Monday, September 28, 2015

Five years later

Every August, YAVs go through a week of Orientation in Stony Point, New York and then depart for their respective sites, where they will spend the next year engaged in mission service, simple living, and Christian community, navigating an altogether special, challenging time of life.

Every September, YAVs who just finished their year of service gather at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico for the Transition Retreat, an opportunity to reunite, share stories, and process the year. It’s a time to think about “letting go (endings), letting be (the neutral zone), and letting begin (new beginnings).” 

Maggie and I joked that there were a number of people we liked a lot more at Transition than at Orientation. Something about a shared experience (even on opposite sides of the globe) – a shared having-the-crap-knocked-out-of-you – a shared joy – bound us all together and gave us a common understanding in a way that was just not possible thirteen months prior at Orientation.

It has been five years since I went through Orientation. In God’s wonderful way, I now have the privilege of helping structure/run our brand new Indianapolis YAV site; our three YAVs, Megan, Madison, and Liz, have been here for about a month now, and are doing great work.

I come back to this blog every so often to revisit some of my favorite memories and people. I will never stop thanking my 22-year-old self for updating it regularly. It’s amazing and saddening how many things are forgotten with time. There are things I didn’t write about that I still remember, though foggily. It’s also fascinating how memory changes with time.

For example, looking back on it now, I’d have to say that one of the crowning achievements of my YAV year, a truly mountaintop experience, took place in the month of January. School was cancelled for a day or two, essentially giving us a long weekend, and as such, most of the boarding students went home to be with their families. Out of fifty girls, only 5 or 6 of various ages stayed at Buchanan along with me and the Warden, Gracy Kochamma.

It also happened that there was a Youth Festival going on that weekend in the nearby city of Kottayam. Knowing that they would not be going home for the long weekend, the girls asked me well in advance if I thought I would be able to take them to town for the Youth Festival. As in – did I think I could get Gracy Kochamma’s permission. I wasn’t sure, but some of the older girls were encouraging and made sure I knew how to ask in Malayalam. Gracy Kochamma and I already had a good rapport at this point, and while one of the girls could have easily asked on my behalf, we thought that my asking would be a good way to butter her up :)

She said yes! But a few days later, just a couple of days before the start of the long weekend, she changed her mind. This was disappointing, but one of the older girls was sure that Gracy Kochamma could be convinced. So I went to her again, and said “please!” The pouty faces of the girls who wanted to go helped, I’m sure. And Gracy Kochamma relented. “Your risk,” she said. She wanted me to know that I was the adult in charge, and that I needed to make sure that nothing went awry during this outing.

And so the next day, we went. We got dressed and, rupees in hand, took the bus to Kottayam. We wandered the city, went shopping, and went to the Youth Festival. We even made a detour to CMS College. Ordinarily, these girls would not have been allowed on campus, but in this instance, I was HAPPY to use my foreigner privilege to waltz right in with them in tow. The security guards didn’t ask questions and the girls marveled at the campus, which they had only heard about before (and had possibly seen in a movie that was filmed there). “You could study here one day,” I told them. We watched college students walk to their classes as we shared oranges under the shade of leafy, towering tree.

We returned to the realm of Gracy Kochamma’s kind, watchful gaze before dark, as was expected, and she received the bakery treats we brought her as a ‘thank you’ with pleasure and amusement.

The above description of our ‘field trip’ may not sound that extraordinary, but it was an extraordinary day. A few months prior, I had depended on the girls in my hostel to teach me basic things…simple phrases, how to count to ten, how to wash my clothes by hand. I had to rely on other adults to teach me how to navigate the buses, how to pronounce the town names correctly, and how find my way around the bus stations. (For an outsider, none of the above is an intuitive process, and it required a lot of instruction.) I was like a child, always dependent on the kindness, guidance, and patience of others.

