Monday, September 30, 2013

PRAYING MANTISES

A few weeks ago, Mom opened the front door one morning so she could go out and get the newspaper.    And Mom was shocked to find a praying mantis on the glass storm door.  Right away Mom went and got her camera.  I think it was a Sunday morning when this happened because of course Sunday would be the best day for a mantis to pray!


Anyway, I'm not usually too interested in bugs, except for cicadas, and also June bugs, both of which I like to eat.  Cicadas are my very, very favorites, as I have told you before.  But I have never eaten a praying mantis, so I don't know how their flavor compares with that of cicadas. When Mom found the praying mantis, I was in the middle of a nice nap, so I didn't pay too much attention to it.  But Jason saw that Mom was taking pictures of something, and he went over to the door to check out what it was.  Then Jason decided he would like to catch the praying mantis and play with it and maybe eat it, but he couldn't do that because the glass was in the way.


So Mom took some pictures, and then she went and got the paper, and the praying mantis was still on the door.  But Mom shut the inside door so we couldn't see the mantis anymore.  And later it was gone, but we don't know where it went because it did not file a flight plan with us.

"My, what big, compound eyes I have!"

Okay, well, now I have done some in-depth research on praying mantises, and I am prepared to tell you a little bit about them.  Mantises belong to the insect order called Mantidae.  There are over 2,400 species worldwide in this order.  They live in temperate and tropical habitats.  Only 18 species are native to North America.  But the species we see most often are two that were actually introduced, the Chinese mantis and the European mantis.


These foreign species were brought here because people thought they would help get rid of bad bugs in their gardens.  But it turns our that mantises can't tell a good bug from a bad bug.  So they would just as soon eat a nice honey bee that is pollinating your flowers as they would a nasty caterpillar that is making holes in your cabbages.

Mantises are very good at camouflage.
Photo:  Tim Laman

Praying mantises have folded front legs that make it look like they are praying, so that's how they got their common name.  The scientific name Mantidae came from the Ancient Greek words mantis, which means "prophet" or "seer" and eidos, which means "form" or "type."

Praying mantis eating a cricket.
Photo:  Luc Viatour/www.Lucnix.be

Mantises are predatory, and they have spiked forelegs that are especially made for grabbing prey and holding onto it.  A baby mantis eats small things like flies or its own siblings.  As the mantis grows, it catches bigger and bigger insects.  Large mantises have been known to prey on small scorpions, lizards, frogs, birds, snakes, fish, and even rodents.

Mantis on fern fronds......or else riding a bicycle.
Photo:  Eco Suparman/CATERS NEWS
Malaysian Orchid Mantis
Photo:  Luc Viatour/www.Lucnix.be

Most mantises are ambush predators.  They camouflage themselves and spend long periods of time holding very still until something yummy comes along.  They can turn their heads 180º to get a good look at everything around them.  Also, they have two big compound eyes, with three simple eyes in between them.  So when some unlucky bug comes too close, the mantis reaches out, quick as a wink, and grabs it with its spiky legs.  If the prey doesn't resist, the mantis will usually eat it alive.  If it resists, the mantis eats the head first.  The praying mantis has jaws that can just slice and chew the prey, starting from one end or in the middle, whatever is most convenient.

Mantis threat display.
Photo:  CaPro

If a mantis feels threatened, it can make a big scary threat display by standing up tall and spreading its wings out really wide.  If that doesn't scare a predator away, the mantis can strike out with its front legs and try to pinch, bite, or slash at its captor.  The things that like to eat mantises include Scops owls, shrikes, bats, bullfrogs, chameleons, and milk snakes.

Mantises mating.  The brown one is the male.
Photo:  Zwentibold

A lot of people have heard that a praying mantis female will eat the head off a male while they are mating.  And sometimes this really happens.  It happens a lot in laboratories, where mantises feel kind of stressed.  Scientists think that in nature it only happens about 30% of the time, and maybe not even that often.

