Thursday, July 30, 2009

And Sydney Flew

When in India, do yoga. Even Jovie looks like she's joining in.

Today the girls and I went on a road trip. Dropped Jayson off at work, James at a friend’s house, and away we went. Destination: Dentist. The recommended dentist was in Coonoor, about 45 minutes away from Ooty. We were following a friend’s car, so we didn’t take the normal road, but more of a single track, across the mountain (hill) short cut. They have a Jeep. Again, we have the Car/Van/Can, lest you forget - it was more of a Jeep road, not so much a Car/Van/Can road. So, Jovie is buckled up in her car seat, Sydney in a booster seat that someone gave us but the buckle does not really work, Ani is in the front seat because she gets carsick. We are keeping up pretty well. I’m not sure if I would call the holes in the road potholes, but crater holes. In my attempt to dodge one crater hole, I hit another and Sydney flew (sorry Grandmas and Grandpas) out of her seat and onto the floor. With a bit of tears, I had Ani help her to the front seat with us while I was driving and there we were, four Palm girls on the road again. After all this Ani said, “Us Palms, we do what we have to do, and we don’t give up.” Sing it sister. After that drive, the Dentist was cinch. It was the quickest appointment of my life. Ani’s “check-up” lasted 3 minutes and my “check-up” lasted 5. Sweet. And the kicker was we didn’t have to pay a thing, because there was no services given, my brow puzzled a bit, because what did they consider the “check-up”? I don’t know, but I wasn’t going to argue.

So, with the rains, we have new friends in our kitchen sink (move over cockroaches). Slugs. Sweet. So, the other morning James walks over and looks into the sink, “Nope, no slugs.” I guess everyone has to have a morning routine.

Dead center, on the sink, James' friend Mr. Slug

Aftercare. I have absolutely considered it a privilege to be able to come alongside this particular program of Freedom Firm. There is not much out there by way of Aftercare for trafficked girls. Mala, the director, has really built this from scratch. And it’s a place where girls can come and be taken care of physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And then slowly as the girls are able, more autonomy and responsibility is given. Monday through Friday, the girls go to Smyrna. Freedom Firm rents a building there, and in the morning the girls have English and computer lessons. After lunch, the girls learn and work their craft - Jewelry and Aari. The staff work quite well as a team. There are three different languages used in Aftercare - the rescued girls use Hindi, the house mothers use Tamil, the westerners/volunteers use English, and the social workers use all three (they deserve a medal). My role is to manage the staff as they work with the girls. The staff is quite competent, so I feel like my role really is encouragement and to be a listening ear. Volunteers also play a huge role. Volunteers usually come for 3 months or more and simply spend their days with the girls. Teaching English, working with the micro-business (the Aari and Jewelry), taking the girls on outings, simply spending time with them - communicating to them that they are valuable, worthy of love, and can dream outside of their past. I took a bunch of photos yesterday at Smyrna, to help capture where most of Aftercare is spent - I will pummel you with captions with the photos to help explain what is what. Enjoy.

Our family joins the girls for lunch every Wednesday

The kitchen

Aari work

Susai and Maria putting up a sling/bed for the baby

Next Monday, we may be walking into a week of disaster or a week of frolic - not yet sure which. We (the Palm Six) are heading out on our first major travel in India. We are flying up to Mumbai and driving three hours over to Pune, where the FF operational office is. This last month, FF has rescued 17 girls and we want to tell them way to go and how can we help from far put it simply. We will be there for a few days and then we’ll take an overnight train down to Goa, a well known beach in India. We will be there for a long weekend of family “relaxing” (a loose definition when you have 4 young kids) and then head back down to Ooty on another overnight train. With all that travel and new places, there are bound to be some hiccups - but hey, that’s what makes a good blog entry, right? Anything for you guys. So, no blog next week, we will be chiming in again in two weeks. Until then...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What Eclipse?

These fine fellows didn't miss the eclipse

We had the chance, it slipped from our grasp... to witness an historic event. We slept through the eclipse. I blame our sleepy heads, but I blame you to. You, in the western world, have the news at your fingertips. Radio, iPhones, TV & newspapers (okay, India has these too, but we, the Palm six do not). Yes, I do try to go on the CNN website every day or two, but I must have missed it. Then, yesterday, I woke up, checked my email and saw the email from a friend, “Subject: Did you see it?” See what? Michael Jackson? Once I figured out what “it” was, I checked CNN and saw that India was the start of this serious event. Sorry folks, we had the chance to bring you a first hand account of this historic event, but we let you down. We hang our heads low today.

