Category: kids

Calcutta the Beautiful

When you think Calcutta, do you think slums, poverty and filth? Or do you imagine art, joy and beauty? A visitor to Calcutta will see what they want to see, but the camera never lies. It’s all there. Open your eyes.

Children of Calcutta

Upon landing by air in Calcutta, I couldn’t help but notice the lush green surroundings – a rather surprising twist on my preconceived image of a sprawling, polluted, crowded city in West Bengal.  I was whisked away by a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle to the luxuriously comfortable and air-conditioned Taj Bengal, where I looked out over a green landscape dotted with purple bougainvillea and bright red flame trees. I was further enchanted by lovely tweeting birds nesting in the plants of the window box.  I grabbed a few quick shots with my iphone….

…before pulling out my camera gear to charge batteries, change memory cards, wipe lenses, and do all that not-so-glamorous maintenance work of a travel photographer.

So this is Calcutta. Through the window….it looks like a beautiful dream.

While it’s certainly more comfortable to sit in an air-conditioned room or vehicle watching everything from behind the glass, you’ll barely scratch the surface.  And it’s easy to be bothered by the heat, groaning every time you step out into it and focusing only on how uncomfortable you are. I’ve seen it happen, I’ve watched, and listened to, others do this. Three words: Get over it. The people of Calcutta live in this heat every day, with no A/C in their homes, cars or rickshaws. Your body will acclimate, you’ll adjust, and you’ll be glad you made the effort to accept it and immerse yourself into everything that is Calcutta.

Once you’ve successfully crossed over into the realm of being completely at one with the hot sticky humid environment of Calcutta, you’re home free. You’re no longer just a visitor…. you’re a part of life….

The afternoon was dedicated to visiting the “must-see” of this off-the-beaten-tourist-track city, Mother Teresa’s Ashram.  No words can describe the overwhelming emotion of visiting not only the Ashram itself, but the nearby orphanage established by Mother Teresa.  In her words, it is a refuge for…

“The hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” — Mother Teresa
To step into a room where knee-high children with big brown eyes hold their arms up to you, longing desperately to be held and carried, and to be told “please don’t pick them up” was a real test of my maternal heartstrings. But I found an agreeable compromise by sitting on the floor to read a book while the kids climbed onto my lap and leaned over my shoulders and watched my face as I was able to engage and love them without too much emotional bonding.  This was an undertaking not for the weak of heart, and all I could think about was finding my strength in compassion and focusing on the power of love. Pure love. The Mother Teresa kind of love – love for all, and attachment to none. I somehow made it out without adopting a dozen children – although not without shedding a dozen tears. Photography was not permitted in the orphanage and I would have left the camera anyway. Some things are to be experienced with only the widest aperture of heart, not lens.

The next day, Calcutta revealed even more beauty than I could ever have imagined, with a visit to the Calcutta Flower Market on the banks of the Hooghly River.  I always make a point of visiting local markets wherever I travel, for purposes of both cultural immersion and photographic opportunities.  To simply walk through snapping pictures does not the experience make – the photographer must engage all the senses, listening and smelling and touching, in order to capture the image that tells the story.

I’m not so sure I succeeded in just one shot, and I really wish cameras were equipped with a scent-mic, in order to record smell.  Sound, however, can be shared in a video clip, which also gives a good sense of the pace of activity in the flower market.

Now, what the video doesn’t show, and the camera can’t really capture, is the temperature. It’s hot. The outdoor temperature is in the upper 90’s (and it’s early).  As if the heat in itself weren’t enough, it’s humid too. Like, candle-wax-dripping-wet humid. Now imagine that heat and humidity while under tarps in a crowded space, where you can’t walk more than a few steps without brushing, or being brushed by, a hot sticky body of someone else. And there’s your sense of touch put into words.

Still with me? Good. I spent way more time exploring this market than I had anticipated, and I savor every moment of that experience. The hustle, the bustle, the voices, the sounds, the scents, the odors, the feel, the life…..oh, the life.  At times it was like walking through someone’s hot tired breath, but with wafts of freesia and roses.  I was fascinated by vendors who spent hours of their market day just sorting and picking through flowers – imagine, doing that for your living.  Working with flowers, nature’s beauty, and never taking a single one for granted.

                                Calcutta Flower Market – Images by Kymri Wilt

As it turns out, there are flowers and art everywhere in Calcutta, sometimes obvious, other times, not so obvious.  Here, a streetside tattoo artist creates flower tattoos on the arms of a young man, which are then dusted in bee pollen to prevent infection.

A trip to the northern quarter of the city called Kumartuli, also known as the potter’s village, revealed more arts and more body parts. Here sculptors and artisans work to create clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses, for use in shrines and festivals all over India…and the world.


So now, if the thought of Calcutta conjures up images of joy, beauty, and art, then I have succeeded in shedding light on this amazing and wondrous city of India… with my images, with my words, and with my heart and lens wide open.  Namaste.

