Tuesday, November 23, 2010

puppies, coffee, crocheting, and hand turkeys galore

I love animals. I love puppies. So when 4 puppies showed up at Buchanan in a box, how could I NOT play with them?

As I reached down to pick up the first one, I could practically hear the voice of the travel nurse at the Alachua County Health Department. I seem to recall some warnings about staying away from stray animals…something to do with diseases, rabies…But that quickly faded away as I held in my hands a fat little black puppy who could have easily been baby Kiba. Let me also mention that I was the only one in the crowd of students and teachers who would touch the puppies. As I did so, they eyed me with a mixture of amusement, bewilderment, and probably a little disgust, too. But I just couldn’t help myself—they were so darn CUTE! For you germaphobes out there, you’ll be relieved to know that I washed my hands afterward.

Last Monday and Tuesday, Buchanan hosted a district-wide ‘exhibition’—basically, the equivalent of a ‘science fair.’ In addition to science-related projects, however, there were also the categories of work experience (what we would think of as handicrafts), math, etc. Students from other area schools, accompanied by their teachers, came to Buchanan to compete. Since classes were canceled due to the exhibition, the Buchanan teachers and I found ways to entertain ourselves. For me, that was helping out at the bake sale—specifically, selling coffee. It was a good opportunity to practice Malayalam numbers. Oru kappi (one coffee), for example, was ezhu (seven) rupees. Randu (two) coffees was pathinalu (fourteen) rupees. It didn’t get much more complicated than that :)

Recently, I decided that Gracy Kochamma (the warden of my hostel) and I needed a bonding activity. She is a sweet, grandmotherly figure with a sense of humor, but she speaks very little English, which really limits our interactions. So, having seen her on multiple occasions knitting, saree embroidering, etc, I asked her to teach me something. Basically it was a great idea—we’ve spent more time together, and I can now officially crochet. I’m making a blanket, and right now it’s about the size of a scarf. I’ve got a long way to go. Perhaps another benefit of this venture on my part is that now that several of the girls have seen me crocheting, they also asked Gracy Kochamma to teach them. We’re a sight to see, me, 6 or 7 girls, and Gracy Kochamma, all on the front porch of the hostel, crocheting away.
My lesson plans for last week/this week have been centered around teaching the students about Thanksgiving. With the younger grades, this has included an art project—that’s right, hand turkeys! After explaining the concept of Thanksgiving (‘Thanksgiving is an American holiday in which we celebrate the things we’re thankful for, like family and friends. A special food eaten on Thanksgiving is turkey. (And then I had to explain what a turkey was, and show a picture)), I had the students name what they’re thankful for. Then, I had them trace their hands, write one thing for which they are thankful in each ‘feather’, and color their hand turkey. The coloring part was definitely an exercise in organized chaos, but it was a fun lesson, both for the students, and me.

Sunday, I went to Jaimol Kochamma’s church for the first time. It’s about an hour away from Buchanan, and required that I take two different buses. There was a considerable amount of concern expressed on everyone’s part about me traveling alone to somewhere I had never been. But armed only with my spirit of adventure, a paper with some directions, and no aversion to asking questions or pantomiming, off I went. And I made it there just fine, and it was a great day :) Jaimol Kochamma’s mother-in-law was hilarious. When asked to guess my age, she thought I was considerably older than I am (a common misconception about Americans, in general—since we are usually taller than Indians, they often think we are older). Upon being informed of my real age, she was at first incredulous, then thought it was really funny, and then exclaimed, “And your mother let you come to India alone?!” 

"Spread love everywhere you go... let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile." -Mother Theresa

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

snippets of time

Some vignettes, if you will, from the past few weeks:

It is a Monday. Achen and I are sitting in the waiting room at an eye hospital. Maggie has been having trouble with one of her eyes, and she is currently in another room waiting for the doctor, who is supposed to arrive at 9AM. Without warning, he walks in through the exterior glass double doors, self-assured and well-dressed. It’s 8:57—he’s EARLY, I think. This guy has got to be good. He enters his small office, and through the cracked door, I can see that he is praying. I notice a painting of Krishna on the wall—he’s Hindu. A few moments pass, the doctor finishes his prayer, and he strides into Maggie’s room. I know she is in good hands.

