Tuesday, November 29, 2011

7 Days In India - Second Day - part 2

November 25 - The afternoon

I had so much to say about the visit to the slum schools, that I had to break up our day.  Now I will share about our visit to the Victory orphanage.

Thankfully, the orphanage was located much closer to the Victory headquarters.  In fact, we were told that if you walked, you could get there in just 5 minutes, but by car - because of all the winding roads and crazy traffic, it would take about 15 minutes.

We drove through typical busy streets and then came to a pathway that wasn't even a real road through some trees.  It was extremely bumpy and as usual, there was garbage all over the place.  We bumped along for a couple of minutes and then drove through what seemed like a REAL garbage dump.  It stunk horribly, there was junk and plastic wrappers everywhere - but the alarming thing about it was that there were nearly a dozen pigs wandering around the heaps of trash!  Suddenly we were back on a more "normal" village road (New Delhi is comprised of many smaller villages, all stuck together) and the orphanage was right ahead of us.  We drove into the gate and parked inside the courtyard.  Immediately, there was a difference.  Each time we entered one of the churches properties, it was amazing how much cleaner, more peaceful and orderly the building was.

We were introduced to some of the orphanage workers and the pastor began to give us a tour of the building.  They were constantly upgrading, and doing their best to make the home better for the children, to give them a better life.  The girls living in the orphanage were mostly true orphans - with both parents no longer alive, although some orphans have parents with critical illness who cannot take care of them.  There were 65 girls in all, and they shared several large bedrooms which had bunk-beds lining the walls.  Each child's bed was neatly made and many of them had a tidy yet small stack of their personal belongings on the ends of their beds.  Everything was very plain and simple, but obviously well taken care of and treated with pride.  There was a small room attached to one of the childrens' rooms that was for the teachers or leaders.  We came to a large, well lit open room that was used as a classroom and meeting area.  We were invited to wait in a small sitting area downstairs while the children assembled for us.

Again, were were humbled by the hospitality shown to us - we were given glasses of cold fruit juice and some funny white crispy chips that were in the shape of french fries (but tasted nothing like the western snacks I'm used to!).  I noticed a menu board on the wall, and took a picture of it.  There was also a hand-cute picture of a tree, with little faces pasted onto it, showing the months of each orphan girl's birth.

We were called up to meet the girls, and were brought in to the upper classroom where the crowd of neatly dressed, well-groomed girls were waiting with smiles on most of their faces.  Several girls stood in front of the group with bouquets of roses for us.  Once again it felt almost wrong that they were honoring us in this way, but we gratefully accepted their gift, and we were seated in plastic chairs in the front of the room.

The pastor was very jovial, and began to talk to the girls in Hindi, asking them about their meal that day.  (I could tell because I understood a few of the words were Indian dishes I've eaten before!)  Then he told us that the girls wanted to sing a couple of songs for us.  They broke out into gorgeous, jubilant melody in Hindi, filling the room with their praises.  One of the young girls in the front, sang with her eyes closed, her face uplifted and you could tell that she truly believed what she was singing.

We spent some time speaking to the girls and telling them how special they were to God.  It was not difficult to tell them that they were beautiful and loved and precious, because they looked up at us with sincerity and pure hearts.  God had truly taken the broken and brought them to a place where they could belong.  Their lives had been destined for emptiness, poverty and despair, and now we knew that these girls would become wonderful women who would glorify God with their lives and be an example to their community.

After we encouraged them and prayed for them, we took a couple pictures. (I will update and post them later, but they are on a different camera.) Then the girls went down to their dining room to have a snack and we went down to see where it was that they ate.  There were rows of tables and chairs, and the girls were all crowded around.  Immediately, we recognised what they were eating: "Somosas!" Dan said "They look delicious!"

"Do you want some?" they asked, surprised that we would be interested in their "boring" snack.

"Yes, please!"  we replied, "We love somosas!"  We each took one - and proceeded to sit down among the girls and eat with them.

Right away we noticed that the girls became very shy and giggly.  We would look down the long table, and making eye contact, would smile at them and wave "hello".  They were so sweet and knowing that they all represented a broken family, it was not hard to feel love and compassion for each of them.

We asked why they were giggling so much and the pastor looked thoughtful for a moment and said: "Well, probably because you are eating with them.  No white people have sat down at their table and ate with them before."

Whoah!  That was intense - just the idea that our sitting with them honored them so much was humbling.  We felt humbled to be near them, to speak to them and show them a little bit of love!  But they saw us as something special, and were so affected by our visit.  It made me all the more determined to smile and show love and attention to them.  Every chance I got, I would lock eyes with a girl and then smile affirmingly, trying with all my might to project some of the love of God that I felt towards them.

The visit was far too short.  It seemed that we could only glimpse into their lives for a moment, reach out and show them just a fraction of what was in our hearts, and then we had to go.

This home was such an incredible example to me of God's family.  You may be broken, alone, rejected, lost, hurting and impoverished.  But when you are welcomed into God's family, you suddenly have a home.  You have a safe-haven of peace and tranquility where you belong and are given a sense of destiny.  These girls had the love of God written all over them, and the work of the gospel, pure and undefiled was evident.  They were no longer merely orphans, but daughters of the King.

James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

7 Days In India - Second Day

Friday morning, November 25

Our team members joined us today (some good friends who are also leaders in our church) and we had a full day planned for us.  We were finally going to visit some slum schools and begin to give out Buffalo milk from the money we had raised!

