Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Whole New World

There are times when I start to feel like things aren't really all that different in India. But there are other times when things really amaze me. Here are 2 examples from yesterday:

1. I decide to pop into a small beauty salon to get my eyebrows and lip "threaded" (they do this instead of waxing here). They did an awesome job and the cost was 35 rupees (~75 cents). When I rounded up and gave them 1 dollar (50 rupees), they were shocked that I gave so much and totally confused. I do think they tip here, so I'm just as confused. Either way, I'm thrilled that I spent $1 on 2 services at the beauty salon!

2. My wonderful host family (that I truly adore) is building another home in the outskirts of Bangalore. They went to check on construction progress and found a large ant hill in the middle of it. They said the ant hill is over half as tall as I am! And a cobra (snake) lives in it! This apparently is not unusual or shocking to them. First an ant hill grows, then cobras live in them, then the Hindus think it's a god and build a temple there. Fascinating stuff...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Monday I spent the day at a conference for Children. The objective was to bring together NGOs and churches for stronger collaboration. Oasis gave a presentation to the church pastors in hopes of building awareness of trafficking to help aid prevention. I spoke to a few Indian pastors/NGO leaders, all of whom amazingly had been to Dallas and/or St. Louis. It’s such a small world!

In the afternoon we tried to have small group discussions on what the church could be doing better to help children, but everyone spoke so many different languages that it was challenging! Many people here speak 5 languages, but some only speak 1 or 2 and occasionally they don’t overlap.

Some things I’ve found interesting here:
1. People have no issue answering their cell phones in meetings.
2. Whenever I ask people for silverware, they bring me a spoon. Since rice is the staple dish, wouldn’t you expect a fork?
3. The divorce rate is increasing here dramatically with the younger generation. While the church is upset about this, the women I’ve spoken to strongly support it. Previously women accepted beatings, (husband’s) alcoholism, etc…(in fact, one of the women in our vocational program has a husband who has told her he will kill her but she chooses to stay with him) … but now many women believe they have a way to escape a bad situation.
4. Gandhi is (not surprisingly) a very big deal here. His birthday is a huge holiday, and Dana happens to share it! (Oct 2)
5. When Indians says “yes”, they shake their heads from side to side. It’s extremely confusing because it looks like they’re saying “no”, but they’re not.
6. Even in a city as metropolitan as Bangalore, the church says that child marriages are still rampant. The age is dropping to as young as 9 because girls are reaching puberty younger (supposedly due to GMO modified foods).
7. Social drinking is rare (I’ve only had 1 glass of wine here thus far and I really miss it), but (hidden) alcoholism is quite common.
8. People apparently own these cows that roam the streets and look homeless. The cows know to go to their “owners” in the morning to be milked.
9. Saris tend to be worn everyday by the older generation, and more for special occasions by the younger generation. I’ve been told that the women who wear them daily even sleep in them!
This is a pic of a security guard at one of the fancy hotels where I've been checking out gift shops (looking for outlets to sell our fair-trade handbags).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Weekend Adventures

I realize this is a LONG post, but this weekend I didn’t have internet access – so I’m catching up. These past couple of days have been a whirlwind of activity!

Friday night a friend of a friend (Padmini’s friend Bithi) invited me to her in-laws house to celebrate a Hindu festival and have dinner. It was a fascinating evening! Her father-in-law is an ex-Motorola CEO so had wonderful stories of running 18 different countries around the world. Her mother-in-law had created this amazing display of porcelain god statues and all of the neighbors stopped by in their beautiful saris to enjoy sweets and say prayers. It was so nice to experience their rich culture and I enjoyed seeing how the upper-class lives as well just to have a point of comparison from what I experience on a day-to-day basis. The family was incredible welcoming to me and I really enjoyed myself. (I also dressed up a bit for this and got a ton of compliments this day on the outfit that my friend Sindhura had picked out for me at an Indian shop back home!)
Saturday morning I went for coffee with an American missionary who identifies women for Oasis’ vocational training program (that feeds into the fair-trade sewing program). She also volunteers at a home for rescued temple prostitutes. Karen introduced me to the fish market (great experience, but I will NOT NOT NOT be eating sushi here) and then we went to this popular ex-pat place to splurge on chocolate croissants and lattes. A little bit of heaven in the midst of the chaotic frenzy of the city!

Saturday afternoon I went with Oasis friends to check out the big malls in Bangalore. They have live DJs that blast loud music and the places are full of energy. I felt like I was at a frat party! The malls (and ironically church) are pretty much the only place I see women wearing jeans. I bought some pretty bangles ($2 for 12), picked up some Lays potato chips (tasted like ketchup and fries - yum) and went for a movie.

