it's like i'm a missionary again, using the plural pronoun for everything...it's a good thing the three of us like each other. here are some tid-bits from OUR little life in india.
we sleep in a room that is five or six stars compared to our accommodations in thailand (which included two nights sprawled on chairs in the bangkok airport). we each get our own bed with a bright bedspread and a shelf to keep the tiny amount of belongings we carried with us.
every morning we wake up and go to the "closet" to pick out our outfit for the day. the closet is full of traditional indian clothing that we must wear when we are working at the school. each day we wear a different churidar - big baggy (often mc hammer looking) pants plus a decorated tunic on top.
we eat at the children's hostel (where they live) all three meals. breakfast and lunch we eat sitting on the steps outside and dinner we enjoy on the roof as the sun goes down and the stars come out. every single meal includes rice with some kind of spicy, vegetarian sauce. this morning we had rice dumplings (idlies) with coconut chutney and last night our meal was supplemented by red beets and fruit salad. mostly the food is really really yummy, but every once in a while we get something questionable, so we are grateful for the granola bars and fruit snacks we hauled around thailand.
the children are so so very adorable. they also have a lot of energy and it is apparent they have been trained from birth to beg. they absolutely clobber us when we play with them or try to teach them - it is not unusual at all to see one of us 100% covered in indian children - 5 hanging off our arms, 5 more holding our legs, 5 more incessantly repeating "auntie, auntie" and a couple playing with our hair. it is hard to get them in control and today we are exhausted after a full day of tutoring and teaching. indeed, they can seem like little hellions at times, but once you look at their faces and remember where they came from, your heart melts all over again.
we have been trying to teach the kids how to say their alphabet correctly, and they are determined because if they get it perfect, they earn a bracelet. so, they constantly climb on top of us and loudly recite the ABCs. some of them have done really well correcting their pronunciation, but for many it is nearly impossible to reverse the incorrect way they were taught to pronounce the letters. hours have been consumed by us so far saying "EEEEM" and the kids repeating "YEEEEM!" hopefully they can help each other and all know the letters correctly in the next week or so. for now, we just have their determined voices ringing through our heads, the letters popping around in our brains - "eeeeEEEF!" "YeeeEEL!"
the school is surrounded by palm trees, rice patties, and a village just beyond the fence. from the bathroom in the volunteer hostel, we can always hear some going-ons in the village - rattling tamil all around.
they are building an addition to the school in between where we sleep and where the children sleep. it is amazing to see how much it changes everyday and how many good people rising star can employ. skinny old men wheelbarrow rocks down the dirt path and women in beautiful clothes form an assembly line carrying sand on their heads in big shallow bowls. one of the women has a little baby, who sits happily on a pile of dirt while everyone works on the building behind her. she has a big black dot on her forehead and seems to be happy all the time! when she sleeps she is put in a make-shift hammock made from beautiful mustard yellow and red fabric and tied on two ends to a tree across the path from the construction site.
the teachers and house mothers all wear beautiful, vibrant saris and we love them. we marvel wherever we go at the beauty of the fabrics and the fact that no two saris are ever the same. on sunday we went to the children's hostel before we got on the bus for church with the fabric pathetically draped around us and one of the house mothers saw us, gave us a knowing smile and promptly whipped the saris around us in two minutes flat. we had watched a movie on you tube about how to wrap a sari and tried to figure it out all night. nothing.
we are among some of the world's greatest humanitarians - my brother and sister-in-law tal and anita, the hendershot family with their five children, the denning family with their four (and these two families will stay for a year or more!), tom the school's athletic director on a gap year between high school and college, rathika the incredible new principle from california, and kristin a wonderful, fun girl here managing the sponsorship program. a couple of nights we have stayed up talking with everyone or playing games with dice.
when we have been off-campus in the neighboring towns, to-and-from church and during our one quite horrific day in kolkata, we have been stunned by the craziness of this country. there is garbage everywhere, cows eating it, people bathing, sleeping, working or dying on the side of the road, and the constant, constant, constant sound of honking (to replace lanes and traffic signals). we were told to be prepared to be confronted with the deepest of the third-world in india, but we could have never prepared ourselves for what we have seen. it is, all at once, amazing and horrible, awesome and depressing. there is no place like india, and we are so blessed to see it.
we've learned that bindis, the little dot between the eyes, is much more a fashion statement than a religious thing, which made me feel quite alright about wearing one around our little trip to mamalapurum. i think they really are pretty!
dani is working with the teachers at the school on their english and lesson plans, sara is teaching the older kids piano lessons, i am doing tutoring with some kids that are falling behind, and all three of us teach the 1st and 2nd standard classes for a half an hour in the afternoon. all these things are quite the feat but we are mostly happy for the challenge.
one billion people live in india. one billion people! there are people everywhere here. we are really, really out in the countryside here at rising star campus, but i don't recall ever seeing any space along the way that wasn't occupied with people in one way or another - women in their bright saris in the rice paddies or little villages swarming with men or children in their school uniforms. it is amazing to see all these people and remember that god knows each of them, and loves them dearly. on the way to church we saw the slums down by the river in chennai just teaming with people and even on our 4 am drive out of kolkata to catch our plane there were so many out in the street.
at night on our way home from the children's hostel we see frogs jumping about and there are always the dogs lurking around, looking incredibly mangy. there are also constant flutters of dragonflies and butterflies through the mango and palm trees.
the kids call us "auntie" and are very affectionate and love to play - something they didn't get to do much of living in the leprosy colonies.
everyone, it seems, in india bobbles their head. side to side, led by the chin. no shoulder movement. the head bobble can mean anything - yes, no, i have no idea, what the heck are you saying, sure, maybe and whatever. we are starting to do it.
in the little bit of sight-seeing that we have done, we have been asked several times by indians if they could take a photo with us in it. we're celebrities just by virtue of being white!
yesterday we started teaching the kids dani's signature ukulele song. it was quite perfect that we were all sitting in a big mango tree grove since the song is about mangoes. it is amazing to see the children light up with simple pleasures and to see the lightbulb go on as they learn.
we are blessed to be here and are trying to work hard to make a difference in these precious lives. we have here on campus a little slice of heaven that is proving to be challenging and wonderful and life-changing day by day.