It was our second day, so I felt a little more adjusted to the culture and the overall busyness of the Indian streets that were full of people and, equally important, the manner of driving through Indian traffic.  I was also prepared and eager to hand out some food, should the opportunity arise that a beggar child came knocking on our car window again.  We had a long drive ahead of us, and there was plenty of traffic to maneuver through.

We came to a place along the road that was intersected by a large overpass.  I could see that many children were playing in the rubble, that some homeless people had make-shift shelters and laundry hanging up.  Most heartbreaking, was seeing the very young children - practically babies, wandering around with just a scrap of a shirt on and bare bottoms, playing with the garbage on the ground.  Too often, I saw little ones without any sort of supervision and it made me wonder how they could possibly survive.

Traffic became heavier, plugged up with the two lanes packed 4 cars and 2 motorcycles across the road, and we had to wait for a light to change.  Then a little boy approached our vehicle, barely tall enough to see over the window, and he began to knock on the glass with his dirty hand and looked up at us with large brown eyes, asking "Rupee... rupee??"  I pulled out a packaged muffin from my bag and handed it to my friend Steve who was sitting in the passenger position where this little boy was knocking on the window.  He rolled down the window, and with a quick snatch, the boy grabbed the package and scampered off.  We tracked him as he weaved his way through the cluster of vehicles, away to a sheltered area under the overpass.  He ran with light steps, seemingly excited by the treasure we had given to him.

I felt better in that moment.  It felt like, for once, I was able to alleviate some suffering - one little child would have his tummy temporarily filled.  Yet, next on the agenda was a visit to a slum school - what would that sight behold?

We drove a great distance - in heavy traffic we would have expected to take 2 hours to reach the school, but today we were making good time, and it took around 1 1/2 hours.  Some stretches of the roads were smoother highways, other areas were crowded streets lined with small shops and cars haphazardly parked and double-parked on the side of the road.  As we drew closer to the slum area, the streets narrowed and became far more bumpy and unkempt.  We saw our first cow on the road, which was very exciting for us Western tourists, but a mere annoyance to our driver.  We began to see a lot more run down homes and structures - if that is even possible.  More of them were semi-constructed brick and sticks and plastic, surrounded by heaps of refuse.  Always, there were young children wandering aimlessly or playing in the dirt.

We came to a brick enclosed structure and the driver honked his horn and a gate opened up and let our vehicle inside.  A clean, yet very modest structure with colorful paintings on the walls greeted us - we had arrived; the first slum school!  There was a small open courtyard, and a couple of buildings attached to it.  One had several school rooms - just small 10X10 or maybe 12X12 rooms constructed of bricks with cement floors.  Then, on the other corner of the courtyard was a taller building that had a second story with a classroom and an open roof-top sitting area that was also used as a classroom.  Everything was dangerously constructed by North American standards - with an open concrete stairway that had no walls or railings to keep you from falling down.  But by slum standards, this place was an oasis.

As we stepped out of the vehicle, I was completely overwhelmed to see that 4 little girls, with timid smiles, and a look of awe in their eyes, were holding flower necklaces to give to us in honor of our visit.  I felt so humbled and undeserving (did they know what a horribly selfish Canadian I was?) but I gratefully accepted their gift with a very sincere "Thank you!".

We gathered in a small meeting room with an old computer and some plastic chairs lining the walls.  This appeared to be the office or meeting area.  Then we were introduced to the Pastor and his wife who cared for the children and managed the slum school.  They immediately began to serve us, and brought us cups of cold water to drink.  In a way, it felt terrible how well we were being treated - like we were dignitaries or something.  I just felt so undeserving - here was a couple who were giving up so much to serve the lowest of the low, yet, they were just genuinely happy to see us, and the Indian culture is naturally very hospitable.

We took a quick tour of the buildings and observed for a few moments the children in their classrooms.  This happened to be one of the nicest slum schools, and although very crowded, they children had small desks lined up in which to do their learning.  What shocked me the most was how young some of these children were!  Tiny little 3 year olds sat respectfully and quietly in their seats, in their miniature sized school uniform,  some looking up at us white people with large frightened eyes.

There was a watchdog also, up on the rooftop.  He was precariously chained to a peg, on a short leash and wandered in small circles quite happily, wagging his fluffy white tail.  One false move though, and he'd be hanging off the side of the roof.  (Don't tell the SPCA!)

We were informed that we needed to travel to a lesser slum school in the area, that we'd be giving those children their Buffalo milk and buns first.  So we piled into the vehicle and began to drive through the village slum area - people staring at us as we passed them by.  Along the side of the road were some "nicer" apartments - government buildings that would then be sold to people.  For most of the people in this neighborhood, however, they were entirely unattainable in cost.  We turned at an intersection, deeper into the slum and on one side of the road I saw a man cooking on the ground in a pot, and on the other side of the road, a man was peeing.  We passed by many more broken down buildings, the streets filled with busy people and wandering children, garbage heaps randomly filling a vacant space with goats, pigs, dog and even cows rummaging for something interesting to eat.  Here there were open sewers along the side of the road, more accurately described as a deep gutter that was filled with garbage.

We pulled up along the side of the road, and entered a small gate between a couple of buildings, following the sound of children chantings something.  There, on the uneven ground with broken up pieces of red bricks and dirt was around 30 children, sitting and squatting in front of their teacher.  We could now see through the doorway into the rented space that the slum school was using, and saw that this 12X12 room was also packed with children on the floor.  We were greeted with a chorus of "Good morning" from the kids, and I tried to smile back although my mind was overcome just trying to process these conditions and the state of the children in front of me.