Last Thursday, I was trying to find Jovie. She’s not hands-and-knees crawling, but more like belly crawling. Our front door does not latch properly. She had pushed open the door and I found her outside, eating dirt - what all 11-month-old children are born to do.

Tonight, Ani lost her second tooth. While we were writing a note to the tooth fairy, she put on the note (it was a long note), “If you are an Indian Tooth Fairy, I hope you can read this...”, and “Please leave the tooth, because my sister lost my first tooth down the drain”, and also, “Could you leave me some Rupees?” Cute.

I am quite proud of my kids and the range of food that they’re eating these days. But the spiciness of food here can deter them. Ani eats Indian (with her hands) at school every day, but she eats it only because she has a “firstborn rule-following thing” and she cannot not follow the clean plate rule at school. Anyway, so as Jovie is diving into all sorts of food, I have been giving her Indian 3-4 times a week, and she takes the spice really well. The other day I pushed the spices too much, though, and she started crying - so sorry Jovie. By the way, if you want Jovie’s favorite Dal (lentils) recipe, let me know, I will send it your way.

Jayson and I have a new crush. His name is Susai. He is the driver for Freedom Firm. Let me say this about the word “driver” - In the States, a driver would be for those who make a substantial amount of money. Here it is different. Susai has a wife and two young kids. He drives the aftercare girls to their appointments and activities, runs errands for the office, fixes everything... This whole description of Susai lead me to something that I have been thinking a lot about this week - well, really since we have been here. Susai lives in a 12 x 12 tin house and makes 1/8th of what Jayson makes. (Susai is paid a very fair wage compared to the average driver.) Susai’s willingness to help us out is incredible and he is like a father to the two young children whose mom’s are new to the aftercare program. I am face to face with a very real tension of how many resources (money, housing, food, clothing, etc.) our family uses compares to his. I am not always sure what to do with this. Every country in the world has poverty, but in this season of our life we just interact with it way more. In the States, Ani wondered why we only had one car and other people had two... Now, Ani wonders why we actually have a car and most people do not. In the midst of struggling with this tension, I am also trying to help Ani navigate this as well. If you have thoughts about this tension, I’d welcome your insight.

Next week, I am going to talk a bunch about how my time with Freedom Firm's aftercare has been. I will have lots of fun pictures. But for now, I want to leave you with some photos that I took today, outside... believe it or not, we saw the sun for the first time in a month. I must say that our summer has not been has painful as I thought it would be. The kids have been lost in their imagination - which I am truly grateful for.

A typical day, when the sun is shining

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Rats, the Rain and the Monkeys

Ani got the camera. Four pictures to prove it.

I am sitting in front of our fireplace, wondering if my heart is going be plunged into the abyss again. Well, that was a bit of an overstatement, but for the last 3 hours our power has gone off for several long periods. And just when I go blow out the candles because the power goes back on, it goes off again and then I go and light them all again, and get set with my low light activities. As you can tell, I am quite traumatized tonight – so I am going to keep those candles burning. I continue to marvel at the old meets new here. For instance, our house is so stinkin’ cold right now that the only place for my bread to rise is in front of the fire. So just put that into your mind, bread rising in front of the hearth and then me sitting here on my laptop posting a new blog entry to be read across the globe... funny, huh. Those contradictions are all over the place here. (Woah, a log just rolled out of the fireplace – I actually said woah out loud, all by myself.) Okay, so I went to go think of all the old meets new and the only ones I could think of were things having to do with computers / internet – and that gets redundant. I guess it’s just mostly old here in Ooty and very little new. So much for that train of thought, I pretty much derailed myself. Moving right along.

So, our Explooty this week was going to Wax World. Yes folks, you heard it right, Ooty, India, has a little wax museum. Why they thought of a wax museum over umm, let’s see, a Science Museum or Art Museum or even a Train Museum, I’m not sure. But when in doubt of which kind of Museum to build – go Wax I guess. Most of the figures were famous Indians, which makes sense, and then the very last one was behind a curtain because it was for only adult viewing... and it was of a motorcycle crash, with blood dripping out of this guy’s mouth. Kind of weird. Anyway, it was fun to actually go. I really couldn’t believe that I went, because every time I previously drove by I rolled my eyes a bit. I guess that has to do with the Wax Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle that displays the sign. Awesome.

Just in case you are wondering... it’s raining today.

