Thursday, October 29, 2009

More things I’ve found interesting here lately…

• What has been most shocking to me to here is to see some women completely covered in full bhurkas (where everything is hidden except their eyes). I really wasn’t expecting that, as I hadn’t thought much about the Muslim population in India. What is the most surprising is to me is that even though they don’t want to be seen, sometimes their black bhurkas are bedazzled with sequins or fancy embroidery!

• There are no top sheets in India (but no fitted sheets either – the top flat sheet is tucked in as a bottom sheet)

• Drivers often turn their cars off at red lights to save gas.

• (Even cheap) cell phones often double as flashlights. I love this feature on my phone and it has come in very handy!

• Men are frequently seen holding hands. Never women/men or women/women – just men/men. I was told there is nothing homosexual about this, even though homosexual activity does go on here behind the scenes. Try as I might, I just can’t picture Jaya and Eapen walking down the hallway at work holding hands : )

• I was told by an Indian beautician at the beauty salon that Westerners will try to be courteous and always say the work “looks great!” (whether it does or not) while Indians always look for something criticize.

• People don’t have the same “filter” here that we use in America. If they think you’re fat, they’ll just come out and tell you. (i.e. “oh your old teacher didn’t recognize you? Probably because you’re fat now.) I’m so shocked every time I hear these comments, but no one else seems to notice that anything rude was said. (and they don’t say them jokingly)

• Advertisements frequently come through my cell phone – SO annoying! When I get a text half the time it’s just an ad.

• All electrical outlets have a switch (like a lightswitch) that has to be turned on each time you want to use anything (like a computer or TV) and turned off when you’re done. I imagine this saves a lot of energy. (That’s when the power is working, because power outages are very common)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thanks for the Treats!

Dear Aunty Cristina,
Thank you SO much for the gum and candy! The Oasis employees dived right into the gum, but also were kind enough to share it with us since the preschoolers were too young to chew it.

We're sure the preschoolers will enjoy the Starburst! We don't have them in India, so they're a fun treat.

Love, the girls in the vocational training program

Girls Club

Dear Aunty Rachel and Uncle Austin,
Today Christine visited us at the Girls Club. Girls Club meets once a week (at the same location as the slum preschool). About 70 girls (ages 9-17) intermittently come to the meetings, which are much like Young Life Events. We sing, pray and learn important life skills such as: the difference between good and bad touching, why it’s more important to study than to have a boyfriend, how to take care of our health, and how not to become victims of sex trafficking.

Christine shared some of your gifts with us today. We enjoyed mapping our interpersonal relationships using the crayons you sent for us. Then she gave us all friendship bracelets so that we could be friends forever! She said that this would help us remember you and that you are praying for our future.

Thanks for your love and friendship. We are sure that our younger brothers and sisters in the preschool will greatly appreciate the puzzles, stickers, pencils and sharpeners. We will also share the crayons with them.

Christine is selfish and she took all the gum and granola bars for herself! But that’s okay… God tells us to forgive : )

We Love You!
The Girls Club members from one Bangalore slum community

Monday, October 26, 2009

A vision of the slums...

I walk past some slum houses each day on my way to work. I just learned today that some of the girls in our vocational training program live here. It's so amazing how many people can cram into these little ramshackle tents.
The bare bones (before they are finished or when a family is moving)

The finished home...

Yay! Mail has arrived

Letters and Care Packages have started to arrive and I feel like a kid at summer camp! Some things make it and some things don't, but it's still great! The first letter was a sweet card from Sondra (2 letters from Judy and Rachel are MIA). The first care package from Cristina Cutri is still being tracked down, but Rachel's care package arrived today and I'm taking the goodies for the preschool over today! Thank you, thank you, thank you! If you haven't sent anything yet, please don't scramble to do so as it is expensive to send and may never arrive, but what has been sent has been a blessing!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A fun weekend of Gardens and Saris

Saturday I visited Bangalore’s Botanical Gardens with 4 donors who were visiting from Seattle. Strangers approached us multiple times asking to take photos with us. It’s the first time I’ve walked around in a group of Westerners, and it’s the first time I noticed everyone staring. So far, that hasn’t happened much. The gardens were quiet nice, and it’s wonderful to find sanctuaries of quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Saturday night my host family dressed me up in a sari for “India Night” – a theme party hosted by the Overseas Womens Club. The event was held at the Grand Ballroom of the Leela Palace Hotel – so it was pretty much as nice as it gets (similar to a wedding at the Four Seasons). It’s amazing how painting your nails and straightening your hair for the first time in a month can make you feel like a totally different person! I loved wearing a sari and had a blast taking photos, getting henna painted, participating in a silent auction and raffle, eating a delicious dinner, sampling wines and watching a modern dance performance. The memorable event was one of my favorite experiences in India!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Playing Chicken

I've been on the road the past few days.

