June 22, 2010

Jalsa! The District 3060 Conference

Photos of the 3060 District Conference.





And on to Vapi!




And on to Surat!




And now the photos from Vadodara!



Anand, and Ahmedabad

Here are some photos from our day trip to Ahmedabad, and our time in Anand.




Wadwan City and Surendrenagar

Photos of our time in Wadwan City and Surendrenagar.




Sassan Gir and the trip between Rajkot and Porbandar

More photos.
There are some good shots of Asiatic lions, including a good video.




Some photos from our GSE visit to Porbandar. Please visit the link for the album. I've had some difficulty with the links coming through, so you may have to copy the link into your browser.

June 21, 2010


I have some pictures from Bhavnagar. Hopefully some of you are still on the email notification list.



April 27, 2010

Adding photos on the web

I know,
I've been terrible about getting back on here to provide a concise wrap up of this amazing adventure. I have a little free time this week, at least in the evenings, so I'm going to start uploading photos onto a new Snapfish account. I'm organizing the albums by city, so hopefully that isn't too cumbersome. Also, my Indian friends, this initially is only my photographs, so please let us know of photos or places you want more pictures of, and we'll expand the albums accordingly. Hopefully everyone is still on the notification list and will get this. Stay tuned!

First album will be Rajkot.


February 6, 2010

The End is not the End

I'm sorry that we slowed down on the posting at the end, but we had greater difficulty finding time for the internet in our last two stays in Surat and Vapi, as we spent a number of our nights out with Rotarians enjoying dinner and company.

Now that the GSE trip has wrapped up, and the team has gone on separate vacations, we will look to complete the journey in the blogosphere when we return to reality. Thank God for journals to help fill in the blank spots in our memories! Not only do we have more stories about the people, places and good works we've seen, but we also have our impressions, final thoughts, and a little about our travels after GSE.

Karen (my wife) and I are currently in Jaipur staying with Rotarian Chandresh Nagar and his lovely family, after having visited with Rotarians in Delhi (more on them in a separate post!) and Agra while sightseeing. We will venture further into the state of Rajasthan with visits to Udaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer, before wrapping up our time in India. It truly has been life altering. I hope everyone has enjoyed our trip, and our writing, and hope that you will stick around for the finale.

Blake and Team

January 31, 2010

A New Star in the Galaxy from District 3060

My friend, Rotarian Ruchir Jani, was elected "Rotarian of the Year" from District 3060 in Gurajat , India, today. Ruchir is a founding member of Rotary Vapi - Riverside. We were very lucky to Ruchir as our coordinator and he excelled at fielding all our questions and schedule changes, in addition to his responsibilities for the conference. We are forever indebted to Ruchir for his grace, thoroughness, and his friendship, in particular.

January 29, 2010

District 6900 GSE Team Meets Rotary International President (2011-2012)

The team was fortunate to meet with Kalyan Banerjee today. Kalyan is RI President elect for 2011-12 and his home club is here in Vapi. He has just returned from the States and is busy preparing for the District 3060 Conference. He and his wife were kind enough to give us time and open their home to the team. Evidently, Kalyan is not too busy to get involved with the team's personal travel plans post GSE. Many thanks to Ruchir Jani, our GSE coordinator in Vapi for arranging the meeting.

Next stop-the District Conference where will meet the inbound team to 3060 from Sri Lanka, the outbound team headed for our district 6900 from Gujarat 3060, and say goodbye to our friends here in Gujarat.

January 26, 2010

Diamonds and fancy clothes

Surat is a city with a rich history. It was India's largest trading port before Bombay gained strength. During our visit to Surat we were met memorable sights and people. We toured Venus Jewels, an impressive diamond polishing factory. Surat polishes more than 70 percent of the world's diamonds. Sadly they did not provide free samples :).

We also visited Rivaa Exports Ltd., a manufacturer of women's clothing. We saw how the embroidery is stitched.

And we got a look at how the fabric is dyed.

Thanks to GSE Coordinator and my host Yatish Parekh for his wonderful programming. I really enjoyed all the laughs we shared!

I will miss the whole family!

This morning we move to a new city, Vapi. The District Conference is not far away, Jan. 29-31. It will be sad to say goodbye to India and all our new friends.

Smiles in Surat

Last night we made our presentation to the 11 Rotary clubs of Surat. It was a high-profile event as we were fortunate to have District Governor Maj. S.K. Sharma in attendance. Our GSE leader Bill Barney presented Maj. Sharma with "Marshes of Glynn," a painting by Charlene Hall, wife of Past District Governor and Polio Challenge Coordinator Robert Hall of District 6900.

It was certainly an Indian-Southern affair as the Rotary Friendship (Family) Exchange team from North Carolina joined us for the evening.

It was also good to see our "best friend" Past District Governor Kulbandhu Sharma. Thanks to him for all his dedication to our GSE team.

Today is Republic Day in India, so we have some free time. I hope to post more pictures from our adventures in Surat later in the afternoon. But for now we are off to a textile factory ...

January 22, 2010

Team at aadharshila

Some of the smartest, most creative branding professionals in India, at aadharshila

Baroda and vocational visit to aadharshila

I love Baroda. After visiting the city palace yesterday, we spent quality time with our host families. You can see mine to the right: Kavita (homoeopathic doctor), me (Whitney), Savir (VP marketing Inox India), Ashna, Jingle (adorable cocker spaniel), and Tanvi. Ashna and Tanvi are identical twins, and both are athletic and artistic. It will be very hard to leave such a warm, vibrant family and city.

