Thursday, 31 October 2013

Culture Shock Round 2: Going Postal

Culture shock is quite possibly the weirdest phenomenon in the world. After being here for about 9 months, I remember doing a little happy dance. I thought, “Wow, I’m really starting to feel at home here. I love it here. I’m rockin' this language and people are making sense. Things are great!” But, this came only after some real wrestling with culture mind you. There were many moments where I thought I would never, EVER understand anyone around me! But, after some time, there was a shift in my heart. I still didn’t understand everything, but I was seriously happy and adjusted. Well, at least I was adjusted to what I was experiencing on a daily basis thus far.

Alas, in the past three months or so, we’ve entered into a new phase of life here. Our first year was about learning to survive in this culture, making friends and learning language. But as we’ve transitioned into our second year here, we are starting to enter into some new roles, namely as business people and parents. Let’s just say life isn’t all biryani and roses these days!

It is crazy how the introduction of these two new roles has given us a totally different wave of culture shock woes. I’m normally pretty go with the flow, but suddenly, with the thought of bringing my sweet baby into this world, poor health care, mice infestations, crappy plumbing (pun completely intended, but that is another story altogether) and flooding haven’t seemed like only a tiny nuisance. Instead they seem huge, annoying, even scary. When we moved here, we laughed it off that it took two months to get a government approved gas connection and the irony of the post office never having stamps (seriously? This is a post office, right?) became a joke of sorts. But, now that we are in the big middle of trying to get a legal business entity up and running, it is quite possible that I will go postal on someone at a government office. So, if one day, you see on the news that some American woman totally freaked out in some Indian government office and now is in a mice infested jail cell because of her crimes, just know it is me, ha ha.

 Lately, it seems I am always fighting… for my unborn child, for our business, for my house to not fall apart or be overtaken by mice, sewage or mold. It isn’t really individuals I am fighting, although a few poor souls have certainly suffered the brunt of my frustration! It is nature, lack of education, a corrupt government, broken bureaucratic systems, poverty, prejudice towards foreigners, gender biases, barriers between communities, religious strongholds, and deficiencies in my own language skills. To be totally honest, it scares me a bit that we are only just beginning and I’m already feeling a little exhausted by it all.

So, as I see it, I have two options: insanity leading to a government office freak out and jail time, or a serious encounter with God that gives me a tenacious, fighting persistence combined with love that is far beyond what I am capable of on my own. So friends, lets pray for the second option.  

Sunday, 29 September 2013

We Bought a Scooter!

When I lived in Spain for a semester during college, I used to dream of being the cool girl on the sea foam green Vespa cruising around town with my hair and trendy scarf blowing in the wind behind me. When we got married, my husband bought me a Vespa. At last, my dreams of being a European hipster  had come true. The day we got it, he took me to the empty parking lot behind the Wesley Foundation where I worked, put me on the scooter, showed me how to balance it, and told me to take her for a spin. In a matter of about twenty seconds after hitting the accelerator, I laid the Vespa over in the empty parking lot, sat down on the curb and cried. Dreams. Crushed. Ha ha! 

But, I got back in the saddle and eventually learned to drive with a moderate (or maybe mild?) amount of control. When we left the states, the hardest thing for me to sell was the scooter. I remember selling everything we owned in a garage sale, walking into our empty house and actually feeling relief. Then, I remember a few days later sobbing as my husband drove to Ralls to meet some stranger and give away our sweet sea foam green Vespa. Tragedy. 

But, life has a way of working things out. After living here for a year and relying entirely on mass transportation (which is definitely not without merit), we bought a scooter. No, it isn't a Vespa, nor is it sea foam green, and I'm not really cool, BUT my scarf does daily blow in the wind! It is amazing how much faster it is to get around on a scooter. Also, while I do miss conversations with random strangers on the way to and fro, I don't really miss imitating sardines in a really, really hot can and having someone else's sweat all over both sides of my body. So, it is definitely a practical move. But, my favorite thing about having the scooter has little to do with practicality. My favorite thing is giving little kids rides. Might sound silly, but there is not a kid in the world that doesn't love a ride on the scooter. Here, we let them stand in front and hold on to the handle bars. No, that is probably not the safest way of doing things, but they are all grins and laughs. Normally, a neighbor kid will just hop on for a block or two when we are on our way out for the day, and it is two minutes of pure, windy, horn honking joy.

