Thursday, February 13, 2014


I just spent 3 weeks in India.   Everytime I return to America I immediately appreciate the cleanliness and order that exists here.
The streets are quiet.  The streets are clean.  The streets are animal free.  The streets lack beggars.
I was driving into town yesterday appreciating all those things but then I remembered I had seen beggars here before!

A ”homeless“ man in a wheelchair sits at the entrance of a shopping complex.  He looks different from the beggars in India but he is asking for handouts nonetheless.
As I drove pass his spot I looked for him but he wasn’t there.  I wondered if he had given up.  As I went about my way I continued to compare him to the beggars of India.

He sat in a did some of them.
He wore ragged did they.
He looked un did they
He held a sign that read ”Anything helps.“..they clasped their hands over their heart suggesting this plea.

The first time I saw the man in the wheelchair I immediately thought he was faking.  He isn’t really homeless, I concluded.
Across the intersection was also was a woman, not that much older than me, pacing the cars at a street light with a cardboard sign reading ”Single mom.“

In this one spot of my town there are 2 quiet beggars.  I doubted both of them. 

I just returned from a place where a hand was thrust out at every turn wanting from me.  Eventually I got pass feeling sorry for the indians and gave away smiles instead, knowing I could never satisfy them. 

As I compared these two situations that exist in 2 different worlds I realized I HAD been more sympathetic to a different culture.
Why was it that I gave a second thought (sometimes more) to help the man on my street corner but I’d travel to a 3rd world country and offer more compassion to people suffering with leprosy (the "lowest cast") instead!?

I don’t know the truth from any beggars standpoint.  Maybe it’s sincere, maybe it’s their 2nd income.  How am I to know?
Jesus teaches us to Feed the hungry and clothe the naked, right?  Is there a stipulation to this that we need to consider first?

An hour had passed when I returned near that spot to pick up gorceries  only to find the man in the wheelchair was now there!  As I turned into the entrance my eyes met his.  I saw him and I know he saw me see him.  I watched him through my rear view mirror with conflicting thoughts.  
After my shopping I sat in my car and wondered ”What would Jesus do?“ 

My husband has been an example to our family on this very topic.  He will always stop and give something whether it be coins or dollars. He has even given gum or a sandwich..whatever  he has with him!   
Our kids once asked: ”Dad, what if they are faking?“  
His response is:  ”What if God is testing you?“ 

I decided I was going to give the man in the wheelchair some cash.  I pulled next to him and rolled down the passenger window.  He scooted forward while I wadded up my donation and tossed it for an easier exchange.  He caught it and rewarded me with a ”God Bless Ma’am.“  I wished him to stay warm and drove away with his runny yellow discharged eyes branded on my mind.
Looks like I need a paradigm shift.  I've become a faking giver.

Friday, February 7, 2014

While using a shovel

I have 3 blisters in my right palm. They formed while using a shovel.  

As a child I acquired similar blisters from swinging on the monkey bars at school.  The fun always outweighed the pain I knew would result as blisters.  They burn when my skin stretches and are tender to the touch.  I remember the raw ache and counting the days until the sting would go away.

The need of the shovel was to dig a foundation for a latrine being built in a small leprosy colony in India.

My soft, and pale hands are accustomed to house work, not day labor.  I was advised to wear gloves that sat piled in a bucket resting on a make shift bench (a slab of wood lying across two wood stumps.)
There were plenty of gloves to choose from but I decided against them when I looked at my options.  Most of them looked crusty, obviously once wet, and sun dried forming unnatural shapes.  I also didn’t want to take the chances of putting my hand inside a glove that shared occupancy with a spider, so I went without.

This small leprosy village housed half a dozen people, most of them suffering with leprosy but I only see three outside.  All residents dwell in single floor structure.  Each resident is alloted a two room space sharing adjoining walls with a neighbor.  A door is placed at each end allowing me to see right through their home.