We saw “Up” which is so cute if you haven’t seen it. I thought it was interesting that they warn you about a potential power outage before the movie starts (they are common here), and the movie has an intermission where they play commercials. The commercials only show extremely fair-skinned Indians, which is sad because it’s so evident how narrowly they define beauty. In fact, the actresses hardly even looked Indian to me.

After that we enjoyed some Chinese food and walked our way home through the slums and past the street cows and goats.

Sunday morning I went to church. I felt so at home! The church I went to (All People’s Church) felt very similar to our church at home. Same music, same casual atmosphere and powerful message. I’m excited to take the Allen family there on Christmas when they come to town! On the way there I rode with 5 young boys from a remote village who come to town each week for church. One kept rubbing my hand… I don’t think he often see white skin!

I met another Caucasian girl there (from Sweden) that also arrived this week to work for an NGO. She’s living in a remote village in a home for the homeless (with no hot water), so I felt like I had life easy after hearing about her situation.

Sunday night a Dallas friend (Eapen George – a Pepsico Sr. Executive) unexpectedly showed up in town and treated me to an amazing dinner at a luxury boutique hotel. The food was Kerala cuisine (a region in southern India where Eapen is from). I loved it! Incredibly fresh seafood which had been flown up that morning from Kerala. There were also talented musicians performing music that is from that region as well. The restaurant served wine (Indian wine is surprisingly pretty good) and had silverware set out! (2 wonderful things that are atypical for where I’ve been dining lately) It was truly a spectacular treat and a wonderful evening.

Friday, September 25, 2009

My anti-trafficking assignment

I've learned a bit more about what I may be doing to help with the anti-trafficking work. Oasis currently fights trafficking in several cities in India, but they are seeing a lot of girls being trafficked from another city, where there is not Oasis team working on this.

My role is to do a feasibility study on this citycity to help us start work there. If time allows, I will also help map the Southern trafficking routes to help us understand where the girls are coming from, how the traffickers are moving them, and where they are ending up. Finally, when our new home opens for girls who have been rescued, I plan to live there for sometime and work directly with the victims during their rehabilitation. This is all so exciting!

Today I'm spending time working on the Fair Trade business. I'm making a list of all the nice local hotel gift shops and fair-trade shops that I could reach out to to carry our goods, scheduling meetings with the Fair Trade Forum of India to collect more info on the macrostatus of fair trade in India, and reaching out to environmental sustainability experts to see what we can do to make our business more "green" in addition to promoting fair-trade.

On a different note, I think I've adjusted to the time difference. Jet lag really wasn't bad! However, I am really struggling with the lunch hour - 2 PM! Even when I eat breakfast and snack at 10, I'm still starving. TGFGB (thank god for granola bars)
Today I tried Biryani for lunch. I think it's like an Indian version of fried rice. Delicious! It cost 35 rupees - which is less than 1 dollar. Yesterday I splurged for sandwiches and took a coworker out to a touristy spot - that lunch was $10. So food costs vary greatly depending on whether you are in the mood to eat Indian : )

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Multiply God's Love

Today Barry (the other US volunteer who is here) and I led worship and prayer for the Oasis employees. Each Friday they come early to work to praise the Lord together and find renewal for the challenging work that they do.

I absolutely loved the words from one of the songs that we sang and so I'll share it with you. I think I would like to use it ongoing as a life prayer:

"Multiply Your Love"

Multiply your love through us
To the lost and the least
Let us be your healing hands
Your instruments of peace

May our single purpose be
To imitate your life
Through our simple words and deeds
Let love be multiplied

Multiply your love through me
To someone in need
Help me Lord to freely give
This grace that I've received

Let my single purpose be
To imitate your life
Through my simple words and deeds
Let love be multiplied

We also celebrated the birthday of the AMAZING woman who leads the anti-trafficking team. The team chipped in to buy her a cake and a pretty new outfit. The clothes here are GORGEOUS and I've found that you really can't judge a book by its cover. Even some of the women in the slums are dressed in stunning saris that look clean and pressed. I'm not sure how they do it, but they definitely take pride in having a nice appearance.

Learning more about Fair Trade

Today I'm spending time at Jacob's Well - the fair-trade production unit where women from the slum communities learn to sew and sell their goods. The name Jacob's Well comes from Jesus' story where he speaks to the prostitute at the well. When JW first started, most of the women who worked here had been rescued from the brothels.

I also found a grocery store that seems to have a lot of great items (including TP - so they do sell it here!)

Thanks for all of your prayers! I probably shouldn't say this but today I rode a scooter on a crowded street, with no helmet, in the rain... so I'm sure they came in handy : ) [No, I'm not crazy - just didn't have much of a choice. It's the way things work here, and I actually felt pretty safe]

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wrapping up Day 2

Today was a really inspiring day! Each of the different teams in the Oasis office is working on long-term strategic plans, so today I worked with the Community Empowerment team in laying out their 5 yr strategy to meet the needs of the slum communities that they serve.

