Saturday, February 28, 2015


I have found that my Tamil is not as rusty as I had thought. My vocabulary has not dwindled much, and my pronunciation is about where it was when I left. I have picked up a few more words and am finding reasons to use them. I haven’t yet mastered the infamous “zh (see point #4)” letter combination; however, after choking on my tongue a few times I am getting closer.

Not only has my Tamil changed, but I’m finding my English has as well. I have begun to phrase things in the way many of my friends do. I catch myself completing a sentence and then thinking, “Wait, did that even make sense?” but more often than not my point has been received and the conversation carries on. None of the alterations in my grammar are hard to figure out, but it is certainly not the way I’m used to speaking. I also find myself thinking in Tamil-English as well. Let me give you a few examples:

I slept off= I fell asleep
I have reached= I’m here
I have taken food= I ate
I will drop you= I will give you a ride

There are times when I find that I need to think differently about what someone says in order to make sense of someone’s comment to me. Let me give you an example (a bit of a comical example). This morning as I was walking down the road to my duty, one of the physios that works at Rehab was pulling out of his driveway and offered to “drop me.” This particular physio is very quiet and keeps to himself, sharing only his tender smile and nod of head. I accepted his kind offer and as I climbed on the back of his bike I began to rethink my initial impression of him; I originally thought he was opposed to my presence in India.

The ride was short and fairly quiet; however, as well pulled up to rehab he turned to me and said, “You have added much weight.” I shot him a quick quizzical look while simultaneously thinking, “Did he just tell me I look like I've gained weight?” “I know my Indian attire is not always flattering but…” “Here I thought we were starting to get along and he goes and calls me fat!” “Boy! God bless the people who just speak what’s on their mind!!” It then dawned on me that more than likely he was just commenting on the fact that he doesn't often have passengers with him on his bike and that my presence made bike handling a little more challenging; after all, there were a few rough bits on the trips. I thanked him for the lift, gave a little chuckle, and reminded myself not to take things too personally before considering the context, and also... eat only one idly for breakfast. 


For those back in the USofA who might want a glimpse of my original accommodations, I thought I would post a few photos of my home away from home. I am so grateful to my gracious hosts for letting me join their life on Mullai Nagar, even if it was only for a short time. I loved every part of calling this home. Meha and Kriti, please forgive me for sneaking in some photos. Your hospitality will remain a highlight of my trip, and I hope one day to repay you the favor. You have blessed me so greatly.

The living room from the entrance.

The living room looking towards the doorway.

Another shot of the kitchen

The exterior entrance

The second floor of the blue house was where I first resided. 


The difference that has had the most impact on this trip is the presence of friends; friends that recognize me quickly and surround me with welcoming arms and delighted smiles. Friends that offer me a place to stay without hesitation and before I even think about where I’m going to lodge. Friends that go out of their way to meet me where I’m at and help me when I need it. Friends that cordially usher me to the police station ad nauseam to attend to business.  And friends that offer to bring me tea in the local prison at least once a week.

Before you go imagining me sitting on the floor of a dark and muggy prison room, let me say that I am not currently in prison nor does it look like I will be sent there. In fact, there was never a valid reason for me to be shipped up the river; however, due to the number of times I had to trek to the police station it became a bit of a joke among my friends that I was on my way to prison. Let me try to explain the situation.

As I mentioned earlier, I have friends who graciously and without reservation offered me a place to stay. I had the option to reserve a room with Mrs. George (here I stayed last time), or live a bit more like the average hospital staff member. I took the second option. You know me… always looking for a way to push my personal comfort zone to a new level. I had been warned that I would not have a private room, bed, air conditioning, Western toilet, or a Western shower. I liked the sound of all of the above so I took my friend Meha and her delightful roommate Kriti up on their offer. What I had not been warned of was how much the police would not approve of this arrangement. No one knew, to be fair.

When you arrive as an international in India you are required to check in with the local police… for safety and security reason, or so I’m told. When checking in with the police, they take note of your lodging location and confirm that it is a safe place for you to stay. Most international students stay on the CMC Campus at the hostel, so it is not an issue. As I was staying off campus, the address I gave threw a red flag for the chief inspector and he refused to give me his seal and signature until I could submit a letter from the home owner stating he would allow me to stay there as well as his I.D. proof.

My friends and I informed the landlord that we would need this documentation and he immediately come for a visit. He is a cordial man, a local politician, who was a bit skeptical of a white girl traveling alone to India, especially seeing how old I am and not married!!! However, I charmed him with my one word of intelligent Tamil and behaved myself during his stay and he gave his consent to my visit, yet declined signing any letters. He told Meha that she could sign the paper and show her CMC i.d. and call it good.

