Tuesday, September 2, 2014

{Thottanaval Village}

Our school campus is about 1/4 mile past a small little village out in rural Tamil Nadu. We love to leave campus and walk or bike ride through the village on little outings. 
This is our view walking into the village from our campus.

On campus, we have running water--CLEAN DRINKABLE water coming out of our tap...well, one side of our tap, to be clear.  The other side we lovingly call "Typhoid Water". 
When my kids are filling up a pot or washing out a water bottle, they will often ask, "Clean water or Typhoid water, mom?" It just makes me laugh. 
But back to the village...
In the village they have a few central water tanks where everyone goes to fill up their plastic or metal water jugs. They do not have cleaner drinking water...that IS their drinking water (what we call Typhoid water)...but we would get sick if we drank it.

Life in the village seems so very different than anything we have in the States. Sometimes I come back home and just sit here, amazed that we live on the same earth...but we have such different existences. 

I have never personally seen village life before and it is a startling contrast to the life I live at home.

These women still do their laundry using buckets and a large flat stone...and I am telling you, they get their clothes cleaner than my machines at home.
Walk through the village in the morning, and every third person you see is sitting on his front stoop brushing his teeth. Life is just lived out in the open...many doors don't even have front doors on them.

The homes vary greatly even within this tiny little strip of residences. Some people live in these huts...





And some people live in brick and concrete boxes like you can see on the right... 


These men were busy repairing the roof of this hut.


Some people live in slightly embellished or very embellished brick and concrete homes that are then decorated with tile and iron work.

This happens to be the home of a Rising Star employee that lives in the village.

This was a beautiful rangoli we saw one day. These are often done every morning outside the front door of the house and are meant as a blessing.


There are always chickens, roosters, turkeys, cows, and goats wandering around.
These are all harmless and quite fun to see at times. The first time we went to the village a turkey kept following us around and Cohen wished he could bring it home with us. : )  He says that going into the village makes him miss our chickens!









Do you think we stick out at all?  : )


One day they were having some sort of celebration and had decorated this little side lane. I just love how festive they can make things with paper and strings and a few balloons.


This is the village school. I think Tamil writing is so beautiful...I only wish I could recognize the letters more easily. But, just FYI, Tamil has 247 letters in their "alphabet". There are 30 Main Letters and then the rest are derived from those.  I wish it were an easier language to learn!



The children are always running out and saying "HI!!" or "BYE". And if they are a little older, they will smile and say, "How are you?" But that is normally about all the English that they know.





The most common reason we go into the village is so that the kids can shop at the little village store. They get cookies for 5 rupees or a couple single Milkybar Caramels for 1 rupee. On allowance day, when they are feeling rich with their 100 rupees ($1.66), they might splurge and get a soda for 30 rupees (50 cents). Looking forward to these little village trips is the only thing that kept Cohen going on those really hard days when we first got here!


The village people are very friendly....the village dogs? Not so much. They growl at us and bark and generally freak us out. If a villager is around, they will yell at the dog and it normally leaves us alone, but the other day when I was running with Camry and Liberty, there was a particularly mean dog at the very beginning of the village that I had to threaten with a large rock.  I was scared to do that, but it worked--he immediately stopped following us. 

(I was following a tip from some of the older boys at our school. They said that all I needed to do was pick up a rock and act like I was going to throw it.)

That large rock is now stashed near a bush for me to pick up every time we 
have to pass that meany. : )

Sunday, August 17, 2014

And above all these...

Colossians 3:12-14
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
Forebearing one another, and forgiving one another....
And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 

I picked up a book last week from our volunteer library.

It is called Mother Teresa: Her Essential Wisdom.

I have been starting my days now by reading two or three little quotes each morning. It would be the perfect way to start your day anywhere in the world, but seems especially apropos to life here.  Her words and her example have touched me deeply, particularly on the days when I myself am serving those with leprosy.

She was an amazing, humble person and I am grateful for her example of PURE CHARITY and PURE LOVE.




The first time I was introduced to Rising Star Outreach was at BYU Education Week many, many years ago where the founder, Becky Douglas, was speaking on love, service, and charity. I was so deeply touched that I remember crying all the way to my next class.  Little did I know that Becky's words and example would lead me to where I am today.

Reading every morning from the words of Mother Teresa has brought back all those same feelings, that same witness of this amazing work that we get to be a part of.

Here are a couple of my favorites from this last week...


"I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper's wounds I feel I am nursing The Lord himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?"


