Monday, July 11, 2011

Highs and Lows

I know it has been awhile since I have updated.

We are still here at the Gill family's house. I thought we were leaving on Saturday, so I didn't go to the internet much last week because I preferred to stay home and hang out with the family. But now I suppose I have to write some more.

These past couple of weeks have definitely had their shares of highs and lows. I'll start with the lows and end on a high note, okay?

Telma and Rikke are both gone now. It was kind of weird and surreal once they left. We were only with them for 3 and 4 weeks, respectively, but we still all got pretty close. I guess when you are thrown into such an unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable situation, you tend to bond more quickly. I will most likely be seeing Rikke again at the end of my travels, when I'm in Europe, so that's at least something to look forward to. We have gotten some new volunteers since then: Stephanie is from Scotland, Lawrence and Madison are from Vancouver. We had 2 others, Anne from the States and Indiana from France, but they didn’t last long and it turned out to be kind of an unfortunate story, one for another day.

We have had a couple small problems with things here, and they have all been made worse by poor communication.  It seems that every time we have even a minor problem or question, it turns into "Why are you not happy here?" For example, when Katy and I would ask about working at a hospital, like we had originally signed up to do, they would think we were asking because we didn't like the family or the school or something. It's very hard to have them understand that we just wanted to work in a medical setting for a little bit, even though we have been very happy and had a lot of fun with the slum school and our family thus far.

There were also a few somewhat unsettling incidents that we've seen.  I hesitated to write about them because I don't want to make anyone look bad or cause concern. But, in reality, they were some of the more impactful moments for us, so I think it's only fair that I share. I had mentioned before that while we were in Delhi (or when we go to the market or the mall) Velma was on her phone the entire time. She never seems to be on it at home, unless her parents are not around. Clearly, this is because she is not supposed to be on the phone. We figured her parents knew that she used it, but just not as much as she did. Turns out though, they don't like her using the phone. Last week (or 2 weeks ago maybe?) Katy, Velma, and I were sitting in our room. I was laying on the bed, and Velma was sitting on the corner near my head. Sharlini came in and started yelling at her. She would leave and come back and yell again, and she did this a couple of times. Then she started smacking Velma. Again, she would leave and came back about 3 or 4 times and would yell and smack Velma. We had seen her smack the boys once or twice, but those are usually almost playful, like if they wear their shoes in the house. These were not playful smacks though. And Katy and I had no idea how to respond. Sharlini had to actually reach over me to smack her. We couldn't really get up and leave, nor did we know if we should. Afterwards, Katy, Rikke, and I talked for a little bit about the whole incident, and how it was very uncomfortable, but it could've been worse. I understand that physical punishment is normal here; even in the States, spanking or hitting is not uncommon. To literally be right in the middle of it though, and to not understand what they were yelling about, was kind of scary. So we thought all was said and done, and the rest of the afternoon seemed to pass quite normally. Gill was out somewhere for most of the evening, and towards bedtime, Sharlini came over asked me if we could go to bed early. Her English is not great, so Simon, our 11 year old brother, had to come over and translate that she wanted us to go to bed early so that Gill could hit Velma when he got home. I was at a total loss. I kind of made up some excuses about how I would have to shower still, etc., because I didn't know what to say. I went in and told Rikke and Katy what Sharlini had asked. We were really confused and unsure what to do. On top of that, Velma had asked us to stay up, knowing that if we did she would be okay. The social worker in me wanted so badly to intervene, but the difference in cultures made that impossible. So we decided to keep our lights on and our doors cracked for a while, later than usual. We obviously didn't want to get in the middle of their family issues, but we also didn't want to witness any of it. For whatever reason, whether it was our stealthy little plan, or something else, when Gill got home, he just went to bed. Thankfully, we haven't heard anything else about the situation since.

The next day we were again reflecting on the whole thing. I think we were more scared than Velma had been.  She was clearly not that affected by it, as she got a new phone within a day or two.  Apparently, her parents think that the phone that she is always carrying around belongs to one of the volunteers.  We don't know how she plans to keep the ruse up, but that is not for us to have to worry about.  And really, I know that physical punishment is quite normal here. I don't think that Sharlini or Gill are very harsh at all.  And I think we were so scared that evening because we really didn't know what to expect.  I didn't grow up with physical punishment, so it always unnerves me.  Even when we were at they boys' school and Simon had to go to the director's office to get slapped for fighting, I was nervous for him.  He thought it was kind of funny though.

The other not so fun thing was me getting sick.  I am very grateful that I have not been sick very much, but when I did I was miserable.  I woke up with a fever and flu symptoms.  And there wasn't much to do to feel better.  Luckily, the power didn't go out at all, so I was able to stay pretty comfortable.  I did spend all day in bed though.  And given that our beds are more akin to tables (no mattresses, just a board), I was pretty sick of lying there after a couple hours.  The worst part was trying to communicate to everyone in the family that I did not want any food or drinks other than water.  I was already having trouble keeping that down.  Sharlini came in one time and asked if I wanted's the gist of the conversation:
Sharlini: Lunch?
Me: No, no food.
Sharlini: Chappatti?
Me: No, I can't eat.
Sharlini: Tea?
Me: No no, just water.
Sharlini: Whiskey?
Me: No really, only water

A couple mintues later she showed up with milk tea for me to drink. They don't take well to us not eating, even if we are quite sick.  But I am thankfully over that now and hopefully it won't come back.

