A Story Come to Life

In a city of twenty million: is one consumed in their one, out of twenty million’s, world, or are they absorbed in the twenty million world’s going on around them?


As a tourist in Mumbai, I was in completely taken in by both types of absorption. Let’s start with the fact that Mumbai is gorgeous. I was honestly in love at first sight. Let’s put aside that I had barely just gotten over the nightmare that was the bedbugs at the end of my time in Bangalore, and the horrifying sunburn, acquired in Kerala, covering the front of my body (caused by the Malaria pills I was on that cause sun sensitivity – I forgot) and that my stomach was completely rejecting me (I was spending a grand amount of time in the toilet). I was still in love. 


Shantaram was coming to life before my eyes. It was surreal. Sidenote: if you haven’t already caught on that I think this is one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read and put it on your list of things to read – well you really should already, you will not regret it. The colonial buildings, the boulevards of trees, the old black and yellow taxis, the ocean breeze, the parks, the churches, the temples, the mosques, the people – all the people everywhere: It was all exactly as he described it.


I went to Leopold’s and had a sprite (I didn’t think my stomach would like me if I had enjoyed the beer I wanted). I walked to India Gate and was swarmed by beggars and street people. I got henna stamped by a woman, who was surrounded by her ten children. I strolled through Colaba, wandered around the University grounds and chatted with a local who wanted to take me for a drink, so he could practice his English….


I wandered emporiums, admired churches and visited my favourite Café Coffee Day for an iced coffee. I was approached by a group of young Indians, they asked if they could video interview me for a school project – I obliged, had my coffee and chatted with them for a while about women’s rights and the differences between them at home in Canada and in India. It was interesting seeing their points of view. 


I went to the slums. I walked through where everything for all of Mumbai is made. I strolled past where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed – the railroad tracks and tunnel at the beginning… I watched kids having their morning shit there – just like in the movie. 


I had Shantaram and Slumdog Millionaire both coming to life all around me. The two most visual depictions of India that I had encountered, I was in the midst of. It was amazing. You see things and wonder if they are really like that? They were, but in many other ways they were so much more than I could have imagined.  


I’ve been home for a while now, am back to work and have started back at University (what am I thinking?!) Life is back to normal, but the kids and people I’ve met and encountered this summer aren’t ever far from my mind and won’t ever be. This trip changed the way I think about lots of things. Indians are survivors. We could all learn a lot from them. 

I hope you all enjoyed my emails. Until my next journey…. xx.



I have many mixed feelings about this project in Bangalore. I nearly cried leaving the kids today – there were a few that I really would love to bring home with me to give a good life but I’m also happy to be away from the worst ‘teaching’ (more like dictatorship) I’ve ever seen…

This organization – Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled – really does have an amazing story. It was started in 1997 by two blind men and is now quite a large organization, and is connected to many international organizations. It’s mission is ‘To empower visually impaired, disabled and underprivledged people through developmental initiatives focusing on educational, social, economic, cultural and technological aspects.’ I unfortunately didn’t see this mission taking place..

Filed under horrendous teaching:

– The teachers hit the kids. They have sticks and use them – a lot. Students might get hit for talking, not sitting properly, making a mistake reading, writing something incorrectly, no reason at all or not looking the right way. Honestly it was for anything, everything and nothing. I often couldn’t figure out why a kid was getting hit – and I think I’m generally pretty on the ball. I was constantly cringing and the kids were constantly in tears.

– The teachers have no respect for the students. Not paying attention when a student is reading. Leaving the classroom when a student is reading. Having a conversation with another teacher while a student is reading. Having a conversation with another student is reading. Trying to talk to me while another student is reading. Letting the students talk, play with each other’s hair, draw and/or work on other work while a student is reading. Keep in mind this student is about grade three age – learning to read and is standing in front of the class.

– A teacher is absent – no one goes in the room all day to check on the kids, never mind give them something to do.

– Teachers would ask me to come and take their class so they could have some more socializing time – they were instructed by my coordinator to not leave the class with the volunteers alone as it’s not our job to be taking their classes. They were supposed to stay in the class to learn from us – teaching skills and English – clearly they didn’t get either.

– I would be teaching a lesson, talking to the students or marking what a student has done and the teacher would try to start talking to me about my clothes, hair, makeup etc. – interrupting my time with the kids.