I remember Becky talking about this in that very first presentation...how Mother Teresa looked on each leper, on each homeless, filthy person as Christ himself. She served each person as if they were her Savior, she washed their wounds with the same love she would have shown her God.

I find it to be such a powerful, stirring thought.

I saw a homeless man just yesterday in Mamallapuram. He was most definitely the filthiest human being I have ever seen. He was clothed in a torn, dirty, threadbare undershirt that was long enough to reach his thighs. His arms and legs were emaciated and in some places mud-caked. His hair was long, all the way down his back, but it was one matted mass of knotted hair, leaves, lice, and grime. We saw him multiple times during the day.  My only feeling was that I wanted to make sure I did not pass too closely to him.

I am not Mother Teresa. (I know you all knew that already...but here is absolute proof!)

Her words give me something to strive for. She was an extremely rare kind of person...the kind that effects people long, long after they have finished their mortal life.

I am grateful, so grateful for her example and will continue to strive to see my Savior in every person that I see. I have a long way to go!

The most wonderful thing about this idea is that you don't have to go anywhere special to do this. Wherever you are...whoever you are with...THAT is where you can strive to treat another as you would the Savior. THAT is where you can see Christ in another human being and treat them with the dignity that is then requisite.


"Charity begins today. Today somebody is suffering, today somebody is in the street, today somebody is hungry. Our work is for today, yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not come yet. We only have today to make Jesus known, loved, served, fed, clothed, sheltered. Do not wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow we will not have them if we do not feed them today."

Isn't that just beautiful? Who do you know that needs YOU--- to KNOW them today, to LOVE them today, to SERVE or FEED or CLOTHE them today, or desperately needs your sheltering love and compassion??


Today is the day where we can all strive to see Christ in those around us.  And don't worry, no need to feel overwhelmed...none of this has to be big stuff. We don't have to think big...in fact, I think it is always better to think small...to think about individuals and person-to-person interactions.




"We can do no great things...only small things with great love."



Thursday, August 7, 2014

2 month milestone

We arrived here exactly 2 months ago...on June 7th.  This last month really flew by. It is hard to believe that the summer is coming to an end. Our summer coordinators are slowly leaving us, one by one, to go back to college and jobs and regular life. It is sad to see them go and we are all amazed that our time together is already up.

We "splurged" and made tuna melt sandwiches for the whole family...using up two cans of the precious tuna that we lugged here in our suitcases. For the first time in our lives, we have a sandwich maker, and we use it countless times a day. The kids are basically surviving on toast...toast with peanut butter, toast with jam or honey...the other day Cohen made himself a piece of toast with mustard on it. I guess ANYTHING tastes better than rice and curry!

We celebrated tonight by opening up a box of brownie mix we also lugged here from America. All things must be carefully rationed, so we mixed up half the recipe and saved the other half for another celebration in a month or two.  We brought three boxes with us, so we can have a brownie celebration exactly 6 times...as long as I keep the open bag carefully hidden from certain children that shall remain unnamed. (Cough...Avery...Cough...Libby)

Two months down...and unbelievably (at least to me), I am 15 pounds lighter than when we arrived. Everyone who has been over here told me that we would lose weight, so I was expecting it, but was shocked when I got on the scale a few days ago. And it is not because I have been sick and unable to eat. It is just that when you are hot and humid all the time, your metabolism speeds up and you end up drinking a ton of water. And the food...hmmm...how to explain the food? 

First of all, our normal routine is to make breakfast and lunch for ourselves and then eat the Indian food only for dinner...but we do normally have 1 breakfast and 1-2 lunches over at the cafeteria every week.

So back to the actual food...You start with RICE...tons and tons of rice (normally white for lunch and red rice for dinner), some type of vegetable curry/sauce--about half the time these are pretty spicy-- another vegetable on the side (cabbage, beets, green beans, banana stem--the stems of banana plants chopped up and boiled), and then fresh fruits and vegetables with dinner every night. So, as you can see, lots and lots of vegetables...and a nice big serving of fruits for "dessert" at night.  This is cafeteria food, so we are on a schedule and invariably, the same things come up for dinner each night of the week. And every time we have a dish, my serving gets a little smaller, and some meals I am definitely eating because I need to eat and not for the sheer pleasure of it. But, I am starting to think I need to learn how to eat this way at home more...not so much about cravings and comfort foods, but more about health and sustenance.

There are many dishes that we genuinely like...such as Tuesday's breakfast made of thin angel-hair type noodles cooked with onion and spices with a coconut chutney that goes over the top and (my favorite part) SUGAR that you sprinkle over the whole thing. It is a delicious mix of sweet and savory.

