Thursday, January 27, 2011

a word of thanks, and a request

Having in my last post just reflected on how truly blessed I am to be here—to be teaching and being taught; to be encouraging the cross-cultural understanding of others and broadening my own; to be serving and being served; to be challenging and growing my faith in a way I have never experienced—it is only appropriate that I also take a moment to thank all of the people who have made this year of mission service a possibility.

I am especially thankful for…
-Presbyterians all over the US, who (probably unknowingly) support the YAV Program through the Pentecost Offering
-My home church, First Presbyterian, who has been SO encouraging and supportive
-Churches previously unknown to me—Arlington Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, FL, and Dunnellon Presbyterian Church in Dunnellon, FL—who took an unexpected and much-appreciated interest in this endeavor, and who welcomed me into their churches. I entered as a stranger, and left as a friend. 
-All of my family, friends, and acquaintances—and even some anonymous folks—who have contributed financially, in amounts big or small, making it possible for me to be doing this work in the first place.

Truthfully, the fundraising element (all YAVs are required to fundraise $9000 throughout the course of their year) almost caused me to not even apply for the program.  The Peace Corps didn’t require fundraising—heck, I would even get $6,000 at the end! The fundraising ‘problem’, however, became irrelevant as I continued to navigate my own call to the ministry, and became increasingly certain that YAV was where God wanted me to be.

Fundraising turned out to be a much more positive experience than I could have ever anticipated. I was shocked when, on multiple occasions, people I had just met, after sharing a little about myself and what I would be doing, made a contribution on the spot. One woman, whose daughter had been a YAV several years ago, wrote a check for $200 after I had barely gotten the words “my name is Madison and I’m going to be serving as a YAV” out of my mouth. Responses like that were heartening in times when I occasionally found myself thinking “a year in India…what am I getting myself in to?!” Someone believed in me, even if I didn’t always believe in myself.

After just having re-read this post up until this point, I realize that I’m speaking about my fundraising effort as if it’s something that was finished long ago. In reality, I still have about $4000 to raise. I have been so engrossed with my YAV experience, and my time has been especially taken up lately working on Seminary applications (wish me luck!), that fundraising has definitely been put on the backburner. Actually, it hasn’t even been on the metaphorical stove.

Ideally, I would like to finish my fundraising so that I can continue living fully into my YAV year, without this four-thousand-dollar-size task looming large on my to do list. To that end, I ask you (yes, you!!) to consider making a donation. Your contribution will help to support not only MY year of mission service, but YAVs all around the world.

Please consider donating if you…
-believe the education of girls, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to be essential
-value literacy and multilingualism
-appreciate the importance of engendering cross-cultural understanding
-agree with the rationale behind St. Francis of Assisi’s words when he charged us to "spread the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words"
-have enjoyed taking this journey with me via my blog, and want to participate in a more concrete way

Taking a quick look at the ‘statistics’ page of my blog, I see that it has gotten almost 200 views in the past couple of weeks (thanks for reading!!). If each of those people donated $20—the cost of dinner and a movie—I would easily reach my goal.

To help continue making this program possible, please take a moment and click here (yes, I am Position 4). Any amount helps, no matter how small.

From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of all those who benefit the from the YAV Program, including the volunteers themselves—thank you :)

"The life you touch for good or ill will touch another life, and in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place your touch will be felt." –Frederick Buechner

halfway there

This post was written on January 22.

January 18 was just an ordinary day, like any other. A Tuesday. School was cancelled, actually, due to the Kerala State Youth Festival, so I played with the girls and did some laundry. The day before had been equally commonplace. I had 7th and 8th grade classes that day—we reviewed nouns and adjectives, and I taught them a song. 

So what was special about January 18, you ask?

January 18, my friends, was half way; the midpoint of this incredible journey; the day after which, with each passing day, I have more time behind me in Kerala than I do ahead of me.

