Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Joy of Young Girls

The last weekend of the month is usually the only 2 days of the month that the girls are allowed to leave Nicholson and spend at home. This has come to be my favorite time of the month, as the number of girls that stays is usually no more than 20 (compared to the 400 girls that attend the school) allowing me to spend individual time with each. The atmosphere of the school changes as the strict rules are bent a little, the rigid schedule becomes floppy and the food quality improves (sometimes the girls are even allowed to help in the kitchen…they love this!!)

I’ve come to realize that I enjoy this time mostly because I feel like their big sister rather than a respected elder. Barriers are broken that need to be their during the rest of the month solely because of the numbers. For example, letting all the girls into my room during the normal part of the month would be a DIASTER. However, during these 2 days, letting the girls hangout in my room is much more manageable and a treat for everyone.

This past weekend, among our time hanging out the favorite joy was watching “love stories films”, as they call them. I’ve come to learn that no matter the culture, little girls are infatuated with love! I remember the times growing up when my friends and I were obsessed with chick-flicks, played imaginary love stories and even proposed to each other with Ring-pops (Jess- will you be my wafflely wedded wife?) Surrounding myself with these girls warms my heart as it brings back memories of my childhood.

We watched the films on my lap-top and spread out their beds so everyone could be comfy. While I did have to explain the story-line of the movie, the joy came from watching the girls watch the film. Their comments on outfits or giggles when 2 characters kissed warmed my heart and brought joy and laughter to me! To them, watching a film is a treat- to me however, having someone to watch a film with and remind me of childhood is the real treat.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


For the past several Tuesdays, I have spent my days teaching Mar Thoma priests English and American Culture. When I was first approached to teach these men, I was more nervous than a bride on her wedding day! Achen’s or priests are highly respected in Indian culture (when an Achen enters a room, everyone stands to acknowledge his presence) and I didn’t feel worthy to be teaching these men. Worried I would make a mistake, I timidly stood in front of these men and began teaching what I had prepared.

Explaining one’s culture is more difficult than it seems, especially when the question why is involved. Why DO we do it that way? …we just do. Talking about our culture brought about many emotions for me. At first I was anxious that I might upset someone so I had to choose my words wisely. Then a feeling of “Wow, I miss that” lead to, “I wonder how that came to be,” ultimately leaving me with “Culture can shape a person’s behavior just as much as their personality does.” The experience of explaining one’s culture was a good exercise for me as it allowed me to reflect on how differences and mis-understandings can easily occur between God’s children.

However, the best story from my Tuesdays with the Achen’s is the day I was corrected on how I was pronouncing a word. Before each week’s class I am given a book with material on pronouncing different words (similar sounds) with an American accent. Since English is my native language, never, before this year, have I sat down and read pronunciation material, let alone explained it to someone. While it is fair to say, English was never a strong subject, it is also no means an understatement to say I am AWFUL with pronunciation- always have been. I took Latin and Sign Language solely because I didn’t have to worry about pronouncing words to pass the class. So there I am, in front of a group of older men pronouncing words and then having them repeat the words back to me when one of the men politely raises his hand and asks why I pronounced cat with a long a sound when the book denotes it having a short a. As you might imagine I turned bright read and the next words out of my mouth were pure word vomit. It was a moment where I just had to laugh at myself.

I know my strengths and weaknesses well and in one’s own culture it is easy to hide your weaknesses. However, when you are thrown into another culture and have expectations placed on you, hiding those weaknesses is more difficult. While I have learned many things about myself in the past several months, the most difficult thing has been working through my weaknesses and learning to be confident in who I am even when I may not be the best at some particular thing.

Day in the Life

After reading my blogs (thank you and bless you) for 5 months, you may wonder what a typical day of my life here in India looks life. While each day is always a little different than the day before, here is my general schedule. The italicized hours signify the constants-no matter the day, time, weather or mood I can be found doing this.