There is Chappati night--which is like a homemade Indian tortilla-we all call it Cha-Party night because we love it. And they also make a type of French fry that is everyone's favorite. On those nights, we mix up a little ranch and feel like we are back home again!

But even though I do enjoy the food and even though I eat Oreos and lots of crackers most day of the week I am still steadily losing weight. I am interested to see where I end up plateau-ing. 
And we will see how long it takes me to gain it all back when I get home to the land of milk and plenty and Yogurt Bliss and PF Changs. ; ) 

But for now, I am enjoying the complete lack of guilt I feel eating some Oreos each week or absolutely devouring quiche and pastries at the French Bakery in Pondicherry when we go there once a month. The moments of pleasurable eating are fewer and farther between and I actually find I enjoy them so much more because of it.

We have made it through two months...the kids are adjusting as well as can be expected. Cohen and Avery have recently begun playing outside in our courtyard for hours every day, digging in the sand and playing with the water from the duck pond...making castles, mountains, and moats. It is good to see them just being kids together. This next volunteer group arrives on Monday and brings with it a whole family, including a little 8 year old boy. Cohen is excited to have a little buddy...even if it is only for two weeks!

Tomorrow morning, I have promised the kids a bike ride into the "junction" where (if we don't die on the way) we will spend 7 rupees (12 cents) on a Mango or Orange bar and eat it with utter disregard for the fact that it is barely 9 a.m. Only in India...

Speaking of food...I would kill for a salad right now! (It is not safe to eat any form of lettuce or spinach over here.) : (

Monday, July 28, 2014

Our crazy Cohen

I just have to share a couple adorable and funny things that Cohen has said and done because I just do not want to forget them! 

During the weeks that we were without the internet, the kids had to get pretty creative about things to do to pass the time. 

The first thing they did was to open "Cohen's Kitchen". He and Avery made up a menu of all the things that could be had in our kitchen...toast with butter, toast with jam, sliced bananas, chocolate milk. Apple juice, scrambled eggs, peanut butter sandwich, and "digestive" crackers. They made paper money for every person and set up their whole restaurant station the night before.

As I tucked Cohen in to bed that night, I saw a note taped to his wall. In his own handwriting, it said, "Cohen...Hurry and wake up! Breakfast awaits you!" ; )

They served many of us breakfast and lunch for a few days and had such a good time.


A few days later, I sent Cohen into my bathroom to take a shower and 20 minutes later he had made up his own way to take a bath in India. One day, he will seriously regret letting me take these pictures, but I am so glad I got them. He would sit in the bucket and then use the bathroom sprayer to fill it up. He is hilarious and has spent many happy hours with a couple buckets sliding all over the tile floor and sloshing around. 





One more funny moment...

Here at the school, each child has a metal cup and plate with their name carved into the bottom. We have one in our house that must be a child that is not here anymore. 

On the bottom it says AMUL.

One day, Cohen and Camry were in the kitchen together. Cohen was holding the cup and he looked up at Camry and said, "Somebody put the A word on this cup!" She took the cup from him, looked at the bottom, and then because she really thought he was teasing her, she said, "Are you kidding?".

"Well, Avery said the A word was something about a donkey," he said.

Oh my...we all had a great laugh about that one!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Misery Meter meets India

Before we came here, I promised myself that I would be honest about my experiences.  That I would record the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.  Because, more than anything, I am writing this blog for myself and for my family. To really remember the experiences we had and how we felt and how they changed us.

Also, having a blog is a good consolation prize. When you have a horrible day (as I did yesterday), you can look on the bright side and say, "At least I will get one hilarious blog post out of it!" 

It makes everything useful...if only for a good laugh for people halfway across the world. ; )

I now have a new LOW on my "Misery Meter". It is called India Low and there is a fair bit of distance between that and my previous America Low. To tell you the truth, I did not even know I had a Misery Meter, but it just kept going off yesterday and then I had to give it a name.

One thing being in India has also given me is a sure knowledge that even as I write this, I know that my new "India Low" doesn't even touch the "I-have-leprosy-and-my-family-and-community-have-shunned-me-and-I-no-longer-have-use-of-my-hands-and-feet" Low that I see every time I go out with our mobile medical clinic.

So, even while I have fun describing just how miserable yesterday was (and it was!), I just want to make it clear that I still have perspective on just how relative my Misery Meter is.

Where to start?.....

