A week later and we finally are posting here! We aren’t very good at this but were trying. We have been in India for a week now and every single day here is filled with new experiences, sights, smells, emotions, laughter, and good food (yes its spicy. yes we are struggling).
We are working with the kids and learning their daily routine, as well as how to adjust to teaching children with special needs. It hasn’t been the easiest transition but each day gets more comfortable. Aubrey is working in whats called “The Office” which is where the older kids, who aren’t working on academics, go to learn different skills to go out and live on their own in the working world. They are learning computer skills, paper bag making, laundry, and teamwork. Sarah is working in the art class 3 days a week with the older kids helping them learn about shapes, colors and shading, art history, and painting techniques. The other 2 days she is helping in the preschool with Class B. Most of the kids are non-verbal but they are able to recognize their shapes, numbers, and body parts. They also love snack time, painting/coloring, and getting to sing songs and dance.
After school we are tutoring 4 of the preschool boys. Tutoring is a term we use lightly because most of the time it ends up being lots of coloring and taking silly pictures. It is tons of fun though and usually our favorite part of the day.
Although this week hasn’t been the easiest one of our lives we are learning a lot and very grateful to have this experience.
Lots of love,
Auntie Sarah and Auntie Aubrey
Yay! We are leaving in a week! We are sitting here looking at the painting next to this computer because we don’t know what to say. But here we are, our first blog post. Lower your expectations now folks it isn’t gonna get much better.
Sarah and Aubrey and also sorta Ryan
Forty-nine days down and only six left to be an “Akka” or, “older sister”. Claire, Rachel and I (Chels) are savoring every moment we have left with Prem and Ritama and all the students in Asha Kiran. Before we post our last blog, I wanted to bring something I learned to your attention. I recently had a very passionate conversation with a fellow “PK” (pastor’s kid), Myra, one of the teachers at Asha Kiran. Let me share with you a bit of what we have talked about, which has completely changed my global perspective:
If you are a young woman, please pay close attention.
Much like the media in the U.S., the media here in India makes a large contribution to the way people are “supposed” to look. Often we will see billboards, commercials, shows, etc. here that are advertized or played by someone with very fair skin. I would imagine this fact contributes to how many times the three of us girls hear this, “Excuse me madam, can I take your picture?” To which we respond, “If you are willing to pay 100 rupees.” Unfortunately we’ve had to up the price to 500 because some people actually started to reach into their pockets for their wallets. Personally, I get comments like, “You look like a doll!” and, “You look like a Barbie.” or, “You are really white!” The latter proclamation is not only a new reality for me, but it is exactly the reason for the previous statements. I look like a doll, and a Barbie to these people because I am different from them, not because I actually have feet so disproportionately small that my upper body throws me forward due to lack of balance (which would actually happen if Barbie’s were real people). If you haven’t met me, you should know that I am unbelievable white. In fact, I am actually a little pink. This was quite interesting to a girl on the beach who was trying to sell me jewelry. She began our conversation by telling me I look like a chicken. I told her she should come up with a different sales pitch.
Beven, the sweetest little seven-year-old, is in the class I have been working in. He is completely obsessed with cars. If you give him an activity you can almost be certain to find a Mitsubishi or Honda or even a Porsche on his assignment, accompanied by sound effects that resemble some sort of exhaust pipe. One day little Beven took a banana and “chk-chk-chk”ed it all the way up my arm. He stopped and pointed to my arm and said, “Nice color.” So I pointed to his arm and said, “Beautiful color.” He shook his little head an insisted that his dark color was “not nice,” and that “light is nice.” My little Beven is only seven.
In Goa, a small costal state in Southern India, we met lots of sales girls on the beach. A few of them gave us henna (which we later found was completely over priced and not even real henna). Nikki, my artist and new friend, and I talked for quite some time on the beach as she drew fake henna on my foot. She is a nineteen-year-old with the freest spirit of anyone I know. As free as her personality is, she is bound by two ideas: The first is that God is one of a number of Hindu gods, and the second is that people don’t like dark skin. She said to me, “Boys, they say like, ‘I don’t want to marry that girl, she is too dark.’” Nikki is secretly dating a man in the UK. In October he is coming back to marry her and take her out of India. Claire, Rachel and I are all who know because her parents want to arrange her a marriage to an older man. This man from the UK is her way to “freedom” and her idea of a “love marriage”. Please pray for her.
