Thursday, July 12, 2012

The meaning of Patience... and I thought I knew what it was.

I have always thought I was generally a patient person. Whenever I'm at a restaurant and there is a 20 minute wait, I don't really mind. When I am driving, and the person in front of me doesn't turn left fast enough, it doesn't really bother me... when it came to losing my patience, it was a rare occasion. Living in India has proven the very opposite. Before coming to India, I took a prep class where we learned about the host culture, and I remember one memorable lesson about the perception of time. I remember learning that people in India were under polychronic time, meaning rigid scheduling and being efficient with time, is not a priority. Monochronic time is when there are time limits, rigid schedules, etc (much like the U.S.A and Japan). Well, I remember thinking "oh I'm totally polychronic, I'm always late and I am really bad at keeping a rigid schedule". WRONG was I. No class could have ever prepared me for "Indian" time. I can't remember the first time that I experienced "Indian" time... but I know that it has happened numerous times since, and I thought that maybe it was a ONE time thing. My patience has wore extrememly thin at times. One example to illustrate what I am talking about is when Emma and I were in a big hurry to get somewhere and we needed to email the boys because we did not have a way to call them. We thought "let's send them an email to tell them where we are and then run to where we need to be". We scrambled around to find an internet cafe and when we got there, we saw that it was completely full... and one of the girls said "it will be just 5 minutes madam". Emma and I REALLY needed to be where we were going soon, but we thought 5 minutes really wouldn't be a problem..... 15 minutes later, and a little out of patience, I asked again "is there a spot open yet?" and again, the girl said "wait 10 minutes madam"... WHAT?? I was SO livid!! But don't worry, I didn't blow up on her, it was more of an internal battle than anything. OH!! I just remembered the first time I experienced "Indian" time. It as at the mall, the famous Brookfields mall... VERY well developed and I feel like I'm in America everytime I set foot in it... anyway, we bought our churidars and when you buy a churidar, sometimes they don't come with the sleeves sewn on, and so you buy it and then it is taken to a small tailoring room where they sew on sleeves. Well, they told us that our churidars would be ready in 30 minutes. After waiting an hour, I went up to the counter and demanded to know what had happened to our churidars... the girl gave me the answer that I wanted to hear, but not accurate at all. "It will be ready in 5 minutes ma'm".... 20 minutes later, I asked again and again, I received the same answer. I had never found myself more impatient than that day. I was SO annoyed that my churidar wasn't ready, and even more so at the fact that they lied about the time!!! But they weren't lying... that's just the way it is here in India. The random estimation of time is not said to purposely anger someone, or for the mere reason of lying... it's just that time is percieved differently! Waiting is something that India is EXPERT in. Sitting and waiting, and then sitting and waiting some more, is just life here. I did not know this then, but knowing it now, I find it a lot easier to be patient. Aside from the whole time perception, there are more things that have challenged my patience, I share only a few here. When I've been waiting to buy something at the shop, people will just cut in front of me, as if I were not standing there for 5 minutes already. When I've been at the mall and there are escalators, there have been small lines because a lot of Indian women are DEATHLY afraid to step onto them. When I've been waiting for the bus that I've have heard people say will come at a certain time, and it has come an hour or more, later (again with the time). When I've been at a restaurant, and seen something(s) I've wanted on the menu, and they've been out of what I've wanted to order. When we've approached someone on the street because we are lost, and the person won't know where the place is, he or she will seldom say "sorry I don't know", instead, we've been pointed to go one direction, while someone else a block later, will point us the opposite way. Emma's personal favorite: when we are looking for a good deal on an auto rickshaw and they absolutely REFUSE to lower their outrageously high prices... I probably sound like the biggest brat and that I dislike India and its inhabitants... well, don't worry, I actually love it. I have learned to deal with, and to be patient, and now when things like that happen (and happen they DO, and often) I find that I do not become impatient, but start to lay back and take it all in. Things are not this way in America, and it's going to feel different to be in a monochronic time frame again. So, I actually try to enjoy it while I can.
On one of these occasions where I was impatient because of time, I learned a little lesson that has helped me see things in a different light. Emma and I were walking home and we were quickly joined by a group of pre-teen girls. As Emma and I walked along, we noticed that the girls kept lagging behind. We said to each other "why are they walking so slow?". They would catch up, only to, a few minutes later, fall behind again. Then, one of the little girls said "Aunty wait- walk slow please", motioning with her hand to slow down the pace. I have always remembered that. I walk so fast, not only physically, but intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. My mind is always going, I want prayers answered fast, I want my relationships to work out quickly... sometimes "walking slow", is better. It has made a difference in how I see things. I walk a little slower now, taking in the sights of the village, instead of plowing through, trying to get to my final destination. Looking at a woman carrying water on her head, or at a little boy spinning a tire down the street with a stick, or at a grandpa sitting down with his friends-taking in these sights, has soothed me and helped me in more ways than I could adequately explain on this blog. I read something in my India culture guide, that I really liked. In talking about IST or Indian stretchable time, the author said: "the slower pace may be hard to swallow, but it can be medicinal and even enjoyable for those who can adjust to their expectations". Couldn't have better said it better myself.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Dinner invitations.... I love them!

