Spring 2014

Wild West Showdown? Or Modern Day Calcutta?

Número uno

Cab driver picks us up at train station after nearly 20 hours of car &train travel.

Cab driver quotes us 350 rs to take us to our hotel.

Within 5 minutes, proposes he will only charge us 300 rs if we let him pick up some other people to ride in the front seat.

Sure, we say. As long as you drop us first.

For the next few miles he drives slowly eyeballing everyone standing on the road.

Luckily Katrell knows the neighborhood well, so when he turns off route she says, no, go straight and he says - "Five minutes only mam."

No way we say. Us first.

He pulls up to the end of our street which is one-way. Says he can't take us. We say go around the block. He says no. We say let us out and hand him 200 rs. for dropping us several blocks from our hotel.

Showdown in the street ensues: he won't open the trunk. We threaten to call police. Crowd gathers. He finally opens trunk, all the while yelling at us. We get bags and start walking away. He then grabs our bag again and won't let go.

We escaped. The end.

Streetside Showdown Score:
We are 1 for 1.

Número Dos

Walking down the street, ever-present water bottle in hand. 6- or 7-year old boy tries to grab the bottle and I say no. He holds on, walking with me, both hands on the bottle and practically hanging from the bottle to get it from me. We carry on like this walking 20-25 feet. I give up.

He wins. The end.

Streetside Showdown Score:
1 for 2.

Katherine Branch, for The Learning Tea

Chennai - Spring 2014

It's been a wonderful and productive week for us in Chennai. Chennai is such a beautiful city. Located on the southern coast of India, Chennai is green and tropical and reminds me a lot of Southern California. And right now, it's really hot.

Though Chennai city encompasses a sprawling 130,058 square kilometers, it has a population of 72.1 million. That's about three times the population of  Mumbai (though much less condensed) and twelve times the population of the greater Atlanta area. But it doesn't feel overcrowded in the way other large Indian cities do.

We have been really lucky this week to meet many influential and philanthropic local residents. And on Tuesday we were welcomed to the Chennai Madras Rotary Club, which is the largest Rotary Club in Madras state. There we received many offers of help to move our project forward here in Chennai.

We visited the village girls in Vellore that Katrell met last fall. We were able to visit three of the six girls' colleges, pay off the tuition for three of the girls and buy a year's worth of books for all six. These girls won't be moving into the Chennai center (Vellore is a very bumpy 3 1/2 hour ride from Chennai) but coming from an area plagued by bonded labor and because they have no other options, The Learning Tea has promised to pay their way through college. They were beyond excited! And it was so fun getting to meet their principals and teachers and hearing about what good students they are. Our only requirement of the girls is that they pay it forward. The girls are to devote 10 hours per month, without pay, to the charitable cause or group of their choice.

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the tireless efforts of our friend Barnabus, who handled all logistics for our trips to Vellore, and introduced us to the girls we were able to help in its neighboring villages. We are grateful for his company and his hard work.

Thanks for following our journey.

Next stop, Darjeeling: where I will finally meet the original scholars of The Learning Tea!


Katherine Branch, for The Learning Tea