Welcome to India

This blog is intended to make a country that most Westerners find to be otherworldly not so much so. We enjoy sharing our experiences, noting our observations, highlighting our impressions and otherwise recounting our adventures in India while helping our blogwatchers to be vicariously closer to this grand country. Welcome to India.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Day-to-Day Life: The Adventures, the Challenges, the Comical

We spent this past week visiting every village that currently has a home for children, nine in total with ten kids each. Our hearts are moved and overwhelmed with this opportunity to work on their behalf, doing everything we can to offer them a bright future.

As we process the magnitude of this job (and share about these villages perhaps on next week’s blog entry), we wanted to divulge a little more of our Indian experience – what day-to-day life is like, the highs and the lows, the adventures, the challenges and the comical. Here are our (relatively) unplanned, stream-of-consciousness, alternating thoughts filled with unique elements of living in rural India, probably the first of a many-part series:

Sean: I have always loved Indian food and living here is no different. The food in Andhra Pradesh is known as the spiciest in all of India, so we know we're eating some of the hottest food on the planet, which makes that after dinner chocolate ice cream even better. So far at least, there’s no sign of “too much of a good thing.” Curry and naan almost once-per-day and loving every bite!

Paige: Too much rice and all the curries seem to taste the same to me…once-per-day and that’s almost too much.

Sean: Which probably leads to the question, “What else can you eat?”

Paige: We found a local grocery store that has bread, milk, butter, jelly, cereal – 5 different kinds of Cornflakes, and juice…and we even found a way to get beef delivered to our door – only on Sundays, though!! We are making the best of it!

Sean: Baseball season is coming soon, but until then my Indian sports fix is….cricket! The “World Cup” of cricket is taking place right now until April 2nd among all former British colonies and India is hosting. Still don’t know much about this game, but I know enough to say “Go India!”

Paige: After a long day’s work or a morning at home, Sean and I used to love to go for walks…Yesterday evening we decided to venture down our street until it ends…cow dung, trash, and lots of people saying, “Hi – what is your name?” is all we saw. I wanted a beautiful brook, but we’re not in the US anymore, Todo.

Sean: Mosquito killing has become an art form, a game. I love our zapper racket. If we don’t get them during the day, they will get us at night. Every day, “it’s on!”

Paige: Errand running is one of my favorite things. Here I can’t do it alone (culturally), and I have been told that men run these types of errands. I was saddened by this, but that’s the way it is…so if we want our fruits and veggies, it is going to be up to Sean…

Sean: Which I am not pleased about.

Paige: So far we are in the clear of any kind of sickness, but not for the lack of trying village food. In fact, every village we go to gives us a meal. So, when we visit two villages in one night, that means two dinners!! Some may have the impression of missionaries coming back skinny and frail…that will not be the case for us! J

Sean: Our home includes a guest room we almost never enter. When we do, it has that Indian scent, which leads to the question, “When Indians enter our home, does it have ‘that American scent’”?

Paige: Generally in a refrigerator you put things that you want to be kept cool. In our refrigerator you will find open cereal boxes, open candy or cookie packages, anything that we want to keep away from our not-so-welcomed guests, the ants.

Sean: The much-anticipated heat of India has actually been tolerable so far (highs in the upper 80s, lows in the high 60s), but check back April – June. On another weather note, the Wikipedia site for Ongole says there are four “seasons”: Winter, Summer, South-West Monsoons and North-East Monsoons. Better keep that umbrella handy…

Paige: Our internet strength is often very weak and the electricity has been going out on average about once every two days. Only for about five minutes, but that’s long enough to interrupt an upload to Facebook!

Sean: You now have three months to visit before you are officially only second best! Our first scheduled visitor is Zach Tobin, former RA of mine at the U-Dub and friend, who is coming through in late May. Can’t wait to have you, Zach!

Pictures above:

1. A village visit this past week - the Pernamitta home full of joy-filled girls.

2. The cows are coming home in this picture taken from our back patio.

3. A typical village dinner.

4. Sunset in India...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ongole, a.k.a. "Home"

Even if only temporarily.

