Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Lesson from the Lorax

This is our Sunday School teacher here in Chennai. His name is Brother Sathiyaraj.  But I lovingly refer to him as The Lorax.

It is half because of his Lorax-ish mustache and half because of the charismatic way he imparts his wisdom...just like the Lorax. : )

A couple Sundays ago, he gave the most touching and profound lesson. I have to share it with you because it really shows a very endearing part of Indian people.  

They speak very straightforward English and use very sincere and genuine statements to convey their message. For instance, when Cohen, Avery, and I go to the library and check out a dozen books each time, the poor librarian has to hand write every last detail...including price... of each and every book and I say, "I am so sorry. I would be happy to do that for you." She says with a sweet smile, "No, ma'am, I am happy to do it--it is my duty."  When I saw a young woman sweeping the steps of the hostel and I said, "That is so wonderful and thoughtful of you!" She said, "It is my joy, Auntie." There is no false modesty and no pretense. They mean what they say. (Another quirky thing is their cultural norm of saying what they the day when a nurse told me that I should braid my hair like hers because "that no look good", as she waved her hand near my claw clip and up-twist. ; ) But that is a blog post for another day...)

Back to the Lorax...

He ended his lesson with a Powerpoint presentation entitled "Install Love".

I LOVE things like this that are so straight forward and simply presented. I am always touched by a humble, unadorned presentation of truth. And it didn't hurt that the Lorax was so evidently enjoying sharing this with the class. It made me laugh and smile and want to "Install Love" in my heart. ; )

It is an illustration of someone calling for help on "Installing Love."
 Christ is the tech support who picks up the call...

I skipped a couple slides to shorten it...but basically the customer installs is, says it is up and running and then says, "Oops...I have an error message! The tech support answers, "No problem, I know how to fix that."

It ended with the Tech Support reminding the customer that Love is be sure to pass it along to everyone you meet!

Install Love really is simple!

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 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 fact, I think it is always better to think 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 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 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!