Thursday, February 28


I made it to Nepal!

As I was riding in the car to the airport, I felt a certain calm. I realized that though I hated packing as usual, I hadn't taken the time to have a real good freakout about the things I must be forgetting. I take that to mean that I must finally be a seasoned traveler. I didn't worry about the traffic. I wasn't concerned that my ticket wouldn't print. I walked calmly around the departure gates as I was directed here and there to fill out immigration forms, as I was told I could not carry on my baggage, and as the terminals are ridiculously far apart. But the Delhi airport is really nice, and it's filled with plants. So i smiled as i watched the silhouette of a worker dusting off the leaves of the live palm trees, and as two young boys bursting with energy ran as fast as they possibly could in order to beat the belt going the opposite direction on the moving sidewalk. 
I sat down at my terminal among a party of French people. I wondered were all the Nepalis were. 
I moved down the line to my seat on the plane. I had a window seat, and the large man in the aisle seat was already comfortably seated and buckled in -- and he refused to move for me. I squeezed past him and tried not to be too obviously disgusted when he stared pointedly and selfishly at the backside of an attendant who was bending over to help someone. (Who designs their outfits, anyway?) The man bought a snack, and he chewed it loudly. He wasn't really bothering me, I was just thinking how I didn't have a great seatmate; but mostly I was reading Donald Miller, so I was certainly enjoying myself. All of a sudden, I noticed out the opposite window that the light was taking on colors, and I looked up to see if there was a sunset to be had out my window. But what I saw...
I love Delhi, but in Delhi everything is brown. The leaves on the trees and the full moon at night and the streets and the cows have a sort of film over them, as though you're seeing them filtered through brown air. The brown air feels like home, but it also can get a little stifling. And after all that brown, it was amazing to see what i saw when i looked up from my book. 
We were crossing into the Himalayas. THE HIMALAYAS, PEOPLE. Who gets to just see this stuff? Wow. We were above some enormous foothills covered in dense forests, and far beyond them across the empty soft purple mist were floating pure, clean, white and blue and purple peaks. Even seeing all this through windowpanes covered in grease and condensation couldn't diminish its amazing beauty. All that majesty after all that brown just somehow felt like a miracle. And it was even more mind-boggling to understand the great hulking size of these mountains:
When you're flying, you look down on the world. And you see the cute little monopoly houses and you begin to believe the world is round instead of just a place where you put your own feet, since you can begin to see the curvature of the thick blue band of horizon. Up there is where you understand the zoning plans of cities and see the real shapes of the rivers, and where you look down and realize that clouds are things with a height and a top, and not a video you watch in the sky. Well, in that airplane I looked down on everything else, but I looked across to the Himalayas. I was in among the mountain range. How glorious. I mean... 
The human soul is bad. But our Father has created things that He deemed good, and it is not difficult to see why he did. I'm so thankful for this mandatory time of rest. I almost feel guilty leaving some of my friends who I know are working so hard - it seems unfair that I get such a beautiful break. But, I wasn't allowed by law to stay any longer, and it just so happens that Nepal is really cool. I'm hoping to make the most of it.

Oh, and after all of my seatmate's bad qualities, he did help me out by taking my bags out of the overhead before i could even think about squeezing out of our row, and even before he got his own. I guess that makes him a decent seatmate after all.

The team working here is really neat and they seem very well-bonded. Leah, the girl I'm staying with, is extremely well-grounded and self-motivated. She knows what she wants and she knows what she's gonna do. It will be such a blessing to be around her these couple of weeks. When we reached her flat after dinner, I was standing on her terrace meeting her dalmatian named Asha (Hope) and I when i looked out at the view from the place i was standing, i froze in it. It was the most beautiful display of stars I have seen in a very, very long time. It felt like just another beautiful gift of nature. It felt like it soothed me and spoke to my soul. 
Other than that, my experience with Kathmandu so far is that it's a lot like Delhi. The streetside shops are nearly identical. The people look extremely similar. The roads and traffic are pretty much just alike, too. I like the familiarity and the newness at the same time. It feels homey but still like a break from any monotony that had set in. 
I'm certainly thankful for this time. Lift me up that I might be an encouragement here, a help in any way i might be useful, and that I would make the most of the time I have. 

It's so nice to feel so content.

Love from Kathmandu,
Julie, happy in the Himalayas!

The Light is Beautiful in the Morning.