We were invited to greet the children and speak to them and I was grateful that Dan, being in the most senior position in our group, had to go first.  But as he spoke to them, I felt compassion welling up in my heart and managed to come up with some words of encouragement as well.  As simple as it was, all I really knew to say was that these children were special, and that we loved them and cared for them.  What really do you say?  What can you possibly do?  After we spoke to them, we were allowed the opportunity to photograph the children and they were being given their milk as they were dismissed from school for the day.

I felt so inadequate and unsure of how to relate to these children. I crouched down, and tried to make eye contact with a few of the little ones, but they looked at me suspiciously.  I smiled awkwardly and just waved in their faces "Hello!" 

What do I do?  I thought, with panic.  Will I just be one of those horrible tourists who takes pictures and says "Oh, that was so sad..." and carries on with life?  Can I make any sort of impact on these children's lives?

Moments later, the children were being served their milk and a little one was stumbling on the uneven ground, trying to make her way to a safe spot to eat and drink.  An older child, perhaps a sibling, took the cup from her hand for a moment, to keep her from spilling and she burst into tears!  He grabbed her tiny elbow and helped steady her, and gave her back her cup of milk.  She quickly found a step to sit on and began greedily breaking off chunks of her bun and dipping it into the milk. 

Outside the doorway, a small group of people were gathering; curious about the commotion going on at the slum school today.  We were encouraged back to the vehicle so as not to draw a lot of attention and cause a crowd to form, demanding milk and food.  We drove back to the larger, nicer slum school that was a few minutes distance away and I stared out the window, feeling quite numb and overwhelmed by what we'd seen and how helpless I felt.

Back at the nicer school, there were long carpets rolled out and the children were assembled to have their milk and buns.  Soon there were lines of children, back to back, seated on the red rugs, each with a cup in front of them.  The children prayed together, a prayer of thanksgiving and began to gratefully receive their warm buffalo milk and soft buns.

This time, I was determined to get in closer and bridge the gap between myself and these precious children.  I immediately thought of the pictures of my kids that I carried in my wallet and I pulled them out.  I squatted next to some little ones and began to show them the pictures, pointing to myself and saying "These are my babies."  All at once, the barrier was broken and the children leaned towards the photos, looking with keen interest.  They smiled brightly at Ezra's chubby little baby picture, taken on his first birthday.  They looked on with enjoyment as I passed through all six pictures of my children, and then I repeated the actions as I moved down the line, to different clusters of children. 

Eventually, all the kids were done eating and I continued to show pictures, and a crowd began to form around me.  I stayed squatting, low to the ground so I could maintain eye contact with all the little kids.  Little ones began to push their way through the group, vying for a good position in order to see my photos.  After showing the pictures multiple times to the group of kids, I began to tell the children each of my kids' names.  "Baby Ezra." I would say, slowly and clearly.

"Baby Ezra!"  The children repeated in unison.

I went through all of my children's names and then began to ask children around me what their own names were, touching their arms and faces gently as I did so.  I couldn't believe that I was finally able to connect and after learning some of their names, I wasn't quite sure what I should do.  Here I was, literally surrounded by 20 or so slum children, all of them fully at my attention.  I began to sing "Jesus loves me" to them, and would stroke little faces or gently squeeze children's arms or hands as I sang.  They listened attentively and seemed to enjoy it.  More children pressed into the throng.  I felt slightly overwhelmed at the need, and the desire for attention, but I carried on, singing and showing my children's pictures to the crowd.

At one point, I felt a little silly, and my legs were cramping from being crouched down for so long, so I got up and twirled like a ballerina.  The children laughed at me, and several of them copied me.  So for a few minutes, we played a little game of "Simon says" where I would do an action and this crowd of 30 or more kids would copy me.

All too soon, our time was up.  In some ways though, I was spent.  I felt physically exhausted, struggling with my insufficiency to meet the needs of these children.  These were not normal poor children who had less clothes, less toys and less "nice experiences" like the poor in Canada.  These were the lowest of the low, the untouchables, just one out of the 250 million classified Dalit (untouchable caste) in India.

I hated how awkward I had felt with the children in the other smaller slum school earlier.  I hated how I just wasn't able to express love to them; how I was at a loss as to how to communicate Gods love.  I kept thinking of how Jesus would welcome the little children into His arms, saying "Do not forbid them, for such is the kingdom of heaven..." (Luke 18:16)

The kingdom of heaven was somewhere here, in the slums of New Delhi.  It was here, in the eyes of these little ones.  I looked closely today, and for a moment I touched it - God's kingdom in the warm smile of a little child.

Friday, November 25, 2011

7 Days In India - Our First Day

Thursday, Nov. 24 - New Delhi

Our true Indian experience began not outside the walls of the home and church facilities we were staying in, but in the middle of the night, in our bedroom.  Having arrived at our host's home at nearly 2 in the morning, we were lovingly greeted by the pastor who offered us some delicious Indian food that his wife had cooked for us.  Although exhausted, and wishing we could just crash and go to sleep, we gratefully swallowed down some delicious home-made roti stuffed with curried vegetables.  However, that is not where our true Indian experience began.