The three people are outside to watch us.  One was a shirtless jolly man, in his 50’s. with a large middle, and a contagious smile.  
He has leprosy that effects his feet.  They are large and awkwardly shaped but that doesn’t keep him from showing off his passion for dancing,  
He shakes and wiggles as he sings his own tune waving his hands in the air with an occasional burst of laughter.  
His wife sits nearby bearing a grin of her own.  Passion toward her husband can be seen in her eyes.  It’s obvious she loves him.  She doesn’t have leprosy but she suffers the same stigma as those with leprosy by association.

The next door down a small body frame is hunched over.  At first glance she might be mistaken for a child.  She scoots along the floor, her frail skinny arms moving her body like an ape because one leg is a stump from the shin down and the other drags a foot to the  likeness of a sledge hammer.

  Her hands are deformed and missing fingers but that doesn’t compare to her face.  Her right eye ball appears to be missing, but it’s open none the less, exposing scar tissue. Her left eye is squinted but offers life to her face along with a lopsided mouth.  It’s questionable if she is smiling or if her mouth is set the way it is.  The left part of her mouth is tugged upward in a manner that looks like it’s being pulled by a string.  Her lips are tight her eye wandering.

The skin on her arms sag over her bones like a sock too large for the foot,  It tightens at her hands where leprosy has attacked the nerves in the fingers causing them retract into her knuckles giving nothing but hard tight stubs. 
She looks old but her small body and jet black hair suggest otherwise.  
Her large skirt covers her lower deformities but her upper torso is fitted with a tiny shirt, tailored made, I assume.  She reminds me of a doll.  To touch her is touching her bones.  There isn’t much to her. 

I don’t see anyone else in the village but music is heard behind a closed door infested with cracks.

I work along side other volunteers and a few Indian day laborers digging 4 ft. trenches for a little over an hour,  The sun is hot and water not plentiful.  The shovel I use is not an american shovel.  It requires bending over to scoop instead of using your foot to penetrate the ground.  I wonder if my back is going to regret this.
By end of the week the ground work for the latrine was complete.  This little colony is on it’s way to healthier living!  
The leprosy affected are ostracized from a communal life.  They are judged by their disease.  Leprosy only destroys their outer shell.  To many, they are treated as untouchables.   In the small amount of time I worked and thirsted in their village they smiled at me, laughed with me and thanked me for being there.  I felt part of the life, happiness and love that existed there.

Pain in my back never surfaced instead blisters formed on my palm.  Days following, I absentmindedly ran my fingers over the soft bubbled skin anticipating the burn and tenderness that normally accompanies them... but it never comes.

On a plane to the United States  I mull over my moments in India.  My fingers met the 3 blisters again.  They are healed now.  Only a slight pigment change is seen. 
I’m sad they are gone.  
Those blisters were evidence of my time spent in that leprosy colony. 
I was reminded of that each time I touched them.  The healing process put time between that experience, removed me from it,  and turned it to a memory.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The living and the dead

Waking up at 5:00am is never a good thing for me. I was scrambling around my hotel room gathering my photography needs racing against time. This day I had a bus to catch a boat tour the Ganges River in Varanasi, India.
 I only packed a backpack for this overnight excursion so it would seem my task wouldn't be hard.  When I pulled out my clothes I found I was missing my hairbrush, makeup, pajamas, and shoes.  Obviously my mind wasn’t put together when I packed the morning of my flight .
I didn’t know anything about Varanasi India except word that it was filthy but beautiful and a great place to take photos along the Ganges River.  This eased the pain of waking before dawn to be on the River when the sun emerged.  I also didn’t know how COLD it was going to be.  I’m in India after all!
I stepped off the bus with unkept hair,no makeup, shorts and flip flops.  I didn’t care, I was looking forward to the beautiful pictures that awaited me at the river bank.  
Before loading the bus I unplugged the battery for my camera only to find it was dead. Every drop-drained! Tough way to learn the outlet doesn’t work 
I sadly parted with it finding slight comfort in knowing my video camera was powered with a batterie to spare and I carried my cell phone.