Every time I watch one of them on the scooter, there is something in me that asks God for that same kind of response in my heart to life. They just hop on without worrying about where they are going and enjoy it. They enjoy the breeze, and the sound of the motor, and waving at their friends. I want to be like that too. Just enjoying the hop-on-and-go-for-a-ride-moments. 

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Oh, Delhi Belly

Yesterday, we celebrated Eid, the end of Ramzan's thirty days of fasting, with all of our friends and neighbors. This picture is at a friend's house. She lives just two houses down from us and her husband was home from his work in Saudi Arabia for the festivities!

It was a lot of fun. I mean, we got to put on our "fancy" clothes, and we went to 9 different houses. And it's the biggest celebration of the year in our neighborhood, so even the crabbiest of people are in the best mood. And we ate a lot of food... apparently too much food.

Since last night at about 10 PM, my husband and I have been having something akin to the stomach bug. I guess our stomachs don't really agree with endless chicken curry and dahi vada even if our mouths do :). So, it has now been almost 24 hours of sleeping, taking rotations in the bathroom, and an all liquid diet. Not exactly what I had in mind for my Saturday. All is not lost though. My awesome husband did make us some homemade applesauce and chicken noodle soup for when we are ready to attempt consuming something that actually requires our digestive tracks' involvement.

I married him five and a half years ago, and I'm so glad I did. It's funny how I realize what a gift I have in him on the sick-in-bed days, or out-of-sorts days, or the just-plain-rotten-days. He's so stinkin' sweet to me. He's sick too, but he's brought me water, juice, and electrolyte supplements. He's held my hand and snuggled up to me in bed. He's talked with me when I start feeling lonely. He is kind. And I love him so much. In fact, I love him so much more than I ever dreamed I would or could five and half years ago. So, thanks to Dustin, my sick-in-bed day has had a sweet side too.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Wonders of Pregnancy

Well, I've been pregnant for a full 18.5 weeks now. The first 15 weeks were pretty intense. In the beginning, the only "wonder" I experienced was wondering if it would ever end. I had no idea that the first trimester of pregnancy is about the same as having the stomach flu for three months. I mean, sure, I'd heard of morning sickness, but seriously? I threw up constantly, and everywhere. In front of the fruit bazar, in my kitchen, on my husband's back, in the morning, in my sleep, at dinner... It was a very, very long first trimester. Thankfully, somewhere around 15 weeks, my body decided to stop producing so much of whatever hormone induces constant vomiting, and viola, I feel human again! Sure, I still eat TUMS like candy, pee every ten minutes and my feet look like overstuffed sausages from all of the swelling, but it's not so bad.

Actually, I'm starting to really embrace the miracle-ness of this process. It is pretty incredible to think that a tiny little person is being formed in my body and it's crazy how much I love this little life! There are also a couple of perks to being pregnant. For instance, people now offer me the comfy chair wherever I go, my skin in gorgeous, I can blame crying, forgetfulness, and mass hysteria on hormones, I have a reasonable excuse to not share my dessert with anyone, and my husband offers to rub my feet at night. Not bad.

I'm also enjoying the rather entertaining advice that flows freely from passersby. I've learned that while I should avoid papaya, pineapples, and mangos, chai can be consumed in abundance. I've learned that I really should "stop all of that exercising."Also, soap should be avoided since it will dry out my skin. But, there are a few tips that I'm totally taking to the bank. Apparently, it is perfectly acceptable for me to wear my PJs for the entire last trimester and sleep as much as I want. Also, new moms are supposed to get a massage everyday after childbirth for at least a month to take care of loose skin. Who in their right mind wouldn't go for that? I guess there really are quite a few wonders after all. 