Other than that though, life is still great.  We go up on the terrace almost every night with the boys to fly kites.  They are so fun to watch with their kites.  I have learned that I am not so great at flying kites, but they are pretty good.  Kites are a big thing here; you can look up almost anytime during the day and see at least a handful of kites.  In the evening they're everywhere.  Gill said that I need to come back for India's independence day in August because the sky is filled with kites.  I love being up on the terrace and watching my brothers though.  Their faces are filled with joy when they're trying to get their kites higher and higher.  Even if the wind is bad and they aren't very successful, they still have fun trying.  One time, the string on one of the neighbor's kites broke, so the kite was falling back down and he had to chase after it.  Simon and Mowgli took off to go chase it as well.  It felt so Indian to me, watching them run across the terrace and hop over every little wall to follow the kite.  I think that's why I love being on the terrace so much: it's so authentically Indian, and such a multi-sensory experience.  Looking around, its just terraces and kites and pollution as far as you can see; you constantly hear kids playing and horns honking, and the occasional Muslim call to prayer; you're still sweaty and sticky and covered with dirt, but there is a nice breeze which makes it almost comfortable; and of course there are always the random and usually unpleasant smells. I know it doesn't sound all that great, but I think you have to actually experience it to appreciate it.

We got to take the boys to the mall on Wednesday.  We never get to do anything with just them, so we all loved it very much.  William was able to help us get the tuk-tuks because otherwise we are pretty incapable of getting anywhere on our own.  We treated them to Domino’s pizza and then ice-cream from McDonald’s.  And of course the mandatory trip to the toy store.  It was so fun to hang out with just them.  And they all dressed in their Sunday best for us too. They all were wearing jeans (Simon had to roll his up because he was wearing William’s jeans) and collared shirts.  Simon even wore socks and shoes! They looked adorable. It was funny to see what they looked like outside of the house too.  William was much more quiet and reserved.  He’s very crazy and playful at home, but when we were out, he definitely played the mature, responsible role.  We have always seen the boys as quite fearless-they climb and jump on everything.  Simon was so uneasy taking the escalator though! It was almost like the scene from Elf-it took him a long time to finally step on it.  By the end of the day, he had gotten better and was pretty natural with it.  They were all excited to have chicken on their pizza and we were excited to have something familiar and not spicy.  Of course the boys put the crushed red pepper on their pizza. And a lot of it. They would put an entire packet of crushed red pepper on each slice.  Indians do like their spicy food!

Also, the monsoons have started a little bit, so it’s cooled off just a little.  It’s my favorite time when it rains though.  I really think these boys are like my kindred spirits.  The second it starts raining they start yelling “Carly, terrace! Park!”  They love to play in the rain. Rain is one of my favorite things and I love playing in it, but I never actually get to. So to have 4 people to run around with in the rain is heaven for me.  The other day when I was sick, it started raining.  I heard the boys calling to go play on the terrace, but Stephanie (our new volunteer friend) said she forbid me from going to play in it.  Which is good because otherwise I might have gone.

One more thing is that now the boys have started school again.  So now we go in the mornings to their school to help teach and then we go slumside in the afternoon. Even though the boys go to a real school, it’s still not a great education.  We are helping to teach because there aren’t enough teachers there.  When we got there, William and Simon’s class (they’re in the same class, and Mowgli and Ely are together also) didn’t have a teacher.  Actually, there are about 10 or 12 classrooms and only about 4 or 5 teachers.  So we started teaching.  It is much easier to teach them than at the slum school.  They have actual textbooks that we can use and the kids pay more attention than in slumside.  One of my favorite moments was when Stephanie (our Scottish volunteer) had Ely and Mowgli’s class write sentences such as “My name is ______.  I have ______ hair. Etc” One of the sentences was “My friend is _______.”  Both Mowgli and Ely wrote “My friend is Carly.”  They sure do know how to get me.

So now we’ve been told that we will switch placements at the end of this week, when the other family near the hospital has an opening.  I already thought we were leaving once before and so I’ve already started crying about it.  It will be so hard.  I’ve definitely had mission trips or other experiences where I’ve gotten attached to people, like Danielito and Alex in Mexico or Olebogeng, Tumi, and Karabo in SA.  But I only got to see them for a couple hours a day for about a week.  I’ve been living here for what will be 6 whole weeks.  Every morning I get to see them and I get to say goodnight to them every night.  They bring me fresh picked flowers almost every day and share all their cookies with me.  I’ve played so many different games and “fought” with them for hours.  They’ve spoiled me with attention and impressed me by how smart and brave they are.  Velma, Sharlini, and Gill take such good care of us and are always ready to help us with whatever we need. In short, life has been so so good. There are times when I get homesick, but I think once I leave here I will be just as homesick for Faridabad. 

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