I didn’t know I was about to walk through a world where my pictures couldn’t do justice in capturing what I would see anyway. 
Repulsed by everything I saw I admitted I was glad I didn’t carry it.  I didn’t want to pause and focus on anything.  Instead, I held my video camera close against my chest and tiptoed like I was walking through broken glass,
My exposed feet jumped over garbage, animal feces, dirty water, and homeless men randomly plopped throughout the village. I didn’t know if they were dead or alive and I’m afraid no one else in the village knew either.  

The prior night I visited the River only to see the golden glow of the Village lights reflecting on the water, and smoke rising from scattered fires along the shore.  The fires didn’t seem unusual given the cold night air.  
The leisure ride ended abruptly when the guide gave description to the fires.  He announced them as “Cremation” fires.  

Thinking this was the beginning of a First Century story I turned my attention to the scene ahead.
I saw a gatherings of men dressed in ceremonial clothing and piles and piles of wood lining the long descent of stairs to the river and oddly stacked against buildings.  I suspended my imagination and allowed his story to be true.

I saw so many people, so many fires, so much movement through the smoke.   
It wasn’t until the guide continued to explain the scene that unfolded before my eyes that it became clear he wasn’t telling stories!
These were indeed cremation fires!
My eyes gazed into the flames that engulfed it’s contents.
Although I was completely shocked, I didn’t want to turn away.  I didn’t want to look to closely either.  I didn’t want to believe it but it was right in front of me. 
Then the puzzle began to come together.  
The Ancient religious rituals about the Ganges River still exist in this city!

I leaned over the edge of the boat to look into the water of death and life.  It was gross, but then again it was dark.
I was advised NOT to touch the water.  

That night I tried to wash away the smell of smoke that clung to my body. I took a long HOT shower. I tried not to think of what I felt down on that river. 

Returning the next morning I was hopeful to see life replace the darkness that suffocated the late night.
The street I was traveling on now was loud and busy at such an early hour.  Market owners were opening shops, beggars had already established their spot, and the heads of sleepy homeless men poked out from under scraps that covered them.
I walked past the man that looked like a corpse  the night before and felt relieved he was sitting on his bedding.
A gathering of men were heard chanting and marching to the rhythm of bells and some other noise behind me.  Eventually it caught up to me and I jumped out of the way.  They moved past as if I wasn’t there.  In fact, everyone on the streets seem to move past me in slow motion as if I wasn’t there, except the beggars.  I tried to understand what was happening, I tried to absorb it but I didn’t want to get left behind.  I was told this ritual happens every morning before sunrise.  They move toward the River and perform religious rituals.  

I stared like a little kid when I saw people washing in the River.  Do they understand dead people are sprinkled in this river everyday? For Centuries!!? 
An old man wearing only his loin cloth cupped water over his shoulders.  He wasn’t anxious to get out nor was the heavy set woman down the way.  Her body language announced the water was cold for this time of morning. she bobbed up and down inching her way deeper with each hop.

The anticipated sunrise went unnoticed as a result of thick fog in the air, mixed with fresh smoke of a new cremation site. This time I didn’t look at the fires.  We were too close to the river bank allowing visibility I wasn’t willing to have.
The buildings that were a glowing silhouette the night before looked worn, almost like burn victims.  I’m sure they were once grand and beautiful, but today it lacked.  
Again I saw the pile of wood suffocating the broad stairs.  In day light they seemed to have multiplied.  They were all the same size, color, and length.  Perfectly rounded  logs,small enough to carry but big enough for the purpose at hand.  

With the morning light I could see the backdrop of this stage.  Haunting is the word that comes to mind.  I am so glad I had my video camera for proof of what is there.  The boat docked at the shore adjacent the wood pile and I tiptoed onto the blunt cement stone. 
 We followed a well worn dirt  path that wiggled through walls without roofs, mud from unknown fluids, cows that blocked the small width, and sticky air.  
 At first the smell was defecating.  I can’t say that i’d ever experienced that scent.  I held my sleeve covering my face but it didn’t do the trick.
 Now and then I would abruptly stop to capture things with my video camera. I felt like a rat in a sewer.
The village people didn’t seem bothered we were invading their narrow paths.  They went on as usual, moving around me when I stopped to watch monkeys jump overhead, cows rummage the street trash, or step into an alley to investigate strange things.  
Finally we were on a paved road.  It wasn’t until I emerged from paths that I noticed the lack of direct sunlight.  
That place was hidden under shadows.
I climbed back into the bus, fighting beggars along the way, and sunk into the comfort of familiarity.  
I looked down at my dirty feet, returned to the hotel and  took another HOT shower, trying not to think about what I felt down on that river.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

You are marriage?

