Saturday 26 March 2011

mulling over... (what I learnt in India part 1)

I'm up way earlier than planned on a Saturday morning perfect for a lie in. My body is taking quite a while to adjust to the time difference between India and here. We arrived back on Wednesday after a night flight and I'm still wanting to go to bed by about 8pm (not great for socialising it must be said!) and waking up aroun 5 or 6am, as India is 5.5 hours ahead of us. I never knew time differences came in half an hours as well as full hours. Well I suppose going away to 'far away' places teaches you new things...

I've been mulling over what I learnt during our 10 days in Chennai. It seems so easy just to slip back into 'normal life', but I don't want to forget, or not fully appreciate my time away. I have to say I didn't feel like I experienced 'Culture Shock', nor was I particularly overwhelmed by any element of what I encountered, which means the things I learnt/felt/saw were perhaps more subtle and I think I absorbed a lot without registering it. [This is not to say that I am insensitive or a particularly hardened traveller, it's more that where we stayed and the places we visited were probably more 'tame' than other parts of India - from what others have said].

SO... what did I learn that I didn't know before...?

"The North East"

We met and made friends with several people from the North East of India. Now I profess my ignorance - I originally thought that this meant Calcutta and thereabouts. I hadn't quite taken in the fact that west of Bangladesh there's a whole other 'chunk' to India. Our friends came from Nagaland and Manipur, regions that border on Burma. Again, in my ignorance, by their physical appearance i would never have said they were 'Indian' - I probably would have guessed Thai or Malaysian.

Which brings me to the whole crazy nature of colonially created borders and nations. There are over 2,500 people groups in India - it seems madness that a few foreigners decided to make this mass of land a country. And no wonder there's been tensions. (I speak with very limited knowledge and experience e.g. of the nature of Indian 'national identity', so forgive me if I offend in any way, I'm just processing a mix of things seen, heard, learnt - and most probably assumed, because I think this is what humans do!) With this many ethnic groups it's impossible to generalise and make comparisons - because for example even within say Nagaland, there are many tribes who are fighting against each other. Having said this, people did seem to often identify themselves by the region that the came from e.g. Kerala or Tamil Nadu.

Through meal time conversations we learnt that it was quite a big challenge for the 'north easterners' to come and live in the south east. There are big differences in food (much more spicy and less sweet in the north east - they even put chilli with raw mangoes... i think i'd find the diet more challenging!). There were jokes about how you know when you're in the north east when you don't even see any crows about - because all the animals have been eaten. A friend we met from Nagaland had eaten dogs, crows, frogs, ants, spiders - basically everything we could think of asking him! There's also differences in what is acceptable in terms of clothing. Chennai has been quite influenced by the West but we still had to be careful to dress modestly and cover shoulders, legs, etc, whereas the girls from Manipur were used to wearing strappy tops and shorts. Another funny, although perhaps slightly uncomfortable, conversation was about differences in skin colour and body hair... J said she found hairy men 'disgusting' (there were plenty of moustaches around in Chennai!) and had been nervous about meeting southerners with much darker skin. [That's another crazy thing that one doesn't just encounter in India... all over the world people are trying to lighten their skin - staying out of the sun and even using bleach, while we pale one roast and toast ourselves at every opportunity!! ]

Having mentioned some of the cultural differences, what was brilliant about the place where we stayed was that there were people from all over India, and from a whole range of economical and social backgrounds. AND they loved each other, shared everything, and served each other. Their diversity was expressed in positive ways, such as when they danced... when we move our bodies we express so much that can't be said, and these were times when the influence of ethnic/cultural background, mixed with the uniqueness of each person, really shone through.

There are more things to say, but this post is getting long, so I'll leave them for another day. :-)

Thursday 24 March 2011

His hand reaches out to you

His hand reaches out to you - an invitation
His hand reaches out to you. It says, ‘Come’.
‘Come with me.
Come, dance with me.
Come, walk with me.
Come, run with me.
Come, just BE with me.
Come, you might not know exactly the road that we will take BUT we will travel it together‘.

His hand reaches out to you -
An offer of hope,
An answer to your loneliness,
A stronghold as everything around you shakes.
What else can we put our trust in?
What else will remain?

His hand reaches out to you -
An outstretched arm
A risk, of love.
A request, not a command.

His hand reaches out to you -
You did not see it.
Your gaze was focussing elsewhere.
You were blind to that hand, whilst seeing all other temptations and distractions that draw your attention away from seeking, seeking, seeking
The ONLY was that leads to life.

His hand reaches out to you -
And you saw it and you heart was moved for a moment in hopeful anticipation.
BUT you did not respond.
You did not move.
For your hands were busy elsewhere.
Busy worrying and striving and organising and meeting
and trying and trying to achieve and trying and trying to be successful
And trying and trying to look good and follow the rules and be a ‘proper christian’ and impress and…

Your hands were busy elsewhere -
Carrying burdens you were never meant to carry
Wringing themselves in anxiety
Holding your head in despain.

His hand reaches out to you
But to take it seems too hard
Or perhaps, it seems too easy.
Is that really all he requires at this moment?
Is that really enough?
To lay everything down
To surrender worries and plans and strategies
And to reach out your hand in response.
To let Him gently pull you up from the ground where you sit - proud. lonely. afraid.
To let Him lead you out from the dark edges into the light to dance dance dance with Him.
To let Him pull you into an embrace.
To let Him hold you.
To let Him guide you into new spaces of freedom where you can truly be yourself.
To walk beside Him in harmony, enjoying one another’s company.
To run with Him into an adventure you had hardly dared to dream about.

