Thursday, March 31, 2016

A MALAYALI WEDDING IN TAMIL NADU

I’m going to start this post with a quick lesson in Southern Indian geography for any one listening in at home. India, much like the US, is divided into various states; the two southern most states being Kerala (on the west coast) and Tamil Nadu (on the east coast). Unlike the US, each state has its own language and cultural nuances. In Kerala the language spoken is Malayalam with a Malayali cultural divergence; in Tamil Nadu the language is Tamil with a Tamil cultural divergence. The wedding I attended this past weekend happened right on the southernmost border of the two states; thus a Malayali wedding in the state of Tamil Nadu.

As a result of this border-riding wedding, there were aspects of both cultures throughout the wedding. I will give a brief order of events throughout the day as well as a few anecdotal comments, but most of this post will be photos.

My party and I arrived early at the church venue the morning of the wedding. Not knowing exactly what was going on, I wandered around taking photos and entertaining guests with my white skin and blonde hair. Soon enough Sobah, the bride, arrived with her entourage of people who quickly escorted her off to the side of the church; however, not before allowing her to greet the token white girl (for which I felt very honored). Sunil, the groom, arrived within ten minutes with his entourage of people.

The church venue

Sobah and her family arriving at the church
Apparently not everyone was thrilled about attending a wedding on this Monday morning! ;) 
Sunil arriving, flanked by his two sisters and their children.
What happened next, as far as I can tell, was a cultural gesture of agreement between the two families. Sobah’s family gathered to the left of the church yard while Sunil’s family gathered to the right. When given the signal, both families converged in the center as Sunil exchanged a handshake, bouquet, and of course his infectious smile with the bride’s family. After this, Sobah’s family brought her to Sunil and the two of them together entered the church with the guests closely following behind.

The exchange
The groom looking rather dapper as he awaits the presentation of his bride. 
My new friend, Jacob, Sunil's nephew. 
After we had all taken our seats, the ceremony commenced. Save for two of the nine (yes, nine!) songs that were sung, the whole ceremony was in Malayalam so I had no clue what was said or going one. It wasn’t too hard to figure out the general format as it seemed to be fairly similar to many of the weddings I’ve attended in English. At the end of the ceremony, the guest left the church the new couple at the alter with the officiants, family, and photographers. I sneaked myself up to the front and covertly began to take my own photos, trying not to get in the way of the official photographers. After about ten minutes, the official photographer stepped aside and gestured for me to take his spot at front and center. Apparently I wasn’t as covert as I had thought I was, nevertheless I was delighted for the chance to get some closer photos. I began to shoot, and almost immediately met with shaking heads, fingers and “no’s.” Wondering what I had done wrong, I sheepishly began to back away until I realized that feeling the scene was causing even more commotion. Confused and mildly frantic I looked towards Samson who had joined me to take photos. He smiled, shook his head, laughed, and interpreted their words, “No, they want you in the photo!” Yeah, not covert at all. I obliged them, yet not without some embarrassment.

The new couple with the officiants.

I promised I would post the picture with my full saree... so here it is. (Hair "open" and all) 
With Sunil's mother and sister with her children
Sunil's eldest sister with her daughter, Jessica.






The beautiful bride
Sunil looking sharp (and serious)
Off to the first reception!
From the church, we all headed to the first of two receptions: the bride’s reception. I guess technically it would be the groom’s reception as it was the party hosted by Sobah’s family to receive Sunil into their family with their friend’s present. Sunil and Sobah sat on the front stage while clusters of the bride’s family and friends came up to offer their gifts and well-wishes. An incredible, multi-course banquet served on banana leaves was held in the adjacent room after guests had met with the bride and groom. I stopped keeping track of time somewhere earlier in the week, so I have no clue how long this lasted, but I would venture to guess we ended up leaving there sometime around 2pm.
The second of the two receptions was hosted nearby our hotel (and Sunil’s home) at around 6pm. This reception was put on by Sunil’s family to offer their friends and family the opportunity to receive Sobah into their lives. The format was similar. The new couple sat on the fanciful couch, shook hands, and posed for countless photos with all the guests who then later filed into the adjacent hall for another banquet meal. So much amazing food! I only wish I had a little more appetite when presented with the food from each wedding feast.  

At the beginning of the first reception, the bride and groom were served a small token meal.


