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.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

conversations from this week

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

YAV year=success

…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

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

the world is round

I have found myself thinking about other YAVs often this week. Mis amigos in Kenya, Northern Ireland, South Korea, Guatemala, Peru, and cities throughout the United States. If I have been feeling down about leaving India, how have THEY been feeling? Maybe sad, too. Maybe happy. Maybe anxious about what comes next, whether its back to school or finding a job. Or maybe anxious about the fact that they don't know what comes next at all?

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 

learning about anywhere doors

Well, any efforts I have been making to control my sadness about leaving have been complicated by the 50 girls I live with who tell me, every day, how many days I have left and how I'm not allowed to go. "Madi chechi, today it's ten days...DON'T GO!"

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

thoughts about leaving, or, PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER

Today I have felt like a glass, filled to the brim. At the slightest nudge--the slightest provocation--I spill over. In tears :(

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 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


Ayyo: What does it mean?

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

appreciating the small moments

It is Saturday morning; I am visiting Mandiram for the first time since leaving. Manna is as precious as ever, and, I am happy to say, remembers my name. She asks in her sweet little Manna voice, "Maggie chechi evide a?" (Where is Maggie chechi?). "Innu free alla," I tell her. "Program unde." (She's not free today, she has a program). I tickle her and then put her on the ground, off to search for Mathew Uncle.

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 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."
-Maya Angelou

Sunday, June 26, 2011

a picture's worth a thousand words...

This post was written on June 21.  

In many ways, this year has been an experience of sharing. In many ways…so many ways. The least impressive way, but the way that I’m going to comment on now, is regarding material possessions. I brought with me to India, for example, my laptop and digital camera. There inevitably came a day, perhaps last October, when one of the boarding students asked, "Can you show me how to use your laptop? Can I take some photos with your camera?"

It may not seem like it, but that was a defining moment. It was a moment when I could have said, justifiably, "no, no students are allowed to use my laptop or camera." I could have even blamed it on someone else, and said "no, I’m not supposed to let students use my laptop or camera." But instead, I said "sure—what’s mine is yours."

Maybe not the most responsible decision. I am well aware of the value (monetary, that is) of what I would have lost if something had happened to either item. But I chose that risk over fostering barriers. Saying "no, you can’t use my camera or laptop," might not seem like it would have constructed a big ‘barrier’ to you, but the barrier hides in the sentiment behind the words, not in the words themselves. Saying "no, you can’t use my camera or laptop" would have been to say "no, you can’t use my camera or laptop, and these are just two out of many things that I have that you will probably never have—they are two more things that remind us all of why I’m different from you; why I’m more privileged than you. There is something special about me and my possessions, more valuable than you and yours, that requires you to keep your distance."

So in that defining moment, it didn’t take me long to decide. I’ve never been very possessive over my belongings, anyway, and when the deck is already stacked against you, in terms of people treating you specially or as if you were superior, you do what you can to level the playing field. For me, showing the girls how to use my camera and laptop was a way to do just that.

It's worth mentioning that allowing the boarding students such freedom with my stuff would have been impossible at a site like Maggie's, Nicholson School, where there are hundreds of girls. Being that I live with only about fifty, I know every girl well individually. I might've felt a little uneasy ten months ago, but I would now trust any of them with anything.  

Of course, if I left my laptop with students, I was always bound to be nearby. My camera, however, was a different story—being that it’s waterproof, shockproof, etc (thanks, Mom!), I figured there wasn’t much that anyone could do to hurt it. So letting them play with it, have never-ending photoshoots, and unleash their inner photographers is something that has been fun to watch. I think they have taken more photos with my camera this year than I have!

The girls were funny with my laptop. Many of them were at first afraid to touch it, as if it would break or self-destruct by a mere touch of their hand. Given that none of them even knew how to turn it on—to open a program—to play a song—to save a document—it’s really rewarding, now, to see all the things they can do. And I think it was kind of empowering for them. It was a way to show them that they are just as capable of using technology as I am, or anyone else is. Why would I have lorded over itunes, or my photo software, as if the girls would indeed hurt my laptop, when I could just as easily teach them how to use the programs themselves?

You know all those photoshoots I just mentioned that they like to have? The photos end up on my computer…the girls look at themselves in picture form with nothing less than delight…they pick out their favorites, I save them to my USB drive, and take them to be printed. I made a trip to my beloved Aska Digital Studio yesterday for just that purpose.

I occasionally get tired of all of the work this photo printing stuff takes. Consider: about 50 students who all want different photos…having to figure out which photos, exactly; making a list; collecting 8 rupees per photo, etc. 