First I went to another city to have meetings with the police and NGOs. We are looking into setting up a new team there to fight human trafficking so we are gathering information on whether there is an unmet need in that city.

Then I went to visit "Potter's Wheel", a safe house (in the middle of nowhere) that Oasis is planning to open for girls who are rescued from brothel raids. Like the home I visited for children with HIV, the land was beautiful and the building was very nice. It had been a gift from a very generous donor - (I hope one day I can be that generous!) They will open it in the Spring if they can raise additional funding and find good staff.

The drive to Potter's Wheel was pretty much insane and we almost died several times. The drivers here are maniacs! We pray every time we get in the car. It's like an intense game of chicken - with drivers heading straight at each other at times driving 60 m/p/h until one veers off at the last second. It's pretty horrifying - but on the flip side it does make me feel closer to God : ) On the way home we took a detour and ended up in Vellore so I briefly saw the famous medical hospital there where Dana's grandfather used to work.

Today I'm working on arranging a seminar for Oasis workers and pastors in this area to train them on counseling trafficking victims. I'm also supposed to be writing a brief for a Marketing brochure, but the funny thing is it seems like it's the "Marketing" part of my volunteer role that I keep procrastinating on! I'll have to do it tomorrow (after I explore Bangalore's botanical gardens)

Tonight I'm going to a church conference. It's the 3rd time I've been to church this week and I have to say I love having all this time to really dive into my faith.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some things I’ve found interesting lately...

·People who live in makeshift tents in the dirtiest slum areas will still make the effort to sweep the dirt from their doorway each morning

·It’s not uncommon for people to sleep on mats on the floor here or for waiters not to wear shoes

·People in India put ketchup on pizza and fried rice

·In Mumbai, people prefer to bring their lunch from home but the food isn't prepared by the time they leave for work. To compensate for this, many people hire someone to go to your house, pick up your lunch and bring it to you at work.

·I’m not sure if safety pins are available here, because they literally sew ID labels into my clothes each time I have them laundered

·“Underwear” is called “Inner Wear”

·Diet Soda is not widely offered or consumed. McDonalds charges extra if you order it!

·People share water bottles, so they don't touch their mouths to the bottles when they drink from them

·There is no formal recycling program here. You just throw everything out, and then poor people go through the trash to find recyclables they can turn in for money.

·Drivers do not stay in their lanes. People tend to drive in the middle of 2 lanes or even directly into oncoming traffic if that lane is less congested. You say A LOT of prayers on the road in India!

·In foreign countries, you can’t assume that a manicure and pedicure involves nail polish

·It’s incredibly easy to fall into the “anti-Atkins” diet here. Basically I consume carbs (rice) and sugar (no splenda here!) and avoid most protein (meat). This combined with the fact that it’s quite difficult to “workout” here makes me glad I’m only here temporarily. Otherwise I might double in size : )

·Hindi soap operas can be pretty engrossing (and you can even make up your own storyline since you can’t follow the language). What impresses me the most though (from both a Marketing & NGO perspective) is that one popular show features a child with autism and during commercial breaks they educate viewers on autism and even feature the work of a NGO that works with autistic kids. What a unique way to build awareness!

·The pants here have such a funny fit. Huge at the top and tapered at the ankles. I call them "MC Hammer" pants. Check them out... They look ridiculous, but are really comfortable.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teddy Roosevelt & Christine...

Just saw a friend posting a great Teddy Roosevelt quote that speaks very well to Christine's approach to life, and especially her trip in India. I hope that each of us can live this out in our daily lives in accordance with our personal values and whatever we are doing...

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of the high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt

Would you like some Hot Milk with that?

I find it fascinating that despite how hot this country is, people in India drink all of their liquids lukewarm or hot. In fact, they believe that drinking cold drinks actually gives you a cold. Foreigners are the only people who order cold water at restaurants!

Although you can buy it at the store, most families still have milk home-delivered (like we used to in the US a long time ago). Each morning, I’m served hot milk (either to drink alone or to pour into my cereal or porridge). It was strange at first to have cereal with hot milk, but if you can get past soggy corn flakes, it’s really quite good. When the milk in my cup starts to cool it congeals across the top and gets this gooey film. They call this the “cream” and they really seem to enjoy it. I subtly remove it and set it aside, which they once caught me doing and think is weird behavior.

