Rotary and Polio

•March 4, 2010 • 3 Comments

Few people I know ever think about polio. That makes sense. Natural polio has not occurred in the Americas since 1979. Remember all those shots you got when you were a kid? One of those series of shots was a polio vaccination, so you’re probably pretty safe. However, the world is not completely polio free. Four countries currently are reported to have endemic polio: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and (you guessed it) India. Before I continue, let’s take a break to learn a little about this dreaded disease.

Polio is caused by a virus that lives in the intestines and human feces. It is generally transferred orally (changing diapers, not washing hands effectively, infected food, etc). Mild symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting and fatigue. Serious symptoms include severe headache, stiff neck/back and muscle pain. The most severe cases of polio may see victims suffering from muscle paralysis, respitory failure, and difficulty swallowing. There are treatments for those suffering from the disease. Antibiotics are used for secondary infections. Analgesics are taken for pain. Patients are also instructed on proper diet and exercise to help ease suffering. While there is no cure, the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” can be interpreted literally in the case of polio. Vaccinations, given as four scheduled injections before the age of six, are basically 100% effective in preventing the disease.

While we don’t really think about polio much, it is a major concern of people in the aforementioned countries. If only someone or some organization would step up and lead the charge to rid the world of this scourge. *Trumpet Sounds* Rotary to the rescue!!!

Starting in 1985, Rotary began the PolioPlus program with the goal of eradicating polio. Besides raising funds, over one million men and women of Rotary have donated their time and personal resources to help immunize nearly 2 billion children during National Immunization Days (NID) throughout the world. We actually got the opportunity to participate in one of these NIDs while in India. It was a day I won’t ever forget.

National Immunization Day

This polio vaccination may literally save this child's life.

I can’t continue this post without first mentioning the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The organization has donated over $355 million to help the fight against polio! In 2009, Rotary pledged to raise $200 million in matching funds within three years.

“We are making this grant and asking you to raise a total of $200 million by June 30, 2012, because we know eradication doesn’t come in an instant,” Bill Gates said. “If we all have the fortitude to see this effort through to the end, then we will eradicate polio.”

I just went to the website and donated $25. I am making a challenge to all of my friends, family, coworkers, and kiddos to at the very least match my donation. $25 is a small sacrifice to make to say that you were a part of only the second time a disease in humans has been eradicated (smallpox was the other).
Post a comment after you’ve donated! Here’s the link…

Donate Now!

When Rotary started the PolioPlus program, more than 350,000 children worldwide were infected annually by this crippling and sometimes fatal disease. In 2008, fewer than 2,000 children were infected, a reduction of more than 99 percent. Eradication clearly is within reach—but polio remains a threat until the day the world is certified polio-free.