– The blind, deaf, disabled and students with mental issues were left to wander aimlessly or sat in class doing nothing. There was NO effort to teach these students… Isn’t this a school for these kids? I often found myself thinking…

Now I could go on, but I won’t as I’m quite sure you are getting my point and are disgusted it, as am I. My frustration level would go up day by day, as more and more of this came to light for me.

Overall the kids at the school were happy, having fun and orderly in their routine. Their days would start at five – they would roll up their mat (they sleep on the floor that is later their classroom), shower, help the younger kids get sorted, finish up homework and play a bit. Breakfast would be at eight-thirty, after prayer that lasts fifteen minutes. The kids all get their plates, wash them and sit on the floor in four long lines (two of girls, two of boys) extending from ones end of the school to the other. Some of the ladies that cook, some of the teachers and some of the older boys start to serve the food. The kids are well fed, but there is no choice – you eat what goes on your plate – all of it and you get however much the person serving you feels like scooping. A little four year old would often have as much at a ten year old and would have no where to stuff all the rise on their plate.

School would start at nine-thirty and at twelve-thirty there would be lunch, with the same routine as breakfast – long lines stretched out. School would start again at one-fifteen and at three-thirty the kids would be done. Two hours of free time was alotted after school, though ‘free’ wouldn’t really be the way I’d describe it.

First thing most kids would do is change out of their uniform! The school would suddenly turn into a colourful array of traditional Indian clothes (generally tattered and not fitting properly) mixed with cheap western clothes and many kids in what you could tell were hand-me-downs-downs-downs-downs. Laundry would be next on many children’s list.

Most of these kids have one trunk (the size of a large carry-on suitcase) that holds all their possessions – a large wardrobe does not fit in that trunk. They handwash all their clothes – buckets, scrub brushes and a flurry of clothes being whipped against the ground is all you can see out back of the school, where the taps are at this time of day. Can you imagine your six year old scrubbing his own clothes and hanging them out every afternoon?

At five-thirty ‘reading’ starts. This means the kids have to be in the main area, with their backpack and schoolbooks. They sit in the same lines that they have breakfast in and do their homework. They aren’t allowed to move for two hours. Some of the younger kids often fall asleep on their bags, but they get smacked awake when someone checking on things walks by.

At eight-fifteen prayer happens again followed by dinner at eight-thirty. The kids eat and scurry off to lay their mats out for bed. They sleep in whatever they are wearing, many cuddle together and the older ones tuck in the younger ones.

As much as these kids get to be kids way longer than the kids at home – in terms of maturity and things, they are little adults – all of them, in the way they take care of themselves and each other. They were always trying to take care of me too, making sure I had eaten and had tea.

Most of them couldn’t speak English at all. English is part of their curriculum, but there were no teachers that could speak better than extremely broken English – so clearly it’s not happening. These kids are learning the local language of ‘Kannada’ – a language only spoken in and around Bangalore. A language that cannot take them anywhere. Most people in India that I’ve interacted with (so have reasonable jobs) speak decent to quite good English. These kids don’t have much of a chance.

Between all my disappointments with the system I had many wonderful time with the kids. I had my hair fixed – my messy bun is not acceptable. I was fought over when I brought my hot pink dollar store nail polish to share. I was dressed up in a saree for Independence Day. I was laughed at for wearing jeans with rips – ‘fashion’ they’d say and point, giggles erupting from all the girls and boys. I was praised when I came in Indian dress and instructed only one anklet is no good. They tried to teach me Kannada and make me dance with them and they made ma laugh a lot.

My little ones from Bangalore will not soon be forgotten.





a calm chaos

Driving in India is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. No I haven’t been driving – I’ve been riding in cars, buses and auto rickshaws, but it’s all relative.


When I first arrived here I thought the driving was insane. I thought there must be a bazillion accidents a day and loads of injuries – but I’ve been told otherwise.


When you’re any one road, there are many modes of transportation you could see. There’s no bike lanes, walk able sidewalks (they are more like mountain climbing the pulled out bricks and garbage) or lines that are used on the road. There are bicycles in amongst cars, motorcycles swerving through the buses and trucks, with no helmets. There are cows wandering or sleeping in the streets. Men carrying loads of fruit on a rolling cart or women with a bundle of grass on their head march at a good pace through it all.