It all started when Emma and I woke up one friday morning to take out the trash. As we headed towards the dumpster, we waved to the little kids around the corner, the ones that we see everyday. Well, on this particular day, their mother, Kavita was out and we stopped to say our usual "Kalai wanakkam" or "good morning!". She loved the fact that we "spoke" Tamil and then asked us if we had eaten yet.... Emma and I had barely finished eating oatmeal (we make oatmeal approximately 2-3 times a week, sometimes it's breakfast, sometimes it's dinner, it has saved us many a time!) and so we told her that we had. She then said "you come, my house tonight. 7 o ' clock, my house, dinner!" Emma and I have been invited to dinner before, but we always feel so bad imposing and making people feed us, but this time, we just had to say yes. The big, beautiful brown eyes are just too hard to say no to. Well, Emma and I didn't quite know what to expect, but we just showed up a little past 7. As soon as we sat down, we saw that the father of the home, was helping to knead the dough of what we would be having for dinner (Dosa-- a brief explanation of what this is... it's like a crepe, but made with sour dough, and it's spread really thin, and fried. At first, I was sickened by them, but Emma insisted on giving them another chance and I fell in love with them... I now crave them every morning and I don't know what I'm going to do when I won't have them in U.S). This was a little surprising, because we rarely see the men helping out with cooking or cleaning... anyway, so Kavita (the wife) sat us down and handed us her wedding album (this is a MUST in every household... as soon as we sit down, we the women will just put this huge, wedding album on our laps, and watch us as we turn each page of virtually the same pictures... we love it though, I love looking through those). As we flipped through, Emma and I commented on how good we thought Kavita and her husband looked together. Kavita is just so beautiful! and so is he!! I wonder how that marriage arrangement went down. Kavita has a cute, small figure, a big happy smile, expressive brown eyes, long dark brown hair that is in a braid, and the best raspiest voice ever. I love it!! Her husband has the brightest brown eyes, and we just really like them together. Anyway, as we sat there, I noticed another man, a woman, an older woman, a teenage boy, a little girl and a little boy. I was so confused as to who belonged to whom, and where they all lived, and so we asked, while pointing (and NOT with one finger, as it is inappropriate in the Indian culture to point... Emma and I have messed this rule up more than once) "family?". In the best English that they could figure out, and our little Tamil, we learned that the random man and woman were married, and the woman was Kavita's older sister. The teenage boy was their son... the older woman was Kavita's mother-in-law, the little boy and girl were Kavita's children. (The daughter is Nivetha-6 yrs old and the SPITTING image of Kavita, and the son is Surya-3 yrs old). Indians often have their families living with them and it is hard to really know who is who... especially since if anyone if older, whether it is an older cousin, an older brother or sister, a mom's friend or a dad's friend, they use the same words-- brother, uncle, sister and so on. So, if there are cousins in the house, they won't say cousin, they will say "this is my sister". I like it, but it gets a little confusing at times... Anyway, after a little while of tyring to figure out who was who, Kavita and her family was tyring to ask us about our families and everything. I am a little obsessed with Kavita because she speaks like 5% English, she is SO outgoing and repeats herself in Tamil 5 times until we understand what she is saying, it's SO cute and she always laughs and so it's really fun talking to her. So, of course, they freak out when Emma says she has 4 little brothers and 2 little sisters, because big families aren't really that common in India anymore. Almost everyone we meet has two kids, it's rare to see three kids belonging to one family. They always ask about my family and when I say I have one little sister they just say "oh..." haha BUT I say it in Tamil, so they laugh and think it's cute (I like to think they think it's cute since Kavita usually pinches my cheeks when I speak Tamil...). THEN, Kavita's brother-in-law, Thangaraj- who is the one of the nicest Indian men we have ever met, and SUPER polite- busted out this instrument, called the Navaspuram, and its' a large clarinet/saxophone thing, and it sounds WAYYY Indian! Then, his son, the teenager, started playing one of the Indian drums, very native to India. As they were playing the coolest sounding Indian music, Kavita brought out DOSA!! and it was DELICIOUS. The BEST thing I have ever tasted in an Indian house. As we ate, we were just watching how this family interacted with one another, and it was SO awesome to see. Indians in general are not very physically affectionate with their spouses, and we are used to this by now. So, it was cool for me to see Kavita walk up to her husband and hold onto his arm, and be affectionate, I really liked observing that. She was whispering to him and pushing him to play the drums. He was so shy, but she insisted and he