Thursday, September 27

concerning my stomach:

Well, as Praise would say, "Issshhhh, maiii!"

Things were going really well. I was enjoying my English class (finally). I was building really meaningful relationships. I was loving learning Hindi - do you know I'm already learning to spell using a set of entirely new letters? It's probably more exciting to me than it should be. Even watching the news in Hindi, I find myself searching for letters in words that I can identify. Reading? Don't get me started. I'm still sounding out words like a 7 year old who is 'hook-ed on p-h-on-ics.'  The letters, though: they're a great start.

As well as everything was going, I should have known it would soon come to a grinding halt. I was fine, I didn't feel overexerted, I was finally settling into what I like to eat and what schedule I should follow day to day. Two days ago, though, my morning was rendered worthless by some unspeakable and unsettling symptoms. Yesterday I felt much better, but by the evening I was, for lack of better words, completely worn out. This morning I woke up with body aches, climbing fever (i'm at 101.6 so far on a themometer that usually clocks me at 97.1!) and all manner of digestive discomfort. I'm through two liters of water and have made a dent in my gatorade, and Peter prescribed me four different medications that will see me through whatever this infection is. (They were delivered to my doorstep. and they were $3.45.) At this point I'm so weak I can hardly flush my toilet... but before you get too worried, that's actually pretty difficult on a normal day. haha.

If you think of me, please lift me up... I'm sad that this is taking me away from my work and hoping it's as temporary as possible. I'm still trying to take it easy, though, so I don't have any flare-ups later on. I will be wise, but I will not be happy about it. I'm aiming to stay positive and to be as little of a burden as possible to the family I stay with... and I hope to be pain, nausea, heat, and everythingelseunpleasant -  free very, very soon.

Love from Delhi,
Julie the debilitated. 

Saturday, September 22

Father of nations

So, this is what I came here for.

English class goes from 3-5pm. From 5-7, PMI hosts a weekly event called Focal Point, a forum that discusses locally relevant issues of the day with the attendees. Seven of my nine students stayed for Focal Point after my class was over, which was unprecedented. I was very happy to see them getting comfortable with PMI, and, as I soon learned, with each other. After a group game which they all played as a team, there was an open discussion on religion and spirituality. The good news was clearly shared, and many, many views were discussed and thought through. Afterwards, people stayed to chat and to continue to discuss the topic. I moved from my group to find five of my silent-in-class students clustered around a table, engaged in conversation! I couldn't believe it, but I like them, so I wanted to be a part of it. I pulled up a chair and joined their circle. As they talked and laughed and asked and understood, I noticed that even though we were out of English class, some of them were still trying to converse in English. When a break in conversation came, I asked, "So, do all of you know Hindi?" The answer was what I expected: "No, Ma'am." Some spoke some Hindi, some spoke a good amount, and others spoke none. I questioned them further, "So, do we all have different mother tongues?" (In India your first language is referred to as your 'mother tongue'.) Once they all stated the regions of their hometown, we realized it was true - none of them had learned the same first language. "So, let's do this," I said, "let's all write the same phrase in our respective languages!" They loved the idea, so we decided on "Where are you?" and passed the paper around the circle.
Ruchika is from Punjab.
Babita is from Raj'sthan.
Kavita is from Malyalam.
Athisu is from Nagaland.
Komal is from Pahari.
These places are spread all over India, and the languages do all sound different, even to an untrained ear (mine).
Here we were, six people from completely different backgrounds, with completely different languages, come together in one place where we teach, learn, discuss, and enjoy each other.
I was amazed and delighted to find friends among these students of mine. We're all of similar age, and surprisingly, have a good amount in common.
Go ahead, try asking me where I am in Malyala.
Regardless of how you ask the question, the answer is that I'm in Delhi, and I'm enjoying it completely.

Love from around the world,

Friday, September 21

This is an arm.

"Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table."

