Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Biz.

Unrelated to anything else in the universe, can we please for a moment appreciate the facial hair in this photo?

To my complete dismay, I have done a terrible job of blogging about what my daily life is like here in India. I somehow think I should only blog when I have something profound or deep to say (stupid), but I would like to take more opportunities just to describe what it is I actually do here.

During the week I follow a basic schedule that consists of waking up around 8:30am, going to a prayer meeting at 9:00am (which I haven’t been very good at doing lately), and starting work around 10:00am. I use the term “around” because nothing in India is ever on time, I have mentioned the phenomena of Indian Time before; the only thing predictable is that everything is unpredictable. Based on my distaste of anything curry before noon, I usually skip breakfast or satisfy myself with a banana or care-package-sent granola bar (thanks, Mom!!). I live and work in the same big building. The basement is where the offices are and where I sit and work much of the time. The ground floor is a large multi-use room where events and church services are held. The first floor (or second floor to those of you who don’t speak UKisms) has a few sleeping rooms, a prayer meeting room, and the kitchen and the dining room, where I take most of my meals (save for the McDonalds runs…we get desperate around here). The second floor is where my room is, it also has a couple other rooms and the apartment where my boss and his wife live. Finally, the top floor above my room opens onto a huge rooftop terrace (my favorite architectural feature of Indian buildings). I am sitting on this wonderful terrace as I write this and I can see the city on nearly all sides of me. It’s a great place to watch the smoggy sunsets and catch some “fresh” air. Each day around 5:30pm I stop working and go about my evening which usually consists of either going out into the city to walk, get food, or run errands, or reading, writing, watching TV shows on iTunes, or sitting on the terrace.

A noteworthy thing about Ludhiana (the city where I live much of the time), it is NEVER quiet here. At this moment (roughly 30 minutes before sunset) I can hear tons of birds, cars, tuk tuks (auto rickshaws), people, hundreds of mangy dogs, children, and Muslim prayers being blasted over the mosque’s loud speakers. I can see buildings for miles, or at least as far as the pollution allows. The land here is very flat and lacks any especially tall buildings (minus the one very tall and large Hindu temple due west of me)…I am in fact on top of one of the tallest buildings I can see, making the view the best around. Truthfully, beyond the piles of trash and rubble everywhere, there is something wonderfully enticing about India and its many diversions from my familiar life in the US.

Beyond the physicality of the place where I am living, my job here is equally challenging, diverse, and unpredictable. When you are working for a passionate, opinionated, quirky, strong-willed Indian boss, anything can happen...and I mean anything. It definitely keeps me flexible and on my toes, good things for me. Basically my job here places me as 50% of the communications team for OA. My main task is to create communications geared toward North American supporters and granting organizations. Recently my wonderful partner-in-crime and I rejuvenated an already quarterly-generated newsletter with a more Western feel and tone. I am essentially the go-to girl for all things English...writing, editing, story telling; I guess you could call me the Grammar Guru, if you will (and I hope you will because who doesn't love cheesy Indian jokes?). I have also edited some books, training manuals, and other materials written by people here who don't speak English as their first language and appreciate my ever-present gift of gab (at least someone does!). 

My next task is to help OA organize and collect information on some of the hundreds of people groups that are represented in India. They are working on making information profiles and short videos for each one in order to help keep track of which people groups have active ministries/social projects within them and to help get grant funding for each specific group. Tomorrow, said partner-in-crime and I will travel 23 hours by train to the state of Uttar Pradesh, to a city called Kachhwa, to spend two weeks working with another branch of OA. We will be responsible for taking pictures (cue photographer), video, and digital voice recordings of a smattering of people from each people group represented in the area. It should be awesome to get out and about and see a whole different part of India...but I will let you know for sure just how awesome it is sometime post the 23 hour train trip from H-E-double hockey sticks.

Side note and personal plug: I will also be celebrating my 25th birthday while in Kachhwa, please pray that I can find myself a pool, go-kart track, miniature golf course, trampoline or some other form of fun to appropriately celebrate a quarter of a century of mayhem that is my life.

Promise: pictures of where I live to come soon-ish, though it will have to wait until after my 2 week trip to know how I just love to keep you all on the edge of your seats...

Friday, March 5, 2010

I am Woman. Hear me...meow?

I have now been living out of the United States for ten weeks. Ten weeks seems like a tiny blip on the timeline of an entire life, yet I feel as if I have learned a lifetime’s worth of lessons already. For all the adjusting I’ve done and the grace I’ve been shown in learning to live in a foreign culture, there are still some aspects of this life that will never sit well with me. One of my largest stumbling blocks is facing the way women are viewed in Indian culture.