The power of Rotary is incredible. It just so happens that my wonderful host Savir Julka and Alok Desai, CEO of Baroda's leading branding agency aadharshila, are fellow Rotarians at RC Baroda Metro. As a PR professional for Atlanta's communication firm Jackson Spalding, I loved spending the day with Alok's team of designers and client service representatives, comparing business strategies, creative processes and even firm cultures. It is a true privilege to shadow others in the same professional half way around the world. Thank you to Alok and his team for spending time with me.
JSers, it's great to see friendly faces from Baroda working hard for great clients like ours. They eat lunch together each day as many of our PROI partners do, and they welcomed me to the table. They gave a special shout out to JS Creative, Cultivation and Communication!

Some Have Better Connections Than Others!

Many thanks to Blake; aka 'Black Bear' for his lengthy posts. He speaks for the team on our general impressions and we are grateful he has the ability to find connections without interruption and sufficient bandwidth. Rotary continues to astonish us with its breadth and dynamic reach for community betterment. We are humbled at every turn.

January 21, 2010

Anand to Vadodara (Baroda)

We wrapped up our much needed R and R on Wednesday morning. Whitney and I were able to spend a few hours at the pool for some color, so hopefully we won't look so pasty in our photos. I hear it's pretty chilly in the States right now. Must be tough! The pyramid in the photo was a little strange. Apparently a room for meditation, it had a single plastic lawn chair centered under the peak of the pyramid. Groovy... After our midtrip rest break at the hotel we stayed with our hosts in Anand for only one day and night. It was very unfortunate scheduling that had our rest time taken out of our Anand visit, but we made the most of it.

We visited two sites before the main event Wednesday. The first was a hospital that, through matching grants with other Rotary clubs, is able to perform eye surgery to remove cataracts, and to also insert artificial lenses. It's a prestigious enough hospital that they receive paying customers, which also helps finance additional surgeries on the poor. The doctors routinely visit area villages for eye exams, which is how they identify their surgery candidates. Truly great work. Also, I'm having enough trouble with uploading photos, so I'm not going to delete this one, despite something happening to my hair, and Amy looking away...

Our next stop was the Vallabhbhai Patel and Veer Vithalbhai Patel Memorial. I had never heard of the brothers, and I thought I knew a good bit about Indian Independence. Vallabhbhai Patel was later known as Sardar Patel (Sardar means leader) for his roll as the Iron Man of India. He was instrumental in Indian unification after Indian Independence, as the princely states still existed and had to be coerced into joining the India instead of splintering. Sardar was the third man behind Gandhi and Nehru, and would have been chosen as India's first Prime Minister, but Gandhi decided it should be Nehru. The memorial was a huge building with an auditorium, and had banners with quotes from him and about him, above news articles and his and his brother's personal history. Around Anand and Baroda is where all of the Patels come from, so nearly everyone we run into is a Patel. It's amazing how regional last names are here.

Rotary club of Anand Round Town has for the past 16 years put on a song, dance, and arts competition for the areas schools, which host 50,000 students. It's a big deal, and is televised regionally to over 100,000 homes. It's a labor of love that gives these students an avenue to express their talents, at great expense to the Round Town club. We were invited onto the stage to address the students and to say a little bit about ourselves, so hopefully we can get a copy of that video! The photo is of their Michael Jackson tribute.

My host's son, Harsh, was the emcee for the event, and was a natural, despite professing to be nervous. You can see my host Himent and his sone Harsh posing with me in this photo. We are trying to convince him to do grad school at Georgia Tech, as he is finishing up his undergrad in Mechanical Engineering. Himent and I stayed up late philosiphizing, and discussing the differences and similarities of our two cultures. I'm dragging a bit today, but I'm glad I got to make the most of the one day.

We drove to Vadodara this morning, a city the British had anglicized to Baroda. Like Bombay becoming Mumbai, Baroda is becoming Vadodara again. The city is bustling, but it's one of the cleanest we've seen in India thus far. It was once the seat of the state of Vadodara, and had/has a Maharaja. We were fortunate enough to visit our first palace in India here.

The name of the palace is Lukshmi Vilas Palace, if you want to google or Wikipedia it. The photo doesn't do the scale justice. I had to walk about 400 yards away to get the whole thing in one frame, and the tiny little people in the grass below the center are about 100 yards from the palace. The tower is 300 feet tall. Truly massive.

The current Maharaja and the family live on the second floor, and tours only cover the ground floor. It's a beautiful structure in need of a serious renovation, but since it's still private, the family hasn't been keeping it up. There were cracked windows, and grass was growing out of the joints in the stonework. We couldn't take pictures inside, so this is all I can show you. You'll have to visit yourself to see more. The audio tour had clips from the Maharaja talking about the difficulties in growing up in such a large home, such as it taking thirty minutes to get his tea served because the servants have to walk so far. Man, it's a rough life.

We aren't sure on the history, but I think that when Sardar Patel forced the unification of the princely states into India shortly after independence from Britain, The Maharajas got to keep their estates and titles, but no longer ruled. I need to get a book on laying out the formation of India. It's very complicated.

There is a nicely manicured golf course around the grounds of the palace. I believe Bill gets to play it tomorrow morning, and personally I hope he shanks every ball, lucky jerk. :-) I'm going to try to upload a video of the palace, as one photo isn't enough, and it should appear at the bottom. This will be our first video, if it works, as we've been bandwidth constrained to say the least. Oh well, it failed... Here is another photo from closer up.

