Sunday, August 28, 2011

Starting off in Thailand

Being here is incredible. After the initial culture shock, I have settled in. Our house is beautiful and we are spoiled. The "mom" and "dad" own a clinic on the main level. Dad is a doctor, a pediatrician I believe and mom is a dermatologist.. You can't go more than a couple hours with having something that it won't get taken care of. They don't live here. We basically have the house to ourselves except an occasional member of the family that needs a place to stay. The second floor of our house is the kitchen and living room and a couple spare rooms for their family plus a bathroom. We have someone, we call "grandma" that cooks dinner for us every night and on the weekends lunch as well. Thai food is a lot better than I thought it was going to be, of course they voided the spicy dishes for the most part so far. If the dish is somewhat spicy, the other girls warn me before, so I typically have stayed far away from it... so far! Thai dishes go a little bit like this, rich, rice, rice, deep fried, rice, vegetables, rice, meat, rice, vegetables, sometimes fruit, and rice. They bought a couple months worth of rice in advance, they say it will last two months maybe. So much rice!! The third floor of our house is where we sleep, yes third floor. Lots of stairs all day long. There are five six rooms and one bathroom on this floor. One is locked all the time, I just saw it open today and found out it is another bedroom, one is their prayer room, shut the majority of the time. Mine and Gabby's room. Sarah's room, the head teacher, and Hannah and Arielles room. And one bathroom. On the fourth floor there are two different rooms, one is where the washer is, and the other is where you hang the clothes that you just washed and an entrance onto the roof where the garden is/was. Mom used to have a really pretty garden but since they moved, she has a whole yard that she uses as her garden. This house, we call the garden home.. Ironic? The garden home is a ten minute bike ride to another part of time. Beautiful house in the middle of, not so nice homes. They have a small, cold, pool, a beautiful yard, and many little dogs! Every once in a while we go swim, lay out, or just visit at the garden home. We ride our bikes everywhere, and I am starting to get to know my way around this town!
Currently I am the arts and crafts teacher

School was hard to start off... As most everything new is. The school is across the intersection from us so we just stroll over before school starts. The kids are darling, and young. We have kids anywhere from 1-5.. so when I say young, I mean young. It sometimes means that teaching english either gets really difficult or you have to get really creative. Most of the little ones can't even speak Thai yet, so english huh? We start at 8:30 with opening. Singing songs and talking about the weather and the days of the week is mostly what it consumes of. Then at 8:45 we go into our rotations. First rotation is 1/2 hour with our home room kids. I have the three youngest so we just play and I am supposed to be talking the whole time. Thats a whole lot of talking. Then second rotation and I get the third oldest group. The kids have snack time after this which they receive a glass of milk for, and then we sing songs till everyone is done drinking their milk. Next two rotations, then closing. After that we take the kids eat lunch and we go up into the office. Its about 11:30 by this time and we sit talk, cover some business, get ready for lunch at noon. We get freshly cooked Thai lunch every day at the school, Its usually really good but occasionally we get something like congealed blood, or some things that I am far too afraid to ask what they are. The rest of the day is ours to do whatever we want. This is where laying out comes into play, or shopping, watching movies, riding our bikes, aerobics at 5:30 every day if we are interested. Dinner is at six then we have the rest of the night to do as we wish as well. It leads to a lot of free time if you don't prioritize your time..

A typical dinner

The sign at the train staion. The train we talk to church (40 minutes away), Chang mai (11 hours away), Bangkok(4 1/2 hours way, and anywhere in between.
Flooding happens... and they make do.

Great view of..  my lovely pink bike and the scooter shop across the street. They love to play music that we can hear in the house as clear as if we were in the shop itself. My guess is that they play it whenever they get a sale. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Leaving India was hard, but knowing that I still had so much ahead of me made it, a distraction. The traveling was interesting, it was the first time that I had been completely alone and traveling by myself. Which would make some people nervous to hear, rightfully so. The driver from India dropped me off at the international departure and was on his way and I was on mine. It was fine until Jakarta and nothing bad happened... it was just that everything that could go wrong, did! It was the place in the world where I did not know the language and they did not know mine. Communication was.. charades and simple words. After the visa complications there was the money.. I had forgotten to look up the exchange rate.. and I needed money to pay for my visa-on-arrival... After talking to, who I think, were the only people in the airport that spoke english.. I still basically took a gander at the money rate. Picked the third smallest amount on the ATM and went all the way back through security, got my passport back and finally got my visa. That, and when I accidentally fell asleep and though I missed my flight, where just some of the complications in that airport. I did, eventually, get to Indonesia!!
Indonesia was absolutely incredible. Paradise. My time there included some fun things like this;
Swimming, Golfing (with a caddy for the first time), Eating (some of the best Asian, and American food), Shopping, Orangutans, and just everything I could have ever wanted to do there. I did get a massage and it was great. She came to the house even, and it was super cheap along with everything else there.   
I stayed with my cousin and her family. Her husband works for Chevron and is stationed there. The compound is its own little community cut off from the world and the only thing it doesn't have is food. The compound itself is beautiful and has people there from all around the world. I had the most amazing time with my cousins family. They have five kids and I had so much fun with them. Its was great to be with family and even better that my aunt and uncle were also there visiting. A good dose of family before four more months without it. I was only there for five days and wish I could have stayed longer. But it was off to Thailand, and yea, I did almost miss my flight in Jakarta. I don't ever think I will feel the same about that airport ever again! Next stop, Thailand.  
The house