It is a Tuesday—bath time, to be precise. I turn on the faucet to fill my bucket with water and…nothing. No water. What to do. I know there is a well outside but have never had to draw water from it. There’s a first time for everything, I think. I walk to the well, bucket in hand. I peer down to the bottom and am greeted by the earthy smell of cold, wet stone. Hand over hand, I pull the rope until I am rewarded with a bucket of clear, cool water. It takes two of the well buckets to fill my larger bucket. Mission accomplished, I walk back to my room, mentally reciting Jack and Jill.

It is a Friday. I am at Sanila Teacher’s house, still psychologically recovering from a rough day at school. We have just finished tea and are now waiting for the neighbors to arrive for her weekly prayer meeting. She tells me she has been hosting it at her home for the past ten years. There is a knock—the door opens—several people stream in. A little boy and I simultaneously spot each other; he looks about four. I smile at him. He makes a beeline for me with an outstretched hand, which I shake. Surprised at the brazenness that isn’t typical of his age, I think that’s sweet. He doesn’t let go of my hand. Instead, he curls up next to me, his head on my shoulder, holding my hand all the while. Throughout the prayer, he sporadically whispers to me; my English-only ears have no idea what he’s saying (or what anyone else is saying, for that matter). He holds my cheek in his little hand, smiling at me with adoration. I am overwhelmed by these pure, simple, unexpected acts of love from one so small, a stranger.

"We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” -Jawaharlal Nehru

Sunday, November 7, 2010

chitrangal (photos)

I finally got some time to post photos from our backwaters boat ride, the tamil nadu trip, and this past weekend

Not writing more now because enniku ksheenam aane (I'm tired). But first! I think I'm going to start including random quotes in my posts. So here's today's:

"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better...to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Buenas noches :)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

and then...

Having just finished ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ and wanting nothing more than a hug from each of my much-missed friends, I debated what to do next. It was POURING rain outside. For all I knew, the little girls next door were sleeping or still restricted to studying. But feeling emotionally exhausted and wanting human company, I poked my head out my door to see if anyone was around. All that was visible outside the exterior window was the pouring rain.

As I turned to reenter my room, I saw a flash of color outside the window. I thought I heard laughter. Going closer to investigate, I found Nimmy, drenched, jumping in a puddle and with a huge smile on her face. A second later, the rest of the younger girls came careening around the corner of the building, shrieking in delight as they ran through the rain.

Upon seeing me, they immediately beckoned me to come join them. I was momentarily torn. But it only took a half-second of consideration to reject any notions of age-appropriate behavior and dash out into the rain.

There’s something incredibly renewing about playing in the rain. And it was perfect timing, that all the love I had been desperately missing just a few minutes before, I found right outside my front door. Nine pairs of small bare feet, soaked from head to toe.

"I'll keep a part of you with me, and everywhere I am, there you'll be"

There was no school on Friday due to a Hindu holiday, Diwali. All of the TTI (Teacher Training Institute) girls went home for the weekend, leaving me, Serene, and Nini (both of whom are students at the nearby Speechly College) alone in our hostel. Let me tell you, this place has never been so quiet!

Next door remained Gracy Kochamma and the nine younger girls, who were not allowed to go home since they have more exams next week and were supposed to dedicate the weekend to studying. I can in retrospect tell you that it’s been a LOT of playing, with some studying here and there. Friday morning, though, they were studying, and Serene and Nini were napping, so I found myself in the rare circumstance of having nothing to do and no one to hang out with. But thanks to Maggie, I had a few dvds laying around, and decided to watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ I’m not sure how it’s possible, but I had never seen it before.

