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Full Circle


One small story that has occupied consistent space in my life this year in Delhi has come to a natural and ever-so-nice conclusion.  It started with a rare (for me) passionate response to a play I saw at a leadership conference last fall.  The passion spurred an idea, the idea developed into a community theatre project and the project led me to Courage Homes, an NGO that hopes to heal young girls rescued from sex trafficking.

(Anyone unfamiliar with this thread can read back here:   longleggedfly.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/one-man-in-his-time-plays-many-parts-his-acts-being-seven-ages/ and here:  longleggedfly.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/can-one-voice-make-a-difference/)

The idea for the home is the love child of Roger and Hiroko Seth.  It was an unexpected serendipity after a few challenges that life lobbed at them.  Their persistence and dedication to the often tiring and bureaucratic details of establishing a legal entity in Delhi is impressive.

When I met them and other team members earlier this year, Courage Homes was not yet open.  It had staff, an operational skeleton, legal support, and licensing underway.   But it didn’t have a house.  Moving from model to practice had its challenges:  finding a landlord willing to rent to an NGO working with former sex workers wasn’t easy in conservative Delhi.

We staged the play, SEVEN, and we made good money to give to Courage Homes.  Still, they had yet to find a place to house and work with rescued children.  Many people in the audience donated appliances and furniture to the hoped-for facility.  Then, March 30th  I received a note that Courage Homes had found a landlord sympathetic to its work.  Roger and Hiroko signed a lease for May 1.

This week Roger gave me a tour of the home.  He met me at a popular shopping center nearby and I transferred to his car.   Rightfully, he doesn’t want drivers knowing the address to protect the girls.  Drivers are notorious gossips.

The House … It Was Beautiful!  Large and cheerful and perfect for the needs of Courage Homes.  Work inside is underway  –  they are building a dorm with bunk beds, preparing common space, art rooms, gardens.  The counseling staff is spending the next month with a similar home in Calcutta to observe the operation.

Roger and Hiroko’s wish to open Courage Homes is rooted in a complicated combination of factors.   Their story is unique and it led them to the  energy and commitment it takes to realize this project.  They may not change the landscape of sex trafficking in Delhi, but they may, just may change the course of a few lives.

And who knows what awesome things can come of that?

Courage Homes will accept its first rescues in September.

(I’m adding this later – just noticed that Nick Kristof wrote about the raid of a brothel in Calcutta this week.   I followed his tweets in real time and they were stunning.  Read this if you get a chance:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/26/opinion/26kristof.html?_r=1&hp)

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Ritika has graduated to seventh grade.  Her class is small over the summer because many of the kids at the Deepalaya school return to their villages in rural India.  The students who stay in school take enrichment classes and work with college students  on life skills, public speaking, and other practical applications.

There are a 10 new students from Afghanistan.  They are Hazara refugees from Bamiyan Province.  This is the place where the Taliban imploded the ancient giant buddhas carved into the  cliff side.   The Hazaras are a minority Shia Muslim community and have been miserably persecuted by the Taliban.  Hazaras are ethnically Mongolian, most likely descendants of Genghis Khan’s sweep west. Culturally, the Hazaras are Turkic.   They speak Dari, which has persian roots.   Hazaras look east asian , with lighter skin and often lighter-color eyes.  It’s a stunning face.

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Next week will be my last post until August, when we return to Delhi.

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Ritika’s summer class.  The two Afghan students are on the left and right in the front.  Ritika is second from right:

The boys in class love working with circuits.  They built this car with a plastic box and bottle caps for wheels.  It’s powered with a simple circuit and D batteries:

Georgie fixing Daddy’s rough heels with a Pedicure:

One of the nicest opportunities of living abroad is the ease in meeting strong and interesting women:

And finally – a professional shot of Seven:

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Big In China

If you’re looking for a fun read I recommend Big in China by Alan Paul.  Alan is a friend of mine from Beijing.  We met when he and his wife, Becky moved to China in 2005 for her job as Bureau Chief of the Wall Street Journal.   We lived directly – literally, directly – across the street from them.  Becky used to joke that she’d see the light on late at night in Jim’s office, which faced the street and she’d panic slightly, wondering what he was working on…

Alan wrote the book some trailing spouses dream of  writing:  the trials and triumphs of dragging a family half-way around the world to live in a                  crazy-wonderful place and all the fantastic challenges that come with the adventure.  But Alan’s story has a twist – he met a local musician who shared Alan’s passion for the soulful tunes of southern rock and together they formed a successful band.

Alan balanced a life of freelance writing, taking care of three kids and playing music.  He was a rare species in our international community of trailing spouses:  Male.  While some of us were busy professionalizing motherhood, volunteering, searching, self-actualizing, shopping, studying, and pushing ourselves to perfection in ways that are never completely satisfying – Alan took what he always loved and did more of it:  played music.

When Becky got an awesome promotion four years later and the family had to move back to New Jersey, Alan had a tough time leaving Beijing and the band. Instead of letting the music die with the move, he decided to write a book about it.

Big in China features a few brief scenes with yours truly.   In one, I’m crying, in another I’m giggling so hard that I nearly wet myself, and in the third I’m dragging Alan to our compound’s equivalent of the village jirga:  Coffee Morning.

But there is a much bigger reason to buy this book:  It’s a good read about a family I adore and I want the book to fly off the shelves.

Enjoy!

