1. Mosquitos are 5 times as big, sound like a jet engine and travel in mobs.
2. Earplugs help drown out the car horns and barking dogs, but they also keep you from hearing your alarm.
3. Missing a meal is not an option unless you are sick. Or severely jet-lagged.
4. “Do you want coffee?” literally means “Do you want a little dehydrated coffee powder in your warm, sweet milk?”
5. Driving rules are entirely subjective and optional.
6. Obeying Auntie, however, is not.
7. It is possible to buy a big bag full of Indian stuff for $20.
8. The expression “You owned that like a BOSS! Sheeoooot!” does not translate.
9. Children are the same in India as they are in America: they talk over their friends to get your attention, they want you to watch them do tricks, and the best games are the ones you make up with rocks and sticks.
10. If you are 32 and not married, you can easily get 80 kids to be your very own personal husband scout.
11. Dogs are not pets, they are alarm systems.
12. If a 17 year old boy knows how to build a house out of poles and blankets and bits of wire, chances are he also knows how to kill a cobra with his bare hands.
13. Meal times are a main event.
14. And if you let them, they will feed you to death.
15. Be careful the stories you tell to kids: they WILL remember every word 10 months later. 16. If it’s not syrup, it cannot be classified as chai.
17. Nalini and Auntie cook better food than any Indian restaurant I’ve ever been to.
18. There is no such thing as a “spanking”. There is, however, a slap on the back of the head.
19. “Bath” means tepid water and a 3 gallon bucket.
20. Roaches are the size of a small car and have the ability to appear as if from nowhere.
Today is the official first day of teaching English. Yesterday I taught only the oldest kids…mostly because they have the hardest English lessons ever. EVER. I really wanted to talk to my cousin Colleen yesterday…she’s an English teacher. I’m certainly not. So that means I’m constantly praying that the Lord will help me remember what in the world a “Gerund” is. The 10th grade book has a level of difficulty that would be challenging to American kids. But it’s written in such a way as to make it more complicated than need be. Really? I think whoever wrote the stupid thing just wanted to impress people with what they know…there seems to be no ambition to make the English language understandable or useful. Jerks.
So that’s my job! I get to explain modal auxiliaries, gerunds, prepositions, adverbs, nouns, adjectives, and verbs. To kids with limited English ability. And I have limited Marathi. The good news is, they are so, SO smart! They pick it up quick and are able to apply what they learn. The place where they struggle the most is with comprehension. Their books throw so many big vocabulary words at them that they can’t understand the gist of what is written. Then I turn into their walking dictionary. Along with being super smart, they are also good teachers; always eager and patient with each other and with me. I’m picking up a lot of Marathi this time around. I thought it’d be slow, but I’m continually surprised at the fact that someone will rattle off some phrase and I’ll know what they’re saying! Woohoooooo!!!! Fluency, here I come!
The rest of my classes are the 4th thru 9th grades. My mom and Lu teach English to the little kids (Kindergarten thru 3rd), Doug teaches math, and Mike and Bill work on reading and comprehension. We have such an awesome team.
San Francisco to Frankfur, 10.5 hours. Frankfurt to Mumbai, 7 hours. Mumbai to Nagpur, 1.5 hours. Nagpur to Lasina, 4 hours. Thirty-two hours and 12 time zones later, we arrived at our Indian home. International travel is a bear when you’ve been waiting for 10 months to see someone. Or “someones” in this case. The first leg of the trip feels like watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve or waking up too early on Christmas morning…time goes excruciatingly slow and you have no other choice but to wait. The last flight feels like the last part of a triathlon…you’ve already lived through the first two events, the last one is no thang. Once we’re in the cars and on the road, we get so distracted by the sights, smells, chai stops, roadside snacks, and random people waving that we barely notice the 4 hour car ride.
My favorite part of all the travel was the last 10 feet. I couldn’t stand it anymore so I jumped out of the car and ran to the gate. As I pushed my way in, my favorite little buddies in the WHOLE world ran to meet me. Big hugs, smiles, kisses…I couldn’t greet them fast enough! We spent the rest of the afternoon meeting all the new kids, playing cricket, eating bhaji, and getting our hair did. Yes, the young girls insisted on braiding and decorating our hair with flowers. I’m pretty sure they pulled out more of our hair than we would’ve liked, but it’s almost therapeutic being surrounded by little kids and listening to their chatter.
