Thursday, July 22, 2010

Angels Orphanage

In addition to training to project simulation, some ThoughtWorks University-ers have been volunteering our time on a side project for an orphanage named Angels Orphanage. We're building a website for the orphanage using a programming language called Ruby on Rails, which apparently is much less painful than Java and the Spring platform which we've been using for our project simulation. I wish I could explain more, but as a BA that's about all I can say about the technical side of things without making stuff up.

We'd been working on the site for a few weeks before we got the chance this past Monday evening to actually pay a visit to the orphanage and meet the folks for whom we were building the website. Although I spent most of my time interviewing and gathering information for the website from Angels Orphanages' primary caretaker, a lovely woman named Sabina, I was lucky enough to spend some time in the company of the children as well.

When we first walked in, about 60 or so children, most of whom were very young, were sitting in neat rows on the ground. They were quiet and peering at us with big curious eyes, but you could tell they were an excited bunch to begin with...what kind of children aren't? My suspicions were confirmed as soon as we started introducing ourselves and playing with the orphans. They were an incredibly joyous group of kids. Everything we did, from teaching them fist bumps to dancing and singing to taking pictures was met by excited giggles and eager hands. The girls especially loved taking pictures on my camera - not of themselves, but rather of each other and of me, which was both amusing and puzzling.

I loved my trip to Angels Orphanage. Seeing the children's faces really made me more motivated than ever to build a great website for them, one that will bring as much value to them as possible. And on a personal level, hanging out with in such a happy, unconditionally loving environment - even if it was just for a few hours - really instilled a sense of gratitude in me for all the things I have been blessed with. 

I learned that it costs 500 rupees to support a child for a month. That covers his or her tuition, food, clothing, medical needs, everything. 500 rupees translates to roughly $11 USD. It's how much I will probably pay for my dinner tonight, which really puts things into perspective.

Although Angels Orphanage cannot accept donations in anything other than rupees at the moment, it is possible to send money through ThoughtWorks. If you are interested, please let me know and I'll set up contact information. I'll also post a link to the website as soon as we deploy.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mascal Madness

I've just gotten settled back into my room from a glorious (hot hot hot ridiculous hot) weekend spent in Agra and Delhi. It's weird trying to recollect and compose my thoughts from Mascal when I've just come from seeing the Taj Mahal, but I suppose that's what I get for seriously slacking on the updates - my apologies. 

And now, onwards!

Mascal Bangalore. Google it and most of what you'll get are blogs from other TWUers, many of whom talk about how most of their Google searches return other TWU blogs (so meta! so crazy). It's hard to really describe...Mascal's definitely not a city or a town and I'm hesitant to even call it a village because I am pretty sure I could count the number of "villagers" I saw on my fingers and my toes. For all intents and purposes, Mascal is a remote and astonishingly beautiful campsite where TWU XVII spent what we all agree was one of the best weekends here so far in India.

Our trip got off to somewhat of a ridiculous start. For some reason unbeknownst to anyone on the face of this planet, we decided to meet in front of our B1 office at 5:50 AM. Well, 5:50 AM rolled on by, and I was the only one at our meeting place, wondering if this was somebody's idea of a cruel, cruel joke. Turns out everyone else just sucked at getting up and after an hour and a half of mass confusion/calling/cracker amassing, we managed to sort things out and get on our buses.

The ride there was all sorts of epic. Although Mascal is only about 45 kilometers outside of Bangalore, we probably spent a good third of our ride being thrown about an epileptic bus as slowly around us the roads turned into dirt paths, the scenery grew increasingly Lord of the Rings-esque, and the fumes of fresh fiery cowpie seeped into our hair, clothes, and souls. We got dropped off at the top of a mountain and started making the trek through plots of land and dirt paths:


We eventually reached our destination by the lake. Honestly, the view is probably worth coming out there for in the first place - I'd never been anywhere that was so purely remote and breathtakingly beautiful. My pictures simply don't do any justice:

Above: Mordor

After a quick lunch, we split up into teams and began our outdoorsy adventures! First up: raft-building and navigation!

The construction was the easy part - we basically made a triangle out of our tires and strung it together within a wooden frame. Rowing, however, was a different story. It probably took us an hour and a half to get to where we needed to, and at times it was hard to tell if we were even making progress, the going was that slow. We tried everything - singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart", synchronizing our oars, whispering prayers to various deities (O K, so that was just me) until we gave up and about half of us slid into the water and started propelling with our legs from behind the raft. This worked well and served as a great workout (maybe a little too great, considering how sore I was the next day).

Next up was rappelling! Also known as being tied to a rock and dangled off the side of a cliff with nothing holding you except a skinny Indian man and a whole lotta faith!

 Above: Toby (from England!) and me, waiting our turn and drying off from our raft-propelling gig.

I admit I was pretty nervous at first, but it wasn't all that bad! The only unnerving part came at about the middle of the descent, where the angle of the rock made it impossible to keep my feet attached to the wall and I had to lower myself from midair to the ground. The whole "trip" probably took about five minutes.

After a stillwater kayak paddle across the river (you have no idea how much I appreciated the elegant sleek buoyancy of a kayak after our rafting experience...), we hiked back to our campsite for lunch, followed by some team games and swimming/relaxing in the afternoon. The rain started at about 5 and didn't let up for most of the night, so about half of the group went back home and the remaining half ducked under our tents and settled in for a relatively ridiculous night of Old Monkey Mafia, singing around the "campfire", and exciting adventures out in the rain, on my part.

I woke up bright and early the next morning, brushed my teeth in the great outdoors (a very cool experience, try it sometime), and went out for an early-morning kayak trip with a friend. There are some things that are so "duh" amazing that they don't warrant a description, and kayaking at 7 in the morning in the middle of a beautiful lake in nowheretown, rural India is definitely one of them. That was probably my favorite part of the entire trip.

The only thing I haven't missed about Mascal are the bathrooms, which were basically tents propped up over holes. There's something oddly empowering and comforting about ditching the comforts of modern plumbing and doing your thing in the great outdoors. But one night of bonding with Mother Nature is good enough for me, I think.