It’s kind of a weird, surreal realization to make. 1) That so much time has passed, and 2) that what time remains is sure to dwindle quickly.

An appropriate time for reflection on YAV India part 1, I found myself thinking about the things I love about being here. And specifically, about being at Buchanan.

I love when Sneha, an 8th grade student, chases me down the hallway just to say hi and ask me how I am. She literally trembles with happiness when in my presence, and I’m pretty sure that talking to me for 2 seconds makes her entire day. It is SO endearing.

I love when the ammammas (cooks) joke with me in Malayalam. Most of the time the joke is that I don’t know what they’re saying.

I love when the students ‘get’ my lessons; when I can see the light bulb go on over their heads. When they enthusiastically raise their hands to answer questions; the look of surprised satisfaction on their faces when they get a question right.

I love when the 5th graders make me random cards. The latest one was for New Years.

I love days like today, when I saw (or was seen by, rather) a group of TTC students at the Youth Festival and was rushed at with screams of “Madi Chechi!!!” and huge smiles.

I love that I can think of this place and two things come to mind. Happiness. And home.

To Maggie, Jim, and all the other YAVs around the world…throughout the ups and downs—here’s to making the most of part 2.

“People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, People may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, People may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, They may be jealous; Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you've got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway.” -Mother Teresa

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

sleepover number 4

This post was written on January 21.

As early as October, Omana Teacher told me that when her daughter, Ann, came to Kerala from Mumbai, where she works as a nurse, I would come to her house for the weekend. Having already spent time at a few other teacher’s houses, and having really enjoyed getting to know their children and families, I looked forward to another such opportunity. And last weekend, it finally happened!

Omana Teacher’s son, Anoop, is about 19, I believe, and Ann is just a few months older than me. I never anticipated how fun it would be to just ‘hang out’ with members of my own peer group. Living without tv and accustomed to spending my day with girls considerably younger than me (lets be real—some of my best friends are in 5th grade), it was nice to be around people my own age and even just watch music videos (mostly Malayalam, but there WERE a few English ones in there! Never expected to see Justin Beiber’s face in India, that’s for sure). We attended Kottayam’s Flower Exhibition, and I felt truly welcome in their home.

The main purpose of my visit was to help Ann study for the IELTS exam. I’m not sure what that stands for, exactly, but it’s an exam for people who learn English as a second language. If one wants to go work in an English-speaking country, one must score in a certain range. Ann hopes to work as a nurse in Canada, and her IELTS exam is toward the end of this month. She’s been taking a prep class for the past few weeks, and I helped her with the areas with which she’s been having trouble. Being that in my classes at Buchanan, we can’t go too far beyond topics like how to conjugate verbs in the past tense, and what a synonym is, I really enjoyed discussing higher-level English topics for once. We definitely made a lot of progress, and I’m really hoping she does well—I think she will!

One thing I’ve neglected to mention about Omana Teacher’s household is that they have an adorable puppy, Snowy, who is similar in color to a yellow lab, but perhaps a bit lighter. At one point, Omana Teacher was giving Snowy a bath and I pitched in to help. After Snowy’s bar-soap bath, he was doused in some strange purple liquid, and promptly put under a wicker basket held down by a rock to dry.  Curious about the unknown purple substance, I inspected the container from which it came. The bottle read: “fabric whitener.”

Apparently, it’s important that Snowy lives up to his name.

"The most affectionate creature in the world is a wet dog." -Ambrose Bierce

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I believe in the sand beneath my toes

Remember my description of the 10th grade class trip? Party bus? Booming music? People dancing in the aisle? Flashing colored lights? Well, I had a repeat of that experience last Friday. Except this time it wasn’t 10th graders dancing in the aisle—it was teachers.

That’s right, it was the Buchanan staff tour! School was cancelled that day due to a Hindu holiday, so the teachers and I hopped on a party bus and headed for a day of sightseeing that included a palace, a fish harbor, a Hindu guru’s shrine, and Varkala beach.