But then I remember what it was like to be a teenager and have a digital camera. I remember myspace photos, which turned into facebook photos. I think of the hundreds and hundreds of photos I have saved on my computer, or my external harddrive, all of which document pretty much every year and phase of my life. And I remember that these girls don’t have any of that. Why shouldn’t I give them a piece of it if I can?

Letting them use my camera—coordinating the effort to organize and print a few photos for them—dealing with the hassle and confusion that sometimes arises out of it—is all worth it when I remember that when Merlin is thirty and has kids of her own, these ten or fifteen photos will be all she has of this chapter of her life. Maybe, when Libiya is in her forties, she will look at the photo that was taken of her last week and think, 'was I ever really that skinny??' …It’s all worth it when I remember that when Lintu, the most narcissistic of them all, finishes her degree and moves somewhere new, she might have a couple photos of her friends back home to show her new friends and neighbors. That, ten or fifteen or twenty years from now, when these girls have many years of teaching under their belts, they can pull out a few photos and remember this time and the friends they had, during their education as teachers-in-training that seemed like it would never end.

‘Cause here’s the thing: it does end. And I hope that one day, these photos will help them to remember this year in their life; what a wonderful time it was.

"Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose." -Kevin Arnold

Thursday, June 16, 2011

a note to Paul Dombey

The following passage is taken from Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son, in which Paul’s views toward leaving his school (permanently, one later learns) are narrated.

“[Mrs Blimber] touched the child upon a tender point. He had secretly become more and more solicitous from day to day, as the time of his departure drew more near, that all the house should like him. From some hidden reason, very imperfectly understood by himself—if he understood at all—he felt a gradually increasing impulse of affection, towards almost everything and everybody in the place. He could not bear to think that they would be quite indifferent to him when he was gone. He wanted them to remember him kindly; and he had made it his business even to conciliate a great, hoarse, shaggy dog, chained up at the back of the house, who had previously been the terror of his life: that even he might miss him when he was no longer there" (Dickens 175).

Oh little Paul, I know how you feel. I’ve tried befriending the dogs, too. Unfortunately they are stray and wary of people….but maybe after a month's time they’ll wonder at the absence of the madama who used to call to them sometimes during her morning walks with the children.

unfinished business

This post was written on June 14.

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.

The “ongoing projects” list reads:
            1. Class lesson plans
            2. KNH Hostel
            3. Writing project
            4. Zumba
            5. Blog

How well did I keep up with all of those, you ask? Well, teaching up to 5 periods a day, it would have been impossible to function without lesson plans. So I’ve been good about being prepared. My weekly visits with the girls of the KNH Hostel have gone well, although there has been a week or two here and there that I haven’t been able to meet with them due to scheduling conflicts on both of our parts. The ‘writing project’ refers to an English ‘magazine’ that I was supervising/editing for about half of the year—it got 1st place in a local competition! Exercise class, Zumba, has continued on, even if it’s occasionally just me and Aleena (which doesn’t bother either of us a bit :)). And I’ve been blogging as frequently as I hoped to, which makes me happy for the sake of keeping all of you informed, and for having my own record of the most memorable people/places/events of this year.

The “long term projects” list reads:
            1. Learn Malayalam
            2. Lose 5kg
            3. Be accepted to Seminary
            4. “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle
            unknown to you”
            5. …be the best YAV ever!

Now, I certainly did not learn Malayalam. Fluently, I mean. But I can read and write, understand a fair amount, and have a decent sized vocabulary/speaking ability of my own. I think if I were here for another year, I’d be in business! And I did lose 5 kg (although, I gained it before I lost it...but who’s counting?). I was accepted to Seminary, and I’ll speak on the 4th task in the next paragraph. With regard to the 5th, I may not have been the best YAV ever, but I was the best YAV that I could be, and if you ask me, that’s a better measure, anyway.

On to the 4th task: “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle unknown to you.” This is one point where I may have, at times, fallen short. I was reminded of this task on my list today as I was walking from school to my bedroom, where I wanted to drop a few things off. I had just taught 3 classes in a row, was muddy after walking around campus in the rain all day, and just wanted a moment of quiet. So I may not have been very friendly as girl after girl stopped or approached me in the hallway with cries of “HI MADISON MISS!” “Madison Miss, how are you??” “Madison miss, chor undo?” (Did you have lunch?). “Madison Miss, evide pokuka?” (Where are you going?). “Madison Miss, those are beautiful earrings!” “Madison Miss, HI!!!!!!” I wanted to get through the throng, FAST, and gave rushed answers that didn’t invite conversation to all of the girls as I passed by. Just as I thought I was home free, I heard another “MADISON MISS!” behind me, accompanied by running footsteps. I momentarily considered continuing walking as if I hadn’t heard, but looked over my shoulder to at least give a “hi” back and wave.