On a different note, have I mentioned that eggs are sold unrefrigerated here? It’s odd to see stacks of eggs on the end of the aisle at the store or out in the open at a market. Yet when they bring them home, they do refrigerate them. Interesting…

And finally, it seems to be the trend to paint your fingernails on just one hand here. I’ve seen 3 people with it like that. And ironically the hand that they choose to paint is the one they consider “dirty” (because they use their left hand instead of toilet paper and eat with their right hand). Makes no sense to me…

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Having Fun as a Tourist in Mumbai

I’ve had a fun (and much less emotional) couple of days. I had one informative business meeting on fair trade distribution (and due to traffic here it took me FIVE hours to complete it – crazy, how do you get anything done here?). My other meetings were cancelled and I got stuck here an extra day (it is Diwali this weekend – the Hindu version of Christmas – and plane ticket prices skyrocketed before I bought a ticket home) so I decided to enjoy some sightseeing in Mumbai.

I did some shopping, ate at McD’s again (yum! I prefer the McVeggie to the chicken version of the Big Mac that I tried last time), watched the local fisherman haul in their fish (again, not a sight that makes me want to eat fish here), visited a Gandhi museum, the Gateway to India, the outside of the Taj Palace hotel (which has been closed for the past year since the tourist shootings), the Hanging Gardens (very pretty) and the Jain temple (which is the best temple I’ve probably ever visited). My tour guide said that devout Hindus visit the temple every day!An interesting sign at the temple said “Ladies in monthly period are not allowed”.
I also viewed the outside of a tower where Parsi (a unique group of people in India) take their dead to decompose in the open and be eaten by eagles and vultures. Parsis are into that method, while Hindus still burn the bodies of the dead and Christians… I think they just bury or cremate them.

India is so fascinating because the diversity is like nothing you’ll experience anywhere else! I also visited the city Laundry area. Apparently when I turned in laundry at my hotel (and thought they stuck it in a machine somewhere), it ended up here at the city Laundry – being washed by hand on rocks with dirty water. Nice…. Glad I paid for that service. And I was wondering why I didn’t smell any laundry detergent : ) (thankfully my host family back in Bangalore DOES have a washing machine and they use detergent – but no one owns a dryer so everything is still hung to dry). While I’d prefer my clothes to not be washed here, witnessing the hundreds of people doing laundry by hand at this place was a really interesting experience – one that I definitely recommend if you’re ever in Mumbai.

Later I caved in when I ran into a spa. I got a mani/pedi (sans polish) and a massage. The mani/pedi not half as good as home (but boy did my feet need it since the streets of India are GROSS), but the aromatherapy massage was incredible. Ahhhh – what a treat!

Tonight I met Padmini’s brother-in-law for a nice dinner (Padmini is a coworker and friend from back home who kindly put me in touch with her friends and family in India). Indian hospitality is so incredible that even though he had never met me, he drove 2 hours to come take me to dinner!!! Amazing… We had a very interesting conversation on why arranged marriages (such as his) tend to work out. He said that if you fall in love first you have high expectations that you’ll always be treated well and you are often let down. But in an arranged marriage, you go in with absolutely no expectations so you can’t be disappointed (and you may be pleasantly surprised). While I still would choose the love option, I agree with him that much of happiness is dependant on where you set your expectations.

Tomorrow I head back to Bangalore, so I’ll miss the big night of fireworks – they call them “crackers’ - here in the city for Diwali (the festival of Lights).

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's a Small World

While I was eating breakfast at the YWCA, an older Malaysian man asked if he could join me. When we started talking, we realized we had both attended Wash U (Washington University in St. Louis)! Ray seemed really smart – he had been getting a Physics degree and MBA (funded by the Malaysian government). Such a small, small world! We enjoyed talking about the beautiful campus and how much had changed since he had last visited.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Brothels and Bollywood

So much good and so much bad has happened today that I really don’t know what I’m feeling at the end of it all. It’s truly been an intense rollercoaster of emotions.

Let me start with the good: I checked into the YWCA and I couldn’t be happier. While the $24 per night expense is a lot comparatively for what I’ve been paying, it includes breakfast, dinner, air conditioning, a western toilet, a standing shower (no buckets!) and most of all… no bugs! I feel like I’m staying at a 5-star hotel for 2 days, and it’s awesome.

In other big news, I was asked to be an extra in a Bollywood film with the biggest star in Bollywoood!!! So exciting. I would have thought it was a scam, but just this morning I was reading in my Lonely Planet guidebook that Westerners are often stopped and asked to be extras for Bollywood. They offered to dress me in a costume, do my hair and makeup, feed me all day and pay me! But unfortunately I have a meeting with a Fair Trade buyer tomorrow that I couldn’t rescheduled… so no Bollywood fame for me : ( (That would have been such a fun fact for when I play “2 truths and a Lie”)

Now the bad: Today I visited 2 brothels in Mumbai. It was an incredible, eye-opening experience that will likely haunt me for life. It was sort of like watching “Schindler’s List” – horribly depressing but you’re glad that you’re more aware of what’s going on in the world after doing it.