In the afternoon, i don't perceive the beauty of Delhi.

there seems a subtle discontentment, and it settles over everything like the dust when the women are sweeping the streets.
there are things to be done, people to see, errands to look after, and often those things will take longer than you anticipate they will. There are construction workers using noisy tools. You can love Delhi in the afternoon, but not for its beauty.
Tuesday morning I woke up and went across the road to take some photos of a sweet small family, Kham and Kagui with their 5 month old daughter Athaliah. I walked past the small slum I always pass on my way to PMI, and I looked through their alley to my left to find the small concrete area transformed as it was struck by the morning sunshine, echoing with brightness, reverberating a pure white glow.
I wished it was always morning all day long.
but then i loved the five o'clock light. Walking around Burari during house visits, I remembered the way it framed the faces of the children, clarifying each golden silhouette in a crisp halo around them. I wished it was always morning, until it was five o'clock.
But then there was a crisis, and I walked the streets of our neighborhood in the stillness of the midnight. There was something eerie about the swarming streets I know when they were deserted. There was something peaceful and also terrifying about the streetlamps lighting my open way - no cars or motorcycles honking behind me, no people or tailors to sidestep, no children to smile at, no staring men, no shops to check for a packet of full cream with which to make my chai.
the sleeping world is beautiful and strange.
It should always be morning until it is five o'clock, and five o'clock until it is midnight, and midnight until it is morning again.
This morning, i woke up and packed, made plans and made chai.
This five o'clock i'll be in the asian air, somewhere among the Himalayas.
This midnight i'll be sleeping soundly among friends in Nepal, anticipating elephant rides and the sight of the peak of Mt. Everest.

This is the day that our Father has made. I will rejoice and be glad in all of it -
but the Light is most beautiful in the morning.

(I don't know if I'll have much internet access these next two weeks. I'll talk to you all again March 14th!)
Love leaving Delhi,
Julie the light lover!

Tuesday, February 19

Burari Today.

Heads up: this post is heavy on the details, but they're details I just don't want to forget. 

Today was a Tuesday, and on Tuesdays, I go to burari.
When  I go to burari, I don’t bring my camera. But today I wish I had.
Today we got into the auto to go what is usually around 45 minutes into the neighboring district. I pulled out the book I’m currently reading to pass the time. I noticed as I was reading that people seemed unusually loud. “Why is everyone so angry and chatty today?” I wondered. An old woman boarded our auto. She chattered at Rajesh. All of a sudden, our auto stalled in the middle of the road. Two of the four guys up front got out and pushed, and the driver revved the engine and gave it gas until it seemed to pick up again. A couple of people had gotten out thinking they’d need to find another way to get to Burari. They hopped back in.  I put my finger in my book and tried to catch some of the Hindi going on. “Just be sure you don’t stop the engine again, or it won’t start!” I imagined them saying. “Why do I always pick the broken auto?” I imagined them thinking. I counted us. Twelve. Twelve people traveling together in a three-wheeled vehicle smaller than my mom’s minivan. I shook my head and opened my book.

We got out of the auto before we usually do because we were going to do a house visit today – all of the students’ parents were going to meet us at one central house, because they all live quite close together.  I looked up from my carefully chosen steps in the developing area to see two of my bolder students coming toward us, ready to take us to their neighborhood. They were very excited to see me. The area is difficult to navigate after rain, as the roads are simply not roads yet. I love the whole district, though, because instead of crumbling, everything is being built up. Instead of having become drab and dirty, every house has just been painted in almost offensively bright pastels, and it’s impossible not to be a little happy when you see them in such large quantities, color after color; in between, of course, the moments you look down to step over the boulders or look over to smile at innocently curious wide-eyed children.

When we got to Reena’s house, I was invited inside and courteously handed a glass of soda. The one-room area was the largest of all the students’ residences, so they had chosen it for us to meet in. Soon mothers began to filter in. “This is OmPrakash’s mummy”, they would tell me, “And this is the mummy of Sandeep, and Sangeeta.” They didn’t have to tell me; the family resemblance was uncanny in almost every one of them. I smiled as they interacted – It was like being in class with the students I know. RimJhim’s mother said something sweet and quiet, and then OmPrakash’s mother nodded and addded something, and Reena’s mom burst out with some brash retort and everyone chuckled heartily and put their hands on each others’ knees.  I could hardly believe the similarities, as RimJhim is sweet and thoughtful, OmPrakash is a follower but a speaker, and Reena is bold and loud and funny.  I chatted with the students as Rajesh talked more with the parents. Everyone wanted me to know what a happy day this was, because I had come to see them.
Students who didn’t fit in the room stood in the doorway, light filtering in over their cheeks and their hair, and I smiled and leaned in to hear what was being said by the moms. They enjoyed testing the amount of Hindi I could understand and respond to, and nearly giggled in delight if I offered up a badly pronounced phrase or two.

