Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Our Final Days -2017

Hello, All!!

Our group was able to spend Saturday with the kids at St. Antony's where they wore us out with their endless amounts of energy! We played tag, learned some Tamil, and we all took an afternoon nap to recoup from the kids.

I had my nails painted, hair done, and I was given more henna tattoos by the girls at the orphanage as well as our very own Caitlin! It was such an honor to be able to spend time with them and learn new games and vocabulary. 

On Sunday we all attended Mass with the Sisters and children. We walked therough the steeets of India, hand in hand with the kids- what an experience. I know each and every one of us experienced a difficult time saying goodbye to St. Antony's on Sunday.

We then journeyed to Mercy Home where the Sisters of Sacred Heart care for people with mental and physical disabilities. They put on a program for us that included songs, dancing, and laughing! Again, the Sisters fed us so much food and we were then on our way to Madurai. 

Our last night was spent in Madurai, which was a schedule change from what we had planned. We spent the night in a hotel closer to the airport which made it a lot easier to leave the next day. We are all very thankful for our driver, Mahesh as well as others, such as Mike, who helped us along the way. 

We are currently sitting in the airport at JFK and we've been traveling for over 30 hours. We have one last flight to go and then we will begin the ride home to Erie. A lot of us left pieces of our hearts in India and we were sad to be leaving. As we re enter into our lives here, just know that we are all extremely excited to share our personal stories and adventures with you all, but that this experience has been one of a kind and our words cannot do it justice. Be easy on us as we try to articulate the experiences we have had, as we adjust our bodies to the time change, and as we reintroduce foods back into our digestive systems!

Thank you all for staying with us! I know the thoughts and prayers you all have had for us along the way kept us in good spirits. 


P.S. So many pictures have been taken, and thank you for your patience with seeing them! 

Friday, June 9, 2017

And the Adventure Continues

So today we visited Kanyakumari right after breakfast. It was a very interesting place to visit because this is the point at which three bodies of water, signifying three different religions, come together: the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean, and the Arabian Sea. It was very powerful when we were able to stand with our feet in the water and know the significance of that specific point in the world. After, we went shopping a little bit and then walked over to the Gandi Mandapam. The urn of Gandi's ashes is located in this building, however, we learned that the ashes were removed from the urn and placed in the ocean where the three bodies of water meet. There is a small hole in the ceiling of this building that holds the urn and only on the second of October the sun will shine through this hole and hit the urn. The second of October is significant because it is Gandi's birthday. We went to Kanyakumari during the afternoon hours, but something really cool about Kanyakumari is that if you visit around sunset hours, you will see the sun set at the same time the moon will rise! This was a very memorable visit.
After spending some time at Kanyakumari, we went and visited the childrens classrooms for a half hour. We spent some time in the chemistry class, biology class, and English class. All of the classes were taught in Tamil, except of course, the English class!
Once we arrived back at St. Antony's, we began to practice our dance to perform for the children at the program that night! Performing for the children was really fun and having them join us at the end was just amazing because they were all so happy to dance with us! My favorite part of the day was seeing the childrens performances. We had two groups of girls dance and then we watched the boys perform a gymnastics like routine and you could just tell they were having so much fun by the smiles on their faces. After the program, we played with the kids for about three hours! I learned many new games and made so many new friends! It truly is a special moment when you are just surrounded by so many happy children who are all smiles and just want to touch you and be around you. This was such a fun day and I can't wait to see what our last two days have in store!


Off the shoreline of  Kanyakumari.

Shopping in downtown Kanyakumari led by our guide Mahesh.

Sitting in for a chemistry lesson at the school.

Bubble time.

The kids always are asking for selfies. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What Day is it Now???

Greeted with beautiful artwork of sand at the nursing college.

