Introduction

Our plan was for me and My friend Pat Rex to arrive on the 30th of December at Le Providence House, the Bangalore branch of the Mercy Home, an orphanage and school for children and adults with disabilities. We would help them to start their computer training program for the blind. On the 5th of January, we were to be joined by Ann Moideen, the founder and CEO of the Ann Foundation. We would then proceed to visit other schools and meet with officials about programs for the blind in the Bangalore area as well as in Chennai.

We would be staying at Le Providence House under the care of Br. Louis Rayan, the founder and CEO of Mercy Home and his family. It was our plan to join Ann Moideen when she arrived. Things didn't exactly work out the way we'd anticipated that they should, but nothing ever does. Below please find the account of what happened.

December 28, 2004

We started our journey at 09:30 on US Air. We arrived at LGA at 11:05. We were picked up by one of the members of the Ann Foundation at the terminal, and he drove us to Kenedy Airport

Ann Moideen asked us if we'd mind checking "a small bag" when we boarded. Of course we said that it wasn't a problem. When Mike, our transportation from the Ann Foundation, arrived, we discovered that there were two huge bags. We've been laughing about it ever since. When we talked to Ann later we asked her to define "small".


December 29, 2004

Sic transit, sic transit, et transit redux. We have been traveling since 19:30 last evening and I don't quite know what time it is. According to the information I've entered into the BrailleNote, the time should be 19:56 but I'm not sure that's right. I seem to be in a sort of limbo. I eat when they bring food. I drink when they bring water. I haven't slept much. I sure hope I can sleep later.

Interesting foods include lamb curry, an omelette with chicken in it for breakfast and some funny little snacks called corn flakes chiwda. They are sweet and spicy. Everything is spicy here. Everything.


December 30, 2004

We arrived at Le Providence House, the Bangalore branch of Mercy Home at about 04:30 in the morning. We attempted sleep, got about three hours worth because I was awakened by the wailing of the Muezzin, a colorful and historic start to the day, but after a somewhat sleepless night, it didn't exactly sit well. His call is broadcast via loud speakers from the nearby mosque. The eighteen hundred year old call to prayer summons the faithful and the unbeliever alike to acknowledge God's existence and ultimate power.

Our room is very nice. It is large and airy. It has a marble floor. There are two beds and a table in the center. There are casement windows without screens. The walls are plastered, and there are several cupboards and a set of shelves on which to place items. The bathroom facilities are interesting. There is a western toilet, but you have to fill the tank by turning on a valve. There is no shower. The washing facilities consist of a large plastic bucket under a tap in the bathroom. You fill up the bucket and then you have to heat the water with an electrical coil. We were scared to try that for a few days, but when we finally got up our courage, having hot water was so pleasant that it was worth the aggravation.

Later in the day, we attempted to load the Window-Eyes software on the computers. The software doesn't work. It needs a code for the software. It was supposed to have been included in the package when it was sent from the factory. This was for the copyright protection for the software on floppy disks, but they never included the floppy in the packages. There was no floppy in any of the boxes, none. We managed to get the demos downloaded and that's good. At least we can really start working with the students. The software behaved oddly when we attempted our installation. Not only did we get an error message about the missing floppy, but when it was first put into the computer, it began talking with a double voice, as if it were trying to install the software twice. Then we got the error message about it not having the floppy. So we downloaded a demo from GW-Micro. It works, but must be rebooted every thirty minutes.

The students are wonderful. We were introduced to them on the 30th. They all sang songs for us. The songs were in Tamil, and they were all about Christ and Christian themes. The music is beautiful, quite haunting in fact. It makes one wonder how old the songs are; perhaps coming from the era of St. Thomas. Then, they wanted me and Pat to sing. They had a guitar there, and we sang a few of our favorite hymns.


December 31 2004


Today we began teaching in earnest. There are five students: Gnanamoorthy, Jayaram, Prikosh, SURESH and Munusami.

Gnanamoorthy is a young man with a purpose in life. He speaks better English than do the other students, and he often acts as a translator. He is a Christian, and like many evangelical Christians, he wants to share his newly acquired knowledge with everyone. Often during writing practice, he would write axioms and sayings, or he would quote The Bible.

