that go on the networking cables. With no work to do while we waited on supplies, there was really only one option: we had to go to the beach.

Imagine your average beautiful, sandy, touristy beach. Now turn all the tourists into cows. Add in a ton of litter, a bunch of drunk old Indian guys, and warm, blue water and you’ve got the beach at Karaikal. We headed there with a big group of fourth graders from the school. It was hot and sunny, so everyone on the team applied copious amounts of either sunscreen or Maui Babe “Cancer juice” Suntan lotion.

Unfortunately, there was a rough undertow that made it unable for us to safely swim—a fact we discovered after several team members were carried out to sea. We dipped our feet in the water and collected the shells that were dumped on us in massive quantities by the fourth graders.

After being burned to a collective crisp, we returned to the lab to bathe in Aloe and finish networking. And eventually, we reached the final frontier: Internet. Facebooks were checked, videos of people falling were watched.

Once the lab was finished, we played sports with the kids. Their favorite sport was “running.” They made me race with them like ten times. Sweat was sweated.

Later, we hit up Mutu’s pad for another delicious, spicy, homecooked meal, and returned to our “penthouse suite” (bug-infested, fluorescent-lit school room) to sleep.

I’m tired now. It’s been a long day. My body is caked in dirt, sunscreen, sand, tanning lotion, peeling skin, Aloe Vera, DEET, and B.O. (from all the running). Good night.

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Day 9 - First Day of School

After a fairly late night last night, we woke up “late” (10 AM), and bussed the three kilometers to Mutu’s crib. Mutu is a generous host who seemed to genuinely enjoy having us as company. He kept the food rolling out of his kitchen, and when he wasn’t making sure that our plates were full, he was teaching us how the food was made and what ingredients it was made up of. Nobody left his house unsatisfied (with the exception maybe of those who were sick). Then we bussed to the new school to begin setting up the second computer lab. On the bus ride over, Colin noticed that many flat, rectangular plots of land, areas where there would logically be a house, were just patches of weeds and grass. He hypothesized that maybe it was the work of the 2005 tsunami. Sure enough, when we looked out on the horizon, we could barely see the Indian Ocean a half mile away. It was scary to imagine the destructive force that the wave must have had to destroy houses so far inland. About two-thirds of the spaces that should have contained houses were empty. Mutu later explained that many of the children who attended the school had lost a parent, or even been orphaned by the tsunami.

When we arrived at the school, we found that a lot of work had been done in anticipation of our arrival: the computers and monitors were unpacked, a rest area had been set up for us, and many of the kids had prepared performances. After getting settled, we were greeted by the entire school (50-75 people) save the kindergartners, who were busy with their early afternoon nap. We sat opposite them on wooden benches. Mutu began by introducing the teachers individually, and then he called students up to perform speeches and songs. Like in the first school, children’s songs such as Old MacDonalds, London Bridge, and the Hokie Pokie were fan favorites. One boy had an incredible speech memorized, and although I couldn’t understand the Tamil that he was reciting it in, his body movement and voice was really something. Probably the thing that struck me the most in all of the introductions was the cultural difference between Americans and Indians regarding school, work, and education. While Mutu was introducing his staff and students, it seemed that the highest possible praise was “he is a good worker,” or “he works very hard in his studies.” A heavy emphasis and value was placed on effort and work ethic. In my experience, this runs counter to values in America and at Garfield, where respect goes to the one who can do the best with the least amount of effort. This person has a natural talent or understanding, which means that he or she doesn’t need to work hard to succeed. If nothing else, it’s an interesting difference, and the experience will make me more conscious of this when I’m back at school.