Yes, the Whitings now live in India. And not just any part of India….Ongole, India. Where?

Hence, this blog entry.

The map of India we brought with us from the States has at least 250 regions, states and cities marked. No Ongole.

Ongole, in the southeastern part of India right along the coast, has approximately 360,000 people - 359, 995 are Indian and then there’s the five white foreigners working for our organization. Yes, we do get lots of looks going down the street (especially Paige, needless to say), though I do have the distinction of having caused a bicycle accident because someone got caught LATFWR (looking at the foreigner while riding).

Though a city of this size in a slowly modernizing country, there remains nothing Western or even international in Ongole for the displaced foreigner (all five of us!). No McDonald’s, no Italian, no Thai, not even a Chinese food restaurant – in fact, there’s really not restaurants. Just storefront street food and a few restaurants connected to the hotels (of which we have been frequenting while we await our oven and cooking hook-ups). And if you want a remotely coffee house-type experience, well, Chennai is about 4 ½ hours south of here…

360,000 people. No coffee place. However, much to our delight, the local Western grocery store has a surprising selection of familiar foods and brands, yet we’re here to work with people in the villages, not to have to have all of our needs and comforts met.

Knowing this long before we arrived, we knew our home would truly be our castle and oasis from the intensity of Indian culture and public space. Too much time (by American standards, of course) has been spent the past three weeks making our home just that, but we’re there now – especially after just cooking our first meal in our Indian home, pasta, which never tasted so good.

Despite all this, we have had multiple confirmations over the past three weeks that Ongole is the place for us, that we can make a (temporary) life here, that we will thrive, not just survive, yes, even in Ongole. And we have gotten word that there’s actually an appealing beach scene not far from Ongole – we’ll have to check that out to make our extended Indian stay even better!

And if this blog hasn’t’ whetted your appetite for Ongole, we don’t know what will! And we do have a guest room – come one, come all to true southern India, Ongole.

Pictures above:
1. Paige and I go out to eat for the first time on "Good-Excuse-For-A-Date Day" (sorry Valentine's Day lovers) at a local hotel restaurant and actually found "finger chips," better known as French Fries!
2. One of the many four-legged creatures we seem to share community with in India - this time a gecko in our apartment. From Thailand to India and beyond in this part of the world, geckos come and go as they please...
3. Two friends with whom we work (Chidibaboo standing and Chinna inside) pick us up in an "auto" rickshaw

Monday, February 14, 2011

So What Are We Actually DOING in India?

A fair question - one we have been asking ourselves and trying to convey answers regarding for approximately 6 months. So far it’s been something about orphans and children-in-crisis, something about villages in rural India, but despite our best attempts to describe our purpose here, it understandably seems to get a little lost in translation.

Most people are just content knowing that we are doing some good things with very disadvantaged people who generally have very little hope.

After two weeks of being here (already!), we attempt once again to breakdown what it actually is that we are spending our days doing here in Ongole, in the countryside villages of Andhra Pradesh…in India.

We are the new (and first) program directors for the Covenant Children’s Homes (CCH) and Hope Child Development Centers (HCDC) programs within India Christian Ministries, which is focused primarily on church-planting in the state of Andhra Pradesh (southeast India).

Within an hour drive of Ongole where we are based, there are a hundred villages of 100 – 300 people. Within a two-hour drive you find over a thousand small villages. Village life is primarily agricultural. It’s difficult for everyone to find work. Virtually all of India is made up of these types of countryside villages, and all of these villages have children.

A few of these children go on to receive a good public school education where they might be lucky enough to learn English and have a chance to go to more advanced studies (and careers) in their future. Many of these children will stop going to school around 3rd grade because they are needed at home or in the fields. These children will stay in their village most of their life, oftentimes full of regret. Then there are the kids who have been abandoned or orphaned or who are otherwise children in some kind of crisis without parents. This last set of children, those in crisis who have lost their parents, are the ones for whom we are here.