We dropped into bed, completely worn out, and dozed to sleep.  The last 24 hours had been a blur of driving, flying and wandering around airports and we were thankful to finally be in a horizontal position, not in a squishy, compact airplane seat in a plane with 400 other people.  Suddenly, in the dark of the night, a loud voice boomed, startling us from our slumber.  Chanting began in a language we didn't understand, and we soon realized that there must be some sort of temple or mosque nearby and this was the "call to prayer".  While that was certainly a jolt to the reality of being in a new country, after being sound asleep, it held a hauntingly mysterious quality, and for a while, I enjoyed the foreign melody.  However, after 10 minutes and no sign of slowing down, my fascination wore off and I rolled over, put my pillow over my head and tried to get some more much needed rest.  We later found out that there was both a Hindi temple and a Mosque nearby, and everyday we would be "treated" to a taste of their musical prayers.

For our first morning, our hostess made us an all-American breakfast, and once again I wasn't very hungry because my body clock was so screwed up, but I made an effort to eat a little of everything she had kindly prepared.  Once we were fed, we spent some time getting to know our hosts, talking about our church in Canada and asking about their lives here in India.  Finally, the question we had been waiting for:  "Would you like to go and see some of Delhi or stay here and rest for the day?" asked the pastor.

REST????  No way!  "Oh, we'd love to go out and see what everything looks like in daylight!" we responded, enthusiastically.

A short while later, we were seated in the back of another small Indian-style vehicle - this one a bit more like an SUV, and we headed out into the streets of Delhi.

At first, I had to readjust my thinking to the manner of driving, realizing that although we were continually breaking Canadian traffic rules and etiquette, that this driver must know what he was doing because I hadn't seen any dents or scratches on the vehicle when we climbed in.  In order to take my mind off of the driving - which is next to impossible with the continual honking of vehicles and jostling back and forth as we swerved through traffic, I began to concentrate on my surroundings.

Many of the brick buildings on the side of the road were extremely run down, but being fully used and occupied by vendors and families.  The streets are littered with garbage and many of the sidewalks are uneven with broken areas that you would have to walk around - you would never be able to push a stroller around these city streets, that's for sure!  And the people... there were people EVERYWHERE!  I suppose that is entirely reasonable for a city of 20 million, but it takes some getting used to.  People are running to the bus, they are running across the road, winding their way through the cars, buses, rickshaws and motorbikes.  There are mothers and children and there are men walking, working and some just squatting by the side of the road with no apparent agenda.  There are well dressed, beautiful ladies in colorful saris and there are woman with worn out, dirt-stained saris.  There are men riding bicycles with home-made wooden trailers carrying large barrels, or mattresses or metal pipes.  There are rickshaw carts set up to sell treats: ice cream or chips or sweets or roti.  I saw a man with a large mirror set up on the brick wall with a stool, shaving another man's head. I guess the noisy, smelly, busy Delhi street was his storefront and that was his barber shop.  Oh, and every so often there was a man in front of his parked vehicle, or just randomly stopped on the side of the road, facing the trees - or just a brick wall - peeing.  I don't mean to be crude... it's just how it is here!

We drove on and on for what seemed like miles but probably wasn't very far at all considering the traffic and all the weaving around our driver had to do.  Then we were stopped near a large overpass and we saw a woman, modestly dressed with a headscarf, albeit dingy and well-worn, approaching the nearby vehicles, begging.  She came up to our window, her hands in a prayerful position, up by her face and was talking to us through the window.   She asked with a blank stare in her eyes, reaching toward us for a moment, then bringing them back in humble prayer position in front of her face.  Moments later, the traffic moved us forward and I was at a loss, not really knowing if I should have done anything.  I braced myself, thinking of how this was totally normal here.  I reasoned in my mind that she was perhaps one of the less needy, being a full grown woman.

A very short time later, traffic had us stopped again and another woman approached our window.  This time, she was younger, and she carried a young baby on her hip.  He was tiny, clothed in a dingy brown shirt, bare-bottomed against his mother's hip.  He looked to be about 8 months old and his hair was dirty and his eyes were crusty.  She approached my window and this little baby began to pat his tiny, chubby hand against my window, staring into our vehicle.  The mother pleaded and looked at us, holding out her hand, showing a couple coins.  She made motion of eating, obviously saying that they needed money for food.  Again, I felt in such a quandary.  I felt panicked, wondering how to appropriately respond.  My memories of the movie Slumdog Millionaire made me wonder if this woman was merely using the baby to get more money as a beggar - perhaps he wasn't even her child!  I wanted to give them some money, but we had only just exchanged our Canadian cash and had no small change to offer.  All too soon, the opportunity passed and our vehicle whisked us away down the road, away from the need.

After that point, with my heart melted and my eyes teary, I felt unable to forget the vision of the little baby innocently banging on my window, just inches away from me. I had to ask our host what should be done; how to react.  He told us that many of the beggars, particularly the able-bodied, older ones, treat begging as a profession.  As for the younger children, it was true that they were hungry, but there was a risk involved in handing money over to them because of the corrupted circles of slum-lords over them - people who were exploiting these children and demanding that they earn money for them.  I resolved to hand out a snack to the next child who came begging at our window, knowing that at least the food would not be taken away from them, and could be of use.  But the opportunity was missed for that day... before I knew it, we were driving through the rich area of town to do some sightseeing.  I felt a sense of loss, wishing that I could have a chance to re-do that experience and give the poor baby some crackers.

