Monday Morning Musings

Posted on February 27, 2017 under Monday Morning Musings with 5 comments

Had my head served on a platter this weekend

I’ve just passed the four month mark of my six month stay in India. I can feel the time slipping away.

In no particular order, some random thoughts on the past few days:

I forgot to mention this but the other day on our way back from the Sports Day, we saw a man eating his supper which in and of itself is not that peculiar. However, where he was dining was rather unusual. He had a small tablecloth underneath him as cars zipped by. He was sitting in the middle of the road. Luckily it wasn’t rush hour!

I am really enjoying teaching English to the 14 young noviciates here at the convent. I have never taught ESL before so I’m scrambling on a daily basis to come up with lesson plans. Besides learning some basic grammar, having oral conversations and writing stories for me every day ( handwritten in scribblers…. just like the old days ), I think the best teaching tool is music. We sing at every class. They have learned enough church music to perform at a mass. But they are now familiar with Neil Young, The Byrds ( “, Turn, Turn “ ), Stan Rogers, Rita MacNeil, John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot and many others. But what song is their absolute favorite that I have to preform every single class? “Let it Be” by The Beatles. Of course they are far too young to know who The Beatles were but I find it interesting that they like this group the best. I suspect it has a lot to do with the lyrics: “ When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me….” Their congregation is called Daughters of Mary.

Oh yes, the other day when the temperature hit 35 and the humidity was nearly 100%… and the power went out, we decided that the classroom was no place to be. We went to a shady spot to sing a few songs. They are all fascinated with the guitar ( not my guitar playing – I am a very average player ) so I asked if anyone wanted to strum while I played the chords. It took some cajoling but one girl finally got the courage to come up. It didn’t take long before the rest of them were lined up waiting their turn. Secretly, I think the Sister supervising them was dying to try it to but declined when offered. These girls may not learn a whole lot of English from me but I believe they will remember the music.

I now have my own office at the convent. I think Sister Archana realized that I needed my own space the other day when the general office, where I do my writing early in the morning, was converted into a confessional. I was unceremoniously thrown out when they decided to have confessions… in the office! I declined the offer to partake. The priest had only so many hours in his day!!!

I had a big dose of home the other evening when Betty Facetimed me from the St. Ninian’s Senior Choir semi annual party. I got to say hello to my friends who occupy “ the loft.” I am looking forward to rejoining them in early May.

There are 2 billion cell phones in the world. I have two of them. One of them acts like a recalcitrant child. ( syn: uncooperative, intractable, obstreperous, truculent, defiant, rebellious, perverse, difficult ). You get the picture. Coming soon, “ Cell mates.”

I am having “ issues” with my computer so if I go on the missing list for a few days , you’ll know why.

Have a great week.

P.S. The fundraising drive has a good head of steam. We’re very close to reaching the halfway point of our $25,000 goal. Still lots of time to donate ( there is no deadline! ). Go to and follow the fundraising link to Daughters of Mary. Thanks to all who have kindly donated already.

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on February 23, 2017 under Thursday Tidbits with 5 comments

The guest of honor

So, a couple of days ago, Sister Archana, the superior of the Daughters of Mary here in Kannyakumari informed me that I would be relieved of my teaching duties on Wednesday. I never question Sister… and I never know what she has up her sleeve. She told me that I was going to attend a Sports Day at a school a couple of hours away. I would be the special guest. She asked me to forward a brief bio and a picture to the school authorities.

They ( the school ) arranged for a taxi to pick me up. I know what you’re thinking. It seems exorbitant to pay for a taxi for a two hour trip but like everything else, taxi fares ( and transportation in general ) are incredibly cheap over here. The driver was a pleasant chap but I soon found out that he didn’t know a single word of English. This suited me just fine as I wasn’t in a chatty mood. I sat in the back seat ( he insisted )  like some kind of celebrity and let a warm Indian breeze blow over my face. It was one of the most enjoyable and least stressful drives I have taken in months. Most of the ride was in a rural, jungle like area and the roads were in great shape.