played away! He is SO talented!!! Kavita just proudly turned to us and said "my husband, very good". I really liked the dynamic of Kavita and her family! As the night ended, Kavita asked if we wanted to go to her llittle sister's wedding on July 7th-8th... and Emma and I FREAKED out becasuse weddings are a HUGE deal here, and it is an honor for us to be invited! Kavita and her family live very close to Matthew and Jeeva's house, so it is so nice to walk to the bus stop or be walking back home, and seeing Kavita and her family sitting out on their veranda. I love her-- I know that we overuse that word sometimes, but in this case, I honestly can say that it's true for Kavita and her family. The other night, Emma and I went to the city and bought some jasmin for Kavita. The women love putting jasmin in their hair, it smells really good and it looks nice, just delicately hanging from their long, silky, braided hair. Anyway, we knocked on her door and gave the jasmin to her and she freaked out-- in a good way. She was in the middle of eating dinner, and she just answered the door in her nighty and when we gave her the jasmin, she just smiled really big and said "ay yo!" which they say a lot here, it's similar to us saying "oh my gosh!". She put her arm around Emma and I and pinched our cheeks and then felt the need to grab a handful of rice and shove it in our mouths with her hands... twice. It was adorable, and yet again another reason why I LOVE being around Kavita. She is so genuine and outgoing and doesn't seem to care about what others think about her. I am planning to interview her, I hope that I can gain new insight from her about her self-perceptions. She then invited us in and we couldn't stay very long, but she asked when we were going back to America (this conversation ALL happened in Tamil, Emma and I feel conceited when we say that we can spend over an hour in someone's home, when they don't even speak English. yeah!) and then she said she wants us to move in with her and that we are considered her family and that she can find Indian husbands for us and we can all live together... haha she is so sweet. I'll go ahead and pass, on the marrying-an-Indian man-and living in India-forever offer, but I really feel honored and humbled that Kavita says that we are family to her. Just a small glimpse of the women when they are truly sincere and genuine are here in India.

Monday, June 11, 2012

"All work is half done when the women are not involved" - Mahatma Gandhi

This quote is on a huge sign at the Ashram and I read it everyday... it is a lot more meaningful now that I have been surrounded by amazing women. First of all, I'm sorry that my blog posts are so unorganized and all over the place, and SOOOO long!! I don't blame you if you skim, the only people that I really picture reading the entire thing are my mom and dad haha BUT, I will briefly mention all of what has been going on as of late- which is a LOT, so bare with me. I would start in order, but I wanna start by talking about what happened to Emma and I recently. This last Wednesday, we went to our NGO to work. The day before, Vijay, the coordinator for the scholarship program (this is called the Bala Shanti (Children's peace) program which gives scholarships to village children so they can go to school), came up to Emma and I and said "would you and Emma like to go to a village tomorrow and hand out scholarship to children and adults for this year?" OF COURSE I said YES. So, on Wednesday we got in a car with another field coordinator (ok, let me tell you about her-- her name is Thangakkili, which means golden parrot... haha she is SO cool. She is single and has a serious deformity on her leg which does not allow her to walk upright, so everytime she walks, she has to lean forward, pick up her left leg and hobble- this does not stop her from being a leader, and a field coordinator at that. She speaks very little English, but she loves Emma and I, and everytime she wants us to do something, she says "hello, hello, please come" haha it's the best. Anyway, we arrived at the village and to get to the meeting place, we had to go uphill. It was a little hike and Thangakkili was tired, but we eventually got there!! Once we did, there was a group of women and girls sitting there. They looked so beautiful and they just stared at Emma and I when we got there. I said "wannakam!" which means "hello" and they all smiled and said it back to me! They always smile and often times laugh when we attempt to speak Tamil. Well, they started to hand out the scholarhsips and the women and little girls in a very neatly and organized matter, came and got their envelopes. One of the most interesting things in my opinion, about these small villages is how they live together, being of different religions. Hindu women, Muslim women and Christian women all interact with one another. So, at the end of the handing out of scholarships, I noticed a group of Muslim women sitting there and I couldn't resist-- cuz I have always liked Muslims-- and I jumped in to take a picture with them! They were laughing so hard, but as soon as the camera goes up, they don't smile! haha it's so funny. Anyway, as we were heading back, one of the Muslim women brought her little 2 yr old daughter to see us! It was so cute because she was blowing us