What surprised me was that it really was worse than anything I had seen in movies or read about in books. I didn’t think anything could be worse…

The 1st brothel was enormous. It must have been 10 levels high with girls standing everywhere. The girls were wearing (easy to remove) dresses or mini skirts and all wore heavy makeup. The NGO workers told us that until recently the girls walked around undressed. The girls live in cramped rooms with 2+ beds that have sheets hung that you can pull around to hide what is happening in your bed. There were condoms and condom wrappers littered everywhere (which I guess is a good thing, but hard to see). The bunks have plastic tarp on them. I was invited by one prostitute to sit on her bed, and it gave me the heebie-jeebies to think about what took place there. 3 of the 4 girls we talked to there were clearly minors, and it broke my heart to see them in that disgusting place. One had just arrived 2 months before after being tricked (she thought she was coming to the city for a factory job). Unfortunately, even after just a few days of being gone, most families won’t take their daughters back if they are returned, because they are ashamed and worried about the family reputation. Another thing that surprised me was that the older prostitutes were getting in on the action by actually buying girls themselves (from broker “pimps”) or renting out their beds when they weren’t using them to street prostitutes who don’t have their own rooms to use for sex. Girls in this brothel cost $6-10.

The 2nd brothel was much smaller, dirtier, darker and more disgusting. Imagine finding a really gross abandoned building and moving in. It would have been the perfect scene for a scary movie… Unlike the 1st brothel (where the women are hidden inside), women at this brothel can stand on the street to beckon you in, and cost as little as $1. The women I spoke to at this brothel were actually MARRIED and their husbands supported them doing this for money. It’s amazing how extreme poverty can change the way you view your choices.

The whole experience made me want to throw up because I was so sickened by the brokenness in this world. But we have to see this stuff so that our hearts can be broken like God’s, and we can work for change.

Later a 15-yr old beggar girl came up to me with a baby. People here say not to give to them, because (just like in “Slumdog Millionaire”) they belong to begging groups that essentially rent and drug the babies they hold and then give any money them make to their “pimp” (that might not be the right word – but you get what I mean). But this girl asked for milk and rice for the baby and that threw me because I wasn’t sure what to do. The baby really did seem drugged, but food seems harmless to give. So in the end I bought her the rice and baby formula and spent a small fortune on it (by Indian standards). I’ll never know if it was wise or if I was being a sucker, but I’d rather have a clear conscience and know that at least I tried to help.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thankful for a New Day

Last night was rough. First, I squashed a huge cockroach as it was crawling into my shoe. Then I watched about a hundred killer ants devour it… right by my bed. It was incredibly disgusting. This room is infested with critters so I’m going to move out tonight and move to the YWCA in Mumbai. I also had horrible nightmares. I dreamed that this psycho-killer was chasing me and my friends back home and that one of the girls in my book club was murdered. I felt this terrible pain and sadness and I was mourning her death when I woke up to the killer ants – it reminded me of losing Lindsey all over again. I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or not, but I had nightmares last Tuesday when I took my weekly malaria medicine. (Strange dreams can be a side effect of the medicine). However, last time I took it on a trip my dreams were wonderful, fun and creative… so this is disturbing. A friend back home who recently traveled to India mentioned that she felt that evil forces lurked here waiting to spiritually attack Christians – so that’s in the back of my mind as well. But today is a new day so I have hope it will all turn around!

Veggies are my friend...

I’m now 1-hour outside Mumbai at a home for HIV+ women who have left the red-light district and are trying to get off the streets for good through counseling and job training.

The language barrier is much higher here than with the kids, because at least the children all wanted to learn English. I spent the afternoon teaching a 20-yr old woman how to use Microsoft Excel and how to type properly, as she would like to eventually do bookkeeping.

I really enjoyed watching the women cook their native dishes. However, once again I went with someone to buy fish and once again, I swore I was only going to eat vegetables and rice for the rest of my time here! You have to trust me that I AM being low-maintenance while I’m here, but it is so incredibly unsanitary. They chop it up for you on the street corner and there are flies and blood everywhere. Ugh!

The home currently has 2 staff and 5 former prostitutes living here. This month, they had a $200 budget to pay salaries, utilities, food, etc. and it’s just not enough. Normally they get $400 and make it work. Tomorrow is (yet another) national holiday so I’m taking everyone out for lunch at a restaurant, because it’s a treat they just can’t afford themselves.

