Saturday, March 5, 2011

Welcome to Mandiram, and being present, the remix

This post was written on March 2.

So let me tell you about the amazing place that is the Mandiram Society, an ecumenical Christian organization that's doing a lot of good. It's comprised of a hospital, a home for the elderly destitute, an orphanage, and a nursing school. The hospital provides healthcare to the residents of the old age home, as well as the surrounding community, regardless of ability to pay. The home for the elderly destitute meets every need of its inhabitants, who would otherwise have nowhere else to go, free of charge. Many of them are mentally and/or physically differently-abled. The orphanage is the home of 13 girls, ages 2-16. Mandiram is run by a staff whose humility and attitude of servanthood and compassion is easily apparent and is an inspiring example of how we should all strive to live. 

Really, Mandiram is a very special place to be. It's crazy to me, though how much my context has changed. EVERYTHING is different. I used to be surrounded by children; now I'm surrounded by the elderly. I used to be just another girl in a sea of girls and a nearly all-female staff of teachers; now there are men everywhere I look. My sole purpose used to be teaching English; now, the people I interact with have no desire to learn or need for English. Where am I?!?! 

At Buchanan, I was in my element. I love kids. Not knowing Malayalam wasn't a big deal because the language of play is universal. I quickly bonded with the teachers. It was all so natural. And it wasn't always easy...but oftentimes, it was. However, I don't think that 'easy' is the point of the YAV year. So in a way I think it's really good that I've been put in a place that is not my element; that will actually be a challenge; where I will have to work to be and feel part of the community.  

Further proof to me that a setting like Buchanan is my 'element' is that after lunch today, when given the freedom to explore Mandiram and interact with whom I wished...I went straight for the balika (orphanage). I don't think this was necessarily a good thing; in an unfamiliar place, it was just where I was most comfortable. So I promised myself that I would play with the girls for an hour, and then, like it or not, go visit some of the amachees and appachens who live at the old age home. They, not the children, are the primary group with which I am supposed to be interacting. ('Amachees and appachens' literally means grandmothers and grandfathers--respectful titles used to address men and women of that age bracket, even if they aren't related to you). 

Perhaps you are wondering why I was so apprehensive about going on my own to visit the amachees and appachens. I think a large part of it is that Mandiram is just so new to me and I feel kind of lost and like I don't know where I'm supposed to be or what I'm supposed to be doing at any given time. But another component of my uneasiness is, to be honest, just an overall lack of experience being with the elderly. And in my case, it's compounded by the language factor. We all know, after all, that old people love to talk and have wonderful stories to tell, but the extent of my Malayalam conversation-making skills doesn't go much farther than "sukham aano?" (how are you?) and "kazhicho?" (have you eaten?). So, that's a problem. And what I keep wondering with regard to the amachees and appachens is, in light of my language can I enrich their lives? What can I do for them? How can I make myself useful?

Of course, the answer is that it's not about doing but being. You know, that whole ministry-of-presence thing. At Buchanan, being present was easy. I think it's going to be a much bigger challenge here; not quite so effortless. And it will take an entirely different shape from my ministry of presence at Buchanan. But again, I think that's a good thing. It's going to be a GREAT learning/growing opportunity, that's for sure. So stay tuned for updates about how it's going!

"When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure." -Peter Marshall

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