India – Part 3
Monday, April 7th
Monday morning began with rehearsal with the older kids. We worked on the harmony for “Down to the River”, and while it was not yet completely solid, I knew that they were very close. The children’s local music teacher attended and watched with interest as I worked with the kids. He then took the stage and worked on a piece (perhaps of his own creation?) using solfège syllables.
Later that morning, we visited the seller of the land for Angels’s Place, Mr. Nemzichuwang (apologies for any spelling errors), and enjoyed a walk through his very wild but very beautiful garden. He showed us how curry plants grow and gave us some samples to take home (which Mrs. Sanga and her cooking team prepared perfectly).
There were hundreds of different varieties of flowers, and I laughed to see the kinds that I buy in the grocery store in Canada, growing wild!
There were even peruvian lilies, or Alstromeria, growing. They seemed so much more beautiful in the wild than they do at Loblaws!
I was astounded to see Amaryllis flowers growing wild in his garden!
In the afternoon, we visited Churachandpur again and ate at a very nice restaurant. I had a mixed chow mein which was delicious and easy on my stomach. We then stopped, at my request, at a beautiful textile store, where I purchased saris for myself, my mother and my friends. I figured that even if they didn’t want to wear them traditionally, they could make something from the fabric. On our way back to the car, we stopped for the obligatory stand-next-to-wandering-cow photo:
We visited the home of the superintendent, Mr. Englian, where we met his wife, mother and father, and daughter. They welcomed us warmly into their beautifully kept home and gave us a tour of their garden.
His daughter was very animated, and I enjoyed our conversation. His mother was hilarious, even though I couldn’t understand a word of what she said! She would laugh like a loon half the time, but clearly had all her buttons on. His father and wife were quieter, but no less lovely.
When we returned to Angels’ Place, I taught the younger and intermediate groups, and then also with Mr. Nemzichuwang’s daughter, who had a violin but no one to teach her. She and her family came over for about 45 minutes and we learned the basics of position, the strings, the bow, and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. She had a very good ear, and picked up the basics quickly. I think she was shy, and must have felt a bit intimidated to be having her first lesson in front of an audience of three!
I took plenty of photos of the kids with their new recorders, of course. They were very proud to have their picture taken!
My teaching day wasn’t over, as a trio of girls wished to have a voice lesson. They were planning to perform in Tuesday’s concert, so I worked with them for a while. They were preparing a traditional Paite song called “Mangpha”, which means “goodbye”. It is really a gorgeous melody, and very plaintive. I love the harmonies that they have learned and they were kind enough to write out the song for me.
We had a powerful rainstorm, and the power went out several times. In between, we enjoyed the most delicious dinner thus far: duck, potato curry, black bean and mushroom ragout, rice, and fruit salad. It was fantastic!
Tuesday, April 8th
Tuesday morning was filled with rehearsal, as I prepared the children for the evening’s performance. I began at 6:30 with the oldest children, who named their choir the Foster Melodies. We worked a lot on our pieces, and on using dynamics effectively. Achieving a balanced piano sound was the most difficult thing for this group, but they go it in the end! After breakfast, I worked with the youngest children, who I’ve named Seraphim, partly in honour of the choir I sang with in Montreal and party because they are so angelic. And then I worked with the middle group, who have named themselves the Blessed Choir. They still needed some work, but young “tween” boys are almost always reluctant to sing. It will take time to build that culture of choir.
I also worked with the boys on their recorders. Some had good natural ability, and others… not so much. It was a pleasant half hour, though! Several of them have begun to grasp reading the notes, which is a huge achievement for such a short amount of time.
I rehearsed my recorder duet of Planxty Irwin with Hedi and also our hymn “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds” in Paite! I had no idea how it would go in the concert, but I hope the kids would appreciate our efforts to sing in their language.
The afternoon was fairly calm, and then we prepared for the concert. I wore my beautiful new Punjabi dress, and put my hair up nicely. I was glad I had, because the girls in particular got dressed up really beautifully. Many of the boys did too.
The children had decorated the dining hall with banners in our honour, and I was very moved by this personal touch. The concert opened with Seraphim singing “Peaceful River” which went really well, and then “Fish and Chips” which was a lot of fun.
A young boy (whose name I didn’t catch) sang a solo, but kept forgetting the words. Thank goodness his friend brought him a notebook with the lyrics, so he was able to complete his song. There were speeches, and everyone spoke very eloquently. Jan, Leslie, Hedi and I performed our hymn which went quite well, though I don’t know if they children even understood our Paite. Sanga read out the lyrics to them afterwards, so I hope they got the gist of it!