Yesterday I walked out of the house under a sky filled with clouds and dragonflies - huge ones; hundreds - to take my little white self to PMI. The walk is short, 1-2 minutes max, but every time I make the trip I cross a chasm in the street, sidestep wild dogs, smile at a few slum children, get honked at by at least one car or moped, bypass a cart selling fresh citrus juices, and skirt numerous rickshaw-wallas beating the heat: asleep atop their vehicles.
After devotion time, I got ready for English and then began trying to mentally prepare for my first day of Hindi tutoring. I asked a girl named Kavita from my English class if she could help me out by tutoring me 3-4 days a week for a small compensation. She was thrilled when I asked her on Tuesday. We got all our times straight and she came yesterday for the first time with her friend Komal, who is also in my English class, because they always ride together. I have no news in the Hindi department - let's just say we're starting at the very beginning. Even the alphabet is so overwhelming to me... I've never learned a language that does not use the same script as English, so at the get-go I feel like I'm at an all-time language low. I didn't know that I'd ever be relying so heavily on flash cards, but I've already used more than half of my index cards on them and we're only 1/4 through the alphabet! Haha. BUT, Kavita did say I seem to be picking up the pronunciation (you know, the extremely important difference between g and gh) fairly well.
After tutoring, Komal, Kavita, and I all went straight to English class. It all went as normally as it always does, but towards the end, one girl offered me something she called "Prashad". It was a bag of food - a small snack that looked something like rice krispies. Between the way the girls were looking at me and a pretty good number of intuitive red flags, I gathered that I probably didn't just look hungry; this gesture was meaningful somehow. I asked her to wait until we could discuss it after class. When class was finished, she quickly brought it up again. "Ma'am, you take Prashad?" A short conversation revealed that prashad had to do with Hinduism, but I still wasn't sure how. Ashok, the overseer of the English program with PMI, stepped in and did some conversing and some translating. He was pleading with the girls to really think through some of their theological constructs, because until they tried to comprehend Truth about god instead of god in culture, they would never be able to understand my point of view. It finally came down to this fact: Prashad is food that has been offered to idols, and then is passed out again to the people as a blessing. I told my friend who had offered me this thoughtless blessing that I love Indian culture, that I want to learn about it, and that I appreciate her wanting to share her culture with me, but that because of my convictions about the Truth and the Good Book, for me to eat it would be wrong. I briefly referenced the story of Daniel, who was in a very similar situation. I was glad to have a reference point for my behavior in this instance.
But wow- food sacrificed to idols - who would have known I would ever encounter such a thing in my lifetime? This is 2012. These are forward-thinking students with a Master's level education. And yet they buy their paper painted gods off the street, and eat their crisped rice blessings from the bowl in front of a marble statue.
Though this reality breaks my heart, it fills me with anticipation to know that only being here with them has brought this conversation about with five priceless girls. I pray for them daily. I want them to have the gift that I have.
While we were listening to Ashok during this conversation, I felt something brush against my arm. I ignored it, but then it continued - someone was stroking me! I looked up to see Kavita essentially petting my arm, and I immediately pulled it in to my side and laughed, asking her what on earth she was doing! She said my arm was smooth, and I looked at her incredulously. "My skin is the same as any of yours!" I said, swiping my hand over a few nearby forearms. "But your skin is so white and smooth and beautiful," she said. I shook my head in disbelief, not even finding a response. It doesn't take much to notice that my skin is not my best feature. These girls all but worshiped it.
Friends, I long for the day when I've earned my place as one of them. It is my dear hope that one day when they look at me they will see not the differences in me, but the similarities; that one day they will see not a stranger, but a friend; that one day when these dear Indians look at me, they will see nothing but the Love I have come here to embody.

Listen up: this is not extraordinary or beautiful. This is an arm.

Love from Delhi,
julie the white.

Wednesday, September 19

height, heat, honesty, home.

It's time for a round of Only in India!

These are just some things i've noticed and adjustments i've had to make that i think will tickle your fancy:

- In India, my height is average. Maybe even above average! I was walking around Kingsway Camp today, searching the storefronts for a zucchini (which doesn't exist in its normal form here, which you'd need to know if you ever tried to make zucchini bread for a girls' gathering that same night). I looked up from my cobblestone-dodging to see I was surrounded by mostly men. More surprising than that, though, was that I was taller than about half of them! One in particular was especially small, even compared to my five feet and one inch. Who knows - maybe the meters are holding them back.

- Only in India can I step into my living room and see a man fanning the bottom of his laptop with the plate that recently contained his dinner.

- Only in India will someone be upset, incredulous even, that the same street meal varies 15 rupees in price (30 cents) from the vendors in the good part of town to the bad part of town.

- Only in India are plastic bags so precious. I save them from the carry out we get from restaurants, from the grocery stores, and from the vendors. I need them constantly!