I tried a new trick this time to try and ward off any jet lag…per my sister, I was supposed to stop eating 16 hours before I wanted to wake up the next day. That meant that 3pm was the last bite I would take before 7am the next morning. That “fast” if you will, is tricky when it comes to Indian culture. Their hospitality includes a LOT of food and if you don’t eat that means you must be sick. The only way around it is to say you’re tired and going to bed. So I did I took a Benadryl and was out for the better part of 12 hours. And NO jet lag! A.W.E.S.O.M.E.
The only bad part of having to go to bed early (besides missing out on dinner) was having to deal with the unearthly amounts of Demon Spawn of Satan in my room. Mosquitos. I’ve never seen them so big or so numerous. In the room I killed at least 9. When I opened the door to the bathroom there was such a cloud of evil I decided to wait until morning for a bucket bath. Unfortunately, they didn’t die overnight. Mommy (Nalini) supplied me with some bug spray and I’m happy to report it was nothing short of miraculous. I sprayed the bathroom, shut the door, and VOILA! Five minutes later all of the offending critters were laying in a glorious pile of carnage on the tile floor. As it stands, the count in the bathroom was 34 dead…that’s after my mom and I took turns taking a shower. And yes, I’m keeping count. That’s the only way to be if you want to win.
As she spoke to Mommy in Marathi, Jodi and I carefully massaged coconut lime verbena lotion into her thin, leathery feet. When we were all done manicuring and painting her toenails with the agreed-upon silver color, she gently patted our faces and kissed our cheeks. She was ready to go back to her duties watching the 4 and 5 year olds. We watched her walk back across the courtyard as Mommy translated their conversation to us. “It is truly God who gives honor,” Shoba said. Mommy explained that Shoba, the elderly lady we both know as “Auntie” marveled at how Jodi and I, two white girls from America, delighted to get our hands dirty and serve her by doing the unthinkable: washing her feet. It was just this side of 10 years ago that her own children tried to starve her to death. Her countrymen wouldn’t deign to give her the time of day if they knew their caste to be a higher level than hers. And yet, here we were showing her love and honor. Jodi and I listened to Mommy relay the story with tears streaming down our cheeks. Who knew that such a simple act could say so much? Five minutes later we saw Auntie hurrying back across the courtyard to us. She handed Mommy a small plastic bag and quickly explained what it was, of course, in Marathi. Mommy reached in and pulled out a small gold chain with a “J” charm and another with an “N” charm. Auntie had gone into the village and bought these little presents and decided that now would be the best time to give them to us. I don’t know how much the necklace really cost, but I do know that I’ve never been given anything so priceless.
In the short two weeks I had to prepare for my return to India, I only had a small inkling that the Lord wasn’t through teaching me about servanthood. Looking back, I’m amazed at the new facets He revealed. Especially through our sweet Auntie. Every morning, Auntie was up at 5:30 and in the kitchen by 6 to start measuring out all the ingredients for breakfast. She worked there until 1pm when she got ready to take over watching the 4 and 5 year olds. When the older girls got home from school, Auntie was ready to start supervising their cooking of the evening meal. After dinner was served, she came with all the kids to the devotion time and then tucked the little ones into bed. Never once did she complain. She joyfully poured herself out for our benefit and the benefit of the 74 kids who live at Ankoor. Then when Jodi and I tried to bless her by washing her feet and painting her toenails, she heaped blessing on us again with her gift.