As luck would have it, that wasn't good enough for the police. Mind you, we found this out after about the fifth trip to the police station. The Chief Inspector keeps his own schedule and is often not available at convenient times, and when they tell you a time to return it is often not in sync with the ever-changing schedule of the Chief Inspector. Each time I went I would take a new friend with me. Most of the time they were just as confused as me with what was required; however, they could at least speak the local language.

At long last, the sad decision was made to take up residence at Mrs. George’s house as she had letters of approval from the Chief Inspector and Bureau of Indian Tourism to house international visitors. Now, I don’t mind Mrs. George’s home at all. She is so welcoming and if affords quite comfortable accommodations. That little gecko that bunked with me last time was even there to welcome me; however, I am alone there. I am not with my friends.

Having spent the first half of my trip with Meha and now the second half with Mrs. George has given me a greater insight on the phrase “home is where your heart is.” Yes, Mrs. George’s residence has a very home-like feel to it and is fully equipped with a bed, Western shower, Western toilet, etc.; notably missing is the element that makes it home: the heart—the hearts of friends that make a house a place you want to retreat to at the end of the day. Last night as I was dropped off at Mrs. George’s home, I wandered in to her lovely place and the empty feeling of solitude began to creep in. I was alone again. I longed to walk up those stairs to my room and turn into Charlie’s room to discuss the events of the day, but I knew her room was empty. I wished that I could sprawl out on the low mattresses on the floor of Meha’s apartment and dive deep into a conversation on pros and cons of Indian culture as it relates to healthcare. I knew that when I arose in the morning, Kriti’s amazing cold coffee wouldn't be waiting for me when I got out of the shower.

What I have learned is that you don’t need beds, Western showers/toilets, A/C, or private rooms to be happy and comfortable. You need to be surrounded by the hearts of people you care about and who care about you. People who will walk through life with you, even if that walk leads to the police station eighty-seven times in one week.  
Manoj: one of the many friends I have met here in Vellore

Meha and I at lunch on Thursday

Ronald and Divya: never a dull moment with these two.

Mrs. George, my gracious hostess.
The view from my new residence.


If you followed my blog at all the first time around, you may notice that this time there are fewer photos presented in each post. This has been the source of an internal struggle for me. On my previous trip I became very accustom to taking a plethora of photos everywhere I turned. Charlie can attest to that fact. My habit was both rewarding and restricting. I reaped the rewards later when I was able to look back over the photos and reminisce of all my experience; however, living behind a camera can restrict the ability to fully live in the here-and-now. This short trip seems too short to hide behind a camera, thus I have limited my photo taking to (mostly) snapping shots of subjects and experience that are uncommon and/or meaningful to me personally. I am laying aside the old camera to be fully present in the current experience; because forfeiting the possibility of a good photograph to truly live deep in an experience is worth much more than a thousand words. 

That being said, I will try to share a few photos throughout the blog, and here is a few to start with. Many of these are familiar scenes to me. 

The road in front of the Rehab Institute: Bagayam Junction just ahead.

The road to Mrs. George's house. Charlie, it is paved now!!!

Some of the many school children who swarmed me standing midst the local dairy farm.  

(Charlie, the woman still sits and waits. After two years she still maintains her post!)

This shop is the landmark used to find Mrs. George's home. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015


It is everywhere I look. It is everywhere I go. It at the hospital. It is down the lane I’m residing. It is on the bus. It is everywhere I turn. I cannot escape it. It is the plenty. Colors. Faces. Noises. Vehicles. Smells. There is so much of it all, that this raised-on-a-quiet-farm girl cannot help but be amazed by it all. If I cannot see the bustle of life around me, then I am likely to either smell or hear it close by. All my senses are bombarded with stimuli. It is impossible for me not to feel the evidence of life all around me. Life that is not easy. Life that does not always seem fair. Life that is not clean. Life that is not neatly packaged in white-picket fences and two-car garages. But life that is vibrant. Life that is raw. Life that is beautiful. Life that is plentiful.

Two weeks. It is not enough. It is not enough time to fully acclimate and sink into the appreciation of the life here in India. It is not enough time to spend with all the people I remember so fondly and have reacquainted with so easily. It simply is not enough time to spend soaking in the plenty. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


It is hard for me not to compare my last trip to India and my current adventure. It didn't take long to start feeling the impact of the similarities as well as differences; the two danced around me in a mad tango that created a muddle of opposing emotions. There was the sweet calmness of comfort-- the feeling you get when you realize nothing has changed and all that was so familiar was still there to welcome me back. There was the nervousness of potential change—the feeling you get when you are not sure what all is around the next corner, or not sure if all that has been planned will actually go as planned. (You see, in India best laid plans are often thwarted by… well, whatever seems to be blowing in the breeze.) There was the giddiness of excitement—the feeling you get when you are finally living a much anticipated experience. There was the terror of fear—the feeling you get when you realize you actually have no way of contacting anyone you know in the world (should something go awry), nor do you have anyone you know to help problem solve that issue. All these, and many more, emotions collided within me as I made my way to immigration.

