What a happy man…
Theres a great sale on at Bartells right now where you can get four disposable cameras for ten dollars!! Its 800 film so it comes out pretty grainy but I like that! Here are a few photos from the last week…
The first in a series of many events was Shelter’s Valentine edition: Heartbreak Hotel – A 50/60’s mash-up dance party. An incognito, alleyway entrance transported you to a place where all the cool cats were shakin’ and jivin’ to DJ Dandy Narwhal classic cut set. Stay tuned, we have something special brewing for March.
Photographs above by A.J. Ragasa
Photographs (above) by Jesse Rivera
If I am ever rich Id like to have a space like this to have you all over to hang out in!
I need this, I want this!!! Going out to lunch would be so lame in comparison to packing a lunch in this.
I thought a sufficient amount of both time and events have taken place to warrant another installment from yours truly. The days have started to accumulate and pass me by at such an accelerated rate that I find myself counting time or more accurately noticing time by weeks instead of days. The quickly passing days have left me feeling stuck between two different time worlds. On one hand everyday seems to be shorter than the previous one. My days are full and I’ve more or less developed and settled into a daily routine. My life here has much more of a living here feeling to it than a visiting or vacation feel. On the other hand I have grown so accustom to being here and the lifestyle that comes with it that I can scarcely remember what my life is like in different conditions. If I was to go back to my every day pre India life I think I would be in for quite a culture shock.
Things have progressed here at a good rate. About as good as I could have hoped for or expected. (although hoped for and expected are two pretty loose words as far as meaning goes here. You can only expect the unexpected) I feel more like myself here than any other place I have been traveling wise. I would go so far as to say I feel more like myself then I did during my recent time in Seattle where I didn’t feel myself at all. (A classic example of impatience and waiting for time to pass so you can do the thing that you want to do) My adaption is almost compete I have even almost mastered the skill of eating all meals with my hands and gotten used to being called Sir all day by all my students. Since my last email my work load has followed the population trend of India and increased rapidly.
I now teach 5 English classes. Every day brings both changes and challenges to my teaching world. I have the unique opportunity to teach English to a group of Imams. (Imams are essentially Koran teachers) The Hope Project has had a bit of shall we say delicate and tense relationship with some of the members of the Muslim community over the years. The fact that they are coming to the project for computer classes and English lesions is a positive and big step for the project and hopefully some of the more conservative members of the community. The group is interesting to teach and they all have very warm personalities but I find it harder to find material to relate to them then I do with my other classes. (There is only so many ways I can use mosque in my examples) Part of this is because the group is older part of it is because I find it harder to teach things that connect to their daily lives. Another part is that most of them have had no schooling whatsoever.
The rest of my classes are for the most part going good. The use of the word good to start my last 2 of 3 paragraphs suggests to me that my language and writing skills are starting to feel the effects of me having to simplify my English vocabulary to a very basic form. I am enjoying my role as a teacher and when I do get my students to understand me it is a special feeling. Some things I do work and some things I do don’t. It is a continuous process of trying. As long as I have ideas I am happy to continue to try. It has been in interesting process teaching English. It has forced me to look at and examine English as a language in a way that I never have before. It is surprising how much of the language and it’s rules become ingrained into you to the point where you do it automatically and are unable to even explain basic rational or reason.
I have noticed that Indian students are very good at reading or copying and that style of learning but seem to struggle when it comes to creative independent thought. A lot of the time I will ask a question and they will all give me a programed answer that they no doubt have repeated for many years. I am trying to get them to express themselves more. I also have started to try and get them to ask me questions. If they only learn how to answer questions and never to ask questions they won’t have much in the way of a conversation.
Without a doubt the most exciting and monumentous event since my last email was a weekend long celebration or Urs of the death of Pir Hazrat Inayat Khan (The day he died instead of when he was born is celebrated) He was a Sufi poet and musician, who brought Sufism to the Western World in a more liberal form and in doing so more or less laid the ground work for me being born (Needless to say a very important person.) My Parents met through and I was born into the Sufi community that his son Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan was the head/founder of. Pir Vilayat was a mentor to my dad and is the founder of the project/school that I am part of. He had a combination of a powerful yet peaceful presence to him and a voice that only enhanced those traits. I will remember his voice from my childhood for long as I live.