I spent some time hanging out at a phone store this evening. They are SO different than in the US. They are little hole-in-the-wall shops where people come to recharge their SIM cards (so essentially everything is prepaid). Today I loaded 1000 rupees on my phone (~$20) but people were coming in charging 20-40 rupees – less than $1! Most people in India must literally live day-to-day on what they make. These phone stores are the busiest places around – if I lived here (doing non-NGO work) I think I’d open a phone store. I bet they make a load of money...

A Time to Grow

This adventure is making me much more confident in my ability to travel independently. I really don’t like traveling by myself, and I tend to let Dana take the lead when we travel because he’s excellent with directions and navigation. However, Dana is not here and as my dear friend Susie warned me, plans don’t always work out the way they are supposed to in India. People say they’ll meet you and for some reason or another, they often don’t show up. So you always have to have contingency plans in place and be confident that you can find a way to figure it out yourself if need be.

My overarching contingency plan is that if all else fails, I’m going to whip out my Amex and check into a Starwood hotel until someone finds me. and believe me I’ve come close - but so far I’ve been able to be resourceful in more budget-friendly ways : )

Monday, October 12, 2009

Visiting House of Wholeness


While I seemed to adapt amazingly well to living in Bangalore, I feel like “culture shock” finally hit me today when I arrived in Mumbai (still called Bombay by many).

Mumbai is MUCH more crowded than Bangalore (at least it seems like it has more people, but fewer cows and dogs). I really don’t think it would have been that bad, except that when you’re on a packed train and you don’t know where you’re going and you have so much stuff to watch (a backpack, a suitcase, a pillow & blanket) it’s really overwhelming. The challenge is that I felt like I had to guard my belongings, my money, my passport and my body – while keeping my ticket handy and not getting totally lost or jumped on by a rat (which has happened to 2 of my friends here).

I truly feel like God was watching out for me, while it was an extremely chaotic, scary experience, everything did fall into place perfectly. For instance, I ended up with the only seat on the train where there would have actually been room for my suitcase, and at the exact moment when I started to freak out a little my ipod started playing this worship song about not being afraid because God is with us and gives us the courage we need. I was really grateful that Dana helped me take all the techno (workout) songs off my ipod and replace them with inspirational songs before I left! Also, I’ve been here 3 weeks now and no one has harassed me – I feel incredibly surprised and grateful.

I arrived at PB (a.k.a. “House of Wholeness”) (the home primarily filled by ~20 HIV+ children) and was met by Claire and Paul. They are a young, super sweet couple from the UK who run this place as full-time volunteers. What amazing angels! Talk about dedicating your life to a higher purpose… and we are really in the middle of nowhere (now a few hours outside of Mumbai). Anyhow, Claire and Paul have traveled all over India and they say that Mumbai and Calcutta are the hardest places, so I don’t feel so bad that I finally had a stressful day.

My accommodations here are pretty nice. I’m in my own room in a separate building from the kids. Despite the Asian-style toilet (a.k.a hole in the ground) and a big beetle that just flew down my shirt, the room is quite cheerful.

I’m off to bed now as tomorrow (with the kids) promises to be a neat experience and it starts early!

------ Saturday:

This morning I shared my bucket shower with a lizard and 2 frogs – but again I was glad to have hot water and they are a lot cuter than rats, so life was good. Then I joined the (adorable!) children for a breakfast of “idli” with chutney. I’m quickly learning not to take too much of any food the first time it’s offered, because sometimes it’s just too different for me and you’re expected to finish everything on your plate (there aren’t a lot of trashcans in India and this makes it easier to clean up). It’s safer to take a little to try it and go back for seconds if you actually like it then to force yourself to eat something that you just don’t think you can swallow. Last night I had a mango drink and orange cookies for dinner (from a small snack stand outside the train station) and that worked well.

Later I watched the nurse distribute medicine to each child. They each are on very specific regimens of medicine and sometimes diet as well. One by one they came in to see her. If they were young, she would grind up the pills (some of them had 5 to take) so that they were easy to swallow.

The govt provides basic medicine for free, but 2nd stage medicine (which I think is the more serious HIV medication) is not covered. This can cost $300+ per child per month! There are other NGOs that cover this for some, but not all, of the kids here.

Then the kids were off to do their chores, so I toured their rooms. The facility here is really nice. Very cheerful and pleasant. The rooms are all painted in happy colors and it’s kept clean. The infirmary is totally adorable – like a fun playroom. And outside it’s beautiful! The air feels fresh and crisp and the home is surrounded by green fields and mountains (at least during this time of year). I can see how the kids would be very happy living here. If I spoke their language (most speak Hindi – which the people who run the place had to learn in 5 weeks!), I could even see myself living here for a brief period of time and really enjoying it (except during Monsoon season).

