Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Branch Beach Activity

On one of India's many holidays, our branch decided to have an activity 3 hours away at a beach. For weeks the chatter at church was solely on this grand adventure which grew in exuberance as the members found out we would be traveling by an air conditioned bus instead of the more prevalent no air kind. Indian people are ridiculously late to things - several hours, a day, or even a week or two are shrugged off as normal - so a 20 minute lecture on timeliness was adamantly stressed. No one wanted to miss this incredible chance to go on a holiday for free and proved it by being at the pick-up spots before the sun rose. So many unplanned members showed up that the bus had no room left. No problem - they all piled in anyway three to a seat while Ty & I willingly sacrificed our place and followed in our car. It was an excellent choice as a number of members were repeatedly sick from the travel conditions.

The three hour drive through the countryside was quite the experience. The national "highway" turned out to be a narrow two-lane road so full of potholes we never reached 30 mph. No one stays in their lane (the picture below on the left is supposed to be two-ways) and every few minutes we'd have a traffic jam when oncoming traffic forced drivers to merge into their own side of the road.


The countryside was full of brightly colored houses (bungalows) that were beautiful and unique. I finally understood why all the Indian trucks are painted like they are - the drivers come from the countryside villages and miss the vibrant colors once they are in the concrete city.


Some of the members had never been to a beach and all of them were thrilled with the opportunity. But I was surprised to see that none of them brought swim wear - they all just wandered right out into the ocean in the clothes they were wearing and would wear for the rest of the day. They thought the pony and cart rides up and down the beach were 'fantastic!'

But by far the highlight of the day were the games. To be honest, when I heard they were playing games after lunch at a nearby restaurant, I assumed people would rather swim and that the children would be impossible to keep from the water. I was oh so wrong. The adults completely ignored the children - they were so excited to play the games from their childhood that I think they forgot they even had children! Their favorite is kabbadi - the state's national sport. You have two teams that take turns crossing the center line to try and touch an opposing team member while continuously chanting "kabbadi". If they manage to touch someone and get back safely across the line, the person they touched is out. If not, if they are tackled or pushed out of bounds, then they are out. Huge debates were a standard part of every turn.

Ty's huge size made him a mvp for his team and a dreaded opponent for the other. After he mistakenly dragged two players over the line instead of just touching them, the other team ganged up on him.

The huge success of the branch activity and the kabbadi games have continued to be a hot topic at church to the point that an investigator family who attended requested Ty to baptize the dad. It seems he was very impressed with his size and his gaming strategy :) I can't wait to see what they come up with for the next event!

Monday, October 20, 2014

One Good Man

We have become really attached to our driver, Sabby. I would never survive India if it wasn't for him taking care of us and handling all the crazy things that we don't understand. So when I found out his birthday was coming up and that his family hasn't celebrated it since he was 10 years old (his dad died on his birthday that year), I knew we had to do something special for him. We got him a gift and made him a chocolate cake covered in candles and told him to take it home and celebrate with his family.

He still hasn't gotten over that simple thing. He didn't want to disrespect his dad, so the entire family waited up the night before until 12:03 am to sing and eat the cake. He talks about how that was the greatest thing anyone has ever done for him. So when my birthday rolled around, Sabby showed up with his family, a lovely chocolate cake, and sang their hearts out for me - all because we made his birthday special.

They traditionally feed each other a bite of cake and would not have a piece until Ty fed me a bite and then I had to feed him one. They were so sweet! It was a big sacrifice for them to come do this.

So when I saw a chance to do something nice back, I took it. This past week Sabby had to send a substitute driver because his children came down with the Dengue fever which requires daily trips to the hospital to check the platelet count. I was running errands in his neighborhood and asked if I could drop off some ice cream for the children. I expected to just hand the ice cream to him, but he surprised me once again and insisted I come up to his apartment.

This is his entire apartment. Behind the curtain is a very small stove and refrigerator and a mattress that his mother and adopted niece sleep on. The picture is taken from the doorway. Everyone sleeps on the floor in about the spots where they are sitting. Lol, they all stood in their sleeping spots for me, except for the two extra extended family members who sleep in the hallway because there isn't any room left inside.

I also found out that in addition to caring for his niece and nephew (who he adopted when they were small children), he also cares for 2 of his wife's nephews from her village (the hall sleepers), and then these three cute nieces who live too far from a good school. But, he assured me, they only stay there Monday through Friday. This good man feeds and cares for all of these people in this tiny place (10 of them!) plus others that live in his wife's village. I was suddenly very embarrassed by the size of our apartment and the fact that there's only two of us...