The CMC people representing! (L to R: Samson, never did catch this guy's name, Noble, Sunil, Sobah, Ashwin, Sneha)
Sunil and his bride with a good friend of Sunil's who traveled from Chennai for the wedding.
The first feast! (Sorry for the poor photo quality, lighting wasn't my friend in that room).
At the second reception. (Note the change of attire. Sobah's saree was incredible!) 
If Sunil doesn't watch out, this little charmer is going to steal is bride away!

The CMC gang at the second reception.
Sunil's sister with her son, Jonah. (I think that's his name... my memory is slipping)
I have no idea who these cuties are, but we entertained each other at the second reception. 
Sunil's beautiful family and then there is me. 
It was such an honor to be a part of this wedding day! To Sunil and Sobah, thank you so much for the opportunity to celebrate your union. I wish you both many years of happiness together. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

AN AMERICAN PREPARES FOR AN INDIAN WEDDING: A COMEDY

Preparations are a big part of any wedding event; anywhere you go in the world. Generally when one hears the word “preparation” associated with a wedding they assume reference is being made to what the bride and groom have gone through to make ready for the big event. It is true that the bride and groom, more specifically the bride, take the trophy home for the one devoting the most energy to preparations for a wedding. However, guests also make wedding preparations.

There are even a few accounts in the Bible of guests making the appropriate preparations for a wedding. Matthew 22:1-14 speaks specifically of a man who had not come to a wedding properly dressed. As guests at weddings in our culture today we are not generally prescribed specific wedding attire, but we do tend to put on our “Sunday bests” and coif our hair in a proper manner as to look respectable. This Indian wedding was no exception for this American lady. The exception I place upon myself for this wedding was to self-prescribe specific wedding attire. The wedding was to be held in (or near) Kerala with some Malayali customs and as such, I chose to buy and wear a saree that is specific to that region. I don’t get the chance to wear a saree often and after seeing the beauty of a traditional Malayali saree, I knew that I wanted to use this wedding as an excuse to wear one.

Upon arriving in India, I told my friends that I needed to purchase a Kerala saree and, if possible, get a blouse stitched before the wedding. They would skeptical that I could get the blouse stitched in time, but were willing to help me try. After mad dashing about to purchase the saree, we were able to find a local tailor who promised to stitch the blouse in time. (Praise Him for the little things!)

The plan for the day-of wedding preparations was as follows: wake early and eat breakfast at Sunil’s house (the groom), go back to hotel and meet Ashwin, have her help me tie my saree, finish preparing for the wedding. [Side note: Ashwin is from the area we were visiting, so she stayed at her home which was 15-20 mins away from our hotel.] Easy enough. All I had to do was be clean and ready to be wrapped. At the end of breakfast (one of those times when I tuned out the unintelligible-to-me Tamil conversation as it probably didn’t pertain to me anyhow), I looked up and all three men were looking at me as Samson asked, “Do you have a plan if Ashwin can’t make it to the hotel this morning to tie your saree?” Apparently the conversation did pertain to me. I lied to them. I told them I had a plan and that it wouldn’t be a problem. As they reverted back to their conversation in Tamil, I began to frantically come up with a plan. Would I just wear the clothes I had brought for travel and tourism? They didn’t seem…. fancy enough. They certainly weren’t my ‘Sunday bests.’ And that saree!!! Oh, I had hoped so much to wear it. I would not likely wear it in the US. Not to mention all the hassle I went through to get that dang blouse stitched! No. I would wear that darn saree come hell or high water! Somehow… I could ask Samson to loan me some internet access and I could YouTube a tutorial… right? When in doubt, YouTube?

Back at the hotel I quickly rinsed off the morning humidity and touched up my makeup. I madly threw my hair into pin curls as I was told that when wearing a traditional Kerala saree, one must wear their hair “open” (or down). Ugh! I hated that thought. Anyone that knows me at all knows that I hate having my hair “open,” especially when it is hot and humid. However, if I was going to all this trouble I might as well try to do my hair properly as well.