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A few weeks ago I mentioned that there were no helmet laws for women riding motorbikes in Delhi.  Finally, a story this week on the front page of the Times of India about this very topic.

The story doesn’t offer statistics that show the number of female head injuries caused by motorbike accidents compared to men (has anyone thought to count?) – but the overall number of general female head injuries has increased significantly in recent years according to one study.  The rising numbers coincide with more motorbikes on the road.

Maybe someone will use this information to begin lobbying for laws that protect male and female riders equally in this city.

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We had a second staging of Seven!  This time, at the American Center in downtown Delhi.    One of the missions of the center is cultural outreach to the local community.  The profile of the crowd this time was very different from our show last month:  Young, male and Indian.  I regret that we didn’t have a Q & A afterwards.  The play is about empowering women and I wonder how this message was received by a community that is still very conservative.

We may get a chance to run again – in the fall at the India Habitat Center.

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Eddie lost a tooth today and put it in a baggie with this note for the tooth fairy:  “500 rupees please”.  (11-bucks!)

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After Saturday’s performance:

Lala performed this week in the school play, After Juliet, a story about the feuding Capulets and Montagues.   She was a Herald:

Proud parents after the show:

A spring concert I attended to watch my friend Lola sing.  My favorite of the night:  Cantique de Jean Racine by Gabriel Faure.

Did anyone out there sleep-in until 10:30 on Mother’s Day like me?  When I finally stirred, the kids brought me a tray with yogurt, fruit and coffee.  Then they read me a poem and Lala played the flute!  Good job, Daddy….

A still-sleepy me with Eddie, Lala and my lump-lump Georgie under the covers:

Later on Mother’s Day Jimmy took advantage of a friend’s Lazy-Boy:

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A Week of This and That

I was about to publish this post when I heard the news of Osama’s death.   My brother is going to Afghanistan with the army later this month – too soon to be affected by policy change in the region if there is any.   It’s a good thing that the Wicked Witch is gone, but sadly, there are still lions and tigers and bears.

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The punishing heat has arrived:  42 degrees celsius.  That’s 107 for my friends at home.  Mood and food rot  fast when the temps rise here.   The heat saps your energy and your spirit.  Maybe the rising mercury will cool a few tempers in this city – the papers have been rife with gang rapes over the past few months.  Awful stories of young, hungry men feasting on vulnerable women and children.  I don’t know if these are copycat crimes, or just focused reporting where there was none in the past.

I remember reading once that crime falls when the temperature soars and that there’s actually a “perfect” temperature range that fuels aggression:  high enough to push you over the edge, but not too high to melt you out of acting on bad impulses.

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Yes, I watched the Royal Wedding.   The Dress, The Pomp,  The Silly Hats.  The lady who wore the foot-high starched bow on her brow… What was she thinking?

The British High Commission in Delhi celebrated the wedding with local and Commonwealth VIP’s.  They served a three-tiered chocolate truffle cake at the party.  There was also lots of bubbly, thanks to the BBC apparently.  I listened to two former BBC reporters tisk-ing over the network-sponsored Royal rave.  Like most news organizations these days, the network is counting the pennies it pays its staff.

The kids and I watched the festivities on the computer at school since Kate started marching just as classes ended.   We followed-up later at the American Club.  Boys love fairy tales too – here are mine huddled with friends to catch that kiss:

And the girls, a bit earlier:

For the record, I liked what the Bishop of London had to say about Mastery when he quoted Chaucer.   The sermon is a quick read and worth a gander if you missed it.

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We went to a fun dinner party last night.  Our hosts, Peter and Cecile are from New York and France, respectively.  Peter traveled and worked in India back in the early 80’s.  He returned recently to start a textile design business.  His work is beautiful – the fabrics reflect ancient and historic designs.

Meeting Peter and Cecile’s Indian friends  reminds me of the power of nostalgia and the spirit it releases if you let it.  Peter loves India – not senselessly, as a “phile” is at risk of doing.  He has a particular enthusiasm for India that you don’t often encounter among expats here.  Many of the friends I met last night are connected directly or peripherally to his first trip to India.  One of them regaled me with stories of the early days with Peter, including how they lived on a houseboat in Kashmir for three months.

Anyway, this made me think about my own feelings for China, how I slipped easily into the place when we moved there in 2003.  I had spent a summer traveling and studying in China in 1987.   Fondness for those memories made moving there easy.   I do admit to some disappointment – China had changed too much in 15 years.

India has changed at a more natural pace – and arguably too slow.  For Peter, I wonder whether India today feels like Deja vu.

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Our hosts, right and center and Cecile’s identical twin:

My new little friend on the street corner.  This is the girl who wants medicine for long hair, which prompted me to hand out boiled eggs.  The kids love them, although in this heat, bottled water is much appreciated.  The little one on her hip belongs to everyone on the corner it seems.  She?  He?  gets handed around from hip to hip:

Eddie chatting about his soccer game with Daddy.  I love how he stands with his hand on his hip.  And check out those exposed shin guards.  We can’t seem to keep track of his soccer socks!

It’s “Good Bye” party season in expat land.  Every year there’s a string of them – celebrations for people moving on.  Here we are on our way to one.  Jim is feeling good these days.  In this photo he was “one hour” from finishing, completely finishing, edits and all, his book.  He dragged-out that hour… savored the anticipation I think.  Or maybe he was waiting for the monster to arrive, like in Churchill’s famous quote:

“Writing a book is an adventure.  To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”

I am happy to write, The Book Is Flung!