Monday, July 25, 2011
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Sunday, July 17, 2011
|'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 movements...you 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.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
|Posing with a few of the teachers, wearing my grambu mala :-)|
(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
Saturday, July 9, 2011
With 6th grader, Aleena, while on one of our morning walks:
“I HATE HER!!” Aleena shouts in her characteristically overdramatic way, regarding a student that she doesn’t like.
“Aleena, it’s not nice to hate people. What if she knew you were saying these things about her? Wouldn’t she be sad?”
“Well I don’t care, she deserves it—she’s not nice and so selfish and thinks she’s better than everyone. I HATE HER!!”
I think of the perfect quote—what a nerd am I? “Aleena, you should be kind to all people, even if they are rude to you—“
She interrupts me with a skeptical look that says why on earth would I do that??
“—not because they are nice, but because you are.”
For once, always-ready-with-a-comeback Aleena is speechless.
With TTC student, Vanitha, while waiting for the food to be served at dinner time:
“Madi chechi, 8 days…you don’t go,” Vanitha says, crestfallen. Suddenly, her face shows that an exciting thought has occurred to her, and she asks, “Madi chechi, any time you see Obama?”
“Well, I saw him once. Before he was president. He came to a university in my city to give a speech and get support before the election.”
The handful of girls seated around us burst with remarks of delight and admiration.
Vanitha silences the din; she has something important to say. “Madi chechi, next time you see Obama…you tell him hello from all 2nd year TTC students, okay?? We love Obama! At election time, we are praying for him!”
I tell her I’ll do my best to pass on the message.
With Gracy Kochamma, in the kitchen:
“Hi Gracy Kochamma! Sukham aano?” (How are you?)
“Sukham alla,” she replies (not good).
“Oh no…vedana undo?” I ask (Do you have any pain? (‘head pain’, ‘stomach pain,’ etc are frequent expressions for being sick)).
“Vedana alla” (no, not pain). I wait for an explanation. She pauses to think and then smiles at the problem of having something to say but not knowing the words to say it. If she is not unwell physically, then the problem must be interpersonal, I deduce. Maybe a conflict with the new warden. I can tell she is sad, and I smile, too, also with the problem of having something to say but no words to say it. With a helpless look I walk out of the kitchen to wash my plate in the sink outside. What can I say to make her feel better? I wonder. The solution occurs to me and, plate washed, I walk back through the kitchen on my way to go on with my day. I say what I know she’ll understand: “I love Gracy Kochamma.”
Her face brightens and she replies, “Ah, you love Kochamma—Kochamma loves you.”
I walk out of the kitchen fighting back tears, thinking how much I’m going to miss her. I know that in our little conversation I have in no way lessened whatever is causing her problems, but I have done what I can; I made her smile. And love may not be the cure-all…but then again, maybe it is?
“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”-James Arthur Baldwin
…here’s the proof. Please read the following ‘farewell message,’ written to me by Lintu, a second-year TTC student:
"My dear Madi chechi,
You are first time I am talking in American girl. At the first time I am affraid because what can I do speak english. But you many time helping me. I am speaking not good english. You don’t smile. You help and appreciate me. Then you correct my mistake. I am thanking you. Madi chechi you are good woman. All must learn your good character. You are good role model in all womens. I am not forget. I miss you my 2nd year TTC and my life. You are beautiful girl. I like your beauty. I like your mind. You are good hard work girl. I like it. You don’t forget Kerala.
In my life I not like Americans. But you come my hostel, at this time I like Americans. You are a very adjust girl. Madi chechi all time I learn many thing of you. In my life your good qualitys I will use. I will pray God giving good husband. Happy family life. You don’t forget me. I love madi chechi. I miss you. God bless you.
By: your sister, Lintu
And that, my friends, makes it all worthwhile. Absolutely.
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” –Anais Nin
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” –Anais Nin
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
I wrote the following 'note,' entitled "the trade off," on facebook in October 2007. At that time I was a sophomore at FSU and lived in one of the dorms with one of my, to this day, best friends, Levity. I have included the note below; I randomly re-read it the other day and found it appropriate for this time.
"As I sit in my mass-produced desk, in my mass-produced chair, here in my beautiful dorm with my beautiful roommate, lucky to be me, living my beautiful life, I can't help but wishing for the magic ability to whisk back to the past, to the way things used to be. To a different time, or different times, rather, when life seemed a little more carefree.