Immigration was where I encountered my first significant difference. I had chosen to proceed to India with the new Tourist Visa on Arrival (TVoA) option, which I had been promised was swifter and slicker than the traditional visa. From the trip preparation perspective, it was. From the arrival perspective, it was a little more rocky. There was only one counter open for the TVoA passengers, and each one of us had to have our passports checked, photo taken, and fingers printed as well as our visa approval documentation verified. The system had some flaws which kept us all from racing through the process, but after about an hour standing in a line of ten people, I was finally on my way to baggage claim.

Baggage claim and money exchange was smooth and familiar. My luggage had beaten me to the finish line was waiting in a deserted corner for me. Money exchange was quick, easy, and exactly how I remembered it. Nice to have some history with these operations.

The next major difference was walking out of the airport. Actually, this seemingly anti-climactic event was a true jumble of difference and similarity. The humid, polluted air felt so familiar. The mass of faces crowded along the barricade was an expected and familiar sight. The smell of… India was a fragrance unforgettable and easily recognizable. The relief of finally making it through the myriad of airport lines was welcomed and familiar, too.

On my first trip to Vellore, I stepped out of the Chennai airport with the liberation of making it through that labyrinth of never-ending lines only to be faced with the next challenge: finding my name on a placard in a sea of strangers holding placards. From one challenge to the next. This time was different. That difference came in the form of a tall, athletic man standing above the crowd with a familiar, vivid smile, and a waving hand. A friend. A face in the crowd in which I could associate a name and memories. In fact, his face was the last familiar face I saw when leaving India two years ago. Instead of an insecure ride from Chennai to Vellore (about two and a half hours) with a complete stranger who spoke no English, I had the pleasure of taking that trip with a friend. It was beautifully different, and yet the careening of cars, incessant honking of horns, and plethora of cattle were all very similar to my first trip to Vellore.

Upon arriving in Vellore, I began to recognize landmarks: the junction that crosses over to the new bus stand, the Sri Shanti bakery outside the back entrance to CMC Hospital (best death-by-chocolate dessert ever), the Pizza Corner (which has since become Papa John’s), and the Darling Residency (where all the international students took their weekly outing). Familiar. Comfortable. Beautiful.

When dropped off at the CMC College, this time I knew exactly where to go and who to see to get my paperwork completed. As luck would have it, she was out on lunch break, but knowing my way around this time I was able to take a rest at the canteen then meander over to Rehab to let them know I had arrived safely. I vividly recall my first trip to the CMC College. I didn't know up from down or in from out. I proceeded with caution and hoped would land safely at the correct destination. This time I proceeded with confidence and trusted all would work out in its own Indian way.

Rehab was welcoming and encouraging, and not much about it has changed. The staff has shifted around slightly. Some students are missing that once where there. Of course the patients are all new to me. But by and large it was as if I had only been gone a few days. The similarity was impressive and yet the difference of my preexisting level of comfort on arrival contrasted throughout the afternoon.

I suspect my continued evaluation, subconscious or otherwise, of the similarities and differences will persist throughout my stay. The dance of the two opposites is simultaneously strange and beautiful. I don’t mind being caught in the middle of that tango…. I don’t mind it one bit.

Speaking of similarity and differences: This is one of the many familiar faces I saw at Rehab (not my face among the airport crowd). Could I look any more pale? What a difference in that skin tone! This photo reminds me of that classic yellow lab/black lab puppy picture. Haha! Photo credit: Manoj Kumar 

Sunday, February 22, 2015


They say time travel is not possible. My mind and body disagree. I am currently sitting at my gate of the Dubai International Airport. It still remains one of the most elegant airports I have flown through. It is still sleek, clean, shiny and fully equipped with a spa, hotel, gym, grocery stores and all the high-end fashion designer goods. To burn a few moments of my eight-hour layover, I took a look at the last blogpost I wrote from this same location (two years ago). There is so much the same, and yet so much that is very different.