The weekend long events were action packed to the point of overstimulation. They took place at the Dargah (place of burial) of Hazrat Inayat Khan. His Dargah is very close to the Hope Project. It was actually where the school for the Hope Project was before it moved to the current building that it is in. The space is very peaceful. There is a ledge that offers two very different views. There is the view of inside the Dargah complex. This offers the rarest of sights as far as the Basti goes. The first thing one notice’s is the calmness of open space. Open space and cleanliness. No trash. There is room for everything to breathe, to live, to just be. The next thing that one notices is healthy green grass probably the only place in the immediate surrounding area that can lay claim to this distinction. The view outside of the Dargah is one of restored order of life in the Basti. Kids running around everywhere, noises competing against each other for the attention of your ear, and the overwhelming combination of animals, dirt, and trash.
Because of teaching I missed most of the events on Friday (luckily for me there wasn’t much to miss on Friday) I was able to help myself to some delicious food. Saturdays events started early and in impressive form with a “Call to Divine” – A musical invocation, by for those of you in the Sufi Know Km, Karunamaiji. For those of you not in the Sufi know an older lady if one was to guess in her 70’s with an unbelievable voice quite the kick off. It’s hard to properly describe her voice and style. I wouldn’t really classify it as singing. We then walked as a group of 40ish to the Dargah of Hazrat Nizumuddin which I believe I informed you about in my last email. Since it is a famous site and holy site the Dargah was quite crowded. A Fateha (A Fateha is a ceremony of blessings and Qawwali (music)) then took place with several Sufi leaders most notably Pir Zia Inayat Khan the son of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan and grandson of Hazrat Inayat Khan and some Sufi leader from Afghanistan who was very sharply dressed. After the the Fateha we walked back to Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Dargah where there was more Qawwali followed by another delicious and free lunch.
After lunch there was a Universal Worship which was actually if truth be told disappointing certainly not the best one that I’ve seen. After tea it was back to the strong point of the celebrations music in the form of drum and flute recitals, Sitar recitals, and Dhrupad a kind of chanting/ singing over instruments. All the performances were exceptional.
Sunday started with a kids programed that contained many different performances. Some of the highlights included but were not limited to kids dressed as a train, some singing and dancing, little kids dressed and singing a song as the 5 different senses. All highly entertaining. Next on the menu was a Sufi Scholar Caravan. There were 3 different Sufi Pir’s in addition to professors of religion. The discussion was interesting and had to do with oneness and unity. A bit idealistic and simplistic but a good message nevertheless. After the Caravan there was lunch followed by a marathon session of impressive music that transcended normal musical boundaries. There was a music program by the Hazrat Inayat Khan Music Academy, A Vocal recital, Rudra Veena recital, Hindustani classical Suri music recital-dinner-Then Qwalli’s by Mohey Rang De- Amosaic of Bhajan & Qawwali and Mehfil-e-Sama.
The Urs celebration not only allowed me but encouraged me to get in touch with the roots of my childhood. I have noticed that the lifestyle I grew up in and around has had an inner effect on the person that I am. There were many people at the Urs who I recognized from different times, parts, and places from my life. Most of them blended together and I wasn’t able to tell where they were from only that I recognized them. I have noticed that I have some common bond when it comes to Sufi’s and Steiner students. I am not quite sure of the reasons why? I guess a simple answer would be that I spent an important and influential part of my life surrounded by both so I can easily identify and relate but I have a feeling that there is some deeper underlining connection. Perhaps it has something to do with my opinion that both of these groups of people tend to be more in-touch with their inner-selves.
I was able to capitalize off my O’Kane last name and meet many people who knew my parents and were fan’s/friends of my dad. I quickly found myself with a new family. I got an invitation to have some cold beers with An American Embassy worker, I got invited to stay at a house in Goa and a house in Kashmir (both of which I would like to do) I got an invitation to and went to a fancy dinner with some of the Hope Project Board members which was a luxurious and highly enjoyable affair. I met the former director of the Hope Project and have developed a nice friendship with her. She is local and knows a lot about Delhi and events that are going on.
The girl’s portion of the school had a science fair that capitalized on the presence of the Urs to create the maximum amount interest and visitors. The fair was had interesting range of different experiments and presentations. The most enjoyable part was the girls’s excitement as they explained their projects in Hindi. (most of the time there was a translation.) I had I’ll loosely use the word helped on one of the projects earlier and I was glad to see the finished product. A lot of the projects were centered around the theme of the environment. I wonder if it will actually have any impact on what the students do with their trash?
I found out that the area I live in has the 2nd most drug use in all of Delhi with the drug of choice being smack although it is not injected. This came as quite the surprise to me. I don’t have any of the feelings that I normally associate with an area of high drug use. I feel completely safe. There is no feeling of lingering violence in the air. I don’t feel the need to have a heightened sense of alertness. There is no feeling of desperation (not a drug induced desperation maybe a poor desperation but even then I don’t think desperation is the right word or feeling) or being surrounded by lost souls all of which I find as common occurrences in drug areas. I think that this serves as further evidence to the special will and remarkability of the people in the Basti. Their community can be struggling with drug use and I don’t even notice.