Avery has had an ingrown toenail for about a month now and it got infected and even though we were treating it with antibiotics, Dr. Susan (our managing director who is a medical doctor) thought it would be best to take her to the hospital for a surgery consult. As it turns out, if you want to see a doctor here in India, you go to the hospital. They don't seem to have separate doctor offices like we do.

Things went awry from the very beginning. I woke up with a horrible sore throat and was concerned that I might have strep. When I went to get dressed, the pants I had chosen out of the volunteer closet (in the next building over from us) would not fit over my ankles. They are these super baggy pants and yet had been sewn with impossibly small holes for the feet. I was running late, so I called out, "Does anybody have any leggings I can wear?" Camry tossed me her gray leggings and I put them on. (bad choice...B.A.D. choice)

Avery and I ran out to meet our driver and to my dismay, I see that there is a group waiting for us and we are in the van that does not have air conditioning.  (Please keep that always in your mind as you read...NO air conditioning...96+ degree weather...60-65 percent humidity.) There was a nurse, a house mother, and two children from the school. As we started our journey, I realized that we were not going the direct route to Chennai (which takes 2 hours) but that we were going through little villages on the way...first, to pick up another Rising Star nurse from her home and then to pick up other people that also needed to go see a doctor. 

My head and throat are throbbing and the constant honking of horns and the deplorable condition of the roads we travel on are only making it worse, but even so, I am still just dealing with it.  Still have it together on the inside and still able to cope with the discomfort.

Then we came to a train crossing where the guard rails were down but there was no train in sight.  Our driver stopped the van, turned it off, and we waited...and waited. For at least 20 minutes! The minute the van stops the air becomes thick and heavy. The leggings are indescribably hot.  I want to rip them off and throw them out the window. Then I remember where Camry got these leggings. They are the only ones I ever owned in America. I bought them to wear under my ankle-length skirt during the winter months when I would go to the temple at 5 am and I was freezing. These things were made for warmth!! Curse them!

This is probably the first time I nearly cried. There were so many times it is hard to remember, but this was definitely the first. 

Finally, the train zipped by and the rails went up and we were able to continue on our way. At length, we arrived at the hospital. Oh, if only Americans could all see this hospital we would never again complain about our healthcare.  (I am serious!) There was an outdoor waiting area under a metal structure (like what farmers cover their hay with) with over 200 plastic chairs and at least half of them were full of people waiting. After our nurses stepped into an office, they split us up and one nurse walked me and Avery over to a Specialty Building. We waited in one line, then sat down in the waiting area, and then were given wristbands and directed to the elevator. After squishing more people than you ever thought possible into one elevator, the doors closed and we made it to our floor. We checked in, weighed Avery, and were directed down a long hallway to wait near a door that said Paediatric Surgery--Dr. Prakash Amralraj.

After sitting there for about 15 minutes, an orderly came and informed us that the doctor was in surgery right now, but would be here in about an hour. THANK GOODNESS the hospital was air-conditioned, so, other than being a little boring, I thought waiting would not be a big deal.


Oh, how wrong I was. That was before I started sneezing and the water/snot started running sporadically (and with no warning) from my nose.

And that was before I felt the tell-tale grumblings in my lower abdomen and realized with great dismay that I had forgotten to bring any toilet paper. The FIRST RULE of India: "Never leave home without your T.P." and all I had in my bag was a water bottle, an iPad, and two peanut butter sandwiches. All useful and/or necessary, but nothing that even MacGyver could use in my situation!

I tried to ignore it, tried to hope against hope that I could wait it out, but eventually I had to seek out a bathroom...as much for the toilet as for the hope of some kind of paper to blow my nose. I was directed to an empty bathroom that I saw (with some relief) had a western toilet. I stepped in, locked the door, turned around, and my heart sank. Let me describe what was in this room. It is very important for you to understand what was in the room and what was not in the room before I continue.

There was one dirty, low American toilet with no toilet seat. A water spigot and bucket of water with a scoop floating on the surface. And one empty paper towel dispenser.

OK...as long as you fully understand that, we can continue.  And, please, don't judge. Desperate times call for desperate measures....

I looked in vain for any scrap of paper, any tissue, any newspaper, a leaf for crying out loud, but was only left with what God gave me.

Oh, wait...did you not know that God gave you your very own bum-wiper?

 Let me introduce you to your left hand...which is what they use here in India...which is why there is not a single scrap of paper in this bathroom. And notice that I did not say there was a sink with some lovely soap either. 