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Fish Out of Water

So, we've been in the north now for about 9.5 months. And, just recently, I've started feeling a little better about life as I know it. You know, it's the swagger in your step that comes from paying what the vegetables are actually worth (and not 20 rupees over, ha ha) at the bazaar, or the day your favorite auto driver gives you a free ride home because you are actually friends, or the day you teach your first art class in Hindi and it is intelligible for the folks you're teaching. Wait a minute! This feels a little like life used to feel. Things are making... sense. When we first arrived, I felt like a fish who was being held by its tail, just dangling above the water level gasping for air. But lately, something changed. Whoever was holding me captive let go, and I've been swimming again.

And then we came to the south for an awesome opportunity to learn at a thriving business here in Bangalore. This, of course, is awesome, and a blessing, and really good. But, the one thing that's got me reeling is that somewhere in the transition, someone grabbed my fins again. All of a sudden, I'm out of water, again. Today, I was at business school and we worked on developing business plans. My team came up with the idea for a gym/dance studio/juice bar all-in-one place. What??? Where are we? Then we made a price sheet. My neighbors could pay rent for 6 months for the cost of a couple of ballet lessons! But, the crazy thing was this plan was doable for this place! It is another culture, another world. People make motions with their hands, and I don't know what they mean. They speak Hindi with nasalized accents if they speak Hind at all. Instead of asking about your family when you greet each other, they ask if you ate your morning meal. They deliver water in trucks and not from the handy pump outside your house. This whole process is teaching me not to take myself to seriously, again (It seems like this is a lesson I continually have to learn and relearn). And to remember that although it seems like gasping for air much of the time, if I relax and pay attention and adapt, I will swim again.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Beautiful Women: Part 1

So for the past few months, I’ve been cradling certain memories and stories in my heart. There are women and girls that I’ve met here that have touched me in such a deep place. These beautiful women have shown me what bravery, kindness, selflessness, perseverance, and love look like. Part of me has wanted to tell their stories, but I don’t want objectify them for the sake of a story. I do, however, want to share the way that God is stirring something up in my heart because they have been in my life, because they have lived. So, today, I want to tell you about Zeba.

I met Zeba when we moved here 8 months ago. I remember the very first time I saw her. When we moved in, I was (for a short time) a sort of celebrity with the neighborhood little girls. All of them came to our house everyday to ask a barrage of questions about life in America, how to make cookies, or my favorite colors and movies. While the girls piled into my kitchen to make cookies one day, Zeba stayed outside, her body flat against my house with one ear pressed to my kitchen window screen. I caught a glimpse of her hair through the window, so I invited her in. I’m pretty sure her big brown eyes doubled in size at my invitation, but she said yes. Zeba was a short and stout seven year old. She was calm, quiet, and I remember how quickly she worked rolling lumps of cookie dough between her hands and arranging them neatly on the cookie sheet.

After our first meeting, I learned that Zeba’s mother worked as a maid for my next-door neighbor. Zeba was the oldest of her children, so early in the morning before school, Zeba came to work with her to learn the tricks of the trade. Then, after school she would return to my neighbor’s house to work. Sometimes, if the housework was slow, Zeba came outside to play with the other girls for an hour or two. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say things like this, but Zeba quickly became my favorite. She was just so kind. I would sometimes see the girls outside playing. If one fell down, Zeba would console her. If one was rude, Zeba would quickly try to resolve the conflict between them. If one was crying, Zeba wiped their tears. She had this natural way of nurturing everyone. The other girls were pretty mean to her. When no one was around she was a fine playmate, but when there were others to choose from, Zeba quickly became an outsider and the butt of all their jokes. She tolerated it beautifully. And somehow, she always smiled and laughed.

I couldn’t help myself. I found myself sneakily giving her extra cookies or saving some of our American food to let her taste. When the other kids weren’t around and she was outside doing work, I’d sit with her and try to tell stories with my bad grammar and limited vocabulary. When she was too busy and couldn’t come out, I’d wink or wave at her from my doorway. She and I would sit and laugh and make faces at each other. One day, Zeba didn’t come out at all. It was around Bakra Eid, so I didn’t think much about it. I figured the busyness of the holiday meant extra work. But, then two or three days passed and I still hadn’t seen her. I asked my husband about her. He told me he learned from the neighbors days before that Zeba had been sold to a family in Delhi as a house maid. She wouldn’t be going to go to school anymore, but would take on full time work for our neighbor’s relative. He didn’t have the heart to tell me sooner.

