Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Answers to Fears

To be honest, I have been afraid to get back on my blog since coming home. I think I was afraid of what I would feel when I looked through the photos; sad it was all really actually over. Did I realize as often as I should have what a unique experience I was living?
Now that I'm home, it's been another mental adjustment. Driving home from the airport with mom and dad, my eyes felt different as I looked out of the window. I've become accustomed to seeing one thing, now I'm back to another life. In a moment I realized that for a brief while, without noticing it, the foreign became the normal for me. And as much as my life at home is still completely my 'true' normal, there's a part of my mind that still feels very much in a daze with India seeming like my normal. You fly half way around the world in a day and can't just expect to sever the connections in your mind with a way of life just because you're not physically in that place anymore. I've found myself looking at things and seeing the comparison in my head of how things were in India.
For example:
-Water. Here it's cold and comes out of a faucet. I'm used to warm and seeing it drawn from a well, having to double check with each new source that it's clean and 'safe' to drink.
-Sidewalks. Well, they actually exist here. I'm used to gutters and dirt with trash everywhere.
-Skylines. Here I see buildings. I'm used to palm trees and cow filled fields.
-Carpet. Here we have it in our cars, houses, and even bathrooms. I'm used to concrete and tile, where you take off your shoes before entering a home or business to help keep it clean.
-Houses. They're so big! I'm used to one room concrete homes where families sleep on mats outside to escape the heat, with cows, dogs and frogs right there with them.
The air, the food, the noise...it's all so different. I'm used to people and cows being everywhere outside, inside, on the streets and in the rivers; eating, laughing and living. Here it seems people spend the majority of the time inside.
Culture. There's just a noticeable culture difference.
The last few nights, my dreams have been evidence of the mild culture shock you go through with experiences like this. I've had elements of India intermixed with elements of home, like my mind is saying it realizes I'm home, but my heart is still crossing back over from India a little slower than my body. I wake up with memories of shopping for bindis and bracelets, but find I'm in Turlock instead of Tamilnadu, or I dream of having held children all night long in a school yard that might be in India, but could be anywhere.
And on my favorite mornings, I wake up with the echos of conversations in my head, where people ask whether or not I'll be going back now that I know what to expect, and I always answer yes.
The echoes of those conversations and my answers of 'yes' have been tender mercies for the unspoken fears of my mind. I've been secretly fearful that after coming home and having every comfort of life restored to me, I would compare the feelings of 'here' and 'there' and categorize one as better and the other as worse. I think I was afraid I would too easily remember all the hard times of India and forget the many many wonderful, beautiful, and unique memories I made these last three weeks. I was afraid I would give off a negative impression of my time in India because of how hard it was, when in reality the short time I spent there was one of the most wonderful and teaching experiences of my life so far, with friends I've made for a lifetime.
Lastly, I was afraid that if someone asked me if I'd ever go back...I might say no.
But how can you say no to this?!
So, I view my jumbled dreams of India and America as answers to my unspoken, unformed prayers and fears. I view the echos of conversations in my dreams, where I repeatedly answer 'yes' to questions of going back to India, as evidence that my heart grew to love a country that offered very few comforts; as peaceful confirmation that we can remember the joys of things learned while forgetting the occasional pain of the learning process; and as merciful answers to fears nobody heard me say aloud, but my Heavenly Father heard me pray inside.

*To those I contacted before I left, who generously donated to Rising Star Outreach, thank you again. I hope you feel you were a part of the good work that is being done to bless the lives of the people and children of India. I witnessed their gratitude personally, and it is genuine.*

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Don't let the day end

Why does everything seem more beautiful when something comes to an end?