- Only in India - or maybe Mayberry - can I still have a running tab with the neighborhood storefront. The owner orders me cream that comes in a bag (and which, after opening, I seal with a hairpin... what else can i do?) and I buy it from him every other day. Some days I have change, some days he does, and some days neither of us do. If it happens that we can't get our finances square, I take the milk and I pay him the next time, or I overpay him, and he remembers how much he owes me. After all, I know where he works, and he knows where I live! I really appreciate him because many Indians will take advantage of my ignorance, but even one time when I gave him 20 rupees for an item that I didn't know was 15, he discounted my purchase the next day. He's an honest guy - and even if it's only 10 cents, it means a great deal to me. It means integrity, it means sacrificial kindness, and it means respect: respect for a woman, a foreigner, and a newcomer.
Praise was talking to me about how it makes her angry the way Indians often take advantage of white people here. "We're all the same, we're all human!" she said, "What do you think, that because someone is a different color than you, that they're not as valuable as you are?"
I was honestly a little dumbfounded. I've never known a spectrum that puts white people on the receiving end of the negative effects of racism. I've never thought of fighting for my right to value despite my ethnicity.  Praise will often scold rickshaw-wallas and shop owners, "She is your sister!"
The fact that this shop owner, this neighbor, cares about my rights and confirms my value by not trying to cheat me and by treating me the same way he treats anyone else honestly gives me hope for India. All it takes is a few good souls.
Beyond that, as far as the tab thing goes, I'm just a big fan of the system for whatever reason. It's a trust thing, it's a comfort thing, it's an India thing.

- Only in India can i pay a man to fix my leaking A/C and come home to find a ball of clay slathered over the corners of the unit.  Seriously, I just smile and shake my head. It works -- for now :)

- Not only in India, actually, do I have such trouble with time differences. This is especially wretched, though, since I'm constantly calculating California time to talk to Andrew and then adding an hour to get Texas time and subtracting 9.5 from me to get Ohio time -- seriously. We'll skype when we catch each other online at the same time... haha, i'm constantly wrong in my calculations. A blanket apology to all who are stood up.

- Only in India can I buy two (2) individual AAA batteries. It's amazing to me how convenient Indians need so many things to be, but how inconvenienced we all are by the shortcuts and shoddy work of others.  Their day-to-day mentality is expressed even in the way they buy their goods! No one stocks up on anything. In some ways, this IS incredibly convenient. But it speaks volumes to me of the Indian way: when something is broken, fix it; but don't go out of your way to make sure it won't break in the first place.

Only in India, my friends. only in the home of my heart.
Enjoy your bulk items from Sam's and your wires concealed in your walls and your ovens that don't sit on the floor in your bedroom!
I'll take my chai along with the clay on my air conditioner.

Love from Delhi,
Julie at home.

Monday, September 17

that is not an Indian top.

tonight marks two weeks since I've come to India.
Today has been a rest day, and soon I'll go to pick up dinner for the family. I know where I am, I'm well adjusted, I eat the food here, and I haven't felt sick once.
I'm lucky to love it here.
I have a great love for India, but it makes my heart heavy to learn of its woes. So many people in India are hurting, so few wrongdoers face any consequences, and trust is hard to come by. I hurt for the frightened, oppressed and battered women of this country - believe me when I say that there are more than you could imagine. And there is nothing they can do.
This is not a curry-flavored America. This is a different world.

There are so many things that I'm learning. Even in such a short amount of time, I return to the truths that I've learned here before. So much more trust in the Father is needed to exist and function here. I'm also constantly reminded of his great and steadfast love. He provides. When I think I'm spent, I find energy and strength to continue. In being so stretched, I find I'm better than I knew I was - better than I hope to be when I am comfortable.