I have seldom felt the way I did at that moment. It was like all of my internal organs moved from my abdomen to my feet. My heart raced, my face flushed, and tears came flowing. I still miss her. I find myself praying for her often. Every now and again, I still cry for her. When I see her mom, I always ask how Zeba is. She says she hasn’t gotten to talk to her much. At first, I was angry. And then I was ashamed that I didn’t see it coming and hadn’t tried to do something to help her before she was sold. But then, finally, I found myself in surrender to the Lord, just trusting Him to hold on to this sweet, innocent one. And I sense Him leading me to continue to walk with my eyes and heart open for little ones like Zeba. I may have only given her extra cookies, but maybe by God’s grace, in the future I can offer another little girl something more. 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Chewing Gum and Swallowing Tears

Okay, today is proof that I have actually lost my mind in the midst of this transition. Ha ha. I used to chew gum often when I lived in the states. My favorite was dentyne ice. We brought one pack with us when we moved here and it literally dissolved in the package (maybe from heat and/or humidity?). I hardly ever see gum for sale here. Possibly the whole turning-to-minty-mush-while-in-the-package thing is to blame. So, as of late, I haven't been chewing much gum.

But, the other day, my sweet husband saw some mint flavored gum in little individual wrappers in a dusty jar at our local store and grabbed a handful for us. So, this morning, I excitedly popped a piece into my mouth, and, to my surprise within half a second (or maybe less) I was in tears (and, no, I am not pregnant). Although I am certain that these were NOT tears of joy, I'm not sure I could tell you what kind of tears they really were. It was a bizarre experience. Seriously. It was as if the gum transported me to another world and time, and my emotions just couldn't handle it. So, there I was, crying because gum, apparently, tastes like America and somehow represents the loss of a former life that I have yet to really fully grieve.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

You know what I miss?

Big garlic. Yep, that’s right. It may sound strange, but anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE garlic. It all started after living in Spain for a while. My husband says that when I came back from Spain, I smelled like a lovely head of garlic. Well, come to think of it, he didn’t use the word lovely. But, anyhow, now he doesn’t know if I smell like garlic or not because I’ve converted him to the wonderful world of garlic. So he probably smells like a lovely head of garlic himself.

But, I digress. The issue at hand is the fact that individual garlic cloves here are about a third of the size of American garlic cloves. I’m sure the miraculous size of American garlic has something to do with some genetically modified, hormone induced farming technique… you know, the kind of thing that gives makers of Food Inc., nightmares and will probably cause our children to be giants or have a third eye. But I’ve gotta give it to the American garlic folks because, third eye or not, big garlic is the best idea ever. Since our garlic here is a third of the size, it means I spend triple the time peeling these infinitely smaller pieces of garlic to get the same good, garlicky taste in my food. The whole affair is quite time consuming, and rather annoying, and I actually think it might be affecting my garlic consumption.

Oh, it’s the little things in life. 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Burnin' Down the House

So, a good friend gave me some good advice recently: When culture shock sets in big time, and you start feeling like you don’t want to see anyone or anything, that is the time to force yourself to be social. So, visit neighbors, go to the veggie market, buy a pair of socks. Basically, just don’t stay in your house with the lights off hoping no one knocks on your door. And, definitely, get out of your pajamas. Hmmm. I have to admit that the pjs were looking pretty dang good. And it’s been frigid here the last couples of weeks. Who knew 38 degrees without a heater would feel like perpetually riding on a ski lift? What if I just told people I had the flu and stayed under the covers all day? Well, I almost did… but then I remembered my friend’s advice.

