Monday, August 31, 2009

Time Travel

My days in India were full & my nights were dedicated to reading bedtime stories, catching frogs, enjoying my bucket showers, & trying to sleep on my lovely technicolor Indian mattress. But now I'm back in the USA! I have access to high-speed internet, a couple hours to kill between classes, & 1711 pictures in my India album. Cue epic blog update full of pictures.

I spent 14.5 hours on this 747, which we christened "Bertha." Twas a very large plane.

Luckily, I had a window seat - this was the view from above the clouds.

This was the view about 5 hours later. Please notice how the clouds & shadows look almost exactly the same? Yeah, it stayed like that for about 12 hours of the 14.5. It really messes with your head when the sun stops moving. We were traveling along with the sun, so it stayed at about the same position even though we technically flew through Friday & Saturday.

They did feed us rather well - we had a menu to choose from & everything. Kim & I were pretty excited to eat stir fry chicken with shitake mushrooms & jasmine rice while on a plane to China. Author's Note: When flying with Cathay Pacific, do NOT order the Kosher meal. The regular econo-class food is pretty amazing & much easier to deal with. If you get the Kosher meal, you'll just find yourself sitting in a pile of wrappers & plastic, trying to figure out why they gave you all these packets of mustard to go with fish & roasted turkey. not pleasant.

China! It's very smoggy & mysterious looking, no?

Storytime: The bathrooms in the Hong Kong airport were by far my favorite bathrooms of the entire trip; they were spotlessly clean, the tile, floors, and sinks all have glitter embedded all over them, the toilets were small, very rounded, & somehow very Chinese looking, & each bathroom had a nice little attendant who mopped the floors after each person. It was awesome. Kim & I were in the bathroom freshening up after the arduous flight from San Francisco (we had left Salt Lake City about 25 hours earlier), when the sweet little attendant came in, smiling a crinkly smile, waving her arms, & saying something about the sky. "Come come! See sky! Sky like fire, you see!"

We walked out of the bathroom giggling a bit & trying to communicate our thanks, then we saw this:

It was incredible. I snapped quite a few pictures, but they can't come close to the real colors - the sky truly did look like it was on fire. I loved the architecture in the Hong Kong International Airport - it wins the prize for my favorite airport, which is quite the honor, as I am now quite the expert. I was in an airport 12 times during the course of my trip.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

All You Need is Love

I truly can't believe this is my last night in India (unless you count waiting around in an airport until 2 AM - I don't). The past three weeks have been full of unforgettable experiences, yet they've flown by so quickly I could hardly catch my breath. I celebrated my twentieth birthday (at the Taj Mahal, no less!), traveled to a country & continent that I've never visited before, walked & talked & sang with leprosy patients, taught a bit of English, learned a bit of Tamil, & fell absolutely head over heels in love with the children of Rising Star Outreach.

I could write thousands of blog posts about my experiences here & never tell them all; each day has held so many new stories. There are many more posts to come, but as I reach the beginning of the end, I feel like a bit of a wrap up is necessary. And yes, this is only the beginning of the end - I still have roughly 36 hours of travel ahead of me.

I have learned so much in these three short weeks - about the world, about children, about poverty, about airports, about mangoes, about leprosy, about bugs, about frogs, about alternative toilet designs, & about myself. The children here truly have the ability to love unconditionally - they can even forgive you for refusing to give them crayons, which is, of course, a huge deal when you're 6. Before they even know your name, they reach up & beg for hugs. They have so little but give so much. We are forever finding little love notes & trinkets by our door. How could I keep my heart from melting with their warmth?

While I've been in India, I've learned a lot about perspective. True beauty isn't skin deep, it comes from the heart. Some of the most beautiful smiles I've ever seen have been full of rotten teeth & sunken gums. You can be grateful for the smallest things; a piece of gum or a simple smile delivers such joy to those who are grateful for even the smallest sign of love.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: seeing more of the world has greatly changed the way I look at my world. I have been so incredibly blessed throughout my life - I have been surrounded by comfort & people who love me. I have a mommy who takes care of my hurts & a daddy that makes sure I have a roof (not made of palm leaves) over my head & food (which I can pronounce the names of) on the table.

Perhaps most importantly, I have gained a powerful testimony of my Father in Heaven's love for His children. One wise man in one of the hospitals we visited told me a very true thing, "I will pray to my god for you - but we all pray to the same god. It doesn't matter what we call Him, He answers all the same." I know this is true. I have felt the power of prayers to gods I don't know in languages I don't understand. Faith is faith, no matter who or where you are. Hope is a treasure. Love is powerful & universal.

And the best thing about love? You just can't give it away with out even more coming back at you.

There were some pretty embarrassing grammar flubs in this post - I wrote it around 2 am Chennai time. Please excuse.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

This Is India

Photographic proof of my trip AT LAST! Sorry it's taken so long - for those of you that are also my facebook buddies, there's nothing new here... but I felt like some photos needed a spot on my blog. Unfortunately, they got a bit jumbled in the uploading process, but I hope you enjoy!