Our view from the backyard

My caddy.. detour or path? I don't know


Friday, August 19, 2011

Tracy Chapman (Last days in India)

"I've seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives." 

During play time
Lots of love for coming home

Getting back from Delhi was comforting, of course, the 5 star hotel was comforting, but it felt like we were back at home. There is no greater feeling than the feeling of a home. We all missed the kids and they were excited to see us.

 Over the next couple days we went to medical twice, construction, and education. First medical day we worked in a colony that was designated for singles. For people who had either lost a spouse, were disowned by their spouse, or were never married. It was an interesting concept that I would have never thought of myself. The second medical day we did was a little hectic. Our group went around to three different colonies delivering shoes. All of their feet had been measure previous months and they were made, and we finally got them and were able to get them and do some quick readjustments so that they fit their feet, whatever condition they were in. The first village we went to, they weren’t there. They didn’t know we were coming so we weren’t able to give them their shoes. The second colony, was back to the old folks home. Fortunately the measuring and giving of the shoes was a task for one, maybe two people, so we just got to visit there and just see the people again. A couple of them were so excited and remembered us. There was the guy there that remembered me dancing and the moment he saw me he started to dance again and we all got a kick out of that. After that we went to an extremely small colony where there were only three people that had been effected by leprosy. We did our stations there, washed oiled, bandage, ect, and then finished by putting their new shoes on them. It was a long day but it was good. 
Construction was horrific... we were on campus today because all of the bathrooms and septic tanks in the one colony were finished. Our job was to fix the shelter that was supposed to be for the goat, I believe. They needed to but new tin walls around it so that it would hold up during monsoon season. It started off an extremely humid and hot day and there were bugs EVERYWHERE. Red ants were covering the tin sheets that we had to carry over, they were on the ground everywhere. Huge black ants were on all of the trees and their leaves, so you had to watch where you were walking so you didn’t bump into a tree leaf or anything for that matter. Although the conditions were rough, everyone still seemed to have a good sense of humor and we laughed quite a bit. Mostly at the native workers that did things completely different than we did, and to us, it was not logical at all but it organized chaos is the them of India and works quite well for them. I caught of glimpse of what I though was a mouse, run up and on the other side of one of our backpacks, so I walked to it and looked around to see. It was not a mouse. It was a spider, and I am terrified of spiders! I did not react well and the native worker tried to kill it multiple times with his hat and missed it nearly every time. A little bit of an adrenaline rush!
There was the most amazing lightning storm this week. One night the rain came a little bit more heavy than usual. The lightning came and lasted about an hour and a half and we just sat against the wall inside and watched through the big open commons we had in our housing. It was beautiful and amazing. I felt as if the lighting were striking on every side of us, it would light up the sky as bright as day and the thunder would shake the ground. It was a miracle that we still had electricity considering that it went our multiple times a day on account of nothing.
My house mom and most of our boys, just being boys...
I have convinced myself my whole life that I need to be tough. I have learned here that that it is a problem and to show any emotions, though it sometimes is the hardest thing, it is usually the most honest thing a person can do. I am sad to leave India and will miss my friends, the funny memories, and the more than friendly people of India. 
After the two hour ride back into Chennai the driver dropped me off at the international part of the airport and was on his way. I was quite alone and quite confident. This was the first time though, I realized later, that I had been completely on my own at an airport and at first it was a rush then formed into a regret. Luckily a lot of people at the airport speak or understand at least a little bit of english. I met the most lovely lady named Sally, from North Dakota, in line behind me. It was one of the most entertaining conversations I have every had. She was probably in her late 50’s early 60’s and still a complete hippy. She had lived in India for about 35 years and was working with a company that traveled around the world teaching people how to prepare and be cautious during elephant stampeding... I’m not quite sure how it works but it sounds great. I can’t count how many times in that conversation I said, “Good for you, that’s great!” I had a hard time finding any other kind of response for the stories she was telling me. She did ask me though, if I had porcelain teeth, and if you were wondering, I do not. After an interesting trek through the airport I finally boarded the plane which was a relief but it was not the end. Many adventures ahead of me! India.. changed my life.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