Even now, I sit here writing with tears in my eyes. This is what Jesus meant when He washed the disciples feet and said, “…If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” He’s not saying, “Hey! Grab a bucket and towel and get to work!” He’s saying serve. Be willing to get down in the dirt and do the most unglamorous job with joy. Be willing to get up before sunrise so someone else will have a hot breakfast. Be willing to help a kid with their homework when you’d really like a nap. Be willing to love beyond the point of discomfort. Be willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Recap of the last few days:
English class has gone amazingly well since I put the fear of Jesus into the kids. The high school kids are able to carry on simple conversation and write lyrics to songs that I play for them (I’m very proud of them . The 3rd-8th graders are picking up much more and are not so behind as they were at the beginning of the week…that class is a lot like herding cats, so I’m glad they’re learning something. The young kids are sharp. 1st and 2nd graders are doing as much as the 3rd-8th grade kids. The kindergarteners are just cute…whenever they come into class they’re all smiles and run to give me a hug and say “Good morning, Didi!” Of course they’re learning as well; songs, ABC’s, numbers, colors, and I read to them a lot too…
The mosquito bite on my shin started to look weird yesterday. It scabbed over and took on a distinctively round shape. Crap. At first I thought I had malaria, then I considered that it may be Ebola. No, it was ringworm. So now not only did I just get rid of the infestation of my head, now I have a skin fungus. Awesome. On a positive note, the medicine was only 50 cents. So, I win?
The boys guitar class is going SO well! They have learned how to change guitar strings, tune the instrument, how to play 7 chords (including one bar chord), a scale, sol-fa (in English and Marathi), scale notation on a staff, all the names of the lines and spaces of the treble clef, strumming and picking. I love watching them learn…our ½ hour lesson easily turns into 1 hour. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day: talking with them in my broken Marathi and their broken English. Somehow we are able to communicate just fine :)
Two nights ago Jodi and I gave a gift to the older girls. We brought them into the main hall after the evening meeting under the pretense of guitar lessons, but instead we set up two stations and washed their feet and painted their toe nails. Mommy (Nalini) came with us and translated just so they would fully understand that we wanted to do this for them because we love them very much. Some of the girls were worried that their feet were dirty and they would mess up my sari…it was a blessing to tell them that they were worth more than my sari. The girls were between 13-17 years old; they come from tribal areas of India and if they weren’t here at the children’s home, they would be married by now. Girls really aren’t given much worth here except for what they can do around the house and how many kids they have. Add to that the fact that tribal people don’t even register on the Hindu caste system; an “upper caste” member would never go to the house of someone who is “lower” than them and being seen with an “untouchable”, as these kids are considered, would be unthinkable. Because we are American and light skinned, they automatically assume we are “higher” than them. I hate it. However, I’ve started to see that maybe the Lord is even using that to minister to them: Jodi and I both love with hugs and kisses, smiles and conversation…all things that fall into their “should never happen” category just because of who they think we are. If there is anything to like about that label, it would be the fact that everyday we have an opportunity to break it to pieces just by being who we are. We stay at their home, we eat with them, play with them, and hug them every chance we get. Washing their feet was a special thing for both Jodi and I…maybe we won’t understand the depths of what it spoke to the girls, but my prayer is that they would know a little more of what they’re worth and how much they’re loved.
When we arrived at the Ankoor Children’s Home, we quickly learned that several of the kids were suffering from ringworm. I haven’t ever seen it except in a textbook or on wikipedia, so it didn’t immediately register what it was. Once we realized what we were seeing, Jodi and I went to work washing our hands and disinfecting everything; we even carried around hand sanitizer just in case.
Thankfully, we’ve been able to side-step that landmine. However, yesterday we learned of another malady…a somewhat common ailment: lice. It is just assumed that every kid has it and they make it a habit to pick nits out of each other’s hair. Seeing as how our job has been to play with the kids, love on them, teach them, and basically be around them the majority of the day, Jodi and I decided to have our heads checked. The test came back positive.
For the first time in 32 years, I tested positive for lice. It was a rough day. I guess we can now have the official title of “missionary”, but this particular badge of honor certainly came with much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jodi and I consoled ourselves with the fact that 1) we were together and 2)…we were together. We sat outside massaging acid into our scalps and then washing it out under a freezing cold spicket with peppermint oil.
We might still be infested. Everything itches and I’m not sure if it’s in my head or on my head…and I’m still an incubus for the plague. We’re going into town today to buy more lice acid and hopefully find a pharmacy that carries some sort of cough suppressant.
Oh the epic adventures in the lives of missionaries from the suburbs….
UPDATE: we did find cough syrup at the pharmacy. It tastes like salt and some weird flavoring that is listed as a “pleasant flavouring vehicle”. I beg to differ. At any rate, it keeps me from coughing during the night (kind of), and I’ve already drained 3/4ths of it. I’m hoping the coughing goes away before it runs out… Also, the lice acid was a success…for Jodi. I haven’t tried it yet…we plan on buying out the store and bringing the packets of instant lice death home.