Who did I see but little 6th grade Roopa running up to me, with something in her hand. “Madison Miss, a present for you!” It was a card, wrapped in a handmade envelope that had a red ribbon pinned on it. The annoyance I had been feeling the moment earlier melted away as I accepted Roopa’s card and told her thank you, with a huge, genuine smile that had been missing from my face just prior.

I finally made it to my room and opened Roopa’s handmade card. The front has a border of flowers and butterflies, a bear, and my name encircled by a heart. The inside says “Dear Miss, I wish you a happy birthday! God bless you with my blessing! By, Roopa G. Nath,” accompanied by swirls, stars, bows, and the like. The back of the card is decorated with a house surrounded by green trees, a lake with a duck, and a smiley-faced sun who says “Good morning Madison Miss!”

Roopa, how could you have possibly known exactly how to brighten my day? I wondered. And I thought of the quote on my list: “be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle unknown to you.” Roopa=success. Madison=fail. All those girls who spoke to me in the hallway…what if I had taken a moment to talk to them, rather than hurrying by, inwardly annoyed? What if that would have made them smile? What might they face at home after they leave school at 3:25 every day?

So it seems there’s at least one thing on my ‘to do’ lists that I can’t yet check off—but from now on, I’ll be working on it a little more conscientiously. Thanks for the reminder, Roopa :)

"I expect to pass through life but once.  If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again." -William Penn

Sunday, June 12, 2011

a quiet weekend and looking ahead

Well, I take back any negative thoughts I ever had about the new warden, Mariyamma Kochamma. She’s old school, for sure, but I really respect and like her now. All but 3 of the TTC students—Tincy, Sanu, and Deepa—went home this weekend, so it was the three of them, me, and Mariyamma Kochamma alone in our hostel. It was great to have some quality hang out time with them, Kochamma included.

I had a little ‘writing assignment’ given to me by Sanila Teacher (to write something for the diocesan women’s magazine about my time at Buchanan), so I camped out with Sanu, Tincy, and Deepa on the floor of their room, them surrounded by all of their papers/work, and me with my laptop, typing away. They intermittently asked me for help, and of course we randomly chatted. They are really wonderful girls.

What else, what else…this upcoming Thursday, Maggie, Jim, and I are heading to Thomas John Achen’s house for our final retreat. CRAZY. We’ll be together until Sunday, when the three of us are giving the message at a church in Achen’s area. Then, we’ll return to our sites. On July 2nd we have our formal farewell meeting with Achen and our supervisors. And two weeks later, on July 15, we’ll leave our sites for good and go to Thomas John Achen’s house to enjoy each other’s company for the last time, boarding our flight home on July 18.

If I had to choose one word to describe how all of this feels it would be: surreal. I just re-read the above paragraph, and it feels like it’s written about someone else, not me. Can it be that I will be seeing much-missed friends and family in just over a month? Can it be that I’m going to have to say goodbye to the people I love, and all the things I love about my life in Kerala, so soon?

Surreal, that’s what it is.

"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

rain days, shopping, singing-along, pretending to study, and more!

This post was written on June 8.

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’?

At first I was kind of bummed. I had been looking forward to my classes and had a good lesson plan, darn it! But it’s funny how the days you expect to be the worst can turn out to be the best, and vice versa. Today was one of those days. So was yesterday.

Yesterday was one of those surprising days in that I expected it to be good but it ended up being sort of…blah. No one’s fault, really, I just found myself very much in the background amidst the chaos of the new school year. I only had 4 classes to teach, 2 of which ended up being cancelled, and all the teachers are so busy with class rosters, more new admissions, myriad lists, and the like, that it was a little lonely. But after-school ended up being better than school itself.

Although today more than made up for yesterday. It was, as I mentioned, a surprising day in that my first thought of the morning, upon finding out school was cancelled due to flooding, was, ‘oh great, another day of nothing.’ But then, I resolved to make it something.

I went walking/jogging with a pack of children, we played on the playground, and I took a shower (or, a bucket, as Maggie, Jim, and I affectionately call the act)—all before breakfast. Breakfast was one of my other favorites (next to uppu mav, which I mentioned in my last post)—pal appam and kadala curry. I spent more time with the younger children and then read some of my latest book—Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son. Then I kept one of the TTC students company in the study hall while she was working on some homework, and before we knew it, it was lunchtime.