With hair up in pins, I donned the saree petticoat. At least I could get that part right. I greatly dislike the saree blouse, so I had already determined that would be one of the last things I would put on. Plus it was hot and I wasn’t in the mood to deal with it and the skirt at the same time… not yet anyhow. I then began to methodically plot out my plan of attack. I would begin to wrap the skirt, only loosely tucking it in at first. I would then mark out approximately how much of the skirt I needed to pleat for the front. After marked, I would untuck the skirt and pleat it while it was laid out on the bed where I could presumably control the impossible material. I soon recognized that the ceiling fan that had been my sweet retreat from the heat was now my arch enemy as it blew the 8+ yards of material around the room. I began to become entangled in said material. As I went one way with it, it would go another. The endless yards of material seemed to take on an ill-behaved life of its own. I began to curse at it, hoping to subdue it with my menacing threats. “You don’t even KNOW how many pillow cases I could make out of you if you don’t behave!!! Oh just to get back here you scummy scoundrel, I WILL win this battle if it’s the last thing I do. You and I can be burry together for all I care, but I will get you put in your place!” I attempted multiple times to calm myself in an effort to stop my shaking hands and halt the deluge of sweat now pouring from my head; both of which were more hindrance than help. 

At last I completed the pleating of the skirt piece. I then pinned it. Four times. Those pleats where going NO WHERE unless I said so. After pleats were pinned, I began to re-wrap the skirt, carefully tucking and smoothing as I went. After what seemed like an eternity, the skirt piece was on and pinned (again) in place. I held by breath as I carefully removed two of the pins in the pleats at the bottom to let them flow naturally. Success! It looked right. But wait… are the pleats supposed to fall to the right or left? I can’t get such a simple element of saree-wearing wrong. Not when I’m likely to be the only white girl at this wedding in a saree. I quickly contemplated looking through my recent photos to see if I could tell which way the pleats were supposed to fall; however, I felt confident that I had it right: they point (or open) to the left.

Now for the hard part: the pallu (part that falls over the shoulder). The only thing I really remember about this part was that it is incredibly difficult to do alone. And I had to do it wearing that darn blouse, which, by the way was extremely difficult to don when sweating so much! I had gotten this far, I wasn’t about to give up now. I hadn’t looked at the clock to see how much time was remaining because a.) I didn’t want to freak out any more than I already was, and 2.) my accompaniment had rarely been punctual with their departure times to date. Attempt #1 at pleating the pallu failed miserably. As did attempts #2-18. By attempt #19 I was getting close, which was a blessed thing because that is when the knock on my door came. Surly it hasn’t been an hour and a half already?!? It was Noble asking if I was ready. I told him I needed five more minutes. Another lie. I still had my hair in pin curls and a stubborn pallu half draped in submission over my left shoulder. I needed another hour and an Indian woman who knew how to tie a saree, not another five minutes! 

After attempt #21, the pallu was in place. Or as “in place” as I was ever going to get it. I ripped the pins out of my hair and pulled half of it back (I compromised). I tossed the loaned-to-me bangles on my wrist and slid the also-loaned-to-me earrings on. (I was told that a saree cannot be worn without bangles and I really should be worn with “hanging” earrings. I was going all out for this one.)

With sweat trickling down my back and a very real fear that my saree would seek its last revenge by tripping me as I descended the stairs, I entered the lobby where my friends were waiting. No one laughed or snickered. I must have done “ok.” As my friends were doing some last minute route-planning to the wedding venue, I gained the attention of the women who clean the hotel; both of which were wearing sarees. With careful gestures (I didn’t want to move too much for fear the whole thing would fall right off…), I asked them to critique my work. The bolder of the two came to me and made a few last minute adjustments. They weren’t laughing either; both were smiling. I chose to believe they were sincere smiles rather than sneering smiles.


Despite all my fears that the whole thing would fall off me, or that someone would gasp in shock at the tragedy displayed as my saree-tying handiwork, I managed to make it through the wedding and reception with nothing but compliments. There was the occasional gasp of shock that I had managed to tie the saree myself. I’m not saying it was anywhere near perfect, but I would like to believe that I through it all, I managed to prepare myself for that Malayali wedding after all. 
 
Feeling a little smug that I had tied my own saree. (Also, I apologize for the selfie-- it had to be done.)

[Side note: If the wedding clothes mentioned in Matthew 22 were as difficult to don as a saree, I can kind of understand why he might have showed up in his street clothes.] 

TRAVELING ALONE... WITH FRIENDS

This year, my travels to Vellore, India have been transected by a long weekend trip to the Southern tip of India for the wedding of a dear friend. I will be writing about the wedding itself in a separate post as well as a posting about the adventures I had while traipsing throughout the deep south to see the sights. But I wanted to take a moment to set the whole tone my weekend adventures.