After we were introduced to Mutu’s staff, the spotlight turned on us. We went around and gave our names, grades (called standards in India), and what we wanted to be when we grow up. Like many of the Indian kids had stated before us, many of the members of the TSC Team want to be doctors and engineers. There is also a significant contingent that has not decided yet. Before I shared, I noticed a backpack that said Ben 10 on it. I had seen a lot of Ben 10 action figures being sold at toy vendors everywhere we had been, so I figured that the kids might be familiar. To demonstrate my name, I held up the backpack as I said my name and was surprised by the reaction. Everybody cheered when Ben 10 was mentioned, and many even started to clap. Ben Huppe and I are now addressed as Ben 10, and we have made many new friends as a result. One boy told me as we said goodbye that he was going home to watch Ben 10 on T.V. The introductions then gave way to a question and answer session where the students of the school asked our students questions about us. One boy basically asked all of the questions, grilling us about our school, government, climate, and more. Lena, Ryan, Devon, and a few others did a good job answering them. At this point, the kids were excused for lunch, and we began modifying the operating systems. It was the same process used in the first school. At the end of the day, Jenny and Ben Huppe had a race for the title of “fastest TSC operating system setter-upper.” Ben won, clocking in at something in the absurd realm of fifteen minutes. As a point for comparison, I finished in just under two hours. Jenny’s speed was stymied by debilitating sickness, but this certainly won’t be the last that Ben hears of her. She should be back after a year of drinking raw eggs, throwing punches, and running up hills.

With the day’s tasks completed, many people lounged around or participated in a game of volleyball. We should learn cricket tomorrow. Then we went to Mutu’s house for another delicious dinner. After dinner, we went out for ice cream, and then we came back here, where we’ve been ever since. With so much to do tomorrow, it’s time to say good night. Good night.

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Day 7 - Temples

I woke up feeling cold. Minh had taken all of the sheets. In Seattle, it would have been an uncomfortable feeling, but I welcomed the change after a week of feeling hot and sticky. It wasn’t long before we were on the bus and off to the largest temple complex in Trichy. It was comprised of eight walls with a bunch of huge, carefully decorated gates. The largest of the gates was seventy three meters tall, which gave it significant prominence in the completely flat city. In these temples, everyone is a “guide,” and one of these self proclaimed “guides” showed us onto the roof of one of the buildings. When we got up on top we found that we were not alone. We were joined by dozens of mostly elderly British tourists on holiday. The roof provided an excellent vantage point to see all of the walls and gates of the sprawling complex, and many pictures were taken. With the appetite for temples satisfied, it was time to attend to a different appetite: the appetite for food. We went to an Indian restaurant in India. The funny thing is that it really wasn’t that much different than an Indian restaurant in the US.

After food, we walked down to a bazaar. We started in a department store, and then split into two groups: the girls and the boys. We only had an hour to shop before going to the rock fort temple, so the girls opted to spend the entire hour in the massive store. The majority of the boys were just as uninterested in the department store as they would be in a Nordstroms, so they chose to go outside and explore the market. Most of the people on the street were peddling watches, which turned out to be just what Joe was looking for. After visiting four or five of these stands, Joe found a watch that was just too cool to ignore. It was love at first sight. Using bargaining skills that he had amassed in other similar situations, he was able to lower the cost to the steal price of 110 rupees ($2.50). Victorious, he put on the watch and immediately, the strap broke. It was a downhill slide from there. The relationship was built on a poor foundation, and it ultimately collapsed after Joe checked the time five hours later and saw that his watch had only counted four and a half. The conversation went something like this: Lynna: “What time is it?” Molly: “5:12.” Joe: “4:45.” Someone else: “It’s 5:12.” Joe: “God damnit.” Joe’s watch is now worse than broken because while a broken clock is correct twice a day, Joe’s is right maybe once every couple of weeks. R.I.P. Dolce and Gabana watch.

Shopping ended when we met back up at the department store. Some of the girls had purchased things in the store, but it seemed like most were unimpressed by the store on the whole. Then we walked to the rock fort temple and climbed the 317 steps to the top of the rock. It’s a pretty cool thing because it’s just this huge, erratic boulder in the center of a flat city (as previously mentioned). I think that it’s about ninety meters tall. There’s a guard house on top, and the view went as far as the haze would allow. On the way down, many people had the opportunity to witness two monkeys having sex on the rock… and to think that Mr. Howard didn’t think that this trip had educational merit. At the bottom, we met an elephant. We fed it coins and took pictures. It was a frighteningly powerful animal, so it was scary when it took the coins off of your head or out of your hand. Nevertheless, it was very gentle with the moist tip of its trunk.

Then we drove to a different hotel.