We apologize for the delay in posting! The days have been long and accessing the blog has been limited.
Yesterday was certainly one for the books as is everyday in India! We began with breakfast at the nursing college which was filling as always. They sure know how to feed you here in India, and many of us have been surprised by the presence of Nutella at the breakfast table. The Sisters then showed us around pointing out areas in need of improvement. One location we visited was the roof top where the views were amazing and so was our reenactment of the "My heart will go on" scene from titanic. As we walked the halls, many students stopped to talk with us. Also being a medical field student, I was able to relate in an incredibly heart warming way. We find so many trivial trials in our lives as students that are incomparable to the trials these women face. I will forever be grateful for the opportunities that have blessed my life.
After the tour we made our way to Madurai for a stop on our 8 hour journey to St. Antony's in Nagercoil. Madurai gave us an opportunity to visit the Meenakshi temple. If you want to see color, culture, and creativity give yourself a chance to visit a temple in India. Our tour guide was incredible, but when I found myself distracted by the statues or unsure of an explanation Ashley was right there to explain everything. We are incredibly blessed to have such amazing leaders.
Following the temple we went shopping. If anyone knows anything about me  you most likely know shopping is not my strong suit. Now we faced shopping with bartering and foreign currency. Luckily, Mike, a good friend and native of Tamil Nadu, helped each of us along the way. I can't stress enough how blessed we are to have those who are traveling with us.
Lunch was at a restaurant in a hotel we are staying at later on. The food was excellent and despite my strong dislike for spicy food I have proudly set my mouth on fire several times for the simple joy of trying something new. Speaking of new, we have eaten more types of bananas than we thought existed. With our new knowledge stored, shopping bags packed, and bellies full we piled in our bus to finish the last 5 hours of our trip. 5 hours in a hot, cramped bus may seem as though it would last forever, but it was the fastest 5 hours of my life. We spent our time sharing deep conversations that opened us to stronger relationships. If I wasn't intently listening to others, I was awe struck by the scenery. The mountains reminded me of home and I think many could agree.
Arriving at St. Antony's was unlike any welcoming in America. Children have a way of being so pure and innocent. A simple smile is enough to fill the language barrier. The Sisters of course had a wonderful dinner that once again filled us until we could eat no more. Sitting here and reflecting it is amazing to see how far we've come. I had a discussion with another group member about how we will never see those individuals again. However, I now realize that it's hard to say you won't come back when a place makes a home in your heart.

Meenakshi Temple
Meenakshi Temple

Meenakshi Temple

Cathy is warmly welcomed at St. Antony's 

Mike working on his balancing act!

Conversing with some of the nursing students.

Hoping our Titanic impressions make it to the big screen. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Day 4 | Dindigul, India

Today has been another wonderful day in India. Today we left the sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Vellore to travel to the nursing college in Dindigul. We had our last breakfast with the sisters in Vellore, graciously prepared as always. Mahesh and his first mate, our wonderful and resourceful drivers and guides, navigated the complicated roadways of India for 6 hours. Long trips are rough, but the sights of India and the conversation with our companions makes for a short ride. We also had our first non home-cooked meal since arriving to India - the restaurant was Mahesh's recommendation. Needless to say, it was fantastic. 

Upon arriving, we were greeted as if royalty; the hospitality and kindness of the peoples we have met are unparalleled. This is due to both the donations and charity work of Gannon and Alan Hannibal (GU Alumnus) over the years. Flowers, and gold and red beaded necklaces showered us as we unloaded ourselves from the van. After introductions and welcoming gifts, we followed a traditional Indian marching band down the entrance path and into the nursing school. The program for the evening consisted of incredible traditional dances - most of which are indigenous to the Tamil Nadu state - by students, an introduction of each individual ABSTer, and a beautiful speech by Alan, Ashely Lawson (Faculty) and Jennie Vaughn (Faculty). We then had the time to meet the students, who illustrate the elegance and transcendence of the Indian culture. It is a joy for both all of us to come to an understanding of each others cultures and lives. 
- Jimmy, Chip, and Nate
The nursing students welcomed us with a traditional dance. 

Jennie speaking at the welcome program at the Nursing College. 

Shania, Ashley, and Jennie checking out their henna. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Third Day, Vellore, India | Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Today felt like three days in one! For the first part, we got up super early to attend mass and breakfast for the bishop’s birthday. It seemed supper formal, but he was just honored we came and talked and joked with us at breakfast.

The second part required three hour drive up hairpin turns on a very bumpy mountain road. Despite some carsickness, we all enjoyed visiting the other convent. This one focused on the extremely poor rural villages. It was fun to explore the plants and animals and flowers there and enjoy a cool mountaintop breeze! We were the first Americans to visit and the sisters were extremely happy to have us.

Lastly was a bit of down time to recover from the ride and then play with the kids in the evening before dinner. We were able to share bubbles with the kids! Watching so much excitement from the kids has really been one of the most special aspects about the trip so far. We had the opportunity to teach them a dance, and we can now proudly say there are kids in India who can dance to Cotton Eye Joe!