Egg case
Photo:  Hans Hillewaert

Anyway, I wouldn't mind sampling a praying mantis sometime to find out what it tastes like.  Jason is also interested in doing this, so we asked Mom if she could catch one for us next time she sees one.  But Mom says she thinks mantises are very creepy looking, with those pointy faces and great big eyes, and she certainly does not want to handle one.  Also, she said that if we tried to eat a praying mantis, it would probably bite us or slash us with its spiky legs.  Which is a good point, so I think I will just stick with cicadas!

Praying Mantis in Australia
Photo:  Fir0002



Friday, September 27, 2013

I AM ANDERSON! by Anderson, the Kitten

Of course Mom couldn't resist a face as cute as mine!

Piper might have mentioned me a couple of times when she was talking about Mom's foster kittens, but now I'm here to introduce myself properly.  I have a very good reason for doing this because -- guess what! -- I've been trying and trying to convince Mom to adopt me, and she finally did it!  Yep, she was the victim of something called Foster Failure, and now she owns five cats instead of four.  Later on, I will tell you how I cleverly managed to get Mom to adopt me, but first I will tell you the entire history of my life up till now.



Our family portrait.  That's me on the right.



I was born on April 22, 2013 under a bush in a park in Wyandotte County, Kansas.  Some teenagers found my mama giving birth, and they took her and all of us kittens to the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City, which is also in Wyandotte County.  Aunt Tania, who is in charge of All Things Cat at the Humane Society, agreed to take us in.  Luckily, it was still early enough in the Kitten Season, so she had space for us.







I was already adorable when I was
only two weeks old!
My eyes weren't open yet when I was at the shelter, so I don't really know what the cages looked like.  But I didn't care where I was, just as long as my mama was nearby and the milk bar was open for business.  I had four littermates, and they were all boys except for one.  Two of my brothers were gray and white, and the rest of us were more or less tabby, like our mama.

When we were two weeks old, we got to go home with our foster mom.  We slept in a nice, big cardboard box with soft blankies and a heating pad, and we stayed there for a couple of weeks until our mama decided she didn't want us in the box anymore, and she moved us to another part of the room.

I have many skills!

Meanwhile, each of us got a name of our very own, and the name I got was Anderson, which is a very fine name.  All of our names started with the letter A.  This is because Mom let her friend Rob pick out the names for us.  Uncle Rob lives far away, in a place called Los Angeles.  He can't have a kitten of his own because he is allergic to cats.  But he likes to read all about Mom's kittens, and he wanted to name a litter.  So Mom told him he could do it, and he made a list of names.  Mom sent him pictures of us, and the two of them figured out which name to put with which kitten.  So the names of my littermates were Alec, Adrian, Adair, and Abra.  Oh, and our mama got named Audra.


We lived in the Kitten Room in our foster home, and soon we started learning to walk and play and use the litter box.  Every week we had to go to the Humane Society and get more dewormer squirted in our mouths.  It tasted icky, but Mom said it would help us be healthy and not have diarrhea.  Also, sometimes we got a shot to keep us from getting distemper or some other bad disease that would kill us.

When we were six weeks old, Mom started letting us come out of the Kitten Room for a little while every day, and we got to explore the kitchen and dining room and living room.  Finally, we even got brave enough to start going upstairs.

In the meantime, some other foster kittens came to our house, and their names were Andrew, James, and John.  They were just two or three weeks older than the rest of us, and they even decided they should share our milk bar, which made the situation pretty crowded, especially since Mama was running out of milk by then.

Look deep into my beautiful gold eyes!


One day, Mom took all of us to the Humane Society, and the nurses there gave us a shot that made us sleepy.  When we woke up, we were sore, and Abra was the sorest of all.  But in a few days, we felt as good as new.  Mom took pictures of us and wrote cute little things about us, and we got to be on the internet.