We are here Vadodara until Sunday morning, when we will take our first and only train ride to Surat, the diamond capital of India. I can see the emails from Karen now, and it just got expensive! Near Vadodara is Champaner/Pavagadh, a UNESCO World Heritage site. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pavagadh. It wasn't on the schedule, as the Vadodara club has a lot of projects for us to see, but they are very graciously trying to fit a visit in and work with us. Hopefully it will work out, as we certainly don't want to miss out on any Rotary projects.
Well, it's getting late, and I need the rest. This darn post took over two hours because of the photos. Hope you enjoy the update!

January 19, 2010

Since I finally cleaned the salt from my shoes, I thought it was time to post my pictures of the Rotary windmill project. My teammates (Blake and Whitney) did a good job of describing the alternative energy endeavor, but you might like this visual interpretation.

The life of a salt farmer is meager. A typical family makes around $500 a year.

Laborers like this young girl will suffer severe health ailments from the acidic salt water. Notice how she toils barefoot.

The Rotary windmill project gives hope of a better life by cutting down fuel costs.

At the halfway point


We are two weeks into our trip here, and we have been at a hotel the past two nights for our mid trip break. The rest comes at a good time, as Whitney and I were getting over colds, and while we were here Renee got food sick. Also, we are very good sports, but being 'on' for two weeks straight, with our days stuffed full of activities, is exhausting mentally and physically. It's been tough as well meeting so many new families, just getting to know them and then having to say goodbye, only to start over in the next town.

We have a good internet connection here, so I figured I'd take a minute to upload some good pictures from our stays, and talk a bit about what we've covered so far. We started of in Rajkot, and saw a number of factories that made bearing races, rubber gaskets, auto rickshaws and stainless steel products. We visited a few temples, a meditation center, and ate a lot of food! We were still very naive about India, and hadn't stopped counting cows yet. A great example is this photo.

The family in this house would bake bread for the cows every morning, and they were clever enough to congregate at the correct time to chow down. We couldn't get enough of this and were such tourists, snapping away with our cameras while our hosts rolled their eyes.

Our next city was Porbandar. We spent only 2 whole days there, so we didn't get to know our hosts as well, but we had a great time. We visited the birthplace of Gandhi, which was very cool. We also visited caves that played an important part in the early life of one of their gods, a large concrete factory, and viewed the sunset from a mountaintop shrine that was hundreds of years old. Very spiritual.

I was also a big hit with the kids! I'm a little loath to post this photo, as it will ensure that the rest of my trip will be the equivalent of a human jungle gym. The kid on the left is my host's child, Math (I think that's how they told me it was spelled, but pronounced like Mech).

As you can tell, I'm having some issues with layout, can't get the photos and text to work right, but hopefully you get the idea. Next up was Bhavnagar. We spent 3-4 days here, and were here for the national kite flying festival on the 14th.

Later that evening, Devang got a call from his cousin, and said that one of his colleagues was throwing a party for his one year old grandson. Although I was very tired, we went to the party as it was supposed to be something I would regret missing. This thing was huge. There must have been 3,000 people there, and about 3 acres fenced in, carpeted, the perimeter was lined with catered booths, there was a huge sound stage, and the Punjabi pop band Deler Mohendi was playing. The family must have spent a small fortune. It was also proof that a lot of people around the world dance like white people. Truly an amazing site, and I got to experience Punjabi music live, which I enjoyed thoroughly.

As I mentioned earlier, we were here for their national kite flying festival, so that whole day was spent flying kites. There were kites everywhere, and every roof and terrace was packed with kite fliers. It's a form of play combat, as anyone who has read The Kite Runner may be familiar with. The strings are coated with glass particles, and it feels a little like sandpaper. You fly your kite and dive and swoop at an opponents kite, and right when you cross strings, you let out a lot of string so it's like a bandsaw cutting across the other string. I had a lot of fun, despite being such a rookie, and finally got the hang of it near the end of the night, cutting my first kite. I had cut one earlier, but it didn't count as it was on accident, and it was my terrace-mates... Oops! You have to tape your hands up to not get cut, but I still manage a few battle wounds.

After Bhavnagar was Wadwancity, and it's twin Surendrenagar. We were only there for a couple days, but we saw some very interesting things. In one stop that was very cool on many levels, we visited the Little Rann of Kutch, a wasteland made so by the yearly flooding of ocean water during the monsoons. It's a protected habitat of the Asiatic Wild Ass. As funny as it is to say, and hear them say it, we kept trying to tell them we usually call them donkeys. :-)

The main reason we visited was the salt farms that were mentioned in a previous post, and the region was so desolate that it made for some beautiful, and heartbraking, photos. Here is one of the salt rakers. They rake the salt crystals to encourage their growth, and the windmills save so much money on diesel, that it may allow the farmers to send their children to school instead of having to eke out an existence in the dessert. Very moving, and a direct way to improve the lives of these poor people.

My host Bhavin, seen here at his bearing factory, showing me a disassembled bearing, was kind enough to take me to their Rotary corporate cricket fundraiser to watch an entire match, which was just eight overs a side. It went faster than normal because one batsman had 5-6 sixes in the span of 4 overs and pretty much won the match single handed. I've been learning the game after an extensive teaching in Rajkot, and must confess to enjoying it more than Baseball!

