Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A change in the tide

Maybe it is fitting that along with a new year we are experiencing a new India, an India that we love and feel safe in. Maybe we were bound to have to go the hard yards before settling down. Either way, I can safely say that our appreciation of this country, and it's people, has greatened completely.

Yesterday we took a 10-hour bus ride through landscape that was continually changing. For the first time, we saw elephants. Wild elephants, free to roam the fields, majestic and giant, not even realizing how big they really are. We were able to smile at naked babies dancing in fields while mothers collected grains, and let the wind of the desert dunes and rocky cliffs breeze our faces. We talked of the old year, of our strengths, and what we expect from the new. For the entire 10 hours, not one of us was bored, sick, or unsatisfied.

We arrived in Udiapur at 8pm on New Year's eve, and were immediately enthralled at the bazaar- and shop-lined streets we passed on our way to our hotel. We were instantly rejuvinated at the bright lights and cleanliness, and the friendliest people we have met so far. And we hadn't even unlocked the treasure of Udaipur yet...

Udaipur is the fairy tale city, and is not wrongly named. If I could imagine what Monacco looked like, I think it would be like this. There are two castles on the lake (the only bodies of water in this Indian state) that were so spectacularly lit that night that we lost our breath looking at them. Along both sides of the banks of the riverlake are beatifully built Taj-looking domed hotels, hotel after hotel after hotel, each draped with a different color of Christmas-style lights. And our hotel, as all others, afforded beautiful rooftop views of it all. This is where we spent the last few hours of our year, dancing, drinking, and eating under the stars, along the bright river, with amazing travelers from all over the world, whose stories, collectively, could fill hundreds and hundreds of pages.

Now we're ready to tackle India for 6 more days. We are anticipating that the first six of 2009, as well as the many that will follow will really be super.

Maybe it is fitting for it to be that way.

Namaste, and happy new year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cow Question

If I thought my grandpa Foreman read this blog, I would ask him the following question:

'Grandpa, is it possible for a cow to have both udders and horns?'

I'm no bovine expert, but the cows in India sometimes have both, which leave my fellow, (and coincidentally lactose-intolerant) travel companions, and I, quite confused.

Any help with this one? Anyone?

Monday, December 29, 2008


We've arrived in the India we imagined. Big city, non-crowded, great architecture, less poverty, and shopping malls.

Thank you to whatever God you have all been praying to on our behalfs. Miche and I are profound with gratitude.

The getting here, though, wasn't without its side-effects. Paint a picture if you will...

We effortlessly get on the first bus this morning, leaving Agra, immediately meet some real chummy gringos (as Mike would say), and have a nice, tolerabe ride. We enjoy the sites of our travel-between city called Fata-fata-fata-something-or-another, and have a nice Indian lunch on a rooftop restaurant.

Then we tried to catch the second bus from the Fata-fata-something bus baazar, (where 'bus baazar' actually means 'stand on the side of a busy road and try to catch the first bus that comes along'). Gulp. So, four gringos with eight packs are standing there, on the side of the road, hoping that what we are doing is correct. Consider, as well, that at anytime, we are trusting fate to put us on the right bus at the right time going to the right destination, as nobody actually speaks enough English to tell us, nor are there signs or civilization to tell us where to go. For about 20 minutes of panic, we stood there, hoping we were in the right place, letting bus after bus pass us for reason of being too full.

Finally, when we were ready to get in a cab and admit defeat, a bus came plowing down the highway. My words to Mike were, 'Here comes a bus! At a million miles per hour...'. The bus in mention halted to a stop in front of us and gladly picked us up with barely room to spare.

From that moment on, though, the day got better and better. The bus ride was actually truly enjoyable. All 5 hours of it. The drivers are MANIACS, driving on any side of the road they wish (again, why bother with lanes, right?), and have no problem trying to get us there as quickly as possible (which we actually appreciated). Greg and I had the luxury of sitting in the front 'cab' of the bus where the drivers sat, and had a good time.

The highlight of the day: Arriving in Jaipur and seeing sensibilty and civility, and rocking up to the nicest hotel any of us have possibly stayed in. The floors are clean, the service impeccable, and the food amazing (or so I hear - I haven't tried it yet, as you will read below). There is even a pool and a small lawn for soccer, an in-house library, and (yay!) hot water. We feel very, very lucky.

