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, March 21, 2011

Lamps and Love


Thanks to my most amazing mother-in-law, I can still receive my Real Simple magazine while I am in India! Those once-per-month care packages are the best! Thanks, Dianne!

One evening, while Sean and I were having a coffee break in our home, we were reading our magazines and sharing what was in our current issue. In the Home section of Real Simple I saw some lamps.
The conversation went something like this:

Paige – “Babe, look at these lamps.
Check out the prices. The cheapest one is $275 and the most expensive one $2,350!”

Sean – “Imagine what we could do if everyone who was going to buy this lamp – even the cheaper one – gave the money to CCH instead. What could we do with all this money?”

This is how our money conversations have been going recently. Ever since we visited our children’s homes and wrote down the list of needs in these homes, everything from shoes to ceiling fans to school tuition, we’ve evaluated all potential purchases from this perspective.

With the money for that $275 lamp, we could buy:

  • 10 school backpacks: $45
  • 3 ceiling fans for the home (and a 110 degree summer is coming!): $67
  • 10 bath towels: $23
  • 10 sets of flip-flops for those kids without footwear: $25
  • Send all the children to a local water park this summer: $70

and still have $45 leftover for a nice lamp (probably at IKEA!).

When Sean and I visited these homes, we wrote down all the small and large needs in order to post them on our Facebook Page where we’ve made it very easy to donate to these specific needs:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Covenant-Childrens-Homes-India/192273570795082


And we would also love for you to take the extra step of:



1) “liking” our Page on your Facebook account, which means you can track us much easier (similar to “friending” our Page)

and if you want to really go for it:

2) post our Covenant Children’s Homes Page in your status update, which means that all your Facebook friends can have access to our Page and donate as well.

Just a few clicks, a small financial contribution and a lot of kids in India, much less two program directors, will be extremely grateful.

And if you happen to be a part of an organization or church or foundation of some kind and would be interested in sponsoring a whole home of children, the annual cost for a family-style living environment and the best education in the local area is approximately $6,000 for 10 kids. 10 kids! Just $6,000! Help us or send us in a direction that could help us – we SO appreciate your partnership!

http://www.covenantchildrenshomes.com/

(all webmasters reading this are welcomed to donate their skills for site improvements!).



Monday, March 14, 2011

What's the Hardest Part?


As our transition to India slowly becomes a settling in India, a common question from curious Westerners has been, “What’s the hardest part about living in India?”

An astute question from an inquisitive blog readership, so in this week’s ride (or, write) on the Rickshaw, we reveal the hardest part about living in India.

Is it the dusty roads and dusty public spaces and the dust that frequently invades the home? Nope, that’s one that takes some attention, but a good broom and mop takes care of it.

Is it the constant honking of horns or endless overload of the senses on the roads? Hmmm, no. That takes some getting used to, but our apartment is 10 feet from a road and we do okay.

Could it be as simple as the heat? Is the 100 degree “late spring” current temperatures with the anticipation of summer around the corner the hardest part? No, surprisingly not. It is a close second, especially when that electricity gets shut off every day between 2pm and 4pm to conserve.

Oh, it must be the distance from home and how much you love your friends and family. That’s it, right? Well, yes. We love you, but that’s not really what we’re referring to here.

Maybe, the food? For Paige, at least? Actually, we had a huge breakthrough in this area just yesterday by making pasta for the first time – and it was soooo delicious. And surprisingly easy. Now we probably won’t buy pasta ever again, no matter where we live. A couple days ago, this would have been the answer for Paige, who’s a little sick and tired of overly hot curries, but no, not the answer we’re looking for now.

Okay, it must be the remote town – no access to the big city or basic conveniences. Actually, we’re headed to Hyderabad tomorrow for a few days, and we really need it, but we’ve done a pretty good job making Ongole our home, and making our home our special place. We’re doing okay.

Are you getting tired of asking questions? Of guessing? Of waiting for an answer? Are you finished yet playing our little game?

Well, if so, then you’re just starting to feel like we feel when we try to get anything done around here.

The hardest part of being here, by far, is the waiting.

The waiting.

The endless waiting that comes from ever-changing plans, from disappointed plans and expectations, from miscommunications, from last second changes that occur in a culture that is “event-oriented,” not “time-oriented.” Most of the developing world, and most of the cultures and societies in the history of the world have not been nearly as "efficient" or what they would call "obsessed" about time and promptness as we are in the West. Plans are made, plans are changed, often at the last minute and life goes on. People often just show up when they want or within a few hours of when they said they would and everyone just deals. It's like dealing with an entire country of type B people.

Last week Paige was going to a village with our driver and a worker to fix the water pump. All set to go, the worker called and said, "Too hot, not going until early evening." Our whole day and night needed to change.

Our Saturday program with the kids was planned specifically around the 2pm - 4pm daily power outage that occurs in Ongole. Lo and behold, the power was cut at 10am due to the Cricket World Cup being played in the afternoon. An entire schedule for 90 kids had to be re-arranged.

Just day-to-day activities that need a little more attention and patience and preparedness for the unexpected...

We were warned.

We knew in our heads this important element of leaving the obsession, uh - I mean, efficiency of the Western world.