After leaving Wadhwancity, we headed for Ahmedabad for some sight seeing before checking in to our hotel here near Anand. We visited Adalaj Wav, a 500+ year old step well used for collecting water in this arid region. It's five stories deep and very ornately carved. It was pretty amazing.

Later, we arrived at Gandhi's Ashram, where he stayed from 1915 to 1930, before departing on his famous salt march (hopefully my facts are correct). It was pretty touristy, but I found this quote writ large on the wall to be pretty moving.

We are still having a great time, and are looking forward to the last few weeks we have with mixed emotions. We welcome the new friends, but realize that every day brings us closer to the end. I have to wrap it up to get ready for our next Rotary meeting where we will give our speeches talking about us, our families, and our lives. We have all improved our public speaking so much, and the progress is evident. It's been a welcome break from our hectic lives back home, but we also can't wait to get back home to see our friends and family!

Hopefully you enjoyed the photos. I had at least two dozen more I wanted to put up, but I just don't have the time to do it. I'll have to do a separate post in the coming days of just humorous photos.

Take care,


January 18, 2010

Indian wedding crashers

Through our GSE experience, we've witnessed the global relationships that Rotary builds. We've been welcomed into the homes and businesses of Rotarians, and last night we were fortunate enough to attend our first Indian wedding. The father of the groom, Devang Desai, happens to be a member of the Rotary Club of Vidyanagar. Thanks to our GSE coordinator in Anand, Kamalesh Parikh, and his lovely daughter who escorted us.

Recharging for Part Two

About halfway through this trip of a lifetime, we are fortunate to get some much needed R&R at a local hotel in Anand. Then we'll hit the ground running again tomorrow evening for our last two weeks.

From Bhavnagar, we headed to Wadhwan where we met another group of incredible Rotarians and saintly hosts. We visited a beautiful garden developed and maintained by Rotary in the heart of the city (where unsalted water is not easy to come by). We also visited a school for blind women, where the love and compassion of the founder and the children in her care moved me to tears. Perhaps most impressive was the windmill project Rotary recently started in the desert to assist salt farmers 60 miles from the Pakistani border. The windmills pump salt water from the ground to salt ponds where farmers rake for hours, tilling the salt to maximize the size of granules. The water evaporates over time, and farmers sell salt to industries after the seven month harvest. Rotary's windmills save farmers about 60 percent per year over the diesel alternative. There is nothing but cracked earth as far as the eye can see in this desert, and farmers live in these conditions for seven months at a time.

After Wadhwan we made our way to Anand, stopping to see a step well built in the 1400s and Gandhi's ashram. We have vocational visits coming up, and I'll be visiting one of the largest ad agencies in Gujarat. Cannot wait.

January 13, 2010

View from Bhavnagar- There's no guarantee names are pronounced the way they're spelled

(Accompanying photo taken in Rajkot. Tree planted in dedication of DG Roy Strickland- District 6900- Georgia)

The title speaks for itself. So much to learn. We discovered a source of amusement for our Rotarian hosts, hearing us try to pronounce their names, especially at Rotary meetings. Luckily, the gesture can move in two directions. (See previous post where 'Blake Beyer' has become 'Black Bear'). To Blake's possible dismay, this moniker may stick, if with no other group than his GSE team.

I cannot add much to the broad brush strokes provided here by the team. Our travels have taken us through three stops in Gujarat: Rajkot, Porbandar, and now Bhavnagar. With each city we discover a level of dedication and giving that redefines 'Service Above Self''. Our Rotarian hosts have become a powerful force in the social environs of their communities, with education and attention to the needs of those less fortunate being the order of the day.

Our hosts are pleased with the team, as well. They are engaged and engaging and there isn't meeting or vocational visit we attend where we aren't complimented for our level of participation and interest. I am proud of each one.

I will also add here that last night, with no prep whatsoever, Renee lent new meaning to the word 'professionalism'. Her rendering of our national anthem was the finest; a consensus among the team and our Rotarian hosts here in Bhavnagar. She denies it, but it was very moving.

There's my two cents for now. I do hope you'll continue following the more detailed postings by the team.

Bill Barney GSE Team Leader

Bhavnagar - Day Two

Last night our team presented at the official Rotary meeting with three Bhavnagar clubs present. Renee sang our national anthem in closing, which moved not only the Rotarians, but also our team. It is such an honor to be on this life-changing trip with such talented, inspiring people. Additionally, it is humbling to see firsthand the selfless work the Rotarians throughout Gujarat are doing each day in their communities.

We've enjoyed spending a great deal of time with our host families in Bhavnagar. We've heard about this city's reputation for hospitality and in just two days we know it is true.

In Porbandar we visited Gandhi's birthplace, and today in Bhavnagar we enjoyed perhaps the most comprehensive collection of photos, letters and interviews chronicling Gandhi's life. We could've spent all day here.

January 12, 2010

Sights and spirit

It would be impossible to share all our team has experienced since our arrival in India Jan. 3. But I would like to recount some of the sights and spirit through photographs I have taken:

Touring a school in Porbandar with Shastree Swami Bhanuprakashdashji.

Observing morning exercises at the school in Porbandar, Swaminarayan Gurukul.

Catching sleepy asiatic lions at the Gir Forest.

Witnessing the impact of the Rotary Club of Bhavnagar's Ray of Hope project that provides free education to slum children.

Feeling peaceful at a meditation center just outside Rajkot.

Seeing women work at the limestone factory of my host in Porbandar, Nimish Shah.