Four months later, I was the one doing the hand-holding. I was the accountable adult – the responsible, not-getting-us-all-lost person – trusted enough to keep other people’s children safe on our foray into the city.

Looking back, I marvel at having made that transition from ‘child’/outsider to responsible adult/agent who is part of the community. This transition and the relationships that accompanied it were by far the biggest gift of my YAV year.  

I have thought about this Youth Festival outing and its significance more than once in the years since. I’ve never been able to figure out why I didn’t write about such a monumental day. It saddens me that I never wrote about it, because as time has, indeed, shown, memories fade; I can’t remember which girls, specifically, went with me that day. I don’t even have a picture to look back at to jog my memory. I also couldn’t say with certainty whether or not we met up with Jim, but my guess it that we did, since CMS College was his YAV placement.

Though I didn’t send many emails during my YAV year, it occurred to me earlier this week that maybe I wrote to someone about this experience. Maybe an email I sent almost five years ago would contain the details that I could only grasp for now. Sure enough, I found in my ‘sent’ folder an email I sent to Levity on January 26, 2011. The paragraph regarding the Youth Festival:

Guess what, I was in 2 newspapers and on tv! There was a big “Youth Festival” last week (kids from all over India come to compete in events like traditional dance, drama, Hindi speech giving, English speech giving, etc), so there was tons of media coverage. I attended several of the events and was the only foreigner there….once one reporter started asking me questions (why are you in Kerala? What do you think about the youth festival? etc.), a bunch of them swarmed. It was overwhelming/fun/exciting. And since then, totally RANDOM people have said “I saw you on tv!” (Well, something more like “you tv seeing” - but I know what they mean). The other day I was at a parade and the driver of one of the floats waved at me and yelled “newspaper!” So I take that to mean he saw me in the newspaper. Yep, your roomie is famous ;-)

I laughed out loud to read this account, more than a little surprised. Five-years-ago Madison apparently had no awareness of what a significant moment this was in my YAV year. Looking back, I guess I never blogged about it because I didn’t think it was worth blogging about – it was nothing more than a fun story that involved my own personal fifteen minutes of fame. Ironically, prior to finding this old email, I had no recollection of that part of the story.

Sometimes it takes years to be able to recognize and interpret the truly meaningful moments in our lives. 

And so another story has been recorded for posterity. With Kerala on my mind, I can’t help but think of all of my favorite people there. Thomas John Achen, Betty Kochamma, Gracy Kochamma, Jaimol Kochamma, and more. The Buchanan and TTC boarding students. How strange to think that Aleena, my five-years-ago 5th-grader best friend, is in 10th grade now (the day we find each other on facebook will be a joyous day, indeed). Sruthy is married and has a baby. Jinta is in nursing school.  I only remember koruchu (a little) Malayalam.

Language may fade; even memory fails. But the grace and love that filled and surrounded me during that year - they will be with me for a lifetime.

Visitng Kerala two years ago, pictured with Thomas John Achen and his family

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

missing you never gets old

This post was written on October 26.

Maybe you know the feeling. The one when something about which you thought your heart had long reached a peaceful equilibrium comes back with an immediacy and real-ness you didn't know it still possessed. Equally surprising is when it hits you...such as a year and three months later when you're riding on a bus through the arid desert of Jordan.

I guess that's as good a time as any to miss Gracy Kochamma. I'm not sure what made me think of her, but before I knew it I had tears coming down my face and would have done anything to see her in that moment. I could picture her in my mind, of course--the purple and white saree she frequently wore, her thinning pepper grey hair pulled back tautly into a small nub of a pony tail, if you could call it that. 

Praseela and Gracy Kochamma
We knew just enough English and Malayalam combined, she and I, to be dangerous. To be able to laugh together about silly things...for her to teach me to crochet and gripe about the (then) new warden. The space created by the words we didn't have was filled by the  comfortable familiarity that develops with companionship over time. 

