"Women development centre...a place to interact with each other on various social, cultural and economic issues, a centre of privacy to discuss issues concerning abuse and domestic violence. A roof to have trainings and health camps; the women of Nandamuri Nagar considers this centre has their second home. Thank you Help international."
These are the words of our amazing partner of 9 years, Meera, who posted about the inaguration ceremony held in the newly painted Women's Center this past Wednesday. I'd be lying if I said that seeing the look on all of those women's faces and receiving their applause and garlands of flowers as a token of honor and thanks wasn't rewarding! We held a nutrition class at the new center to kick off the use of that important place, followed by the ceremony which the women of the community insisted on having. Braxton and I were able to say a few words after receiving flowers and we emphasized the importance of finding refuge together as a community of strong women in that building and realizing together the power that they have when they unite and speak together. We told them they are all examples to every one of us as they exhibit courage in leading their community and standing up for their rights. It was a day to be remembered (although I still don't think any of us can remember how to tie a saree correctly even after these women helped us fix our in-shambles-sarees right when we got to the ceremony haha).
The incredible Meera and Urmi of our longest partner, SAPID.
All of the SAPID women added their handprints to the wall, Meera went first!
And Laxmi (she is SO cute and happy all the time. I've never seen her not smile).
And Bindhu! She is Swathi's mom, Swathi is our cook, and their whole family is amazing. Bindhu is the funniest little lady on the planet, she is always joking with us in her broken English.
The ceremony was a major highlight from last week, and following the ceremony, we took a much needed vacation to one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Seriously. So extremely beautiful. I won't write much about it because honestly you just had to be there, and I think everyone should add Munnar, Kerala, India to their lifelong bucket list. If you haven't been, you are legitimately missing out on life. Munnar is a small town in the tea plantation hills of the state of Kerala, India. It has hundreds of lush, green, perfectly groomed hillsides of tea plants and I would advise anyone going there to bring dramamine because the roads are tiny and extremely windy! But almost vomitting in the car was well worth the wild elephants we saw (YES WE SAW 5 WILD ELEPHANTS. 4 adults, 1 baby. We saw them from about 100 yards away through some brush, and they trumpeted their trunks and walked all over the place and it was one of the most incredible moments EVER. We just randomly saw them while we were driving away from the nature reserve where we were supposed to see them, so we pulled over on the side of the road and just watched them for almost half an hour). We hiked all over the foothills of a nature reserve, took an awesome jeep ride, ate incredibly delicious food that was infused with so much coconutty deliciousness that we couldn't get enough, and finally understood what a real monsoon season was like. I have never experienced such a constant downpour of buckets and buckets of rain (and I lived in Southeast Asia for 18 months so that's saying something)! It was peaceful while we were sleeping, so freezing cold that we all had to buy jackets while we were out hiking (it was like 60 degrees the whole weekend and I was shivering), and made a few of us come down with bad head colds, BUT IT WAS BEAUTIFUL.
In the words of one of our volunteers, Claire:
"What a week! After working roughly 100 in just two weeks, we all needed a chance to shut our eyes and recharge. What better place to take a little break from development work than Munnar, Kerala?
Flying into to Kochi at 4 am, we had a 3-hour drive ahead of us to get to Munnar. Never have I appreciated the United States Highway system more than I do now. The roads leading to Munnar were so windy they put California’s Highway 1 to shame. Munnar is a land straight out of a J. R. R. Tolkien book. From the moment we saw the HUGE waterfalls, wandering monkeys, and hills of emerald tea bushes, we starting joking that Indiana Jones was going to burst out of the trees riding a dinosaur from Jurassic Park while both John Williams soundtracks play in the background. After a quick stop to take a spice tour and ride freckled Asian elephants (their names were Ravashi and Laxmi), we were at our hotel ready to take a nap! Looking back on that car ride now, at that point our sleep deprivation was verging on hysteria. We were all so tired that when Justin, one of my fellow volunteers, showed a video of a horse failing to do a backflip, the entire car erupted in a chorus of breathless cackles.
We spent our three-day vacation in Munnar exploring tea plantations and subsequent museums, a factory specializing in natural dyes, traditional Indian dancing and martial arts, an eight hour Jeep ride through the Munnar mountains, and, my personal favorite activity, a 5-mile trek through the Chennar Wildlife Reserve. We did a lot and somehow we were able to accomplish our main goal: rest and recharge. Although our work is both important and impactful to the communities we serve, development work is hard. Very hard at times. And when you put your heart and soul into helping others, it is incredibly easy to forget about yourself in the process. But that’s why we take time for ourselves; to reevaluate our mindset, why we are here in India and what we, as individuals, contribute to both the team and the greater community as a whole. To me, I came to India to do good, impactful work while exploring a part of the world unfamiliar to me. And now that I’ve had the chance to take a breather and have some fun, I can't wait to get back to work! "
Here is a gallery of photos. I have about a million, so I tried to narrow it down to just this many... hehe
This was the view from our hotel room... and it was only $20 a night! I love India.
Braxton wanted to be the photographer instead of the elephant rider.
Munnar is called "God's own country" because it literally looks like paradise. We lost count of the number of waterfalls we saw!
The clouds would roll in and turn everything a foggy white and then start dumping rain five minutes later. It was like we were walking around in the sky!
All the fog on this private road looked like we were in a horror movie, so Braxton pretended to be the creepy fog monster...
Walking on roads like these through the tea plantations may look serene (and really it was), but it really meant you would walk out with a foot full of LEECHES. Yikes! Braxton had 5 on one foot...
We saw some traditional martial arts, and then it basically turned into a sweet acrobatics show! Jaret, Claire, and Kaile all got picked to be a part of this stunt!
We love this team!!! We are missing two, Haylie and Jamison, who went to Pondicherry this weekend instead of Munnar with us. We missed them!
We counted 7 waterfalls on this one hillside. They are hard to see in this picture, but they were there! It felt like a mixture of Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, and the volcanic island from the first Incredibles movie.
Naturally I bought a sweet see through raincoat.
We all piled into this little jeep and hurtled through the mountains on our "jeep safari tour"!
We went on a 5 mile hike through a nature reserve and it was BEAUTIFUL. Probably my favorite thing that we've done this summer. However my least favorite thing was that we saw a massive fresh snake skin about two seconds after this picture was taken... it was 5 feet long and HORRIFYING.
We had a 360 degree view of amazing hills, mountains, and valleys. All of the following pictures were taken by me standing in the same spot!
This little guys were on the side of the road on our way out of the nature reserve. There were a ton more that didn't make it into this frame.
They were difficult to capture a picture of, but if you look really hard right in the middle you can see the big brown blobs that were the wild elephants!!!!!!!!!!
A few of our last foggy pictures from a fantastic weekend. Munnar, you will be missed.