Thursday, September 29, 2011

Goodbye Chicago, Hello World!

It's happening. I'm days away. Mom and Dad come in to Chicago tomorrow, I party it up with some friends on Friday, pack up on Saturday and leave on Monday! This wild wonderful chapter of life is closing, but a thrilling new chapter is beginning.

In the last week, some essential steps in preparing for India have been completed. First, I purchased my tickets! Oh how scary that was. Those things aren't cheap! But I took a deep breath and clicked submit. I have 2 layovers to get there, which means 27 hours of travel to get to Chennai. From Chennai, I'll still have a 2 hour drive to get to the campus. (deep breath) I'll be flying Atlanta>NY (change airports)>Dubai>Chennai and arrive at 3am. Fun! The important thing though is the tickets are purchased and I'll be getting there eventually.

The 2nd big step was getting my VISA approved! I received an email confirmation yesterday, and I think my passport may have arrived in Atlanta already. So nothing can hold me back now! Except for money.... oh yea. There's that too. Still working on fundraising, and I'd say its going well, but I still have a long way to go. $850 raised. $2150 to go!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Rejoicing and Dance in the Mogal Vadi Leprosy Colony

Recently, the most recent newsletter for Promethean Spark was published, and it focuses a lot on the program India. (For those of you who don't know Promethan Spark also has programs in Costa Rica and Kenya). After reading through the newsletter, I felt that I had to share this article on my blog. I hope you are as moved by the article as I was.

Saroja and Krishnan were a beautiful couple when they first met. She was petitie and pretty and he was tall and handsome. A goat-herder in his young life, Krishnan had a virile, muscular body with a full head of hair and an infectious smile. He had a masculine, resonant deep voice which one day a radio producer heard and offered him a job as a radio announcer. He spent 7 years as a successful announcer. The story gets muddled in the retelling so we are not sure exactly when he actually met Saroja, but they were married and apparently had a good life together. Little did they know that their worlds would crash before their very eyes and all they had been blessed with would be retracted by a vengeful god who would, for no apparent reason curse them with a debilitating disease causing them to be ostracized from all they knew and loved and would exact a toll on their bodies and minds to the furthest degree imaginable.

Jean Shifrin with Krishnan

We don’t know how old they are now but they live their days in the Mogal Vadi leprosy colony; Saroja moves about bent completely in half using the stubs she has left for hands as crutches coordinating with her one good leg with a stub of a foot that remains intact. The leprosy has reached advanced stages attacking her nervous system causing strokes and paralysis on half of her face. Her right eye was frozen open so it dried up and now she only sees from her left eye. Krishnan has lost both legs to the knees and wears mini-sandals on the rounded out portions of his fingerless hands to pull himself along rutted dirt roads on an 18” square piece of wood with wheels attached to the bottom. When I first met him I had to ask if he was a man or woman because the leprosy destroys testosterone. His voice was high and squeaky. He has lost most of his hair and developed feminine features in his decaying body. In the words of Dr. Susan, “Leprosy is a most cruel and pitiless disease. It keeps its victims alive as long as possible to suffer as much as possible.”

Shaun Parry and Stacey Tookey at Mogal Vadi

After 1½ hours of rutted dirt roads and dodging sari-clad women and monkeys our medical van arrived at the Mogal Vadi Colony. We efficiently set up and attended to the patients for blood pressure, open ulcer cleansing, cuttings, rebandaging, consultations with Dr. Susan and distribution of medication. I set up the small speakers, turned on Jaya Hei an upbeat Tamil song and gathered a few of the patients to do some basic movement with me. We started slow and others gathered to join in the therapeutic dancing. JayaRaj, the head of the colony (who loves to laugh and is a comedian in his own right), dressed in a lungi and a button up yellow shirt got carried away and started doing his own steps to the music. We all followed his lead, which brought him great joy, jabbing twice right, twice left repeating higher and higher. Saroja was sitting in the dirt a few paces away smiling the most beautiful sideways half-grin I have ever seen. I approached her and motioned for her to copy the dance motions with her arms. She hid her face and withered back into herself. I asked Velu, our driver to translate for me into Tamil. Then I asked her if she would allow me to pick her up and dance with her. It took a bit of persuading but soon she smiled and like a child opened her frail arms to me.

I scooped her up gently and held her seventy-pound frame tight against my chest. She was nervous but soon relaxed and began smiling as I swayed back and forth to the music. She trusted me. Standing between JayaRaj and Paramasivan, who had dressed in his nicest purple shirt, we imitated their dances. Then I twirled slowly. She squealed spontaneously and giggled. Her heart was beating like a little hummingbird next to mine and for a moment the world disappeared. Twirling and bobbing to the Indian rhythms we laughed and though we could not speak the same language, our souls were communing. I will never forget the tiny squeals and the high pitched tittering as she shook with excitement. I had never experienced anything like it in my life and I dare say she had never either. I knelt on one knee and she sat on my lap for some time enthralled in the joy of the moment. It was as if nothing else existed in the whole universe except our small group in that leprosy colony that day. Stacey Tookey was dancing with Paramasivam, I was with Saroja, we brought Krishnan over to join in with JayaRaj and we shared love and rejoiced together. A glimpse of heaven in a corner of the earth where it would seem impossible.

Time flies when you have tons to do

I'd say its about time for another update. Let's see what all has happened since I last posted.....

