The Road Home

The Road Home – this phrase has so many different meanings to me now. I have wondered time after time since I set foot back in the U.S. on September 8th what I would write on the blog. It is not because there are too little words to say, but too many.

For example, my actual leaving India was very emotional – that is, until the road was closed to the airport. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My final day in Forbesgunge was punctuated with a wonderful meal prepared by Kalam and his beautiful wife.

Mutton stew, with green beans, rice, a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon, apples and bananas. Well, here it is:

There are no words to say how honored and touched I was to be in their beautiful home eating a meal that was made just for me. I will never forget it.

Pulling away from Kalam’s house and heading back to the office, once again on the back of Dheeraj’s motorbike, there was a shift inside me. It started to sink in that my adventure was winding down now, and that my ‘going home’ was beginning.

Back in my room after dinner, I began packing. I forced myself to be very practical about it. Staring at my Indian kurtas, I swept away the images that I had of washing those kurtas in the blue buckets at KGBV, of the reaction the girls and the cooks had when I first wore one (they were so pleased and approving), of the kurtas drying next to dupattas and pants around the girls hostel. Here are some pictures that remind me of those times:

When I grabbed my karate gi, I forced myself to just consider how it would fit into my backpack, instead of remembering all the girls I had taught and coached in that gi, their beautiful faces, their determination, their laughter and smiles shining brighter than the sun. Again, more images:

My Road Home continues. I’ll post more about the scary trip to the airport, and some results of my efforts, tomorrow.

Scenes of Babuan Village

Here are some pictures of the what the area is in and around the village of Babuan:

The Road To Babuan (Note the total lack of mechanization in the field scenes; everything is harvested by hand):

Village Homes:

Class Pictures

Here are some photos of what the classes were like in Babuan:

Incredible People

Apne Aap I am sure has many fine people working for it. Two such people I had the true honor and pleasure of getting to know, seemed to me to be sparks creating real change:

Aarti Bedi:

Aarti is a 25 year-old, raven-haired, pint-sized pixie who could easily power all of Delhi with her smile. She has an almost hypnotic voice soaked in calm, caring, and sincerity that matches her soft brown eyes.

I got to know Aarti during my 14 day stay at KGBV. She was kind enough to suffer through my attempts at Hindi, and her English was good enough that we were able to have discussions, albeit often punctuated by “please repeat?” and “I don’t understand.” During our conversations, I learned that Aarti is from the Bedia community near Bhopal which practices intergenerational prostitution. As such, she has braved several challenges, but with the support and encouragement of her grandmother and a teacher, she refused to be a victim, and rejected the acceptance and practice prostitution typical in her community. Instead, Aarti enrolled herself as a private student and completed her post graduation in 2007, supporting her own education through small jobs from high school onwards. She has been working with a social rehabilitation initiative of the Bedia Community for the past three years. She has a big vision for her community where girls have access to education and dignified living, boys critically look at gender relations in their community and the community itself can relate to the larger social world on equal terms.

I was so impressed by her passion, her spirit (brighter than her smile), her dedication, her commitment, and her sense of humor. She had such love in her voice as she talked about working with the girls at KGBV. Her empathy and compassion with these young trauma victims makes her a powerful beacon for positive change in their lives. I will always remember the sound of her voice tugging me awake in the mornings as she gently prodded the KGBV girls awake with a cheerful “Good morning” in English. But for those who resisted, a small bowl of cold water awaited…

Mohammed Kalam:

Kalam is absolutely committed to ending the practice of intergenerational prostitution, and he works tirelessly to do so. With a boyish face and charming grin, it is hard to imagine that he has suffered hardship by virtue of being born into the marginalized Nutt Community. The Nutt Community has been in existence for hundreds of years, subsisting on dance, song, and snake charming (yes, really) performances to earn a living. But during the time of British rule, the community was criminalized, and its people became undocumented and therefore nonexistent to the government. As such, they could not own land, hold reputable jobs, or attend school. With such restrictions, this ultimately led to prostitution as a means of family income. With the help of his sisters and father, Kalam went to law school, and now fights on behalf of his community to successfully end societal and civil injustice. His efforts focus on educating women and girls about their civil rights, on creating self-sustaining youth programs that develop leadership, on basic health and vocational issues.

Kalam’s efforts have had a substantial impact. For example, one community that Kalam starting working with seven years ago had at that time 23 families that practiced intergenerational prostitution. Today that figure has been reduced to three, and Kalam predicts that by next year the number will be zero. How cool and wonderful is that?

Kalam was particularly supportive of my karate teaching, and we even had impromptu self defense classes around the Forbesgunge offices on several occasions. I’ll never forget the look of surprise on his face when I showed him how to avoid a knife attack and turn the knife on the attacker. Priceless.

Aarti and Kalam were really inspiring to me, so knowledgeable and helpful for me to understand the predatory dynamics of the ‘at risk’ environments for girls in Bihar which led me to develop a self defense policy and a short educational piece for girls about how to keep safe. I wish them much continued success in their fascinating and life changing endeavors.