But unfortunately, there were soooooo many kittens out there, wanting homes, that it took a long time for any of us to get adopted.  We all thought Abra would be the first one to be adopted because she had long, fluffy hair and she was very pretty.  But it was Andrew who got adopted first, and he was just a boring tabby kitten.  Later, Alec, Abra and Adair got adopted, but Adrian and I didn't.  Mom thought that James and John would be the last ones adopted because they were totally black.  But then James got adopted, and even our mama, Audra, got adopted.  So after that Mom still had John and Adrian, who is a tabby with some white markings, and me.


Here I am snuggling with Jason, Chief, and Chloe.

Plus we also have little Chief.  He came here with Seth and Buttercup, but they both died.  Chief was very puny, but he finally got big enough to have his surgery, and today he will get his rabies shot.  The rest of us have all been out to PetSmart several times.  And when we were out there, we sat in cages and tried to look cute so that somebody would adopt us.  Sometimes we just went for the day, and other times we had to stay out there for a whole week, which is boring because the cages are small, and there's not much to do besides sleep and eat.

Anyway, last Saturday when Mom was planning to take me and Adrian and John to PetSmart and leave us there all week, she finally decided she wanted to keep me and make me her very own cat.  So she filled out all the papers, and that's how I got adopted!

Me and Chief playing in the laundry basket.

Well, now I will tell you the secret to how I convinced Mom to adopt me.  First of all, I let Mom see what cute markings I have whenever I could.  I mean, how often do you find a kitten who is mostly all white on one side and all tabby-spotted on the other?  Also, I have very soft fur.  Another technique I used was while the other kittens were busy playing with each other, I climbed in Mom's lap and purred and showed her how much I loved her.  And when Adrian annoyed Mom by trying to climb up her pants leg, I just rubbed against her, which she liked much better.  Also, I made a point of getting to be good friends with Jason and Chloe, so Mom could see that we all get along nicely.  I would have tried to butter Charlie and Latifa up, too, but they both like to do their own thing, and they're mostly only cuddly with Mom.

Sleeping in Mom's lap is the best thing ever!

So that is the story of my brilliant life.  I turned five months old on Sunday, which is a fine age to be, at least in my opinion.  Maybe, as soon as I have some more exciting adventures, Piper will let me write in her blog again.






Tuesday, September 24, 2013

DANISH-SWEDISH FARMDOGS

Photo:  Ellen Levy Finch

In my last entry, I wrote about that Danish city where there aren't any dogs.  Or at least they don't put their dogs on picture postcards.  So I decided to find out if there are any breeds of dogs that got started in Denmark.  And one breed I found was the Danish-Swedish Farmdog.  Or you can also call it the dansk/svensk gårdshund.







These dogs are an old native breed that mostly lived on farms in eastern Denmark and southern Sweden.  Farmers used them to guard their farms and livestock, to catch rats, and as hunting dogs.  Also they were just good family dogs and fun for kids to play with.






Photo:  Stigfinnare

The breed has been around at least since the 1700s.  A lot of people, when they see a Danish-Swedish Farmdog, think it is some kind of terrier, but they are wrong.  These dogs are actually more related to the pinscher family than to terriers.





Farmdogs have bodies that are compact and almost rectangular.  Their heads are a little small in proportion to their bodies.  Their tails curve, they're not curled like basenji tails.  Sometimes a DSF is born with a bobbed tail, but people don't bob the tails on purpose.

The coat of the Danish-Swedish Farmdog is mostly white, with some spots of color.  The hair texture is hard, short, and smooth.










For a while, there almost stopped being any Farmdogs because lots families quit farming and moved to the city.  But starting about 1986, breed clubs in Denmark and Sweden began trying to find enough typical DSFs to form a foundation for the breed.  In 1987, they decided the official name of the breed would be the Danish-Swedish Farmdog.  Then in 2008, the FCI international dog association recognized the breed.





After a while, people started importing examples of the new breed to America.  A breed club called the Danish-Swedish Farmdogs USA was formed, and in 2010 they applied to the AKC for breed recognition.  DSFs got added to the AKC Foundation Stock Service in January 2011.  This meant that you could enter a Farmdog in obedience, agility, rally, and events like that.  Then in July 2012, the AKC started letting Foundation Stock Service breeds compete in open conformation shows.