I was so impressed with the vision of their leadership and I witnessed some incredible skills in change management. It was fun to contribute but I learned a ton as well.

You know you're on to something good when you just want to dive into the work as soon as you're finished laying out the strategy! I wish I had more time to work with each of the different Oasis teams because I'm so passionate about all of the work that is being done.

Right now we're thinking that I'll spend 3 days a week working on developing their fair trade business, 1 day a week fighting sex trafficking and 1 day a week working in the community (i.e. teaching young girls life skills to prevent human trafficking, early pregnancy, etc. and identifying critical alliances with other NGOs/corporations to help Oasis improve life in the slums).

On a different note, I wanted to mention that it hasn't been pouring here every day! Looking at the weather before I came, it seemed like it rained here literally every day - so I was expecting to basically be like a wet dog for 3 months. However, I was pleased to find out that it typically rains at night or just a light rain in the evening. That was great news : )

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 2 begins

Yesterday was quite a day! Pretty exhausting but such an adventure.

I took the team out to an Indian lunch, it was fun to get to know the "operatives" (i.e. secret undercover agents) a bit better. They don't speak a lot of English but they're amazingly happy (ALWAYS cracking up) in spite of their challenging jobs. I love that they find the fun in what they do. They did a raid last week and freed 2 young girls. Another may happen this week. Here is a picture of a typical meal. It's customary here to eat with your hands. I've tried it but I'm much more comfortable with a fork : )
The afternoon was filled with visiting government homes for rescued children. Oasis partners with the government to handles the cases. The one for teen girls was quite nice and cozy. The girls seemed very happy - as though it was a big slumber party. They all called me "Auntie" and chased me, asking my name. So cute!I also did encounter 1 squat toilet - but that was okay. Later we went shopping. 3 guys and 1 woman from Oasis took me shopping. Quite a crew! I felt like it was a (more dusty) version of Pretty Woman. At the store, you sit and drink tea and the salespeople bring you clothes to look at and touch, but you don't try them on. I bought a few new outfits and a cell phone (which is pretty cool because it also has a flashlight feature)! The cell phone really came in handy later when my rickshaw driver couldn't understand me and I had to call my host family to help get me home.

I slept well last night except for the pack of wild dogs that decided to go crazy outside my window at 1 AM. I didn't mind too much though because it gave me a chance to give Dana a call and hear his voice : )

Day 1 - the adventure begins!

It's only 11 AM in India on my first day here and I have experienced so much! I've encountered many road cows, visited the slums, toured the Oasis office, encountered my first couple of toilets with no toilet paper (no worries - I was prepared!), visited a preschool, enjoyed my first chai tea (yum) and taken my first autorickshaw ride. Quite a morning! I also met my Indian family. They are Christians as well and they seem extremely nice. I have a western toilet (yay!!!), but a bucket shower, so that will be a good growth experience for me. I've decided that I'm really going to like breakfast here - even though they eat really spicy food, they made me a delicious oatmeal ("porridge"). My host "mom?" is a great cook.

I'm not experience culture shock as much as I had expected thus far. I feel like our trip to Vietnam last year really broke me in, so that seeing the cows in the road and kids pooping the streets (and things like that) doesn't really phase me. But I'm sure more is to come... Vietnam was really overwhelming for me, so I think it was good that I had 3 weeks of that before trying 3+ months of this! I can do this!

I had heard that people are iron deficient here because they drink so much tea (which blocks iron consumption). I was told that I would see people with orange hair if they are iron deficient and I've already seen a few! I've also learned some fun facts today. For instance, people don't "play" here. Weekends are for cleaning and visiting with others, but the thought of going to a movie or a restaurant is atypical, because it comes with guilt that any extra money should be saved for food or education.

I also learned that you should not ask pregnant women if they are having a boy or girl. It's illegal to find out the sex of the child here since girls are often aborted.

I can't believe how many eye-opening experiences I've already had... the adventure begins!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Safe arrival in Bangalore

Wanted to let everyone know that Christine has safely arrived in Bangalore, and thankfully the travel & pickup were as smooth as could have been asked for. She called from her host family's house, and says that the room is "very cute." Definitely answered prayers for a safe trip & what seems like a good setup with her host family.

Meanwhile, wanted to share a quick paragraph fitting in with Christine's trip, as well as with the general Allen approach to life. Selection below, and article "Time is More Valuable than Money":

People often say, “I don’t have the time to…” Fill in the blank with whatever you like: exercise, make dinner, write a book, start a company, run for political office. What makes these people think that they have less time than anyone else? Of course they don’t. We all have the same 24 hours in each day and make real decisions about how we spend them. If you really want to get in shape, then carve out time to exercise. If you want to write a book, then pick up a pen and do it. And, if you want to run for president, then get started. It isn’t going to happen if you plan your day around your favorite TV shows or spend hours updating your Facebook page. These are entertaining distractions that eat up your irreplaceable time.

