Friday, July 3, 2015

Children of India

The longer I'm in India, the more I appreciate the genuineness of the children. This little guy was sitting in front of his family's store/hut perfectly content playing with some gravel and rocks.

Around the corner a group of children were frolicking in the pesticide smoke.

Children go to school only half a day. These are taking advantage of their last free moments and the absence of the guy who normally cranks the mini-ferris wheel. 

These beggar boys were supposed to be asking for money but the preferred to ask for their photo. As soon as I showed them this picture of themselves, they whooped it up and strutted their stuff for each other.

This young man had a winning personality and ran over with a bundle of kites when I rolled down my window looking for some. 

He swam his heart out trying to race our paddle powered boat.

Oblivious to all sorts of dangers and life impediments, the children of India find know how to find joy in the moment. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Capturing the Moment

Sometimes a picture captures the essence of a situation better than words. Here are some of my favorite moments from this past month.

His entire attention was focused on eating a giant sugar cane stalk. This is the moment he finally stood still.

The driver of this tourist bus must be a magician. How else could he possibly get motion out of this relic?

Two hard-working men with under-appreciated skills.

These fellow Taj Mahal visitors relished my request to take their photos.

She came to the festival to dance but had to endure an annoyingly long speech.

A family traveling on the freeway at 50 mph.

Finally, this stunning street girl was selling good luck offerings but beamed when I gave her my last granola bar. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Experience Created

Adjusting to living in India hasn't been easy for me. All my pet peeves are common social norms here - being late or not showing up at all, no organization whatsoever, talking loudly through movies, saying whatever sounds good even if it is far from the truth, general uncleanliness accompanied with random public peeing. How that last one became such an accepted option remains one of life's greatest Indian mysteries that I witness several times a day.

While this might be an interesting place to visit, it is a challenging place to live. Ty's day-to-day interactions happen with well-educated and Westernized Indians while mine centers around non-English speaking village migrants who are struggling to make ends meet. Frustration fills my days. I realized I needed to get out of the house more and create a different experience for myself. So when Andrea invited me to come along and teach blind boys to swim, I wagged my head and changed my life.

First of all, the boys are adorable. I have never, in my entire life, seen any children so well-behaved and so kind to each other. My first glimpse captured them guiding each other and laughing together.

Curious to know how one goes about teaching the blind to swim, I watched the warm-up exercises and tried to help move arms in the right circular motion but ended up accidentally tickling the same one below who couldn't stop giggling. 

We clap to guide them in a straight line and holler 'ready' at play time for them to throw the ball to us. Let's just say most of them are better swimmers than me and can throw like a pro!

Any immersible amount of water terrifies the average Indian. There are no bathtubs and most have never learned to swim since swimming pools are not common and the ocean/river waters are too polluted. Just getting them used to being in water is a great accomplishment. But their blindness means they rely on their hearing and that disappears when they put their face in the water to blow bubbles and swim. 

They taught me what it means to bravely try new things. I found this little guy sobbing as he sat on the side of the pool. He wanted to swim so badly but he was too terrified to get in. I hugged him tight and slowly got him into the water more and more, but it wasn't until he heard his best friend's voice that he jumped out of my arms and gleefully spun around with his buddy. His friend had been within reach the whole time but without sight, he had no idea he was there.

It was really hard to feel sorry for myself after I met these boys. Their Happy Home for Blind Boys teaches them all kinds of crafts and skills that enable them to succeed in life. They were the best rehearsed Christmas choir! Their teacher and pianist are former blind boy students whose lives were changed by the gift of music.

They tat cotton to make thread and linen cloths, they create beautiful ceramic pieces, they paint, and even piece together the most incredible mosaics. They ride the train home every Friday and back every Sunday night counting the stops and fighting the crowds all by themselves. I don't think they know they aren't supposed to be able to do these things!

What really inspires me, though, is their sense of humor. We had a Christmas party after swimming one day and when Christian mistook the ketchup for his bottled water, there was no stopping their giggles.

When this guy whispered to me it was his birthday, I broadcasted it. All sang enthusiastically with the volunteers belting out "happy birthday, dear Asit" because that was the name on his hat. All the boys knew his voice and just as loudly sang, "happy birthday, dear Suresh" but busted out laughing when they heard us call him Asit. Suresh could barely ask how long he'd been wearing the wrong cap because it was so funny to him.

I love these blind boys. I love them because they taught me how to see - how to see that there are better ways to handle life's frustrations. And when I forget that they can't see and tell them to 'look! They are setting up the party!' or yell 'watch out!' they smile and giggle at me instantly forgiving. They are a bright spot in my week. I think I can safely say, experience created.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Home Blessing

Two amazing members of our branch are Rubina and Mansi - vivacious mother and daughter. This picture of them competing against each other at our branch activity shows their fun personalities.

They are strong women who joined the church together. Though the men in the family (husband and son) are not interested, these two keep each other going through hard times. Ty was just assigned to be their home teacher so last night we went together to pay a visit.

They live in a warren of housing set aside for government workers and we played our own version of Marco Polo for a while before they rescued us and led the way. The address was something like: 1st floor, building 60 near the school and across from the auto rickshaw stand. Mailmen are first rate detectives here!

We arrived with all of our Utah home teaching habits - apologize for coming on the last day of the month, don't stay too long, bring treats, offer to help, give a brief message, leave quickly and let them enjoy their night. Instead, we were treated to the Indian version - come whenever traffic lets you, stay many hours, feast on their food, accept their help, listen to their incredible testimonies, linger longer and plan 5 other times to see each other the next week. 