As we approached the outskirts of the town, I saw what looked to be a road block but it was school officials, the local police, students dressed in track suits, photographers and a guy operating a drone. I thought that maybe they were expecting Prime Minister Modi but no, this was for the “ special guest from Canada.” I assisted in the lighting of the relay torch for the day’s events and we proceeded on down the road to the Holy Angels International School.

The school is located a bit off the beaten path and is a beautiful patch of real estate. Hundreds of students dressed in athletic gear met me at the entrance. I was causing quite a stir. I momentarily looked around for the palm leaves! ( Trust me, there are plenty of them available in this part of the world ).

The school property was festooned with flags ( including Canada’s ), banners and flowers. It was apparent that this was no ordinary Sports Day. I was escorted from the vehicle by the chairman and owner of this privately run institution. I quickly found out that almost all of the 580 students came from very poor families and that this was a not for profit enterprise. I also found out much later in the day that none other than Sister Archana was one of the key architects of this project when she was working in this parish years ago. BTW, in addition to her Phd., Sister has a law degree. She is a very smart and decisive woman.

I still wasn’t sure about my role in all of this but I have learned to simply go along with whatever is presented. The front patio of the administration wing of the building was surrounded by the entire school population. I was directed to take my place at the head table with school officials, the chief of police, and the parish priest. Something caught my eye. Behind the head table, there was a very large banner announcing the Sports Day. And whose mug was front and centre? Yours truly. I was a bit embarrassed by all of the attention. I took my place and we sat as we awaited the torch relay to reach the school grounds.

I glanced at a copy of the program placed in front of each dignitary. Item #12 caught my eye. “ Speech by special guest, Len MacDonald.” I knew I was going to be an observer but did not realize that I was the keynote speaker! I flipped the program over and hastily came up with 10 “bullets.” I wasn’t at all thrown off. I rather relish the opportunity to chat with young people and today’s event was right in my wheel house. The younger children were staring at me like the exotic bird that I have become while in India. I was sitting by the Chief of Police and , as he spoke no English, I wandered over to the kids and engaged in a spirited conversation.

I then heard the familiar strains of a marching song as throngs of students carried flags and marched smartly past the head table. And then it was time for the big moment: the lighting of the main torch. I was called to do the deed. Now this lacked the drama of Muhammad Ali lighting the flame at the Olympics in Atlanta but the school administration went out of their way to make this a very special day for the children.

I made my speech and was presented with a ceremonial shawl ( might have to buy an extra suitcase for my Indian clothing! ), fresh cut flowers and a gift.

Let’s just say that it was a wonderful day and skip all of the details. When I wasn’t handing out medals and doing selfies ( not mine ), I was talking with the students. I showed them pictures from home, including some huge piles of snow! I know that I won’t get a lick of sympathy from anyone but I was wearing slacks and it was 33 degrees and the humidity might have been 150 %. Go ahead. Drift a few snowballs at me. Actually, please drift some snowballs at me!

When I was leaving, they handed me one more momento: a Holy Angels International School coffee cup. Now I have achieved nirvana. I have a reliable source of excellent coffee and my very own coffee cup.

I told a little white lie earlier. My cab driver understood one English word. Actually, it’s not a word but an abbreviation: a/c ( air conditioning ). I asked him to turn on the a/c for the trip home but once we got out on the highway, I was happy to wind down the windows and soak up the warm breezes once more. I gave the driver a tip when I got back to the convent…. for not talking. It’s not often that you have a few hours of utter peace in India.

Have a great day.

P.S. Here’s how charity works. A dishevelled man showed up at the convent early yesterday morning. He tried talking to me but we didn’t know each other’s language. I got one of the Sisters and a few moments later, he had a heaping tray of breakfast and a cup of tea. He was hungry… and the Sisters gave him food.