You know, it takes a REALLY good movie to make you cry from happiness. The end, it just got me!! Does it get you, too?

Clarence the angel’s parting note—‘remember: no man is a failure who has friends’—got me to thinking about mine, and how much I miss them. I thought of my roommates—my married friends—my soon to be married friends—my pregnant friend!—my college friends, my childhood friends—my study abroad friends—my adult friends—KIBA!!—my family, who are also my friends—my friends, who are like my family.

Friends, this one’s for you. I miss you every day. Thank you for being part of my life.

“What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” –Helen Keller


This post was written on November 4.

The first day I arrived to Buchanan, I already had a letter awaiting me. It was from Sarah, Buchanan’s previous volunteer. The letter served as an introduction to Buchanan and the people and daily events I would encounter. Regarding life at the BI Boarding Hostel, she mentioned that each day revolves around two things: prayer and food. I had no idea at the time how true of a statement this was.

Every day, seven days a week, at both 6:30AM and 6:30PM, the girls meet for prayer, led by Gracy Kochamma. ‘Prayer’ isn’t really a sufficiently descriptive word, though. We begin with song—in the morning, only one, and in the evening, three or four—read a passage from Psalms, and a passage from the Old or New Testament, and then pray. The whole thing takes about thirty minutes.

Of course, it’s all in Malayalam. And while I don’t always love the sound of the 6:30AM prayer bell, there’s something nice about the fact that all I have to do is show up and beat the table to the rhythm of the song. It’s not a bad way to wake up, actually.

Let’s talk a little more about this Malayalam thing. Sruthy always helps me follow the words in the songbook, and while I now know most of the alphabet, I’m still not nearly fast enough to read at the pace of a song. But that’s totally fine. It’s actually kind of fun to challenge myself to see how quickly I can read the words. And the best part is that during the course of the past couple of months, I’ve learned the tune of most of the songs.

So no, I can’t sing along. Yet. But for now, gosh darn it, I can hum. And I think God likes that just fine.

Side note: the Indian version of Fritos that I just discovered and have been munching on while writing this post are amazing. I just had my last one. Of course, I said that ten bites ago, too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

retreat numero dos

This post was written on November 2.

This past weekend, we had our second retreat. This was exciting for a number of reasons. 1. It's always nice to spend time with Jim, Maggie, Achen, Betty Kochamma, and Binu, and 2. It signaled the completion of two full months in India.

I can't believe so much time has gone by. True, there are nine more months left, but I am already starting to suspect I am going to be very sad when July arrives. Today I had an evaluation meeting with Jaimol Kochamma, where I had to respond to the question: "What are some things you appreciate and are thankful for about the site?" After having conscientiously thought about that question, and naming the things for which I am thankful (which were many!), I can already tell it's going to be hard to say goodbye. The one consolation, albeit temporary, is that that day is pretty far away. For now...

But enough with the sadness, and back to the retreat. We stayed at Maramon Retreat Center, near Kozhencherry. There were some interesting Pentacostal folks there who made quite a racket. They even had two Americanos preaching. So Maggie, Jim, and I were always on the lookout for the white guys, who we decided couldn't be nearly as legitimate as us since they both ate with silverware. Who does that?

The main focus of this retreat was to learn about dalits, also known as untouchables. In the scope of Indian society, dalits are considered so low that they fall entirely outside the caste system. The caste system is abolished in theory, but not practice. As we learned from our guest lecturer, a professor and dalit himself, caste permeates all aspects of daily life.

The 'rules' that affect dalits can be extremely oppressive. We were told about how in some places, they have to travel on separate streets, and their homes must be on the east side of the village so that the wind coming from the west doesn't hit them first and spread to those of higher caste. They have to cover their mouths when speaking to someone of a higher caste.