Dancing a traditional dance with schoolchildren on the rooftop terrace overlooking Bhavnagar.

Capturing small moments of real life.

Establishing relationships with Rotarians and gracious hosts like the Joshi family.

This does not begin to express what I have experienced but hopefully it gives a glimpse of the tremendous opportunity Rotary has bestowed me.

Why we are here


We've talked a lot about our experiences, the warmth of the Indian people, and the neat things we've seen. But, the primary reason for us being in India is to see all of the good work and camaraderie Rotary is achieving worldwide. Before I start, I'd like to apologize for not posting pictures with this post, as I have some amazing ones. I'll have to edit this post later when I have access to a card reader that works.

As many of you may not know, Rotary set out in 1985 to rid the world of the crippling disease Polio. They have succeeded in curtailing the disease by 99% and have drawn the attention and support of the World Health Organization, the UN, the Centers for Disease Control and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but there are four countries left where the disease has continued to hold on; Afganistan, Pakistan, India, and Nigeria. Rotary has contributed over a billion dollars since then, and hundreds of thousands of man hours, and that has been multiplied by the extra support they are receiving from those great organizations.

We were fortunate enough to be in Porbandar for one of two Polio vaccination days for the whole year. In every city Rotary is in, they set up enough walk-in areas to cover the population, and will also go door to door afterwards to ensure the children of their towns and cities are vaccinated.

We also witnessed blood drawing to test for Thalassemia and HIV. Thalassemia is a genetic, inherited blood disease that has major and minor carriers. Minor carriers are unaffected, as only one of their parents was a carrier. A major carrier has both parents affected, and there is no treatment other than regular blood transfusions that lose effectiveness over time, and they will suffer a shortened lifespan, not to mention putting further strain on the blood supply. They test to inform children so that they won't marry another carrier and hurt their offspring.

In Rajkot, we were given a presentation on a literacy effort to ensure children are achieving at their grade level within government schools, which are sorely lacking in standards and basic equipment. They distribute one kit for each classroom, which consists of a binder to test proficiency, and a trunk for of story books and interesting reading to hook children on the joy of reading.

We witnessed a number of permanent projects. We saw a several kilometer long dam built with Rotary funds to supply 100,000 Rajkot citizens with drinking water. We toured an English language library to help children and young adults with English skills. We were shown a doll museum created by reaching out to Rotarians around the world to donate dolls that represent their culture, and as we were shown around by the projects' progenitor, we saw several classes of children come through and they were absolutely delighted.

There was also an 'all in one' clinic for the poor that had an x-ray room, a doctor's examination room, a dental clinic, a diabetes center, and a drug collection and distribution room. To get the drugs, they reach out to doctors to donate the sample they get from pharma companies, and they go door to door to collect medicine that people aren't taking anymore, taking care to discard expired pills. This allows them to give cheap and effective medical care to people who would otherwise go without.

Now we are in Bhavnagar, and last night we saw something pretty remarkable. The club here has convinced the parents of 75 slum kids to allow their children to come to the Rotary meeting hall in the evenings, where they are bathed, provided with school clothes, a home cooked meal (literally, food is brought from Rotarian family kitchens), and lessons for several hours on everything from English to the sciences. These children would otherwise be aimless, getting into trouble or begging, and now their future has been opened up to untold possibilities.

In India, after 7th grade, called standard in India, school is private, so you have to pay. The children that show discipline and good work ethic are then sponsored by the Rotary club to go to high school, as long as they continue to perform well. They have been doing the project for ten years now, and are just about to graduate their first students from high school. Their hope is that they become successful contributors to society, bring their family up along with them, and join Rotary to give the same chance to others.

In Rajkot, they do something very similar. In India, the poor produce a lot of children primarily to help them earn money, either through begging or collecting trash. Rotary is helping the children earn the same amount they were earning picking up trash and recyclables all day by arranging for a dealer to seek the best price for them collectively. They were being taken advantage of by shady dealers before, because they didn't know the going rates for what they were collecting. Now, they earn the same amount of money in half a day, so their parents are appeased. Rotary fills the other half of the day with education, a bath, clothes, and a warm meal.

Today in Bhavnagar we visited another one of their major projects (this club tends to focus their funds on a few major projects), where Rotary is supplying school benches to the public schools of Bhavnigar. They visited a number of schools several years ago and noticed that the most basic needs of these schools weren't being met by the government. There wasn't clean drinking water, there weren't always bathrooms, and the children sat on the floor of the classrooms.

Rotary has stepped in to provide for all of these needs within the city, and for desks that meant coming up with 8,000 of them. They have trimmed the cost of each desk in half by having a carpenter member, and have supplied 5,000 of the desks to date, with the remaining 3,000 to be delivered over the next 2-3 years. We saw a few of the bathroom 'blocks', a separate building with his and hers bathrooms that may have been the cleanest public bathrooms we've seen here in India.

It's hard to talk about these things, not to mention experience them, and not be moved. Rotary here, and invariably around the world, does a multitude of amazing things, some on a global scale, but most on a local scale that helps fill in the holes not being addressed by government.

I speak for our whole team that we have been overwhelmed (seem to be using that word a lot for this trip!) by all the good that is being done by these people, who through the blessing of success in this world have taken it upon themselves to help others at least have the opportunity to do the same. It's something we take for granted in the United States, where we have all of our basic needs met, and a clear path to success, provided we choose to take it. We are truly grateful to Rotary for this opportunity, and I feel it has already changed our lives for the better. We are constantly told we say thank you too much, but we can't help it. We have been moved.