Right out of the starting gate let me preface what I am about to say as my personal, albeit strong, opinion and experience. I will not make the claim that I fully understand what it is like to be an oppressed woman in today’s world and I will also refrain from making this a feminist bash on all things male; that is not my style. This is merely a snippet of my current struggle for understanding in my ever trial-filled time of adjusting to life in India.

From what I have been told and what I have seen, women here are regarded in many ways as second-class citizens. I do however hear many Indian Christian men convey their respect for female leaders in ministry, so I will stick to vast generalizations that don’t necessarily account for the other end of the spectrum. Please know that I acknowledge there are no absolutes, not everyone is the same or thinks the same…obviously.

When I was first in India, I had a discussion with an Indian man about how women are openly treated as inferior to men within their culture. My initial experience was quite the opposite; I was merely one woman in a mix of many people who were all treated like royalty--it was sometimes even difficult to accept; everyone seemed to love us and almost be in awe of our…whiteness, maybe? Forgive me if that sounds ethnocentric, I realize it does but I couldn’t get past the fact that people seemed to think we deserved a greater level of respect and every explanation I ever received about it had to do with the color of my skin (it’s related to the Hindu caste system and how the shade of skin is directly relevant to one’s caste level…it’s complex and not worth getting into, I don’t even understand it completely). Anyway, post mission trip royal bliss, I began to understand more of the realities of Indian culture for a woman (sort of), after all I have been living these realities out (sort of). Even from my sheltered and protected circumstances, I noticed immediately that men and women are not on equal planes, even if solely for the reason that it’s inappropriate for people of the opposite sex to have prolonged interaction when they are not married. Suddenly I was thrown into a world of men that wouldn’t address me directly, invite me places, or shake my hand…yet they would extend all these polite formalities to my male teammate and friend. I was able to get past certain aspects of these social norms, it was just a bit of an adjustment to my thinking. I mistakenly thought, “no big deal, I can totally do this!” Before I knew it though, I seemed to be excluded from things merely because I am a woman and not a man.

The toughest thing is feeling like my freedom is impinged because I am a woman. I have been told that I am not allowed to live alone and it is ill advised that I go anywhere alone as well. I admit that I don’t know all of the cultural nuances regarding Indian men and that many of these restrictions are in place to perhaps keep me “safe,” even if the Indians around me do resort to the most conservative meaning of the word. I suppose this is where my pride jumps in and kicks and screams while proclaiming, “I am a strong, independent woman who can take care of herself!!!” Frustration ensues.

For all the ways Christian Indian men go out of their way to avoid being alone with me, addressing me, or even sitting next to me in a vehicle, the whole of the culture outside my sheltered walls seems to digress from feeling the overwhelming need to always be appropriate. Case in point: whenever I walk outside I am constantly stared at by men AND women; they don’t see a lot of white people here. Ok, I could handle it if that’s all there was to it but when it comes down to men actually following me around a store just to smile, stare, and make comments under their breath, it’s really quite tiring. Even when I am out with another male (who, because his skin is also white, is inevitably assumed to be my husband), it doesn’t seem to stop them from giving me their attention…though when I am out alone it is exponentially worse. Men start to actually make their in-poor-taste comments directly to my face, even from across the street. I have even had a group of guys on a motorcycle follow me down the street while I was walking, leave briefly to rally more of their “bros,” then carry on following me like a pack of salivating dogs. Forgive me if I sound insensitive, I don’t hold this view of Indian men because they are Indian, many Indian men are extremely respectful and fun…so let’s not throw the “R” word around, that is not what this is about.

Moving on. All my circumstances here are forcing me into a constant state of varying amounts of discomfort. I say this more as fact than in a negative sense, being consistently challenged is what’s creating learning and growth in my life, for which I am very thankful. In the meantime, my very strong-willed character is being broken down and redefined as I learn and relearn what it means to be submissive to people and situations which are beyond my control. As much as I feel frustrated by the fact that people here seem to think I am limited because I am a woman, I know that I am learning a great deal of patience and grace, both things I normally lack.

I am still formulating my thoughts and opinions of Indian culture; that is something that in our humanness we will inevitably do. I can offer peace of mind that there are many things about India and the people here that I love and appreciate; I don’t want to paint the picture that Indian culture is all bad when it’s quite the opposite. This woman-ness issue is much more about my personal ego than anything else…I apparently have a lot larger ego to deflate than I thought. The more I think and write the more I feel I am just a prissy white girl whose first experience in the Eastern world is getting her panties all in a twist...which is probably true. Even though coming from Orange Country I KNOW what a prissy white girl is...and it's not me...but the truth is, I am white-bred, raised and cultivated to be comfortable and "safe" (there's that dang word again). In any case, regardless of my ignorancies (is that a word?) and shortcomings based on my limited environment growing up, I am glad to be here and facing challenges that I wouldn't otherwise face in the States. Most decidedly, widening my worldview and understanding of culture is worth the pain.