End Polio Now

Thelton Hughes at the Taj Mahal

•February 13, 2010 • 4 Comments

Thel at the Taj

My last week

•February 11, 2010 • 5 Comments

My last week began with me and Jason meeting our new host, Ramlingam-“Rama” for short on Tuesday morning. Our first mission, a Rotary meeting. Afterwards, Jason and I went to Rama’s car to head to the home of Jaya, Linda and Sandra’s new host. Unfortunately, the car wouldn’t start-dead battery. We hopped in a taxi (very cheap here,  like $2.00 to get anywhere in town) and headed to Jaya’s. That evening we had another short meeting. Neither Jason nor I enjoyed the food served at the meeting so our cool new host took us to the Royal Calcutta Club for Chinese food. We had a long talk with him about Arkadelphia, Arkansas, and the USA. Rama knows a lot about India AND America.
On Wednesday morning, we headed to a village to visit a school. Rotary has provided gifts for the children. We passed out pencils and pencil boxes to dozens of kids. One class has 70 students-shoulder to shoulder! Every child told me thank you, individually. From there we headed to another school, this one a private school in central Calcutta called MCKV. We sat in on a wonderful music assembly with a choir and percussion ensemble playing “unconventional music”-that is music created from things not typically thought of as musical instruments. They were great! An Indian lunch was served at the school. After eating, we talked to the school headmaster. 80% of the students enrolled are first generation students. That was nice to hear. Hopefully the gap between the haves and have nots will start to shrink soon. Rama noticed that we didn’t eat much at lunch, so he took us to get a snack…at PIZZA HUT! Did I mention how cool Rama is? After our snack; me, Jason, Steve and Rama went to work out at Rama’s gym. I’ve gained 4 kgs since I’ve been here, so it was needed. I ran on the treadmill until  my legs burned- 30 minutes. We showered and went to Jaya’s for chicken. Jason started to feel sick to his stomach. Uh-oh. Back to Rama’s for sleep.
     3:00 a.m. 
“Thelton wake up”. 
“What is it, Jason?”
“Do you have any medicine? I’ve been puking all night.”
“Yeah, here’s my medicine. Take whatever you need.”
So Jason decided to take Thursday off. It probably was a good idea, because it was one of our least productive days. First we went to a financial institution that deals with investments. None of us found this remotely interesting. It was planned as a vocational visit, but none of us are in this field-not even close. They did however serve us some good Chinese food. We’ve found Chinese food to be universally liked by us and Indians, so to avoid Indian food, we often request Chinese. After lunch, we went a modern art museum. It was meh. Afterwards, we headed to the Indian Museum. It looked like it was built in 1965, not finished, and not updated. Three strikes-but the day got better. Steve and I headed to Gold’s Gym and I got a full body massage for $10. I was still a little sore from working out so it was needed. However, the highlight of the day, and maybe the entire trip was dinner with Rama and his family. Rama’s wife, Sujatha, made me (Jason was still resting) homemade pizza. They were delicious. 
As good as the food was though, the best part of the night was the family. Rama and Sujatha have three children. Let’s meet them…
Harshith: male/12- Harshith looks at the world with amazement. Things that might go unnoticed by us fascinate him. Harshith’s life goal: championship table tennis player, or maybe a pilot.
Shreya: female/12- Shreya is Harshith’s twin sister. She is extremely confident and idealistic. A natural leader, Shreya has no problems telling you how she feels. Life goal: environmental journalist.
Kavya: female/17- Popular and charismatic, Kavya excels in school. Her siblings look up to her and she accepts her responsibility as a role model. At school, Kavya is vice-captain of her house and an accomplished dancer. Life goal: ???
Talking with the kids that night may turn out to be my favorite memory of the trip. They were fascinated about the differences between India and the USA. I read my “random thoughts” posts to them. The head bobble thing surprised them. It’s something that they didn’t even think about, but they realize that everyone does it. We stayed up until 11:30 on this school night and could have kept going for several more hours. More about them a little later.
Friday morning. Jason is better, but still a little weak so he decided to chill at the house again. The agenda for the morning included a trip to a science museum. After Thursday’s museum fiasco, we were all a little nervous. However, to our surprise, the museum was great. It was similar to Mid-America Museum in Hot Springs. We even got to walk through a mock coal mine.  Then it was time for lunch at the Calcutta Club. They’re starting to recognize our faces now. After lunch, we visited the Mother Theresa charitable home. It’s basically an orphanage. Parents who are unable or unwilling to care for their newborns leave them here, forfeiting any parental rights. We got to pass out chocalates and play with the little ones on their playground. They loved being picked up. We spent the next two hours resting up at Jaya’s. We watched a really bad American movie, then went to a Rotary meeting to say farewell to the district governor. We all said a few words thanking everyone. Linda and Sandra cried. We took the party to yet another club for dinner. A recovered Jason joined us. Fun times, good food, great friends.
Saturday was a day of rest. There was nothing on the schedule until the evening. I organized my luggage during the morning. Then it was family time. Rama asked me to give the kids a math problem. I introduced them to “the locker problem” (you math teachers out there know what I’m referring to). Harshith said, “Maths in Arkansas is difficult”. After lunch, the kids introduced me to DTTT, Dining Table Table Tennis. Basically, we cleared off the glass, oval dining table and put various containers across the middle to form a makeshift “net”. Then we brought out the paddles and ping pong balls. We played all afternoon. It was USA vs India. At first, neither myself nor Jason could beat Harshith. Finally I defeated him-twice. I think he took it easy on me although he denies this. After DTTT, we watched a Hindi DVD with Steve’s host family. “Wake Up, Sid” was meh. By the way, I’ve taught the kids here about “meh”. They vow to spread it across India. One more day to go.
On Sunday Morning, we woke up super early for National Immunization Day. We got a chance to give polio vaccinations to kids all over Calcuta. We wished we could have done more, but it was pretty well organized, so they had all the help they needed. Lunch was at a mall. KFC! We went back home to Rama’s where we had supper that night. Kavya said the sweetest thing. She said that when she first met me, she thought, “Here we go again. More foreign guests staying with us. Be nice. Smile.” Then she said, “But with you and Jason, we just keep smiling and it’s not forced.” Thanks Rama, Sujatha, Kavya, Harshith and Shreya for being unbelievable hosts. We will stay in touch.
Although Calcuta is behind us, our India trip is not over. We’ve set aside a few days to travel to Agra to see the Taj Majal! I’ll let you guys know about that along with my final thoughts in my next blog. Stay tuned.       