In the Christian church here, if you want to get married you have the option of turning to the church bulletin to look at matrimonial ads to see who your eligible bachelors/bachelorettes are. Today I received a Christian newspaper with twenty matrimonial ads. Seven of them say something along the lines of, “WANTED: a God fearing groom/bride blah blah for a fair complexioned girl/boy.” One of these actually requests someone with fair skin. Three of them mention that they have a “wheatish” complexion (which apparently means somewhere in between dark and light), and ten of them don’t mention their complexion at all. Not one of them mentions having a “dark” complexion. My good friend Tessy, a speech language pathologist and audiologist, has informed me of a matrimonial website that is much like the ads in this newspaper. She said that there are many women whose marriage proposals will actually be rejected because they are not fair-skinned. The man and his family will go to meet her, and when they see that she is dark they think about reasons the two cannot marry. For example, they might have children with dark skin. Usually in a situation such as this the man’s family might be fair, so they will tell her family he can’t marry her because she has a dark complexion.
What am I supposed to learn from all of these experiences? Is light-skin more envied than dark skin? The same is in Chinese culture, isn’t that right? Fair is fairest of them all? FALSE!!!!!!!!!!! Let me be the first to say that when I get home I am getting a spray tan to make my skin appear darker! Why? Because it makes me feel confident and it’s encouraged by society, particularly during the summer. So I’ll spend ten dollars after 10pm at RockStar TanBar in Kirkland, Washington to make my skin darker, while another 21-year-old in India goes to Value Mart to pay 10 rupees for a product called Fair and Lovely to make her skin look lighter. I heard about RockStar TanBar from another girl that gets spray tans consistently. The girl that is going to Value Mart has probably seen Fair and Lovely on a commercial on TV. The advertisement shows a dark-skinned girl going to try out for a casting call for a television series. When the girl doesn’t get the part she is completely distraught so she goes to the store and buys Fair and Lovely. In one week her complexion is fair and “lovely”, so she tries out again and of course, gets the part and is full of joy. What message is this sending to Indian women? But is this any different from the advertisements I see with white women that have some fake, golden tan? What message does that tell me? That I need to look darker, DUH!
Young women: have you ever received a compliment about your skin or hair or eyes or body and responded, “Please, take it!” or “Please, can we trade?”. Myra told me that when she was in elementary school she was the only dark-skinned student there (Generally Southern Indians have darker skin than Northern Indians). She told me she remembers getting complimented for her dark complexion and saying, “Please, take it!” because she was constantly called “Blackie”, or “Kalia”, in Hindi.
The last time I checked we were all created equally. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are WONDERFUL, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14). You being God, and I being all who were made in God’s image, which is EVERYONE! So what color is God then if we were all made in his image? Is he dark and light? I don’t know. According to the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children”, he could be red and yellow black and white because we are all precious in his sight which, is completely politically incorrect but the point is, we are one in the body of Christ. There is no superior or inferior color or race or culture. That idea of inferiority/superiority is how genocide is influenced. We have the wrong idea about each other, and ourselves. Many of us want dark skin many of them want light. I want curly you want straight. We think arranged marriages are outrageous and they think dating is pointless. Neither is true. The point is, as a Christian we believe in a God that provides only the best for his children. Who cares how we do it? Who cares about our differences? Man does, because “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1st Samuel 16:7). We’re all worshiping the same God, so there is no “right” way and there is no “better” color.
We are one.
Women of India: I want your dark complexion.
Women that get spray tans and lay in tanning beds in the U.S.: Indian women want your skin before you fry and dry it.