Today was our last day at RSO. At times I thought this day would never come, like when the sweat and flies became part of a normal day. And at other times, I swore we were skipping days because there was no way a week had gone by already...then two...then three.
We spent time this morning at a colony called Moot. There are only 7 people still living from this colony, the rest having passed away from affects of leprosy. They had the place so clean and tidy it was picturesque. Maybe my standard of beauty, or my definition of picturesque, is somewhat skewed from a 'normal' ideal, but the morning was beautiful.
His wife...
...and family.
It definitely had a feeling of family and community with so few members of the colony left. They are all they have. Each other. It might not have been my most touching of experiences while here, but it was still beautiful. Not every moment has to be profound. Some of life's moments are just what they are...normal. That being said, I'm slightly humored at myself for thinking that sitting in a leper colony in the back country of India felt just sort of 'normal.' Maybe India is getting into me more than I realized. I did wake up this morning and smiled when I realized last night was the first night I dreamt of India, holding the fingerless hands of a nameless someone.
We danced and played music with them, just to enjoy the movement. One man who no longer has fingers, toes, or much of his right leg, sat watching all of the movement. I turned to see a blue water pitcher in a doorway and ran to pick it up. I turned it upside down and started beating it like a drum. After handing it to him, that man didn't stop beating that water pitcher for almost the rest of the time. It was nice he could be a part.
After we got back, we started brainstorming in the Mango room for ideas of what to do for 'our wall.' There's a space along the back wall behind the kitchen where every group of volunteers gets to paint something that represents their group's time here at RSO. We tried forever to come up with something, anything; we started throwing out the cheesiest of ideas. I suggested we write "Foundation for Tomorrow" on it, and we actually did. Ha! I had Matthew pull off some banana leaves from the tree to pour our paint on because we had no plates, and I realized how much I'm going to miss everyone and just having fun doing things I'll never do again.
Then play time again. Afterwards, we ran home to take showers then back to our houses to get dressed for our special dinner. When I walked in to the house, Raji was up on one of the bunk beds of the girls. When she saw me she yelled, "Anne Marie!" and jumped off. I showed her my beautiful sari and she held it to her chest and said how beautiful it was. Yeah! She helped me and Lauren get dressed because tying a sari is not easy. Then she just didn't stop! Put a bindi on our foreheads, and some paint in a dot, then pulled out a necklace and put it around my neck. I felt so fancy! I'm going to miss my house of girls.
Tonight, before leaving the house for the last time, I took 'my girls' faces in my hands and told them I loved them. Chase (my older brother) took my face in his hands once and I remember thinking what a sign of affection that was for me.
Like mother like daughter. When Tierty saw me all in my sari, she ran and wrapped a towel around herself and called it her sari. (Remember...this is the little one that calls me 'Mom.')
Parota, sauce, and cucumbers. That was dinner. Parota has been talked up so much by the leaders, they saved it for the last day to let us try it authentic. It came in square shaped packages wrapped individually in newspaper and tied in string. It was dang heavy. Good. Kind of like a buttery roll/croissant/tortilla? Now you're asking yourself what better combination you could possibly ask for? Not many.
Then we had the best little meeting all together in the Mango room. Amy made a short slide show, then everyone shared a story or journal entry they particularly remembered. I have cried maybe two times this whole trip. Once when I was sick, and another when Ambarasu looked me straight in the eye when I asked him in the colony one day where his mother was and he matter-of-factly replied in the squeakiest voice while shaking my hand, "I don't have a mother." Oh. Stab. Instant tears.
Anyway, tonight was a teary night. The stories everyone shared were so personal, different, and relatable for me. A few shared stories I had never heard, which I appreciated hearing. And one volunteer talked briefly about regret; things he did and things he didn't. I've never been a fan of the word regret. People speak of regrets when they are sad and wishing for change in the past. I am sure there were moments I could have summoned up just a little more energy to work a little bit harder or longer. But that's just the way things are. And tonight I feel I can walk on the airplane tomorrow and feel the way Amy asked us to feel, exhausted, happy, and content that we gave all we felt we could give. I'm looking forward to that feeling.
Then as the absolute BEST going away present ever...RAIN!
Yes, it is 2:00 A.M. in the morning. Yes, I just went out in all my clothes into a courtyard filled with half a foot of water. Yes, we threw buckets of water at each other and danced in the rain. Yes, we are boycotting letting the day end. Yes, I am waking up in 5 hours to travel for days...not to go to sleep again until Sunday morning.
And YES, this was the best end to a
life changing trip that any of us could have asked for!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Is that a rain jacket???

Because of the rain, construction was canceled. So I got to choose whether to go with medical or stay with the kids. Much of the medical teaching today was going to be in Tamil which I knew I would not understand, so the kids won out.
Three kids told me they were cold today. Seriously? Are you seriously telling me this? You know you're somewhere hot when mid 80's is cold.
This letter of P. Vijay was my favorite. First off, he numbered his sentences. It says: "1. On holiday, I played with my brother. 2. It is rainy today and I am cold. (I would like to point out it's 82 degrees and perfect!) 3. Yesterday I learned about Thomas Edison. 4. I saw an elephant when I was home." And that was the letter. I think he covered all the high points.
Then I saw the Hendershot kid's playing in the big puddles. They are so grateful for the rain. They've been here 6 months and have 6 more to go. Wow.
It was Belle's birthday, the youngest of the 5 kids. So her mom, Sarah, dressed her up in the native dress, flowers, and passed out candy. It's what all the kids do on their birthday when they're here.
And after they gathered for evening prayer...
there was cake!
Heads up...Indian cake...not good. Like biting into a sugar cube.

I got to read with a student today who was pretty good in English. He told me I could call him Steven. Some have such long names they give themselves 'short' names or easier ones. He chose a Goosebumps book. My favorite words that he asked me to define for him were: garage, backyard, Easter Egg Hunt (gave me a weird look like "why would you decorate fake eggs and hide them around outside?"),
chubby, exploded, and agree.
*took a nap*
Definitely one of my highs of the day. I think it's my body telling
me it's done...and time for me to go home...and to stop
being a vegetarian. Meat here is sketchy so there's
serious protein deficiency happening in me :)

I swear it's like India knows how to cram two days into one. There's morning, with all the groups, which feels like an entire day. Then evening, with the playtime, dinner and story time with the kids.
On Wednesday's we teach talent classes. I chose to teach how to make bracelets.
I think I tied about 40 black strings to these boys' arms who didn't
get to make one. Tried to teach them to stand in a line
and if they fought...no bracelet!
"Auntie, auntie...me, me, me! Auntie, this boy is beating
(their word for hitting)! Line, line, line!" Yeah, that's about
what I heard the whole time.
Love it.
Can I just say how much I love that
Anita's just takin' a break from homework,
picking her nose? She was busy writing from 1-100, then 100-1
(which she didn't want to do backwards, so started from the
number one at the bottom of the page and just wrote in order
all the way back to the top of the page. Ok.)
Sujata never smiles. One of the kids must have snapped this. She has no family and has taken to one of the girls, calling her her sister. I'm sure there's lots I don't know about Sujata's history, so I'm so happy to know she smiles sometimes.
I got to really get to know Raji tonight. She loves just talking to me and telling me all about her family. We sat on the floor (which is where one sits like 80% of the time here!) and she showed me all her photos on her phone of her brothers, parents and home. I think she really loved the attention and getting to show me who she was. She's a neat girl.
So the rain made for an excellent surprise this morning, and let me stay and play with the kids one extra day. Bugs unfortunately love to come inside when it's wet out, but that's ok. It's India. A lot of things just get brushed off these days...cus it's India. What'r you ganna do?