I would like to preface this post by saying that I always felt well taken care of and provided for throughout the weekend. Never neglected. That being said, it was almost as if I took the trip alone. I didn’t. I was accompanied by three colleagues from CMC throughout the weekend: Ashwin, Noble, and Samson.

Despite the fact that I was with one, if not all three, of them for most of the weekend, I often felt alone. The three of them spoke to one another in their most comfortable language: Tamil. I understood very little of what was being said at all times. Occasionally I would tune in to their unintelligible-to-me dialogue and attempt to makes sense of what was being discussed based upon facial responses, body language, and what we were doing at the time. I was so often very far from correct that I eventually stopped trying. It would go something like this: after taking into consideration all the fast talking, familiar names, pointing, and facial expressions, I would surmise that we would now be headed out to buy the gift for the new couple. Nope. We were off to see the waterfalls. Or eat ice cream. Or some other random act of tourism. Never was I close enough to call it a win.

If I really was curious and getting agitated about never having a clue what was happening, I would simply ask someone for clarification and guidance. I would get the “bullet point” version of the conversation and quickly learned to be happy with that, or ask specific and carefully worded questions. At first this frustrated and irritated me. Yes, I had said I was happy to do whatever and that I was just along for the ride, but didn’t they understand that I was there? And that maybe I wanted to weigh-in on the conversation? At times I felt invisible.

Then I began to realize that being invisible can be a beautiful thing. I could get lost in my own little world and be in my own little happy place of internal dialogue without interruptions. I was free to experience this adventure in my own little way! My situation had some real beauty to it! I could take advantage of being “a loner” yet all the while knowing I had somebody (three or more somebody’s, to be exact) that I could reach out to when I wanted the company. Three incredible somebody’s that would make sure I was safe, had a place to stay, had (plenty) of food to eat, and had incredible sights to see. I was also able to be present for them… to respond when they reached out to me. It was a true thing of beauty in the end.

The lesson I have so frequently been educated on had struck again (apparently I can’t seem to learn this one): a simple change in perspective can turn the negatives into positives.

My three compatriots (L-R): Noble, Samson, Ashwin

CURBSIDE COCKTAILS

It was the afternoon of the wedding, just after the first (Bride’s) reception that followed the wedding. My posse of people were waxing hot, and tried and had made the decision to retreat back to our hotel to refresh and cool off before the second (Groom’s) reception that evening. But first: a stop for curbside cocktails (non-alcoholic). Being fairly parched, I took a pause from my photography to quickly agree to partake of the beverage being offered. That is to say, I quickly agreed to it before actually knowing what it was I had agreed to.

Nothing like it. Seriously.
The roadside beverage stand was near the reception hall and tucked under a shady tree. The men behind the bar worked quickly and in sync with one another as they mixed together our drinks. The main “barkeep” said very little and smiled even less. With each ingredient he added to my cocktail, my suspicion rose a little more. What in tarnation had I agreed to drink!?!? It reminded me of my summer days as an imaginative child mixing together random sticks, stones, mud, and water to create the perfect pie/drink/dinner/what-have-you. I was thankful that the ingredients he was mixing looked more edible than sticks and stones, yet I was rather dubious that it would taste any better.

Squeezing fresh lime and slicing fresh chili
The cast of characters in my cocktail was as follows:
-         -  Mystery Juice (This was the main ingredient and can best be described as flat orange Fanta)
-          - Fresh ginger paste
-          - Freshly squeezed lime
-          - Freshly sliced green chili pepper
-          - Grape flavoring (artificial concentrate)
-          - Salt (lots)
-          - Pepper (even more)
-          - Kasa-kasa (which looks, and tastes, a bit like chia seeds)
-          - Ice

All ingredients were measured into a glass and served cold.

Shaken, not stirred. 
My commentary on the taste is this: I have never tasted anything like it. It was oddly spicy, sweet and refreshing. I would have it again any day! 


SYSTEMS ON STRIKE

This is an open letter to my Indian friends

Dear friends,

There is something you need to understand about me. That is this: when the temperature rises, my appetite and metabolism (i.e. digestive system) go on strike. They outright refuse to work at their contracted pace. Yes, they slog along slowly as they get acclimated to the heat, but by and large they just don't process foods like they do in the cooler temperatures. 

Now let us figure in a 25C (that converts to roughly 45F for those keeping track at home) degree temperature climb overnight (literally). Twenty five degrees, folks. Two. Five. Shoot dang! That appetite and metabolism didn't just go on strike; they flat out shut down the factory and went home. I feel fortunate that my appetite and metabolism are the only two systems that threw in the towel. 