International flights continue to tangle up my mind. Somewhere between here and Seattle, I flew over Sunday. Like last time, I was served dinner on the flight shortly after takeoff from Seattle. What seemed like moments later, I was served breakfast and shortly thereafter we landed in time for dinner in Dubai. I almost feel like I was robbed of the chance to eat all my daily meals. My computer (which hasn't caught up with my location) says the time is 11:50AM; here the clocks read 11:50PM. I think I should be sleeping now, but sleep won’t come easy for a while. Things on the mind, ya know?

Last time I was here I had a lot of the unknowns keeping me from rest. Things like:
  • ·         I didn't know a soul in Southern India where I was to be living for the next three months.
  • ·         I didn't know how I would tend to the basic daily necessities of life (getting three squares, etc).
  • ·         I didn't know what patient interactions would be like in the hospital I would be studying at.
  • ·         I didn't know the local language.   

Today as I sit here those unknowns are either irrelevant, or at the very least, far less intimidating then they were those two plus years ago.
  • ·         This time I know many people in Vellore. In fact, that is probably the one of the things that excites me most about returning… seeing my friends that I haven’t seen in over two years.
  • ·         This time I (sort of) know how I’m going to tend to the basic needs of life. I will take meals at the canteen and with my hostesses (dear friends from my first trip).
  • ·         This time I know what patient interactions will be like. I will be assigned a patient or two (or adopt them of my own will) and proceed to get creative. Depending on whether or not they speak English, I will as some point, no doubt, make a fool of myself trying to communicate with them. And everyone will laugh. Including me.
  • ·         This time I still don’t know the language, BUT I know a few words and will attempt to take them off the top shelf of my brain and dust them so that I can resume perfecting the pronunciations. I still have “English le pesu!” fresh on the tongue for when I need it.

The list of items I was confident in the last time I traveled to India remains fairly steady:
  • ·         I know this will be another experience of a life time. India has always been a game-changer for me and I pretty much expect this trip to live up to that reputation in some way, shape, or form.
  • ·         I know I will not regret this experience.
  • ·         I know this is what I am supposed to be doing right now.

Ok, that last item has a caveat attached to it. I know this is where I am supposed to be because I still am an individual who has put her faith in the Lord Jesus. And I still whole-heartedly believe that my Savior has a plan for my life. He has a plan. For my life. My Savior is a planner. He has provided for me this far. He has given me the desire to return to India, despite its lack of creature comforts. He has given me a heart for India. I know He has brought me here for some purpose. I continue pray that I have the courage, faith, and heart to say “yes” to whatever challenges He has planned for me ahead. I continue to pray that I can serve Him, be His hands and feet, spreading His love with abandon on those He has sent me to serve. So yes, I’m confident that I am supposed to be right here. In Dubai. Sitting alone at gate A9 waiting to board a flight back to India.

What I don’t know is the “why?” Of course the easy answer is, “because I’m spending two weeks volunteering at the CMC rehab hospital as an occupational therapist.” That is the answer I had been giving people who asked, “What are you going there for?” That is, until Saturday afternoon when a dear woman asked me that very question yet again. I opened my mouth to give my rehearsed “to volunteer” answer, but “I don’t know” slipped out instead. And that would be the honest truth. I don’t know why I’m returning to India. Sure, I have dreamed of this day since I left India in April of 2013. I completely enjoy the life experiences of living in India. I love putting my occupational therapy skills and creativity to work in a culture with fewer resources than what I’m accustom to.  But “because I want to” isn't the right answer, “to volunteer” isn't the complete answer, and “to visit friends” isn't the only reason. The truth is: I don’t know.

Who on earth decides she is going to pack her bags and go visit India alone (two years ago)? And what kind of person continues to go back? This girl does. This girl who isn't afraid to travel alone, try new foods, wear different clothes, or live outside a comfort-zone for a while. This girl who has a mystifying love for India, and a craving to experience it more. I don’t know why. I just do. I just go. And I go in faith that at some point in time He will make it clear why I go-- faith that He will show me why I keep coming back. I will go with my God.

Maybe this trip will be the last. Maybe it will be the trip that “cures” me of my India addiction. Or maybe it will be one of the first of many more to come. Maybe I will come back with a more complete answer to the “why” question. God only knows. And God is good, and He has a good plan for my life… India or not.

“…walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8
“…’for I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord…” Jeremiah 29:11

Fun fact: Yet another thing I didn't know upon arrival was how to charge my computer in the UAE plugins with my Indian plug adapter. A kind airport employee taught me how. You have to stick a pen into the top slot of the three-slot outlet and “unlock” the bottom two slots to receive a two pronged plug. Seems contrary to what I learned as a child… “never stick anything into an electrical outlet!” Suffice to say, I haven’t burnt down the airport nor have I electrocuted myself.