kisses and saying "Asalamu alaykkum" (not correct spelling) which is an Arabic saying that Muslims use that translates to something like "peace be with you". Then, the mother invited us to dinner at her house and Emma and I told her that we would LOVE to go. We are so humbled and honored that these women are so friendly and giving and always want us at their houses. They are always smiling at us and they just want to make us happy. It is so sweet. They kept telling us how beautiful we were, and I wonder if they know how beautiful THEY are to us. We are excited to go to her house and I will write about it when it happens. I wanted to briefly mention the Woman's workshop that happened at the Ashram a few weeks ago. All of these women from different villages came to the Ashram, they are the leaders of their self help group, so they came for a workshop on leadership. They were taught what characteristics a true leader should have, etc. My favorite was this woman who spoke about confidence. She told the women to be confident in themselves, that they each had abilities and characteristics that made them unique and special. That no matter when others told them that they would not succeed, they should be courageous and keep trying. This all sounds like Young Women lessons, but these women needed to listen to this. After it was over, Emma and I had the opportunity to interview some women and ask them about their favorite part of the workshop and without fail, ALL of then said "I liked the confidence speech, it helped me feel like I could go and start another self help group, or try to get another loan and start my own business. It made me feel like I could actually do it, no matter the obstacles". And the obstacles are many. Just from a month and 2 weeks here, I have seen how some women are so underappreciated and demeaned. Yet, after this workshop, I saw that many of them left with this newfoung confidence, and it made me so happy. These women are the perfect leaders. Something else that stood out to me about the workshop was another woman who spoke about taking care of oneself. I never thought this would be a problem... but the women here are SO devoted to their families. Their children and their husband are their TOP priority (all of these loans and self help groups and everything that they do, is for the sake of their children). This is wonderful, until the women are so devoted to their families that they forget about themselves. This may not be such a visible problem where I am from, but here in India, especially rural India, it is. Women get exhausted and sick, because they work so hard for their families. So, what they lady said was: "If you have four bananas, what do you do? you give the best one to your husband, the next best two to the children, and the worst one for yourself. DON'T DO THIS! take the best one for yourself, you deserve it". I know it may sound a bit selfish to those who may not understand how the women are here, but to me, it was exactly what these women needed to hear, because they DO deserve it, and they shoudl be able to care for themselves as well. It was such a great workshop, and it was so humbling to be able to sit side by side with these leaders, and learn with them (although let's be honest, I learn way more FROM them).

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Brief little story

A LOT has happened since my last post, but I wanted to share the most recent experience first, one that I will probably never forget. Yesterday, Emma, Josh and I were hungry and wanted to eat out, but since we were in the village (it was our day off from Shanti Ashram), our options were limited (the village doesn't have restaurants, just little shops that sell light foods). We decided to walk down to the main road (the main road is where we catch the bus everyday, about a mile walk) because we remembered that there was a man who sold PAROTTAS!!! Parottas are like tortillas, but they are fluffier and taste really good! well, we got to parotta man's hut, and ordered our parottas. Since these aren't a balanced dinner meal, we decided to get some, and ask for the curry sauce that came with them. Emma and I had done this before, where we got parottas, the curry, and then walked back to the village to make rice, and have the curry with rice and the parottas. As we headed back, we saw a lady selling mangoes and of course, since Josh doesn't have the heart to say "no", we bought some mangoes from her. "This is awesome! we will have rice, curry and parottas for dinner, and for dessert, we can have delicious mangoes!!" we kept telling ourselves that on our way back to the village. Well, we did just that. Emma started the kirosene stove (I have yet to master how to even start it...) and we made rice. We ate it and it was so delicious! The mangoes were nice and juicy, and we were pretty happy with our meal. Not long after, I started feeling kind of weird... my stomach was hurting so much! But since I always seem to have a stomach-ache, I ignored it. I was certain it was just me and not the food, since Josh and Emma didn't seem to experience any similar symtoms. A few hours later, I started feeling more and more pain, and asked Josh to give me a blessing. It is really great to have the Priesthood here, and especially to have the boys in our group, all three