I have had too many funny, ironic, embarrassing and heartwarming experiences already to enumerate, but I thought I would share just a couple of my favorites with you.
One was when I went out shopping to Kamla Nagar with Praise. We were searching everywhere for really big, characteristically Indian pants - the Patiala. Finally we found some for a good price, and in good tourist fashion, I had no change. (Nobody wants to break your 500 here... it's like buying something for $7.50, handing the vendor a $10 bill and being laughed at. The ATM will only give me 1,000 and 500 rupee bills, so HOW am I supposed to get any change if I have to give it out every time I buy something??) After scolding me, the man relented and was getting my tens and fifties out of his pocket. As I was waiting, the vendor behind me saw all of this going down - I'm sure he thought, "Here's a girl who's here for a week, knows nothing about India, and wants to bring cultural things back to her home!"  He called out to me and I turned to see him holding a poorly constructed green blouse with ruffles and buttons that I probably could have bought at Wal-Mart. "Marm," he crooned, "here, you see - Indian top! Very nice - you like to buy!"
I LOST it. Every time I think about it I crack up again.  Good effort, bhaiya.
Yesterday, after meeting with the CBC Family (which has grown considerably since I was here, by the way - I can now tell you from experience that every single seat is filled in only one of the three services. I moved out of my chair to make way for others and was sitting with 7 or 8 other youths on the steps down into the basement. Something about that really makes my heart full. Like, here's something that's being done right. The good news is not being dressed up, just presented simply; there's little to no production value, the culture breeds irresponsibility and inconsistency, and still the place packs out week after week.) a few of my friends came over for lunch and to get ready for the house service we were going to attend for encouragement later on. I didn't know they were coming, so I went out shopping for a few things I needed. When I got home, there they were, and we ended up eating, chatting, and singing together for close to four hours. It was just such a gift to have a comfortable, happy time of fellowship with people who to me already feel like family. It's hard to really know people who come from completely different backgrounds than you - but I do know these people.  I am learning to understand and predict their personalities, finding out how to read them, and am truly appreciating their company.
The comfort of that afternoon is a gem in my treasure of memories here so far.

So, what have I learned? If there is only one thing, it's this:
Don't let your plans get in your way.
There have been so many frustrations for me already just because everything always changes. I want to prepare, I want to save myself the headache of split-second issues, I want to perform to the best of my ability. But I've been baffled by the last minute workings of the people here.
I have to put the planner down.
I have to be willing to be flexible.
After all, I'm not the one who directs my steps.

Love from Delhi,
changed, changing, and change-ready julie.

Saturday, September 15

on the no good and very bad:


bad day, all. I had to buy the wrong milk, I let the chai boil over, I ripped my beautiful new pants (right where you don't want to rip your pants), and I stink at playing the piano. You should know that every Indian has music in his bones, so when they hand you a keyboard and say, "Remember that one song? That's what we're playing," it means they're going to turn around and begin without giving you lyrics, chords, or a key. COOL GUYS. IM FRUM UMMERKA.
I keep telling them just to let me sing instead of sing and play, but they need a keyboardist, so keyboard i will.

There are bad days. But there is redemption.
Today I got to go back to Pathshala for the first time. This tutorship program for kids age 2-9 is one of my very favorite things to be a part of. I led a craft for these sweet-faced loves, with translation from a new friend named Sofia. Now, you may not remember anything about Lakshmi, Shiva, Aarti, Chandan, or Lolli, but I certainly do. To see their faces, aged two years but still round, dark, and eager, was almost too much for me. I sat looking into all of these precious babies' upturned faces and love spilled out of my heart. They have options. They are being given the truth. And they matter greatly in the lives of those around them, in the grand scheme of their generation, and in the mobilization of their friends, families, and those who will follow them. Choose life, children. Choose hope.

My aunt and uncle, who sponsor Aarti through the Child Scholarship Program, sent her a little gift for me to give her. I told her how they pray for her, care about her, and how they are giving her gifts because they heard about her and her friends from me. She stifled a grin when she saw the bracelet and the necklace they had sent, and walked out of the room glowing after posing in composure for my lens. These children can change things for India. And by equipping them, we can change things for them. It warmed my heart to see her happy, and it encourages me to know that she won't have to struggle to find an education. When the time comes, her college will be provided for; she will have what she needs in order to live a productive life, and she can be at her lowest potential a contributing member of Indian society, and at best, who knows? I love her sweet, calm spirit and her leadership among the children. Just look at her face. You love her too, i know you do.

Also among the high points of my day was the weekly care group meeting of the Family tonight. I got a good taste of some of the fellowship that has always caught my attention among the believers here. We played games all together and studied a passage that reminded me not to sweat so much (ha! get it? it's hot! i'm sweating all the time!) about the small stuff. Bad days are great reminders not to love the things of the world, but to cultivate in our hearts instead the love of the Father. The world is passing away, but the one who does the will of the Father abides.

Fun fact - in my English class we are learning about the present continuous tense. The phrase "is passing" is a great example of that. Our world is presently decaying before our eyes, and will continue to do so. How can we expect that naturally things will be easy or good for us here? We are interminable souls in a transient situation.

No wonder we have bad days.

Love from Delhi,
julie the grumpy.

Thursday, September 13

thrill seeking and chai drinking


It's constantly on my mind. The importances, the differences, the challenges, and the joys.

Tuesday was a special day. On Tuesday, the PMI staff all went together to an Indian ...

