Tuesday, August 31, 2010

'India strikes again'


Yes, friends—we have arrived. Seem like it took a while? Well, it did. We departed NY at 9:30PM on August 30. It’s currently 11:01AM on September 1st in India. I’m 9.5 hours ahead of you, so it’s about 1:31AM on the East Coast, I believe. I’m too tired to attempt to figure out how much time that is in transit—let’s just say it’s way more than the original 18 hours that we anticipated.

What took so long, you ask?

The plane ride from NY to Mumbai was about 16 hours. 16 hours of crying babies.

We arrived to Mumbai at about 10:30PM on August 31. Within moments of stepping off the plane, we were faced with 2 signs indicating 2 different security lines. One for women, and one for men. (Side note: genders are often segregated in India. As far as I know, it’s in the interests of safety and respect for women). I was familiar with this practice, but didn’t expect to encounter it so immediately. That being said, Maggie and I joined the women’s line, and Jim went to the men’s. Interestingly, the men’s line had about half as many people, and yet twice as many security lanes as the women’s line. Apparently men have more important places to be, and faster ;)

After making it through security, we started to meander toward the gate for our flight to Cochin, which was supposed to board at 12AM. An airport employee along the way asked us if we needed assistance finding our gate. We told him our destination and time of departure; he cheerfully responded that our flight to Cochin, which was supposed to board in just a short 1.5 hrs, has been delayed to 6AM. “However, please enjoy a complementary snack at 2AM.”

It was shortly after he walked away that the hysterical laughter began. We had just flown 16 hours to be told that we had to wait 7 more, overnight, for the next one—BUT, we would get a free snack! We decided it would be good bonding time, and passed the hours playing cards, several rounds of “would you rather,” and doing who knows what. Good bonding time, it was.

Finally, we boarded our plane to Cochin. Having been fed several times on the flight from NY, and let’s not forget the 2AM snack!, we were amused to find out that breakfast was being served. Maggie politely told the flight attendant, a few times, that she didn’t want anything, to which the flight attendant very sweetly and assuredly replied, “put down your tray table, you need some food.” So of course that’s what Maggie did. I believe this marks the beginning of the large amount of food that we will attempt (probably with the same amount of success) to refuse in the upcoming year.  Indians are known for their hospitality, and so far, this has proven true!

Not long after breakfast, I noticed that the carpet at my feet felt wet. Maggie, Jim, and I hypothesized as to why this might be, finally concluding that 1) our seats were in front of the bathroom, and 2) something in the bathroom was leaking. You guessed it—the carpet was saturated with what we can only assume was pee water. As well as the bottom of my purse. First words out of Jim’s mouth—‘India strikes again.’

Please know that I recount none of these events with any sort of annoyance—far from it, actually. We were happy to be traveling here, and happy to get here. I knew that this year would be an adventure, so it’s only fitting that the trip be an adventure, too. At the time all of the above events occurred, all we could do was laugh. We’re still laughing :)

Just in the distance from the Cochin airport to Thomas John’s house, I have already been struck by the beauty and diversity of India’s landscape and people. I have seen so many beautiful sarees, and encountered so many kind people. And it’s only day 1

Monday, August 30, 2010

YAV Orientation

Laughter. Silliness. Seriousness. Song. Questions. Excitement. Apprehension. Community.  Just a few of the elements that have filled this past week . 7 long days; 7 beautiful days.

YAV Orientation took place at the Stony Point Conference Center in Stony Point, NY. A conference center of the PCUSA, Stony Point has some really great things going on. From their well-tended vegetable gardens to the three residential intentional communities (one Christian, one Jewish, and one Muslim—all committed to using the best of their faith traditions to promote nonviolence and peace), that call Stony Point home, it is truly a unique place. Not to mention the weather has been gorgeous, and I had no idea that NY is such a beautiful state.

Sixty-something other YAVs and I spent the week absorbing as much as possible to prepare for the upcoming year. We participated in helpful (albeit lengthy) information sessions/discussions surrounding topics such as community and conflict, culture shock, safety, discernment, globalization, gender issues, systems of injustice, race and power, etc.

Some further highlights of the week…
-Conversations with Cammy, Lindsey, and Ben (3 previous India YAVs), who so graciously put up with our barrage of questions and in the process made us all even more excited (if that’s possible) for the upcoming year
-Making new friends; learning what they’ll be doing; being excited for them and for each other.
-Reliving 10 minutes of childhood on a merry-go-round
-Learning that I will probably be riding an elephant at some point within the next week

For those of you who are wondering where I am at the moment (I’ve gotten several “where are you?!”s and “when are you actually leaving?!”s), I’m still at Stony Point. The India Crew is leaving here at 6:30PM—we fly out of JFK around 9:30. Our flight is direct to Mumbai (16 hours!!!), after which we will take a shorter, 2-hour flight to southern India. I’m not sure when we arrive. I don’t know what the time difference is. I don’t even know how to say “hello” in Malayalam. But I do know that Thomas John Achen (our site coordinator) will be there to greet us, and that is enough. 