In the words of my current roommate, I've been fully engaged in my "farewell tour" of Chicago. I'm taking every spare moment I can to say goodbye to all the dear friends that I've made here in Chicago. I have 11 days left in Chicago. I can't believe its time to officially say goodbye after 7 years here. It's been quite the journey..... I've made final plans to have a going away party/fundraising (gotta throw that in there) next week. If I didn't send an invitation to you. I'm so sorry, and email me for details.

Enough of that sad stuff. Time to look to the future, and whats coming next. I've been working hard on sending out emails to friends and family all over the world to work on fundraising. I still have a lot of work to do, and I still have a lot of funds to raise, but I'm starting to make slow progress. With the donations that I've received in person and the donations I've raised online, I'm 10% of the way there! If you haven't taken the opportunity to look at my fundraising page, please do.

So I've had a few hiccups with my visa that have required me to fedex additional forms to Houston where my visa is being processed, but I'm not worried.... yet. I'm hoping that I don't have any more problems in that department cause a Visa is kinda important, ya know?
Also, I'm literally hours away from purchasing my plane tickets. I'm waiting to hear if a travel agent has better prices than what I've found online. Once those are purchased, its going to be really official! No turning back. :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Feeling Needed

I love to plan. I like knowing whats coming. That's traditionally how I operate. When I decided to go to India..... I didn't have a plan. I kind of just decided to go for it. In the last week or 2 I was starting to make my plan though.... I begin to expect what was coming next. I could even visualize some of the experiences that were coming, and then in a matter of days it has evolved into something different. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will be experiencing this quite a lot as I prepare for India. As I learned from Dani (a woman who works for Rising Star that I spoke to on the phone today, "expect the unexpected, and you'll fall in love with India."

With that said, no worries! I'm still going to India and I'm still teaching life skills through dance with Promethean Spark. It hasn't changed all that much but there are a few changes. It looks like I'm now going for two months instead of one! (No that doesn't mean I have to raise twice as much money, still aiming for *just $3000. Thank goodness!) ---Don't forget to visit my fundraising site :) --- So in addition to staying a month longer than originally planned, I will also be helping a lot more with the whole curriculum at the school instead of just the dance classes. I hope to help incorporate the Promethean Spark methodology and more creative art concepts into their more traditional classes like english, math and history. I will be collaborating more with the principal of the school, Celina, and not just with Ann (dance master currently running dance classes in India). I think it will be a great opportunity, and I'm looking forward to making a unique and positive contribution to the work going on at the school right now. So needless to say, details are still be worked out, and this information may continue to develop in the coming days, but for better or for worse, I'm going to India, and I can't wait to make a difference.

In other news, I got my last vaccination today! No more needle pricks for me. I also bought my plane ticket to Philly, where I will be trained by Shaun (president of promethean spark). He's been wonderful to work with so far, and it's going to be an amazing opportunity to learn the methodology from the founder and creator of promethean spark. I can't wait to learn from him and share ideas for my work at the school. I'm getting closer.....

Monday, September 12, 2011

One step closer

I feel as if my training for India has officially begun! The excitement I'm feeling right now is indescribable. I'm thrilled that I've found something that so closely fits my passion. I just got off an hour and a half phone conversation with Shaun Parry, the president of Promethean Spark International, and during that conversation he painted pictures in my mind as he described the history of Promethean Spark methodology. I'm so moved to hear the success stories that have already happened using this program. I truly believe that there is power in dance. It is a universal language that we all speak, and it has a healing power. Our bodies are powerful tools that we have been given, and if we learn to listen to our body, we can be changed. I can't wait to get to India to start dancing with those children and the patients in the colonies who are effected by leprosy. I believe that I have a lot to offer, and this is what I need to be doing with my life right now.

At the same time, I have so much to learn! There are so many questions buzzing through my head. What will it be like when I get there? How do these organizations, Promethean Spark and Rising Star actually operate. What will I be doing from day to day? In future posts, I plan to provide more history on where I will be going and the organizations that I will be working with. We'll be learning together! Let me know what you want learn more about and I will plan a post for it.

In other news, I took another big step forward today in my preparations for India. I submitted my visa application! My passport is currently flying through the air on its way to Houston, so it can be stamped with the magical papers that will get me into India. Lets cross our fingers that the Visa application process will go quickly and smoothly.

Next big step.... finish vaccinations! I was a pin cushion last week when I received Hep A and Hep B vaccinations both in one day, but it turns out that I still need one more shot, Typhoid Fever. So bring it on doc.....I'm ready for ya.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Let this new journey begin!

Welcome to my new blog. Here I will be sharing the wonders of my experience as I travel to India to teach life skills through dance to children affected by leprosy. I'm so excited for this opportunity to share with the world the healing power of dance. Promethean Spark has developed an amazing methodology that is making a difference the world over. I can't wait to be a part of this wonderful work. In the coming weeks, as I prepare to leave, I will be sharing more about Promethean Spark, Rising Star (our parent organization in India) and my experiences as I prepare for my journey. Please share this blog with your friends, and make a donation if you can. To learn more about the donation process go to my fundraising page. Also, you can make a donation by clicking on the "donations" link on the right side of this page. I look forward to sharing more about this amazing organization and all the wonderful things I will be experiencing.