This is the entirety of their home. Mansi is being instructed where to find the only two glass glasses which are reserved for company. All they own are in those cabinets and in the one underneath the bed where Ty & I sat. Never did they apologize for their house like we tend to do (sorry for the mess, excuse the old furniture, etc), but they told us how grateful they were to have it. They know someone who is looking for a house but sadly, he can't afford one in their neighborhood. 

We were treated to such kind hospitality - they went to great lengths to make sure we knew we were welcomed and that we enjoyed visiting their house. The orange chips are spicy for Ty and the light ones are not spicy for me and the cookies are sweet for everyone - Mansi explained this to us as we sipped our cold soda purchased just moments ago because they don't have a refrigerator.

We laughed and enjoyed great stories while getting to know each other better. For the first time since he was 10, Ty sat on a seat high enough off the ground to swing his feet :) Okay, it's the brother's bed but it doubles as a couch during the day. The rest of the family sleeps on the floor together.

Ty tried to give a short message on prayer, but Rubina has a giant testimony on the power of prayer - "I pray all day long and have many conversations with God. He helps me. I know He does." Indians have the gift of speech and we heard the best home teaching message on prayer and scripture reading "All my coworkers know I read my scriptures. I come to work early and that's what I do first thing always I am found reading my scriptures. No one bothers with me. They say, 'don't bother with her - she is reading her scriptures!' so they leave me alone. Every day it is like this only."

As we slowly made our exit over many pleas to 'come visit any time - no call required!' and planned to meet up again later on, I looked at those two women with their beaming faces so happy that we would come to share food with them in their home, and thought it should be called Home Blessing instead of Home Teaching. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Around the Apartment

Here's an insider's look at expat apartment living in Mumbai. Bungalows (houses) are rare in our area so most people live in high rise apartment buildings. This is ours - we are on the top floor of a very long elevator ride which I use to make friends with fellow neighbors. We share a common "garden" with about 10 other buildings but it's only open for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening.


As you enter, you stop at the security gate for them to raise the bar. Visitors have to tell the apartment number of their guests or take their best guess.

You pull under a covering to an open lobby with a security desk and your choice of 4 elevators. The guards always wave and stand up when we come through but more importantly, they stop anyone else from coming up to our floor without signing in and wearing a security pass.

There are four apartments per floor but often one person will buy two on one side and made a massive home. Our front door is on the left and is one of the plainest. People "build-out" their entrances with paneling, stone work, paint, furniture, plants, or temples. Shoes are left outside the door. We arrived home to a pile of shoes and knew the air conditioning repair guys had finally shown up! But what we really need is a double door like the one on the right so you can stay safely locked in while checking out the many people who make it passed security. Assault is, sadly, prevalent so you need to be very cautious about who you let inside. 


Garbage collection happens twice a day - 10 am and 4 pm. You simply put anything you want to throw away just inside the door to the stairs and two guys ride up and down in the elevator with big cans to haul it away. In four months, I've only seen them once. These guys are pros!

The main areas of the house...Most of the oh-so-lovely furniture came with the apartment but we spruced it up a little with some artwork, bookshelves, and a piano to save my sanity ;)

The kitchen sealed the deal. We looked at dozens of apartments that all had narrow galley kitchens that lacked ovens and dishwashers. Pretend you hear an angelic choir singing because that's what I did.


Through the kitchen is a small laundry area where all our drinking, cooking, tooth brushing, and vegetable washing water sits. We use two 20 liter jugs a week which a delivery boy replaces as soon as we call. Through this room is my least favorite invention - the duct rooms.


Each room in the apartment has an individual AC compressor and and each sink has a mini hot water heater - a geyser - which take up a lot of space and create unwelcome heat. The geyser is the small white thing on the left and needs constant resetting (not a normal thing - just an old thing). To activate your hot water, flip the black switch UP - the red light indicates power is on. One cold shower and you learn really quickly to remember that step.

We had the hardest time finding a dryer that actually dries. People line dry their clothes here in these duct rooms (which are roasting hot) or out a window or on a balcony. The problem is that each duct room is wide open to the outside which translates into dust, dirt, and pigeon droppings. We finally found a good sized dryer but it's a steam dryer. Somehow it pulls the water from the clothes, converts it to hot air to dry the clothes, and then collects the remaining water in this container underneath which needs to be emptied every so often.

Down the hall we have three bedrooms, an office, and four bathrooms that each have a door leading into dusty, dirty duct rooms.


This handy gadget dehumidifies the air and gives my hair a chance to look normal around the house. Two of them work 24/7 and both are full each morning when we wake up. Light switches are another really tricky experience. The few electrical outlets are located halfway up the wall on some of the light switch panels, but you have to remember to turn on the outlets or nothing will work - not even the air conditioners. Indians find it wasteful to leave the sockets on so workmen, cleaners, or even guests will switch them all off but I don't notice until my phone isn't charged or dinner isn't cooking or the house is roasting hot. The dial turns on a fan and the little circles on a switch mean there's another switch somewhere in the apartment that operates that same light. There are SO many switches that we still have no idea which one does what or where the twin is. When Ty locks up for bed I can hear "click, click, click, click, click,click" as he searches for the winning combo.


I've saved the best for last - the perks of long elevator waits and 10 minute rides while you stop at every conceivable floor - the roof top terrace! The flight of stairs just inside the front door lead to this oasis.

This wonderful little place we've found to get away from the craziness of India is finally starting to feel like home and that's made all the difference. Now, bring on the visitors!