So what does this mean for all of you, my Indian friends? Let me tell you. It means that when you set before me a plate of food enough to feed a hungry, fully-grown man who just finished an ultra-marathon don't be offended if I can't manage to eat it all. It means that on the rare occasion when I have managed to finish the food on my plate, please don't be offended if I refuse to take more. And for the love of it all, please don't put food on my plate because I didn't eat enough (according to your standards). 

Here's what it looks like from my perspective. I love the food you all serve here. There a very few items I wouldn't choose to eat more than once. Let’s be honest, if I had an aversion to the food here I would choose somewhere else to go on my vacations. Trust me on this one. 

This isn’t all that fun for me. I don't like saying "no" to your food offerings. I don't like it one bit. I know that within your culture the measure of hospitality is often calculated by the quantity of food your guest consumes. Yet your overwhelming generosity never fails to make me feel welcome. I know you feel bad when I don't eat your food because you fear that I do not like it. Yet nothing could be further from the truth... I truly miss your cooking when I am back home. I know that you measure the status of an individual’s well-being by whether or not they have eaten recently. Please believe me when I say I am very well in body, soul, mind and spirit.

I simply just can’t eat anymore.

When the food you provide is set before me, my mouth waters because I know how good it is. However the rest of my body starts screaming at me: "Uh, Uh, Uh!!! Oh no you don't, girlfriend! You put that food in your mouth and you are gonna be sorry! We are not processing that until a month from tomorrow and if you do it anyway... Well, make that two months from tomorrow!" 

My friends, I regrettably fear the meal times these days. You have all always been so gracious to me and so protective of what I do eat to ensure that I do not fall ill. However, is it not just the quality of food that I consume, but the quantity that may make me sick. Your display of hospitality is not lost on me for I appreciate it very much. However, we just need to come to an understanding here: I will eat all that I can, but don’t be disappointed if it isn’t all that much--- the systems are on strike.

Apologetically not eating as much as you want me to,

Emily
I will, however, unapologetically drink  tender coconut water until I turn into a water droplet myself! 

Friday, March 25, 2016

NO MORE TROUBLE WITH THE LAW… OR SO I THOUGHT

Upon arrival at CMC Rehab, I am required to check in with the Principal’s office to obtain my badge and let my official volunteer status be recorded. In the past this has been where I get ushered off to the local police station to register my name and housing status. Despite having nothing to hide and having completed everything by the book (or so I think), this is the part that makes me nervous. Last year it took me half the week, multiple trips to the police station, and a change in housing location to finally sort out my issues with registering at the local police station.  

I was delighted this year to discover that I am no longer required to register at the local police station. Instead I was ushered off to the library to fill out and electronically file a vague form, Form C. I don’t exactly know what Form C is all about, but I dutifully filled in the blanks with my name, permanent address, passport and visa number, and any other pertinent information. With the confirmation number in hand, I trotted back to the principal’s office to seal the deal. This process was so much easier to accomplish. This also means that I am free to stay where I choose vs. staying at a location that has previously been registered with the police. Yahoo!

Within 24 hours of arrival, everything was in order and I was at liberty to go about my business… until I got a call at 730 the next morning. This call from an unrecognized number woke me up.

Unidentified caller: “Hello, is this Miss Emily Loonden?”

Me: “Yes.”

Caller: “I am calling from the Bagayam police station. It seems there is a problem with your visa.”

Me: Oh crap! Here we go again! But wait… how in the heck do they even have my visa, I never registered there? And how do they have this phone number? “What is the problem?” (in a frustrated and someone demanding tone)

Caller: “Umm.. Yes. There is a problem. You are going to have to take a flight to Nagpur this very night to try to resolve these issues.”

Me: Oh for the love of Pete! This is ridiculous! And why the heck Nagpur??? Also, this guy’s English is pretty darn good. Tell me what the problem is.

Caller: “Just take a flight this evening and it could be sorted out.”

Me: (long pause) “Neeraj? Is this you?”

Caller: (short paused followed by stifled laughter). “Yes!”

As it turns out, my early morning prank call was an old friend attempting to con me into flying up north to pay him a visit. I tell you what, there’s nothing quite like telling a traveling foreigner that there is something wrong with their traveling papers to get their blood flowing in the morning. Well played, Neeraj. Well played. 


Just a few random photos from around Bagayam... only because a blog post without them seems so very dull. 