Amusement park.

correct. Amusement park. I didn't know they would have them here, either. Don't worry, on the way I saw two camels, an elephant (!!!) and three of the most beautiful and exotic temples I've ever seen, so it wasn't a total 'Murkafest.
The park was called World of Wonder, it cost us around $9 each to get in, and it looked very similar to an american theme park. Except that it was almost completely empty, and that it was still under construction. :) It was also fairly low budget, so there were no coasters - only fair-style stationary rides. You'd make the connection then, that the rides were puny and tame.
and you'd be wrong.
They are terrifying! Well, some of them are puny. But, since you don't wait in any line before getting on the ride and consequently don't get to see how they are going to operate, it's just a total gamble when you get on what the thing is actually going to do; you don't know if it will spin or drop or flip or what. Totally unpredictable. Also, I was never totally sure whether i should trust all the mechanisms and harnesses, so that was an added shade of terror. haha.
Another difference between American amusement parks and Indian ones is that American amusement parks don't have random huge playgrounds, paintball fields, or dance areas laced with sprinklers.

duh, the ladies dance while the men play paintball while the workers hammer the rebar. we are a big happy family.
All in all the day was great. It was fun getting to know PMI staff better, and even though the majority of the day wasn't characteristically Indian, I enjoyed taking in things about India that will help me assimilate better and sooner. I watched the road and tried to get used to driving on the left. I listened to  conversations in Hindi, trying to understand the types of sounds and the flow of sentences and conversations. It's amazing, too, how a language opens up to you when you know just a few key words.

Speaking of Hindi, I may have found a tutor to help me learn. It's a girl from my English class actually, and her name is Kavita. She is the sweetest, most responsive and attentive girl, and she took on herself to help me with some Hindi spontaneously after class one day. If you think of it, keep us on your hearts. I'd love to develop a close relationship with her and her friends, and be able to pour into their lives a little bit. She's the type of girl I think I could get through to, and I also think I'll have a really nice time getting to know her.

Today was really nice - I think I was abusing Indian culture by wearing kurtas that are as worn out as many of mine are, so Praise and I went out shopping :) I got some big flowy pants, which I found are called "Patiala". I also got one outfit that came as a set - complete with a scarf that matches the material of the patiala. I'm happy to have more options, and to work on introducing Indian things into my long-term wardrobe. Praise and I had a great time together at Kamla Nagar, the market I always used to come to for clothing before. It continues to feel so good to come back to a place that has already warmed my heart once.

In short, life here continues to be colorful, challenging, and just as I hoped it would be. It makes me feel happy and content and home, just like I remember it making me feel.

And I'm finally settled enough to have made my own chai. I tell you, life is good.

Love from Delhi, 
patiala-clad julie

Sunday, September 9

centered sunday

Today is lovely.
The weather is alternating between the sweat-inducing heat I'm familiar with, and the cloud-covered humid relief I've come to anticipate. Church was so nice, especially seeing a couple of girls I dearly loved on my first trip - please let me tell you, it's amazing to be able to pick up with someone you left halfway around the world.
Praise and I went after church to go and get Prakash some birthday presents - today he is four years old! what a sweet, tiny, talented, inquisitive, energetic thing he is. He's a handful, and a perfect ham, but he's a wonderful treasure. What a sweet boy.

I followed praise to the metro nearby and got a new card - I forgot to bring my old one back with me. I filled it with a mere 100 rupees ($2) and used only 20 to get to the shopping center and back. A new one has sprung up since I was last here. We left the metro station and came upon a mess of rickshaw drivers waiting to service those who come out of the air conditioning of the underground cars into the heat of the day. Praise wasn't in a walking mood today, so we took my first rickshaw since 2010 to the nearby shops. How I'd missed those dear workers - skin and bones, riding with surprising might, pulling untold pounds over untold miles in the unspeakable heat for the smallest profit I've ever seen anyone work to attain. (Well, I guess at least they don't have to join a gym.) So many of them choose this line of work - it's astounding to me while I'm still living in the last bit of the idle American mentality... I hope by some time into this trip I'll have kicked that habit.
So, tonight is the birthday party - we decorated the Malakar's house to be a party jungle :) The theme is Diego from Dora. He'll have a leopard cake, and there are vines, trees, and jungle flowers covering the walls. It's precious. I'm excited.

Prakash saw me taking pictures of the decor and asked to give it a go... He took this on his first try!
My little prodigy, he is. 