Unfortunately, if you have the title of “guest”, they won’t let you help with anything. You have to help on the sly. I’m getting pretty good at that. It’s probably better that I don’t…turns out I’m horribly inept. Back home I successfully kept a garden, grew vegetables, and weeded. I offered to help weed their vegetable garden and after two minutes several kids came running at me yelling, “Didi NAHI!!!” That means, “sister, NO!!!” I was pulling what we would call weeds…random greens in the ditches between the furrows….turns out they eat that stuff. It’s called palak and is the Indian equivalent of spinach. After that huge embarrassing failure, I walked passed Peter milking the cow. I’ve been to a dairy before, so I felt confident in my ability to possibly squeeze milk from this animal. Um, no. It took me 5 minutes of wrestling with the udder, squirting myself, the ground, Peter…but I think I got a whole tablespoon into the bucket. Probably. Peter had to finish for me. He had drained the other three teats and I was going painfully slow for his taste.
So Sunday I basically sat in the shade watching as 5-17 year olds literally built a house from scratch. The big boys went around finding long poles, the younger kids dug holes, the girls built a fire, cut onions, tomatoes, chilis, made chipati…it was amazing. Each family group designed their own house out of poles and blankets; the blankets were sewn together with wire. Then some of the kids swept the entrance and decorated. I was finally allowed to help with the decorating (drawing colorful sand designs on the ground), although I noticed that it had later been erased and redone. AND the big girls let me help them cut tomatoes! With a dull piece of metal. I was pretty stoked. It’s not so awkward once you get the hang of it…
I continue to learn a lot of Marathi. The back of my journal has become a veritable dictionary of words and phrases. Some I learn by asking, some by hearing, and others I learn the hard way. In the last few days, I’ve mixed up several words: I tried to ask Daddy if he was cold…in Marathi that is “Daddy thunde ahe?” but instead I said “Daddy thundar ahe?” I asked Daddy if he was a motorcycle. Then in English class we were learning opposites…I tried to ask the girls “Where is outside?” (Outside kuthe ahe?) instead, I said “The dog is outside.” (Outside kuthra ahe.) No wonder they just stared…
Yesterday we had an awesome game of cricket. I’m starting to really like that game…we play it with a tennis ball, so all solid hits go flying across the field. It makes you feel good about your athletic skills. Although the good feeling only lasts until I have to run back and forth between the wickets and get lapped by 7 year olds because I’m so out of shape I’m sucking air.
English class is going ok. By ok, I mean that I’m able to fill the ½ hour with music (when we have current (electricity)….right now we don’t so there goes that idea for today), games, puzzles, stories, conversation questions, etc… but just because the ½ hour is full, doesn’t necessarily mean that it all makes sense. It feels thrown together and I hate that. My prayer right now is that the kids would be able to get something out of it.
At night we have a meeting time with the kids…me and Jodi and Daniel the Australian will do skits, music, and lead them through a devotion. A few nights ago I went through Isaiah 40:26 “Lift up your eyes and see Who has created the stars. He leads forth their host by number and calls them all by name. Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of his power not one is missing.” I had them really think about how big our God is… to really stop and consider the song we sing: my God is so big, so strong and so mighty, theres nothing my God cannot do! And that the creator of 350,000,000,000 galaxies knows every detail of who we are. He knows our name. Psalm 139 says that His thoughts about us are so many, they outnumber the sand. I love encouraging them like that… truth is, I need to hear it every now and then too.
We end every day with guitar class…the girls continue to mix their class time with a heavy dose of socializing. It’s cute! Last night they asked me all about my family; my sister’s name, mom’s name, dad’s name, do I have a boyfriend…I guess some questions transcend culture! The boys are already starting to change chords smoothly, pick and strum…all of them are catching on so quick! It’s SO fun seeing them progress…that’s the part I miss about being a school teacher: the “a-ha!” moment.
It’s about 7:30 now so I have an hour to take a bucket bath (with leftover hot water from before the power went out), eat breakfast, and gather a few things to teach English… maybe I can find some more chai too….