She was/is one of the great women in my life. Maybe these are the things I would tell her if I had a way to (and if we had a translator). That I can still envision her in the mess hall, feet propped on a stool, chopping vegetables. That I love her facial expressions. That there are few people I respect more than her. That I regret not embroidering a bookmark for her like I did for Jaimol Kochamma. If I could change anything about my last few days in Kerala, it would be that. I'd find the time to make Gracy Kochamma a bookmark, too.

I hope she knows how much I love her...and that I can tell her that again in person one day. 

Perhaps some things you never get over- you're not meant to. Why would I want to 'get over' the love I feel for those people who were my life for a year, after all? After all this time I still feel the loss acutely, but maybe that is a pain for which I should be grateful. There are always things in life that make us sad...and if we're lucky, the good kind of sad. The kind of sad that comes from the void left by something beautiful, but no less beautiful in its absence.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, July 25, 2011


“Epilogue”—now THAT’S a clue that I take myself a little too seriously. (However I have often wished to write a book one day…right co-author Levity Tomkinson? :))

Well friends, I’m home. “Home,” at the moment, means Tampa, Florida, at my Dad’s house. Thursday morning I’ll be going “home” to Ocala, to my mom’s house. And less than two weeks later, I’ll move to my NEW home for the next three years, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Hectic, overwhelming, and exciting all in one. 

The trip from Kerala was pleasant and uneventful (and if you read my last post, you know that ‘uneventful’ is a GOOD thing!).

I’ve been in the US less than 24 hours now and have already been encountering many ‘whoa-I’m-not-in-Kerala-anymore’ moments. It’s weird to hear people talking to each other in English. It’s weird to be in an air-conditioned HOUSE. It’s weird to have just eaten cereal for breakfast. It’s weird to not be in the same room with Jim and Maggie. And I have come to the (weird) conclusion that I should either take the nail polish off my left hand, or paint my right hand, too.

I think of Shanu, Aleena, Vava, and all of the other Buchanan boarding students…what are they doing now? Probably just finishing dinner, I'd guess. Meanwhile I'm 8,000 miles away and a machine is washing my clothes, and another machine is drying a load (weird?), while I write this last, final, blog post.

The writer (or wanna-be writer) in me might even miss writing to all of you, whoever you may be, out there. I hope you have gotten something out of it—I know that I have. If anything it has been a therapeutic exercise in organizing and processing my own thoughts during this amazing, challenging, growth-filled year, and I thank you for allowing me to do that and for participating in my journey from afar.

To all of my loved ones in Kerala, know that I am missing you more each day as the reality of being gone sets in. It is impossible for me to express the amount of love and gratitude I have for you, or how much I miss you!

...So here I am, back to ‘normal’ (?) life. The conclusion of my time in India feels very much like an ‘end,’ and I suppose it is at an end, in terms of my day-to-day reality. But “love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:8). And I carry forward with me the love and memory of all of my loved ones there. So maybe it’s not really an end at all, or at least not just an end. Perhaps it’s also a beginning?

Another adventure, after all, awaits. This new foreign place: home.

We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
-TS Eliot

Saturday, July 23, 2011

the perils of missing Form A

“It’s 4:39AM. I’m sitting in the Delhi airport. This is a problem.

Why, you ask?

Merely the fact that I should be on a PLANE right now. I should have been on a plane for four hours, in fact. But things didn’t exactly work out that way…”

I started writing this post at the stated time on July 18. Exhaustion, however, quickly took over, and now it is July 23. A lot has happened since then, but the good news is that there IS light at the end of the tunnel. After a week of delays, roadblocks, setbacks, etc (and a lot of grace and God sends, too!), Maggie, Jim, and I will be heading home at 4:30AM on July 24. Our flight goes from Kochi, Kerala, to Qatar, to Washington DC. From there, we will split ways; I’ll be going to Tampa.