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At My Watts End

Posted on February 21, 2017 under Storytelling with 3 comments

I think I have my wires crossed.

North Americans are prone to taking things for granted. We never think twice about our electrical supply until an ice storm renders us incapacitated. It’s bad enough not being able to watch our favorite sitcom or browse the internet, but not being able to make a cup of coffee or tea? Incomprehensible. We expect to turn on our taps ( one marked H and the other C lest we get confused )  and to have an endless supply of hot and cold running water. Our garbage is disposed of on a weekly basis.

Not all countries enjoy the same level of certainty.

When I entered the convent ( as a guest and not a noviciate! ) at the end of December, 2016, I was escorted to my room. It is located in the B@B operated by The Daughters of Mary, an order of Roman Catholic Sisters. There were two switches outside of my door. One was a doorbell and the other was the main power supply to the room. I was told to always leave this switch in the on position.

My room is similar to what one might expect to find in a hotel or B@B. It is large and spacious with an Indian bathroom. Power outages are very common in this town and in many parts of the country. I was told to expect multiple cuts in the power supply but not to worry because a generator would kick in maintaining power to the overhead fan, a small light in the main room and the bathroom. All of this sounded great.

I was then directed to the air conditioner. I am not a big fan of A/C but thought that I should know how to operate it in case things became uncomfortably warm. I’m a big fan (!)  of simple electrical devices. I like an on/off switch and nothing else. I have been known to suffer long periods of sobbing, trying to get a television, with two different remotes, to turn on. My host showed me the remote and took me through a sequence of steps that might as well have been the code to detonate a nuclear missile. I’m not great with gadgets.

The bathroom required some specific instructions on how and when to extract hot water from the shower, and how to operate the taps. My brain was starting to explode with all this new information.

Oh yes, I was also informed that the internet connection was spotty in the building. I came to discover that I had a better chance of seeing Halley’s Comet than getting a clear internet signal. This didn’t pose an insurmountable problem as my host told me of the wonders of tethering, using a second cell phone possessing data.

After a week or so, I started to notice some minor flaws with the electrical. Yes, as promised, there were frequent power interruptions  but when the building would lose power, I was finding things that were supposed to work, weren’t and vice versa. I also started to notice “incongruities” with the hot water in the bathroom as hot and cold water came out of different taps on different days until no hot or warm water was available.

In one of the more embarrassing events of my time in India, I was showing a guest to their room in the B@B and was going through the explanation of how the electrical worked. The overhead fan, which was one device that was supposed to work in all conditions, wouldn’t budge and the bathroom light wouldn’t work. I told them that that I would, forthwith, send the maintenance people over. By the time they arrived, the guest, an Indian citizen, had figured things out and all was well.

This left me scratching my head. Apparently, when there are problems like this, you can reactivate the system if you know the sequencing of the various switches in the rooms. There are 16 switches in the room. I secretly wondered how long it would take a mechanically challenged sort like myself to interpret “ the secret code.” I thought back to a statistics course I took in grade 10 and mulled over “permutations and combinations. It’s a good thing that I didn’t spend a lot of time on this exercise because there are thousands of possibilities.

Everything reached a head one day. After several days of cold showers , no internet ( the tethering didn’t work in my room ) and one full blown power outage when nothing would work, a full scale investigation was done and I am overjoyed to say that by days end, all was well.

Except it wasn’t.

Luckily the electrician hadn’t left the premises as I patiently (!) explained to him that the fan and bathroom light weren’t working. He calmly went outside my room to the main power supply, turned it on and off a couple of times and , presto! everything worked. Gee , why didn’t I think of that.

When I arrived in India, I bought a small purple flashlight, for emergencies. Over here they call it a torch. It is stunning in its simplicity. There is an on/off switch. The next time the power goes off, I’ll just grab the torch and resist the urge to call the electrician. And then go off to my cave and light a fire.


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