To the Taj and back

First full view of the Taj Mahal made my jaw drop. Pictures do not do justice, and the more you learn about the articulate details and how brilliantly it was made makes it even more miraculous! A few things that I learned about the Taj Mahal;
*The Emperor (Mughal) made it for his wife who passed away giving birth to their fourteenth child.
*It took 22 years to build and over 1,000 elephants were used.
*It is completely symmetrical (Minus one part- his tomb- which was added after his death by his daughter next to his mothers tomb)
*Each of the four towers is leaning a few degrees outward in case there was cause for them to fall, then they would fall away from the main part. 
*The emperor attempted to build a black replica on the other side of the river but when his corrupted son took over and destroyed it. 

It was such an amazing thing to learn about and see. About an hour and a half after we were there, it started to downpour. Most of the people rush under cover but a few of us that aren't used to the rain enjoyed playing in it for quite some time. After about a half hour the rain turned into a light sprinkle and the rest of the people came out from hiding. Before we could even get down from the Taj, it started pouring again so hiding from it previously was useless. A few of us there were continuously being photographed or asked to be in photos with, well, mostly local males is what it seemed to be. It was flattering though, and I'll admit a little bit fun. I imagine that's just a scratch of what its like to be famous and I don't think that I would enjoy that lifestyle but it was fun to get a taste of it. Some people would practically throw their babies in our arms to have their child in a photo with and and others would just take pictures of us while we were walking or talking to each other. I'm sure thats pretty common with any of the "white" people there but it was very new to us. 
After the Taj Mahal we went to Agra Fort. Still pouring, we walked around and toured the fort. It reminded me of a castle because you walk in on a draw bridge and over what used to be a moat. The place itself was beautiful and so historic. You can see the Taj Mahal from the fort actually, and it was were Emperor Mughals son, held him prisoner but, at least he got to look at it. (When his eyesight started to get poor, is daughter brought him a giant diamond that actually magnified the Taj so that he was able to see it) It was really a cool place to be and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I was going to. 
After that we went back to the hotel and got dry clothes to change into, went to the Taj Mahal restaurant, changed, ate amazing food (fried chicken rice and naan) and then went shopping. Shopping there was so much fun! We went to a pretty nice mall, just like back in the U.S. but the stores had sari's and chudidhars... And McDonalds! Where I got fries and an ice cream cone. Taste absolutely normal and incredible! The hotel we were staying at was incredible and I felt super risty being there but it was a lot of fun. I have never met people that were so incredibly nice than I have at the hotels in India. Well in India in general, So so nice! 
On our drive back to the Delhi airport the next morning, our bus broke down. What we understood that one of the pipes broke and was leaking gas. This is what I wrote about it while I was on the bus at that time:
So right now we are on the bus coming back from Arga back to Delhi and.... we ran out of gas. We are stopped on the side of the road right now, after being pushed off the road. A lot of people have crowded around our bus and their is one lady who keeps banging on the side our bus, begging. That got annoying really quickly. There are two boys right outside of my window right now staring at me... putting up their phone asking for my number and staring and laughing when I when I wave at them. The car is still off, apparently one of the gas pipes is broken and they went and got gas! We opened the top vents and everyones imagination keeps us full of funny comments. We aren’t going to be able to stop at the lotus temple and we are hoping that we are going to be able to ride the camels and elephants still. And hoping that we don’t miss our flight. It feels like a sauna in here. SO hot!! 

Me not knowing where exactly where to sit

After about an hour, our bus was fixed, and not even ten minutes down the road, we were at the place to ride camels and elephants. I rode a camel because I know that I will have many opportunities in Thailand to ride elephants and who knows when I'll be able to ride a camel again. It was just like riding a giant horse that never went faster.. but it was really run. There were monkeys and it was all fun then back on the bus and a few more hours to the airport. We got back to the campus a little while after midnight sunday night. It was such a fun trip but it was good to be back. I missed the kids so much and we were all so ready to get back to  working and bucket showers!!                                                   

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mahatma Gandhi (Day 12)

"A nation's culture resides in the hearts and the souls of its people."