Many of you might’ve been following some of the events on facebook. Whether you have or haven’t been keeping up, a quick recap: We flew from Kerala to Delhi on 7/18. Attempting to pass through Immigration in order to board our connecting flight to New York, we were prevented from leaving due to missing some paperwork that we didn’t know we had to have. The result was a 24-hour circus in the Delhi airport involving figuring out what forms, exactly, were needed, being told “please wait 5 minutes” 24-hours worth of times, trying to leave the airport to obtain said forms at the Foreigners’ Registration Office, being prevented from leaving, finally getting out, etc etc etc, ultimately being told that we had to return to Kerala. Oh yeah, and meanwhile, my and Maggie’s visas expired.

That’s not even really the half of it, but we always tried to find the humor in the situation (“you are a selfish man”…”let’s hold hands and walk out together!”) and trusted that everything would work out. And it has—through the grace of God and the tireless work of the YAV Office and Thomas John Achen, all of whom were working around the clock to help us as best as they could. We came back to Kerala to get everything sorted out, and have now obtained the missing paperwork and booked new flights. …A week later than we were supposed to leave, yes, but there have been plenty of lessons and laughs even in what was, at times, an extremely frustrating situation.

I have learned…
-what it feels like to not be listened to (and because of this, the importance of listening to others)
-that sometimes it’s ‘insignificant’ people who can truly change your situation for the better. The employees of Costa Coffee in the Delhi airport, for example—our home for 24 hours—let us sleep on their comfy couches, and were truly kind and sympathetic to us. The operator of the nearby payphone let us use his personal cell phone to receive calls—SUCH a blessing when we literally had no way (other than limited emails to/from Maggie’s blackberry—yet another God send) to communicate with the outside world, the embassy, etc. And it was a clerk at the Kottayam police station who helped us to expedite our paperwork and solve the matter within one day…without him, we would be stuck until at least next week.
-how fortunate I am. I had the YAV office and others working hard on the problem…I had Jim and Maggie to navigate the bureaucracy with me…what if I had been alone? What if I didn’t have the money to book a return ticket back to Kerala? Or my new return flight to the US?

I have also experienced, for a small and insignificant amount of time, what it feels like to be in a foreign country without the proper documentation. To not know where to turn for help; to be told ‘no’ repeatedly; to not speak the right language; to be at the mercy of a system much larger than I.

It has been, in short, a humbling experience. An experience that has proven that the YAV Office can truly handle ANYTHING (they are champs!!), and an experience throughout which I was provided for consistently. And, it is worth mentioning, an experience that, while filled with ups and downs, has in no way detracted from my YAV year or been an all-eclipsing event. If anything, it merely makes a good story to tell at the re-entry retreat! ;-)

It also allowed me to come back to Kerala, spend a few extra days with Thomas John Achen, Betty Kochamma, Binu, Jim, and Maggie—and that’s nothing to complain about at all :-)

A huge THANKS to everyone who has offered support and words of encouragement to all of us along the way. With any luck, we’ll board our flight tonight and the next time I write will be from HOME!

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” –Thornton Wilder

Sunday, July 17, 2011

dedicated, to you

It’s currently about 7:40PM on July 17, 2011. I’ve got approximately 24 hours left in Kerala. And after a day that reminds me why I love Thomas John Achen, Betty Kochamma, Binu, Jim and Maggie so much, and has already left me sorely homesick for Buchanan, I would like to offer up some gratitude. A dedication.

It’s a bit odd, I know, to end something with a dedication. They always come first in books…but this isn’t a book. It’s merely my blog; the accumulation of ‘five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.' And when I say ‘my blog,’ I don’t just mean this one post. I mean the 84 posts before it, too--from the first one, onwards. My blog in its entirety. Because ironically, during my year of mission service, it was not I who served; it was I who was served. It was not I who taught; it was I who was taught. And while I will never be able to repay all of the grace and kindness that has been shown to me this year, I will give what I can. Cognizant of the meagerness of my offering, I will dedicate its written record to those who helped make this experience what it was.