Here is a picture that Aswin, a 12-year-old boy with autism I’ve been working with, drew today. My hand is the black one and his is the pink one (Completely unintentional. I actually tried to stop him from using black- hence the blue middle finger- but thankfully I was unsuccessful.) Because this blog is so long I’ve posted pictures below so you are able to see what we’ve been doing the last few weeks. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
As my father once said regarding the people of Rwanda, “The thing is Chels, the only difference between me and these people is that I was simply born into a different place.”
Thank you for reading,
Team India continues to be challenged and spoiled by our hosts, the students and staff at school, and practically everyone we meet. We keep learning new things about the culture and the people, especially about relationships and how best to help the kids learn. We often experience people serving us; which feels awkward (at least for me) but to refuse I think comes across as rude. If anything these experiences make me want to live the same way, giving generously and cheerfully from what I have to care for others. I realize this is how we’re commanded to live, so I guess I need reminders. Hopefully it will become a habit.
Now we’d like to share what we’ve been up to these past couple weeks! On Tuesday night we stayed at the boys’ hostel at Asha Kiran, which we enjoyed very much. They were full of energy as always, and showed us humble hospitality that we weren’t sure how to accept. They insisted we get our food ahead of them, and the family who stays with the boys gave us their room to sleep in. We were blessed also by time spent praying, singing hymns and listening to God’s Word with them both evening and morning. They wanted us to stay longer but we didn’t want to impose and we have other places to go. It is beautiful to see how easily and patiently they take care of each other too, recognizing that everyone is different but each needs compassion and grace to live at peace with others. We love and adore all the children, and we do our best to show them every day.
During the last couple weeks we have gone out to explore Bangalore or just to get snacks and coffee at the local shops. We saw a Bollywood movie, Delhi Belly at a mall. It was pretty good, rather shocking at times but well done. Last week we returned to the mall with our host “mother”, Ritama, to get a pedicure from fish. Hundreds of small fish nibble the dirt and dead skin from people’s feet at Kenko Spa, while someone gives you a head, neck and back massage. At first it tickled terribly but we kind of got used to it. Last weekend we visited the Bible Society of India, where we saw how the bible was first made and then translated into many other languages.
As our time here comes to an end, we are finding more and more how difficult it is going to be to leave. Tomorrow we will travel to Goa, a beach city, and post soon after to let you know how beautiful it was! We have a prayer request: As of late we have been dealing with sickness going around so please, please pray for healing for us here in Bangalore. For the most part the three of us are pretty healthy but many of the people we are working with and staying with have been experiencing illness.
More to come when we return from Goa!
Rachel (blogger), Claire and Chelsea
Learn to play cricket (and stub your big toe good enough to peel the skin clear off): CHECK. Eat a green chili (by accident): CHECK. Skip in the monsoon rain: CHECK. Get a pedicure from hundreds of mini fish: CHECK. eat a mango pickle(omg):CHECK. Meet a Cougar fan (boo): CHECK.
Rachel, Chelsea and I are midway through our third week at Asha Kiran Special Needs School and we’re all starting to feel comfortable with our life here in Bangalore. Every morning we get up around 6:30 to eat breakfast before going to school. We take a thirty-minute bus ride through the bustling streets of Bangalore before arriving at Asha Kiran. At school, Chelsea continues to work closely with a classroom of energetic 6 to 10 year old boys…and lets just say there’s never a dull moment in her classroom. For the past week I have been using the Rosetta Stone computer program to work one-on-one with students who need extra help learning English. I have also been helping out in other classrooms throughout the day and doing odd jobs for Rita. Rachel has spent her time split between two classrooms, helping students stay on task and doing small jobs for teachers. We’re all starting to get to know the staff and have made a few friends among the teachers.
Indian Independence Day is on August 15th and the students have started preparing for a celebration they will have next month. They are all working on dances, songs and skits, which they are excited to perform for their parents at the celebration.
This week we attended a Christian wedding and finally had an opportunity to wear our saris! Rita Auntie helped us put them on. After thoroughly documenting the moment with pictures, we waddled to the car and attempted to get in gracefully (fail). We quickly learned that saris are not easy to walk in…or breathe in. After the wedding ceremony we went to the reception where there were about 700-800 guests. The couple sat on an elaborately decorated stage where they stayed most of the ceremony. At an Indian wedding it is traditional for the couple to stay on the stage while all of the guests wait their turn in line to greet them.