6:00- Wake-up
6:25- Lead morning exercises
6:45- Run
8:00- Breakfast
9:15- Morning prayer
9:30- Morning Chapel
10:00- Classes Begin
12:30- Lunch
4:00- Snack
4:30- Play in the schoolyard with the younger girls/garden with the older girls/carry on conversations
6:30- Malayalam Lesson
7:15- Evening prayer
8:00- Dinner
9:15- Bed

6:15- Wake-up
6:30- Run
8:00- Breakfast
9:30- Morning prayer
9:45- Morning Chapel

10:00- Classes Begin
12:45- Lunch
1:30-5:30 Visitation Hours Begin (this is the time I run errands)
6:30- Malayalam Lesson
7:15- Evening Prayer
8:00- Dinner

6:15- Wake-up
6:30- Leave for Church
7:00- Church
9:00- Breakfast

9:45- Morning Prayer (with teachers)
10:00- Sunday School (with students)
12:00- Lunch
1:00-3:00- Free-time

3:30- Choir practice
7:30- Dinner

· On Tuesdays after morning prayer I head to town to teach priests English.
· On Wednesdays I go to a YMCA to help students with disabilities.
· On Wednesdays morning I take early morning devotion for the girls at 6:45am.

The American Who Throws An Elbow

Riding the bus in India is always an adventure. Some days the buses are super crowded and you are struggling to find enough space for your own two feet but other times you are able to get a seat and give your feet a break. While I think it is fair to say that is it most often the former rather than the latter, after 5 months of riding public transportation in India, I have learned a few tricks of the trade.
At first I was very conscious about being polite and letting others go before me but I’ve learned that you will just get trampled on doing so. It is important to make your body as big as possible and look out for yourself. Also, walking with your elbows out creates a little more personal space for yourself. It also makes it convenient if you need to throw a subtle elbow if someone gets in your way. I don’t think Indians expect me to know how to ride the bus, so when they see the American following the cultural standards they often stare in amazement.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Catch Up of Christmas and New Year Happenings

Christmas and New Year have come and gone. We are a couple weeks into 2011 but I wanted to fill you in on the holiday happenings here in India.
On December 23, Jim and I started our Christmas break by attending Madison’s school’s Christmas program. Except for the guest speaker who spoke WAY to long, it was a great last Christmas program before we headed to our supervisor’s house to celebrate Christmas. The highlight of the program was Madison dancing in a sari with her fifth grade girls…everyone in the audience loved it!!
Christmas in India is very simple compared to our celebrations and traditions in the States. Decorations consist of a large, single star hung outside of the house. In my opinion these are much more tasteful and classy then the gaudy lights with which Americans decorate their houses. People do carol however, churches use this time as a way to collect money so the purpose/meaning behind caroling is different between the two countries. On Christmas Eve it is common for churches to hold a Carol Service, however this year we did not attend a service on Christmas Eve. We did however, spend the night with Achen’s family sharing food (delicious cashews, I could have made a meal out them alone!!) and conversation.
Our Christmas day began with what seemed like a louder than normal Call to Prayer and the viewing of a Hindu burial service on TV. While the day was filled religiously diverse experiences, it was nonetheless a relaxing day complete with a simple communion service held at Achen’s house, ‘stockings’ or Santa filled hats, light Christmas music played throughout the house, and lots of skype dates! The simplicity of our Christmas day was something to be treasured and be remembered for Christmases to come.
A couple days after Christmas, Jim, Madison and I ventured to Goa, a state north of Kerala known for its beaches. This was our first over-night train experience in India! After 17 hours of travel (and to truthfully report, I decided to fast to keep the toilet usage to a minimal) it was exciting to arrive at our destination…an old Portuguese house! A family-friend of a YAV owns this old house in the middle of the state. The location was perfect as we were able to use it as our home-base and travel to different beaches each day. One night our adventures took us to a private island, where we stayed in a tikki-hut with no electricity and a broken toilet. Depending on the tide the only way to the island is by swimming…this made the experience that much memorable.
After spending 6 days relaxing under the sun it was back to our sites we went. The first couple days back were rough, I had a bad case of the post-holiday blues but thanks to lots of Christmas care packages, cards and emails, I was able to shake the blues away and am looking forward to what is in-store in the coming months!