All of the children visit the local dr. at least 6x per year. According to him, the children here are in very good health. Only 2 (of about 20?) are showing any real symptoms. Here they get good rest, eating nutritious foods and get the right medication at the same time every day. In fact, the nurse literally had a 12-yr old boy sit in her office until 8 AM on the dot to take his medication, because that is HIS time to take his meds. Quite impressive!

I spent the rest of the day listening to them sing songs, playing with them and reading them stories. They are so loving and cute! I even had a chance to give “career advice” to their oldest children. They are 2 girls about 16 yrs old who have been here since the home opened 10 yrs ago. They are hoping to go to college soon and weren’t sure what to study. They were very interested in hearing about marketing at a snack food company! It’s nice that they have Lays here (even though it’s really Ruffles) so they can understand what I’m talking about.

I've taken 200 adorable pictures of these kids (they've taken them for me actually!) I really wish I could post them for you, but we're not allowed to publish any unfortunately...

-------- Monday:

After just 2 ½ days, I’m leaving here to go to another home for women who are trying to get out of the red light district. While my time at House of Wholeness was brief, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

The home is extremely well run and the kids are very happy here and kept as healthy as possible. Even though the home is out in the middle of nowhere, the grounds are truly stunning. I almost feel like I could be in French Polynesia! I’ve enjoyed my early mornings and late evening strolls by myself, sometimes just sitting on a swing and thinking about God and nature and the kids… and what time it is in the US and is it too early to give Dana a call to hear his voice? : ) It’s been a welcome break from the chaos of the city.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Indian Hospitality

Indian Hospitality is unlike anything I've experience before in my life. Please are so incredibly caring and thoughtful here. In a country with that deals with corruption and poverty on a daily basis, it amazes me at how warm the people are... it really makes me feel bad for how we sometimes treat foreigners back home.

Every day here someone invites me to join them for church or to visit their family at home - and they don't just say it. Immediately after they say it, they whip out their calendar and say "when can you come?" It's very touching. Even the sweet sweet lady who cleans the office has invited me to her home. I share my lunch with her every day.

Another office worker who counsels the trafficking victims and helps them reunite with their families just wrote this to me:

"it was nice chatting with u, I love u very much, because u are a very loving person. not only me the whole ANTI-TRAFFICKING TEAM loves u very much."

That really made my day! Being around this team really keeps my spirits high in spite of the sad stories of the people we're trying to help.

Arrived in Mumbai safely...

I arrived safely in Mumbai with no issues. I flew a discount airline called Spice Jet and it was actually pretty nice - better than Southwest in my opinion. The Mumbai airport is also quite nice.

I'm now sitting in the Mumbai Oasis office. We passed a lot of slum conditions on the drive from the airport to the office. The Oasis office here is somewhat bigger than the Bangalore office, with a mix of people in western attire and Indian attire (Bangalore is all Indian attire). It feels sort of like a start-up company office, and I met one other volunteer here from the UK. Everything smells like urine and my computer somehow has an ant infestation. But I am safe and no one has hassled me or stolen my money, so life is good : )

Later today I'm taking a train (my first in India and I'm a little scared but I know it will be fine) out to PB (the home for women & children affected by HIV). Should be interesting - I love life's adventure!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Heading to Mumbai...

Today I leave Bangalore for the 1st time and head to Mumbai (Bombay) for about a week. There I’ll be working on a project at a home for women/girls with HIV and touring (safe parts of) the red-light district.

On a different note, I'm hearing that care packages are incredibly expensive to ship here and frankly, nothing seems to be arriving (not even some letters that were sent) so if you haven't shipped anything I probably wouldn't. I'll keep the care package list up and if you'd like to purchase anything for the preschool and such, let me know and I can buy it here for you much more cheaply (except possibly the CDs).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Did you know?

Did you know that dowries are still commonly paid in India? The wife’s family pays the groom a handsome dowry (the most recent example I heard was $50k) and then her family also pays for a wedding of hundreds (if not thousands) of people. While this practice is most commonly done by Hindus, even some Christian families here still offer dowries (sometimes it’s called “goodwill").

Did you know that private investigators are commonly used to research a potential mate before the wedding? Since people sometimes don’t meet in person (or only meet briefly) there are popular private investigator “packages” that people purchase to check-out how their mate lives. In fact, someone’s friend just had a wedding called off on them because the investigator tailed them for 3 days and he partied too much!

Yesterday I shared my “testimony” (how Jesus has changed my life) with the girls in our vocational training program. It was a good experience even though someone had to translate it (since the majority of the girls don’t understand English).