Kaitlin & me showing off our best "Hindu Hands."

All the girls getting dressed up - except Lauren. She was coaching from the sidelines.

You wonder how I'm so close to my fellow volunteers after 2 short weeks? It's Sumo (SUV) trips like these that make it possible! Katie, Jared, & me got to know each other pretty well on this trip to & from a remote leprosy colony - we were painting their houses.

Chucks go well with traditional Indian sarees, right?

Sitting on the Taj Mahal itself - the sun was bright & I like to make super attractive faces!

Sunrise at the Taj Mahal on my twentieth birthday. Now THAT was an awesome way to bid farewell to my teen years.

My little Ajay! He fell asleep in my arms on my second night here & I've been completely in love with him ever since - how could I not be?

Satia & myself on the playground at Rising Star Outreach - she's got a mischievous streak as wide as this country.

'Til We Meet at Jesus' Feet

Yesterday some of the volunteers traveled to the same colony that we had visited the day before. I got to see my good friend Ravi Chandran again, but he was soon surrounded by many of our volunteers- he loves taking silly pictures with us. I joined one of the volunteers in talking to another man on the other side of the room. Then Ravi asked some of the other girls to sing & I turned around to listen. Ravi Chandran saw me & his face just lit up & he got all excited, calling me over & telling me to sing my "verry verry goodt" song again. It was very sweet.

I'd been thinking a bit about some other songs I could have picked to sing the day before if I'd been a bit more prepared, so I asked if I could sing a new song for him. He responded with a funny head shake that means "okay" here in India, so I sang "Lead, Kindly Light," which is one of my favorite hymns.

When I finished, he said, "That is a Jesus song, yes?" I told him it was. He then told me that he loved Jesus, too, & asked if we would sing more Jesus songs. Soon our whole group was singing - "Come Thou Fount," "I Am a Child of God," "I Like to Look for Rainbows," (it was raining, so that was pretty sweet) & "A Child's Prayer." It was an incredible experience for all of us, & I'm pretty sure our eyes were as wet as the pavement outside after the first few hymns.

After we sang "A Child's Prayer," Ravi took my hand & asked me to tell him what it meant, so I knelt down in front of him & tried to explain as well as I could. I told him that it was a song that children sing that teaches that God loves everyone equally, even the smallest child. He just closed his eyes & smiled & nodded, then began to pray in Tamil. I felt the most incredible pure spirit... words can't even come close to describing that feeling, but it made me realize, yet again, that our Father in Heaven truly does love His children, all of the world.

We then sang "Abide with Me, Tis Eventide," & if anything, the spirit in that small hospital ward in India only grew stronger. Just before it was time to leave, we sang "God Be With You 'Til We Meet Again."

I have never been more touched by that song. A powerful spirit of unity & love flooded the room. I never had fully appreciated the lyrics, but the line "til we meet at Jesus' feet" took on an entirely new meaning to me - I've spent the last 2 weeks working with people who live most of their lives as beggars, but before Christ, we're all beggars. Each one of us needs His mercy equally, & yet He loves all of us. It doesn't matter if we're rich or poor, whether we have great health or leprosy, whether we live in the USA or India. Christ looks beyond all that the world sees & sees our hearts - the LOVE in that thought just amazes me.

Someday I hope I can meet my dear friend Ravi Chandran again at the feet of my Savior - I only hope that at that time my heart can be as full of love, happiness, & gratitude as his. I came to India to teach - or so I thought. It seems like I've done nothing but learn from these incredible people.

Ravi Chandran with Jennie & me on our first trip to Badalampuram. He was supposed to pull a funny face, too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Sound of Music

It's hard to pick your favorite days when you're here at Rising Star Outreach in India - every day is so amazing, whether you're digging up pipes or playing with the children. I feel like love is so tangible here & my heart is so full, even when my shoes are full of dirt & my face is dripping with sweat.

Today a part of my group traveled to a nearby leprosy colony where we washed the patients' feet before they were given new bandages. It was stunning to see the extent of these people's wounds - one woman had an ulcer that went as deep as the muscle & spanned the length of her foot, yet she felt little pain from the effects of leprosy. After washing for a while, I was able to go into the hospital & visit my good friends Ravi Chandran & Sinivasen. Ravi & I had another great photo shoot featuring many "Roomba roomba nandri" - "Many many thanks." Then he asked me if I would sing for him. I've been singing some lullabies for the children, but somehow singing in a small hospital room in front of about 5 Indian men was a bit more intimidating, so I sang the first song that came to mind- "Edelweiss."

I've never enjoyed singing a simple solo so much in all my life. My two dear friends seemed so happy, just to hear a little song from my favorite musical. But the joys didn't stop there - then Ravi started showing me how they sing random sound notes in India, seeing if I could copy & build on what he sang. He would sing, then I would sing what he sang & add my own American twist,then he would sing again. After a few minutes we were both smiling & laughing so much it was hard to continue singing - & then we got shushed by some of the hospital staff - apparently we were being a bit too rowdy. oopths. But it was worth it.

