I was fortunate to work with the rescued sloth bears at Wildlife SOS in Agra, India this summer with Rustic Pathways. WSOS works across India rescuing animals from inhumane conditions. They also track wildlife crimes and rehabilitate communities. This was Rustic’s first year to offer the program. We had 13 students students over two weeks volunteering at the bear sanctuary.
For centuries, the Kalandar people have been training bears to dance and perform on the streets. The young bears are poached from their mothers and sold to the Kalandar people, who would use brutal training techniques. The bears would be controlled by a short rope. They would walk on hot pavement all day, have children sit on their backs and stand on two legs weaving their head to music. The Wildlife Protection Act in 1972 made the possession and dancing of sloth bears illegal. With the help of WSOS, the practice has been eliminated from India. Currently WSOS offers a sanctuary to over 270 bears on their 160+ acre property. WSOS provides many opportunities for the Kalandar people, including jobs at the sanctuary, education and skill training. Their work with rehabilitating the Kalandar community has been instrumental in eliminating the ancient practice of dancing bears.
These gorgeous sloth bears live in the comfort of enclosed dens and large outdoor pens. A camel delivers porridge, honey and fresh fruit to the dens three times a day. The sloth bear bows his head over his silver dish and slurps the porridge quickly. After 30 seconds or so, the dish is spotless and the sound of satisfied bears echo from their dens. Long purrs fill the room as the bears digest.
These bears will spend their afternoons lounging, swimming and playing. A few dens even have hammocks made of burlap. Their keepers design enrichment activities to encourage their natural instincts to dig, forage and climb. The den with the blind bears is dotted with bells to serve as a map for them. Our students designed their own creative activities for the bears, including fruit popsicles, large climbing structures and wobbly boxes. All in all the two weeks were an incredible opportunity to learn from the premier animal conservation organization in India and to meet these extraordinary creatures.
Last Sunday I photographed the wild-card playoff game between the Bengals and Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium with my talented colleague, Glenn Hartong. Both Glenn and I are not dedicated sports shooters. Okay that is an understatement. Glenn shot his last game 18 years ago and this was my third football game. I was fortunate that the first two were NFL games (Bengals + Packers). From tailgating to sitting in the end zone, I was full of energy and hope. Unfortunately, the game was not filled with big plays and the Bengals were defeated 26-10. While Glenn and I were preparing for this game, he kept reminding me that we need to stick to our strength of making storytelling images. And we did just that. So if you are looking for images of some sad pups, this is the blog post for you.
Thanks for looking!
A big thanks to the folks at The Indy Star for being so hospitable and helpful. And another thank you to my colleague, Glenn, for his constant advice, support + photos.
Cincinnati officially welcomed the holiday season this weekend at Macy’s Light Up the Square event. The Naked Karate Girls played for a crowd of thousands, including hundreds of ice skaters on the U.S. Bank Ice Rink.
The amazing family we constructed the toilet for this summer
Meet Sonya’s family. Sonya is the beautiful 21 year-old in the bottom right photo. Our students helped their family construct a toilet in front of their house this summer. The father of the house is a mason, who has helped Rustic Pathways build toilets for other families in his neighborhood. We worked closely with the family. Sonya often encouraged the students to carry less dirt because she didn’t want them to get hurt. The students would laugh and keep filling their buckets to the brim. They wanted to see the toilet be completed because they knew how important this toilet would be for the family, especially the women.The hard work and determination of these students was inspiring. The family could not be more thankful and offered the students chai and cookies twice before noon each day.
My first trip of the summer was Service in Clouds, a two-week program in Dharamsala. Our group of 13 students lived with Tibetan host families, practiced yoga every morning, listened to activists, made prayer flags and worked with Tibetan refugees as conversation partners. It was amazing to see this group of diverse students come together in such a short period of time. Every night one of the students would write in a group journal about their thoughts on the day. Serafina, a very talented writer from New Mexico, wrote this in the journal on our third day:
India is a woman of complex beauty and intrigue. She knows how to integrate her way into hearts through constant beeping and sweat and the relief of mango juice dribbling down greedy chins. She is a woman, a country, of exquisitely exotic attractiveness. But here, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas with her perilous slopes and mesmerizing greenery, India becomes a spiritual woman. She sits quietly as the night stills and the stars appear as she counts the beads in her mala while listening to broken English mixing with a distant baritone from the Indian wedding across the valley. She spins ornate prayer wheels through the grit of her tanned but corrupted shoulders and she dances in the wind with the company of her sun bleached prayer flags, offerings she calls friends. She has taken me to her breast, offered me the sweet aroma of chai and spice and domesticity, and gripped my fingers so tightly that they have become calloused and proud. She has pulled at my hair and bitten my skin with bugs and wit, and has taught me to be to be grateful, to be in awe, and to keep asking questions. She is someone, a very beautiful woman, who I wish to wake up to in the future.
These are photos from their first week in McLeod Ganj.
My fruit man, who greeted me every morning by waving and yelling “Mongo! Mongo!” I thought we had a thing going and I gushed to my friends that he had a nickname for me. Divya plainly pointed out that he was just selling mangoes.
Serafina and Chris work with their Tibetan conversation partners.
Whitney creates her own prayer flag that will be displayed outside the Dalai Lama Temple.
The view of the Himalayas from the roof of my guesthouse
Sunday Soccer at the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV)
A little laughing yoga
Left: Tenzin Tsundue, a poet and Tibetan activist, shares his life story with students. Tenzin famously protested Wen Jiabao, the 6th Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, by waving the Tibetan flag and a “Free Tibet” sign on top of the building across from Jiabo’s hotel room, when he visited Bangalore in 2005. He was arrested for this protest. Tenzin will wear the red band around his head until Tibet is free.
Right: Ven. Bagdro, a Tibetan Buddhist monk and former political prisoner, practices throat singing as a form of prayer. He has overcome so much, including months of intense interrogation in prison, but harbors no anger. Ven. is a champion for the Free Tibet movement and is recognized around the world. When Demi Moore came to Dharamsala, she met Ven. He proudly showed me a selfie they took together.
Serafina gets ready for the Tibetan night in a traditional outfit with the help of her host sister.
On the roof
Mama Toshi prays with the Maltese beads
Inside the meditation room of a traditional Tibetan home
Rachael dances with her host sister at the end of the traditional Tibetan evening.
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to photograph a rally for Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic Senate candidate for Kentucky, with special guest Hillary Clinton. A few hundred people attended the event at the Bank of Kentucky Center at Northern Kentucky University on the snowy Saturday morning. If Grimes wins tomorrow, she will make Kentucky history by being their first female Senator.
Left: Ten year-old Allyson Fletcher of Erlanger, holds a sign at a rally to support Alison Lundergan Grimes. Right: Marlene Wilmot Gerding,77, awaits Alison Lundergan Grimes and Hillary Clinton with her collector’s hat that she bought during the 2008 presidential election.