of them such great guys. After the blessing, I just laid down to try to sleep, but I felt worst and worst. After a few hours of tossing and turning, I finally decided to get up and get some fresh air- but as soon as I got up, my stomach flipped, and I ran to the front yard, went to the nearest coconut tree and, you can imagine what happened. I don't wanna be too graphic, but let's just say that parottas and mangoes don't look too appetizing once they have been digested. The next morning, (as in today), Josh and Emma were getting ready to go to the Ashram, but I was feeling pretty tired and weak from the night before. I decided to stay here, and I have been sleeping through out the day. I haven't had much of an appetite, but I managed to eat some oatmeal that Emma made me this morning (she and Josh are the best babysitters). No one was home, since Jeeva and Matthew both work, and the kids are out of town. As night drew near, I began feeling a little lonely. I know that I am ok and not sick enough to need special attention, but I missed my family a lot today. I just felt lonely and wondered if anyone even knew I was home alone. Sis. Jeeva came home from work and checked in on me-- I asked her how she knew I was sick and she said her friend, Salomeni, had told her. Salomeni is in our branch and I have talked to her maybe twice. I didin't think much of it though. Sis. Jeeva then told me that the mangoes and other fruits sold my the women on the streets were dangerous and made people sick... so we figure it was the mangoes. Good thing I learned that lesson. Later on, as I pulled out my scriptures, I began to read in John, about God's love and those who love others, love God. All of the sudden, I heard sis. Jeeva talking to someone that had just come over. Then, the door to my room opened and it was Salomeni! She started speaking in Tamil to me and I just smiled nervously, wondering what on earth she was saying. She kept rubbing her own belly and then looking at me. Sis. Jeeva then said "she wants to know how you are feeling". I told her that I was feeling much better, and she just smiled and smiled at me, while speaking more Tamil. Sis. Jeeva then told me that apparently she has seen me throwing up the night before (when I attacked the coconut tree), and today, she had checked in on me while I was sleeping. I could not believe that I was being taken care of by her, and I didn't even know it. Before leaving, she just grabbed my arm and said something in Tamil again, she held on to my hand, smiled at me and then left. I was so humbled to know that I was being watchd over. It really reminded me of God's love for each one of us, and how he lets us know, through the small tneder mercies of everyday, that he is aware and that we are never alone. By the way, sorry about my horrible grammar and spelling, it's hard to gather all my thoughts, while writing perfect English, but I'll do better next time. oh and just in case any of you were curious, I'm feeling MUCH better!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Shanti Ashram- our haven! and more stories about the past three weeks in INDIA

Ok, before I even begin, I wanted to tell a quick story. About two weeks ago, I met a little boy at the NGO, his name is Hariavanam... but I call him Harry. He is ADORABLE and has become one of my favorite people in this country. Anyway, in the Hindu religion, when Hindus go to their temples, they get these threads that they tie around their wrist, or sometimes necks, for protection from evil, by the gods. They are often red or black, and to me, they look like the bracelets I would buy or make out of thread back home. So anyway, I noticed Harry was wearing one and I asked what it was and he explained it and I said "maybe one day I can get one! I like them". TODAY, after not seeing him for a week, he runs up to Emma, Josh and I to say, hi. Then he runs of to get his backpack and I see him walking back towards me, and as soon as he was close enough, he put a red, Hindu prayer thread-bracelet in my hand!!! He got me one!!!!!! So, I PROUDLY wear it. It is so beautiful, and even though I'm not Hindu, and Harry knows that I'm a Christian, I felt honored that he would want to share a little bit of his religion with me. I can't wait to show it to all of you once I am home. It made my day, and that's just another glimpse of how beautiful and great the children are here. They just love us and we absolutely love them too!! Many of you know that I am doing my internship with an NGO titled Shanti Ashram. They have many programs, but the one that I will be working with is called the Women's Develoment Program. It has many focuses but the ones that really stand out to me are giving loans to women so that they can start their own businesses. They can also start their own self-help groups. If the women pay their loans on time, they qualify for another loan, giving them more money and giving them even greater opportunities. It is wonderful idea, but even better, was seeing it in action with my own eyes. When we are at the Ashram, we sit down for a lecture by a staff member, like Dr. Vinu, who is the director and an incredible person. After our lecture, we go to the "field", which means we get in a van, and ride with a coordinator to a village where the programs are being practiced. Last week, we