All of a sudden, I was being invited to more homes. First we moved to RimJhim’s house. RimJhim is probably no older than I am, but she is married to an older man and has a five year old daughter. They live together with her parents and many siblings. Her mother kept telling me how much RimJhim’s English has improved, with tones of deep thankfulness – almost reverence – in her voice. I hugged her daughter KumKum, drank more soda and ate a biscuit or two, and then it was time to move on to the next house. Her mother followed me out the door, and looked at me through her round plastic glasses with great expressive pools of goodwill and appreciation for eyes. She took both of my hands in hers, shook them once and then brought them to her face and kissed them. I squeezed her hands back and then wrapped my arms around her small frame and hugged her twice before the curious eyes of the surrounding neighbors. I thanked her as graciously as I could manage for inviting me into her home.  I squeezed her hands once again and then waved at her and at RimJhim as I walked off to follow the students to the next house.

No other homes were quite as meaningful as that one. Anjali’s family must have commented ten or twelve times about how fair my skin is, and Babita’s family had an adorable baby boy they let me hold whose name was Yesh, and Sangeeta’s mother and sister wept in front of me as I begged them not to be angry with me because I came to their home after I had already spent time elsewhere; they thought I was neglecting them because I didn’t think they were as worthy of my time. One family had a very sick mother, and Ashish’s family thought they were the most deserving of my visit, as his father is the Hindu priest for the whole surrounding area.  Ashish and his father are extremely similar in looks and in expression. I felt a deep need to pray for his family intentionally the longer we stayed in his home. They are very proud of their son – and they should be, because he is helpful and bright. Who knows, maybe he’ll be a light of Truth to their family.

After all the families in the area were visited, all of the students decided to walk me and Rajesh out to the main road to catch an auto home.  “Julie ma’am, today is most happy day for me. Our families so happy to see you; you – here, in our place!” I assured them many times that I was also extremely happy to have met their families and to be able to be a part of their lives. "Will you come to-MORR-ow, ma'am?" They know I only come on Tuesdays and Thursdays. "Ma'am, you come to-morr-ow?"

 We strolled together in a place unlike any I have seen – developing into a very urban area but on the forefront of a line of  an agricultural industry.  We walked away from the housing developments on a narrow concrete path elevated above rich deep green fields on either side, and I watched children driving stubborn goats, wondered at sari-clad women harvesting plants together, and saw a spontaneous plot of jungle planted to cultivate naril, or coconuts. One woman had the largest bag of plants I have ever seen balanced on her head and was managing her sari magnificently as she stepped her way carefully but effortlessly through the fields, just surrounded by the most beautiful vibrant green. I sighed deeply multiple times, taking in the clean air filtered by the seemingly endless fields.

We finally made it to the road, and I hugged each dear girl student close and thanked them warmly for having me, and I shook each boy student’s hand with appreciation. Everyone in the auto was half-smiling at me with one eyebrow up, partially amused at the spectacle being made by the foreigner, mostly waiting impatiently to get where they were going. 
They didn’t know what an amazing and tiring afternoon I had just had.

Life here is worth it. People are worth it. But friends, every one of those students needs the Truth to touch their lives. Many of them are thinking, seeking, wondering.

Pray for RimJhim. Pray for Ashish. Pray for me as I go to them, offering the only thing I have to give – the best thing I’ve ever had; the best news I’ve ever heard. 

Love from Delhi,
Julie: humble English teacher and proud news-bearer.

Monday, February 18

Just people. Just a girl.

"Don't keep your money like this."

Already my trip is becoming a collection of memories, of moments frozen in time. Seemingly meaningless exchanges trump monumental ones in my consciousness, and I'm left with a few anecdotes and instructions to embody India.

"Kya hua?"

Because the way you picture India is riding two people on a moped through the colorful streets under mogul arches and past bangle salesmen, and it measures up strangely to hiding in a cold house away from the policemen beating protesters at India gate; to scrutinizing and unsmiling masses, to the lying grins of salesmen, to beggars hoping to prove to you they are worse off than is true, to crouching middle aged men peddling their gods on the roadside.

"Too much!"

Painted sores. Painted gods. Painted smiles.

My heart breaks, and longs to be moved instead of numbed. Will I be challenged or broken? 
At the end of last year I assessed my situation, longing to be radiant instead of frightened; wondering, 'Am I strong enough? Am I strong at all?'

"You're not feeling cold, or what?"