The Goyal’s

•February 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It’s been awhile so I’ll give quick updates on what we’ve been doing. On Thursday night, we had dinner at the Bengal club with all of our new families. I like my host, Dr. Naresh Goyal. He’s pretty busy, so he needed to leave early. That was great because I got home before midnight. On Friday, we all hopped on a train and went to a village to visit a Rotary project-The Piyali School. The all girls school began a couple of years ago and the main draw at the time was the two free meals. Now girls are wanting to come because of the education. I got another chance to teach a 4th grade math class. I gave them the “magic square” problem. Two girls figured it out. I was impressed. After leaving the village, we all rode an auto-rickshaw. What were we thinking? The drivers follow their own rules. They were weaving in and out of traffic. It was scary, but a little fun too. We stopped at another limb hospital that Rotary set up. They create and provide artificial limbs for people who have lost limbs to accidents or disease. We saw someone take his first steps with his new foot. After the hospital, we relaxed before heading out again to a concert. Shujaat Khan is a master of the sitar. He was really good. After the concert, we had dinner at a restaurant called the Conclave. We were honored with a visit from Shujaat Khan himself. He was actually staying in Kolkata with our Rotarian host for the night. It was awesome.
On Saturday morning we headed out to the horsetrack. That’s right. It’s derby season in Kolkata. We saw four races. I bet on all four. I won the first, but lost all the others. I broke even. After the races, we had tea at the Floatel, a floating hotel on the River Hooghly. Then it was off to another concert. This one wasn’t near as impressive as the previous one. After the concert, we had dinner with my host, Dr. Goyal, at teh Calcutta Club. When I got home, there was a party going on at one of the upstairs apartment. I was invited, so I went and partied with everyone for about an hour. This ended a very long Saturday.
After my Sunday morning breakfast, we were treated to a picnic on the outskirts of town. We had a traditional Indian lunch with rice, roti, dal, and aloo. One of our Rotarians needed to make a stop on the way back into town. The stop was at a dog pound!!! I didn’t even think they existed in Kolkata because of all the stray dogs I’ve seen. This pound takes in injured or sick dogs. Also, there’s a pet cemetary on the site. People who have lost their dogs can come bury them with a little placard that serves as a tombstone. It’s done free of charge, but most people leave a donation. It was nice to see, but some of the dogs were in rough conditions. We left and went to Linda and Sandra’s host’s home. I took a much needed nap. On Sunday night, we had dinner at Kunal’s-Jason’s former host. They served the best chicken I’ve had in Kolkata.
On Monday, we were dropped off at Park Street and left to our own devices. This was great. Park Street has several shops and restaurants, including McDonald’s, KFC, and Flurry’s-where we had a morning brunch. I purchased a new pair of glasses too! That afternoon, me and Steve went to the Forum (a mall) and watched Sherlock Holmes. We had dinner at our host families’ homes.