'Madi Chechi' at her finest
  • I dedicate this blog to all students and teachers at Buchanan, particularly the 5th grade classes, for making me smile even when I didn’t feel like it. To last year’s class of 8E, for its unfailing exuberance, especially Sneha.
  • I dedicate this blog to the TTC and Buchanan boarding students, for loving me so well. For allowing me to be a chechi for a year. You made my days come alive.
  • I dedicate this blog to my Malayalam tutor, Sanila Teacher, who taught me far more important lessons than Malayalam. Your enormous faith has simultaneously made me realize the weakness of my own and inspired me to deepen it.
  • I dedicate this blog to everyone at Mandiram, especially Thomas Samuel Achen, my other Malayalam tutor (who, likewise, taught me greater things than Malayalam). Thank you for believing in me and encouraging me to always give my best.
  • I dedicate this blog to Thomas John Achen, Betty Kochamma, and Binu, for loving and taking care of me, the ‘least of these’ (Matthew 25:40). For making this program possible in the first place; for making us part of your family. Achen, you’re going to officiate at my wedding. I just have to find the groom.
  • I dedicate this blog to Jim and Maggie, my full time ‘bystanders,’ for the times we’ve laughed until we’ve cried, and cried until we’ve laughed. You guys…WE MADE IT!! And whether waiting for our 2AM snack in the Mumbai airport, debating the finer points of Indian culture (such as the activities before/after which one would be expected to pray or have tea), or troubleshooting our bowel have not only kept me sane—you have made this year wonderful.
  • Most of all, I dedicate this blog to my querida Jaimol Kochamma, who I have loved from the beginning. You have been far more of a friend and mother to me than my supervisor—I will be missing you always.

Finally, I dedicate this blog to you, for being right there with me the whole way.

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.” -Unknown

Saturday, July 16, 2011

how lucky I am

Yesterday was a day that I thought would never come. Some days it seemed like it couldn’t come soon enough; others, like I never wanted it to come at all. But it came and went and here I am to tell you about it.

My last day at Buchanan started extra early; I had to wake up before morning prayer to iron my saree. After morning prayer I accompanied the girls to the mess hall for morning coffee, meanwhile thinking I can’t believe I will never walk here arm in arm with Shanu and Snigdha again.

Coffee finished, Deepa, a TTC student, came to my room to help me dress. I’ve been wearing sarees on my own for a month or so now, but yesterday was a special occasion: my last day at Buchanan, and my ‘send off’ celebration. I would be wearing a Kerala saree, and everyone wanted to make sure it was perfect. A ‘kerala saree’ is, as the name suggests, a special type of saree that Kerala is known for—cream colored and with a gold border. It is worn on the holiday Onam, and on special occasions.

Deepa made sure all the pleats and pins were in the right place, and I was ready to go. Luckily I had finished my packing the day before, but my work was far from done. In the preceding weeks, I had taken and printed a copy of a photo with every teacher and staff member. Yesterday morning, my plan was to write a short message on the back of each. This took longer than expected and resulted in me skipping breakfast.

I finally made it to the staff room and was greeted with much approval and many smiles at my very traditional Kerala dress. It’s only fitting that I look like a Malayalee on my last day, right? :-) I felt it was kind of symbolic, too: I came a stranger, a madama…and left looking like a Malayalee. (And the transformation has been more than outward, I assure you…I’ve got the mannerisms and speech idiosyncracies to prove it, haha).

Jessy Teacher brought out a bag of jasmine flowers and set to work tying them in my hair. Jasmine flowers are another essential part of the ‘kerala saree’ look. I was showered by gifts and cards from teachers and students, turning my place at my table in the staff room into a mountain of chaos and love.

Before long it was time for the send off celebration, and the entire school gathered in the auditorium. I was made to sit on the stage with the school’s manager, K.T. Kurian Achen, and the Headmistress, Aleyamma Kochamma. Both addressed the gathering, followed by a speech from a student, speeches from two teachers, and a time for me to speak, as well.