His hand reaches out to you - an invitation
His hand reaches out to you with longing and with love
His hand reaches out to you -

Will you take it?

(I wrote this for the New Life Assemblies of God church in Chennai where we were worshipping this weekend)

Sunday 20 March 2011

more roofing

another HIGHlight (pun intented!) up on the roof was wednesday afternoon, which we spent with a group of orphan girls that the beach centre has been regularly hanging out with for the last few years. Coming here is a chance for them to have a break from their strict school routines and have some fun. And fun we did have! We played games, did an activity using flags and then we just danced around crazily to some Godfrey Birtill songs. You know those moments when you just feel so glad to be in a certain place at a certain time? That was one of those - jumping around wildly with everyone, sweating, and enjoying being together. It was also one of those times that bond you a little deeper with people, and since then have felt much more 'at home' here and that the students and staff here are becoming my friends. Hooray!! What a privilege...

Thursday 17 March 2011

Roof tops

I love buildings with roof tops that you can go out on.

The roof of the Beach Centre, where we are staying, reminds me the roof top of the block of flats I lived in in Seville. Red tiles and whitewashed walls. But from this roof you can see the sea to the east, which makes it extra special. In Spain most people just used the roof for hanging out laundry. It only seemed to be a novelty to me, and I'd go up every morning, before the tiles got too hot, I used to go to eat my breakfast, journal and pray.

This roof is used for more than laundry, it's good for many things.... like

Watching the sunrise - finally after several days of planning too then giving in to the call of 'more sleep', I went up this morning to watch the sunrise (6.15am). The first thing i succeeded in doing was scaring away one of the boys who was up there already by my loud nose blowing. cringe. my 'hayfever' or whatever it is seems to be even worse here than england. anyways moving away from snot, and back to the sun.... it dawned red tucked behind a layer of cloud above the sea, and at that moment it's hard to believe that all the light and heat we are about to experience will radiate from that dim red ball. The cloud seemed to rise with the sun, so Kirsty and i were standing waiting for it to fully reveal itself for what felt like a long time. In fact we went back down to our room before it did and watched from the
window before catching a few more minutes sleep.

Dancing! yesterday afternoon we were teaching on moving with flags, for which there is not enough space in the hall we've been using, so we danced up on the roof - which although hot was a nice change from the air conditioning and fluorescent lights! Music was pumped out over the neighbourhood and some beautiful movements were displayed. I find the whole flag stuff kind of tricky as I'm not such a graceful mover, but I enjoyed taking a lot of photos :-)

Chatting... Up to now everyone on the base has been really busy and we haven't had much chance to hang out with people outside of teaching times, which i've found quite strange as I was looking forwards to getting to know people and finding out more about life here. But last night after our evening meal several people were up on the roof, enjoying the cooler evening breeze and we got to chat to quite a few of them. Yey.

Moon watching... I would have said star gazing but to be honest the stars aren't so clear. (Although I did see a shooting star the other day, hooray!) The moon however is very bright. In england we talk about the 'man on the moon'. In Zambia it was not a man but a rabbit. And I have to say, with just over half the moon showing, I think I can make out some rabbit ears... maybe it's something about the southern hemisphere...?!

so the roof is good for many things, and I will make the most of it while I can!

Monday 14 March 2011

chennai beach

As I said yesterday, the sea is in view from the building. Yesterday Andy, Kirsty and I strolled down to the beach in the late afternoon. Golden sunlight and sea breeze after being inside most of the day. LOVELY. There were plenty of families enjoying the sand, playing volleyball and cricket, groups of women in colourful saris sat gossiping... possibly about us, the only visibly 'foreigners' around as far as I could see. The sea is too dangerous to swim in, and we wondered if the Japanese earthquake had increased the tumultuous power of the waves. It felt like holiday time, only thing missing was an ice-cream!

Sunday 13 March 2011

India - first impressions

The airport was still, empty expanses of shining floors reflecting fluorescent lights, beckoning the child in me to run and slide across them. queues of weary waiting passengers. The lady on passport control didn't quite believe that Kirsty was the same girl as in her passport photo. Long stares, eyes moving up and down from passport to face. She asked Kirsty her name and date of birth and let her through. As if a 'fake' wouldn't learn at least those details! Passport lady looked hard at me for a long while too. I wasn't sure whether to smile or not.

On stepping outside, Chennai is orange and dark blue. Orange from street lights that bathe the faces of the waiting crowds and people sleeping on the floors in an amber glow. Navy for the night, it is 2am, and dark spaces fill the gaps in the orange. I cannot see much from the taxi window, just long roads with barricades down the middle and men still gathered on street corners. The taxi flashes his lights as he overtakes vehicles on both their left and right. it smells... warm. Humid air filling my nose and lungs. I expected to be more overwhelmed by the smells, but they are gentle so far.

Sounds are horns beeping, dogs barking, fans rotating to cool our rooms and unknown insects buzzing and rattling throughout the night. And the sound of the sea, visible from our window, lapping against India's eastern coast.

So far the people I've met or seen seem shy, but friendly. Subtle exchanges you can barely notice. Saris grace the women, long scarves and triangles of exposed back or stomach. We have been well looked after so far at the YWAM base where we're staying. The mango squash is delicious. I find it quite strange that we will eat separately from the others, but people come in and out of our sitting/dining area regularly, and we'll be spending lots of time with those who are doing the movement stuff with us this week.

I am happy to be here. At last. A smile bubbled out of me as I left the airport.

the view from the roof...