Perhaps you recall that my most recent beach trip was to Goa, where Jim, Maggie and I were able to blend in with the myriad foreigners and frolic about as we pleased. Sun dresses—bathing suits—it was all fair game! We had to deal with a sizeable amount of staring from the Indians at the beach, but did our fair share of staring at them, too—the idea of coming to the beach FULLY CLOTHED and just kind of milling about the shoreline is hard for we Americanos to understand. Of course, the idea of us coming to the beach NOT fully clothed and braving the unknown of the sea is equally difficult for them to understand. So basically we were two groups of people who each thought that the other was completely ridiculous.

Fast forward to Varkala. The teachers and I arrived to the beach, and within seconds I had taken off my shoes and rolled up my jeans. Almost immediately, I (and everyone else) spotted the few foreigners laying out on beach chairs.  I simultaneously pitied and envied them.  It was SO FUNNY that just a couple of weeks before, I had been in their shoes—trying to enjoy the beach, work on my tan, and wishing that the staring factor could be taken down a notch. And suddenly, there I was, on the OTHER side of the equation—fully clothed at the beach and part of the group that was doing the staring. In a way it was kind of relieving, in regards to my previous beach experience and knowing what it’s like to be stared at, because I know for a fact that none of the Buchanan teachers meant any ill-will by observing—they were just genuinely curious/tickled to see (what to them is) such a spectacle.

As an outsider but not an outsider—a foreigner yet familiar—the teachers had no qualms about asking me about all of the odd behavior they were witnessing.  Which resulted in a few conversations like this:

Regil Sar: What are they doing just laying there?
Me: Well…I know that you want to be lighter skinned…but most white people want to be more brown. So we lay in the sun near bodies of water, like the ocean or a pool.
Regil Sar: Oh…Well why are they always reading when they do that?
Me: (inwardly cracking up to be seeing this through their eyes) Well, it can be kind of boring just laying there. So many people enjoy reading while they lay in the sun.
Regil Sar: Oh. (Very obviously thinking, ‘white people are crazy!’)

The best moment was when it looked like a few of the teachers were about to start walking down the beach. I remember thinking “oh, maybe this is something that BOTH cultures enjoy!” But I quickly found out that they had ulterior motives. Wanting to join, I ran after them and asked what they were doing. With a conspiratorial smile and the excitement of a kid in a candy shop, Sherly Teacher offered all the explanation that was needed: “We’re going to see the foreigners!”

"Nothing is inherently and invincibly young except spirit." -George Santayana

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Goodbye 2010...hello 2011!!

As soon as it came, Christmas was gone, and Jim, Maggie, and I were faced with our next adventure: New Years in GOA!  We packed our bags, hopped on the train (which was late, of course), and began the 15-hour journey to paradise. Photos to come…eventually?

Highlights of Goa:
-getting to be an anonymous tourist!
-wearing western clothes for an entire week!
-getting to be a beach bum for an entire week
-finding 2 super cheap, super cute beach dresses
-enjoying the gorgeous beaches of South Goa
-being somewhere cosmopolitan enough to find anything from pizza to quesadillas
-dinners at candlelit tables on the beach
-lounging in the water with Maggie on the floaties we bought
-dancing 2011 into existence on the beach in North Goa with people from literally all over the world

Basically, it was a blast, and a much-needed, relaxing vacation.

I arrived to Buchanan yesterday a little tanner, a lot tired-er, and ready for some of Amamma’s delicious food (which I’ve always enjoyed, but never expected to actually MISS!). It was wonderful to be greeted with smiles from the students and teachers alike.