Jayaram is very bright. He is a good typist, and he seems to know what he is doing, if he is shown what to do.

Prikosh is a stolid citizen. He plods, but he gets done what he needs to get done.

Suresh is the youngest, and he often gets short shrift on the computers. There are four working computers. One is out of service. So Suresh had to do his typing drills on a dead keyboard. I had to make sure that he got a turn at a working computer. Suresh likes to type on the keyboard. He's just like a kid with a piano. He wants to type and he does, but he doesn't often get the words correctly written. This changed over the course of the nine days we were there.

munusami is the quiet one who plods along and doesn't as questions, but he gets his work done. I didn't quite catch his name till almost the last day.

They are all eager to learn but there are so many, many gaps in their learning. They are very poor keyboard users, for example, therefore, they do not have the skills to really take advantage of the computer because they cannot find the special keys which are necessary to perform tasks readily. So we instituted keyboard practice for the first half hour of the sessions. We established a schedule of two hour sessions, twice a day. There would be one session in the morning from about 9:15 until noon and one session in the afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 Pm. This consisted of oral dictation of both letters and whole words as well as numbers and punctuation.

Cultural Difficulties: the students seem to have a problem with giving us feedback when we ask for it. When we ask them to say "yes", if they have completed a task, they don't do that. This makes it difficult for me to teach them because I cannot visually check their work. I must put on the earphones and hear what they are hearing. These students are not raised to give feedback to their teachers. They are only taught to let the teacher teach and not to question what they are taught in any way.

Yes, the demos are now working.


January 1 2005


We didn't go out during the night, we were just too tired. However, I heard the hoopla from my bedroom. There were lots of fireworks, banging and hissing all over the place. In the morning we discovered the people had painted designs on the street. They use colored sand, very much as the Navaho do. Pat said the designs were flowers and geometric in nature.

We went to Mass for the New Year. We had a good time. We sat in the balcony of the church and it was pretty well packed. The music was simple and tuneful. There was an organ and a fairly good choir. There wasn't anything spectacular musically, it was just nice.

Then we came back and had lunch and then the students came. They did very well today. Pat and I discussed what was practical in the next few days, and we worked out a strategy for lessons.

In the evening we had another meeting with the students, after tea. They sat at my feet and asked me questions, literally. They would not allow me to sit on the floor. Nobody ever let me sit on the floor, even though they sit on the floor all the time. They wanted to know if I could drive in the Us. They wanted to know if talking cell phones were available in the Us. They told me a little about their lives. Gnanamoorthy sells handkerchiefs on the train. JAYARAM is a switchboard operator. Prikosh is a salesman also.

A word here about the food. The food is excellent. There is meat, veggies, and lots of rice. There is bread of all kinds: the flat japati, the crackly popadom or appam, and some others. We also got a sort of pancake called dorsai. The Indians roll up their veggies or meat in these pancakes. For breakfast we got puffed up rice pancakes called iglee. All these are eaten with various sauces, usually hot.

Daisy, Br. Rayan's sister has been wonderful. She has tried her very best to feed us food that we would like. There were some nice sweets for New Years. Daisy made some and the neighbors brought others.

On Saturday evening, Br. Rayan brought some of the orphans from Dharmapuri to visit with us. They made a hit with Pat. There is one little boy who has one leg and no arms. His name is Tony. He is very bright and saucy. That foot of his is almost prehensile. He gets a lot done with that foot. There were two other young girls who are deaf that came along with some other children. The family here as adopted a young girl who is deaf. Her name is Mary. She is friendly and she has a beautiful smile.


January 2, 2005


Today we went to a meeting of the adult blind from all over. Some of them live in Dharmapuri and some do not. However, they all have a connection with the institution there. These people are working in various simple jobs. It is interesting that there were few women who came. Some did, but very few. Most of the people who attended were men. The meeting might be considered like a meeting of ACB or NFB.

