Monday, December 10, 2012

Eat, Pray, Love, Happiness & Jayaraj

"...and when you sense a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt-- this is not selfishness, but obligation. You were given life, it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.    -Eat, Pray, Love

Confession time, the only book I read all the way through during my six months in India was “Eat, Pray, Love”.  This is surprising to me considering I fell asleep within the first ten minutes of the movie a year prior.  Nevertheless, I read it, and ended up loving every page.  There were so many things that I could relate to in the book, but one quote (above) stood out to me the most because of an amazing Southern Indian man named Jayaraj.

If you have ever volunteered at Rising Star Outreach, then chances are you have already met Jayaraj and know why this quote above embodies everything this spectacular human being is about.  If you haven’t met Jayaraj, believe me when I say that if you do meet him, he will leave a lasting impression on you and you will become a happier person by just being in his presence. 

Jayaraj getting a medical checkup...and cracking up as usual!!

Jayaraj with his wife and Dance Master Catherine
Jayaraj has leprosy and lives with his wife in a small Leprosy colony a few hours from Chennai called Mogalvadi, or Moot.  I don't know his entire story, but I do know that people with leprosy in India are forced out of normal society to live in leprosy colonies away from others who do not have the disease.  They suffer from not only major physical ailments (such open infected ulcers and losing finger/toes/etc...), but they also can suffer emotionally.  Many people all over the world still think of people with leprosy as "cursed" people, or that they have leprosy because they are not clean (which is obviously false!). If you would like to learn more about leprosy, I would encourage you to read on Rising Star Outreach's website at for a more in depth explanation. 

Back to Jayaraj and his AMAZING SPIRIT.  I was lucky enough to go out with the medical team at Rising Star Outreach many times to the Moot Colony, which I always looked forward to!  I realize we were going out to the colonies to give aid to the leprosy afflicted, but I truly feel I received so much more from this happy man than I could ever imagine giving him. 

Jayaraj LOVES to dance, and a dance party was a must every time we visited.  He obviously has better moves then me.  I just look ridiculous, but we can't all be as cool as Jayaraj.   

Jayaraj finds beauty in life, in his surroundings, and even in his trials. "You were given life, it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life". Jayaraj helps me to see the beauty in my own life just by his positive attitude.  Now, when I think of my trials, I just say to myself, "what would Jayaraj do?".  And the answer is obvious.  DANCE and BE HAPPY!

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Day in The Pink City

My entire life I've had the travel bug.  I blame this solely on my parents.  They loved travel and raised me to love it.  Whether we were flying to Canada or just driving the coast to Half Moon Bay, we loved to explore new places.  Before I came to India, I was told that the kids at Rising Star would have a few weeks off in September where they would go home and spend time with their families.  I took this as an opportunity to see part of the world I never imagined I would be in.  Callie and I decided to plan our trip so we would be in Northern India for a week, and then Sri Lanka relaxing on a beach for the rest of our vacation.  This was the PERFECT plan.   With the help of our awesome travel agent, Benson at Abish Travels (, we flew into Jaipur and began our adventures in Northern India! 

Benson knew Callie and I were on a "volunteers budget", but he somehow managed to set us up in the coolest hotels.

Here are some photos of the first hotel we were in, in Jaipur.  This used to be an old palace and is packed with history...none of which I can remember at the moment (which is how it usually goes for me... I love hearing about anything historical, and then I promptly forget everything I was told) 

If I could go back in time, I would have spent more time in Jaipur. This place was breathtaking!  We spent about a day and a half here, and this is what we did:

My first taste of Jaipur was having a nasty cobra put on my neck. From the pictures you can tell I was THRILLED about this.  Thank you Jaipur and gross snakes for some of the most unflattering photos of myself.  Thank you. 
Here we are at the City Palace in Jaipur. I am now going to tell you about it by copy and pasting from Wikipedia cause that's how I roll.  "City Palace, Jaipur, which includes the Chandra Mahal and Mubarak Mahal palaces and other buildings, is a palace complex in Jaipur, the capital of the Rajasthan state, India. It was the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur, the head of the Kachwaha Rajput clan. The Chandra Mahal palace now houses a museum but the greatest part of it is still a royal residence. The palace complex, which is located northeast of the centre of the grid patterned Jaipur city, incorporates an impressive and vast array of courtyards, gardens and buildings. The palace was built between 1729 and 1732, initially by Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amber. He planned and built the outer walls, and later additions were made by successive rulers right up to the 20th century."

Next we went across the street to Jantar Mantar.  This place was SUPER COOL.  It was built in 1727 by Maharaja Jai Singh II and is filled with astronomical architecture.  This Maharaja was a genius. 

I don't remember what this next place is, but it looked pretty amazing from far away.