DISHKIYAOON

Wednesday was my first full day back at rehab. I’ll be the first to admit I was struggling. I’m not sure if it was the heat or the jet lag, but formulating a complete thought let alone carrying on a logical conversation eluded me. In wandering about the first floor OT gym I noted that not much had changed. The walls had been repainted, a few plinths had been rearranged, and sometime during the past year the decision was made that all patients with spinal cord injuries be treated on the first floor and all the patients with brain injuries would be treated on the ground floor. But all in all, things from the first floor OT gym were by and large the same. Patients arrived at 8am and began their treatments, left at 10am for a tea break, and a second group of patients arrived at 1030am for their treatment and left at 1230pm. Lunch then commenced, and at 2pm the patients returned for therapy until 430pm.

After the morning tea break, I decided I would spend a little time in the newly created pediatrics gym. (Indeed some things have changed… all for the better!) The Prosthetics and Orthotics department that had once occupied the space had been shifted to a newly renovated out-building giving them more room and adequate ventilation. The new pediatrics gym had been converted into a fun space with brightly colored walls, mats and toys.

The new pediatric therapy space.
 Upon entering the gym, I immediately spotted Agnes, the OT I am staying with this time. She is the pediatric occupational therapist at rehab. She was playfully engaged in therapy with one of her little ones, but eagerly invited me to join. I knew her kiddos probably wouldn’t know what to do with me around, and most did revert to a shy and reserved demeanor when I approached. However, one little firecracker of a girl warmed up to me very quickly. She was working on standing balance and side-stepping while gleefully wearing her beautiful Belle (or Beauty and the Beast) gown. It wasn’t long before she was letting me get some hands-on therapy with her. I suppose some of that had to do with the amount of playing we ended up doing. I would argue that a child’s occupation is to play, so might as well have a few laughs while we work on strengthening those hip abductors or core muscles.

Agnes and one of her little people.


Shortly into our session, my tiny friend clasped her little hands together, drew out her index fingers to me, scrunched up her face in a mischievous smile, peered over her glasses and yelled “dishkiyaoon” at me. Her mother reacted in astonishment as my little friend hurled back into a fit of laughter. Agnes lightly and playfully chided the girl as I sat in confusion as to what had just happened. Now, I’m not exactly sure what types of firearms are used here in India, but apparently the sound they make is “dishkiyaoon.” My little friend had just “shot” me. After learning that this befuddling sound meant that an imaginary gun had been fired, I joined the charade by faking a fatal wound the next time her little hands aimed my way. My reaction brought on a cacophony of laughter from more than one of the little ones at therapy. Needless to say, when I enter the pediatric therapy gym I’m often met by a number of fingers pointed my way and a barrage of “dishkiyaoons” excitedly waiting my fatal fall to the ground. And just when I thought they were getting to like me…

My Belle Star

Despite their desire to shoot me whenever I appear, I think I’ll see about spending half my day with the little ones if possible. They are so precious. 


Monday, March 21, 2016

THE WHY

I always seem to grapple with the “why” of my India travels about this point in the trip. Why do I keep coming back? Why don’t I go somewhere relaxing and beautiful (I might get more takers for travel companions if I choose somewhere else to go)? In reading back through the blog post from thirteen months ago, I feel many of the same things. And yet I have even more peace, and what feels like more persuasion this time around. Last time I wrote about the easy answers and the truth: I really don’t know why I keep coming back. (This year I get to add “for a friend’s wedding” as a truthful answer, which I’m absolutely thrilled about!!!)

I also asked myself the question:
Who on earth decides she is going to pack her bags and go visit India? And what kind of person continues to go back?

And this answer continues to be true:
This girl does. 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.

The same prayer I had then echoes through my mind today: 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.

On the lighter side of things, one of the things I like about returning to India is the lack of options. I know this may sound odd, but there is something very refreshing about not having options sometimes. For instance, in any given US grocery store there is something like 47 different types of bottled water. BOTTLED WATER, folks! Not to mention paper towel options, toilet paper and don’t even get me started on shampoos. In my experience, in India, you have maybe two options for bottled water (if you’re lucky) and then were talking 1 liter vs. 2 liter size.