It always amazes me how music has the power to transcend barriers - barriers of faith, barriers of language, barriers of life style, & barriers of age. There's something pure that connects you to someone when you sing together. Songs can bring back memories in the most vivid way. Music can bring comfort to an aching heart and soothe a little one to sleep. Song can strengthen faith and pride. Music can unite people that cannot communicate in any other way. I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to be a part of that today. :)

(Again, sorry for the lack of pictures - I'm working on it!)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

No Diggity No More

I dug a hole today. Actually, multiple holes. & they were big. I'm pretty sure in about 100 years, there will be a Grand Canyon in India as a result of the digging we did today. & now I hurt. But my life is still awesome - I love INDIA & all the fabulous people here. Tonight I spent about an hour singing lullabies to Miriam V. & then we sang primary songs together. I don't think life gets much sweeter than that.

But... my whole self is too burned out to write or post anything right now - so I would suggest you read this blog:

It belongs to Miss Jennie Dozie & she has been doing an awesome job of documenting all of our adventures. Love to you, Jennie.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lack of Color Here/Birthday Wishes

First & foremost, I must apologize - I've been taking hundreds & hundreds of pictures, but uploading them here is just really impractical... so... I guess we can all learn to be patient together. Anywho - sorry for the lack of pictures (aka color) on the blog - India is spectacular & I can't wait to share it with you!

I am no longer a teenager.

I am twenty.


I bid farewell to my teenage years by watching the sunrise from the gardens of the Taj Mahal. It was one of the most incredible moments of my life. One thing I've learned from India is the need for flexibility - a lot of times we head out to the colonies without really knowing what we'll be doing. Many times what we find is totally different from our expectations. I'm pretty sure this is true with everything, not just humanitarian work in India. The Taj Mahal was no exception - but it completely blew away my expectations. That building is stunning; the white marble has this glow at sunrise that makes it seem really ethereal. It was utterly beautiful & I was so grateful to be able to start my twentieth birthday in such a unique way.

Our wonderful guide told us so many amazing stories & facts as we travelled through Delhi - & he knew it was my birthday & gave me a beautiful pashmina. All my fantastic RSO buddies even got me a cake at our hotel. We spent the afternoon exploring the massive Agra Fort. Although it was very different from the pristine white of the Taj Mahal, that red sandstone complex was really impressive - I definitely wouldn't want to try to storm that castle. Despite being such a huge fortress, it also incorporated the grace that is so prevalent in India - everything is decorated in the most beautiful fashion. I love it. We spent some time shopping -yay, presents! & then went to Pizza Hut for dinner. & let me tell you, Pizza Hut in Agra is very different from Pizza Hut in the US - namely, they play really loud techno club music, that miraculously continues playing, even when the power flickers out. It was awesome. & Pepperoni pizza has NEVER tasted so good. Actually knowing what I was eating for the first time in over a week made a nice change.

I think I'd like to have my birthday in India a few more times, please. It was definitely memorable.

& I promise I'll post pictures ASAP!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

This Is India

We have a saying here at Rising Star - it works for when things go wrong, when we run late, when it's REALLY hot, when the electricity goes off right after you've typed a huge blog entry - we simply say, "This is India." & that's that.

I love being here. It's already been life changing & I've been here for 4 days. Wow. If I didn't miss some people back in the US so badly, I'd never leave. Ever.

Sadly - I can't get any photos to post directly on to here... so... here are a couple links.

This is how you ride in India - some seriously love in the back of the Sumo Tata.

This little boy, Ajay, is brand new at the school. He doesn't speak much English, but he's so sweet - he fell asleep in my arms a few nights ago. :)

Home for the next 17 days - wow, this time is passing quickly!

I'm still deciding whether I like Indian food (as in dinner) but the SNACKS are DELICIOUS!

Part of our group of awesome volunteers - please note the awkward Jared Boy.

MY FAVORITE PICTURE - Jennie & I with Ravi Chandran, a patient a near-by leprosy hospital & the funniest guy I've ever met.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Whole New World

I've made it to India at last! My computer time is limited, so pictures will have to wait, but for now I thought I would share with you a very abridged list of firsts.

- flying over the Pacific Ocean
- chilling out in the Hong Kong airport - Burger King's soft serve is AWESOME in China
- being on a plane for over 14 hours straight
- traveling for over 30 hours, about 7 of which I spent asleep
- painting houses in a leprosy colony
- learning how to say "spider" in Tamil - something like etukalpuje.
- reading bedtime stories to a group of about 20 5-8 year old boys that call me "Auntie Kelthey" - they all seem to have trouble with the "s"
- going to the LDS branch in Chennai - the people are amazing - so happy, so grateful, so full of the light of Christ.

India is hot, dirty, humid, & absolutely amazing. I've never been so exhausted & I've never fallen in love with a place so fast.

Thank you to everyone who has supported & loved me & helped me on this trip. I am so grateful for this opportunity to be here. This was originally a much longer post... but then the power went out. & my brain isn't functioning totally right now. I think a bucket shower might help. So good night!