And now, drum roll please, MY FAVORITE PART!!  It was nearing the end of the day and we had already seen so much of Jaipur already, I had no idea what was in store for us later in the day.  The next million pictures are of the Amber (also known as Amer) Fort/Palace.  If you want to know all the history on this, just look it up, but just know this, it will take your breath away. 

We got to ride an elephant to the top!

Yeayyyyy!! "I'm so freakin excited!"

Shesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors)


I am pretty impressed with my photography skills on this one

Dinner is served. 

Lastly, because our tour guide knew I liked textiles, took us to a place where they make traditional Indian block printed fabrics.  They let us make one, which looked like crap but was a lot of fun.

 If you are considering traveling India even just a little bit, JUST DO IT!  I don't know why it took me so long to get out here, but I am so glad I did.  I heart Jaipurrrrr!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Departure of my Common Law Buddy

I have been blessed in my life with the most wonderful friends anyone could ask for.  Each one of them is special to me and I could not have gotten through the hardest and the happiest times without them.  One of those friends I have to give a shout out to is miss Callie Reagan.  Many moons ago, in the Highland Singles Ward in Hayward California I met Callie.  We were fast friends and bonded quickly over our sarcastic and sometimes inappropriate sense of humor.  That seems to be the way I bond with most of my close friends :).   After we met, Callie and I then ended up working together for around 7 years in San Ramon.  We became roommates soon after we started working at the same place.  You would think being friends, going to church together, working together, and living together for so long would have killed our friendship fast.  But that was definitely not the case.  We have had so many fun times, and have supported eachother in all the small and big things that have happened in our lives during the past 7 years. 

Last year I mentioned to Callie that I felt like I needed to be doing something different with my life.  I wasn't sure what it was at that moment, but I just knew in my heart that what I had been doing was no longer where I needed to be.  In order to sort out in my mind what I should be doing, I started applying to jobs, praying a lot, and got a blessing from my father.  I am a firm believer that some things in life don't work out, in order to open up doors of more importance.  There was a job I applied for that I figured was right for me.  I mean, it was exactly what I was doing for work except in a  different city.  I wasn't thrilled about the job, but was convinced that if I got it, that that is what I needed to be doing.  When I found out I didn't get the job I was relieved.  Relief isn't a feeling you should have when something doesn't work out...if that something was "right".  When I found out I didn't get it, I went to talk to Callie.  I told her that deep down I really wanted quit my job and go volunteer for a while...but in the normal career world that is a crazy notion.  Why would someone up and quit their good job to go somewhere and not get paid?!  Callie gave me some great advice that day.  She told me that it wouldn't hurt to just email Rising Star Outreach and see what kind of volunteer opportunities they had available. What would it hurt? So that is exactly what I did.  Within one day I was skyping with the Program Director at Rising Star where she told me about two positions that they were looking to fill in India, both with a 6 month commitment.   One of the positions was the Volunteer Director that would come to India and run their volunteer program.  When I was told about this position I didn't have one doubt in my mind as to whether I should take it if they wanted me.  That doesn't happen to me very often to me, because I normally question everything and try to make calculated decisions.  A day after I skyped with them, they offered me the position and not one day goes by where I am not 100% grateful that I had this opportunity to be here.  The other position they wanted to fill was for a Sponsorship Director.  When they told me about the position, my thoughts went straight for Callie.  I knew she would be great at it, and I also knew she would LOVE it.  So, within a month, I moved out to India and Callie joined me a month later.  We apparently were not done being roommates! 

Which brings me to now.  Callie's last day in India was today.  Everyone that leaves Rising Star, whether they have been here 2 weeks or 5 months feels like they are leaving part of them behind.  Callie and I both say that we can turn our emotions off when we need to get through something hard.  I wouldn't say this is a good quality, but I do this all the time or else I would be a blubbering baby crying all of the time.  Although, sometimes it is impossible to do that here!  Just watching Callie say goodbye to the kids was hard enough for me.  A stream of emotions went through me today.  First, having to say goodbye to Callie sucks!  We have been roommies forever, and our roommate-dom has come to an end which feels really weird.  Luckily we are both going to be living withing 40 minutes from eachother when I get back to the states, but it will still be an adjustment to not be roommates!  Still, I know I will see her in a month, so it's more of a "see ya later" than a goodbye.  Secondly, watching Callie say goodbye to everyone here just made my departure in a month even more real.  I have moments when I am so excited to go home and see my family and friends, and then 2 seconds later I will be gut wrenchingly sad that I will have to leave India and all the friends and little buddies I have made here.   Even with the thought of leaving here being unbearable, I am glad I had my Common Law Buddy here with me for most of the time to experience this place together.  And I know we will both be back to visit as soon as we can.  

Have fun in America "Callie Ballie"! See you soon buddy.