Another monkey story. The monkeys live outside of town. We live in town. Just the way God intended. Well, the dogs were barking a few days ago, it wasn’t the post man, it was a monkey on our roof. Imagine my fright when I looked up and there was a big ol’ monkey looking at me. Between the rats, the rain and the monkeys, you shouldn’t be surprised if I become an agoraphobic.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What Drove Us to Light the Wick

It seems to me, that I have never thought more about 4th of July than now, while I’m not even in the States. Weird. Maybe not weird, but at least puzzling. Did we celebrate? Oh yes. A friend of mine sent some 4th of July gear and away we went. We invited some Americans over - and an Indian and a German. We are the melting pot, you know. Anyway, we had red, white and blue covering the dinner table which was - you can guess - laden with burgers, fries, cole slaw and a tomato salad. I made a 4th of July quiz (including the question, Which two U.S. Presidents died on the 4th of July. Do you know?). We sang the Star Spangled Banner with much gusto. We blew bubbles - from little red and blue bubble dispensers with stars on top! How patriotic is that. And we watched the 2008 4th of July New York City fireworks display on YouTube.

Patriotic bubble blowing

Alum, one of Freedom Firm's social workers, amidst a frenzy of bubble popping

One of our friends came over with fireworks. These fireworks that we witnessed that night will always be near to my heart... It had been raining for 3 days straight (and still is, monsoon season has officially arrived) and so we thought that it would not fare well to have the fireworks in the rain, meaning we had them under our metal car port. It was one of the decisions that could have gone either way (“Should we really be lighting these?”) and I think our nostalgia and need to celebrate drove us to light the wick - not common sense. The fireworks were not the blast-in-the-air type but the pop-on-the-ground kind. Anyway, when the fireworks came out of the box they looked like a reel of automatic ammunition. Jayson unrolled them, laying them on the ground, and had everybody stand back. Holy buckets. My life really didn’t flash before my eyes, but I was the one holding the video camera with two kids and I kind of felt like a CNN reporter with a live feed to the west and I got caught in the crossfire of a war. Literally we were ducking for cover and shoving the kids into the house for fear of explosion. James was the funniest one of the bunch. The previous night he got scared watching Finding Nemo, but that night he was the bravest of the crew. He just covered his ears and pulled up a chair for a front row seat to the action. A bit ironic of him. Anyway, after the fireworks finished, there was a definite high pitch buzz coming from the girls (and my ears) and my knees were definitely shaky and my heart was pumping. Happy 4th of July.

The row of pop-on-the-ground firecrackers, pre-danger
Lets see, as I said before it’s been raining constantly here. Either really gushy gushy rain, steady betty rain, light and lovely rain or misty mountain rain - total dork I know, to name all the rains - oh well, what’s a girl to do. I have nothing else to say on the subject, just being the Ooty Weather Girl to the greater world population.

So, I think I have told you a bit about how we have a bit of an accent going - the kids especially. Its mostly a touch of British, but sometimes a bit of New Zealand and Australia pops in. Well, I have another dimension to my speech. Its called “Abbreviated English, with a bit of an Indian accent and a head nod thrown in”. I have noticed it way more now that I am interacting with FF Aftercare Staff. The housemothers have really done a great job of picking up English, but to help them understand what I am saying I try to stick to simple nouns and verbs. Today I said, “you coming going, me coming going” - what is that?! That phrase is classic for Maria, one of our house mothers, so I guess I have picked up a bit of Indian/English Slang. Just an inside scoop on me, I have terrible grammar, so I can only imagine what long-term effects this will have on my oh so intellectual commentary on life.

Hi friends. Jayson here with a very fun Freedom Firm update. We’ve had 3 rescues in the last 4 weeks totaling 11 girls! In 2008 we had 25 rescues total, so that gives you an idea of how fantastic it is to have 11 in 1 month. The most recent was a landmark rescue. According to some information that IJM passed on to us, 3 girls were on a train with 4 traffickers headed from Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) to Pune (click for a map of this journey). Freedom Firm mobilized police in Pune, who were there when the train pulled in to Pune Station at 6:15 yesterday morning. As the brothel keeper, who was expecting the girls, looked on (it turns out she was at the station and police recognized her), the police took the traffickers into custody and brought the girls into safety. Later the police also arrested the brothel keeper, who it turns out runs a brothel that Freedom Firm rescued a girl from last September.

Last, but certainly far from least, the contest winner. Drum roll please... Chris and Sarah Nichols - some friends of ours when we worked with Royal Servants. Thank you to all who entered. That was fun!

Yes, the name was drawn out of a hat. See?