I got him an urban-style structured jacket... no, I have not lost my mind. They tell me it'll cool down sometime and he can use it. Who knows if he'll like it, but he'll look good in it - it's really cute.
Speaking of things people look good in - here's a couple of random facts. 1) I think Indian guys look REALLY good in pink. Ashok was wearing a nice pink shirt today, and he looked sharp! 2) I think any guy looks handsome in a kurta. The guys dressed up for church today, and I just think they look so nice. There you go.

EDIT:: some pictures from the party :)
this small person is certainly a pirate.
Actually, it's the result of the face-painting option at the party,  which was largely ignored by the kids because they were so afraid of it. haha. some of them did end up with mustaches, like this one :)
at one point he came out and announced that his band was going to play, and then marched his friends out with their instruments :)
his band has a lot of heart, but a short attention span.
The adults played a jungle version of Pin-the tail on the donkey, which was completely unfamiliar to them... It was fun to watch them laugh and play. 

the man of the hour.

So fun! We all had a great time together celebrating our favorite little biracial four-year-old.

As a personal update... 
today, I feel very centered. I was thinking when I came back how I felt good, I felt pretty content but not perfect, and I didn’t feel pretty but I felt like it didn’t matter somehow, and I felt settled and contained and like I’m doing as well as I should be doing, as well as I could be doing, and I felt like a woman, not a girl, and I felt fine - truly fine. I was trying to put a finger on what I felt, and finally I realized. I feel centered.
Like my confidence comes from inside me, like I don’t suffer from any dependency, like my happiness doesn’t require easy circumstances, like I can love those around me without insecurity, inadequacy, fear, unsettledness, immaturity, depression or confusion holding me back.
It feels so perfect. I hope I can continue to live in this figurative place within my heart. Right here in the center. :) 

Tomorrow is a relaxation day... I'm excited to rest up and stock up on things that I need (Mangoes. I need so many mangoes!!) Maybe I'll take some pictures of my place and put them up for you guys :)

Until then,
My love from Delhi!

-Julie of the jungle

Friday, September 7

the Bollywood movie with the happy ending.

ah. Delhi.
Living in the land of never too much has been interesting at my point on my journey to seek simplicity.
All of my things are getting set up, everyone is scolding me for not eating enough rice (You wouldn't believe the sheer amount of rice these people eat. I went to get a bag at the store - you CANNOT buy a bag of rice that weighs less than 5kg - yes, almost ten pounds), and soon i'll be making my own chai again. There are things I like about living with a family, and things I like better about living alone. Adjustments will be made, and soon "normal" will be refocused. Here I am, Here I live, Here I stay.

India is different from America, and different from what it was two years ago, but India is my home.
Those instances which before would elicit from me an exclamation of surprise or delight earn now only a familiar smile, a knowing glance, or a silent shaking of my head. A dog was lying in my stairwell my first full day here. I smiled and ignored it. There was no water pressure yesterday morning, and I didn't raise an eyebrow. I found a $25 item in America for $4 in the market; I simply promptly bought it. The vendors, their wares on rolling carts, cut through the mornings with their impressively loud wailing, advertising their goods in a lilting, melancholy cry. I imagine that the hopelessness I hear in their voices is not only the result of my failing to fully cross a cultural chasm, but that their cries are also their calls of suffering, bemoaning the atrophy of their neglected souls.

But along with those things that are so familiar to me, often there are new feelings.
I knew that through my last semester in college, and especially in the time following, I came into my own more than I ever had previously. My outlook, fashion, social comforts, and attitude all changed, and I became self-aware in a very new way. Living life through my own perspective and according to my actual preferences was new to me, and I relished it. I have been evolving more into me ever since.
Though I knew about this subtle inner transformation, I hadn't thought about how it would affect me here in my daily life. It's truly amazing, though, what a difference it has made. I'm comfortable in situations where I used to squirm; I'm confident in my role and value; I don't mind sharing my opinion or being the only one who is different or making mistakes in order to learn.
Chat Over Coffee is one of the weekly activities here at PMI. Historically, I'd had trouble with this event, and was always waiting for it to be over. Seeking out Indian-born people who are not very comfortable in English and trying to find something in common with them was so difficult for me. But now, just this week, I sat with a group of 7 girls and laughed and chatted with them, willing to be silent when they spoke in Hindi, and glad to share with them when they asked questions of me. It felt much more natural. Tonight, I sang at a program held for the new freshman (called freshers) at Delhi University. Never once have I sung in front of a crowd that I haven't been nervous or had butterflies. But today I sang as comfortably as if no one were there. And even with the friends I had before, my relationships are much more comfortable than they had been. I'm truly enjoying the comfort I have because of my self-confidence. Even though I'm not louder, or more outgoing or excitable, I'm truly more well adjusted socially because of my newfound centeredness.  I'm pleased that my personal growth has had a positive effect on my potential for impact... there's something I love about understanding that and being able to see the difference. I'm looking forward to finding more ways it is manifested here.