But lots of Farmdogs are just family pets and not show dogs at all.  They are sweet, friendly, playful, and curious.  They get along well with other dogs and with children.  They learn quickly, and you can teach them to do tricks or to herd sheep or to do search-and-rescue or to be therapy dogs.  Since they are working dogs, they like to have a job to do, or at least you should make sure they get some exercise every day.




Danish-Swedish Farmdogs are more mellow than terriers usually are, so they are less likely to be aggressive or to chase cats.  I told Mom maybe we should get one, but she said there probably aren't many of them available in this country.  Which means we would have to buy one from a breeder, and that would be expensive.  Not to mention that there are plenty of very nice mixed-breed dogs in shelters, waiting to be adopted.




Sunday, September 22, 2013

AALBORG, A CITY IN DENMARK

About a week ago, Mom went to this flea market place, and she started looking at old postcards.  She found some really old ones that were all stained and bent, and they had pictures of a place called Aalborg.  Mom did not know if this city was in Norway, Sweden, or Denmark, but she decided to buy the postcards.  They cost fifty cents apiece, and Mom bought six of them, even though there was not a single dog in any of the pictures.  Then she brought them home and said I should find out where Aalborg was and write about it in my blog.

Aalborg in 2010; Photo by Tomasz Sienicki

I wasn't too excited about this assignment because it turned out that Aalborg is in Denmark, and none of my relatives or Mom's are from that country.  But Mom says that sometimes we have to stretch our minds and learn something new.  So anyway, the first thing I learned was that Aalborg was founded by the Vikings back in about 700 C.E.  It is located on a strip of water called the Limfjord, that gives ships a way to get through from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea.  This is a really good place to make a harbor, and it is why Aalborg became a big shipping center and industrial city.  By 2013, the entire municipal area of Aalborg had grown to 203,448 people, which made it the 3rd-largest city in Denmark, after Copenhagen and Aarhus.

Aalborg is up near the top of Denmark

Aalborg's main exports are grain, cement, and spirits.  The city has also become a cultural center, with a symphony orchestra, opera company, museums, and universities.  The weather is fairly cool all year long in this part of Denmark.  The average high temperatures are around 68ºF during the summer, and 27º to 36ºF in January and February.  The coldest temperature in winter almost never goes below 14ºF.

St. Budolfi Church

Anyway, now I'm going to talk about the postcards that Mom bought.  These first ones show St. Budolfi Church, which is a cathedral church for the Lutheran Diocese of Aalborg in north Jutland.  On the back of one of these postcards, someone wrote in English "The church dad belonged to."  This is the only writing on any of the postcards, so I think they were originally bought by someone who wanted to remember scenes of Aalsborg.  Maybe this person grew up there, or maybe they visited there with their dad, who grew up there.  Two of the postcards have little holes in the corners, so you can see that they were pinned on a board or wall.

St. Budolfi Church
The building on the right is a post office.

Christian missionaries probably arrived in Aalborg during the 9th century.  The first churches were very small and built of wood, so they aren't around anymore.  The St. Budolfi Cathedral that is still there today was built at the end of the 14th century.  It was built around the original St. Budolfi church.  The church got its name from St. Botolph, who was an English abbott and saint.  He was a holy and learned man in Anglo Saxon England, and he was the patron saint of farmers and sailors.


This is a street named Bispensgade.  It is one of the two best streets to go shopping, and the other one is called Gravensgade.  You can see in these pictures that the ladies are all wearing their nice dresses and big hats because that's what ladies did in those days when they went shopping.  Mom guessed that the photos might be from 1912 or so, but she asked Aunt LaDene, who knows more about fashion styles.  Aunt LaDene did some research and said she thought the pictures were taken a little later, like 1917, because the ladies were starting to let their ankles show.

Bispensgade Street

In the second photo of Bispensgade Street, you can see a round, white tower sticking up behind the buildings.  I learned that this building is in Nytorv Square, which is the historic center of the city.  Pedestrians, cyclists, and buses are allowed there, but not cars.  Nytorv Square has many shops and professional services, a community center, and the main library.