Pedestrians walk, in all directions, anywhere they want to. When trying to cross an Indian street, you only aim to get across one lane of cars, if lucky – one direction of traffic. The traffic will go around you, wherever you stand amongst the never-ending swell of honks.


The horns are non-stop. They go on and on and on, all day and much of the night. They use them to tell people to go or to move over because they want them to pass. There’s no one looking around going ‘shit what’d I do wrong’ when they hear a horn like at home! It’s not what is happening, it’s always just someone helping the traffic along.


Through my time here in India I’ve learned to no be on the edge of my seat anymore. I don’t have a death grip on the door handle. Through all the different things on the road and all the horns blaring I’ve realized that these drivers know what they’re doing. They are much better drivers than ones in other parts of the world. There is the same percentage of accidents here as in North America, but they’re driving on roads that aren’t well kept, that are crammed with millions of people in cars that are barely running in some places.


It’s another world with begging children tapping on your window while dogs streak across the street. It’s a world of calm chaos on these Indian streets.


riding the rails…

I had be told that I must experience the train in Indian, not I didn’t ride second class – which is where most Indians ride, so I don’t think I got the full experience, but my time in air conditioned first class was experience enough.

A porter carried all my luggage to a waiting room to start, as I was quite early for my train. I came straight from the airport, after grabbing some food. Now he puts me and my luggage in the waiting room and tells me he’ll come back in two hours to take me to my train platform. Perfect – I don’t have to figure anything out.

I’m the only white person in a room of a couple hundred. All the deep brown eyes in the room are on me, glued on me, staring with no shame. It’s as though I’m standing there naked. I put my ipod in my ears and try to read my book – hoping if I’m doing not much they’ll all lose interest… It works to a degree.

My time waiting passes quickly and I’m on the train before I know it.

It’s not exactly the ‘first class’ I imagined…. but I’m in Indian – so I shouldn’t have expected it to be too much! It’s two sets of bunks in a small room. I did manage to have a bottom bunk so all my stuff is close and I can sit and look out the window the whole time.

My roomies arrive:

– An Indian guy about my age who is in army training. Lovely guy – tells us about his older brother being killed a year earlier – he was in the army as well. He has an army family.

– A young Indian couple, a few years younger than me, who are quite infatuated with each other, but are very friendly. They come in very handy for translating for all the people who work on the train and only speak Hindi!

We’re having a lovely evening, chatting and getting to know each other, and then a train worker comes to check our tickets – the nice Indian guy is in the wrong berth , he has to move over to the next room.


We head to bed shortly thereafter and are awoken in the middle of the night when we stop in Agra and our new roomie joins our room… not super impressed by how loud he is….

The next morning I get up, wash my face and change my clothes and pull Shantaram out for some reading. Slowly everyone else gets up and breakfast comes, which wasn’t very good – but oh well.

The man who got on the train in Agra looks like he might fall over when he looks at me – I’m guessing because I’m white – not because I had a booger on my face… He’s probably in his late forties and soon becomes my nemesis. Reasons for this follow:

– he won’t stop talking

– I have my headphones in and a book in my hand and he still won’t stop talking

– he keeps offering me food (not a good idea to take as people may drug it)

– tells me how he knows it’s not a good idea for me to take food from him, but he’s eating it too, so it’s fine

– he tries to reposition my pillow for me

– he asks for a picture of me

– he asks what my pills I’m taking are for

– he won’t stop talking!!!!

I pretty much want to punch this guy out the entire time and he just doesn’t get it – at all.

The view along the way changes, plains turn to rolling hills, villages turn to slums, fields of crops turn to packs of dogs. I saw quite a few people doing their morning motions beside the tracks – a sight to see! I saw children running alongside the train and stations full of beggars. There were lines and lines of people at some stations and other were empty. At many stations, different men would come on the train to sell snacks, chai or icecream – all spending a bit of extra time trying to convince the white girl that she needed what they were selling – one thought I should give him a kiss!

The view never got boring, though I did put a decent dent in my book – between dealing with Mr. Annoying while the young couple was canoodling in their upper bunk.

When the train arrived in Bangalore I was ready to get off, but my buddy had to give me a hug and kiss on the cheek first – that I stood through like a statue wriggling to become free from his grasp. Horrifying.

A lovely porter carried my bags from the train to where I would be picked up – about ten minutes walk and then my coordinator came and I was off! My next volunteering adventure is about to begin!

The Wiggle Flop.