These children, ages 5 – 15, who have been carefully selected on a “highest potential, highest risk” evaluation now live with nine adopted brothers and sisters in a “church home”. They live in a two-story building - home on bottom, church on top - as a “family-style” home where they are fed, nurtured and go to the best school in the area, where they learn English and are given a chance at a life of opportunity.

As the new heads of this program, we are charged with continuing the establishment and expansion of this program of opportunity for these kids. At once a daunting and inspiring challenge. A daily list of various activities includes:

  • Fundraising – probably our primary role here as without funds, we have no homes.
  • Pastoral Support – if you took on ten adopted children into your home, you’d want some support, too!
  • Organizational/Administrative – communicating with donors, maintaining facilities, addressing issues, refining the processes, documenting all our work, programming, etc.
  • Collaboration – we’re not the first to do this nor the last and we’d like to partner with other organizations and foundations who have the same goal.
  • And, as any of you in a Director type of role know….anything else that comes up!

So far, we have gotten to the know the pastors and children during a “Welcome Saturday” event, become familiar with the current donors from around the globe, worked on some necessary administrative tasks and this week we will begin visiting the villages. There are currently nine homes with ten kids in each. Our hope is to quadruple this before we leave!

A daunting and inspiring challenge.

Enjoy the pictures – these are “our” kids for our stay in India and beyond.

Next week? A little intro to this small-yet-vastly-populated city we now call home....

Monday, February 7, 2011

Runaway Rickshaw

Have you ever been in a runaway rickshaw? That's what our first week in India has been like.

Arriving last Monday, late night, we were reminded that India hits you with all the senses. Hearing the noise of the cars and auto-rickshaws, feeling the hot air, smelling a metropolitan city of 8 million, and seeing all the beautiful colors of the women's clothing.

Yes, we are in India now!

Upon our late arrival in Hyderabad (pronounced: "Hi-jer-bad"), we were met by our friends Doug and Raju, headed back to the guest house that they are renting, and went to straight to sleep. Tuesday we headed to Ongole, the city we will be living in, which is about 6 hours away by train. It was our first experience with the Indian train system and they passed the test. It was slow but on time and comfortable. I will bring a blanket the next time I travel on it because it was freezing for me, which means it was perfect for Sean! As we were traveling along, we got to see the countryside of Andhra Pradesh, the state which we will call "home" for the next year or so (the "state" that has roughly 75 million people, more than most countries).

In Ongole we had a day of meetings. We got to meet and share a little about ourselves with the district pastors that we will be working with in the villages. We were also able to spend some time with the fellow staff that we will be working with this year. It was a day of meetings but all of which were very informative and very helpful in directing our first steps for this next month.

While in Ongole we were able to see our apartment for the first time (pictures coming soon)and we were able to buy many of the things we need to live there, ie. air conditioning for Sean, hot water heater for Paige, a refrigerator, stovetop, a washing machine, a dining room table, and a few other essentials. We went from shop to shop to buy each item. They do not have Macy's or Home Depot or Costco but we did find everything we needed to make our place ours.

After two productive days in Ongole, we headed back to Hyderabad, this time via car, with our friend Doug to buy a few things we were unable to get in Ongole and to spend some time working and playing. Each time we left the house to run errands it was about 4 hours, including lunch. It takes a little time to do things here because of the traffic.

After being here just a few hours shy of one week, we feel as though we have been here for a few weeks. So many things have taken place and so much has been accomplished and we are ready to get back to Ongole and get set-up in our new place, which we will be doing right after we post this blog!

Lots more to come about Indian life, Ongole, our apartment and, most importantly, the work we will be doing with orphans and children in crisis in some of the smaller villages of Andhra Pradesh. Keep reading and riding on the Rickshaw Writer!

Pictures above:
1. A look out across Ongole, the "smaller-by-Indian-standards" city in which we will live.
2. A street scene with all the familiar elements. Holy Cow!
3. Welcome to Bollywood Indian glamour...
4. Another street scene typical of rural India.
5. Us at Hard Rock Cafe - Hyderabad, our only oasis in a meat-free world!