A modern view of Bispensgade Street


Nytorv Square.  Photo by Thomasz Sienicki

In the photo below, you can see a great big house in the center with lots of gables.  It is called Jens Bangs Stenhus, which means "Jens Bang's Stone House."  This house is located on Østerågade, another street in Nytorv Square.  It was built in 1624 in the Dutch Renaissance style by a rich merchant named Jens Bangs.  This house is thought to be the finest privately-owned Renaissance building in the country.  In Mr. Bangs' time, the first story of the house was used for trading booths and warehousing.

Jens Bangs Stenhus

After the death of Jens Bangs in 1644, the house had several inheritors and owners.  But finally in 1671, a pharmacist named Johannes Friederich bought the building and opened a pharmacy called Swaneapotek (Swan Pharmacy) there.  Ever since then, a pharmacy has been in the building.  Now there is also a small pharmacy museum that the public can visit.  It has much of the original Swaneapotek collection in it.


I think you could fit a LOT of basenjis in this house!
Here's one last postcard of old-time Aalborg.  It shows some men standing around on Vejgaard Street  chatting, by a cart that has no horse to pull it.  On the sidewalk, there seem to be some sledges or something, and on the other side of the street, there's a warehouse.  These men do not really look like they are planning to do any work soon.  Maybe it's Sunday in this picture, and the bells of St. Budolfi Church are ringing.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

OUR NEW FOSTER KITTEN!

Guess what!  Mom brought us a whole new foster kitten yesterday, and this kitten is a tortoiseshell.  Did you know that cats with tortoiseshell markings are always females?  And so are calico cats.  I don't know why.  It has to do with genetics, which is a very complicated subject, so I'm not going to get into it.


Anyway, Mom decided to name this kitten "Nebula."  A real nebula is a bunch of gases out in space, and they look really pretty in the photos.  Our little Nebula isn't quite as colorful as the nebulas in outer space, but she is still very cute.

Tarantula Nebula
Image credits: ESA / NASAESO and Danny LaCrue

The way we got Nebula was that on Monday, Nurse Debbie called from Dr. Patricia's office, and she told Mom that a nice lady had found this kitten as a stray, but she couldn't keep the kitten because the lady already had a ton of other cats.  Sadly, the little torti kitten had got hurt somehow and couldn't walk very well.  The lady offered $500 for the kitten's medical care, if some rescue group could take her in.

When Mom heard about the $500, her ears perked up right away, and she said she could probably foster the kitten.  She told Nurse Debbie to go ahead and test the kitten for FIV and Feline Leukemia.  Meanwhile, Mom called Aunt Tania to see if it was okay to take in the kitten.  Aunt Tania said it was fine, if Mom could foster her.


So anyway, little Nebula got x-rayed on Monday, and then the radiologist looked at the x-rays and said that Nebula's left hip was broken where it attaches to the pelvis.  The radiologist prescribed 3 weeks of cage rest for Nebula, which isn't all that long.  Sometimes animals with broken bones have to wait 6 or 8 weeks to get healed up.  Nebula might always have a little limp, but she should be able to walk okay. Also, she might need surgery later on, when she is a grown-up cat.  Or she might not need it at all.  Here's a really short video that shows how much trouble Nebula has trying to walk.

video

While Nebula was at Dr. Patricia's, she got treated for fleas, ear mites, and parasites.  Also she got a distemper shot.  When Mom brought Nebula home yesterday, she gave her a bath first thing because Nebula had a lot of stinky poop stuck to her butt.  Plus she was just dirty all over.  Mom put shampoo on her twice, and the dirt just kept running off.  Then the dirt started looking like watery blood, and Mom got really worried until she realized she was just seeing flea dirt, which is made out of blood because fleas suck your blood.

Oh, and I forgot to tell you that Nebula only has half a tail.  We don't know if the rest of it got knocked off when she broke her hip, or whether she was just born with a short tail.  Anyway, after she can walk around better and can hold her tail up, I think she will look very jaunty.