Halfway to India

Leg 1 of my trip has been uneventful and I'm now sitting in London's Heathrow airport. I'm thankful so far that: a) I was able to sleep on the first flight and b) I decided to pack a really warm, soft, snuggly blanket for the plane and these amazing moisturizing socks that KK gave me as a travel gift - they were fantastic for the long flight!

I haven't been to London since I studied abroad here in 1997. Even just being in the airport brings me a feeling of excitement. I love their accents! I should definitely make a point to come back here sometime in the future for a few days...

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Who does this hand belong to? Well, it's mine but I don't recognize it! No nail polish, no diamonds, henna art... (Hillary especially would appreciate that) this is definitely not a typical Christine hand. It seems like it should be more like a coming home picture than a leaving today picture - but I guess I'm ready to go. Today is the big day!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

1 day left!

This week I had a bittersweet goodbye dinner with our church community group. They had create this amazing devotional book for me while I'm away, that included personal messages and hand-picked bible verses for me for every day that I'm away. It was one of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever received! I'm going to miss them all so much... I forgot to take a group picture, but here's a sweet pic of Lindsay holding Stephanie's new baby, Sam. Like Stephanie, Lindsay is a "natural" and will be an amazing mother one day! I finally started packing, which is good since I leave tomorrow! I have an entire suitcase filled only with toilet paper, wet wipes, hand sanitizer and granola bars. It cracks me up so I had to share a picture with you.
Yesterday was my last day at work for 14 weeks. I don't think it's really sunk in yet. Although I'm grateful for time away to give me a fresh perspective on the business, I'm really going to miss everyone!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Christine's Indian-Themed 33rd B-day/Goodbye Party

What a wonderful night! We invited our friends over for henna painting, bollywood dancing and of course - lots of Kingfisher beers and indian food. It was a sweet way to say goodbye.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Women Supporting Women

This week I led our company's 1st Women's Leadership Conference. I've been planning it for almost a year so I really wanted it to be good, and let me just say that it was incredible! Everything was truly perfect - I couldn't be happier. I've received notes from people I've never even met saying that it was "life changing". Here's a picture of our Senior VP of HR presenting me with a special award at the end of it for Inspiring Well-Being (that is a term we use a lot at Frito). It's great to leave work on a high before heading out to India!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Enjoying our Staycation

Sun... Surf... Good Friends... Relaxation

Labor Day weekend on the lake felt like a true vacation! Hard to believe we were just down the street...

We also had an amazing dinner at the Foxes tonight. Michael and Anissa grilled kabobs and cooked up quite a feast! It was great to also finally meet Harper, their 2nd little girl who was born in May.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Simple Joy

This has been a GREAT weekend so far. I'm really trying to get in all of my favorite things before I leave... and it's been fantastic : )

The past 24 hours have consisted of a mani/pedi, a movie, sleeping in until 11, banana pancakes, a hair appt, Chick-Fil-A and shopping. Life is not rough.... (oh yeah - and I am now officially a brunette for the next 4 months)

Tonight we visited the Wannemachers at the hospital - as they welcomed their first baby into the world today (Samuel Ryan). Tomorrow we're heading out for a day on the lake and some BBQing at a friend's house. I love it because these are all wonderfully simple things that I will surely miss in India, so it makes them even more special now. Let's hear it for 3-day weekends!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hot Chips

Don't we look hot? (ha ha)

Today Nicole and I went on a Frito-Lay plant tour. It was really cool! I loved seeing everything being made and it was fun to eat fresh, hot chips right off the line.

Next week I'm leading Frito-Lay's 1st Women's Leadership Conference. We have some excellent speakers coming and I absolutely can't wait! Please say a prayer that it all goes well... as detail oriented as I try to be, I've had a lot on my mind lately : ) After that I just have one more week of work left before I ship out!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

This week I turned 33. While I don't love that number, I'm not feeling "old" just quite yet. In fact, I feel very alive and eagerly looking forward to the year ahead. Life is good and I am healthy and incredibly blessed. What more could I ask for?

My birthday itself was pretty low-key. As much as I tried to get out of working, I ended up in the office by 7:30 AM (which unfortunately is becomingly pretty typical these days). But the day got better as I spent the afternoon in training and connecting with the wonderful women in my department.

Afterwards, I attended dinner out with a few of my favorite gals for book club and it was a lot of fun. The weather has been perfect this week so we just enjoyed our wine out on a restaurant patio that was beautifully lit with white lights. This month we read "The Screwtape Letters" so we also had a really interesting discussion about faith. All in all, a perfect night in my opinion.

My "big" birthday celebration comes on the 12th when we throw a big Indian-themed "Going Away/Birthday Party". I can't wait!