One interesting twist was that the meeting was actually a church meeting. A minister came and spoke to them for an hour about a Bible passage, MT8:1-10. It is the story of Christ healing the leper.

Before the sermon started, they asked me to speak to them about how computers can help them. So, I talked for about ten minutes. It was OK. I think I said the right things. Everything I said was translated, sentence by sentence so that everyone would understand. Then, the minister gave a sermon that lasted for an hour. It was in tamil! It was hard to sit and smile through the whole thing. Every so often, the minister would come to a full stop in his delivery and shout, "Halleluia!!"

All the congregation would respond, "Halleluia!!" I followed suit, as this was the only word I understood.

Later that afternoon, I spent some time with the women, sitting outside by the garage in the shade, watching Tony play. He is so cute. No wonder they use him as their poster child. I had tea and then I came up here and slept for an hour.

I had a long talk with the teachers this evening. We talked about the needs of the individual students and the use of Window-Eyes. I showed them Cathy Anne's site. I tried to show them the tutorials, but they didn't work in the player. So we downloaded the first tutorial to their computer from the net.


January 3, 2005

On Sunday, the 2nd, Pat was not feeling well, and she didn't eat much. Our hostess was concerned and asked Pat what vegetable she liked to eat. Pat said she could eat cooked carrots. This morning, Pat is feeling better. She and I had French toast for breakfast. They also gave us carrots. Carrots for breakfast. I don't believe it, cooked carrots for breakfast. I'll have to tell Gene about this! Cooked carrots for breakfast! It's all because Pat said to Daisy that she liked carrots.

The gabble-ratchet started again this evening. Everyday there are lots and lots of dogs sleeping on the side of the streets in this town. They do not stir when you go by, or anything. They just lie there. At night, however, they come out in force! The gabbling and yammering sounds like a great hunt somewhere in antiquity. Ow-ooooo-ow-oooo-ow, ow, ow, ow-oooo!!! If one is afflicted by sleeplessness, the gabbling is annoying and it keeps you awake.


January 4, 2005


Today we had class again. They did very well' but the problem is that I have so little time. I think that I will teach marking text today. They will need it if they are going to do things right.

Pat went exploring today, but she didn't bring back anything for the house or the kids. I am going to demonstrate marking text this afternoon.

One of the ever present sounds in this suburb is the calling of the peddlers. The house wives all buy their fruits, vegetables and other things from these vendors. Every few minutes there will be the call of someone new coming along the street to sell their wares.

The streets in the town are all unpaved right now. Apparently, they are replacing their open sewers with in ground ones. Therefore, it is very dusty. I'd hate to be there in the rainy season.


January 5, 2005


Already Wednesday, and all day there is no news from Ann Moideen. I think she must have missed her flight. We tried every way we could to get a hold of her with no luck.

Worked with the students on Word and typing drills again. Then we proceeded to do some work on learning to read the current line and the current char. It seemed to go well.

This afternoon, we had an accident nearby which knocked all the power out for blocks. So, we had no class. Pat and I went shopping. We bought some things for people!

In the evening we sat on the flat roof and watched the utility men repair the damaged wires. We found out later that they do indeed have a utility company in Bangalore, in fact it is the same company throughout the country. The men whom we observed were official workers from the power company. Pat said that they didn't have any uniforms, so it was a bit difficult to determine just who was who. All the men in the neighborhood congregated at the site of the downed pole, talking a mile a minute and gesturing. Pat said it looked like each man had his own opinion about what should be done.


January 6, 2005


Today I had a hard day. We never heard from Ann Moideen until late evening. All day we kept expecting her call or to see her arrive. I m afraid that I lost it this afternoon. I finally broke down and told Pat that I didn't want to stay alone in India without her. Bless her, she assured me that she wouldn't leave me. I guess I'm just a wimp. When Ann Moideen called, it turned out that she'd had the wrong number for us. We will meet her tomorrow at nine o'clock.

Continued working with the students on keyboarding and on cutting and pasting in Microsoft Word. The students don't seem to grasp the concept. However, they did follow instructions.