Okay, so maybe the morning doesn’t sound all that exciting. But it was enjoyable—a good mix of fun and rest. The afternoon got more interesting, though; after lunch, I went with the Speechly College students to Chingavanam. (Speechly College is a college (surprise!) located on the Buchanan campus. There are a handful of Speechly students who live in the boarding hostel where the TTC (teacher training course) students and I live. Chingavanam is the nearest town).

It was great to hang out with the Speechly girls. I don’t spend a whole lot of time with them regularly as they speak English fluently and were I to be super friendly with them, it would probably attract some animosity from the TTC students, etc, and look like I was showing favoritism just because the Speechly girls speak English. So it was really nice to get out with them and not feel bad for socializing with them in front of other people, for once.

We got ice cream and checked items off the LONG shopping list that had been given to us by the TTC students (they aren’t allowed to leave the Buchanan campus). We arrived back to Buchanan just in time for me to make it to my engagement with the KNH Hostel (a hostel located on Buchanan’s campus that is funded by a charity in Germany. It houses girls who are orphaned or from underprivileged families). Jim came, too, guitar in hand, and we taught them a few English songs. We also performed a couple—isn’t that a funny thought? ME, singing, for a crowd?? As if I actually had some sort of vocal talent?? …haha!

It went really well—for most of the girls, it was probably their first time seeing/hearing a guitar played in person. The favorite song was ‘Kumbaya’; the fun, fast-paced version, that is. By the end of our hour with them, they could sing it by themselves!

From the guitar/singing program I went straight to exercise class. The girls who were ‘regulars’ last year still come, as well as many of the boarding students who are new as of this year. The new students, especially, make it really fun and keep me laughing with their goofy dance moves.

Not too long after exercise class there was a knock on my door. It was Joshmi, one of the TTC students. She asked if I was free, to which I replied yes, and she then asked me to come to her room. It kind of seemed like something might be wrong, and after the two of us sat down on her bed, she said “Madi chechi, we are really sad. Last year we got to talk to you all the time but now with the new Kochamma (warden), we don’t talk as much.” I said, “Joshmi, I know! I miss you guys a lot. With your new schedule and all of your study time I’m afraid to interrupt and get you in trouble with Kochamma.” Part of the problem is also that, due to the new study schedule, rule of absolute quiet, etc, most of the girls now stay confined in their rooms, with the doors closed, rather than roaming around the hostel like they used to. Anyway I thought it was really cute that they had obviously made a group decision to call me into their room (there were other students present, too—Deepa, Merlin, and Tincy) so we could have some intentional hang out time. I ended up staying for about an hour and a half—it’s amazing how a closed door and quiet talking can make it seem as though those inside are actually studying ;) And we decided that such visits would happen more often from now on. Before, I just felt bad interrupting, and I really missed the girls, even during just the past week—but now I know they’ve missed me, too.

One very terrifying detail of my otherwise good day that I’ve forgotten to mention is that a monstrous, impossibly big cockroach jumped down the back of my churidar while I was with the Speechly students shopping in Chingavanam…TRAUMATIZING.

“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

just posting for the sake of posting

This post was written on June 4.

Reasons to love monsoon season:
-It’s not miserably hot!
-who doesn’t love a good heavy rain?
-Plenty of water supply (days of no running water and having to draw it from the well are OVER!)
-It’s not miserably hot!

Yep, I’m loving monsoon season. And the fact that it’s not miserably hot DOES deserve to be mentioned twice. That, combined with all the fruits that are in season, might make this my favorite time of year in Kerala. Mangoes fresh off the tree? Yes, please!

The new warden is proving to put her money where her mouth is. The TTC girls have been following a strict schedule and things are a LOT quieter around here than they used to be. However she is a genuinely nice, caring person, and has shown a lot of emotional care and concern for the TTC students and their worries over their classes, etc. Now that I have been around her for a few days, I have no doubt that the girls will come to love and appreciate her in spite of her strict rules. (Now if only she would stop knocking on my door to wake me up (15 minutes too early, I might add) for morning prayer! I managed to somehow get myself there every morning for the past nine months, didn’t I??)

Today was an average Saturday. The rain stopped long enough to make it a good idea to hurry up and do some laundry, so that was an accomplishment. I tried to play Uno with the younger girls but the new warden insisted that they should study, instead. I took advantage of that time to take a little nap (by that time it was raining—perfect nap time!). Later I spent some time with the TTC students, and we had our first exercise class (zumba) of the new school year.

Did I mention we had one of my favorite breakfasts this morning?? Uppu mav!

"Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing." -Camille Pissarro