For the next little while, we looked in awe at the splendor of some of India's beautiful architecture.  Such an enormous contrast to the run down, common areas that we had seen thus far.  We stood and took a picture in front of an enormous palace, with heavy security and other tourists gawking at it's grandeur.  After some photo opportunities, we piled back into the vehicle and headed to a tourist district with shops and street vendors selling their trinkets.  We stepped out onto the street, and I was glad to have my feet on solid ground again, feeling a little car sick from the extremely intense driving experience.  The air was heavy with heat, humidity, the smell of smoke, burning incense and an occasional whiff of urine.  Everything was extraordinarily colorful with people selling saris, wall hangings, scarves and jewelery.  Multiple times we were approached by intent vendors "Madam... hello... Madam, come and see!" and having been experienced in the art of discouraging vendors in Thailand, I willfully avoided eye-contact and continued to walk forward.  After viewing the wares of a couple streets, we circled back to return to the vehicle to find some lunch.

Suddenly, at my side was a gorgeous young girl, probably 7 or 8, like my own daughter back home, with long curly hair flowing down and her aqua-marine sari accentuating her cocoa skin and brown eyes.  She carried several dozen loops of bead necklaces on her arm, and ran her fingers up and down the colorful beads.  "You buy?"  She asked me, and began to chatter away: "Just 10 rupees... 10 for 100 rupees... you will be my first customer" and she kept in step with me, dancing in front of me, showing off the beads.  I smiled at her, this pretty young girl who was so precious and cunning, but gently shook my head.  "No."  I replied.

She spent another 30 seconds, keeping up with me and chatting about how it was such a deal, that I should buy her necklaces.  I really wanted to buy them too, I was totally convinced. But once again, we had no change to offer, only large bills... and she was just one of thousands of street kids... and I couldn't help them all.

Later in the day, as we drove home from our outing, I remember thinking "What am I doing here?"  It would seem that I was in a place that would break my tender heart again and again, especially considering my soft spot for these beautiful, dark skinned children.  And I had lost the opportunity to offer food to any of the kids - we never did see any on the way back home because traffic kept us moving along at a consistent pace, and no little ones approached our vehicle, giving me a chance to reconcile the feeling of heartbreak.  I thought to myself that I could spend my days walking up and down the streets, handing out food to the hungry.  Yet, would it make a difference? - or just serve to make myself feel better, that I had done something, that I wasn't entirely helpless.

I have a lot more to see and learn and do here in India.  I don't think it will be easy.  I know my heart will be broken.  I don't know what I can change.  But I'm here... and I'll keep praying that God will use me and I hope you will pray for me too.

7 Days In India - Arrival

November 23, 11:45pm

We finally arrived in Delhi and followed the flow of people off the plane and out into the airport.  I knew I was definitely in Asia when I used the public restroom and the toilet was a "squatty potty".  It was as if Asia was saying to me: "Welcome back!"  Not exactly the warm welcome I was looking forward to after nearly 24 hours off travel!

We followed the throng of people down a long passageway then down an escalator in to a large open area that was crowded with hundreds of people, all competing for a good place in line to go through India's customs department.  Again, the crowds literally pressed against us with no regard for our personal space and in a more humid, warm climate, I felt the sweat begin to trickle down my back.

Yet, we were here!  And despite the exhausting journey, I was excited to leave this clean, westernized government building and step out into the night air where the smells, sounds and sights would tell me of India.  It was an exciting feeling to come out into the meeting area that was lined up with eager people waiting for family members, along with drivers holding up placards with names written on them.  We scanned the line and saw two young men holding a sign "Dan and Lisa" and I waved and we greeted our first new friends from Delhi.

They kindly helped up with our baggage and led us to a small - and I mean SMALL - van.  It was similar to a VW van, but even thinner and so tiny it almost felt like India must be the origin of the Smart-Car, except that they make smart-vans designed to transport large groups of people in a TINY space.

Very soon we learned that the honking of your horn is synonymous with signalling and making other drivers aware that you are about to crash into them if they don't get out of your path.  There is no typical sense of order in Indian driving, and the lines on the road are more decorative than meaningful.  Within two minutes of being seated on the back bench of this tin can - I mean 'tiny van', we came within 12 inches of careening into another vehicle on the road.  The style of driving is a continual game of "chicken" with the other vehicles. To get to your destination quickly, you squeeze into any space available whether it's in the middle of a proper lane, or on the shoulder of the road.  The result is that instead of the normal 2 lane highway, there is a much more "efficient" 4 or 5 "lanes" squeezed into the same amount of space which we would use for 2 cars back in Canada.  Oh, and that's not including the motorcycles and bicycles that wind their way through the congestion of traffic.

Being that it was the middle of the night, thankfully we didn't have to experience the swarms of vehicles that would normally be there... that would wait for the following day.  Soon enough, daylight would come and we could observe the culture, the people, and experience the traffic with greater clarity and intensity!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

7 Days In India - Travelling

November 22, 2pm - Calgary Airport

I slept like a baby, and awoke thinking rather calmly: I'm going to India today.

I'll admit that I was teary-eyed, saying "goodbye" to all my little ones, and my sweet 5 year old was wailing and clinging to me, determined to keep me from going out the front door.  For a few minutes, my heart was shut inside the entryway of our home, with my children, as we drove away towards Calgary.  Would my little ones survive without me?  Would my little baby (only 23 months) grow up and learn all sorts of things while I was away?

Well, those worries all blew away as we traversed the highway from Lethbridge to Calgary.  In fact, we were quite literally blown with the incredible blast of wind that was gusting in from the mountains, towards us.  As we left our home, where was a wind warning for our area and tumble weeds - and some vehicles, even, were blowing forcefully across the highway and into the ditch!  (We saw one overturned trailer along Highway 2.)