I will skip all the sordid details. I have tried to wipe them from my mind...with my right hand, of course!  ; )

When I came out of the bathroom with wet, rinsed off, but-in-no-way-clean hands, I mimed desperately to a janitor for paper towels. She disappeared into a nearby room, came out with one hand cupped, and the other holding a wad of paper towels. She tipped her cupped hand over my outstretched palm and, bless her!!, out came orange hospital soap. I stepped back into the toilet room and scrubbed and scrubbed that soap into my hands for all I was worth and then rinsed with the water from the spigot. (If only I had tried my miming skills before stepping into the bathroom...) 

...but let's move on, shall we?

I used one of the paper towels to dry my hands, one to blow my running nose, and shoved the other 2 into my purse. On my way back to our seats, I saw some "hand sanitizer" near the front door and ran over to douse my hands repeatedly with it. It was like straight alcohol and I was so grateful for it!

We continued waiting. All the while, I am using up my paltry supply of paper towels on my runny nose. We are finally shown into the doctor's office where he takes a cursory glance at Avery's toe, prescribes Augmentin, and tells us to come back in 6 days. I asked if he would operate then and he said, "No, we don't like to operate on ingrown toenails. They always end up coming back. We will check it next time and if it still needs to be cut out we will make the appointment then".  All the while he is talking, I am thinking, "I will hold her down and cut out her  "#@*#" nail myself if I have to, but I am not coming back here!" Oh yes, I had definitely reached the swearing-in-my-head level.

We left the building, met up with the other people, and had a lunch of lemon rice and boiled eggs that the nurses had brought along. The last little girl and her housemother finally made their way out to the van and oh-so-slowly ate their lunch on the grass. Inside my head I was wishing that Indians ate on the run like Americans and that we could just start driving and get home. I was also talking myself back from the tears of  exhaustion and overheated-ness and of the futility of this whole blasted day when Navamani turns around in the van and says, so calmly, completely unaware that I am on the verge of a breakdown... "Rebecca, little Shalini is not done yet. They must go back and see another doctor." 

I could not take that hot, sticky van one minute longer so I got up and took Avery to a nearby park area in the building complex that had stone benches and shade and we wiled away the rest of the time...me, trying to sleep with a couple ants crawling on me and she, listening to a kids' Podcast on my iPad. 

Unbelievably, the ride home was worse than the ride there. I was running out of water and had to resort to reusing all the used, soggy tissues in my bag while we made countless stops. One at a leprosy colony to drop off some supplies, many to drop off the other patients, three times for the nurses to run to a nearby store and buy something they or the school needed, and of course, 15 minutes waiting for that stupid train. Every time we would stop, the sweat would drip down my face and arms, my legs would swelter in their winter leggings and the air would become unbearable. Still 45 minutes away from home, we had pulled over near a busy intersection in Chengelput. All the nurses were out on little errands, so there I sat with the children, the other patients, and the driver...all of whom speak little or no English.

On the brink of losing it, I grabbed a 100 rupee bill (less than 2 dollars) out of my purse and told Avery to follow me. Pantomiming to the driver that I was going to go look for a cold drink, I felt confident that we could find something easily and THANK HEAVENS we did. We bought one cold water bottle and two ice cream sticks. I was ecstatic to see a pile of napkins on the counter and stashed away as many as I could for my dripping nose. We walked back to the van, quickly finishing our melting ice cream, and sat down to drink our water on the curb...when almost immediately we were accosted by a group of street urchins. 

I am serious. And I am not exaggerating...
I have never had cause to use that description, but that is what they were. They were clearly siblings...6 of them...the oldest holding the baby on her hip. They were practically naked, their hair was matted and full of filth and lice and they were grabbing our water bottles to take them away from us. They were not begging, they were simply taking. If I had not been sick, with what I am still afraid might be strep throat, I would have gladly given them my water bottle.  I tried to shoo them away, telling them I had nothing to give them. One of the kids held onto my bottle with such tenacity, I had to pry her (his?) little mud-caked fingers off of it. They were the most pitiful sight I have ever seen. Even in the leprosy colonies I have never seen such filth and squalor.  I wish I had been together enough to figure out what I could actually do for them. But I was exhausted and sick and depleted. I felt a little sadness, but mostly relief as I watched them walk away.

At length we made it home, where I pulled off those wretched leggings, threw them in Camry's room ("Oh, yeah, sorry," she says. "I forgot to tell you how hot they are!" ten hours too late) and scrubbed and scrubbed my left hand before getting in bed at 6 pm and calling it a night.



As I write this, I laugh, remembering the conversations I had with friends about
moving our family here...

"Yes," I hear myself saying, "the kids will have good days and they will have bad days, but all of them will teach them something in the end."

Karma: 1    Me: 0