View more:

Calcutta Flower Market Gallery

 India Image Gallery

Favorite Guidebook for India

Back to School (around the world!)

It’s Back to School time!

Which means I finally have some time to share a few back to school photos and stories. So in sticking with the theme, here are some of my favorite images of kids and schools I’ve had the pleasure to meet and visit during my travels.

Let’s start in NEPAL:

When I think of the stories parents tell kids, of how they used to walk miles to school, in the snow and rain, uphill, BOTH ways(!), I can’t help but reflect upon these children heading off to school near Ghandruk in Nepal. I was on the descent of my 6th day of trekking in the Himalayas, having survived 86 hours of monsoon rains and traversed mudslides in action, when taking an early morning start I met these lovely children walking to school – uphill, up a very steep mountain actually, in their tidy uniforms with not a single complaint.

And speaking of high elevations, the Andean town of Cusco, PERU forms a quaint backdrop for these girls walking home from school arm in arm.

As for the classrooms I’ve visited, what fun it is to find them outdoors as weather permits!

From this very crowded kindergarten class in the Hutongs of Beijing, CHINA….

to not just a class, but the entire school’s student body enjoying lessons outside in the remote Osa Peninsula of COSTA RICA….

And speaking of remote, in BRAZIL‘s Pantanal region, where it is far too hot to have class outside, I visited this classroom (with the entire student body of 6).

Back in CHINA, there are small classes to be found, like this one at the Children’s Palace in Shanghai, a school devoted to Chinese traditional and cultural arts.

Regardless of class size, country, or culture, children everywhere appreciate school and learning, and it shows!

Peruvian school girls in uniform

Brazilian school girls proudly showing off their English notebooks

Chinese first graders on a field trip in Kunming

While I believe there is no greater education than travel, circumstances don’t permit such a life experience for most kids. There are many children around the world for whom a school and an education of any kind would be a treasured gift. That’s why, last year, I helped to build a school in Cambodia through a program called Passports with Purpose. This year, they will be raising money to build not just a school, but an entire village in Southern India. More details are forthcoming, and you will soon see the widget here on my blog so that you can donate and participate. Meanwhile, you can get the latest details on the Passports With Purpose facebook page.

Finally, if you are a parent like me, I hope you are sending your child(ren) back to school with a great big smile and thumbs up! Have a great school year!!

Be sure to visit Delicious Baby every Photo Friday for more fun blogs and travel photos!

Kids Around the World: Carbonera School in Costa Rica

Posting live from Costa Rica! During our stay at Lapa Rios Eco-Lodge in the remote Osa Peninsula, we had the pleasure of visiting Escuela Carbonera, the local school established by the original owners of Lapa Rios in 1991, with a total student body of eleven children. We arrived for their english lesson, provided by a staff member at Lapa Rios, and enjoyed the children’s introductions in english as we practiced our spanish.

Today they are enjoying class outside.

And for their english lesson, four new action verbs were introduced: run, hop, jump, and fly. Here the kids are demonstrating each verb:

Then came the worksheet, which my daughter joined in completing with the class:

And a new friendship was formed between second-graders:

Visit mes amigos at Delicious Baby for more great travel blogs!

Goats and God(s)

No, I am not packing a GOAT!

As I was preparing and packing for my trip to Nepal, I came across a BBC headline “Nepal hit by severe goat shortage”. Already loaded up with my own bags and camera gear, and a 50 lb. bag of donated North Face gear which I agreed to transport to Nepal, I joked that I would not be forking out another airline baggage fee to bring a goat with me, especially considering the fate awaiting the beast.

I am arriving in Nepal during the 15 day festival of Dashain. (one moment please while I resource some local experts, wikipedia, and some other blogs). Basically, Dashain is a blend of Hindu worship to the goddess Durga and animistic harvest traditions, ultimately translating into the ritualistic sacrifice of animals, particularly goats.

This is hard to stomach for a vegetarian as myself. Our drive from the Kathmandu airport passed several roadside goat gatherings, where they are amassed and roped and living out their last few days before taking their turn at the makeshift guillotine for goats. I can’t imagine what goes through their minds, if anything, as they watch their goat brothers being slit and skinned and stretched and hung, blood everywhere. I would probably be freaking out. But the goats, they seem at peace with it all. Or just stupid. I prefer to think the former, because it takes in incredibly wise and evolved soul to transcend the impending mass slaughter that these earthly humans perform on them. Tell me again who is the more evolved species, in a spiritual sense? I often wonder…

Any other time of year would find Nepal an easy place to be a vegetarian. I can always fill my belly with the traditional staple meal of Daal Baat (rice and lentils). But Dashain marks the time when families gather and meals are all part of the celebration – so families will serve the very best meat they have available, and that varies somewhat depending on the caste and wealth status. For most Nepali families, this is a goat. There are some who sacrifice a chicken, while a very few of only the very wealthiest families will slaughter a water buffalo (I’m not certain how that creature is all that different than the sacred cow, but they’ll kill, cook and eat it while the cows and bulls are left to roam free on the streets).