We enjoyed a last "Canadian meal" - actually, we had sushi and terryaki beef - before we dropped our van off and hopped onto a shuttle to go to the airport.  I have to say that it was in that moment, as we left the van and everything familiar behind, that it suddenly began to feel real!  With a panicked look, I counted and re-counted our baggage - just 5 bags?  How could there be so few?  Then Dan and I smiled at one another, realising that we were without kids!  Yippeee!!! Free---eee---dommmmm!  It certainly simplified things when it came to traveling.

The reality of India came even closer to us when we were dropped off at the airport doors, right behind an Indian family all dressed for their pilgrimage home.  It reminded me of our last missions experience, on our way to Thailand.  When we lined up for our trans-Pacific flight in L.A., we were the ONLY white people... and we had 3 little blond-haired, blue-eyed children that only served to further single us out as the only non-Asians traveling on the flight.  It was so exciting, knowing that we were about to experience something so different and life changing!

Well, it's about time to board and Dan just switched his clock to India standard time: 3:12am.  Sheesh... it's already tomorrow and our journey has just begun.

On the plane, just after take-off:

I just heard an interesting announcement from the flight attendant - The first-class compartment will be served meals from the menu, created by top chefs.  The economy class will be served "carefully selected meals and beverages".  Hmmm... should I be jealous?  Just what does a "carefully selected meal" taste like?  What does it mean?  Apparently, it means delicious, as this picture below will show you.  And if fact, it was quite tasty - for airline food. 
"Delicious Meal" as seen on the orange label...
Amsterdam Airport - 9:50am

Although we are not yet in India, the Indian culture was beginning to press upon me - literally!  we were lined up in a switchback roped-off area, passing through airport security in order to board our plane to Delhi.  At this point, there were very few white people in our midst and I got a real taste of the manner in which Indians interact and relate in a crowd.  I noticed right away that the idea of "personal space" was not understood by Indians the way it is understood, and upheld, by Canadians.  Continually, I could feel the people in line behind me pressing closer, jostling my backpack and even making me wonder if I should keep an eye on my valuables!  Then, when the boarding call came, the entire crowd was pushing forward, all eager to acquire prime baggage space for their carry-on items, and settle themselves into their seats comfortably.  This was a lot different than I was used to, being a conservative Canadian, but I figured I'd better get used to it considering I'd soon be staying in a city inhabited by 20,000,000 people!

Next stop... India!

7 Days In India - Quick Impressions

No, this isn't where we're staying... this is the Prime Minister's house in Delhi!
Well, we've hardly been here for more than 12 hours, but we are attempting to immerse ourselves into the culture and went out for lunch today with the pastor, who also showed us a few sights.  Along the way, I saw many unusual and colorful examples of India's culture - all on the side of the road.  Here's a very brief and slightly humorous take on some of the elements of my Indian experience thus far.

Things to do on the side of the road in Delhi:

1.  Get your head shaved by an experienced road-side barber.

2.  Face yourself away from traffic and go pee.  (Yes, seriously, I saw at least 4 guys peeing on the side of the road since we've arrived!)

3.  Avoid the herd of stray, mangy dogs or just lay down on the grass and hang out with them.

4.  Get a treat from the "Mother Dairy" ice cream vendor with his rickshaw cart.

5.  Hang up your laundry in a tree to dry and become breezy fresh - if you like the pollution/urine/incense-scented dryer sheet smell, that is.

That's all for now!  Stay tuned and I'll post more of our trip's adventures very soon!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

7 Days in India - Background

My love affair with India started many years ago.  My first neighborhood that I can remember, was in the heart of Northeast Calgary, and we were surrounded by "foreigners" - gorgeous people with dark eyes; bronzed skin and rich, black hair - unless it was covered up by a turban.  To be honest, the men with turbans scared me a little bit - but not because I was racist in any way - I was a modern-world child, raised on Sesame Street, and indoctrinated with the mindset that we should love everyone and accept everybody; no matter their skin colour.

No, the reason turbans signaled a slight fear in me as a child resulted from a slight incident involving myself and my brother one afternoon.  He was helping me ride his two wheeler, and I steered poorly, careening into somebody's parked car!  We ended up causing the side-view mirror to be knocked to the side and I think it was even a little broken!  A dark skinned man in a salmon colored turban came running down his front walkway, yelling at us "dumb kids" for crashing into his vehicle.  Innocent as we were, at around 5 and 7 years of age, we still held responsibility in damaging this man's car.  Thankfully my father was nearby and made amends, promising to make the mirror as good as new. (And of course, we were in big trouble!)

What I remember in particular about my desire to see India starts with a church service in the earlier part of my teen years.  A man came to our church one day to talk about his life as a pastor in India.  He was a man that seemed to be clothed in humility - not trying to impress us with his manner of speech or dress; but a sincere, truly grateful man who wanted to be a blessing to our rich, comfortable North American congregation.  His black hair was speckled with grey and there were lines of fatigue and stress on his forehead.  You could tell that he was a man who had been through much in his lifetime... a man who had given much.  And indeed, he told us stories of the persecution he and his wife and children faced as believers in a resistant culture.  This is not just name-calling and unpopularity that they suffered, but real, physical persecution.

He told us of the unwanted, the orphans and the desolate lives of those living in slums.  He also told of of the atrocity of bride burning - where young women are literally burned alive because their family cannot offer an adequate dowry for their daughters.  Some women, who manage to escape, are terribly disfigured from the violent abuse and are reduced to being outcasts, with no hope or future to speak of.  As a very young woman, I was completely horrified and heart-broken at the thought of these events.

