A Travellerspoint blog


Four Days at Child Haven

sunny 28 °C

Some films begin with a black and white still photo and slowly come into colour before the action begins. Our experience in coming here was like that – we have seen newsprint images of this place for so long – it was amazing to suddenly be there and see the colourful buildings and the lovely gardens. At first, only the staff and older students who are on a 2 week break from college were there, so the action was slow in building. School got out at 4 and suddenly, there were 200 children all saying, “Sister, what is your name?” in their delightfully sweet Indian English. Conversations got a little repetitive, especially with the younger children, but our supply of string for cat’s cradle went over very well – a great mixer!

Saturday was a busy day, everyone here was involved in preparations for Sunday’s “function” – the inauguration of a new water treatment facility and an interfaith temple (funded by the Jain’s – so the marble effigy of their god, Mahaveera sits in the centre). The temple is at one end of the hall where the children eat. We enjoyed watching all the special food preparation happening at the other end of the hall that day – the most sumptuous handmade Jain specialties - Sunday’s breakfast, lunch and supper for around 700 people. Bonnie of course already has saris, but the rest of us westerners (3 other women and ourselves) headed into the nearby town, Uthiramerur, to purchase saris and arrange for the sewing of sari blouses. We wanted to look our best (and fit in) for the special occasion. We also asked the tailor to sew Emil a lovely new shirt.

Sunday was AMAZING!! Building slowly… and crescendo-ing for a very long time!
All the food we’ve eaten here has been delicious, but Sunday’s breakfast was still more delicate and mysterious, perhaps all the more so with the backdrop of traditional ragas being played by musicians in the courtyard. The children loved showing us the horses (which they called ox) and the many fine decorations that had been hung overnight.

Outsiders trickled and then streamed in. Within the throngs of people was a man named Kalyanam - he was at least 90, very fit and wonderfully calm. I soon learned that he was Gandhi’s secretary, and had nursed Gandhi when he was hospitalized. What an honour it was for me, to walk hand in hand with him and other dignitaries for the procession partway to the village and back!! Bonnie and a few others rode in a decked out 1960-s Chevrolet. Jain dignitaries - including a young nun dressed like a bride with her crown and peach coloured bejeweled sari - rode in a horse drawn carriage. Emil hopped on to one of the 3 or 4 bullock carts piled high with boys. Nadia and Kaya were eventually convinced (forced?) to dance to the music provided by a very classic 4-man marching band. Bags of fluorescent pink powder provided more fun (or shall we say stains), and the many gaudy plastic masks given to the kids just prior to the procession enhanced the overall chaos. And chaos is an understatement!! Unfortunately, the elephant that had been promised was replaced by 2 beautiful white horses that pulled the carriage because people were worried that the elephant might stampede in the chaos of the event. Rather prudent I’d say! And no one seemed to mind.

When we returned to the compound, we squished into the hall/temple for a rousing ceremony. As the effigies of Ganesh, Buddha, Mahaveera, Saraswati and Laksma were ceremoniously placed in position (with lots of red dye smeared on the white marble walls first), the leading Jain woman was overcome with emotion and proceeded to lash out at nearby people. I suspect it was probably part of normal temple activity and eventually she was restrained. As incense was lit and ghee ignited people pulled off jewelry to offer in donation. Mega-decibel call and return songs got everyone involved in the excitement, and soon money passed from hand to hand from the back of the hall to the puja table.

Still reverberating with the experience, we watched the far more restrained opening of the water treatment plant and the lovely garden named “The Bonnie Garden” - after Child Haven’s founder, Bonnie Capucino. Next, we proceeded to another room to collect our lunch and after a most fragrant meal, the entertainment began. We were almost too overwhelmed to pay much attention but there were re-enactments of folktales, honours given and more. All residents of Child Haven were presented with new thali plates, blankets and towels.

This was no ordinary day at Child Haven Kaliyampoondi!! This was the biggest festival ever to have taken place there – what good luck that we happened to be here.

But we enjoyed the days before and after the function just as much. The children are so friendly and kind, to one another as well as us. It was an inspiration to meet them! Several of the older ones spoke English well. Nadia enjoyed a guided tour to the temples of Kanchipuram with 2 of them. Kaya was impressed by the computer lab in the local high school – and she rode on the back of a motor bike Indian style (much to her mother’s horror!) Almost all the kids called Emil (pronounced He-me-il) uncle, even several of the teenagers (he was taller than almost all the children.) All of us had lots of laughs with the children and fun both teaching and learning new games.

We also enjoyed touring the vegetable garden – I helped plant tomatoes (for a few minutes), tasted okra and marveled at the mango, guava, banana and coconut trees. We were sorry to learn that a new steel plant has been constructed a kilometer or so away, and that the black smoke is destroying farmland, polluting Child Haven’s well and even staining the children’s clothes if left on the line for too long. Bonnie and others tried to meet with officials there to talk about changes. Hopefully things will improve.

We were thrilled to spend 4 nights at Child Haven and already there is talk of returning before we leave India.

Posted by MogenStoft 00:18 Archived in India Comments (1)

Safe in Chennai

Good thing we weren't here last week, when there was a typhoon and flooding all over town! Took us a while to get money as the first several ATMs we tried were damaged by the flood. The water has more or less subsided and the city seems undauntedly busy.

We're plenty warm and well fed so far - had a lovely time with Nancy - Gita's sister's friend who met us at the airport. We'l post more soon - just wanted to let you know we're doing well.