Our time here is winding down. I’ll try to update as much as possible, but I’m not sure about my internet access. If I only can update a little at a time, I may choose to post on my twitter account-which you can read at the right column of this blog. See you soon people.

Dil bole hadippa!

Random Thoughts 3 with updates!!!

•January 31, 2010 • 2 Comments

It’s time to try to tackle the servant situation. By far,
this has been the most difficult concept for us to grasp and it
will be equally difficult to explain. Let me begin by saying that
we’ve encountered many differences between the Indian culture and
our won. We were somewhat prepared for this. We’re all pretty open
minded people, and I ask that you approach this topic with an open
mind as well. First, let’s start with a brief history lesson. In
the beginnings of the Hindu religion, people were born into
different “castes”, which is basically a class system. Those born
into the priestly caste were given the best jobs, lived in the
nicest homes and held the highest honor. Below the priestly caste
were several different levels. Those born in the lowest caste, the
servants, were not as honored. Every caste had certain rules
ranging from professional-like how to do your job, to personal-like
who you can and can’t marry. If you broke the rules, you risk
becoming an “outcaste”. You were given the worst jobs and it was
very dishonorable. Living a good life meant the possibility of
being reincarnated in a higher caste. A bad life was punished with
being reborn into a lower caste. This whole system changed during
India’s fight for independance. Laws were made that forbade
discrimination based on castes. Today it’s quite common to see the
people from different castes intermingling in everyday life, even
in marriage. Now, let’s move on. Every home we’ve stayed in so far
has had what is commonly referred to as “domestic help”. There are
usually three to six at any given household. Some helpers work 12
hour days and some work 24 hours. The full time workers have some
space set aside at the home to sleep. It could be a room, but we’ve
seen helpers sleeping on the kitchen floor. Most of these workers
come from one of the outlying villages of Kolkata. They are
generally uneducated (as far as formal schooling is concerned) and
speak no English. Working as domestic help represents major
employment opportunites for village people as well as those living
in “slums”. Usually, in well to do homes, there is a male known as
a “driver”. He’s basically a chauffeur. Drivers are usually paid
more than other helpers. They make up to $2.00 a day. When the boss
wants to go somewhere, the driver stays with the car, even if it’s
an all day affair. The boss is responsible for any tolls or parking
fees. There is various household help. These are usually females,
but not always. They’re three main types: cleaners, nannies and
cooks. They are paid $0.50 to $1.00 a day. In addition to household
chores, it is common for these helpers to walk or ride with the
driver to the market for various supplies. It is common to see a
female cleaner as young as twelve years of age. There are also
various other helpers such as watchmen, gardeners or lift men
(elevator operators). They’re also paid $0.50 to $1.00 a day for
their services. We saw one situation where a driver was married to
a household cleaner. They never got a chance to see each other
unless they had a situation where the cleaner was being driven
somewhere. We also saw a male cook who was married and lived with
his boss, but his wife stayed at their home and took care of the
children whom he rarely had a chance to see. So far, except for the
pay and the hours, this doesn’t sound too weird. But then there’s
the issue of social status. Domestic helpers rarely speak unless
spoken to. They don’t join in at meals. Actually, we haven’t seen a
single servant sit on any of the household furniture. You generally
don’t hear people saying thank you to the domestic help. There is a
cultural act done here where you touch a person’s knees to show
deep thanks. We’ve seen it done at Rotary meetings and in homes. I
asked if this was ever done to servants. “NO!” was the answer, with
a chuckle at my apparent childlike innocence. It was explained that
you don’t do that to someone who is “beneath” you. I also asked
several people that we’ve met if it would be okay for a regular
person to marry his/her sevant. The answer, “No. It’s just not
done.” One last thought about social standing. We were at a party
with several upper class Indians. We told them about how the
servant situation is tough for us to grasp. I posed this
hypothetical to them… Clearly the masses
of poor, uneducated people in India is a major issue here. If a
magic wand could be waved and all the poor people suddenly became
educated people who somehow made a decent wage thus propelling
India as the world’s number one economy with everyone enjoying a
high standard of living; however, with that, there would be no more
domestic help, would you want the wand to be waved?