The Blessed Choir performed their two songs, “Simple Gifts” and “Tshosholoza” which both went ok. The girls did a great job, and the boys improved a lot since their first class. I was proud of their effort and perseverance!
Hedi and I performed our recorder piece, “Planxty Irwin”. How ironic that I had to travel across the world to perform an O’Carolan tune! For my personal contribution, I gave a speech and sang “Wild Mountain Thyme”. I taught the chorus and they joined in on it. It was a wonderful moment!
A group of five boys performed two One Direction songs, calling themselves 5A Foster. Despite having worked hard on their songs with me, they got very nervous and had a difficult performance. But I was proud of their courage, all the same.
The trio of girls sang “Mangpha”, and it went beautifully. I can’t wait to teach it to one of my choirs in Montreal. Jan and Sanga told the story of the Billy Goats Gruff, which the children enjoyed. The Foster Melodies performed “Down to the River”, which was absolutely gorgeous. Sanga then gave a short speech of thanks and presented us with parting gifts. Mine included a traditional Paite necklace and a plaque of thanks. I was quite overwhelmed to receive these gifts and cried all the way through the closing prayer. We finished with a rousing round of “Siyahamba”, which was a total triumph for the kids!
Here’s a video of the highlights from the concert!
Following the concert, I distributed a maple toffee to every child and adult, which they really enjoyed. I must have taken over 100 photos! Here are a few of my favourites:
By this time it was quite late, so we ended up having dinner close to 10:00. It was very simple, and I was so tired that I was barely hungry.
Wednesday, April 9th
Wednesday marked our departure from Angels’ Place. I was so sad to be going away from these marvellous children. They have so much promise, so much enthusiasm, and there is little of the sense of entitlement that we often see in Canada.
I am thrilled that they would like me to teach via skype more regularly. During their meeting yesterday, it was decided that installing a reliable internet connection would be a priority. This is going to open up so many doors for these kids, and also for their sponsors and volunteers.
Before breakfast, I met some of the little girls in the hallway. Seized by sudden inspiration, I took them outside and taught them how to play the school yard game “What Tme is it Mr. Wolf?” It was an instant hit!
We had a very delicious breakfast. Warm naan bread!! It was heaven. We also had a noodle dish, sweet fried bread, fruit salad, and some kind of cream of wheat-like thing which I did not care for. The naan was definitely the best part, though.
I saw the younger children outside playing circle games so I went downstairs to join them. There was a silly song that we sang and then the person in the middle spun around with their eyes closed and pointed to someone. That person had to go and dance in the middle the next time. Lots of fun! Some of the older children even joined in.
When it was time to leave, the children presented us with small posies of flowers, which they had made themselves.
The children all lined the driveway and waved handkerchiefs at us as we drove by. I received many high-fives and blew kisses. I could barely hold back my tears. Only the knowledge that I will go back kept me from bawling.
We drove to Imphal to the airport, where we said a heartfelt goodbye to Sanga’s family. It is amazing how strangers can become so close when you live together for a week.
This has truly been a life-changing experience for me. These children have nothing and yet they have everything that matters. Their worldly possessions amount to the clothes on their backs and a few small trinkets, but they are content. What seemed like absolute necessity to me: hot running water, constant electricity, internet connection, suddenly seems like extreme opulence. These children are fed, clothed, educated and housed in a caring environment. For all that my Canadian students enjoy the wealth and privilege of the first world, I don’t believe they are any happier than the children I met this week.
Of course I knew going in that this was how much of the world lives, but experiencing it first had has taught me not to pity them. In fact, in many ways, I envy the simplicity and greater spiritual connection of their lives. Yes, I want to do all I can to provide opportunities for these children, but I have zero desire to provide them with things.
What I have truly gained on this trip is a greater sense of purpose. I could feel a higher being’s hand in what I was doing and in what is being done on a daily basis at the home. I don’t pretend to become a fervent church-goer, nor will I begin to spout Gospel verse; instead, I can claim a heightened sense of spiritual direction. I always knew that teaching is my passion, but I have realized God’s role in turing a passion into a vocation.
These children have taught me much more than I have taught them, and I am eternally grateful.
Click here to learn more about Angels’ Place and their supporting organization, the James Connection. All of the children at Angels’ Place are sponsored by loving people in North America, and they are always seeking more support!