Nebula is living in the big crate in the middle of the kitten room.  She eats fast, like she hasn't had any food for weeks.  Mom says she will start putting on more weight soon.  Right now Nebula weighs between 2 and 3 pounds.  Mom thought this meant she was maybe 9 or 10 weeks old, but Dr. Patricia says she's more like 8 or 10 months old!  This would make her the oldest kitten in our house, even though she's only a little bit bigger than Chief (who, by the way, got neutered Tuesday).

Well, that's all I can tell you about Nebula right now except that I really wish I could find a way to get into her crate and eat some of her yummy cat food!


Monday, September 16, 2013

OLINGUITOS

A few weeks ago, I was shocked to learn that a new mammal species had been discovered!  This hadn't happened for 35 years, so it was a big deal.  The new mammal is called olinguito, which means "little olingo."  Its scientific name is Bassaricyon neblina, and it is part of the raccoon family.

Photo by Mark Guerney

Okay, well, I have to admit that knowing olinguito means "little olingo" didn't tell me much because I had never heard of an olingo.  But it turns out an olingo is a South American type of raccoon with brown fur and no stripes on its tail.  The olingo is related to the kinkajou, but I don't know much about that animal either.




Anyway, when the olinguito was discovered, it wasn't like nobody had ever seen one before.  People had seen them, but they just thought they were small olingos.  There even used to be a female olinguito in a zoo in the U.S., and the zoo people kept trying to get her to mate with male olingos, but she would never do it.  Now they know it was because she was a whole different species.

SmithsonianMag

So this man named Kristofer Helgen, who is the curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, started studying some specimens in storage at The Field Museum in Chicago, and he used DNA testing to prove that the olinguito is a whole different species than the olingo.  He and some of his colleagues went to South America and actually saw some olinguitos living in the cloud forests of the Andes.  Olinguitos live at higher altitudes than olingos do, which is another thing that shows they are a different species.


Finally, Kristofer Helgen and olingo expert Roland Kays of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences published their findings in a journal called ZooKeys.  Mr. Helgen said that the olinguito is "in museums, it's been in zoos, and its DNA had even been sequenced, but no one had connected the pieces and looked close enough to realize, basically, the significance of this remarkable and beautiful animal."

Smithsonian Institution Map

Olinguitos stay in trees all the the time, where they eat fruits, insects, and nectar.  They can jump from one tree to another.  Mother olinguitos only raise one baby at a time.  An adult olinguito is smaller than a house cat or a chihuahua.  It only weighs about 2 pounds and is 2.5 feet long from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail.

Olinguito in La Mesenia Reserve, Colombia
Photo by Gustavo Suarez

Olinguitos are not exactly an endangered species, but about 40% of their range has been deforested, so they could maybe get to be endangered, which would be a bad thing, since they're really kind of cute.

Friday, September 13, 2013

MOM'S SPONSORED CHILD IN INDIA

Ever since 2005, Mom has sponsored a boy in India, and his name is Partha.  Now he is 17 years old and only has two years of high school left.  The agency Mom sponsors Partha through is Children International, which has its headquarters right here in Kansas City.

Partha, 2012

Partha lives in Kolkata, which is a really big city in the eastern part of India.  It used to be spelled Calcutta, so maybe you are more used to seeing it spelled like that.  Kolkata is the capital of the state of West Bengal, and it is located on the Hooghly River.  Kolkata is a really big commercial port and cultural center.  If you add up all the people in the city and its suburbs, you will come up with about 14.1 million, which is a really big number.  Kolkata is the Indian metropolitan area with the third-biggest population, after Mumbai and Delhi.  Some of the biggest problems Kolkata has are pollution, traffic congestion, poverty, and overpopulation.


Kolkata has a tropical climate with a wet season and a dry season.  In the summer months of March to June, the temperatures are in the 90s F.  Sometimes the temperature gets as high as 104º in May and June.  During the winter, the lowest temperatures are between 48º and 52º F.  In April, May, and June, there are often heavy rains.