Of the six people, only one of them said yes. The
others thought that they would not be willing to give up their
domestic help. Now let’s look at it from a different point of view.
India has about 1.2 billion people. The job market simply cannot
employ that many people. Most jobs, including jobs at McDonalds,
Subway and KFC, don’t pay much more than $2.00 a day and are very
scarce. If not for these domestic helper jobs, most of the servants
would undoubtably be unemployed. As a matter of fact, they are
welcome to quit at any point. Most don’t. Working in homes provides
these servants with at least one meal, and in some casses, housing
and maybe even health care. With the average Indian family bringing
home less than $10 a day, working as domestic help can contribute
significantly to the family income. The GSE team has had
discussions about whether or not we would employ our own helpers if
we lived here. What do you think? Would you?

Random Thoughts 3 with updates!!!

•January 30, 2010 • 2 Comments

Although it is considered rude to talk on cell phones during meetings, we see it done all the time. We’ve even seen it done by people who are speaking at the meeting. They just excuse themselves for a second and chat away.

When most people drink from water bottles, they dont put their lips on the bottle. They do a “waterfall”.

Most toilets have two butons for flushing. One is for a small flush; the other-a big flush.

I’ve not seen a bromm like the ones at home. The brooms here resemble the wicked witch of the west broom, only much shorter.

People like to keep a clean house. We even see people living in shacks with dirt floors sweeping out their homes to keep them clean.

It is quite customary to cut in line. It’s not considered rude. It’s just what you do.

When driving, sometimes people will turn off headlights, even at night, to conserve energy. They also turn off engines when idling.

I think I mentioned this earlier. Movies in theatres have at least one intermission. It’s unannonced and intended to allow the audience to get snacks. Sometimes the snacks are brought into the theatre similar to the dudes selling peanuts at a baseball game.

In several restaurants, we’ve had ice cream served from a box. It is cut with a knife into rectangles and served on a saucer.

No one knokws what Dr. Pepper is.

Some people haven’t heard of Wal-Mart. Most people have heard of it, but aren’t real sure what it is.

We’ve not seen a mop. The floors are cleaned daily with a wet wash rag.

If you ask fo a a soda, you’ll get soda water. You must ask for a soft drink. They’re often served in glass bottles that are returned for recycling.

You can get a large 1 liter Aquafina water for 25 cents.

Soft drink cans are slightly smaller than home. They also have another even smaller size that resembles a Red Bull can.

I mentioned in an earlier post how belching is accepted. Well, apparently another bodily function is accepted too!

I’ve had more coffee and beer here than I’ve had my entire life. When you’re offered a drink, it’s considered rude to not accept.

The most popular American cartoon here–Tom & Jerry.

It’s common to see men holding hands and although homosexuality was legalized in India a few back, this is not necessarily a romantic gesture.


Since the first random thoughts, some of them need some updating.

We’ve seen our first bathtub. They’re still quite rare here, but they do exist.

You can indeed get black tea and black coffee. Black tea is called “liquor tea”. Some Indians prefer them this way.

My current home has a washer and dryer. My last home has a washer only.

The cute head bobble means either “yes” or “okay”…we think. It could also mean “no”.

There may inded be three McDonalds in the city. Still none of them serve beef. They do have McVeggie burgers though.

That’s it for now. I’m still working on my post about servants. It’s taking longer than I thought, plus I want to get input from the others and our time together is limited. Hopefully, it’ll be up soon.

Masala Aloo!

My radio believe me I like it loud!