Posted by MogenStoft 01:23 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

A Lay-over in London

What a rich couple of days! We arrived in Golders Green by about 1pm – and walked to Hampstead via Reynold’s Close (where I lived from Sept 72 to June 74). What a treat! But strange how some things were so familiar and other things I couldn’t remember at all. Once we settled in at our digs on Fitzjohn’s Ave, we walked to Belsize Lane (where I lived from Sept 71 to June 72) and then on to Belsize Village. There were so many more restaurants and shops than I remember from before. My favorite treat place from before, Louis’ Patisserie, was still in Hampstead – Christian insisted we buy pastries there (of course)! They were yummy… though couldn’t quite compare with the Danish pastries we’ve been enjoying for the past 2 weeks.

It was lovely to meet Lucy (Alex Moore’s granny) – she spoiled us rotten, welcoming us with a full fridge and, a little later, a glass of sherry. It was fun to see all sorts of pictures of Alex and Andrew (Alex’ dad) as little guys!

Our second day was busy – everyone loved riding the tube and hopping on and off busses to see the sights. All the walking in the rain eventually wore off, but we managed a lot! We met up with Jenny who lived with us for a month last spring – she kindly tromped around with us and advised us on where to eat. We went from London Bridge and the Tower to St. Paul’s (where we watched the processional start to the Sunday service) to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Picadilly Circus, Oxford Street ending up at Abbey Road – very close to my old school which we didn’t manage to find (in the dark, without a good map, or remembering the name of the street!)

We all enjoyed a fine meal with Lucy at The Flask on Flask Walk in Hampstead – a lovely end to a great day!

Posted by MogenStoft 01:22 Comments (0)

Five more days in Denmark

…or maybe seven, it’s just that five seems to be a bit of a theme. And, in keeping with the theme, we have had five meals a day most days. Well, not quite meals, but (as always), there is breakfast, lunch, mid-afternoon coffee, dinner and evening coffee. Of course, some days we have supplemented this with mid-morning coffee, but it is no longer a given in the “fast paced” life here. We’ve drunk more coffee in the past 10 days than we usually drink in a couple of months – it’s kind of amazing to be so wide awake all the time ;o)

Cream is definitely on the menu – in everything from salads and sauces to copious quantities of the whipped version served with cakes of all types. Nadia is in heaven…. and the rest of us are gaining weight. Well, maybe not Emil, though he is trying to by supplementing our “meager” meals with the endless candies supplied by Bedstefar and others.

It seems rather miraculous to me that I can still speak Danish quite fluently - though I freely admit that I find myself in a somewhat murky place. Am I really saying what I think I’m saying… and do I really understand what they are saying? Danes tend to be pretty intense - always asking very direct questions and offering very honest opinions, and trying to clarify what I really think or feel is quite the challenge for me at times.

Sometimes I think my Danish is better than before I left Denmark… but I think it is more that I understand the culture better. It’s such a pleasure to understand jokes and to be able to crack a few, as that is what a great deal of the conversation revolves around. I have even begun to enjoy and partially understand the west coast dialect – a major headspin. Kaya, Nadia and Emil seem to be picking up quite a few words too – they understand subjects though not details of conversations, and they pass the water or jam or whatever is asked for at the table.

We’ve visited all of Christian’s siblings now and seen all our nieces and nephews as well. Our children have been very happy - having fun with their cousins and enjoying the novelty of life here. We’ve been very lucky with the weather – a full week of blue sky!! It’s dark and stormy again, but that’s okay. Helps us look forward to the intense heat of South India.

We’ve enjoyed lots of long walks and a few bike rides (the flat landscape around Mikael and Solveig’s is perfect cycling terrain.) It’s always an inspiration to see the many windmills and other wise approaches to living here. Mikael told us that at first, when farmers were required to grow winter crops (to hang on to the nutrients in the soil), they were not very happy. Now they’ve learned that not only do the winter crops help the soil, they provide more hay for animal feed and have improved farmer’s incomes.

Posted by MogenStoft 01:19 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

5 Days in Denmark (so far)

Long lunches and lots of pastry

We are very busy here with visiting, visiting and more visiting (and eating, eating and more eating) but it's all going very well. Yesterday evening was the big family gathering with 27 of us in all - everyone except Mejse and Mads (Mikael's 2 eldest) - we'll see them tomorrow. Our children are warming up to Bedstefar nicely - so he is very happy (he was a little nervous about whether he'd be able to communicate with them).

We have enjoyed beautiful blue skies the past two days with a temperature just barely above zero. Nicer than the rain and strong winds we were greeted with for the first few days!

After 3 nights in Vester Saaby with Susanne, Klaus and their two extremely cute and affectionate girls, we are in Aarhus with Knud-Erik (Christian's dad). He not only has beautiful panoramic views from his apartment, he also lives very close to what is reputedly the best bakery in Aarhus. The smørrebrød we've had thus far has been very tasty!

Yesterday we walked to the centre of Aarhus - it takes only about 10-15 minutes. We enjoyed the many beautiful old red brick apartment buildings we passed en route. Emil requested that we visit Aros, the museum of modern art. He has fond memories of it from last time we were in Denmark and we enjoyed it very much... everything from the whimsical to the absurd to the disturbing.

I hope we might manage another walk into town and a visit to the main cathedral today as well as the music shop where nephew Martin works, before we head to Mikael and Solveig's home on the west coast of Jutland. Knud-Erik is coming with us which is good - otherwise it would have felt that we hadn't seen enough of him.

Posted by MogenStoft 23:35 Archived in Denmark Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

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