What I wouldn't give to sit in Mr. Joiner's Criminal Justice classroom, studying the familiar faces of serial killers on the cold, watchful walls. To lay on the docks at Camp Kiwanis, aware of only the sun on my face, the breeze in the air, and the rhythmic creaking of the wood. To spend quality time with Dixie on the kitchen floor, seeing no judgment in those golden-brown eyes. To walk down my pitch-black hallway, instinctually avoiding every piece of furniture. To be close to old friends, or to see familiar faces at church.
It's ironic how the things we think of as habitual, commonplace, or boring become what we associate with comfort.
Change, however, is inevitable, and requires a sacrifice of that which is comfortable. It's not all bad, though, because what we give up is surely replaced by equally wonderful--if not better--experiences and occurrences.
To not leave the comforts behind would be to sacrifice the promise and potential of what lies ahead.
We lose to gain, and we gain to lose. Life is a trade-off. It's a cyclical process that is good and necessary, though not easy. I know this, I agree with it, and I am glad for it.
But sometimes, don't you wish you could just go back, if only for a day?"
Indeed, it is unpleasant to exchange comfort for uncertainty. And my life in Kerala has become comfortable (...even without a washing machine, air conditioning, etc ;-)). Although the list of what comes to mind when I think about things I associate with comfort here is drastically different from the one above. When I think of what I associate with comfort in Kerala, I think of daily morning coffee. The smell of wet dirt after a heavy rain. The moment when I take my plates into the kitchen after eating and, without fail, find Gracy Kochamma there chopping vegetables, endlessly. Seeing Jaimol Kochamma every morning. Catch-up conversations with Jim and Maggie. Beating the table with the rhythm of the songs at evening prayer, finally being able to sing loudly, too. After school hours, not being able to walk anywhere without one or several of the boarding students hanging all over me. Listening to them as they try to express their latest thought or story or joy or sorrow in English. And so many other things...
As I mentioned in "the trade off," we human beings tend to live under the principle of inertia--we resist change. But what stands out to me, now, in the above piece, are two things: 1. the truly cyclical nature of life--there were so many things that I was missing and feeling nostalgic about as a sophomore in college...and just look at all the wonderful experiences I had then and have had since! And 2, in continuation of that thought, "to not leave the comforts behind would be to sacrifice the promise and potential of what lies ahead." If I am honest with myself, in the midst of my sadness about leaving Kerala, the "promise and potential of what lies ahead" is something of which I have not been very mindful.
Two years ago when I posted that note, a wise friend of mine, Jason, commented and responded to the question at the end and said: "Sometimes, but in a few years you will look back and have the same nostalgic memories about where you are now. If you take time to appreciate that then you will be doubly blessed." I find his observation to be as equally powerful and relevant now as I did then.
So here's to appreciating the present and being doubly blessed, and to knowing that, while good things have passed, that good things are also coming :)
"The world is round and the place which might seem like the end may only be the beginning." -Ivy Baker Priest
With a sad smile I reply and say that I wish I didn't have to, either. It's kind of cute, though, to see how they are coping with the idea of me leaving; they have all been extra sweet, and I get about a thousand random hugs a day.
Yesterday, 6th grader Aleena said to me, "Madi chechi, I wish I had an anywhere door." I told her that I didn't know what an 'anywhere door' was, and she explained that it's a door that you can walk through and go--you guessed it--anywhere. "If I had an anywhere door," she said, "I would come visit you in America every day after school." "That sounds like a pretty good invention, Aleena--I wish I had one, too."
Aleena is one of the many girls I have taught to use my laptop. Several weeks ago she created a document that's saved to my desktop, and gave me strict instructions NOT to look at it. Well, of course I looked. The title of the document is 'dreams.' It is filled with all kinds of clip art...there is a hot dog, raspberries, a rabbit, a duck, a flower, and more. And there is a list, entitled "Dreams." The first item on the list is: "I want to study well in school." Next is, "I want to go to amrica and be a nurse in a big hospital there."
Yesterday, at the end of my conversation about anywhere doors with Aleena, I told her, "Aleena, you are smart. If you continue to work hard and use your intelligence to the fullest, you can go anywhere--you can do anything. Even without an anywhere door."
"Don't be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before meeting again, and meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends." -Richard Bach
Monday, July 4, 2011
Melodramatic, I know. And I confessed this fact to Jim over the phone this evening ("Jim, you're going to think I'm really dumb, but I cried THREE times today")...he thought this was hilarious, and his outrageous laughter at me made me laugh at myself. Now I know who to call when I need a reality check. Madison, you are ridiculous--pull yourself together!