Later I visited a few more Fair Trade and handicraft shops in India – still looking for good places domestically where we can distribute the products that the girls from slum communities are learning to make in our vocational training program. The side benefit to this “exploration” is that I have found some fun gifts and know just where I want to take my family shopping over Christmas for nice Indian souvenirs! After braving crazy traffic all morning, the highlight was a relaxing lunch with a coworker - the Indian food was really delicious despite the cockroach that walked across the table : )

Last night I attended a posh wine tasting dinner that was hosted by the Overseas Women’s Club. I met some fun women and enjoying hearing how well-to-do expats live in the city. Another Texas woman at my table (who looked about my age) was telling me how she has a cook, a driver, a gardener, a housekeeper and someone who works full-time WASHING HER WINDOWS. There is no judging here – as I’m thrilled she has the means to provide employment for all of these people – but wow there are truly different ends of the spectrum in India!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The sad realities for some children here...

Monday I compiled case studies and statistics on child trafficking and incest in India. The findings are going to be published in a booklet designed to increase awareness and prayer re: children’s issues in India – and ultimately aid prevention. While it felt like the work I was doing was valuable, it was strange to be googling words like “incest”. I kept thinking that Frito security was going to come confiscate my computer : ) My world here is so different from life back home.

The stories the case worker shared with me are truly horrifying. Since these are going to be published broadly, I can share one with you now:

13 yr old Ramya* was one of four girls. Her mother later remarried (after her initial husband divorced her) and had three more daughters. Ramya’s step-father eventually began demanding sex with her every day and sending her to have sex with his friends. Her mother was aware of what was happening and demanded that Ramya obey his wishes so that they would not lose the sole family provider.

We became aware of the situation when Ramya’s sisters ended up in a girls home after their mother sold them as domestic house slaves and they were burned and starved. Today Ramya’s step-father is in prison and the case is proceeding in court. (*Ramya’s name has been changed)

I realize that was depressing, so I’ll end today’s post with some things I’m thankful for:
1. That I grew up in a safe home where my parents protected me
2. That I’ve been in India almost 3 weeks and haven’t been sick yet
3. That my host family is AMAZING (in fact, yesterday was their wedding anniversary and they took ME out to dinner to celebrate)

Monday, October 5, 2009

update on Dana's US adventures - Michigan reunion & ACL

Wanted to give a quick update on US happenings with Dana. A week(end) ago we had our 5-year Michigan reunion. It was great getting to catch up with old friends, to take in a Michigan football game, and to celebrate at the Bus.

This weekend, I went down to Austin with Foxy & Anissa to see Austin City Limits, a 3-day music festival. We were fortunate to get some backstage/VIP access for a couple of shows, which was very cool. There was lots of great music, and the event was made quite entertaining by the rain that came on Saturday, turning the park field into a giant mudpit for Saturday night and all of Sunday (ending up barefoot by Sunday night as flip flops became completely stuck in the mud). Concert highlights included Thievery Corporation (inside the barrier to see up close), a great Pearl Jam set (both old & new, as well as Perry Farrell & Ben Harper joining for PJ's encores), the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Dave Matthews Band, Dead Weather, Girl Talk, and backstage for And You Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead. Also was great to catch up with Sara & James, and to eat great Austin food.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A recap of Sunday...

Yesterday I rented “My Sister’s Keeper” (a sad, sad movie) and visited 2 new churches.

The 1st church was a large Methodist church that I attended with the Partners International Area Director. The service was very traditional, and reminded me of the church I grew up attending back in St. Louis. The church I had attended last week felt more like my current church in Dallas (young, contemporary and casual). I decided to wear jeans this week since many people had them on last week, but I soon found out that just like there are different dress codes for Dallas churches, there are different dress codes here as well. So I ended up as the only white person among about 500 Indians and the only female wearing jeans – and of course they had me get up and introduce myself… so I’m certain that didn’t go unnoticed.

Much of the service felt the same – with 2 interesting differences. First, when you go up to take Communion, you remove your shoes and walk up barefoot. Second, there are ads IN THE CHURCH BULLETIN for people who are seeking brides and grooms. Some of the descriptions listed for what people wanted included “simple-minded bride” or “broad-minded homely bride”. Fascinating… The preacher gave a nice talk on creating a Christian home for your children. He also told a horribly sad story about some Indians who lost their lives for being Christians in Northern India (some tribal leaders shot the family), with the message being “don’t deny your faith”. It’s amazing how easy we have it in the U.S. – isn’t it?

In the evening I attended a small church with my host family. They also asked me to introduce myself there, but there were only 15 people (instead of 500) so it wasn’t as intimidating. One of their daughters sang a beautiful solo… it was incredibly touching and truly the highlight of my day. The preacher here talked about how when trouble comes in our life, we have a choice to make. We can either let the bad things tear us away from God, or we can ask God to use these things in some way to further his kingdom. He also talked about how “doubt” is not the opposite of faith, it’s sometimes the beginning – and it can ultimately cause our faith to grow deeper. Finally he reminded us that Faith comes through reading and hearing the word of God. Faith and the word of God go together – so it’s hard to have one without the other.