That Tony is a little devil! When you first see him, your reaction is to pity him because he has no arms and one leg. Ha! He doesn't let any grass grow under him at all. He moves, does that kid move. He rolls all over the place. Only thing he can't do too well is climb stairs. This evening after dinner Pat and I were seated in the computer room, checking our email. All of a sudden Pat says, "My computer's dead!"

I discovered that mine was also. We thought that there might have been another power failure. But no, the power failure was humanly generated, yes generated by the prehensile foot of a little devil named Tony. He had snuck up behind us and used his foot to press the switch on the computers, turning them off! We were in stitches, but we couldn't laugh. We spoke very sternly to the dickens and told him that he was not to do that again! Computers were not toys! They were tools, and they shouldn't be messed with!! All the time we're trying not to howl with laughter!


January 7, 2005


Today we met with Ann Moideen. We discussed our plans. It turned out that Ann Moideen was anxious to help the victims of the Tsunami in Chennai. She had begun discussions with the Rotary about it. She had planned several meetings for the coming week and said honestly that if I stayed, she'd be at these meetings and I'd be alone during the daytime. Further, Ann's place to stay was in doubt. She didn't know where she was going to stay. Therefore, I would have had to stay at Mercy Home. It just seemed as if it wouldn't work out too well. So, we spent the afternoon at the Air India Office attempting to change my reservation so that I could go home with my friend Pat. After some string pulling, the reservation was made and we began to prepare to leave. Ann had a meeting at seven that evening so by the time the word came from Air India the flight was confirmed, we couldn't contact her. She called us at ten thirty that evening, and we were able to tell her the good news.

The afternoon class went well with the students. They have come such a long way. All of them are writing full sentences now, and their grasp of the computer is more confident.


January 8, 2005


Today we met Ann Moideen at her hotel and proceeded to the State School for the Blind in Bangalore. We met with the Chairman of the board and with the Headmaster. When we asked them what they needed, they said that they really wanted more books for their Braille library. We toured this library, and it was most impressive. They have books in both English and in Tamil. They would like to do two things with their library. First, they want to do some outreach to the rural areas by the use of a mobile library. They plan to visit villages on a schedule. The blind would be able to take out books and then to return them the next time the mobile book project came to the village.

Secondly, they want to increase their library by brailleing two to three books per month. I sent them part of Richard Seltzer's library so that all they need to do is braille the ASCII files.

Finally, they were interested in computer training and especially in computer books and software for children that are games. I told them that I would research this for them.

After we left the school, we proceeded to go shopping. We bought several things and then returned home for lunch. The shopping experience is a novelty. It is a slow process. One must drink tea, eat biscuits and talk small talk before buying. Such a schedule would be unheard of in the States.

When we returned home, we had lunch, and then I tutored the students for the last time. They have come so far in just a week! I shook hands with all of them before going upstairs to pack the last few items. We came down to dinner and thanked our hostess again. After checking the Internet for the last time, we retreated upstairs until we were called to take the van to the airport.

When we came downstairs, we found all five students. They sang a solo song and a group song for us. Then, they presented us with two huge bouquets! I am afraid that I totally lost it. I sobbed and sobbed. I couldn't help it!

The whole family came with us to the airport. They hugged and kissed us and wished us well as we entered the portals of the airport to go home.


January 9, 2005


We flew to Mumbai where we were forced to give our bouquets away. We just couldn't carry them on the plane going home. Besides, we were worried that they wouldn't allow them into the country. The journey was long, long, long, and we were in that limbo of time when one isn't sure just what time it is. The flight was delayed two hours, so when we arrived in New York City, we had to run to catch our Rochester flight. I managed to get a seat on the plane, thank God, and we boarded at the scheduled time of 8:00 Pm.

Then, we sat on the Rochester plane for an hour while workmen attempted to fix a faulty exit door. Finally, we were told that we had to switch planes. So, we did, and eventually arrived in Rochester at just before 11:00 Pm.

Journey ended but never forgotten. Voices remembered, songs replayed in the mind and tasks to accomplish in the future a milestone in my life. Ann K. Parsons


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Ann K. Parsons