Okay, I need to pull myself together. If you know me, you know that I hate being sad. I almost always see the 'bright side,' not through conscious effort but by default. I believe in the power of a positive attitude--life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. I'm a naturally happy person, perhaps sometimes annoyingly so.
So here's my problem, as I expressed it to Jaimol Kochamma today: "Kochamma, I am so sad about leaving. And I don't like feeling sad. And I don't want to spend my last two weeks feeling sad and making myself miserable. But how can I possibly NOT be sad?"
Sanila Teacher tried reassuring me by telling me that I can always come visit. Which is true. But visit or not, this is a time in my life that can never be recreated. I can always come back to Kerala--I can always keep in touch, to some extent, via letters or email--but this life as I know it--these relationships as they are now--are almost over, and will never be the same. In precisely eleven days. And that is what I mourn.
What I'm also wondering is, who was it that ever thought that it was a good idea for someone to completely uproot themselves from their home, go somewhere completely new, fall in love with everyone and everything there, and then have to leave? I'd like to have a word with them, please.
Okay just kidding. Obviously it's a good idea, and there are SO many benefits from the YAV program, both for the community of service and the volunteer herself/himself. But the end part...the goodbye part...is just hard :(
And then there are all kinds of other worries surrounding going home...What if it's difficult for me to adjust? What if I can't re-find my 'place'? What if reverse culture shock is too much...what if no one understands? WHAT IF I JUST REALLY WANT SOME KAPPA AND MEEN CURRY?!?!?!?
I know I have the love and prayers of a lot of people supporting me right now. Thank you. It is that, and the inevitable passage of time, that will lead me to Saturday, July 16--the day I leave Buchanan. Maggie will be picked up first from her site, Nicholson School. Then, the car will drive her to Buchanan, to collect me and my things. I have a feeling I will either not cry at all...or I will be inconsolable. Poor Maggie--in the case of the latter, you have my sympathy in advance ;-)
"Why can't we get all the people together in the world we really like and then just stay together? I guess that wouldn't work. Someone would leave. Someone always leaves. Then we would have to say goodbye. I hate goodbyes. I know what I need. I need more hellos." -Charles Schulz
Monday, June 27, 2011
I suppose it's our equivalent of 'oops,' 'ouch,' 'oh my gosh,' or any small exclamation used to express shock, disapproval/displeasure, surprise, etc.
In the beginning months, it felt so unnatural to say it. Even if I tried to say it at appropriate moments, it just felt...weird.
So I couldn't help but laugh at myself earlier today when I realized that I've been using the word involuntarily for a while. I was in my room, and had just accidentally dropped my comb in the toilet. "Ayyoo," I muttered to myself.
When did I start saying that? I wondered. And then I started thinking of all the other little Indian mannerisms I do involuntarily now. The head wobble...saying 'ah' repeatedly when someone is talking to me, to show active listening...making intentional blinks at people as a way to say hi...answering a question negatively with a shrug of my shoulders and a strong blink.
Those are just a few that I can think of at the moment. I don't know when I started doing all of that...maybe seven months ago...maybe six, maybe five...but what I do know is that until I can break myself of these mannerisms, after arriving home to the US, I'm gonna get some strange looks from people, that's for sure. ...Ayyo!
"Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars." -Henry Van Dyke
I find him in his room, as expected. He is cradling his paralyzed right arm in his lap, as he always does. His face lights up--"I thought you had gone back to America already," Mathew Uncle says. "No, not for another three weeks." I remind him that I've been back at Buchanan for the past month, and tell him what I've been doing there. Our topic of conversation then begins to meander every which way, and Mathew Uncle honors his reputation of being able to philosophize about any subject, and at length. I ask him about his opinion on women in the ministry, not because I am expecting or wanting a certain answer but because I genuinely like to know what people think, why they think the way they think, and how their experiences have shaped their unique opinions--not just about that subject, but any subject in general.
"That's an interesting question," Mathew Uncle says. "I might have to consult George." "Who is George?" I ask, puzzled. He smiles and his face shows that he is searching for an explanation. "George is my alter ego...my other personality, you could say. Sometimes I don't know what I think about something, so I have to ask George." I am thoroughly amused by this information and the conversation continues on; after about thirty minutes, I take my leave of Mathew Uncle. And George, too, of course.