I responded to a comment that K.T. Kurian Achen made in his address: “Madison adjusted very well to life in Kerala and life on our campus.” My reply was that adjusting was not only not an issue—it was easy. Because I had the love, friendship, help, and kindness of all Buchanan teachers and students, right from day one. I ineloquently thanked them all as best as I could, and was then presented by handmade cards from each class. The teachers got me a gift, too—gold earrings.

I guess I should tell you that I had already bought some gold earrings, back in November. I hadn’t brought any with me to Kerala, and it had become quickly apparent that I was going to need some, as it is pretty much an expectation for all women to wear earrings, and my ears are allergic to anything but gold or silver.

Last month, however, I sold the aforementioned earrings. I was out of cash, at the time, and, with just a few weeks left in India, rather than pay a ridiculous ATM fee to withdraw more money and further deplete my limited bank account, I thought, “you know, they’re just earrings. I’m going to be a poor Seminary student soon…I don’t really need them.” And that was that.

Posing with a few of the teachers, wearing my grambu mala :-)
WELL. The teachers were all dismayed that I had done this, and, unbeknownst to me, secretly began plotting to all chip in and buy me some new gold earrings as a going away present. At yesterday’s send off celebration, they were presented to me, and I was blown away by the teachers’ thoughtfulness and generosity. They also gave me a ‘grambu mala’ (spice necklace), a traditional gift for retiring teachers, which they all helped make by hand. Sitting on the stage throughout the program, I was overwhelmed at the outpouring of love I was getting. I could feel it radiating from the hundreds of faces looking up at me. I am still overwhelmed by it.

After the send off, I was given the honor of laying the foundation stone for the new kitchen/dining facilities that are being constructed at Buchanan, using funds from the wonderful organization ‘Girls for Good.’ So even in the face of sadness about me leaving, it was still a great and memorable day in the life of Buchanan :-)

The beautiful gold earrings I mentioned…one problem. I realized, with horror, that the posts were too big for the holes in my ears. All it took was one look for me to know there is no way these are gonna fit. I approached a few of the teachers in the staff room with this difficulty, and they were quite confident that it was no problem and they would easily be able to get the earrings in my ears. Five minutes, some Vaseline, and a few “ouch-you’re-hurting-me”s later, it became clear that this would not be the case, no matter how many teachers were involved in the process.

I was presented with two choices: go to a ‘beauty parlor’ and have my ears re-pierced to make the holes wider (!!!!!), or, go to the jewelry store and exchange the earrings. I opted for the second. So Jaimol Kochamma and Annie Teacher got permission from the Headmistress, and the three of us hopped into Martin Sir’s car for an impromptu trip to Kottayam. The trip was successful and we found some replacement earrings. And now I will always have some beautiful Kerala gold that I will wear and, in the process, with happiness and sadness, remember all of the people that I love at Buchanan Institution Girls’ High School.

When we arrived back to Buchanan the bell was just ringing for lunch. At the same instant, I got a text message from Maggie: “We’re leaving Nicholson and coming to Buchanan now.” This meant that I had approximately 45 minutes to finish everything I needed to do: handing out photos to various teachers and staff, packing the new cards and gifts I had received that morning, going around and saying goodbyes, etc. Looks like I’m not eating lunch, either, I realized. But no matter; in spite of not having had breakfast, I didn’t have any appetite, anyway.

The hired car and Maggie arrived impossibly quickly; from there, it was all rush and tears and goodbyes. Students and teachers filled the main courtyard area, seeing us off. The boarding students ran at me for a last tearful group hug. Sanila Teacher and Jaimol Kochamma accompanied me to the car; and with hugs and tears I told them goodbye, not knowing if I will see either of them ever again. The car pulled away and I waved out the window to the hundreds of girls and teachers who all hold with them a piece of my heart.