But you simply can’t prepare for pray enough for this change. We arrive, we have a huge privilege and burden for these kids, we want to jump right in, we want to be so good and productive from the beginning.

Spinnin’ our wheels. It took what seemed like forever to stop being surprised when our plan failed, when our schedule got thrown for a loop, when our world seemed to come crashing down because our precious plan for the week, the day or even the hour had become victim to someone else’s plan or change of plan or last minute something or other.

It’s emotionally exhausting, people. We’re exhausted just re-hashing it for the Rickshaw ride.

Some of you out there who know Paige and Sean’s penchant for time and structure can laugh and smile at this, but it’s been brutal.

We often feel, at the end of the day (or the beginning for that matter) like we have been "forced" into submission (Paige doesn't like the more expected phrase).

Okay, okay, we give up.

The trick is for us to “give up” without resignation or cynicism – but to “give up” and give in to a healthier sense of time, a more flexible manner of living, being open to the possibilities within an event-oriented culture and loosening our grip a little, or a lot. Patience is not a particularly common or appreciated value in a lot of the "developed" world, but this is one area that the developing world has us beat.

Maybe, after a bit more time of getting used to this kind of time, the hardest part will indeed be the 100 degree spring, with summer yet to come.


Monday, March 7, 2011

The Village Visit, India-Style...


Dusk approaches, which means the cows are coming home, the mosquitos are coming out and the streets are coming alive with people in transit from their day into their night, doing the necessary errands that people do worldwide at this time of day. We however are hopping in a van built to withstand, well, a few bumps in the road (as long as you aren’t one of those people who prefer doors on your van). We have a driver, which might sound snooty or funny, unless of course you’ve ever been to India.

We’re heading out to one of the villages we are here to help. However, “here” usually means the comparatively “big” city of Ongole, but it’s essential to our role and purpose to have presence in the villages, so off we go. Along the way, it’s dusty and bumpy and there’s the distinct smell of burning trash and there’s a cow on the side of the road just taking in all the passing cars, and it’s bumpy. Oh, and this is the national highway! You should see the rural roads. Yet through these obstacles, Paige and I are continually moved by the beauty of an Indian sunset, off in the horizon, through the haze, the pink and orange quietly settle upon the fields before darkness sets in.

Upon arrival to a village, the locals in the street stare dumbfounded at the door-less van with the foreigners slowly rolling through their humble piece of India. Kids squeal at our waves of hello, mothers and grandmothers crack a small smile as we nod in appreciation of their involuntary-but-willing welcome to their home. As we pull up to the church home, usually about an hour after we left the "big" city, our arrival is noticed by a few of the children with whom we will spend the next couple years and they run off to share the exciting news with the rest of their adopted brothers or sisters (every home is either girls or boys, but not both, except for the pastors’ biological children). By the time we have removed our shoes and entered, “our” kids are sitting quietly in two rows of five on a mat on the ground, perfectly behaved and smiling broadly in order to steal our hearts.

Mission accomplished.

This night we have brought with us new plastic water bottles for the kids and some fruit for their parents to help with the delicious meal we will be eating later in the evening. We sit down and spend a little bit of time with each child individually, while all the others wait patiently, asking them some prepared and not-so-prepared questions (about school, their health and how we can pray for them) in English with translation-as-needed to the local language of Telugu. We’re always happily surprised with how well we are understood in their second language. Soon we have finished our individual time and the kids will collectively lead us around showing what parts of their home need some facility improvements and answering all our questions meant to uncover the greatest needs they might have (everything from toothbrushes to shoes to the latest school fee is a potential need – if you wanna help quickly and easily, please visit our Facebook Page!).

Soon dinner will be served and, well, this is the time when I most think of all of you who read our various communications. There’s just something about the village food. Extra fresh? Extra south Indian spicy? Made with a little extra love? Or is it just the pure joy of eating fire-infused curry with rice and dahl with your fingers? For me, it’s definitely all of the above. Served on a silver, tin plate in the villages, along with a special treat of Coke or Sprite for everyone in honor of the foreign guests, the mouth-watering ingredients to an Indian meal are usually capped off with bananas and grapes, along with a yogurt curd that is meant to quench the fire one breathes after a meal of this magnitude, and what it lacks in taste it does make up for by slowing the sizzle (but your nose continues to run for a good 10 minutes – kleenex anyone?). Pouring water over your hands and onto the plate to clean them off, concludes the meal and usually the time together.


Over the course of the evening, the trust built and the connections made in spirit if not in language will be essential to the work we are doing here to give these kids a chance, and ultimately to make a dent in the perpetual cycle of poverty in this region. Prior to leaving, the grateful parents request prayer for themselves and the kids. We happily oblige, but not until we have passed around new water bottles in a wide variety of colors for these kids who take very little for granted.

Back in our door-less van with our driver, we make the journey back to the “big” city, hearts burdened and moved just a little more to do whatever we can to assist these kids in overcoming the incredible odds of an orphan or orphan-like child and attaining a future filled with hope and promise.

A rural Indian village visit concludes, but not before just a few more cows to dodge and bumps in that road.