I really enjoyed having some more personal conversations with each other and getting to know one another’s back stories. There is always more than meets the eye. We had our last dinner in Vellore at Mike Tony’s house. He and his sister Liffy helped us learn about the culture while Al sponsored their stay in the States this year. I’m really excited to wear the sutis they got us! Easier to wear than sarees!

We are about to race off to our next location in Dindugal! We have enjoyed our time at the convent in Vellore, and we can truly say we will miss the Sisters and the children. We are extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to create these relationships and further the bond that has been formed.

Again, thank you for continuing to think about us, we will hopefully have another blog post tonight with more pictures to come!

~Cathy and Morgan 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Second Day- Vellore, India

Thank you to everyone who helped and supported us in our journey here!

A few of the girls singing to us after the ribbon cutting.
Continuing with our experience, they gave us a huge welcome ceremony with dances to both traditional and western songs. It was nice to hear a bit of home. The kids are extremely talented! We’ve had limited success trying to learn the dances, but the kids love it when we try. On Monday, we got all fancied up with saris and dhotis and flowers. The Sisters were very pleased. We were honored to cut the ribbon at the kitchen dedication ceremony. The previous group saw how rusty the kitchen at the convent’s high school was, and our group raised the money for the new kitchen this year, while the alumnus Al matched what we gave. They were even able to renovate the bathrooms for the kids.

I definitely appreciate ATMs way more now back home; in India, they are only filled once a day, not Sundays, and have a max that you can withdraw because they regularly run out of currency, not to mention difficulty with foreign cards or small tears when exchanging money.

A kid playing with one of the toys we donated. 
Later we got to spend a lot more time with the kids, and we brought out the chalk and Twister game that were in our individual bags. We couldn’t hand it out fast enough! The kids are wonderful, and their enthusiasm and kindness with us is really beautiful- they have fully embraced us, literally and figuratively! They love to teach us how to dance and they all have so much energy! We taught them the Macarena and they picked it up so fast- we have some pros in our midst!

Today we also visited the Golden Temple! We were not able to take pictures because that is prohibited, but it was truly an experience. People stared, children shook our hands, and some people said, “Hello.” It was interesting because no one finds being stared at normal, so we constantly reminded ourselves that most people were just curious. I’m sure as we continue this journey we will experience much of the same reactions.

After returning from the temple, we were able to play games and hang out with the kids some more. Jimmy has even referred to himself as a crane, as he constantly lifts kids up! It was a really fun day today, and tomorrow we have to be ready at 5:30am! Our days are long, but they are filled with so much love and energy from the kids and the Sisters.
We have now figured out how to blog consistently and will be posting a blog every day. Thank you for sticking with us and keeping us in your thoughts and prayers!

~Cathy and Morgan

A preview of our bedrooms. 
The group decked out, embracing the culture! 

First Day in Vellore, India | Sunday June 4, 2017

Here is a look at the children who graciously have shared their lives with us. 

Alo! (Hello in Tamil) We left before dawn on Friday and we have still not been in India for a full day. The travel was good even with the 12 hour flight in the middle. We stayed active with stretches and laps in the airports, and slept and watched movies on the planes. We were all about done with boxed Indian food by the time we arrived. We lost our community bag with soaps and kids' toys, but it was very cheap to replace shampoo and we have chalk to give the kids tomorrow. The Sisters are extremely hospitable, always trying to making sure we are well fed and comfortable! One of the biggest shocks was during the drive from Chennai to Vellore- who knew a family of four could zip in and out of buses and vans on a motorcycle without any wrecks? I'm pretty sure anything can be a two way street in India. So far we have been to mass and had henna tattoos, which made it difficult to eat lunch right after because they take an hour to dry. We are now resting in our air conditioned rooms with lots of bottled water before we go shopping in the cool(er) evening weather. Thanks for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers! 
The Sisters treated the women to Henna tattoos. 

Chip and Jimmy hanging around on the playset at the convent.

The Sisters and the kids welcomed us with beatufiul decorations. 

This is our plane from JFK to Abu Dhabi- the best way to fly for 13 hours. 

Our arrival to Chennai began with the Sisters greeting us with flowers! 
Us attempting to learn the kids dance!