Hobi's visit to India 2012

I love to tell the kids here that I am married.  The response is always the same.  Sometimes I bring up the subject just to get the reaction.  It starts out with wide eyes and gaping mouth.  Then the kids exchange looks and say things I can’t understand because its in Tamil.  
Then I take a double stab and hold up 4 fingers.
“You have 4 children?!” they gasp.

“Yes, boy, girl, boy, girl” I smile.
“What age are you?
My smart answer is a question back.  ”How old do you think I am?“
Now this is the best part.
You are 19?
Sometimes I get a low 20 but that feels just as good.
I soak up the youthful moment while they eye me suggesting they don’t believe I have 4 kids.
”What are their names?“
I don’t understand this question...does it really matter?  Still I tell them and then they beg to know my real age.
I tell them I am 34 years old and there is a pause.
What is your husbands name? they still interrogate.
His name is Sam.
Their eyes survey my body...looking for evidence of a lie.

I can tell when they believe me.  They’ll make eye contact with me and
smile with approval then ask: "Was it a Love marriage?"
(love marriage means you didn't have an arranged marriage, which is still a major tradition.)

Yes, it was a love marriage. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

barefoot with a shovel

Today I visited a tiny leprosy colony to help build a latrine.
  This little colony has never had a toilet!!
We dug trenches for the foundation.  It was a HOT day so I defiantly worked up a sweat.  I used a primitive looking shovel and actually think they work better than our American ones, and the dirt pans were pretty handy too.  I did like the Indians and worked bare feet along with them.

Six people live in this colony (I think)  I only met 3 of them.  Their colony is smaller than my backyard. A guy named raja and his wife are full of sunshine!  He speaks a little English, enough to give me a tour of his home and introduce me to his neighbor.
 She has one of the worse cases of leprosy I've seen.  
She isn’t what her appearance is.  She curled right up to me when I sat next to her.  She told me her husband passed away last year. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cooking with coconuts

Saturday I went into Chennai for a cooking class.  (The Rising Star Campus is in a remote village 2 hours away)
I spent the day with 2 Indian women learning about Indian culture and how to prepare a meal.  I had a great time, mostly because of the company I was in.  
The women began by giving a tour through a market street and showed us where she purchases food.  To be honest, I was more interested in taking pictures than what she was talking about.  :)

 Our meal took FOREVER to prepare but it was great.  I asked how they get anything else done when meals are so time consuming.  I was told the woman are in charge to cook the meals everyday for the husband. 

BTW the women only eat the husbands leftover food.  The rest of the duties are hired out.  The women in India need help getting it all done!!  
I think I’m going to bring one home.
 Maybe two.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Photo, Photo, Photo

The events over the last few days are all jumbled in my head.  I can't remember what day it is half the time, which is great because it really doesn't matter here.  When it comes to recording what's taken place I don't know where to start.  When I think about it, the things that took place this morning seem like a day ago.  I'll just throw things out here and lets assume it was today (or yesterday, maybe even earlier this week)

I'll start with stating I am bunking in a room with 6 other women and all six are sleeping (3 of them snoring lol) and I am wide awake.  Perfect time to reflect, right?  While on the topic of these 6 other women I have to say I am thoroughly amused by them.  Some of them have me by 30 years or more and I only hope to be as fun as they are.  Tonight I laughed till I cried.  Who knew old age could be so much fun!!  