I sit today on my day off, hopeful to soon begin the biography of a 78-year old man I admire, editing his first book before he agrees for me to begin on his second. I sit with valentines taped around my mirror from the precious students in Burari who are creative, attentive, and apt to learn. I sit in a house I share with a great family, but also now with Linda Fleming, an English teacher from Arizona who has come to spend 10 weeks here teaching in PMI. In the four days she's been here, she has already encouraged me beyond what I can express. Her enthusiasm is catching, and her energy is inspiring instead of condemning. We have spent a lot of time together, and I hope we continue to do so. 
I spent part of my day off today with a cup of coffee, doing one of the only things that I found helps me to reconnect with the humanity of humans: quietly watching them. If I am traveling with them, walking alongside them, bargaining with them - then they are in my way. they're smelly. they're selfish. they're unpredictable. they're lazy. they're scary.
but if i just watch them, they're people again. 

I'm thankful for the warmth returning to Delhi. I'm thankful for my students in Burari. I'm thankful for Linda Fleming.
And I'm thankful that people are just people.
Love from Delhi,
Just a girl.

Wednesday, February 6

More of the East.

Yesterday was a special day!

The day began late the night before, when Campy and I surprised Praisey with a tiny birthday party. I got to do some shopping during the afternoon and get some birthday candles and fun balloons. She Loved the fun balloons. We gave some gifts and celebrated our dear friend. We really appreciate her.

The next day was more celebrations of Praisey's abundance of life, but the evening was dedicated to Heena's bridal beauty! Amos and Heena's wedding is next Monday, the 11th.
First on the agenda was a time with the women in Amos' family. Traditionally before a wedding in India, there is a time of Mehndi and Haldi. Mehndi is the old Indian word for "henna" which is the skin-staining mixture of spices used on brides, usually in beautiful floral designs covering their hands and forearms. Haldi is also basically a spice mixture which consists mainly of Turmeric. It's made into a paste and smeared on the skin - it's supposed to promote that bridal glow. (google tells me its application can reduce pigmentation, so it's basically ancient fairness cream!)
Since our evening began a little late (and we weren't surprised), we didn't have any time for mehndi; but the haldi party was on. The ladies joyously gifted Heena with her bridal presents and sang as they mixed the haldi and began spreading it on her face, arms, and legs - basically any skin that was exposed. They were laughing and dancing. I moved to sit on the couch so i could get a better angle for photography. I had the camera up to my face so i didn't even see the lady coming up from beside me - she creamed me with the stuff!

as if i had any pigmentation to lose...
After washing ourselves of yellow spread, we migrated over to Heather's house for a good old American style bridal shower. Auntie and Elizabeth spent some time sharing with us about marriage, particularly about being a wife, which was really special and insightful. We gifted Heena with her bridal jewelry, gown, and makeup, and then had some good food and a fun game :)

I think you should know that my team won the toilet paper bridal gown game - we had some seriously fashionable five-minute disposable designer styling.

We're happy for Heena, and we're praying her wedding goes smoothly. There's a lot to be done and not much time, but when all is said and done, she'll be married and we'll be glad. I have a feeling she's going to be really, really beautiful.

Guess what else!
Today, I got an email from a friend named Leah in Kathmandu, Nepal. Now, I don't have to leave India for two months at a time, but I do have to leave. She said I was welcome to stay with her during my break from India and be a part of what they're doing there. She even said we could take a trip to the jungle and ride elephants together, and that I can book a plane to see Mt. Everest while I'm there.
All of that is unquestionably happening if I have anything to say about it. I am SO excited. I booked my ticket today right after I saw her email! I leave on February 28 and I'll be gone for two weeks. I can't wait to see a little more of the East.

I am so pleased with these truths: my shallow but strong roots here allow me to be involved in the lives of the beautiful women who I celebrated with yesterday - I'm so glad to be able to be rejoicing with those who rejoice. I'm also pleased with the contacts I've been able to make which allow me to travel and find new mercies, beauties and friends in new places. Praisey's birthday, Heena's bridal shower, and Leah's Nepal are making me happy today.

Here's to more good years, beautiful brides and MORE OF THE EAST!

Love from Delhi,
Julie, ever more Easterly.

Monday, February 4

two encouraging stories.

There are a few nice things that have happened to me lately.