What was really interesting, though, was recapping my time in Goa for them. I suppose I should tell you that Goa has a bit of a reputation. Telling someone you went there for New Years is about the same as telling someone you went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. And while it’s true that Goa is a haven for drugs and alcohol alike, the worst that I had to show the teachers, upon being asked, was a few photos of the beautiful scenery, and me and Maggie wearing (*gasp*) swimsuits. There was a great amount of giggling over this and I couldn’t help but feel a little indecent looking at a picture of myself in the bikini that I had just worn freely for the entire previous week.

It’s funny how living in such a conservative culture can start to affect you subconsciously. While showing the photos in the staff room, I was also mentally chiding myself for not having changed into a churidar from my current outfit—capris and a t-shirt. Conservative by US standards, slightly risqué for Kerala. I started telling them how on New Year’s Eve, we met a guy from Kerala and how he was impressed with our Malayalam skills, halfway through realizing that volunteering that I had spoken to a random boy, regardless of why, was probably a bad idea. It was a story that I know would be so innocent in the US, and that no one would think twice about.

Sometimes, I think my sun-tanning, Capri-wearing, stranger-(who-happens-to-be-male)-conversing -self is just too much for Buchanan. …But maybe it’s not a bad thing for me to shake things up a bit?

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered by your old nonsense." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

(This quote was chosen in hopes that you will take it in the context of the New Year; in hopes that you will strive to leave behind the bad, and cherish the good, of 2010; in hopes that you will embrace 2011 and all that it brings :) Happy New Year!!)

feliz navidad!

(For photos of most of December, some of which correspond to this post, click here.)

Have you ever spent a Christmas entirely away from home? Away from all of your friends? All of your family?

As dismal as that sounds, it’s not as bad as you might think. Especially when you’ve got new friends/family along for the ride. Don’t get me wrong—I certainly did miss the Christmas and the people/traditions that come with it that I’ve always known—but between being able to skype with loved ones back home (I even got to see KIBA!!), and spending time with my loved ones here—I’d say Christmas 2010 left little to be desired.

December 22, Maggie spent the night at Buchanan (we snuggled up REAL close in my little twin bed). It was fun to have her company and to be able to finally introduce her to the infamous characters she’s heard so much about and who I have come to love. The girls were likewise thrilled to meet this Maggie person who they’ve heard equally much about.

December 23 was an all-around great day. Jim joined Maggie and I at Buchanan, and we, along with the rest of the teachers, had a special Christmas breakfast. Buchanan’s Christmas Program was slated to begin at 10AM, but like everything else in India, it started late. The hours leading up to it were a little pandemonious (spell check is telling me that’s not a word…well, it should be!), needless to say, but in a good, energy-filled way. I rounded up all my little 5th graders, and they enthusiastically showed me their outfits, full of excitement and eager for approval. Our dance went as well as could be expected—Jim filmed it, actually—and I even made it through the whole routine without stepping on (and subsequently ripping off) my saree. This is a greater feat than you might imagine!

We had to leave the program early in order to make it to Kottayam in time to catch our train to Aluva. As we walked down Buchanan’s drive after hurriedly saying goodbye to Jaimol Kochamma and the few teachers who had stepped out of the program to see us off, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of happiness knowing that I was leaving a place that I loved and would be excited to come back to in two weeks.

The day continued to be fabulous as we arrived to Thomas John Achen’s house, which is always a comforting and peaceful place to be. The next couple of days were spent doing typical Christmas-y things—Christmas Eve, Achen hosted a dinner for us and some of his family members and their friends. On Christmas itself, we skipped out on traditional ‘church’ (whoa…I just realized that’s the first time in my life I’ve never gone to church on Christmas! Weird!) in favor of our own little service at Achen’s house. We followed the CSI Order of Worship for communion, and in lieu of a ‘sermon,’ had a Bible study. We sang carols and hymns, and it was a very intimate way to celebrate Christmas—much more fulfilling than any 2.5 hour service in Malayalam could have ever been. So between that and skyping with Kiba…well, it couldn’t have been much better ;-)

"Courage is the power to let go of the familiar." -Raymond Lindquist