I visit more of the appachens and amachees, lastly going to see Babu Kochamma, one of the paying residents. She laughs more than she speaks, as usual, and I find myself remembering the last time I visited with her like this. It was both Maggie's and my last day at Mandiram, and we gave a photo of the two of us to several of the appachens and amachees with whom we had become especially close, each one with a personal message on the back. Sitting in Babu Kochamma's room now, I notice that photo displayed above her TV. Eventually I tell her that I must go; she follows me out to her porch and, tightly gripping my arm and looking up into my face, exhorts me to "please remember me; I am a widow and have no children of my own." I promise her that I will, always.
It is Saturday afternoon; I am standing with Jim in front of Jaimol Kochamma's front door. We have just come from partaking in one of our favorite treats, after having departed from Mandiram: coffee and a donut at Ann's Bakery. Before leaving the bakery, which is near Kochamma's house, I thought, you know, this might be the last time I can visit Jaimol Kochamma. Why don't I stop by and bring her and her family some donuts? Now that we are standing in front of her door, however, I wonder if this is a good idea. "Jim, what if they are sleeping??" It is around 3pm, not an unlikely nap time, and the house is quiet.
Getting no encouragement or helpful advice from Jim (thanks a lot, Jim!), I take my chances and ring the doorbell. I breathe a sigh of relief as it is promptly answered by Jaimol Kochamma's husband, M.P. Joseph Achen. "Hi, Achen!" I say. "We came to visit." He graciously shows us in, and we find Jaimol Kochamma there, too. I hand her the box of donuts, accidentally with my left hand. Achen gently points out my error, but not in a reproachful way--they lived in the US for several years and know that differentiating between which hand you use to give someone something is not a practice there. I laugh at myself, thinking that after ten months I would remember not to do that. Like Earth Kitt, "I am learning all the time--the tombstone will be my diploma."
We spend a few minutes chatting with Achen and Kochamma; Kochamma and I discuss next Saturday's farewell meeting. It will be a chance for the three volunteers, our supervisors, and the YAV India Program Coordinator, Thomas John Achen, to come together and have a formal 'sendoff' meeting, during which time we reflect on the positives of the year and talk about how to move forward and pave the way for the next volunteers. Sitting in Jaimol Kochamma's living room, however, we decide that there is no need for her and I to attend the meeting, as I am not leaving. Thomas John Achen, you have hereby been informed ;-)
It is Saturday evening; the power is out. I am sitting on the front steps of my hostel, taking advantage of what little daylight remains in the company of several of the TTC and Buchanan boarding students. There is the excited talk and laughter of which only teenage girls are capable, and I feel complete contentment as I enjoy the uncommonly cool breeze, a downpour on the horizon. I listen to the chatter and with astonishment realize, I actually know what they're saying.
Eighth grade Shanu runs up to us, a piece of twine wrapped around her head, adorned with a hibiscus flower. She dramatically stops in front of the group and in her most bellowing, theatrical voice, proclaims, "I AM QUEEN SHANU. MADI CHECHI, YOU COME WITH ME!"
I decide to defy Her Majesty. "Venda!" (no!), I yell back. Queen Shanu jumps up and down, stomps her feet, and shakes her head in rage, the hibiscus flower flying out of her crown in the process.
Anu, Athira, and Vava decide I need a new hairstyle and set to work without delay. Joshmi takes the earrings out of her ears and puts them in mine. Shiva Renjini sticks a pottu on my forehead; with this finishing touch, I am pronounced sunthari (beautiful). A princess in Queen Shanu's court.
"Love builds up the broken wall
and straightens the crooked path.
Love keeps the stars in the firmament
and imposes rhythm on the ocean tides.
Each of us is created of it
and I suspect
each of us was created for it."
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Thursday, June 16, 2011
On my wall in my bedroom, I have two lists: one is entitled “ongoing projects”; the other, “long term goals.” Both were created about ten months ago, now, as a way to remind myself of the things I needed to keep on my mind on a daily basis, as well as in the long view. With one month left in Kerala, now seems like a good time to evaluate how well I’ve done.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
"We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they're called memories. Some take us forward, they're called dreams." -Jeremy Irons
Friday, June 10, 2011
Today it didn’t rain ONCE. However due to yesterday’s frequent and copious rain spells, school today was cancelled because of flooding. I guess in Kerala we have ‘rain days’ instead of ‘snow days’?
“Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn't have it in the beginning.” –Mahatma Ghandi
"Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing." -Camille Pissarro