The lack of options cracks open the necessity for creativity, especially re: my perspective of therapy. In my world of physical rehabilitation, we have about as many choices with adaptive aids as we do with bottled water. For a simple example, we have three (immediately available to us at our facility) options for sock aids. We have a myriad of different configurations for manual and power wheelchairs, and a single call to a vendor puts into motion the perfect (or as close to it as we can get to perfect) setup for someone with wheeled mobility needs. This side of “the lacking” is not the side I appreciate as much. This is the darker side that makes my heart ache a little. However, this is the side I find purpose in facing head-on. This side of “fewer options” is the side that facilitates the growth of creativity.

I am looking forward to embracing the “fewer options” with all the simplicity and complexity that it unearths. I also wonder if this perspective of mine is part of why I keep answering the call to return.

“…walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8

“…’for I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord…” Jeremiah 29:11

THIRTEEN MONTHS TO THE DAY

Thirteen months ago, this very day, I typed these words: I am sitting at my gate of the Dubai International Airport. The same thing is true today. Right now.

I can hardly pass through Dubai without sufficing the need to write a blog post. I have tried to while away my time here with things other than blogging, but I just can’t seem to fight the urge. Or I’m too tired to keep fighting. The problem I face this time around is that I’m not really sure what to write. In the past three passages through Dubai, I have had something on my mind or heart to speak about. This time through, the thoughts on my mind are jumbled and disjointed.

I am on my way to Southern India for a third trip to the Christian Medical College. This time around my trip has a three-fold purpose: to volunteer at the Rehab Institute as I have in the past, to partake in the celebration of a dear friend’s wedding, and to do some exploration/research for a personal project. It feels good to be going back with a purpose, even if it means my dance card is going to be very full over the next two weeks.

A week before I left Spokane, many people asked me if I was ready and if I was packed already. Ha! Clearly those who asked if I had packed don’t know me that well… (I pack in the eleventh hour). As for being ready to go back… I left India a year ago ready to return. So yes! Definitely, YES! But packing for this trip was unusually difficult for me. I had laid out all the items I felt necessary for my trip and some luxury items that I felt would be fun to take if I had extra room. When I finally got around to stuffing all my things into my backpack, I was surprised and almost alarmed when I realized that my bag was half empty. I looked around for anything I might have missed, and then mentally ran through my itemized list. “Passport. Check. Visa. Check. Cash. Check. Toothbrush. Check. Sense of humor. Always. Ok then, Em, you’re set… everything else is just luxury.” Maybe my past experiences in India have armed me with the knowledge and confidence which allows me to pack light. Or maybe I am going to have a sudden realization that I was too confident in my light packing and things will go awry. (If that’s the case, I’m sure you will hear of it.) At any rate, I humored myself and packed a hooded sweatshirt at the last minute for two reasons: 1) I felt the need to fill space in my backpack, 2) I still can’t imagine not being cold despite the fact that it is supposed to be 102 F when I land at my final destination.

I can tell you know that there are a few things I would have packed in my carry on and will remember for next time. When I arrived in Dubai, I decided to track down a hot shower and place to freshen up. With nine or so hours to kill, I figured it would be a fair use of time. After partaking in the delight of a hot shower, I quickly realized that I had no towel. Good thing I had nine hours to kill: drip-drying takes a while in a humid environment. Mental note: pack some sort of towel in the carry on. Also a change of clothes would have been nice. Ah well, live and learn!

Most notably missing from the items I packed is this: my people. I love traveling. And I do quiet enjoy my solo adventures. The “I do it byself” attitude I was presumably born with seems to almost relish these unaccompanied adventures of mine. But the truth is, after only a few hours into my trip I have realized more poignantly than ever that I want to share these experiences with my people. My family. My friends. My people. I want my people on one side of the world to meet my people on the other side of the world. I want my people to smell the foods I have fallen in love with. I want my people to see the chaos of life that has become dear to me. I want my people to taste the flavors of the world that I keep traipsing back to. Perhaps it is the familiarity of the trip that has caused these feelings. I’m now more relaxed and calm about the trip with less crazed concern about being where I need to be and when I need to be there. I’m not so concerned about the little things, because I know, for the most part, what to expect. My mind is not preoccupied with the unfamiliarity of it all because it is now rather familiar to me. My mind has freedom to wander, and it inevitably wanders back to its first love: my people.


I recognize how incredibly blessed I am to be taking this trip-- for the third time. I trust I will never take for granted the opportunity that has been afforded me. I pray that next time (because, Lord willing, I hope there will be a next time) I blog from my gate at the Dubai airport, someone counted among “my people” will be with me.