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Day 6 - So Ready for Midwinter Break

Today we got up for the last time at AGK’s. We breakfasted, packed, and said goodbye. Before leaving, AGK’s cousin (Satish), who had been a gracious host, gave us these pretty bamboo and cloth pictures. Most had images of Southeast Asian beaches, boats, and huts. Two hours later, we were at the school. We put some work into finishing everything up, and by early afternoon the lab was completed. Then we went up to an open space on the top floor of one of the buildings and the children performed skits and songs for us. It brought back a flood of memories from elementary school. One girl did a dance to a traditional Indian song that was decidedly different than any kind of dancing that I’d ever seen before. Hopefully Minh got some good footage of the performances.

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Day 5 - Hey, We Can't All Be Winners

I woke up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy; then I showered, dressed, and ate.  It was exactly like every one of the past three mornings.  We got on the bus minus both Lena and Laura who unfortunately were stricken with illness and joined Joe in the unfortunate business of experiencing India’s own sickness. Two hours later the rest of us were at the school.

Upon arrival, most of the team got down to crimping.  With fifteen people, the task was quickly completed and there wasn't much else for us to do.  For a few, the day's work was not yet done, and we are very thankful and appreciative of Colin, Jenny, Ryan, Ben, and Chongsun, who spent most of the day drilling holes in the concrete, checking operating systems, setting up internet, teaching teachers how to use the projector, and installing the networking boxes.

We have been very starved for internet these past few days and some even have been coming down with internet fever.  So we were very excited when the two computers flashed on the screen telling us that our dial up satellite internet was working.  We all crowed around the computer eager to see what we could find.  Of course, having it been Superbowl Sunday on the 7th, we were all deprived of the knowledge of the victor.  Ben frantically searched Google (unfortunately it was Indian Google and only cricket scores emerged) while Zoe, Ryan, and Zach started making last minute (our internet was that slow..) bets on the scores and the winner. Good thing Ben was smart enough to Google “superbowl” and we were granted with the information that we were all desperate for. I wanted the Colts to win but the Saints are okay too I guess.

After discovering the winner, we spent another 10 minutes trying to plumage for the score. Afterward, there was a scramble for first rights to check Facebook and email.  Unfortunately, the connection was so slow that posting or really interacting at all with Facebook was impossible.  It was like being behind one of those one way glass windows that they use in police stations, we could see in at what everybody else was doing, but we couldn't communicate with them.  We were invisible. Luckily, email worked better and hopefully many of you have received word from India.  Mom, if you're reading this, I have a 33% in Kahn right now, and a 60% in Spang... not to shabby eh?

At about noon it was recess time for all of the children and playtime for most everybody on the TSC India Team.  The frisbee and soccer ball were both hits, and Barb and some of the girls attracted quite a crowd with their hand/counting games.  Also in the yard was a large bouncy slide of an unknown origin.  Wherever it came from, most of the kids seemed hesitant to get on it until Ryan did a show of backflips and gainers.  The kids all cheered and quickly jumped on to try for themselves.  Zach and I also tried... and failed.

Like all things, playtime had to come to an end, and we had to retire to the computer lab.  Unable to help much, Zach took to playing computer solitaire and it wasn't long until he had everybody playing it.  If there's one thing that Zach learned, it's that we can't win all the time.  For those who are unfamiliar, solitaire is a game where success depends mostly on luck, and to a lesser extent, skill.  It appears that Zach has neither, and today his record was a mind boggling 1 and 200 (or so).  (the rest of the TSC Team: 10 and 50).

At about the time we got bored of solitaire, people all kind of split up and did their own thing.  Minh, Natalie, Mick, and I answered questions from children in one of the older classes, some people played soccer, and some just sat and talked.  Then the girls disappeared.  When they reappeared, they were dressed in these beautiful sarees.  The boys also got dressed in dojees; India's answer to the kilt.  We took pictures.

We ended up staying late, but finishing the networking.  We got home and everybody crashed.  Tomorrow is our last day at the Eureka School.

