We had a delicious Sunday brunch with our host family. While we have eaten similar vegetarian dishes in restaurants and street-side stalls, the host family’s food was fresher and less spicy, oily, and fried. We loved a grated carrots-and-cream dessert. As you can guess, we’re missing home-cooked meals. Some members of our host family will shortly be leaving for the United States to return to work (they live in the U.S.) or to visit with relatives in the U.S. We heard about current and forthcoming family events, such as a great grandson’s first birthday celebration that was accompanied with a head-shaving ceremony, planning for a son’s sixtieth birthday that will involve temple ceremonies and the renewal of marriage vows, and a granddaughter’s upcoming wedding.
In the afternoon, we did a play activity workshop for a slum neighborhood in Rotary Nagar, Chennai. Sriram Ayer, the founding director of NalandaWay, met us at a street corner and led us through a crowded dirt path, flanked with mud huts, street-side taps for public water supply, and mounds of garbage separated from other mounds of recycling materials. We reached the Rotary International Hall, which is a community center for the slum children’s education. As we waited outside the hall, excited children milled around us. A young woman who is in charge of the hall and is a tutor for the children unlocked the hall. Sriram had told us that twenty-five to thirty children would be attending our event. Fifty or more showed up. But we were not fazed by the very active kids and their numbers. We had come prepared with many items of three play activities and extra hard candies. The children settled down as the activities began.
Miko, Kristen, and Linda did the play activities, while Gargi was the observer and photographer. Sometimes she worked individually with two very active boys. Gargi was also the scribe when she was requested by the children to write under their pictures. These children did not know how to write.
As we had done in our workshop with Project Concern International in Nagapattinam, we began with the scarf activity/dance. Although the room was crowded, the children and adults found enough room to move around with swirls of colorful scarves afloat. At the end of the scarf movement, the children tied their scarves around their wrist.
While waiting for the volunteers to set up the activities, Linda tossed a huge yellow, happy face ball into the circle of children who were sitting on the floor and their voices erupted in giggles and screams. The children passed the ball around the room and reached forward or up to touch the ball while trying not to stand up.
The children were separated into smaller groups and directed to one of three activities. Linda had a Polaroid camera, along with drawing paper, crayons, and colored pencils. The camera was unfamiliar to the children, but after the first demonstration, all hands were clamoring to see the instant photos, and the line-up for photos grew. We only had film for twenty pictures, so children were grouped in pairs with siblings or friends, mostly through their own process of self-selection. Then the children were shown to draw pictures illustrating who they wanted to be when they grew up. Many wanted to be doctors, police-women, and teachers. All had great dreams for their futures. After about thirty minutes, the groups were rotated.
Miko started the puppet making activity by showing all the materials to the children. Children, who were screaming and jumping, suddenly became quiet and watched what Miko was showing them. After a volunteer explained in Tamil that the children could make socks puppets in free style, the children slowly started picking up some materials for the puppets. Most of the children worked on their puppets very quietly. After they finished, they asked Miko what they should do with their puppets. When Miko told the children that they could take their puppets home, the children’s faces lit up. Miko asked the children to name their puppets. The children named their puppets after their mentors and us. There were not enough socks to go around. Those who didn’t receive a sock created faces out of white paper and puppet-making materials. There were no complaints.
Kristen had a bag full of beads and several balls of yarn. To begin, she found a woven mat and she used this to sprinkle the beads on. She also found a big aluminum bowl in which she poured more glass beads. The children’s faces lit up when they saw all of the different colors and shapes. The most amazing thing was the children’s patience; they all waited to watch Kristen demonstrate the activity. Then without hesitation they began creating the most beautiful jewelry: necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and hair ornaments. There was no gender difference; boys were as interested in beading as the girls. Older children helped younger children, one-year-olds with runny noses queued up for Kirsten, friends helped friends, and if a child still needed help she called out, “Aunty, Aunty,” which was the name Miko, Linda, Gargi, and Kristen were given.
We let the children keep their beaded bracelets, necklaces, and anklets, their pictures, and their puppets. Each child left with a bright scarf tied to his or her wrist. Many more children turned up from nowhere and wanted Gargi to tie a scarf on their wrist. Our big bundle of about 100 neon-colored (pink, orange, green) nylon scarves that the Department of Clinical Psychology had purchased has now become a small ball. The candy distribution and the last round of scarf tying were making the children rowdy. It was time to close. Gargi was all smiles and satisfied and at great peace in the midst of much noise. As we left, we got a last glimpse of a totally naked little girl with a bright pink scarf tied around her head.
We had a great Sunday.
Gargi Roysircar, Linda Lee, Kristen Robinson, Michiko Ishibashi