Tonight at the fresher's celebration I sang and then photographed the event. People came late, and it went long (certainly not unexpected) but everyone seemed to be enjoying it, and the band that was actually there to sing at PMI was really very good. They were the ones wrapping up the evening, and the last song was from a popular movie that the college students all recognize. The lead singer was encouraging interaction and physical response from a culture I've come to know as reserved publicly, and the whole room was coming to life; first singing when they were prompted, then standing, belting every word from the depth of their lungs.
The music surrounded me; carried me away. I moved into the background, sat down and took it all in.
And, in that moment, smiling with my eyes closed, surrounded by a room of Indians singing with joy, I was a character in a Bollywood movie. I've lived through an involved, emotional and storied plot, punctuated by songs, traveling in and out of countries, through love and difficulty, experiencing battles and joys... and all of a sudden, there I was at the happy ending.

(and, like in every good Bollywood movie, after the happy ending came a dance party.)

With love from Delhi,
Julie the new&improved.

Tuesday, September 4

The Way Back

I don't know how to start this post. It's going to be massive. I'm just sitting here smiling as I think of all the wonderful things I have to tell you.
But let's keep it as brief as possible.

Though I stuffed my suitcases to the gills (with BOOKS!), DFW waived my oversize bag fees, saving me $120. Great start.
It's burned into my memory, the moment I left American soil.
When the plane begin to accelerate, and I paid close attention, so I know exactly what it looked like, what it felt like, what song was playing, and how it made me feel. I saw the lights of the cities glimmering in the late evening, caught a glimpse of the captivating Dallas skyline against the night. I felt the plane going faster and faster, and the small jolt as the wheels lifted from the pavement. "The Luckiest" by Ben Folds was playing on my ipod. I felt brilliantly torn, exhilaration and nostalgia tugging me in opposite directions. I felt thankful, incredulous, and overwhelmingly fulfilled.
After that, the flight from Dallas to London was uneventful -- I slept the majority of the time. I breezed through customs and changed some money into 64 British Pounds. I hopped onto the tube (British subway) and rode it into the center of London (after getting off at only ONE incorrect stop! haha - even random neighborhoods are quaint and beautiful in London. I was amazed). I had planned to do the double decker thing and see Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster bridge, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and the London Eye. I couldn't find the info center on foot, however, so I didn't get tickets for the buses or get to go to the Tower of London.

Instead, I followed the landmarks and gave myself a little walking tour of the things I recognized, starting with the London Eye, moving on to Big Ben, stumbling upon Westminster Abbey (no, I didn't know what it looked like beforehand) (and yes, it is closed to sightseers on Sundays, oops) and wandering through some gardens and by many telephone booths and across the Thames River.

As my dad would say, "Screaming Eagles!"

 I took pictures, I had dinner, I had extra money so I paid the fast track fare for the Eye and got to skip the queue :)

I really enjoyed London. It was just the right temperature and it was everything I expected it to be as far as the tourist attractions go. AND I BET I WAS IN THE SAME POD ON THE LONDON EYE AS EMILY AND JEF. probably not. but maybe so. not that i care. duh, its' whatever.  TOTALLY not a big deal. but kind of. seriously.

I think the best thing for me about London, though, was just the surrounding culture. To see all kinds of people and their European lifestyles and fashion felt different and exciting, it was a great way to ease into my culture change. Arguably even better about London is kids under the age of 6 that speak with British accents. Cute factor multiplier: x10. omg.
I still had ten pounds left over at the end of the day, so I got a deal on three large blocks of Toblerone (or as i like to call it, "emergency chocolate"). yay!