went to the field with a coordinator and as we drove, I noticed that the surroundings looked familiar- we were actually in our OWN village! Chavadi Pudur! We went to visit a lady who had been given a loan to start making food from her house and selling it. Back tracking a few days back-- the boys told Emma and I about some omelettes that were sold around the corner. We decided to try them out and they were DELICIOUS!! Fast forward to the field visit- the woman who had been given a loan was the OMELETTE LADY!! It was so amazing to see with my own eyes a living example of the many times I had read about women around the world taking out loand to help themselves and their families. She is so sweet and she told us that eventhough she made omelettes until 10 am, if we came to her shop, she would make us her delicious omelettes whenever we wanted. It was a great first experience with the real world and the NGO. Another program that the Ashram has, is called Youth Leadership. This involves children, and right now, kids in India are on vacation, so during this month, there is a summer camp going on at Shanti Ashram. The kids are sooo cute, they just look at us with their huge, brown eyes and smile all the time and they have our names memorized! We sometimes feel bad because we feel so ordinary, but they want us all to sign their notebooks and to talk to them, so we feel like celebrities. They are beginning to see that we are just like them though, and it is so fun to see them run up and rememeber our name. I love how the children love simple things, for example: the girls, LOVE dancing and singing and they are constantly asking "can you dance for us? can you sing American song??" it is so funny, because in the states, I have NEVER had that experience. I sang them a song by Rihanna, because it was the first one that came to my head and after a few lines, they all clapped and said "SUPER!!" they love saying that word, it is so cute and funny. Perhaps my favorite aspect about the youth leadership program, is what I learned today. Dr. Vinu was teaching us that reaching down to children is a great method to try to make a postive change because when children learn valuable principles, they will grow up applying them. An example from the kids, that Dr. Vinu pointed out, was that of Kolam. This is a design done with powder, on the front porch of the houses. These patterns are beautiful and they are done early in the morning, and a different one is done every morning. They are beautiful and I have seen these with my own eyes in the village. This is done by the women only. However, last saturday at the Ashram, there was an event with all the children and one of the activities was a Kolam competition. All the children were given a designated spot in the dirt, and a bag of colorful powder. Well, I was surprised to see that the boys were participating as well, and for being 11 yr-14 yr old boys, they were pretty into it!! I knew that this was a girl thing, but I didn't ask about the boys. It wasn't until today, that Dr. Vinu said they encourage the children of both genders to work together, because they were learning about gender equality. Dr. Vinu said "of course, we will not tell the children that we want to teach them gender equality, we just encourage them to play together, and that way, they can learn these principles through experience as they grow". That was so fascinating to me, and the best part, was that I was able to see it with my own eyes. I really appreciated that experience, and I am grateful for the chance I have to be an intern there for the next three months. Tomorrow, Emma, Josh and I are going to observe Dr. Vinu along with some staff, give the village children immunizations, here in this village. I'll keep you updated on what I keep learning! Here are some random stories that have happened, I am sorry if this is all over the place and unorganized, a lot has happened and I can't keep it all together... First of all, I can confidently say that I have never sweat this much before in my life. I am used to Arizona, but this whole being drenched all day, has taken a LONG time to get used to. The power goes off sometimes in the village, and enduring two hours with out the fan can be a little difficult, but Emma and I have survived, so we are ok. There is a lightbulb in the bath house, and once I was taking a bath at night, and the power went out... I'm glad that hasn't happened again. We use the bus to get everywhere, and we have learned that because we are American, we won't know how to ask for change back when we pay the fare. On one particular occasion, the fare collector charged us but never returned change. I noticed that we were missing four rupees, but there was no way to get that back...all the sudden, these ladies in the front start yelling at me in Tamil and telling me something important... but there was no way that I was understanding, and all the sudden, there they were, yelling at the fare collector, all five women, just going at him, and then he sheepishly gave me my four rupees back!! I was so surprised and it was so awesome how the women stood up for us! One of the women, turned to me and asked me something in Tamil, to which in my broken Tamil I said "I only speak a little bit of Tamil, but what is your name?" and she relplied "Sita". I remembered