While it seemed—at the beginning, at least—that this week of orientation would never end, here it is: DEPARTURE DAY. While it is sad for most, I know, to say goodbye to new friends, I think we are ready. Ready to jump into this year of service; ready to embrace the known and unknown; ready see what God has in store for us in the next year and beyond. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

some packing considerations

Since I’m leaving Ocala tomorrow, I guess it’s appropriate that I start packing tonight. Better late, than never, right? As I find myself examining clothing and musing, “this material might be hard to handwash” (yes, I will have to handwash all of my clothes), the ever-present question in the back of my mind has been…How does one pack for a year?

The obvious answer is “I don’t know.” One look at the chaos in my living room could easily tell you that. Strewn about everywhere are my clothes, walmart bags full of miscellaneous necessities, my backpacker’s backpack, Janey’s Chacos (for my fellow Floridians, a rugged sandal that is popular in mountainous areas, like North Carolina) that I’m conveniently stealing from her, and more. But when it comes down to it, it’s all just “things”.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself in the past few weeks, it’s that I really dislike “things.” I suppose I should backtrack a bit to fill some of you in…On August 6th, I moved out of my college apartment in Tallahassee. This was sad, in many ways, as I am lucky enough to be able to count my roommates among my best friends; saying goodbye to our life and memories in University Village, apartment 207, was more difficult than I can really describe.

The surprisingly easy part, though, was packing. Or, in the interests of being specific—it was easy once I decided I didn’t really want anything I had. As I struggled to pack things—purses, shoes, decorations, nick nacks, you name it—all of the clutter with which we are accustomed to filling our lives—I realized I didn’t want any of it. Which resulted in me donating most of my earthly possessions to Goodwill. Many things—furniture, kitchenware, etc—I was happily able to give to my roommate, Levity, who, having just moved into a house, will actually use most of it. And hopefully think about her roomie when she does :)

I moved home to Ocala with nothing more to show for the past 4 years than my 2 diplomas, a bunch of clothes, books (none of which I could bring myself to give away), my dog, and miscellaneous items of sentimental value.

It was freeing, really, giving away all the aforementioned items that didn’t make the Ocala cut, especially knowing that someone else might have a greater need for them than I do. And most of all, it reaffirmed for me that the most important things in life aren’t things at all.

For now, back to packing I go. I’ll leave you with a bit of advice that doesn't exactly apply to me but is given to India YAVs on the generic suggested packing list. “For men, if you’re a boxers man, bring a year’s supply. If you’re a briefs man, bring a year’s supply. If you’re a brightly colored bikini-briefs guy, welcome to underwear heaven.”

Monday, August 16, 2010


Friends, family, internet stalkers, acquaintances, peers, strangers, loved ones,

Hello and WELCOME! You are currently reading the inaugural blog post of a period of my life that is sure to be an adventure. As you most likely know, given that you have somehow found your way here, I am going to be spending the next year, August 2010-August 2011, serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Kerala, India. I hope that you will periodically grace this page with your presence, experience this journey with me vicariously, and offer your thoughts, advice, comments, support, etc. along the way.

I’d like to begin by posing a question, the very same one that is asked in a well-known song from one of my favorite musicals, Rent: “How do you measure a year?”

A year’s a long time, you know. To me, at least. Although I guess as we get older, what’s considered a ‘big’ amount of time gradually increases. I recall my freshman year at FSU, when I was preparing to study abroad in Panama for a semester. In that four-years-younger mind of mine, a semester, 4 months, was a huge amount of time to be away.  In the weeks prior to my departure, I would worriedly exclaim, ‘I’m leaving soon, for 4 months! That’s a third of a YEAR!! Do you know how long that is??? A YEAR, divided by THREE!” And yet, both of my semesters in Panama—those ‘third-of-a-year!’s—flew by.

I think of adult friends who, upon reflecting on their lives, have been able to speak of experiences using phrases like ‘in my thirties and forties’, or, ‘I spent about 15 years working…’. What can I refer to in my life using that language, in terms of decades? What have I done for the past fifteen years? Fifteen years ago I was 7 and probably still wondering how something so pretty as a dandelion could be considered a weed.

Perhaps this upcoming year of service will one day seem like it transpired in the blink of an eye. I expect that the days and weeks will at times race by, although I also know there will be times they will drag. Truthfully, I don’t know what to expect at all. What I do know, however, is that my time in India will forever change me; my outlook on and goals in life; the lens through which I view all people and things.  I am incredibly sad to say goodbye to friends and family, and to my beautiful person-dog, Kiba, but I am heartened by Frederick Buchener’s words: “You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”

I could waste time being sad about the things I will miss out on this year: Janey’s 18th birthday and high school graduation, Jessica’s wedding, the birth of Katie’s baby girl, and a host of other moments in the lives of my loved ones, both tangible and intangible, big and small. But I think the word that transforms my sadness into something totally opposite—something that can only be described as great happiness and excitement—is gratitude. Gratitude for the love of the friends and family I’m leaving behind; gratitude for the people I will meet and serve along the way; gratitude for this opportunity and all those who have helped make it a reality. 

How do you measure a year?

Measure in love.