January 10, 2010

Polio Sunday

One of Rotary's most impactful projects is the Polio Plus eradication program. Through the mass distribution of  oral vaccine, Rotary has rid most of the world from the crippling disease. However, India is one of  four countries still afflicted.

Today, we went to a hospital for women where our Team Leader Bill Barney gave a small girl the two-drop Polio vaccine. It's a truly noble cause, so it was great to see the process firsthand.

January 9, 2010

Outspicing the Indians

Our hosts in every city were told to make their food more mild for us, as it was expected that it would be too hot for us. Luckily, being Atlantans, we have the opportunity to eat a lot of Mexican, Thai, Indian, and my favorite, Hot Wings. We saw smiles on their faces when we told them to make it as hot as they take it. I don't think they thought we were serious, so I took a spoonful of their spicy sauce and put it on a slice of onion ate it.

After that, they couldn't stop talking about it, and whenever we'd go into a restaurant, they'd proudly tell the server to make it full hot. It almost became a bit of a sideshow, seeing what we would and wouldn't eat, but it was a great icebreaker, and we got to really taste their culture, pun intended.

The state of Gujarat is vegetarian, and they don't eat eggs. You would think that this would limit how creative they could get with their food, but this isn't the case. The food, in addition to being nicely spicy, is incredibly flavorful, and with a variety of textures that make you not miss meat. Never thought I'd say that. We all thought we'd lose weight on this trip, but with all the entries, and bread that is served with everything, we just might gain weight. Wanting to try a little of everything, and eager hosts that emplore you to keep eating, certainly don't help. We only get to do this trip once though, so I'll just have to train a little extra for that half marathon.

Black Bear

I have a little extra time today after visiting Ghandi's birthplace, and so I need to get a few observations out before we head to dinner.

My name is Blake Beyer. I only reiterate this because of our language differences. Since I've arrived, my name has evolved from Blake to Black, and Beyer to Bear. And, without seeing it coming, Blackberry. It goes both ways though. I was calling Rajesh Radish, and Kitan Kitten. Renee is now Renny, and Bill Barney briefly became Billey Barn. Everyone on our team is doing what we can to make sure the nicknames stick, so we are definitely having fun with it.

Rajkot to Porbandar

we were sad to leave Rajkot and the new friends we had made, but we packed up our SUV with all of our luggage (on the roof, thankfully), and stuffed eight people in. It wasn't that bad spacewise, but the bumpy roads on the way to Gil Forest really played havoc on my tailbone! The driving was terrifying enough to have Bill and Renee shutting their eyes while our driver played chicken with 5 ton trucks and daredevils on scooters. We saw our first mountains, and drove through a small fortified town with a large stone fortress. Being a big history buff, I sorely wanted to visit, but the lions awaited, and the last bus into the reserve was going to be a close catch. We entered the reserve, and the guard told us the bus had already left, but we were able to catch up with them before they entered the fenced area and board it.

It looked like an African safari except for the trees, and wildlife abounded. Several types of deer wandered in and out of the bush eating grass, and wild pigs would come to take a look at us before bolting back into the tall brush. And then there they were. Four lions reclining under a large tree, lazily cleaning themselves and eyeing the tourists with little interest. We only stayed for about five minutes, and probably snapped 50 pictures and several minutes of video, but it made up for forgoing the nice new road to Porbandar to see them. Seeing lions in the wild, and having them be the last wild Asiatic lions, was really special.

After several hours more driving, the scrubbrush desert parted abruptly to reveal the ocean. The clouds looked like an oatmeal crust, with the sun punching through in hundreds of Jacob's Ladders. The water was a very light blue, and the sun played on the gently breaking waves. Very peaceful.

Porbandar was announced with a large concrete factory, and we met our new hosts on the outskirts. We said goodbye to Rajesh and Kitan (sorry if I mispelled you, but I don't have my business cards with me!) sadly, and went with our new hosts to tidy up before their Rotary meeting that evening.

We had two hours to rest, so I chose to update my journal on the balcony my new room had. Everywhere we go, we displace family members so that they can offer us a bedroom to ourselves. Here, I took the children's bedroom, and it has a nice little balcony that overlooks the city. In the setting sun, the buildings really showed in their faded yellow, and the sounds of the traffic below were strangely soothing now, after a week in-country. It wasn't ten minutes before Kitan's son Math (pronounced Mech, with the end almost like you are clearing your throat) was in my room with his sister Henne and cousin Herch (pronounced Hersh) to pepper me with questions about where I was from, my name, etc... I realised that not much writing was going to get done, and broke out one of the picture books I created to illustrate who I was, and started showing them. I got all the way through before Kitan came in to shue them along, and I had enough time to relax from the trip and get caught up in my writing.

The meeting was held in a very old building, easily over 100 years old, with charming architecture, and the patina that only many years of honest use could embue. We were led out the side door to a well lit grassy area where they had two serving lines set up to distribute dinner. The weather just after dusk is perfect, with gentle breezes and the temperature just about right. We mingled with our new friends and got to know them and their families a little better, as they brought their spouses and children to the meeting. The english proficiency here is a little less, being farther away from the tourist and business centers, so we amended our speeches to accomodate.