As if Sabby wasn't already saintly enough, when he heard I was stopping by he went out and bought chips and a soda so he would have something to offer me. They all stood/sat watching me eat. No one else would have any with me - they considered it rude to eat with such an important guest. Sabby even called the entire family home and placed me in the seat of honor next to his beautiful mother. You can see my tray reflected in the mirror along with Sabby's son Mavrick who, despite feeling miserable was a great host himself.

They were so honored that I would come visit them in their tiny home. They treated me like a was a queen! When I finally convinced them that I needed to go and that they needed their rest, I was walked down the hall and introduced to neighbors as "Madam." They were so proud that I would come visit them. And here I thought I was going to do them a good (but quick) deed and they ended up showing me what it means to be a good person. India is full of surprises.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mumbai Mobile Creche

There are some good-hearted people in India helping to make a difference through Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The poverty and living conditions either spur you to do something about it or to eventually to see it as normal. I discovered a group of women who spend several days a week at a school for migrant children and knew I needed to be a part of what they're doing.

This little 3 room school was built by an NGO to help villagers who had come to the city in search of work. It serves as a daycare and a way to supplement the public education the children are supposed to be going to but most do not. The parents work at construction sites and the families live in a small sections of these tin barracks.

We come in and teach basic lessons in English, do an activity, feed them a snack and give them a chance to develop small motor skills. Some of these children could not even hold a pencil when they arrived. It's amazing how fast they catch on!


These kids just steal your heart without even trying. There are about 20 children in this small room and they think nothing of sitting all intertwined. In fact, I think they are happier that way! Every chance they get, they pile on top of you.


They LOVE getting their photos taken. They crowd in front of the camera and demand, "Deedee! (Teacher) PHOTO please!" Then they will not leave until you show them their photo and then they crack up and want you to take even more photos. In the four weeks I've been going, I must have hundreds of pictures. In one, the children have made lanterns to decorate their classroom for Diwali and in the other they get the rare treat of playing with bubbles for Diwali.


Here are two of my favorite girls. I love making them laugh :)


The time spent with these kids are the best hours of my week. Their happy attitudes brighten my day. With any luck, these children will avoid a life of begging and living on the pavement. I'm hoping the English they are learning will give them an advantage in life so they can keep these adorable smiles!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Learning the Old Wives' Tales

As we continue to settle into life, I'm discovering things aren't as mysterious as I sometimes assume they are. Take these pictures for example:


They are all about an hour away from each other but I started noticing that they are popping up more frequently. I assumed "beanbag" was a code name for someone and wanted to know what it was since there really isn't any graffiti here. I finally asked my driver who this "beanbag" person was. He said, "Ma'am, it's just that if you want a bean bag chair this person will bring it to you." Oh. It's an ad.

Disappointed as I was to discover beanbag wasn't a person, other Indian habits have more than made up for it.

This cute little baby is the newest addition to our branch. The mother (and baby) showed up at the General Women's Broadcast with cotton stuffed into each ear. Assuming she had ear problems or even surgery, I asked  what was the matter with her poor ears. All the Indian women informed me (very passionately) that the cotton was for her recent delivery. "The ear is an opening into the body, no?, and the body cannot have anything coming into it after pregnancy. It's very bad for the mother and for the baby. They are very fragile at this time." A lot of head wagging confirmed this feeling. So for 8 more months, this new mother will stuff cotton into the opening her ears have caused in an effort to prevent poor healing from delivery. She will also tie a bandage tightly around her stomach or it will stay looking pregnant, she will block her baby's ears with mufflers so his body opening doesn't do him harm, and avoid putting herself into any water. That last one made perfect sense to me so I wagged my head with the best of them. The water here is very polluted.

As the ladies continued to chat and share birthing myths, one asked a young mom if she was going to shave her baby's head next month when her daughter turned one. Shocked because her daughter has such beautiful black hair, I discovered that they believe a girl's birth hair needs to be removed in order for her hair to grow in properly - not a boy's. Sure enough, when I peeked in at the migrant school daycare, the one-year-old girls have their heads shaved and the older ones were growing theirs out. 

Someone with a bad cough and fever told me they only lacked vitamins when I suggested they should see a doctor. In general Indians don't drink anything while they eat (the food cannot digest properly if you drink and eat) and will only drink warm water (room temperature). They find chilled water to be nasty and tell us that it makes our blood coagulate. They worry over us expats and our neglectful behavior in drinking cold water throughout the meal. "This is very bad for you, sister!" 

No amount of reasoning or explaining will change their mind. You just have to master the perfect head wag to convey that you don't agree but will stop arguing anyway while you wait for the next Big Reveal you never suspected.