The low point of the day (read with caution): The bathroom break during our bus ride. A squat box, as usual, minus the hole in the ground. Just a tile floor and two bricks for your feet. Needless to say, three hours later, I still do not have an appetite.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Taj

Let's just say that if I ever die giving birth to my husband's fourteenth child, I surely expect a labor of love as grandeour as the Taj Mahal.


We arrived, first at the gate, eager for tickets. While the boys went to scrounge some 5am brekky, we sat and waited and waited in a line of tourists next to a line of Indians.

Two hours later, we walked into the monument, and the Taj herself was hiding shyly behind the mist. For about an hour she danced in and out of the fog, barely affording us a view. Yet, during this peaceful hour at sunrise, as we sat on a step and watched in awe, she was her most beautiful.

The closer I got the less impressed I was, and not becuase she isn't worth being impressed by, but that from a distance is the best way to appreciate her.

My favorite part, though, was stopping every few hundred meters and taking some of the most fantastic, candid, fun, and inappropriate pictures with Mike and Miche. We took so, so many incredible shots, which made the experience even better. The people you travel with really, really do make a difference.


Disclaimer (repeated from blog post 27.12): The worst decision of what I should have brought but didn't? My laptop, for which with, documenting this whole thing, as well as keeping in touch with (and receiving support from?) our friends and family would have allowed us to do.

The pictures taken today, other days, and in the future also would be online by now. I have cursed this decision more than once, and from it add travel advice number 6: Never travel to India without your laptop. Sigh...

Friday, December 26, 2008


Dear fellow travelers,

Let me talk to you a bit about traveling, and prepare you with advice that might help you in future planned trips.

1. Never go to India without a plan.

Upon booking this trip two months ago, Mike and Miche and I sat down to do some planning. Distressed by the amount of effort going into it, and the inability to wrap our heads around what we really wanted to do, we decided to just get to India and go with the flow.

2. Never go with the flow in India.

The flow will never, ever go with you. Imagine, for example our shock to find out that trains anywhere in India need to be reserved up to 20 days in advance. Now, imagine our heightened shock to find this out the night before we were planning on going to the next city on the train tickets that we wanted to by right then and there.-

3. In India, what can go wrong, will go wrong.

And we aren't kidding about this one. Hotels? Booked. Trains? Booked. Private drivers? Expensive. Diarrhea? Eminent.

4. Expect to compromise.

Four people, traveling for different purposes and interests are bound to knock heads. And that hurts. A helpful tip? Never go to India without a plan...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Surivor: India

Who needs Jeff Probst? I am in Survivor mode. Luckily, watching the last 17 seasons of my favorite reality show has prepared me to be ready to adapt to the following rules:

1. Don't drink the water.
2. Be careful what you eat.
3. Your toilet is a hole in the ground.
4. Don't trust anyone.
5. Keep your belongings safe.

Luckily, my fellow travelers and I have no intention of voting anyone out of this journey...

Weary Travelers

We arrived... frightened, dirty, hungry, and tired.

I remember boarding the plane last night, seeing all of the saris and turbans, and asking to Miche and Mike, 'Who the hell's idea was it to go to India for Christmas?' Greece is sounding pretty good right now...

I will not bite my nails the entire time I am here. I actually fear to put my fingers anywhere near my mouth. And walking barefoot in our hotel? Forget it.

India is incredible, and hard. So far, I don't love it, but we are slowly developing a mutual like for each other. I do love the food (we had our first meal today - Indian, which of course is just called 'food' here). We had a Christmas lunch of curry and nan after attending the most horrible mass. It was insisted upon by Mike, and we willingly went along, knowing it would be beneficial to pray for our souls.

So we are here. A bit frightened, still. Very dirty. Very tired. But enjoying ourselves the best that we can.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Well, off to another adventure. This time: India. Last year at this time it was off to Bali, for a great holiday alone. This time, I'll be traveling with two of my best buds, Mike and Michele, and we're planning on having a phenomenal time.