We nod up and down for yes.

We shake side to side for no.

Indians flop their head side to side, while wiggling it slightly.

I’ve tried to do it, and though it seems easy – it’s not, it’s awkward and kind of bothered my neck (I could probably use a massage at this point in my trip – might be an altering factor). I think it’s something you need to have done your whole life – or break yourself into slowly. It’s like trying to do the rockstar guitarist head back and forth – not a good feeling.


One of my favourite chain cafe’s in India – all the baristas were well trained in the ‘wiggle flop’.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering what this head wiggle flop means, well this is where it gets tricky – mostly just if you’re a foreigner I’m sure, but still.

Wiggle Flop uses:

– Yes

– No

– I’m fine.

– Hello

– Emphasizer (after asking something of you, it can be added on as empahis)

– Enough

– Okay

– Come

Having the same head movement for yes and no seems ludicrous, no? I’m constantly asking the same questions over again in hopes for a verbal answer- as I have no idea what their wiggle flop has meant.

India – you puzzle me on this one…

Wiggle Flop, Wiggle Flop Wiggle Flop of Confusion!


A day of being silly tourists with my favourite Norwegian.

heaven on earth…

I arrive (late – it seems no flights leave on time here) and a driver is waiting for me. As it turns out, a driver and an assistant. The driver drives and the assistant talks and talks and talks, the entire drive to the guesthouse – which was about an hour’s drive… Now lots of what he was talking about I found extremely interesting, but he just kept going and going and going. I had spent the day flying and waiting and waiting and flying – all I wanted to do was to have a shower and go to bed!

We get to Old Town in Varanasi – you can’t drive through the streets there (galis – they call the undrivable streets), so out we get to walk to the guesthouse. It’s SO dark in the streets and for whatever the reason – the assistant has taken my carry-on suitcase and I have my big tank…..


It’s about a fifteen minute walk, that felt like it was never going to end, pulling my 50 pound bag over the cobblestone streets with a sweaty hand struggling to keep hold. I’m getting honked at loads, as I’m taking up too much space with my suitcase! There are bikes, motorcycles, bike rickshaws, cows and pedestrians everywhere. It felt like I was walking the wrong way through the crowds leaving the fireworks in downtown Vancouver – with virtually no light.

We turn off the main (a thin road that cars can’t go on) into a skinny alley of darkness. At this point I’m wondering where the hell Lonely Planet has directed me…. but the assistant pulls out his cellphone to light the way and leads me through – making sure to point out the cow shit so I don’t step or roll through it!


We FINALLY reach the guesthouse – where another person takes both my suitcases and carries them down the stairs for me – thank you god! The assistant wants my number so we can get together the next day… I give it to him – fully planning to not answer my phone.

I check-in, and am shown to my room. I have to go pee suuuuper bad. I drop my stuff and try to open the doors on one side of my room… won’t open – I run to the other ones – nope. What the heck?! How can I not figure a way into my bathroom. I struggle pulling at both sets of doors again… nothing. Really Katie? You managed to book yourself a room with no private bathroom – fail at life.


I lock my room and run to the front desk to ask where the washroom is – though I’m still questioning myself as you’d think if I didn’t have a bathroom that the person who showed me to my room would also show me where the bathrooms are? Anyways, much to my relief I didn’t look stupid as I was directed to them quickly and managed to not pee my pants.

I skip the shower I had planned on, as I’m exhausted and can’t be bothered sorting myself out to go all the way to the communal washroom for a shower now. I change out of my sweat drenched clothes and lay down thinking I’ll put a dent in my book and hopefully cool off a bit under the fan. Five minutes in – power out. Fail. Sweatfest allllll night.


Sidenote: Reason it was so dark in the streets – oh half of India had no power and my guesthouse’s generator cut out which is why I was in the dark. I didn’t find this out until a day later when I was talking to home and they asked about power outages and then I was talking to the manager of the guesthouse and he mentioned it. Yes, I looked like an idiot when I went ‘Oooooh, that’s why it was so dark walking here!’ He looked at me as though I was from another planet.

I’m up early, shower, go for breaky at the rooftop restaurant and watch all the excitement on the River Ganges! Ganpati Guesthouse is right on the river, so while enjoying breakfast I was watching people do their laundry in the river, bathe in the river, pray at the river, the gurus teaching, people walking, people socializing and those trying to get tourists in their boats for a ride.