Since then, I had a deep desire to travel to this land of intense culture... so rich and vibrant and crowded and apparently smelly!  Surprisingly, the closest I have come thus far to a deeper understanding of Indian culture was in the small industrial city of Sriracha, Thailand, when we lived there as missionaries 6 years ago.  We had a family living directly across from us, and beside us in our community who were from India!  My neighbor, Madpa was kind and helpful and her husband was a manager in a factory nearby.  It seemed that Indians made successful managers and often worked in Thailand because they were more naturally assertive and motivated than the locals tended to be.  I would often hear through our open windows the pleasant sound of Madpa and her family chattering amicably with one another in Hindi or some other Indian dialect.  Another memory I have was how Madpa and her friend from across the street would lace up their runners, and dressed in their beautiful, colorful saris, would go for an early evening walk almost every night!  I secretly wished I could join them, but just didn't feel "cool" enough... after all, I was just a shy white girl in Thailand... and they were gorgeous, talkative Indian women.

Now my bags are packed for our trip to India and I am cautiously excited for our journey to begin.  The caution comes from the thought that we just need to get ourselves on the plane, on our way, and then I can really relax and become excited about the adventure that is about to unfold.  Now I will really get to visit India - not in documentary form or on the pages of a magazine, but in real life with full-color and full-smell!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Journey - A Chronicle of Discipline

I grew up on the Prairies.  The land rolls  on and on, adorned with combines, barbed wire fences and miles of cropland.  On one side, the fields seem to crumple and burst into mountains, like rumpled covers on my bed, bringing a sense of disruption into an otherwise smooth terrain.

Today I thought about the life of a farmer.  If I were to stare at my naked field in the spring, and begin to imagine all the hungry people who needed me to provide wheat for bread, and how I must turn this soil into food for thousands, I would be feeling a great deal of responsibility.  Before I know it, my imaginary field is littered with people, all hungry; all with their hands reaching towards me, eyes wide and accusing - waiting for me to provide.

If I focus on the goal of farming: simply that I must produce wheat for bread, I may get lost in the enormous responsibility.  For indeed, my long-term perspective states that in order to be a profitable, successful farmer, I must turn my cash into a crop and the crop into cash, BUT, there are many steps along the way.  Any good farmer knows that growing things take time.  You cannot produce overnight - no matter what people may demand of you, and no matter how responsible you feel to provide.  The field must be made ready; soil tilled and enriched with manure, fertilizer.  The seeds must be buried in the dark earth, hidden away.  Then, through a period of darkness and light, rain and sun, wind and calm - the little plants grow, and are brought to maturity for harvest.  The job of the farmer is to adhere to the schedule of plating, fertilizing, irrigating (if needed) and... waiting.

Discipline seems much the same way.  Take for example my goals in parenting.  It is daunting to think of what I dream I could have with my children - amazing relationships full of deep, meaningful conversations throughout their teen years, spanning into their journey to adulthood.  I won't settle for anything less!  I'm not just here to "raise" them, feed them, clothe them and the like - I want to KNOW them and connect to them.  So, that is my goal; my harvest is true relationship and companionship with my grown kids.  Therein lies the panic.  I jump ahead in my mind, thinking of what I must become and how far I have to go; how much work must be exerted, how much time, energy and effort I ought to apply to achieve healthy, above-and-beyond relationships.

I don't slow down to see the steps.  Plant a seed, water it, wait....  Plant another seed: a kind word, considerate actions, sensitivity... water with grace and encouragement, wait patiently... and they grow.

The discipline is in the waiting.  The commitment to discipline comes from questioning the goals - is it worth it? and then discerning "how do I do it?".  I take tiny, concentrated baby steps.  A cherry seed planted won't be a fragrant, blossoming cherry tree overnight.  I can't become an endurance runner simply by desiring to run a marathon (or half-marathon).  I speak from experience... progress is slow - you take your first step, then each step becomes another city block that you've run, and more steps turn into another mile, until, one day after much persistence and discipline, you run the race!  I didn't sit and dream of being a runner - and after much thought, introspection and pondering was suddenly able to run a long distance!  It is not the thought or desire that gets you to your destination, but the dedication and commitment - the daily grind.

You cannot reach what you have not set your sights upon.  Each journey requires a destination.  But today I wanted to address the issue of self-doubt, frustration, fear and the common question: Can I even do it? Will I ever make it?  I ask myself these questions often. 

The trail winds; a path that seems under construction with numerous detours, speed traps and uneven pavement with a sharp shoulder that reminds me of the highway from Hope to home (this is a real road - one of the mountain roads between British Columbia and southern Alberta!).  It's an uphill, steep, treacherous mountain road with a toothpick of a guardrail between you and the edge of a cavernous valley.  Often the passenger in our family vehicle, I've stared down the gaping, hungry hole of rocks and deathly steep descent, thinking - praying, really: "God keep our vehicle on the road!"  We maneuver the curves and bends along the way - the hills and valleys, and then, suddenly it all smooths out, and we're back in our territory - the flat, utterly smooth and barren prairies with only the howling wind for company.

Sometimes you have to take life and cut it down to bite-sized pieces in order to keep yourself from gagging and choking.  You can't become a great parent, spouse, runner, businessman, leader, or even friend overnight - but it is applying the right attitude, coupled with the right actions, day by day, little by little that leads you to success.  The discipline is in the journey; living with foresight and committing to little steps even on the "bad days" and the "dreary days".