This morning I visited a leprosy colony called Barathapuram.  It's one of Rising Star's largest leprosy colonies.  The Mobile Medical team visits this colony every 2 weeks to assist patients with their wounds.  Volunteers remove old bandages (from the previous 2 weeks) wash the wounds (usually found on the feet and hands) and rub them in oil.  They are then seen by a doctor and given any medications needed and set on their way.  
This process is sometimes painful but most the time the patients look forward to the visits.  This is a time they get physical touch and TLC.  They soak up all the attention arranging themselves to have their picture with you.  I think they like getting pictures taken to see themselves.  They usually ask to look at it.  Here at the school the kids are the same way, they say "You take picture of me." Followed by "Let me see!" 
That what Indians do with Americans.  

While at this colony one of the old ladies made sure she got attention.  As soon as she saw me holding a camera she came to me and grabbed the closest person to her and insisted I take their photo.  
 Once I had taken the picture (and shown it to her) she wanted a picture taken with me, and the game goes on.
Each time I walked pass her she reached out to hold me.  She liked it when I sat with her.  She held my hands and patted my lap till I was needed somewhere else.
This guy had a crush on me ;)  He pulled out a cell phone (?!?) from his pocket and had one for his own.

After a long day at the colony I was so glad to return to the Hostel.  Before I was able to put down my bag I heard a group was taking a walk through a neighboring village.  I was way too tired to make the walk until... I had a little lecture in my mind telling me "It's not everyday you are in India."(until I come back again)  So, I turned around and followed.  We walked through the streets just as the school children were coming home.  Kids from both side of the street would come running out to say "Hello" in their cute little voices.  Then of course they wanted a photo...then they wanted to see the photo...then they wanted to take my camera and do it themselves.  

The girl in pink played a game with me.  I sat on the street and she inched her way toward unsure of her safety it seemed.  If I moved she would run away, then return repeating the process.  After a few minuets I had gained her trust enough to be inches from my face playing the staring game.

She is a beggar.  She told us her baby was under the blanket but it was clear a baby was not inside. It looked like a box ??

Tomorrow the school is having Sports Day.  It's a big deal.  They spent weeks rehearsing and decorating.  I love that they take such pride in what they do.  Everyone is talking about it on campus.  



There are some things in the American culture that are NOT accepted in India.

The Indian culture is different.  I can't seem to keep the rules.  It's humiliating to say the least!

In 2011 I learn it's ok to eat with your hands.  Sounds good to me!  I jumped right in with that change.

Even though I was using my fingers to eat I still got strange looks from some kids.
After a few days a more outspoken girl turns to me at meal time and informs me it's "dirty" to eat with your left hand!
I turn red because I am a "Lefty" and sure enough I was using my left hand!
It's "dirty" because the left hand is used to clean yourself in the bathroom.

To shed some light on this tradition let me inform you that the Indians use "squatter" toilets.  No toilet paper.  Just a bucket of water on the floor to be used to "Wash" up.  (Here at Rising Star Outreach campus we also have squatter toilets but paper is provided as long as it's not flushed, rather it's disposed of in a trash can in the stall.

I reflected to the many meals I've eaten with these kids and recall the unspoken disgust they had with me.

Not long after I am again educated on poor eating manners.  I'm sitting in a meal circle with the school girls and find eyes are on me again!
"Auntie," a 10 year old calls over to me.  "Your shoes."
I wonder what's wrong with my shoes.
"Don't eat with your shoes on." she says in a disgusted way.
"What?  Why?"
"Those are toilet shoes!"
I'm wearing pink flip flops that I brought from home.  I'm confused.
She motions for me to remove my shoes and place them behind me.  I obey quickly to end the embarrassment.  I'm ok with learning from the kids but I'm humiliated to think the many adults in the room noticed too.  I'm sure they see Americans doing these things all the time, but I was still embarrassed.

When I returned to India the 2nd time I thought it would be cute to paint my toe nails in the Indian colors.  I marched around Campus displaying my patriotic toes for 2 weeks.  The little kids loved it but I noticed the older girls brushed it off.