Bengali is the language that most people in Kolkata speak, but English, Hindi, and Urdu are also used quite a bit.  The literacy rate in Kolkata is 87.14%, which is higher than the overall rate for India, which is 74%.  The main religions reported in the 2001 census were 77.68% Hindu, 20.27% Muslim, 0.88% Christian, and 0.46% Jain.

Photo: Jamie, http://www.followtheboat.com/2012/03/06/kolkata-kewpies-and-kalighat/#.UjH74Bwf3nI

Lots of people in Kolkata live in slums, which are not very nice places to live.  About 2,000 of these slums are "registered" and have some basic services such as water and trash removal.  The other type of slums are "unregistered squatter occupied."  A 2005 National Family Health Survey said that 33% of Kolkata households were in slums.

Photo:  Biswarup Ganguly

Mother Teresa, who you might have heard of, started a group in Kolkata called the Missionaries of Charity.  The goal of this group is "to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after."


Mom thinks that Partha and his family very likely live in a slum.  Their house has brick walls, a tile roof, and a dirt floor.  There is only one room for the whole family.  When Mom first started sponsoring Partha, he had two younger brothers.  We don't know if the family has grown since then or not.

Partha, 2004

Partha's family cooks on a wood-burning stove.  If the family could afford it, they could have electricity, but they can't afford it.  They get their water from a community pump.  There is no latrine, so they have to use an open field as a toilet.  Partha's mom and dad are both daily workers, so I guess that means they go out every day to see if they can find some work to do that day.  Between them, they earn an average of $84 per month.

Basanti ("City of Joy") Slum

Partha writes letters to Mom in Bengali, and then somebody at the agency office translates the letters into English.  Here is the last letter Partha wrote:


And here is the translation:

Dear Ms. Allen, 
Hope you are well.  I and all of my family are well.  I study in class 10.  I go to school regularly.  There are many classrooms in our school.  There is a tube well in our school.  We drink water from that tube well.  We have bathroom, toilet in school.  There are ten male teachers and four female teachers in our school.  A play ground lies in school.  We play football there.  I like to play very much.  Worship of Goddess Saraswati was performed in our school.  I went to visit worship of deity.  I get the aid you send.  So my family and I are grateful to you.  With love and regards.
--Your loving Partha

I did not know anything about the Goddess Saraswati, so I did a little in-depth research, and what I learned is that she is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, the arts, and science.  In pictures, she looks very lovely, and this  shows how beautiful learning is.  Saraswati has four arms, and she usually wears a white sari and is sitting on a white lotus or white swan.  White shows her spotless character and clear mind.  She plays an instrument called the vina, which symbolizes harmony.

The way that Saraswati is worshipped is by offering her honey because honey represents perfect knowledge.  People also offer a red flower called the Palash, which means they are free from preconceptions.

Painting by Raja Ravi Varma, 1896

Hindus who are students or scientists or in the arts like to pray to Saraswati every morning for guidance and knowledge.  They recite the Saraswati Vandana Mantra.  Here is an English translation of it:

She, who is as fair as the Kunda flower, white as the moon, 
and a garland of Tushar flowers, and who is covered in white clothes;
She, whose hands are adorned by the excellent veena, 
and whose seat is the pure white lotus;
She, who is praised by Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh;
O Mother Goddess, remove my mental inertia!

Mom says this is a good prayer because we should all wish to have our mental inertia removed.  I'm not sure I agree because a certain amount of mental inertia is necessary if you want to take a nice nap, which I often want to do.

Anyway, we don't even know what religion Partha is, not that we care.  In the last photo, he was wearing a cross, but he also talked about the worship of Saraswati.  But maybe that was just done at his school because most of the students are Hindus.

Partha wants to go to college after he gets out of high school, but he would probably have to get a scholarship from Children International in order to do that.  At least by finishing high school, he will have a chance to get a much better job than being a daily worker, and he will not have to raise his children in a slum.  Which is the important thing.