Last weekend we took a day trip to Mysore, a historic part of Southern India. We visited a palace, a few temples and ended the day with a lights show at a beautiful garden near a lake. The day was fun but also exhausting. Despite the best efforts of our mullet-sporting tour guide, we managed to remain utterly confused about where to go, what time to get back to the bus, and where to put our shoes when entering the temples. We thought we had grown accustomed to people staring at us in India, but in Mysore it was a different story. We experienced more stares and whispers than usual and quite a few people asked to take their picture with Chelsea.
Our time in India has been flying by, but we still have so much to look forward to. Thanks to everyone for your continued encouragement and prayers.
Claire, Chelsea and Rachel
Memorable Quotes thus far:
“You guys…I think I just got peed on.”
Student: “What is your name?”
Student pointing to Rachel, Claire and Chelsea as they stand in a line: “Rachel, Square, Chelsea”
Wear our sarees: CHECK. Attend an Indian wedding: CHECK. Visit a temple/palace: CHECK. Learn Indian national anthem…semi-CHECK.
In “Rita Auntie’s” office, there is a picture of a huge bumblebee. Underneath the bee is a quote by M. Sainte-Lague (smart guy) that says this: “According to aerodynamic laws, the bumblebee cannot fly. Its body weight is not the right proportion to its wingspan. Ignoring these laws, the bee flies anyway.”
“Rita Auntie”, or “Ritama” as we like to call her sometimes, is the principal at Asha Kiran Special Needs School. For the next seven weeks we will stay with Rita and her husband Prem in there home. Let me give you a little picture of what this looks like: downstairs, we have our very own little suite: kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a living-room. In the kitchen we have everything we need to make our morning coffee and tea, and in the living room we have the perfect set up for our improvised Dep work-out space. Every day we watch Skeeter in his ‘80s unitard teach us how to get washboard abs, buns of steel and swoll arms in eight minutes each. Youtube it: 8 minute abs. Then for every meal we are consistently spoiled by Rita’s cooking, and to complete the Indian meal experience, silverwear, or “cutlery”, is eliminated and our hands become our forks. Our meals are not just meals. The second we sit down to eat we turn to sponges, desperately trying to soak up all of Prem and Rita’s wisdom. We laugh, and laugh and the James’ couple never ceases to amaze us.
At Asha Kiran we have each been working in different classrooms and I think it is safe to say that all three of us have already fallen in love with the children. We spend most of our day in the classroom working individually with children that need more one-on-one help than others. The way they interact with each other is to me, more like siblings than friends which is how God calls us to treat each other. There is a 12-year-old girl named Adrita. One day I sat with her as she was helping someone eat that could not help herself. I knew Adrita had a sister so I asked her, “Adrita is this another sister of yours?” and she replied, “No, this is my friend.”
You see, here in Asha Kiran it doesn’t matter if you are a bumblebee and your body is too big for your wings, you can still fly. It doesn’t matter if you need help eating or if you learn differently or if you are sensitive to noise. It doesn’t matter if you are hearing impaired or if you cannot communicate verbally or if you are Hindu or Christian, you are a friend and you are treated like a sister or a brother: with love and laughter and patience.
Every day here is an adventure. Let me end our blog by telling you one more little story: One day the three of us decided to take a leisurely stroll. Here, that consists of dodging traffic, cows, and if your Chelsea, a pole. Finding our way home was just as much of an adventure. After 15 plus minutes of helpless wandering we had officially determined that we were lost until Rachel turned around and said, “Isn’t that our house?”. Well lo and behold, Rachel was right. Directly in front of us was the James’ house.
Sometimes it takes getting lost for us to realize we have already been found. All we need is to stop and realize we are right where we need to be.
“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ Declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.”
Chelsea (This week’s blogger), Claire and Rachel
Ride an elephant: CHECK. Buy a Sari: CHECK. Learn Hindi: semi-CHECK. Learn to cook Indian food: CHECK. Learn a life lesson from a 12-year-old: CHECK.