Trip Start Nov 21, 2008
Trip End Dec 22, 2008

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Where I stayed
Shamik Shah and his wife, Rani

Flag of India  , Gujarat,
Monday, November 24, 2008

I'm somewhat rested now, but I did stay up too late last night trying to compose a few emails.  We start later in the morning tomorrow so I should be better rested by then.  I'm enjoying staying with my first host family, Shamik Shah and his wife, Rani.  They are an attractive young couple (Shamik is 30) who have been married for four years and met through a marriage bureau.  Rani told me that they had dinner perhaps nine times and chatted on the phone and internet over a period of six months before deciding to get married.  She described this while she was driving me around to see a few Hindu temples this evening after picking me up from the last GSE activity of the day.  We first went to the temple for Krishna and watched the ceremony, which is only a few minutes long, then proceeded to the temple of Rama, the god with the blue skin, and that of Ganesh.  There is a household temple to Ganesh on the second floor of the Shah home right outside my door, and he is the god that Rani's family worships to.  After that, we returned to the Shah home for dinner, my first home-cooked meal here.  Last night the couple took me to a north Indian restaurant with Shamik's brother.  The food there was great and not too spicy despite Rani's worry that the spice would be too much for me.  Just a bit ago, we returned from having tea with Shamik's friend who is the upcoming president of his club starting in July.  I drank some tea that I actually liked.  I felt that trying tea was my only option since Shamik was going to order an iced drink for me...and ice is a big no-no according to the team training.  I'll have to ask about that variety of tea and see if I can find it in the States.
After we arrived in Baroda yesterday, we were taken to the Dr. Manibhai A Patel Rotary Hall were we received a very warm ceremonial welcome.  We were each asked to approach the front steps of the Hall where we received a red swipe on our foreheads (a dundun, I think?) and a handful of flower petals tossed onto our heads  from Rtn. Trupti Paanwala and a second necklace of flowers (the first we received at the Baroda airport).  The woman who put the flowers around my neck turned out to be, Rani, one of my hosts while in Baroda.  After the ceremony there was a brief meeting introducing the team to the presidents and other representatives from all of the local clubs, then a meal on the front patio of the Hall along with a chance to visit with our new Rotary friends.  Afterward, we proceeded to the first of three museums, the Museum and Picture Gallery operated by the Dept. of Museums of Gujarat State.  As we entered the grounds of the museum, the team was delighted to see many monkeys walking, climbing, and sitting all across the setting.  The museum itself was started by Maharaja Sir Sayajirao III Gaekwad in 1887, and the architecture of the building is beautiful.  Inside was an old style museum, with art, artifacts, biological and medical samples, period instruments, shells and fossils, skeletons of animals and people (including that of a 71' - 2" blue whale that beached itself in the estuary of the Mahi River in 1944), intricate wood carvings and metalwork, pottery, stuffed birds, and even an Egyptian mummy.  This museum had everything, and we didn't even get to see it all!  Then we went to a second art museum the name of which escapes me at the moment.  While there, Jeffrey and Jessi hit their fatigue wall. I hit mine earlier at the Baroda Museum and was feeling mildly unsteady by the time we got to the next place.  Finally we reached the Palace and Artillery Museum, the home of the last Maharaja before Indian independence.  The remaining family of the Maharaja still reside in part of the palace.  The building was incredible with lots of carved stone and towers.  We were able to photograph in some areas but not inside the building.  The tour guide who took us through the building was very good and was a bit funny in that every few minutes he would say, "Look, look, this is important."  One interesting feature of the building that can be seen from the front (I guess we entered through the rear) was the Maharaha's decision to build features representative of the four main religions at the time into the architecture of the palace.  There is a Islamic dome, a Christian bell tower, a Hindu dome, and... um, I'm blanking on the last faith... maybe one of the team members can shed light on this point.  We finally made it back to our host family homes for some much needed rest.
Our GSE activity for today was first a visit to the Arpan Project, a house that has been converted into a school for the education and training of children with cerebal palsy and other disabilities.  All of the kids were very excited to see us and performed a few dances for our greeting ceremony.  I was able to capture some of it on video so perhaps I can show it too you later.  Some of the occupational activities the older kids are taught is crafting paper into gift bags, making drawings and paintings for gift cards, and painting some small sculptures which are then later sold to raise funds for the school.  The whole group bought a good bit of the items on the spot, which delighted the director of the project, and he later gave us each a small set of samples in one of the bags that he had already had prepared for us.
After Arpan, we drove across the city and out into the countryside to the Muni Seva Ashram in the town of Goraj.  The Ashram was started in the summer of 1980 when Pujya Anuben Thakkar, a woman of 34 years, asked her guru, Munidas Maharaj, to give her his blessing for starting an orphanage.  Instead, Muni Maharaj told her that she should serve the under-privileged.  Anuben began her effort in Goraj, an area that was at that time still considered very dangerous even for a man.  But on her own, Anuben built a hut and began serving the needs of the community.  Today the Ashram is a large complex of buildings which include a beautifully designed cancer hospital and research center with up-to-date technology; a day care center that includes medical checkups, vaccinations, and initial education; a residential school for older children; a school of nursing; advanced education in medical technology; a residential school for mentally challenged women; an old age home; alternative and renewable energy facilities; and alternative farming technology such as vermiculture, greenhouse farming, and agro products.  The Ashram is really quite impressive.  One of our guides for the day, Trupti Paanwala, seemed concerned that I was not talking more during the tour, but I was just in awe and quitely taking it in.  The Ashram's web site is if someone wants to check it out.
I forgot to mention that we had a little car accident on the way to the Ashram.  A rickshaw coming the other way side-swiped Rtn. Jeet Vin's car and left a nice dent in across the rear door.  He spoke with the driver of the rickshaw a moment before getting us underway again.  He explained that since no one was injured, there was no point in making a big fuss about the damage.  Rickshaws are not required to carry third-party insurance so there was no way Jeet could get compensated for the damage.  He also said it would only cost about $100 to get fixed.
Still suffering from jet lag, and staying up too late sending email and updating the blog, I was nodding off a bit during the hour-long drive back into the city.  I managed to perk up some when we got a chance to get out of the car and move around.
Tomorrow is our first vocational day, and I'm really looking forward to it.  Rtn. Alok Desai is taking me to meet a potter that he is working with on a current design project.  I'll tell more about that tomorrow if I can get internet access again.  The team has its first chance to present it's program about western North Carolina tomorrow night at the group club meeting. 
Well, it's one in the morning here now, so I'll be signing off.  I will try to upload some pictures tomorrow morning if I can.
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