The deep, dark soil is rich and baby plants have sprouted - some more quickly than others.  Daily I will water, nourish and tend to my crop - investing into the lives entrusted into my care.  I won't give up on the outcome - but I'll wait, knowing that the harvest is inevitable.

(My beginning thoughts on discipline can be found in this previous post: A Discipline Craving.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The "Expert" That Made Me Mad

A couple days ago, I was quite angered by an article written in a local junk mail flyer/newspaper.  A father and motivational speaker/author, was writing an "expert" article on families.   Part of this article mentioned the importance of maintaining peace in the home and he stated that he had never once raised his voice at his now 8 year old son.  He claimed that it was completely unnecessary in the process of communication and would only serve to demean and belittle his child if he yelled.

"HA!" I scoffed angrily, in my head.  "ONE KID?  ONE MEASLY KID?  Try having six to contend with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week....!!!! Then we'll see who's yelling!"

For a while I thought about how freakishly hard it has been for me to control my anger lately, particularly when it comes to yelling and raising my voice.  It's not like I ever say "You stupid kid!  You are an idiot!"  Of course, I would never demean my children in such a hurtful way.  In fact, more often than not, I sound like some sort of coach or military captain, yelling "Let's go!!!" or "Stop right now!" or "Everyone, sit down and shut up!" (Except, I would never, ever say "shut up" to my kids... I actually say "Be quiet" or "Not a word" if I need their silence.)

The problem herein, lies in the volume.  Granted, my house is noisy.  I have a loud, talkative husband who passed down his noisy genes to my children.  So if I am to compete with six people making loud noise all at once, I practically need a megaphone - or some lessons in voice projection.

So back to the "expert" article - what on earth could this guy know about yelling?  He doesn't cope with what I have to handle, day in and day out.  Yet.... conviction pricked my heart.  Isn't this an issue that I have been frustrated with lately?  Isn't this exactly one of the things I want to change in my household?  I desire greatly to deal graciously with my children.  I want to love them with real love - God's kind of love that is patient, kind, self-controlled and abundant.

A spark of inspiration hit me this afternoon that may be a helping hand towards my issue of being a recovering yell-a-holic.  How bout a yell-jar?  Just like a swear-jar, I would have to throw in a quarter every time I yell at the kids.  Then, to be appropriate, I will have to use that cash to buy the kids ice cream or some sort of treat.

I don't want to minimize this issue, but I believe a lot my "problem" is simply an issue of a bad habit.  Also, I recognize that along with the consequences of "paying" for each time I break the rule and yell or raise my voice, I need to tune my heart to a different channel and work on the feelings that leave me feeling so out of control.  With each quarter that I toss into the jar, there will be a prayer lifted up; asking for wisdom, patience, peace and most of all love for my children.  

While this plan may appear to primarily be a "slap-on-the-wrist" sort of consequence, I know that the constant reminder of my actions, and becoming accountable for my faults will inevitably either cause me to change or harden my heart.  Frankly, I'm steering towards the former.  In the end, each quarter will represent a prayer, and an apology.  I don't want to make light of this - rather, I wish to use it as a tool to cultivate change, growth and true repentance in my house.  I want my kids to stop yelling and fighting, but I cannot expect them to change if I am giving a bad example.

"Yell-Jar    25 cents per offense"
Well... here goes...  I better get to the bank and get a roll of quarters.

Let the journey begin:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Discipline Craving (?)

Discipline is one of those four-letter-words... er.. make that ten-letter-words - that makes many of us feel either weary, guilty, pathetically weak, or simply annoyed.  Discipline is that thing that makes you get up at 5:45am, so you can go to the gym and participate in a "Body Boot Camp" as part of a New Year's resolution.  It is what is needed to lose weight, create habits, complete projects, keep food on the table and gas in the tank as well as being a key ingredient in keeping your important relationships from growing stagnant.

Here are some of the areas which I have recognized in my life that require discipline:
  • Flossing my teeth at least once a day.  No matter what.  Even when I'm too tired and I'm getting to bed too late and I just want to flop down and pass out...

  • Exercising even after I've spent a lazy week or two on vacation - eating way too much junk food.

  • Getting up in the morning to homeschool my kids - especially when there is no buzzer to tell me when school starts, there's no dress code and the house is reverberating with the noise of kids who are running around on all fours, barking like a herd of wild coyotes. 

  • Saying "no" to the extra large slice of chocolate brownie cake and saying "yes" to a heap of fresh veggies.

  • Being intentional with my relationship with my spouse - not being given to laziness, but really paying attention to his needs and loving him in a way that he can appreciate.

  • Committing myself to a purposeful journey towards God:  prayer, meditation, Bible study, along with  fellowship and accountability with other believers (all essential to further my Christian walk). 

It's ironic.  I crave discipline, yet fight it with every step.  I used to envision myself entering the army as a recruit - because then someone would "whip me into shape" or at least scream at me abusively until I accomplished whatever they required of me.
You'd think that six kids would be an aggressive enough force to establish a greater sense of discipline in my life, yet still, I waver.

Over the next few weeks I will be studying and pondering the idea of discipline.  Perhaps I'll even venture into the extreme and attempt a few new habits that bring me to greater heights of this disciplined life that I seek.  Yet that brings me to another question: Will I be happy by virtue of the fact that I am more disciplined?

All I can say is that I get so frustrated with life passing me by - with life feeling like a crisis and being filled with panic due the fact that I am neither prepared emotionally or physically to face each day.

So I'm putting it out there into cyberspace... I am pursing a more disciplined path. Stay tuned to see what transpires...