I was invited to attend a conference on issues for social change that was spearheaded by youthful people empowering themselves. The event was organized and sponsored by the project that the former director of the Hope Project is now a part of. The issues were diverse and offered information about projects ranging from education(schools in very remote villages that the people from the conference started and ran, Wildlife protection, red light district conditions, nomadic people, smoking, helping people who had been displaced from their slum houses by the Government ( the term displace translates to the government bulldozing their houses.) Interestingly but not surprisingly India faces many of the same problems that are present all over the world only on a much more severe scale. I left the event not feeling despondent about the state of India and the world but inspired by the experience of being surrounded by a roomful of young people (20-30) who have and are making real changes and differences in their environment and the lives of countless people. It always seems like such an insurmountable challenge to overcome and make any real difference in the world but these people are living examples that it is possible to start programs and initiate change.
Me and Kilian-one of the German volunteers have been thinking about organizing a fashion photoshoot for the students. He is a bit of a photographer and I think it would be a fun experience for everyone involved. I hope to make it interesting and to try and have different people dress as different events/themes but I don’t know if that will materialize. I don’t know how many different styles of clothes the students have. Women’s clothes are so colorful and interesting that something in the way of photographing them has to be done. I so far have refrained from wearing my intended outfit of all gold silk. Refrained might not be the most accurate word more like unable to attain my intended outfit of all gold silk. I haven’t tried too hard yet my few excursions into the market world or shopping districts have left me feeling confused and overwhelmed. I will no doubt step up my efforts in the coming weeks as I have a wedding to attend that I am excited about. Wedding are quite the social event and I hear the food is unbelievable.
After holding out for the first 3 weeks I finally succumbed to my first bout of sickness. I developed a cold in those first 3 weeks but succeeded at keeping a death like cough which inflicts it wrath on almost everyone I know at bay. I hear the air quality or lack thereof takes 10 years of a lifespan. It is a fact that I certainly believe. My cold eventually evolved to some sort of weird ear/ head pressure combination which was my only form of symptom until I woke up one morning with a very unhappy and loud stomach. I promptly went to the Doctor at the Hope Project and was given an Oral rehydration kit, and 4 different kinds of medicine that I was to take over the next 3 days. The grand total of which accumulated to a massive 50-60cents Not Too Shabby. I took the medicine and after 3 days I was a completely cured and rejuvenated man without even a lingering cold to show for me sickness.
As of writing this email I have only drunken 2 beers in the almost 4 weeks that I have been here. Drinking doesn’t really fit in to the life that I am living. My days are full laden with interest everywhere I go and everywhere I look. There is no boredom here and such energy in the air all of which combine to compensate for the social lubricant that drinking and the social aspect that goes along with it would normally fulfill.
The weather and the seasons seem to be changing. I can feel the hotness coming and I fear it. It is probably about mid 70’s right now but everyday it is getting hotter and I know it is just a matter of time before heat consumes every part of my life and day. Wither it is being unbelievably hot or spending all of my time thinking about how to avoid the heat and how to survive in the heat. In one of my classes I had my students discuss the pro’s and con’s of summer and winter and they all said that summer was too hot to do anything. If that’s the way they feel what’s a fair weathered and skinned boy such as myself gonna think?
I have decided that I have no plans to come back to America in the foreseeable future. So if any of you want to see me possibly for the rest of the year it is on you to come visit me. I have in my head at least (I am sure they will be re-revised many times in the future) revised my plan to the following. To stay, in India for the full 6 months of my tourist visa. There is so much to see and it is cheap, so I want to take full advantage of it and not feel rushed. This also allows me the possibility to come back to The Hope Project for some more Volunteering after I have traveled around. I can’t imagine leaving the project in 3 weeks and not coming back. The only reason I am leaving in mid-march is because the south of India becomes too hot to be habitable by the end of April.
Also, If I leave India to see Nepal and want to come back to India inside the period of my 6 month Visa. I have to be gone for 2 whole months before I can re-enter. The 6 months in India would take me to July. At that point I will travel somewhere for the rest of July, Aug, and at least part of Sept before going to Nepal at the middle or end of Sept. I hear Oct is the best time of year to visit there. Obviously many things can happen between now and then but this is my goal.
Hope all is good with all of you