After the meeting, we went to the waterfront to see construction progressing at night on a beautification project the government was paying for. After that, we were taken to our new homes to get some much needed sleep. This day started at 7AM, and ended at midnight, and is fairly representative of how stuffed full of activities our average existence is here. Every new city wants to show us every special place, as well as their places of work and worship. It's exhausting, but it's fascinating, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

January 7, 2010

GSE in the news

Tommorrow we depart Rajkot with the most amazing memories. Some of my favorite involve interactions with the press. Our GSE team was twice featured in the pages of Akila Newspaper. Try this link Akila News but it may go bad after tomorrow. We were also priviledged (thanks to my wonderful host Ketan Joshi, Rotary Club of Rajkot president) to be interviewed on Big FM 92.7. We each were asked to share our impressions of Rajkot and its people. Of course, we had nothing but the nicest words. And today, while visiting a clothing store that features hand-made fabrics, we were subjects of a media storm. It was awesome. There were no less than 10 photographers and videographers from national television stations like Z News to document our visit. The event also graced the pages of Akila News once again. Check here for the story but be warned the link may expire.

The next city on our tour of Gujarat is Porbandar. But during our car ride tomorrow, I plan to write a proper recap of our time in Rajkot. GSE is a tremendous experience. Thank you Rotary. Thank you so much!!

Our Time in Rajkot

It's been a few days since I posted, as internet and time have been hard to come by. We have been so kindly welcomed into the homes and hearts of our Rajkot hosts, that thanks can't come close to conveying our gratitude, but will continue thanking them. I can't possibly cover everywhere we visited in this bustling city, so I'll try to focus on impressions, and how our experience has effected us.

I'll start with the driving. While I'm sure this is nothing compared to the madness we will surely see in Mumbai and Delhi, it is still amazing, and a little terrifying. We have seen one traffic light, a few traffic cops who don't seem that interested in traffic, and a lot of traffic circles. Traffic flows remarkably well in what I could only describe as beautiful chaos. Motorcycles compete with auto-rickshaws (little three wheelers that are used for everything from taxi to dumptruck, seriously...), cars, and the ever present cows, as shown in the picture. At intersections, there seems to be a clear pecking order, usually the vehicle that would do more damage getting right of way, but every now and then a surge of motorcycles and scooters will break through the main flow of traffic until that side street empties enough that a break in flow can be exploited by the main flow again. And yet it works.
Cars and motorcycles will be three deep in one lane, and passing sometimes requires borrowing some of the oncoming lane. We've only seen one fender bender between a scooter and a car, and the damage was minor. You don't see traffic jams though, and it's always flowing, and you get to wherever you need to go in a reasonable manner. It's just all at 20mph. Horns are used to encourage people to move a little to the left so you can come through. They are used for saying I'm coming through so pay attention, as my car will not feel good when it greets you. They are used to say, "Mr. Cow, do you really think it's a good idea to sleep in the middle of my lane?" It is also for saying "hello, I'm still here, please don't veer two inches to the right or your handlebar will scratch my paint". Horns are popular all day and all night, they love to use them, and the sounds of the city never sleep.
The city is growing very fast, and new construction is everywhere. The government of the state of Gujarat is very business friendly, so engineers and skilled workers are coming to Rajkot, as it is a center of smaller industry, and anyone with the education, will, and a little money can make a good life here. So many of our hosts have taken us to their factories, and they are my age. The opportunities for engineers in a developing country are amazing, and it makes me wistful that I was unable to apply my engineering degree in such a manner.
We have been treated like celebrities here. We were interviewed by the number one station in the city, Big FM yesterday. And today, while touring a government run crafts store, we were interviewed by a national TV network, so apparently we will be on the air this evening! We also made today's evening paper, as we interviewed the owner yesterday, and he interviewed us. It's been a tremendous experience so far, and it's been four days!
The tolerance of the people of Rajkot is worth mentioning. They have driven us around a lot, and have shown us so much, always falling behind schedule because we like to ask questions, and yet I've never seen them, or anyone get angry or frustrated. There is a peaceful acceptance of it all that I hope becomes engrained in me. There is no road rage, no anxiety, no anger.
Well, I think we are about to go to dinner, so I'll wrap up. I don't have time to review, so hopefully this all makes sense. Next post I'll try to say something about the food! We leave Rajkot tomorrow for Porbandar, and we'll be stopping along the way in a large forest preserve, where the last Asiatic Lions live. It never occured to me that we would be seeing lions in the wild, and we are just getting started! Please keep checking back, and leave us feedback on our stories. We'd like to know if anyone is reading. :-)
Blake and team

January 6, 2010

Running on Happiness...

As we've mentioned, the people in Rajkot have been overwhlemingly gracious. We've visited many temples, a meditation center, factories and other businesses. We also visisted a girls' school where nearly all 1,400 students who live on site in hostels rushed to see us. I have beautiful video of this, which I'll try to upload later today. So far, the connection has not allowed us to upload vidoes, but I have plenty to share upon our return.

This week has been especially interesting for those of us with vocations in communications, as we've met with some of the cities' most well established TV, radio and print journalists. One of our hosts arranged for an interview on Big FM, which is slated to air multiple times today. Great PR for this incredible GSE program.

The Rotarians of Rajkot invited us to speak last night. As always, they were warm and welcoming, adorning us in fresh garlands, providing us with banners and gifts, and allowing us to share about our wonderful city of Atlanta and our professions - sporting goods, consulting, journalism and public relations.

Today our team contiues our tour of Rajkot with my host family Amish and Karin (and their sons Shiv and Neev). Amish is a member of Rotary Midtown (in Rajkot), and his club plans to show us many of their recent projects, like the city dam, the dolls museum, etc.