So, then I flew from London to Bahrain. I hated Heathrow - I expected more modernity. It was dark and disorganized and there was no starbucks and the substitution coffee shop served me terrible chai.
As I was stewing silently, frustrated with how much i disliked Heathrow, however, I had no idea what was waiting for me in Bahrain. Guys, ugh. I ended up staying up on the redeye from London to Bahrain talking to Phil, my chatty British seatmate, and I had to continue to keep myself awake for my 7 hour layover in Bahrain, a Middle Eastern Muslim island country off the coast of Saudi Arabia.
If you can avoid Bahrain - avoid it. There was not one minute i felt safe or comfortable, there is the promise of airport wifi everywhere but no working wifi anywhere, and the whole place was freezing!
At one point I went into the bathroom stall and just sat on the closed toilet because it was warmer in there and I had a moment of privacy away from the leering men. Finally the cleaning crew kicked me out, so I went and sat in a semi-secluded spot, where a bug promptly crawled into my purse - i was shaking with rage and frustration at this point after being so tired and on edge for so long.
I admit, Bahrain made me frightened that the annoyance and burnout i was feeling with this Middle Eastern country would carry over to India. Was I so changed now that India would feel uncomfortable and exhausting? I tried to calm myself, knowing that even if my fears were true, I'd just have to live with them. I found a starbucks (with wifi, yay!) and when the barista saw my name on my credit card she began to serenade me with a song in Hindi about another Julie. That made me smile. Then my 20+ hours of traveled self got to enjoy all the goodness of a latte, and chat a little with some American friends online.
When i went to get on the plane, it was with a crowd of entirely Indian and Bahraini men. We had to board a bus at our terminal to ride to the plane, and no one made way for me or gave up a seat, just pushed their way through and stared at me, intently and uncomfortably. When I walked onto the plane and one of them took a picture of me on his cell phone, a thousand memories came flashing back to me. But instead of being amused and shrugging it off like I always used to, I balked. "I did not come here to be a piece of public property," I thought. "I did not travel here from my home to become a spectacle."
 I may never forgive Bahrain for isolating me so; for making me long for a covering kurta and someone, anyone, to stand by my side.
The male attendant on the plane was kind to me, though, and insisted that I take a seat on the roomy exit row away from the men. It reminded me of when waiters in Indian restaurants would seat us as a group of Americans in the finest place in the house - often kicking Indians out of the way for us, though we never asked for it. I half-smiled hopefully... telling myself that after a good night's rest, I would feel more optimistic about my time in Delhi.

But it did not take a good night's rest.
After I finalized everything at the airport, I looked for the driver PMI had sent to pick me up. I didn't find him, and rather than starting a phone chain of worrying mothers and helpful friends, after about an hour I decided just to find a taxi and try to get into an area I recognized. Immediately upon leaving the airport, the honking cars and overstuffed motorcycles assaulted us. There were people sleeping on the side of the road, too many advertisements covering ugly cement buildings, and smells, smells, smells. I took it all in, closed my eyes, and smiled. The feeling of home I remember so fondly had returned despite my Bahrainian fears. All it took was India itself to calm my quavering heart and remind me why I hoped, prayed, and worked so long to get back.

The taxi driver did not know the way to my home. We circled the block numerous times as he grew more and more impatient with me, found the metro station I finally recognized, and I got him to Peter and Heather's house. They were not there. I got in touch with their neighbor, who had their number (and a phone) and called them for me - they were at the airport! They came right after I had left. Peter called his sister Praisey, whose house I am living in along with her and Peter's parents, and she came to take me to my new home, which is a short walk away.  My old friend and PMI worker Prabin came to help get my bags up the stairs, and all was well. I spent some time getting reacquainted with Praisey and went to bed.

This morning I woke up and went to the PMI devotional which was conducted mostly in Hindi. That's a daily occurrence that will encourage my study of the language, which begins soon. I went for lunch with Heather and her children after the devotional, and chatted with her about my role and my hopes for my time with them. I loved being with Prakash and Joy, both of whom are running around and chattering away - they are so old, and so cute. I got to paint Joy's toenails: pink, which she has told me so many times is her favorite color. Our lunch was delicious and Indian, and I finished if off with my second chai of the day. I'm back in my room to unpack and recooperate, and I start teaching English tomorrow! This whole place makes me feel like I never left - I'm as content as I've ever been. I'm excited to make this life my own as I get the swing of it, I'm excited to take pictures, I'm excited to be buddies with Prakash and Joy, and I'm excited just to be used as I'm needed.
Heather prayed for me before I left her this afternoon, and ended this way:
"Thank you God for all You do for us, and all the good gifts You bring us.  Julie is a good gift, and we thank You that You have brought her here."
It touched and humbled me to be spoken of in this way. I pray with all my heart I will live up to being nothing but a gift, a blessing, and an encouragement here.

Love from Delhi,
Julie the gift.