Tuesday, October 11, 2011
10/11/11: Rotarian Homestay Day #1
The boys and I were scheduled to participate in the 3-day Rotarian Homestay that SAS coordinated, though ours was arranged through Dr. Strenecky, an SAS professor who often teaches a service learning course named The $100 Solution. This is the program which the boys are implementing as a pilot program to evaluate its potential for use by dependent children on future voyages. More on that later, but the point is that Chennai’s Rotary Club is the host, and their members are providing homestays for 30+ people from the ship. We met up with our family representative, Mahdu, the 27-year old son of Rao and Malathy Yarnagula, who also have a daughter named Sujathe, who is married and lives about five minutes from them. Although Mahdu speaks quite good English, he is quiet and introspective, seeming to take it all in, rather than offer it up for us. Before leaving, we also got to briefly meet Krishnan and Asad, two Rotarians instrumental in our homestay and service learning project. The boys and I got into the back seat of their new-ish Honda Accord-like car, and Mahdu sat in the passenger seat, with a ‘driver’, well, uh, driving. Hmm. I wasn’t introduced, so wasn’t quite sure if it was a brother, cousin, or someone with the Rotary Club helping out.
When we arrived at their home, it became immediately obvious that it was indeed the ‘driver’, as the home was beautiful, set behind a gate, within the nicer neighborhood of Anna Nagar. As we entered the marble-floored home, we were met by a ‘servant’, a woman of perhaps 30, followed by Mahdu’s mother, Malathy, who did not speak English. Malathy offered us tea, and we sat in the ‘hall’, what I’d consider the family or living room of a western home. Their home had a non-traditional ‘open’ kitchen adjacent to the dining room; usually kitchens in India are behind a door, and one never sees where the food is prepared. After tea, Mahdu gave us a tour of their beautiful multi-level home, including rooftop deck and basement, the latter of which is very uncommon in India. The basement was quite cool, and they had a projector home theater system. The boys and I stayed in a suite on the main floor, including a bathroom with western-style toilet and shower; very comfortable for us.
We had lunch without Rao, who was in Dubai until that night, though Sujathe broke away from work and joined us. Sujathe is 26, and studied in NYC for two years, where she hooked up with her husband Kartic, also from Chennai, who was then studying in Iowa. She returned to Chennai with Kartic and married, and is now overseeing the financial and marketing aspects of Rao’s six businesses, which produce things from supermarket and industrial shelving to horror houses. Yep, horror houses, and not for the US. Apparently it’s becoming a big thing here, and the horror houses are currently produced for the Indian culture (Mahdu designs some of them), including who-knows-what-kinds-of-things scary to them, perhaps not so to us, or perhaps even scarier than the typical witches and zombies of US haunted houses.
Lunch consisted of tandoori-style chicken, grilled fish, and biryani; it was quite good, and healthy. After lunch we were invited to ‘rest’ before the evening’s event, a Rotary Club Meeting at a hotel where all the homestayers would meet all the RC members. Instead of sleeping, the boys opted to watch Jurassic Park III in either hindi or tamil, still not sure language which it was. The boys enjoyed following the plot in a different language, with the occasional English phrase randomly thrown in (still not sure why). We then walked to the beautiful city park a few blocks away, which featured a very old tower that had to be 150 feet high, though you can no longer walk up the spiral walkway to the top (Mahdu told us they closed it due to the abundant suicide jumps from the top). We freshened up, and then Mahdu and the driver took us to the hotel where the meeting was.
After eating a small dinner in the meeting room, the Rotary Club electorate gave introductions, and our Indian mentor Krishnan gave some insight as to the Rotary Club’s history with SAS. SAS’s interport student program was, in fact, Krishnan’s idea back in 1993, and has resulted in a rich addition to the ship’s student population, now getting to interact with students their age who live in various ports we are en route to. Krishnan introduced Read, Tate, and I, and talked briefly about their project.
After the meeting we got together for some pictures, and we left to return ‘home’ for our real dinner, which was, again, wonderful. Sujathe’s husband Kartic joined us, a very nice guy that gave us some fine insight to India from someone who has spent time in the US. They brought some classic Indian ‘sweets’ for the kids, three little cartons of tasty things from a bakery made of things like coconut and I’m not sure what, but they were all really, really good. As it neared 10:30 Tate hit the wall, and crept into the room after eating little dinner, beyond ready to hit the proverbial hay.
Fortunately our room had an air conditioner, as unless the sun was shining, it seemed as hot inside as out. The wall-mounted A/C unit and ceiling fan provided respite until sometime in the middle of the night, when I awoke nearly freezing. Having turned off the ceiling fan some one or two hours prior, I hadn’t the foresight to consider how quickly it would then get hot in the room, and awoke at about 0545 sweaty and sticky, now clammily enlightened as to the nighttime operation of ceiling fan vs. A/C. Or should I say, A/C vs. ceiling fan?
Posted by Jeff Warner at 8:00 AM