I observe, and I question; and when necessary I put the lens between me and what I am watching to lessen the impact on my conscience. Such was the case when we wandered past a courtyard where a young boy sat dangling his little legs off a wall as he watched his father and uncle prepping the goats. The heads of the goats sat nearby in puddles of blood, their eyes facing away, as their bodies were pulled from a tub and scraped of hair. (Just telling it like it is, folks).

I learned that not all goats are sacrificed – only the castrated males (BBC didn’t mention this). So nearby, just around the corner in fact, a couple of female goats hung out by some motorcycles and nibbled posters off walls. They weren’t the least bit concerned with the puddles and rivers of blood trickling past, it was ladies night out for all they cared.

Then dinner. Apparently the Ama Ghar Orphanage where we were invited to dinner was amongst higher status – water buffalo was served and shared with everyone from a high ranking Nepali police official to the 8 or 9 kids we brought from the Loving Arms Orphanage to the guests from America whose knees crackled as they sat awkwardly and struggled with scooping food in their right hands.

The dining room floor was only so big, so we ate in shifts of 15 at a time. I lost track of how many kids there were around, and how quickly they ate and ran off together to various other rooms to play as one big giant family.

Family. [Allow me a digression. My husband and I made a conscious choice to have only one child. But that does not make us a small family. In fact, I am an auntie, a great auntie, and an auntie to children all over the world. Come to think of it, I first became an auntie when I was only 4 months old. Here in Kathmandu, I have been introduced to a family of Nepali orphaned children as “Auntie Kymri”. I have always adored being called “Auntie Kymri” by my sister’s children, who are now grown adults, and who still affectionately call me Auntie, probably because they get a kick out of watching me become overwhelmed with nostalgic pride. Now I have this big beautiful family of children at the Loving Arms Mission who call me Auntie, and I am overwhelmed with pride, not for nostalgia, but for what is to come for this world, and the hope and inspiration these children have to share. The youngest, at just over 2 years, little “Babu”, called me “Auntie New” the first afternoon until my name had been repeated to him enough to learn. (Which he did much faster than many adults do!). To be the auntie of these amazing children who have endured a childhood that no child should ever have to live through, well, I am utterly humbled, and honored, to be their auntie. All the more family to be proud of!]

So what does this all have to do with goats? Nothing really, except their fate. You see, my nieces and nephews all share their home at Loving Arms Mission, where parents Kent and Shovah raise 12 kids in one home, and Nadine and Rajindra raise another 10 or so in their home. (Their stories are another article unto itself, and film in fact, stay tuned!). Because neither sets of parents were too keen on the idea of getting a goat and slaughtering it with all the kids, they began a tradition several years ago.

Kent came up with the idea of a piñata. A goat piñata. Every week of Dashain, Nadine gathers materials (cardboard boxes, tubes, paper) and builds a goat, filling it’s middle with treats and sweets.

When the day of celebration and sacrifice arrives, the family and friends gather in the garden and the piñata is hung from a basketball hoop for all the kids take their hand at slaughtering the beast. Blindfolded, the kids make strikes, as Kent raises and lowers the goat’s “noose” until the beast is dismembered limb by limb and blood pours in chocolates and candies.

Eventually, Auntie Happy came in for the kill!

On the road outside, an endless stream of goats makes their way through the village to meet their gods, their heads held high, crowned in pink tikka. Happy Dashain.

Kids Around the World: Kenya’s Kids

My “Kids Around the World” photos this week are from Kenya, featuring Maasai children of the Mara and Samburu regions.

Wonder what is a little different about the children in this photo at left? Follow the link to read my journal entry written on the day I photographed these children, just north of Isiola – the “Last Town“.

Happy Photo Friday to my friends at Delicious Baby! This is the last chance I have to post a Photo Friday “Kids Around the World” installment before I am heading around the world myself! Well, halfway anyway, first to Nepal, then on to China, for the next 6 weeks. In Nepal I will have plenty of kids to blog about, as I will be filming a documentary feature at two orphanages in Kathmandu. I may not have time nor means to link up for a few Fridays, but I will be posting articles and images from my travels as I am able, so be sure to become a follower (at right) or sign up for my RSS feed so you can keep posted!

Kid + Camera = Aquarium Fun!

Cape Town, South Africa boasts a great attraction for kids and cameras – the Two Oceans Aquarium located right at the Waterfront. For this week’s “Kids Around the World” post, once again, I feature my own kid as she follows in my footsteps…rather, I follow in hers!

My shot:

Her shot:

My Shot:

Her Shot:

She takes great video too!

Visit Delicious Baby for more interesting posts of travel, photography, and kids! And have a happy September!

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