So, this week, I made it my goal to hang out with a neighbor or friend outside of regular language learning hours every day. I know what you’re thinking. My-oh-my! What lofty goals! Ha ha. You will be greatly surprised to hear that I (unintentionally) exceeded my own self-expectations. This has been an intense week of full houses, full stomachs, and a full on assault against culture shock. Here is a story from this week’s outings:

On Monday, we were at a friend’s house when they started a fire in the living room. Not in a fireplace or anything… just a fire… on the floor… in the living room. So, we are quite cold, but it certainly never occurred to us that you could just light a fire in your house! In the moment, I was instantly reminded of this time in 3rd grade when the fire department came to my elementary school. They had made a semi-truck into a simulation house to teach us how to respond in the event of a house fire. They warned us about the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning and gave us all of the rules: have an escape plan, stay low to the ground out of the smoke, make noise so that fire fighters can find you, and so on. Then, they sent us into the simulation house in small groups. As it filled with a pop-concert kind of fog, we crawled and yelled our way to the nearest exit where a firefighter helped us out of the house. Needless to say, I’m pretty sure “light a fire on your living room floor” wasn’t on the list of to-dos during the simulation.

After a while at our friend’s house, smoke filled the room. It was seriously dense (i.e. our eyes were all watery and it was hard to breathe). Everyone had their heads in their laps coughing, and laughing, and yelling at each other with muffled voices from all of the fabric in their mouths. Then, finally, the parents in the house just opened the door and fanned out billows of smoke. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but the whole time I was hardly containing my laughter. It was just welling up in me from a deep place. Maybe that moment was just such an incredible contrast to my entire worldview and growing up that it seemed ridiculous, or maybe it was caused by all of the endorphins released after panicking that the whole place might go up in flames. Who knows? But, in some ways, our life here always feels a bit like we’ve got a fire on our living room floor. Certainly, we are warmer with it, and the whole thing gives us new, deep joy. But, we aren’t always so sure that we’re going to make it out alive, it can be a little hard to breathe, and we certainly can’t see through the smoke into what is ahead. I guess that’s where faith kicks in. We don’t plan on putting the fire out. For now, we’re just waiting for our Father to clear the smoke.  

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Unexpected Road

So, we went on a road trip. Road trips are always fun, but they are even more fun in countries that have broader definitions of what constitutes an actual road. There were several eventful moments on our 8 hour highway journey. Roadside tea and stuffed paratha (it is a little like a stuffed, pan fried pita), a terrifying "floating" bridge crossing, whizzing by cows, autos, and bicyclers while truckers and motorcycles whizzed by us, and beautiful countryside colors. But, perhaps my favorite moment of our road trip was a detour.

While on the highway, traffic came to a complete stop. Trucks, autos, carts, cars and motorcycles were backed up as far as the eye could see. In an effort to figure out what happened, we talked to others waiting on the road. To our dismay, we discovered that a hole had formed in the road (we still aren't entirely sure what this means), and so the highway was going to be closed for the day. We looked at a map, and it appeared there were no other roads that would get us to our ultimate destination. Oh no!! What were we going to do? We were three hours into our journey, and we really didn't want to turn around and go home.

Then, something awesome happened. The guy in front of us said, "Follow me." And we did. Into the middle of nowhere. There are back roads, and then there are dirt roads, and then there is the road we were on. I'm not sure what to call it. Part mud, part hay, part grass, part foot path. We turned and swerved and swayed through tiny villages and farm land. (This was the least amount of people I had ever seen in this country... a nice break from the daily chaos of the masses) But, you will never believe what happened in the middle of nowhere. We got into another traffic jam. How is this possible? We weren't  even on a "real" road, were we? But there, in front of us, was a milk truck. A very, very stuck in the mud milk truck. The villagers had come, apparently from far and near, to help push him out. So,  we joined in the cheering as about 50 people together attempted to push the truck out of the mud hole and back onto the "road". They were successful after half an hour of trying, and we followed our fearless and mysterious leader on our way through the countryside. Eventually, we landed back on the highway we started out on. At this point, our leader disappeared and the rest of our journey was smooth sailing.

The whole thing strangely reminded me of another who said to us, "Follow me." Following is a bit scary, because we don't have the map in our hands. Often times, we are led down paths that hardly look like paths at all. There are bumps and mud holes along the way. Sometimes we get stuck. But the one who said, "Follow me" is faithful. Though His way is unexpected, and maybe at times looks even a little dismal, in the letting go and simply following we find ourselves in a new world entirely. A world where, along with disappointments and struggles, we see beauty and find joy in the unexpected. And the best part is, He who called us to follow Him will lead us to the end. We can trust in that.