The car ride to Aluva was uneventful, with the exception of the fact that our driver was crazy and we are lucky to have made it here alive. Our next two days at Achen’s house will be a time of enjoying each other’s company one last time, and reflecting on and processing all that has passed, as well as what’s ahead. I am so thankful for Thomas John Achen, Betty Kochamma, Binu, Jim, Maggie, and everyone at Buchanan for making, and continuing to make, my last days so special. My hair still smells like jasmine.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” –Carol Sobeiski and Thomas Meehan, Annie

(Click here to see more photos of my last day at Buchanan, as well as earlier events in the month of July).

Friday, July 15, 2011

the last days

This post was written on July 10.

Packing up is always a good time to reminisce. And it also affords a great opportunity to marvel at HOW FAST TIME FLIES.

As I took the paper flowers off of my window frame, I thought, “How is it possible that Graceamma Teacher made these for me in SEPTEMBER?!” And then found myself remembering what a sweet gesture it was, all over again.

I removed the various cards and letters I’ve gotten from friends and family off of my walls, really looking at some of them for the first time in months. The just-because letters, like from Michael Jones; the Christmas cards, like from Lesley Boyd; the thinking-of-you notes, from family and other friends. Cards I’ve received from Buchanan students, including my favorite ever Thanksgiving cards. They all feel like they were received yesterday.

I peeled off various pictures that I had taped up, thinking with a smile that I’ll be seeing some of those people soon. I laughed to myself while looking at the picture of Natalie and I in China holding McDonalds French fry boxes (you can tell by our faces that we are REALLY thrilled to be having some American food in China), remembering the time, ten months ago, when little Vava and several others were in my room and, pointing at the McDonalds’ logo, asked, “Madi chechi, what’s that??” Sorry McDonalds, your brand recognition hasn’t reached Kerala…

I found the notebook that I took notes in during YAV Orientation—how interesting to read some of them in hindsight; to clearly remember writing those words, and yet know how long ago they were written.

…After finding many reasons to smile while packing, I am now sitting in the hostel study hall with a few of the TTC students. They are working hard preparing their ‘teaching manuals’ for their upcoming ‘teaching practice’ at area schools. I’m so proud of them :)

In other news, while I will continue teaching my classes at Buchanan right up until leaving, I taught my last ever 4th grade classes last week, as well as my last ever classes at the boys’ high school…two things that I WON’T miss. Other than the teachers, and some of the students—in their quiet, well-behaved moments, that is. Susan Teacher, the headmistress at one of the Lower Primary schools where I was teaching, gifted me a saree as a going away present, which I’ll be wearing some time this week. I’ve been wearing sarees a lot more frequently, recently—ever since I figured out how to put one on myself, they have been a welcome substitute for the same 7 or 8 churidars that I’ve gotten tired of wearing all year!

You might remember me saying that Jim, Maggie, and I would be leaving our sites on Saturday, July 16. Departure day, however, has now been changed to Friday, the 15th. That morning, Buchanan is having a ‘send off’ for me; that afternoon, at 2pm, I’ll go. It’s going to be a dramatic day.

So, I may or may not post again before leaving Buchanan. Most likely not. Lots to do; places to go, people to see. Last ever bucket laundry :) More and more packing. Cleaning. Etc etc. We’ll arrive to Thomas John Achen’s house on Friday, where we’ll stay til Monday, when our flight leaves for the US. I’ll be arriving to Florida on Tuesday, July 19.

I apologize if I don’t respond to emails/facebook in the upcoming week or so, minus the occasional status update or maybe a blog from Achen’s house. Because I’ve got forever to be home and talk to all of you there, and only a few days left here.

“Today give a stranger one of your smiles. It might be the only sunshine he sees all day.” -Unknown
Update: Obviously, it took me a while to post this one. Left Buchanan this morning and currently at Thomas John Achen's house. More soon.