the very famous Indian epic that has been part of Indian culture for centuries, the Ramayana. In this story, the prince Rama and married to Sita, the perfect woman. So I decided to show off my skills and say "Oh! Sita, like prince Rama's wife!" well that worked! Because she freaked out and pinched my cheeks and was telling all her friends what I had said and she pinched my cheeks some more, it was great. That is something that I have noticed about the Indian culture, most of them are willing to help us and genuinely care. The other day, we were lost in the city trying to find a place to buy more Churidhars (the clothes that most girls wear) and we asked this woman where we could find a specific store, and she walked us all the way to the place, completely going out of her way. Things like that have happened often, and it is a cool insight into individual culture. I have had my fair share of culture shock, when the buses get ULTRA crowded and Indian music blaring...and the food is CRAZILY spicy, I sometimes don't know what to think, but I keep reminding myself of why I came here and there are way more good things than bad ones. Something that has been interesting has been that EVERYBODY thinks I'm Indian. I maybe mentioned that already, but it is so funny walking around with Emma because she will try to speak Tamil, and if they can't understand her, they turn to me and speak Tamil to me, to translate for them... but then they are disappointed cuz I also DON'T speak Tamil... it is fun seeing their face when I say "I am from America!" I have lost track of the people that come up to us and are dazzled with the white Americans and they turn to me and say "what part of India are you from?" and when I say "I'm actually American" they look at me like I'm crazy. Trying to explain that I am Colombian is a little too difficult, because some have never heard of it (don't worry, I am MAKING SURE that they know where it is by the time I leave), so I am beginning to think I'll just let thim think I'm Indian. I am quite a bit lighter than most of the people here, and that is a weird feeling because I have always been the "brown girl", I really don't mind it though. In the village, we live with Matthew and Jeeva, but also Matthew's brother lives with them (and his wife as well). We call them Amma and Appa and they stay home, while Mathew and Jeeva are at work. They are so funny because they don't speak English and Emma and I don't speak Tamil, yet they still speak straight up Tamil with us... Emma and I just smile and they end up laughing. I was brushing my hair the other day (I wash my hair everyday because it is much too hot not to) and Amma and Appa were just STARING. My hair was down and if you know me, you know that I have BIG, PUFFY, CURLY hair, and I don't think they have ever seen hair like this. Appa just kept staring, and then Amma walked up to me, and started touching it and saying "spring! spring!" as in the springs on a matress, the curly looking ones. It was HILARIOUS to see their faces of wonder, maybe terror, at how much hair I had! Then Amma proceeded to tell me, through Priya (the 15 yr old daughter), to put coconut oil in my hair, to "smooth" it out and keep my head cool from the heat. SO, I have been doing this everyday! The cooling part doesn't work when you have as much hair as I do, but I smell like coconuts ALL the time!! Another time, I was collecting water with Amma and sis. Jeeva, and the women were looking at me weird when I was carrying the pots of water. Apparently, you are supposed to put it on your hip and put your arm around the neck of the vessel, but I was just putting it up against my stomach. The women were saying "hips! hips!" and then I pulled my churidar (the outfits that us girls wear) tight to my body, so they could see my figure and I said "NO hips!" and they were all laughing! I guess they have never seen an Indian-looking Colombian girl, with HUGE hair and really skinny... it's fun to see their reactions, but I will hopefully get better at picking up the water vessels and taming my hair with coconut oil. India has taught me so much already, and I am sorry that these are so long and all over the place, and maybe grammatically incorrect, I have limited internet and so when I can write, I write a LOT and try to organize my thoughts! It is still VERY hot and the food is still spicy, and I still don't speak Tamil, but I am getting to know more people, and learning more about them and myself. I will update this again soon, when I can. Things are only going to get better, and I will make sure and write ALL about it. The ONE thing I am looking forward to the most though: JUNE rains... it will rain everyday (or so they say) and Emma and I have decided to sit outside, IN the rain. We can't wait. Oh- and Elder. Dallin H. Oaks is coming to India this weekend to organize India's first stake, and we are going! It will be in Hyderabad, about 22 hours from here. The people of the church here have been waiting for so long, and the one's I have met are so enthusiastic about the gospel, and I love to see that, it's so CUTE! (friends have told me to stop referring to people this way, but I can't help it, I have to say it, it's just not me not to call people cute).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

First two weeks in India!!