India YAVs at the church we visited. The kids were SO cute!
Of course, these are some manifestations of dalit realities at their worst. The above conditions don't exist in Kerala. That is not to say, however, that the life of a dalit, even in less oppressive areas, is any easier. A dalit cannot marry outside of his/her caste. They are confined to the most menial, dangerous, and degrading jobs in society. Oftentimes someone of a higher caste will refuse to rent their property to a dalit. They don't have access to good quality education, have few opportunities for advancement, and are usually very poor.

On the third day of the retreat, we visited a dalit community. Their homes, which at one time were thatched huts, are now concrete block structures, thanks to government initiatives. On Sunday, we attended their church. They were some of the most welcoming people we have encountered in India yet (and that's saying a lot--everyone here is welcoming!).

Having taken several Southern Literature classes in college, I found myself thinking about the years surrounding the era of slavery in the US, and the concept of 'passing.' Black people who were light-skinned enough would move to an entirely new place where no one knew them and live as white people, thus escaping the curse of their skin color. As we spent the weekend learning about dalits, I found myself wondering why they don't do the same. Why don't dalits just move somewhere and tell people they are Brahmins?

The answer to this question, as I learned from our guest lecturer, is that this is virtually impossible. Number one, dalits don't have the financial resources to accomplish such a feat. And even more significantly, caste is such an integral part of one's identity, it is inescapable. Your caste is easily revealed by your appearance, your manner of speech, where you live, your occupation, the people with whom you associate--even your name. For dalits, there is no such thing as upward mobility. And as our guest lecturer pointed out, "Heirarchy without mobility--without free choice--is slavery."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

decisions, decisions...

I'm going to take the liberty of operating on the assumption that if you're reading my blog, you have at least some minor degree of interest in my welfare, not only as a YAV in India, but beyond my time of service here. In light of this, this post has nothing to do with India. It's about AFTER India. 

You're right--it's a little early to be talking about 'after India.' ...But not really. While that time itself is, indeed, rather far away, I have to decide what post-India life is going to look like. What will I be doing this time next year? And I have to decide soon. 

Here are my options:
1. Start Seminary. This has always been my plan. YAV India, then Seminary. After 3 years, I'll have my Masters in Divinity. There are opportunities for me to pair the m.Div with a JD, Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, or a Masters in Social Work--all of which I'm interested in. I've visited Louisville Seminary, Austin Seminary, and Columbia Seminary. Though I was unable, I've wanted to visit Union and McCormick. The aforementioned dual-degrees are only offered at some of the above schools--not all. If I'm going to start Seminary next year, I need to start applying in the upcoming months.
2. Do a second YAV year, at a national site. I'm most interested in Tuscon, AZ, where YAVs work primarily with organizations that deal with immigration and border issues. I think this would be SO interesting. Immigration is such a controversial topic, and regardless of one's position on the matter, there is much to be gained from further exposure to/experience with this issue, especially from a faith perspective and in a Christian context. Also, I speak Spanish, which would undoubtedly come in handy (it isn't much help here, that's for dang sure!!).

If I apply for Seminary this year, intending to enroll in Fall 2011, I'll have to make decisions re: the dual-degrees, and possibly rule out Union and McCormick entirely, as I can't really envision myself committing the next three or more years of my life to a place where I've never even set foot. Ruling them out so arbitrarily seems, to me, unwise, and would be doing an injustice to myself and my theological education. However, if I do a second YAV year, I'm putting off continuing my education by another year. The pros are that I would possibly be able to visit the remaining schools and have more time for discernment and figuring out which path, exactly, I want to take. Not to mention all the inherent growth and learning that comes with any YAV year. 

But do I really need more time? My gut feeling is yes. But then I wonder...Do I need more time, or am I just putting off making decisions and going back to school in favor of another adventure?

All of the above has been on my mind a great deal recently, and as you can see, I'm quite muddled. So I'm going to be very Presbyterian right about now and invite the discernment of the community ;) If you have any thoughts/suggestions/cautions/etc about my discernment dilemma, I would love to hear them. Feel free to comment, or just email me at madisonm427@gmail.com. 

Muchas gracias, mis amigos!