The 3rd time I returned a Rising Star an employee remarked on my toes and informed me the Indians don't wear "tribal colors"  It's not ok to wear the flag colors.  I thanked him for telling me and realized having the flag on my FEET was probably a double insult. :/
The next morning I splattered dark purple polish on my toes.

Today here was an event on campus that offered a chance for volunteers to dress in a Sari, traditional women clothing.  Sam had bought me one on our last trip out so I was excited to wear it.  Sari's are impossible to put on without the help of an Indian woman.  My Sari took the help of 2 experts.  Modesty is very important here!!  The women are very careful how they appear in the presence of men.  Ankles are covered, chests are covered, & knees are NOT to be shown.  It escapes me why showing their middle is ok when my modesty standards are opposite in that manner.  When I wear a Sari I actually cover more of my body than they do in order to dress to my modesty standards.
After 2 safety pins, several pleats and tucks I was wrapped!

I quickly learned how NOT to walk while wearing a Sari.  My stride needed to be shortened, my posture demure, and bending-not an option.
This presented a problem right away.  I was documenting the event with my video camera.  The reason that was a problem was the event was a TRACK MEET! (more about that later)  
It would have been nice to be able to run to different spots for optimal location but instead I had to pretend to be graceful.  
This is where the humiliation comes in.  After walking all over the field- to and fro, around and up, I found myself surround by 3 Indian women.   
"Come miss" one urgently whispered to me as she guided me to the building behind us.  I could tell by her mannerisms she was trying to spare me from public humiliation.  Once we walked through an office door the room was inspected and I was told wait.  While I waited I tried to tuck in my material that had come loose at my side.
"No, No!"  The woman said.  "Don't touch!"
I stood there and my face went RED.  I was so confused.
Not long after, a man, (the principal) walked out of an adjoining room and through our location.  I realized that was the reason I needed to wait.  There is to be no fussing with clothing in the presence of  men.
Once he passed through she closed the door behind him and locked it then proceeded to fix my Sari behind closed doors.
The issue didn't seem to be a big deal to me.  It took 3 seconds to fix it but to them it was a matter of modesty and perhaps dignity.  I was so thankful she took care of me.  I wouldn't have wanted to violate such an important part of their culture.

As soon as the celebrations were over I quickly changed, eager to remove the embarrassment attached with it.  I slipped on some fresh clothes from the volunteer closet and returned for more activities.  After a dance recital a little girl about 10 years old walked up to me and asked:  "What is your name?"
After I told her she bluntly announced "You are wearing my shirt."

What?  I told her I got it from the volunteer closet.
"It is my shirt.  I used it for a dance costume." 
The all too familiar red face began to burn for the 2nd time in a day.
I offered my apologies and she requested I return it to her in the next day.
I left the celebrations totally deflated of spirit but overflowing with embarrassment.  

It's tough being in a different culture.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

School Day

Today I spent some time at the Rising Star Outreach school.  Things are different than the last time I was here.  The major change is the new uniforms they wear.  They turned blue!

They are also required to wear belts, ties, and shoes unlike last year.  The reason is to help them focus at school by dressing in a professional way.  The volunteers are also asked to wear more formal clothes while in the school.

 I happened to walk pass a classroom singing their morning prayer.  It was so sweet.  They must speak English during school hours. Their cute little accents are adorable.

 I fell asleep on the cement during an orientation outside last night. I can't say that I have done that before.  I love my sleep but this was rediculous.  I missed the entire presentation then stumbled to bed right after it was over.  I slept so well, and it was welcomed too. 
5am rolled around and I was wide eyed and bushy tailed.  6:30am I went on a walk with my camera.  It was a cool morning.  In fact, the weather this time of year is perfect.  It's not HOT.  Most days there is a slight breeze.  I've been here in the middle of summer so this feels great!
Here are some things I saw:

My appetite kicked in today.  I finally felt hungry.  The bad thing is the dinner is always rice and their rice doesn't sit well with me.  I get terrible stomach pains!!  After I eat it feels like I have rocks inside my belly.  I did an experiment and discovered if I only eat a little bit of rice I can get by. 
India is beautiful.  I never put my camera down.