As tired as we may be, we cannot afford to blink with so many wonderful people, places and experiences that await us each day. It's as if we're running on happiness - the happiness that exudes from the people of Rajkot. They embody service above self. The more we learn about the people and culture in India (and the more we eat - food here is incredible), the more we realize how difficult it will be to leave.

January 5, 2010

Busy in Rajkot

We have been too busy to write in Rajkot! Our days have been filled from morning to night with the most amazing sights and opportunities. We have visited several factories including Atul Auto and Rolex Rings. We have eaten fantastic meals at very nice restaurants like Motel the Village, where we also watched an entertaining puppet show. Yesterday we visited Big FM and today we will go back for an on-air interview. Most of all, we have enjoyed the company of our host familes and the Rajkot Rotary presidents and club members. They are the most gracious hosts, and we can't thank them enough for their kindness. Actually, maybe we can thank them enough, because they keep telling us to stop thanking them :). I hope to later on today download some more pictures onto the blog if there is time. Tonight we give our first presentation to all the Rotary Clubs in Rajkot.

January 3, 2010

Monday Morning


It's Monday morning and we are about to start our first morning in Rajkot with our gracious hosts. I haven't posted yet, so I wanted to talk a bit about our trip in, and hopefully I don't duplicate much with my teammates. We left Atlanta around noon on New Years and flew to Detroit. The flight was uneventful, save for a snorer next to Whitney sleeping off the night's revelling. After a brief layover, and de-icing the plane, we were off to Amsterdam. I couldn't sleep, and I was in good company, as most everyone had a hard time sleeping, except Amy who could sleep through a war.

We arrived in Amsterdam around 4 in the morning local time, and everything was closed, save for a few little eateries. We boarded around 10AM, and there was an additional level of security at our gate, as this was the origin of the Christmas terrorist. It took about an hour to get through this, despite already being in the airport. The second to last leg, to Mumbai, was where everyone finally crashed and got sleep. I managed about five hours. Thankfully, Delta/Northwest had an abundant selection of free movies to entertain. Just when we thought we were in the home stretch, we exited into India, and another 3 1/2 hour layover with little to do, since it was 2AM. It was definitely disorienting to fly through two nighttimes.

The flight from Mumbai to Rajkot (pronounced Raj-coat), was about two hours, on a rather large twin prop commuter plane, and it actually had the best food of the trip, with vegetarian Indian food, which had a little kick to it, and the textures and flavors were excellent. Didn't hurt that it was the nicest, most accomodating flight crew yet, either. We got little lemon juice drinks that were really sweet, and salty. The after dinner mints were like a tiny bag of mint and licorice flavored sunflower seeds. Strange, but good.

We exited the airplane and it was definitely a different environment. It was snowing big fat snow flakes in Amsterdam as the sun was coming up, and here with the dawn just breaking, it was warm and humid. On the edge of the tarmac facing the dark perimeter of the airfield was a guard with an assault rifle that had seen better days. It was a reminder that this part of the world also deals with terrorism. In a lighter moment, Amy tried to take a picture of us and the airplane, and the guard, who had only been looking at us curiously, suddenly scolded Amy in loud 'No's!'. Bill, our team lead, then informed us that you aren't aloud to take pictures of the planes for security reasons. As Amy has already spoken about our reception, I won't get into to great of detail, but we were overwhelmed with hospitality and welcome, and we took many pictures with the banner, and our fragrant flower necklaces, and our new hosts. We packed our bags into a large Mahindra SUV, and split up for the ride to our hotel. Bill pointed out several cows along the way, before deciding aloud he was going to stop pointing out cows now.

The drive itself was a little terrifying, as the driver swerved in and out, using the whole road, while honking away and dodging motorcycles, trikes and the ubiquitous cows that seem to roam the streets like stray dogs, unaffected by the crush of humanity. We passed a dusty open park, and even in the weak light, people were playing cricket. I hope we get to take in a match, and someone can explain it to us. The hotel was a short drive from the airport, and we were sat down in the lobby for chai tea, and our hosts welcomed us again, and explained what we were going to be doing over the next couple days. We were given the whole day to rest in order to be, as Bandu Sharma said, 'springy' today. I think I cumulatively got over 12 hours of sleep, and we feel pretty good today, so it was well spent.

Well, we are about to begin our day, so I'd better wrap this up. Hopefully we'll be able to keep y'all well informed. I think I've already written 10 pages in my journal, and it's been an amazing experience so far, and I'm sure it will continue to impress.

Take care,


Fresh off plane in Rajkot. Greeted by District 3060 representatives at Hotel Evershine.

Warm welcome

WarmWelcome When we arrived in Rajkot, the first city on our tour, we received the most incredible welcome. Representatives from District 3060 held a banner and placed fragrant flowers around our necks. We posed for pictures outside and then rode by car to Hotel Evershine, where we will stay and rest today. The ride over came us our first glimpse of the city and India. Wow! This is certainly nothing like America. When we arrived at the hotel, PDG Kulbandhu “Bandhu” Sharma gave us a welcome speech over coffee. Now we each Bandhu are in our separate rooms to rest. Our morning starts at 8 a.m.tomorrow. We have three vocational visits: Rolex Bearing, Atul Auto and Field Marshal. We will also enjoy kite flying in the evening and dinner with members of the Rotary Club of Rajkot. I can’t wait to see the city.

Also, I am hoping to upload the four videos we have taken but have had no luck so far.