We made it! After 43+ hours of travel we arrived in Lasina. It was 1:30am Sunday morning when we finally got to lay down flat…I’ve never been so happy to see a bed and a hot shower! A bucket bath, but nonetheless, it was awesome…
The first day we got up early and went around surprising the kids (none of them knew we were coming)! It was fun seeing the looks on their faces. We had a church service where I was asked to speak 5 minutes before it started… one thing I’ve noticed in the two days I’ve been here is that there is little to no warning about anything. We’ll hear the question, “Do you have a program for the kids?” and my thought is, well, of course not, you didn’t ask us… Maybe I should just have something in my back pocket just in case…
After the service we all had lunch, I took a nap, then played cricket, football (soccer) and basically just spent time with the kids. The little ones wanted to hold our hands, sit on our laps and be as close to us as they could. I think they wanted to get some of our body heat…it’s been in the 40’s at night which is really cold for here. There is another guy here from Australia and he bought socks for the kids…it was cute seeing them open their presents…the little ones had never worn socks before and didn’t know what to do! Then Jodi and I were able to give the older kids the guitars our team bought for them last October. It was awesome getting to tell them that we all were so proud of all their hard work and that we wanted them to have new instruments to practice with.
Monday morning Jodi and I woke up at 7:20 and hurried out of bed so we could go run before everyone got up. We thought we only had 10-15 minutes before breakfast so we sprinted around the yard. Max the dog thought we were out there specifically to play with him and he started jumping all over Jodi. We weren’t having that so I grabbed a stick and tried to smack his butt so he’d stay off. It worked. The only draw back to that plan is that I felt like the biggest jerk ever…yes, hello, my name is Noel and I’m a dog-beater. When we got back inside after our short run we found out that I had my watch set an hour ahead…and that it was really 6:20 when we got up and we had no need to rush.
Oh well…we had bigger fish to fry yesterday morning. For one, I found out that the night before we were given a very detailed schedule of when we were going to teach English and to whom. The plan for the past few weeks (the plan that was confirmed) was that we would get 2 hours a day with the little kids who go to school on campus. I planned accordingly getting all kinds of games, books, and made lesson plans to fill up 2 hours. Our “new” schedule included ALL age groups from 8:30am to noon. I had an hour notice that all my lesson plans were changed and we only got 30 minutes with each group a day. To be totally honest, I wasn’t too thrilled. Actually, I was pretty frustrated. The Lord is teaching me a lot about trusting Him through this…the kids are at different levels of English skills. Everything from a basic handle of the ABC’s to being able to carry on some easy conversation. I want so badly to squeeze every minute out of this month…to do a good job for the kids in putting lessons together that will make it logical and easy for them to pick up more English; conversation, reading, and comprehension. As hard as it is, the Lord is teaching me to let go of my plans and trust that He can use me in spite of my weakness. Maybe “my” plans weren’t the best after all…a lot can happen in a month and it’s only day 3!
At night I teach guitar to the older kids…half an hour with the girls, half an hour with the boys. From our lesson last night, I get the feeling like the girls don’t so much want to play guitar as they want to have a social time… girls are girls no matter what culture you’re in! The boys really get down to business. They come to the lesson to work and they’re progressing quickly. One boy named Naresh is already able to follow me switching chords between G-C-D-G. I’m excited to see how far they get this month…
Right now it’s about 7am, Priti just came in to say good morning as she’s busy doing her chores. All the kids are up now milling around the campus feeding the cows, watering plants, straightening, cleaning, sweeping and getting ready for breakfast at 8. English lessons get moving at 8:30. Its going to be a full day!
Some things that happened that weren’t in our “plan”: ~ Jodi’s curling iron broke into two pieces ~ Lesson plans as we know it…out the window ~ Temprature…much colder than we expected ~ Ipod speakers …worked for 2 minutes and haven’t worked since ~ Jodi’s hairdryer…blew up this morning ~ Started sneezing last night…just as I was about to nod off, BAM! I’ve been up since 4 something…
We’ve had a lot of unexpected “surprises”, but neither Jodi nor I would trade them to be anywhere else. The Lord has given us a deep love for these sweet kids… what a blessing to be a part of their lives!