Varanasi is one of the seven the holiest cities for people of the Hindu faith. They believe Varanasi is heaven on earth. It is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities. There are ghats all along the river for Hindus to come and wash away all their sins and cremate their loved ones. It’s quite a sight to see. It is by far the busiest place I’ve been in India.

I finish admiring the spiritual atmosphere I’m in the middle of and decide to ask about a city tour I saw advertised in my room and if someone can fix my computer…. fingers and toes crossed! The manager – who looks nothing like a manager is his loose jeans, bare feet and shoulder length hair – tells me he’ll call their computer guy and see if he can come look at it – and yes!


The computer guy won’t get to the guesthouse for a few hours – so out I go to walk along the river! Shocking: a young Indian man walks up to me and wants to practice his English! Haven’t heard that before… Raj walks with me – tells me all about the ghats we pass as I wipe the sweat that is pouring off my face into a scarf. He fills me in on all the customs and rituals that take place and overall wasn’t too annoying to have around.

Then I tell him I’m going to turn back, as I have a computer guy I need to meet. He asks what time I’m meeting him – I mistakenly tell him…. ‘Oh great! You have enough time to come to my shop first!’ Fail Katie – fail!


At his shop are pictures of him, his father and Goldie Hawn! Apparently she’s been to Varanasi seven times – the first time she was there, she met with a guru who predicted things about her life and he was right about them all – so she’s kept coming back! Long story short – I got sucked into buying some silk scarves and I’m pretty sure I was completely ripped off, but oh well!

I head back to my guesthouse and the computer miracle worker comes shortly thereafter. My processor is shot – he can’t fix it because there’s the Brother and Sister Festival the next day….. Wahhhhhhh. But he can take my hard drive out and put everything onto flash drives for me…. Yahoooooo! I didn’t lose all the emails I had written or my itunes.

Heavenly day I’d say.


Indian Post

On my second day in Jaipur I arranged for my autorickshaw driver from the day before, Nandoo, to take me around to a few tourist spots and to the post office to mail so of my excessive shopping that has been dragging me down….! We agreed on 500 INR – which is about $10 for 6 hours of taking me around…. Life is pricey over here.


Our first stop was the India Post. I had two big bags of stuff – some shopping I had done and some stuff that I brought but hadn’t really used so I wanted to just sent it home instead of haul it around more. I had been told by my hotel and Lonely Planet that if I took my stuff to the post office in Jaipur that there would be a packaging guru who would take care of it for me, for a nominal fee.

Now, after working for Shoppers – where we have Canada Post – I know that most post offices do not give the kind of service that this office did to me! I recall tape being asked for at Shoppers and the customer being told the aisle they could buy it in….

I put my two bags on this guru’s desk and he’s on it! The bags are emptied, everything is looked at and checked out.. nosy parkers! A plan is coming together in his mind….. Somehow, my two BIG bags of stuff end up rolled into a medium sized package with the quilts I bought holding it together. It’s then tied together in multiple directions with string.

Next comes the layer of plastic wrap that the whole this is encased in, followed by the fabric bag that is stitched – by the guru, in front of me in about two seconds it seemed to me with my jaw nearly on the ground. As somehow this bag he’s stitched, fits over my package perfectly… Shock and awe are on the Canadian girl’s face here.

He then stitches the bag closed around the package and hands it to me to address. I think I’m ready to go and mail it at this point… Oh no says the guru – he has to seal it still! Huh? Is on my face.

Out comes matches and a can of which he lights, and then he’s got a stick of wax. Off he goes melting the wax and dabbing it onto the stitches all around the package.

Now he’s done – about an hour later, as he had some other customers that he had to help as my packagathon was happening – and the nominal fee for this hour of amazingness – 180 INR – not even $4….
How much do you need miss? A thousand rupees. Out of his wallet it comes. My precious driver just lends me the money, not a second thought about it. I run inside to pay and off I go for an amazing day of being a tourist in Jaipur with my absolute gem of a driver.Off I go to mail the package – right to the front of the line I go as a lady (And there is a looooong line of men waiting) I don’t have enough rupees on me, I though I would be able to pay with my card. Fail. Outside I go to get Nandoo to take me to an atm.




indian beauty

indian beauty

While being a tourist in Delhi we met a group from rural India; they were ecstatic about our cameras and loved us taking their photos and their chance to review them!