For the first time ever I am going to be a backpacker. I celebrated this important moment with the purchase of my very first travel backpack/suitcase. You know, the kind that most dirty, grimy backpackers wear when they travel all over the world? I didn't pay a lot of money for it, as I am hoping that traveling this way will not be something I do often. I prefer a roll-along suitcase, planned stays in hotels, and semi-nice clothing to wear. Instead, I am going to be living out of a backpack, staying in hostels, and recycling my clothes whenever possible. But hey, at least I won't be doing it alone.

Here are a few questions you might be wondering:

You: Wendy, how much Indian do you know?
Wendy: None. Not a single word.

You: And what are you planning on doing when you get there?
Wendy: Beats me. We only have four nights actually booked, and past that, we're hopelessly leaving it up to fate and good advice.

You: Is it going to be safe in India?
Wendy: Probably not. But I am traveling with three Canadians. Terrorists love Canadians, eh?

You: What are you most excited for in India?
Wendy: I am not sure what I am looking forward to the most in India, whether it be the yummy curry or the diarrhea. Likely the curry. Either way, it should be very interesting.

You: What have you done to prepare for India?
Wendy: Well, since school has ended, I have not showered or bathed as much as usual. I have tried to find and practice in as many squatting toilets as possible, and have been feverishly collecting street-packages of toilet paper.

What a long, strange trip it'll be...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Will I Stay or Will I Go?

The decision is official.

Two weeks ago I told my headmaster that I would be leaving NIS at the end of my contract in June.

And then I followed up by saying that I would be returning again in August for a third year. So the decision is official.

And, as many of you know, I have much to look forward to staying for...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Extending Vocabulary

In an effort to get our students, most of whom are fluent in English (although it is their second language), to build up their vocabularies, we do a lot of work with understanding unknown words in texts and within the context of writing.

This child's great work starts with the book Trumpet of the Swan, which was written more than 40 years ago. In the story there is a lot of unfamiliar, old-fashioned language that the students and I had to work through. One day we came across the word 'gay' which I immediately jumped on, describing (in not so many words) that in this context, 'gay' referred to being happy or light-hearted.

Evidently Ai, one of my students, had that word stuck in her head, because she used it later that week on one of her spelling assignments, which required students to write their spelling words in sentences. One of Ai's spelling words for the week was 'feel'. So, she wrote how she felt, which you can see in the picture below. This is now on my refrigerator...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

To mom...

Dear Mom,

This Christmas I am planting you some tulips! I know how much you love them, and you have instilled that love in me. They are my favorite flower, and so, before the first snow is expected tomorrow, I am planting the bulbs. 16 of them in all. I think that might be the first year you gave me tulips for my birthday, thus growing my love for them since then.

I know you are not here to see them, and when they bud and bloom, I will send lots of pictures. But, I hope you smile knowing that flowers in your honor have been planted very far away.

Happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

How did she know!?

First of all, let me say how much I think that everyone should own a scanner. Everyone. No joke.

Were it not for the new scanner I purchased for my classroom (thank you, second grade budget!), I would not be able to send to you future posts that show the adorable things that children say. I am thankful to be able to share these with you, and to make you laugh, all on account of my students and on behalf of my scanner.

Last year, on the last day of school I had my students, as well as the students in the other second grade classroom write a letter to this year's incoming students (my current students). The exact assignment was to write to incoming second graders, teaching them about three things: Miss F. (that's me!), the classroom expectations, and the learning that students will be doing. It was intended to be read on the first day of school to my newbies. Unfortunately, the first days are always too overwhelming for these little guys, and the information in the letters is a bit much for them. Instead, after having had me for four months, it has been fun for them to NOW hear them, to see the similarities in last year's class and themselves, and to make connections. So, recently, I started reading these letters a few at a time.

My current kiddos (and I!) laugh when they hear certain information again and again; namely 'no running in the hall', 'be productive', and 'try not to make Miss F. cranky', among other things.

But JinHee, one of last year's little jewels, in describing me, accurately fit me to a tee in the fourth sentence. These kiddos didn't think it quite as funny (they obviously don't understand dirty humor at 7 years old...) as I did (imagine me choking when reading it out loud), or as David, a friend of mine and Jayden's dad, who was sitting in the classroom on a visit the morning I decided to read this and a few other letters, out loud.

I dare any of you to paint a better picture, in one sentence, of the reason for my being on Earth...

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