Good morning Seattle, good night India

-TSC India Crew

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Day 4 - Sickness Part II

Although it was inevitable, it wasn’t until last night that we had our first sick cases. Joe, Barb, Mick, and Laura Ahn are still feeling pretty miserable. After some deliberation about what to do with them, it was eventually decided that we should quarantine them in the house and leave for our first full day of work. Two hours of bus ride later we were at the school.  The first thing that we had to do was figure out how to power the computers.  This basically meant that most people sat around and played games, while Ryan frantically ran around testing plugs. Credit to Ryan for figuring it out, but he didn’t do it before frying a computer and causing a startling bang. Once all of the computers were set up and powered, we buckled down to the tedious task of setting up the operating systems.

Sitting next to me was Molly, who prided herself in being faster at every step; creating profiles, customizing accounts, and deleting files. An hour later, she was on her last step.  She was far ahead of me, and don’t think that she wasn’t letting me know it.  She triumphantly called someone over to make sure that she had done it right… she hadn’t. A step had been missed early, and it was hard to fix.  I’m so sorry Molly.  A classic case of tortoise vs. hare.  With a little bit of extra work, the error got fixed, and everything worked out well.  Everybody did a really great job (especially Jenny) getting the operating systems set up, and by the bus ride home everybody was in far better spirits (except Laura Munoz, who might be getting sick).

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Day 3 - A Strange Man Joins the Team

We woke up pretty early this morning to celebrate Ben’s 18th birthday.  The concept of a sweet tasting breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and a big dinner seems to be a mostly American concept, so after an Indian breakfast (which looks almost identical to an Indian lunch or an Indian dinner), we got on the bus and drove to the Indian Ocean.  We visited three beach temple complexes that all had some pretty incredible rock carvings.  The first one had a bunch of giant animals and stone structure which were all carved from single boulders.  Twenty five hundred years ago, the rocks weren’t yet at the flat, sandy temple site, so they had to be dragged by elephants from a different location that was a short distance away (although no distance is very short if you have to pull Stonehenge sized boulders).  The second temple was on the beach, and it provided a nice view of the Indian Ocean.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go in, but we should have another chance in a couple of days.  It was the third temple though that was the most fun.  The third temple was up on a large rock hill, with boulders strewn all around.  Most of the top of the hill was covered in a long, rocky bald.  Steps were cut into the rock, but most people chose to get around without them.  Everybody got to practice a little bit of bouldering and rock climbing in flip-flops.

I think that we would have happily spent all day there, but by noon it was time to reboard the bus to go to the school and get to work.  When we got off of the bus, we were greeted by a crowd of overwhelmingly adorable children (ages 3-10).  My knees just about melted when they sung us a welcome song; it was also hot out.  When we got to the computer lab the first task was to unwrap the computers and monitors and to set them on the desks.  Keeping the computers safe while shipping them over had required a lot of bubble wrap, which one of the teachers asked to have.  We didn’t know why they would want it, but we said that they could certainly have it if they wanted.  A couple of minutes later, we were called out to find that the bubble wrap had been laid out on the ground, and the children were all jubilantly jumping on it.  It was quite a spectacle.  After the computers were set up, we reached an impasse because there was no power to turn on the computers, and no internet to cut cables for.  It was really frustrating, for Ryan more than anybody.   Unsure what the future would hold and whether we would be able to finish the job, we went back to AGK’s house somewhat defeated.

At dinner, we had a surprise birthday party for Ben, with a cake and singing flower candle.  Following Indian tradition, we ate cake first and then dinner.

Trash disposal seems to be a problem here, where the majority of plastics and packaging are simply tossed along the sides of roads and in ditches of stagnant water.  The trash that does get disposed of gets pushed into smoldering piles of burning debris, and you can smell the toxic fumes pretty much wherever you go.  This seems to bother Zach more than anyone else, so look out for his Indian garbage disposal company to make it big in the coming years.

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Day 2 - No School Day (Sickness Part I)

After saying goodnight yesterday, I was able to settle into what amounted to all of about an hour of sleep. Everybody on team at least made an attempt to catch a few z’s, and the results were scattered. Some people were able to snooze in relative comfort; however, Ryan was dismayed to find that it is impossible for his 6’2” frame to fold into a sleepable position.