  On Tuesday, I was riding home from Burari. A guy had been assigned to ride home with me for safety reasons, and on that day there was only one other person riding to Kingsway Camp in the tuk-tuk with us, where on a normal day there are eight people packed in. We had little to talk about. I wasn't even sure he spoke English. But i asked him how he knew Rajesh, the man who oversees the burari center. He began to tell me and then said, "Actually - it's like this. And it was he and my auntie who led me to God. Actually - my testimony - is awesome." (I loved the way he said AUW-sum just the way an Indian should.) I grinned, dipped my head and opened my hands - "then let me hear it!" I encouraged. He told me his story: he was a boy who three years ago had been illiterate in his mother tongue, so much so that he hesitated to even speak in Hindi out of apprehension and embarrassment. He failed out of school. He lived in an extremely poor situation. He got into a lot of trouble. His parents were ashamed of him. They told him he was nothing, and would never be anything. "I went to my auntie's house, and I was weeping on the way. Just - weeping." He motioned repeatedly with two fingers tracing from his eyes to his chin. "I was weeping, and she talked to me and told me about love." He spoke slowly and clearly, with broken grammar but a beautiful vocabulary. I loved the way he kept saying he was weeping. I decided I'm not going to cry anymore - only weep.
When he came to Faith, he was changed. He found people like his auntie, a teacher, who did not give up on him. He studied hard, and is now ready to test out of the 12th grade and go to college. He learned English. When i asked him what he wants to do, I expected him to say he wants to be a government worker because about 85% of the people i ask want to get a government job. He laughed and said, "No, I don't want. My parents are forcing me that way. But I think for me, actually - I want to be an English teacher."
Teachers changed his life. And he wants to change the lives of others. His beautiful story of life change, and his humility - recognizing the Lord's hand upon his life and opportunities; never taking credit for any part of his success or selflessness - sang hope to my heart. I wish we all were that way, so excited to share our stories with others. So excited to inspire change and growth in the lives of others with our best efforts.
I was very proud of that boy.

  Last night, I was out shopping for light bulbs, rice, bread, ice cream, and chai leaves. I had to get each thing in a separate store. The light bulbs were not available, so i moved on to the rice. I picked up my huge bag and squeezed in line. As the cashier was checking me out he looked up and began talking to me commandingly. Like a good Delhiite, I was ready to argue. Just give me my rice! But he repeated himself, ordering me to get another bag, because there was a deal on that brand - buy one get one free. I had no idea. He could have saved himself some money just by letting me walk out with the amount of rice I actually wanted. I laughed to myself at the customer service - an act of kindness with a snarky attitude. I walked to the next store get my ice cream, after which it became evident that i couldn't complete my shopping while carrying all twenty-four pounds of rice.  So i commandeered a rickshaw to take me the rest of the way. I sighed as i sat down with the rice in between my feet, realizing that in my hurry i hadn't bothered to settle a price with the man before asking him to take me home. I began to worry - rickshaw-wallas are known to try and cheat anyone who looks like they weren't born and raised in Delhi. He took me the long way to the next shop because he said it was easier for him, and waited while I bought the chai. My home wasn't far. I had ten rupees out to give him, but then i just thought i'd add the change from the last shop to be safe. It was more that enough, but i knew he might ask me more anyway. he pulled up at my house and i hopped down and grabbed the bags of rice, handing him the 14 rupees. As I stepped away he called after me. I looked briefly over my shoulder, ready to wag my head and refuse him anything else - i've fought with rickshaw-wallas while walking up my steps before. But when i glanced back, his arms were extended. He was offering to carry the rice up to my house for me.
I was humbled.

There are times that I'm reminded that people are just people. That there's goodness everywhere among the depravity. It brings me close to tears when i realize that bitterness has nearly led me to forfeit the country my heart has so longed to love at close range. I should sit and watch the people milling in the market more often, thinking of each of their individual lives and problems. I should buy more juicy candied sugar cane and chole bhature. I should go to the slum and see the hearts of the people. I should remember the fabulous pieces of this culture, and never forget the humanity of the beautiful souls.

                Oh, an order of business.
For those of you who are supporting me, I hope you know by now how much your love and contributions mean to me. Because of the economy in America, I've lost a few of my monthly supporters. The continual monthly gifts and accumulation of savings from the fundraising period will keep me here for some time, but not as long as originally planned.
When i decided to leave for India, i decided to come on faith. I decided that however much money I had would be enough. I trusted that my Father would keep me in India as long as He wanted me here. I had hoped originally to stay two years. It looks now like it will be one. The plan for now is to stay until this September. I'll be sad to go. But i'm not sad my plans are changed. I'm told they often will be.
I trust that this is the right timing for my effectiveness here and my duties at home.

And I suspect I'll never be far from India...
I'm all but convinced I'll be back.

Now, to make the most of these seven months!

Love from Delhi,
Julie - encouraged.