"Brace yourself for impact when arriving in India. The sensory overload of crowd, sound and smell can cause even experienced travelers to question their skills and their sanity" - Culture Guide to INDIA, pg. 121. If I was to read that before India, I would have thought it an exaggeration... but now that I am here, I this is SO accurate. FIrst of all, I want to apologize for not writing in two weeks! This past saturday marked two weeks here in India! It has been the craziest but most exciting thing I have ever done. I have a lot to say, so I will try to make this concise and to the point. First- like the passage I shared, arriving here was very interesting, but I was tyring to take it all in and I did not feel overwhelmed. The heat hit us like a wave, and the lack of AC soon began to take a toll on us, but we were fine. We were just so excited to get to India, because previously we were stuck in the Hong Kong airport for 6 hours... we were supposed to arrive in India by 1 am, but we arrived in Chennai at 7 am. (Just to clarify for anyone who may be confused- in India, I am in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the capital is Chennai, the fifth largest city in India. The village I am staying in, is in the city of Coimbatore, 8 hours west of Chennai). Joshua, a native to Chennai, and previous branch president for the church, was assigned to pick us up, and he was there! We later found out that he had been there since 1 am. He and his family left a lasting impression upon us. They are so kind and made sure that we were comfortable and definitely went above and beyond. They not only fed us, but took us shopping, to church, to the beach (even though we did NOT swim because the water is not sanitary... but we were in the bay of Bengal and it was pretty awesome, we even saw a baby sea turtle). Joshua's wife is Mercy, and they have two children- Zibia who is 15 and extremely good at English and very smart, and Solomon, who is eight and ADORABLE. I love him and towards the end of our stay in Chennai, he called me "akka", Tamil for "older sister" and would hug me all the time. That family was so wonderful and I will never forget them. After three days in Chennai, we got on a 6 am train headed for Coimbatore. The scenery was beautiful and we were excited to finally arrive at our assigned destination, although leaving Joshua and his family was a little sad. We (there are five of us here: Steve, who's studying dentistry, Nathan who is studying Health Care in India, Josh who's studying music, Emma who's studying pre-natal health and I) arrived in Coimbatore about 7 hours later, and the temperature was immediately cooler. Chennai was very very hot- about 90 F with humidity. Being from Arizona, the heat itself did not shock me, but the humidity was and is, still a bit of a challenge for me. At the station, our host dad, Matthew was there to pick us up. He is a very nice man too, and he and Joshua were mission companions back in 1986. Matthew took us to get some food and I will never complain about spicy Mexican food again. South Indian food is shockingly SPICY!!! Those of you who know me, know that I do NOT like spicy food because Colombian cuisine is not spicy, so I did not grow up with it. It has been a really hard adjustment! The restaurant owner was so funny, he served us, but stood right by our table for about 20 good minutes, just seeing how the "americans" liked his food. I mostly ate white rice, because it is not spicy and I love rice anyway. There are two sauces famous to south India- sambar and rasam. Both are SUPER spicy, but I was brave and ate it! After eating, Matthew walked us to our hotel, where we would be staying for a night before going to the village. We were still on a weird sleep schedule, so we all went to bed at 6 pm and woke up again at 4 am-- and could not go back to sleep. I am still getting used to sleeping here, it gets a little better everyday. We got on our bus, the 96 bus, headed to CHAVADI PUDUR, where the village is located- our final destination. 45 minutes later, we arrived and I will just make a quick mention about the transportation-- there are two rules: fill every single amount of space possible, with motorcycles, buses, cars, trucks, and auto rickshaws. Rule #2- the biggest vehicle gets the right of way. NO traffic rules are obeyed, and if you want to tell someone you are behind them and that they should move, you honk. There is CONSTANT honking, and sometimes when I am on the bus, I just look down or away because I get a little scared (I'm actually terrified... but I have yet to see an accident, so I know I'll be just fine). I will NEVER complain about Utah drivers again. ANYWAY, we arrived in the village and there is about a fifteen minute walk up to the actual village. It is mostly a dirt road. The first thing I noticed were the mountains- I had not seen mountains since Utah, and I missed them. The mountains here are so green, and not covered in snow. There are palm trees and coconut trees everywhere! It is beautiful. The sun was beating on us as we walked and we were all so excited about finally getting to know our host parents. We were met half way by the oldest son, Edvin, who is 17 years old. He led us to his house, where we met Jeeva, the host mother, and the daughter, Priya who is 15 years old and absolutely gorgeous. They live with Matthew's brother and his wife, who is acutally Jeeva's sister (brothers married sisters! kind of cool). It was so great to finally meet the people I had been hearing about for so long! The house is pretty big for a village home, and there is a nice veranda. This family has hosted BYU students for the past 20 years, and so they are pretty used to the adjustment. It has been an interesting but good two weeks adjusting to life here in the village, and I will write more about it later. There have been so many things that have happened in India since then, and I will write them through out the coming weeks, I just wanted to write my first post about arriving here. India is beautiful and crazy, all at the same time. Sometimes I feel like I am in a movie, and other times I can't believe that I am actually in a different country. I will be writing about the NGO, Shanti Ashram, where I have already held my first interview-- that place is WONDERFUL. I will also be writing about some of our adventures at the grocery store, with the buses and in the village. Quick side story- whenever we walk around to the village either to buy a soda or just walk around, the kids freak out and start screaming "hi! Hi! Hi!!" it is so cute and makes me laugh. Everyone thinks I am north Indian... until they speak Tamil to me and see that I speak 5 words, it is funny to see their reactions. Please comment if you would like to, I would love to answer any questions that you may have or anything. Thank you again for your love and support while I am here in India, it means the world to me. I will be writing again soon, with a lot of stories!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Annotated Source #30, Monday (April 2, 2012).

New H1N1 case reported in Coimbatore. The India Times.

Health is a very important topic in India, especially in developing cities like Coimbatore. I think it is important to be conscious about these things, especially how it may affect the people and their lives.