•January 28, 2010 • 5 Comments

Saturday was another good day. We began by visiting the headquarters of 93.5 FM, the largest radio station in Kolkata. We got a chance to meet some of the on-air talent. It was probabl the most technologically impressive place we’ve seen here. We almost had a chance to be interviewed live, but it was time for lunch at the Moody’s. Classic Bengali curisine! After lunch, we took a much needed afternoon break at our host families’ home. Jason and I watched a movie with Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson and Malcolm McDowell. Neither of us knew this movie existied and we still don’t know the name of it. Can anyone help us out?
That night we went to the Calcutta Club for its annual International Food Festival. There was supposedly food from all over the world. Of course we headed straight for the USA tent, more out of curiosity than a eed to satisfy our jonesing for beef. The American menu: mutton burger, Kentucky style fried chicken, and potato chips. Hmmm. I guess it stands to reason that they wouldn’t have beef, but mutton? They could have had a chicken sandwich or something. Of course the “Kentucky style fried chicken” was not very accurate. Like many of the tents, the American food was the Indianized version. I had the UK fish and chips. It was meh. They skimped on the fries. I was disappointed that there was no Mexico tent. However, the frozen treats at the Antarctica tent made up for it. Overall they did a good job with the festival. Oh, and there was a pretty good cover band from Sri Lanka. They even covered Arrested Development’s Everyday People. After the festival, we were tired and ready for sleep…so of course our hosts took us to a nightclub-Club Venom. It was nice and like I said in an earlier post, it was very reminiscent of an American nightclub. Finally at 2:00, we got home for sleep.
On Sunday, it was time to join our new families. We all met at a Rotary meeting. The club is Belvedere Gardens. My family consists of Kamalesh, his wife Susmita and their two sons-Kanad and Kibir. Very nice people. After resting at their house during the afternoon, we had dinner at Steve’s host family’s house.
We had a great discussion about Indian politics-particularly Jyoti Basu.
On Monday morning, we visited Jadavpur University. They have a department that is devoted to studying climate change and its effect on Kolkata. They’re also concerned with air and water pollution. Visit their website at It was time to eat, so we went to Flurry’s a popular Continental restaurant. Continental means that they serve more than just Indian foods. Unfortunately, the wait was going to be an hour, so we just skipped across the street to McDonald’s. Yes! Now I must explain something. We had told each club that we wanted to see Avatar. None of us had a chance to see it in the theatres in the states and it probably wouldn’t be around when we returned, so we thought this was a decent request. Up until now, no one has been able to make it happen. Finally this club came through. We went to a local theatre and saw the 3-D version. Movies in India are different than in the states. They had no previews. Also, every movie has an intermission in the middle. They actually bring snacks into the theatre for you to purchase during intermission. Also, the concessions are much cheaper. I got a 500 ml Diet Coke for less than a dollar. After Avatar we went to yet another Rotary club meeting. I liked it because it was short and sweet. Afterwards, we had dinner at my host family’s home. ZZZZZ.
On Tuesday, this club came through for us again. At Sunday’s dinner, I mentioned that we have seen some very nice things in Kolkata, but it would be quite nice to be able to go to a slum. It seems that some of the clubs were maybe uncomfortable showing them to us. Well the first thing we did on Tuesday was to visit a slum. Some of the richest families in the slum live on four dollars a day! When we pulled up our cars were surrounded by little kids. They didn’t beg for money or food, they just wanted to say hi. We took pictures and all of them wanted to see themselves on the camera. After leaving the slum, we went to a parade. January 26 is Republic Day in India. The local military, police and schools were all featured along with some cultural dancing. We left and headed to a picnic (which turned into another Rotary meeting; we’ve now given our presentation four times in the last three days). At the picnic, we played frisbee. The locals seemed to have fun. Then it was back home to rest before dinner at Sandra’s host. It was cool. We all got our palms read. Apparently, I’m an imaginitive thinker who will have a long life.
On Wednesday we had breakfast at a local golf club (Steve and Jason met there extra early to knock a few balls around). After breakfast we went to a local museum to learn the history of Kolkata. Lunch was at the swimming club. Then it was off to the Kolkata book festival-one of the largest book fairs in Asia. After the book fair, it was dinner at a Chinese restaurant called Bar-B-Que. It was quite good. This leads me to today. I’m using a laptop at my new home. My host is Dr. Naresh Goyal. We met today at, you guesed it, another Rotary meeting. I’m sure I’ll have more for you guys after tonight’s dinner. I still haven’t forgot that I promised a post about the servants. That issue is getting pretty interesting. Also, I have another Random Thoughts-with updates.

Jaya He!


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