At 7:45, we emerged from the plane a troop of somnolent zombies. Our time in Dubai was short-lived and mostly uneventful, but the bathroom provided the boys on the trip with their first taste of a real squat toilet. Nobody made full use of it. After an hour in Dubai, we left without having seen the tallest building in the world, the man made islands, or the indoor ski resort. It was a huge let down, to say the least.

We sat through a couple of hours on a flight from Dubai to Chennai, and by 3 AM we were in India. We got off of the plane to find that the Chennai airport was buzzing at 3 in the morning. Little did we know, but it would pale in comparison to what we would find outside. Customs were cleared easily, and not long after getting off of the plane, we were walking out into the warm, sticky Indian air. Our ears were greeted with a symphony of tooting car and moped horns, and our noses were hit by all kinds of foreign smells. We all filed on to what would become our tour bus, and I don’t honestly remember much after that.

Six hours of sleep later, we woke up to our first day in India. We had a spicy breakfast, and visited some temples. At the first temple, we were greeted as something of a novelty by curious onlookers. We snapped some pictures with a couple of monkeys, and then learned about some of the 2000 year old rock carvings. We then took a short bus trip to another temple. When we got off the bus, we were swarmed like the LA Lakers. After a matter of seconds, we had attracted a sizable crowd, and after signing autographs, taking pictures, and shaking hands, we went into the temple. The highlight was when we got individually blessed by a Hindu priest.

From the temple, we left for a little bit of therapeutic shopping. We went to a silk shop, where we got all dressed up in silk scarves, dress shirts, and sarees. The owners of the shop kindly brought around Pepsi, Fanta, and other refreshments, and we went against better judgment when we greedily drank them down. It wasn’t until long after most people had finished their drinks that someone decided to point out that the bottles might have been reused and not carefully washed. For now, we will play the waiting game, but the joke about being sick next week might really become a reality.

After we left the silk shop, we had to cross the street in what most closely resembled a real life, high stakes version of the game Frogger. We risked life and limb crossing the wide, unlaned street as cars, rickshaws, and mopeds swerved to avoid us. When we finally made it back to AGK’s house, most people were already checked out, which meant an early bedtime for everybody except Ben Huppe.

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Day 1 - February 6 (or is it February 7?)

The time is 3:10 AM... or maybe it's 8:10 PM. None of it matters. Gone is any sense of time or location. I don't know whether I should feel tired or awake; whether I should be hungry for mealtime or simply content. Of course, the non-stop snacking and twilit light within the airplane doesn't help much either. To the best of my knowledge, it must be dinnertime somewhere (because we just ate a meal unmistakable for anything other than dinner), and a digital map on the wall shows that we are somewhere over Canada's Northwest Territories. Of course everybody's disoriented, but most of the group seems to be taking it pretty well, occupying themselves with the surfeit of TV and movie choices available. One notable exception is Lynna, who fell asleep promptly after dinner after having been up for the previous 36 hours.

Since we left the farewell party in the United area of the Seattle airport, we made it successfully through airport security and got on a plane headed south to San Francisco. Two hours later, we got off the plane, resupplied at various airport food vendors (A farewell hamburger at Burger King for Ryan and Chongsun, salads for Joe and many others, and unidentifiably shaped chicken pieces for Minh Bao), and boarded a new plane to Dubai. The excitement for the plane ride to come climaxed after our first steps on the plane, when we were amazed to find that each seat folded out into its own bed with its own TV. It was a hard fall when we realized that we were in the first class section. Our arrangements include a TV for every boy and girl, but it certainly isn't first class.

Once we got settled, the plane took off; this time heading north. If anyone had looked to the sky at around 6 PM, they might have seen us flying over Seattle for the second and last time en route to India. Other than the disorientation described above, things are pretty calm now, and the lights have gone off since I started typing. The remainder of this post is being typed under a beautiful ceiling of stars.

That's all to report for now. What better spot to say goodnight to the world than the North Pole! Goodnight World.

-TSC India Crew

Note: I am disappointed to say this, but it looks like many of the group members (myself included) are starting to catch something. It's too early to say for sure, but it's not looking like any of us will be fit to go to school Monday. I'll keep an eye on this, and keep you guys posted.

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