On a totally different note, one thing I’ve really struggled with here is learning not to smile at people and look them in the eye. It’s very bad for women (especially Westerners) to smile at Indian men (because apparently they already think we’re easy and that looks like a “come on”). But I always smile at everyone! I’m trying so hard to break the habit but it is not coming easily...

Finally, there are A LOT of wild street dogs here. I am not struggling with not petting them, because although I love dogs I find these a bit scary. They bark and howl like crazy at night and keep me up! Last night I dreamed of sedating them all at bedtime : ) That would be nice…

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Movies and McDonalds

This weekend I saw a Hindi movie (Wake Up Sid). About 1/2 the movie was in Hindi and 1/2 was in English, but it was a pretty predictable movie so I did fine without understanding all of the language. I really enjoyed it actually!

After that I had McDonald's here for the 1st time. Like Dominoes, they don't serve beef or pork. I had something that was close to a Big Mac, but made with chicken. It was pretty good. They have both fries and potato wedges, both of which are excellent. I was told not to take my chances on fountain soda but I decided to give it a shot - so far I'm okay! I didn't get ice though. There was an oily film across the top of it though - a little weird.

On our way home we drove past a Muslim wedding, where it was explained to me that the bridge and groom at these weddings are not allowed to (ever) see each other. Sometimes the wedding takes place and they're in completely different buildings! Some of them meet that night (married) for the very first time.

On a similar note, the evaluation meeting for the semi-arranged Hindu marriage that my host family is helping with went well. The potential groom met the girl briefly and said okay, so they say it's 90% going to happen now. Such a different world!

Today I was thrilled to be invited for lunch at one of most host family's daughter's home. She has a nice apartment nearby, but sadly she's leaving the country (and her husband) soon to move to Dubai for the year to work as a teacher and save some money (they get paid better there).

I tried puris for the first time - kind of a fried bread thing. I really liked them! Reminded me a bit of funnel cake or donuts. My Indian host family has gone out of their way to make me American food the past few days (it's pretty hilarious and very cute) so I've eaten less Indian food then before. They've made pasta several times, burgers and even ordered pizza. Then they make spicy Indian food for themselves : )

I had considered taking a walking tour of Bangalore, but decided I didn't want to wake up at 5 AM to get there in time for the 7 AM start (it was far away). Maybe another weekend!

Today I also discovered a dry cleaning place (6 items for $1.50) and a movie rental place (60 cents) nearby. I rented Marley and Me and bawled my eyes out.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Happy Birthday to Gandhi & Dana!

Yesterday I spent the morning at the Leela Palace hotel. They claim it’s the only “7 star” hotel in India. While I’ve never heard of a 7-star rating, it’s quite fancy. Each week the “Overseas Women’s Club” meets here for coffee. It’s a lot of ex-pat wives with a few NGO workers sprinkled in. I hadn’t planned to join (it feels a bit like a sorority – loads of fun events but not the reason I’m here) but I realized it’s a great place for me to network on behalf of Oasis.

One of the highlights of my day was using the washroom at the Leela. A nice bathroom is hard to come by here, and when you encounter one it’s heaven! The low point of my day was walking home in the drizzly rain in the dark and realizing I had walked through a public toilet area (a sidewalk – but still a toilet no less) in my flip flops : )

In the afternoon I had some informative calls with the Fair Trade Forum of India and the Oasis UK office. I feel like there is so much to do! It’s a bit overwhelming when I think about it, but very exciting at the same time.

Today is Gandhi’s birthday so it is a national holiday. Since the office is closed, I am working from home on a case study for Oasis. The goal is to gain awareness and earn some funding.

A few interesting facts for today on India:
- The Importance of Color: Because it is very desirable in India to have lighter skin, women here actually cover their entire face and neck with Jolen Bleach (the stuff we sometimes use in the US to bleach facial hair) during facials. In fact, my host family is assisting with an arranged marriage “set-up” of sorts for a young woman in the neighborhood, and one of the men who met her told her she was too dark to be his wife. It’s quite interesting how transparent people are about their prejudices.
- Celebrity Gossip: Julia Roberts is in India right now shooting “Eat, Pray, Love”.
- Current Events: A sightseeing boat just sunk in Kerala (Southern India) with a load of tourists. (This is where Dana and I are taking a boat cruise in December). 41 people died because they ran to the side of the boat to see some elephants and the boat capsized with no life jackets. I will make sure that our boat has life jackets in December…