So after not sleeping last night and heading to the airport at 3 in morning. In the bus we took to the airport they have ten seats, not including the drivers and two benches in the back facing each other. About an hour into the drive while I was passed our sleeping on one of the benches, I was flung out of my seat! The car in front of us slammed on their breaks resulting in our driver doing the same. Our tires were skidding and I swear we were going to die.. It was so scary but I was right back to sleep after that. At the airport we were about to go through security and the officer (every military guy here casually has a gun hanging off of their shoulders, not a big deal) had us go up this escalator. There wasn’t anywhere to go at the top, we were all so confused but he came up and opened a secret door. There wasn’t anyone in there but our group of travelers but it was a completely separate security check. It was weird, but things get to a point where you learn not to ask questions. Its better that way. Our flight wasn’t super packed so I found a whole row and had it to myself. I ended up laying down and slept until the flight attendant woke me up when we were landing. Our flight was only a couple hours long and when we got into Delhi it really warm. 33 degrees celsius... and a lot of humidity. We spent the rest of the day, doing more traveling. I cannot begin to describe the way people stare. Its hilarious most of the time. We stand out a little bit with our pale skin.

What its like in the streets of India

 By the time we got into Old Delhi it was pouring rain and the thing we had planned was to ride the rickshaws. The little bikes that carry a two man seat behind it. Me and a girl Amy got in one and we had the funniest person taking us around Old Delhi. He yelled at everyone, “Chello,” which means move and he also was a crazy driver. We hit a couple people throughout the hour of this, AND I happened to donate a shoe to India. It was near the end half of the ride and my flip flop fell off into the street, so I went to rest of the time with one shoe. During our ride we stopped at a spice market, went through a wedding and food market, and got a tour of a beautiful historic temple. We went to the roof of one of the buildings and got to see from up there what Old Delhi was like. It was an adventure and I felt like I was in a parade with everyone staring at us, yelling to us, and waving. The streets are chaotic but it was really fun. After our little tour we went and ate lunch at a really nice restaurant and then got on our bus, that is labeled “tourist” on the top half of our windshield, and started driving. I don’t know long I have been on this bus but its supposed to be a 6-8 hour drive to our hotel near the Taj Mahal. I slept the first half, then i’ve decided to be productive and get something done! I am very excited to get to our hotel and actually sleep in a real bed. Its been a long day, full of sights and travels and tomorrow is going to be even better!

Mother Teresa (Day 11)

" The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody."

Today during medical a couple things happened that I will never forget. We went to an old folks home in one of the colonies. This is the most unique old folks home you’ve ever heard of because everyone in the community put their money to build this home and then they all take care of the elderly there. Completely run by themselves and there were some great people here. I think I liked it so much because its like the elderly at home, they tell it how it is. As I was walking around I came up to a lady, I said hi and she started laughing and it made me laugh. They fact that I was laughing made her laugh even harder and her laugh made me laugh harder. We were just cracking up in the middle of this doorway. She was like that all day and it was always so funny! I was working on bandage removal today and it was nice because I didn’t have a lot of people that even had bandages so I had plenty of time to take pictures and to explore. It was really casual today but we got a lot done.
There was one lady today, that even when I think about it now, makes my heart heavy and my eyes tear up. I was removing her bandage and it was one of the more severe ulcers I had seen yet. It covered about half of the bottom of her foot and up the outside of her ankle. As I was removing her bandage I could tell she was in so much pain, and by the time I was done there were tears running down here face and she wiped them away with what was left of her hands. She was trying to tell me something in Tamil and I couldn’t understand her. There isn’t anything more frustrating than someone trying to tell you something while they are in so much pain and you can’t understand anything or do anything about it. I was kneeling by her side trying to do what I could to comfort her and she just looked down at me, still crying. She pulled my hand to her forehead and it was freezing. She was sweating so much and so miserable. I was useless and it broke my heart. I will never forget the look on that woman’s face and how I felt right then. 
Fortunately the rest of the day there, everything was light and fun. I had a guy come grab me and pull me into this room that all of the men there share and he went and grabbed the only book from his little pile of belongings and sift through it and pulled out a picture. The picture was of him and a painting hanging on the wall next to him. He had painted this painting and I have no idea what the rest of the story is. It was hanging somewhere nice and he was so proud to show it to me. It was so fun to see what treasures are to these people here. In this colony then have a little program called the Bindu school of art. Its where these leprosy afflicted people come and learn how to draw and make these beautiful paintings. A lot of these people don’t have fingers and a few draw with their mouths. They sell these paintings and that is what funds the school. It was really cool to be able to go see that yesterday after construction. Hundreds of paintings.
 One of the guys there had made fun of me all day because he caught me dancing earlier and it concluding in a miniature dance party in the middle of this building by the end of that day. One guy clapping the beat and a few of us dancing like crazy, Indian style. Which I had no idea how so I’m sure I looked completely foolish! It was the best day I have had here yet. When you mix that many emotions, these elderly with the funnest personalities, and hard work, it’s always a good day! 
After we got back I took my sweet time to get over to play time ( which is so much fun, we play soccer every day!) with the kids. Its the last time I will ever do that. I walked around the corner and Ruthish (a little boy in my family that has grown unbelievably attached to me, and I to him as well) came sprinting up to me and gave me the biggest hug. He said that he had been watching for me and I never came. He also told me that he had asked four people where I was and I felt so bad! I have people tell me all day long that he asks where I am all the time, he is the cutest little boy ever. It’s parents day in two days and I had to tell the boys in my family that I wasn’t going to be there for it because I was going to be in Delhi. They were all so sad. I thought that was hard leaving them for three days, I can only imagine what its going to be like when I have to leave to go to Indonesia. I also aOum very excited to go to Delhi and be a tourist for a couple days. I think it will be a ton of fun and we leave at 3:00 AM tomorrow morning. Not going to sleep.. this will be a fun night!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Benjamin Disraeli (Day 8)

