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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