Now that I have high speed internet again, I am going back through the previous blog entries and uploading pics when I can. Check them out. : )

Bird Brains – Update

I mentioned the bad behavior of the gentleman(men) to my Apne Aap contact, Kalam, and he was very disturbed. I then requested that my next class not allow any men. So I was very happy when I arrived yesterday to Babuan, with karate girls crowding around the house’s gate, and there were no men, save the schoolteacher’s father and uncle, and some small boys. I did, however, catch a brief glimpse of the one offending bird brained gentleman later in the day as he peered at our class from a yard away… : )

Karate Girls of Babuan

They yelled, they kicked, they palm striked. They yelled even when they didn’t have to. They correctly identified a good fighting stance. They hopped (or tried to). And I just about fell over when all three lines (there were 26 girls squeezed into that little dirt alley) punched and kiai-ed in unison as I counted in Japanese. They even counted along in Japanese.

And then there was the giving of the certificates. I would sign at the top and date it, and then I would write the girl’s name down at the bottom and draw a line for them to sign on. Each girl signed her own name, and then I would hand the certificate to her and say, “Thank you for being in my karate class.” At first, I don’t think they really got it, and just looked at the piece of paper kind of quizzically. But as word got around about what the paper was and what I was saying, the smiles were very big at the acceptance of that paper. I think Rinku, aka Silent One, had the biggest.

And so it is my honor to present the Graduation of the Karate Girls of Babuan, Class of 2010:

Nilam, Rani, Poonam, Aarti, Puja, Aarti II, Kanchan, Gunjan, Asha, Kajal, Archana, Seema, Sahdna, Preety, Manisha, Rupa, Chadhani, Neha, Punahm, Baby, Rinku, Asha II, Ranju, Rupa, Hina, Babita, Manju, Micky, and Ritu.


‘Tratthi’ is Hindi for palm. And the girls performed excellent ‘tratthi’ strikes two days ago at Babuan. It was also a way to get them to use their voice. Silent One did a little better; she started silent, but took less encouragement this time to get to yell out. Another girl could not manage more than a squeak, and not for lack of trying. Mouth full open, the muscles in her little neck straining, only a modified screetchy whisper escaped. So I am working with her, too.

I am tired with not just bags but luggage under my eyes as I sit here typing. The fan died in my room two nights ago, so not even that relief from heat, so sleep has been elusive. I am guzzling some of the coffee I brought to wake myself up; I’ll be leaving in 45 minutes. This will be my last class with these beautiful youngsters. My heart is so heavy, and yet I have to be happy for them, for the experiences they have and will give me. I want to make this last class useful. I want them to learn. I want them to be heard from this day forward.

Bird Brains

Yesterday was my second visit to Babuan. Armed with two liters of water, a package of cookies, and a Kit Kat, I felt pretty good as Dheeraj and I set out at 7:30 am. The morning was sleepy, life stirring slowly to life as we passed by field and village, the sun climbing higher from the horizon. All was going so well…until we hit the Indian Border Patrol. Last week when we went, we blew right past this remote outpost without a problem. Yesterday, however, we were past their main gate by about 100 feet when we heard shouts. Some little girls in front of us herding goats said in Hindi to Dheeraj, “They are calling to you to stop.” Oy.

So we turned around and drove back and were ‘greeted’ by three guards. They wanted to see my passport (which I luckily had on me this week), and after the guardsmen had had a chance to see it, they motioned for us to wait. Shortly, an older gentleman in civilian clothes marched down the path to the gate. He proceeded to ask Dheeraj all the questions that the guardsmen had asked; Dheeraj answered the same. Not that I understood all that was going on – everything was in Hindi. And then yet another gentleman came, this time in full military uniform, and English words such as “authority” and “qualification” emerged. At length, we were finally allowed to proceed, but the delay was due to the fact that we did not have authority of the provisional government in Babuan on our person to qualify our going back and forth from Forbesgunge to Babuan. Easily solved, apparently. Just 20 minutes down the road, Dheeraj veered off the road suddenly into the front yard of a house. And wasn’t I pleased to see that the provisional head in this area is a woman…

We arrived at the teacher Ritu’s house at about 9:30, and almost immediately, the Karate Girls started to converge. During tea, I asked when we would go to the school to start class. “Not possible,” Dheeraj replied, offering no explanation and no alternative. “Kahan (where) karate class?” I questioned suspiciously. Not meeting my eyes, his response came, “Here.” ‘Here’ was a sideyard sandwiched between the cattle corral and the guest meeting/private karate class room, an unshaded dirt area complete with mud, ruts, cow dung, and whatever else. Oh, joy.

But whatever trepidation I felt initially soon disappeared as I grabbed a stick and scratched the outline of a ladder in the dirt. Ladder drills, one of my favorite things at the dojo in the States, were in order to warm the girls up. Literally get them hopping.

And hopping they did not. These girls are very talented, very physically strong (pound for pound they put me to shame), but light on their feet? Not exactly. But we persisted, and they laughed, and coached each other on. And, yes, there were the men again. This time one of them said in English, “Come on you bird brain. You have such a weak mind.” Well, this put me in a bit of pickle. Did I want to walk over to him and slap him? Did I want to yell out, “Get off your fat butt and you try to do this”? Yes. But was that possible under the circumstances? No. But will that guy be there my next and last class? What do you think? 🙂