"The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own."

Today, felt like the reason I came to India. I did medical and it was completely fulfilling. We drove out to one of the leprosy colonies and we got there early so we just walked around for a few minutes. About three weeks ago twins were born in this colony and we got to go see them. One boy, one girl, and they were beautiful. It still blows my mind how something so small and tender can be so powerful. It was fun to be able to hold the little girl. After that we went to the building where we had planned to do the medical work. This is how it worked: Blood pressure and blood sugar testing, go grab your charts from the doctor, bandage removal, feet washing, oil, ulcer care, re bandage. If you can't tell in the picture, the place we were at was not clean at all, but these people were just so happy to be there and to have us helping them. I was on the ulcer care with the nurse and then I did the re bandaging of their ulcers after they had been treated. My highlight of the day is when one guy was so thrilled about how well I had wrapped his foot. He was so happy and was telling the nurse that I did such a good job and he had the biggest smile on his face. When she translated to me what he was saying it made me so happy that I could help, even in the smallest way! It was hard at first to see this nurse cutting off parts of these people. I had to keep telling myself that it was dead skin, and they couldn't feel these quarter-sized pieces of skin being torn off with dull scissors. It just made me grateful for one more thing, that we have great medical care, no matter where we go. These people are so grateful for the things in life that mean the most. Not the things that we usually get caught up with. 

I heard a story today about a guy in this colony who had been blind for about 22 years. The doctor that was previously working with this organization had arranged, with a great deal of trouble and convincing, for this guy to get eye surgery. Can you imagine what it would be like to be given that many hard things to deal with in life. To not only have Leprosy and have to deal with everything that comes with that disease but to be blind on top of it. He was not with us today but he still praises the Lord constantly for what he has been blessed with. I think we often forget how many beautiful things we actually have, and today I got to learn that I am not nearly grateful enough for what I have. I think that is the beautiful thing about being here, its changes me. 

Over this weekend we went into the city and went shopping and to a really nice resort and spent the afternoon at the beach and at the pool. It was fun to be able to take a day and see even more beautiful things that India has. Its endless. Sunday the majority of the group drove back into Chennai and attended church there. It was a two hour drive, three hour meeting, and two hours back. Although the power did go out a few times, nothing stopped. It was entertaining to watch nobody react to the power going out. It happens all the time here, sometimes for a second or two and sometimes for days (that hasn't happened to us fortunately, although our internet did go out for two days. This is India. That is the phrase we use here for things that are not ordinary and for circumstances that do not go according to plan, which is just about everything! 

Tonight at family night was great. It gets better and better every night. I know we aren't supposed to pick favorites but I have a boy that I have grown so attached to. His name is Rutish-Kumar Ragul. He and I nearly cry laughing every night and he clings to me. Always teaching me songs and hand games in Tamil and if i'm sitting on the ground he is on my lap of hugging my neck. All the other boys are getting more comfortable with me as well and the time flies by now. These boys are becoming my family.

     A little taste (this is after all the chaos) of what its like when some of the kids go to bed!