Monday, February 22, 2010

Fiddler on the Roof

It's easy to fall in love with India from the back of a motorcycle. Or on a rooftop of an orphanage, where I currently find myself. Sitting on an old straw mattress amid a sea of colorful Indian laundry. (Mom and Dad, if your reading this, I haven't been riding any motorcycles...only auto-rickshaws :)

There are about 75 mentally and physically handicapped children here at the orphanage and around 80 healthy kids. I am with the handicapped kids everyday... feeding, carrying and sometimes helping at the special school, which pretty much amounts to screaming the alphabet and throwing notebooks and shoes out the window.

With so many kids here, it is nearly impossible to connect with every one. The handicapped children are so PRECIOUS and I am having a blast with them. Sarah, the other volunteer here at the orphanage, is from Austria and is incredibly gifted with the handicapped kids. She is such a blessing and SO much fun to be with. We are having a ball tackling India together.

After my first day of work, I was overloaded by exhaustion and shock. By 4 o'clock, we had carried all of the handicapped children back to their rooms and all of the school going kids had returned. With playclothes on and mischief on the mind, the kids descended on the sandy courtyard. I found myself a perch along the perimeter wall to observe the mayhem, knowing in an odd way it would be therapeutic. With a Peter Gabriel tune playing in my head, I watched as a band of 5 year old boys carried out about a dozen different humorous schemes. One of which included the pulling off of frogs legs and throwing them at the double dutch girls. Around that time, a little girl named Kalai crawled into my lap and fell asleep. For me, that was about the greatest welcome anyone could ever give. And since then, I have become a faithful observer of the 4 o'clock schoolyard. It seems to make the world right again...regardless of the number of frog legs I have launched my way.

I decided yesterday that so far, my life in India has been a string of euphoric moments, and I possess no clever or beautifully big words to describe them. I guess all I can do is recollect the moments themselves.....or...the KIDS themselves.

I spend most of my time with the handicapped children and love every minute of it. They put up with my goofy antics and have the most precious smiles. Most of the children have cerebral palsy and have been abandoned. Just train front of temples....covered in bed sheets in the gutter. Yet they still have the sweetest smiles and equally precious personalities. I don't understand.

As I watch Sarah throughout the day, I know that there is a fire in her bones for these handicapped kids. Its a calling, and a blessed one. It's not love to play favorites, but with so many kids at the orphanage, it's nearly impossible to make a connection with every one. I have grown especially close to a group of 5 year old healthy kindergarten boys. The moment i saw them, I knew they needed my arms as much as the handicapped kids did. I got the feeling that they are a little forgotten in the scheme of things here at the orphanage. I will attempt to describe these mighty boys with words that seem so finite in comparison.

First there is Sudellie, who by first glance is the alpha male of the pack. That title has been unjustly given...most likely due to his 40 year old smoker voice. In reality, Sudellie is a total sweetheart who LOVES to sit on my lap, or brush my hair. Then there is Praveen...who has the looks of a young Kevin Bacon and the dance moves to match. (Trust me on this one, I wouldn't lie about something like this!) Everyday is footloose with Praveen...he is constantly dancing down the halls....moving his hips in seeming rhythm to the girls rolling eyes. They are jealous....and have huge fat crushes on him. Beyond that, Praveen loves Michael Jackson and is a master thumb-warrior. Then comes Andrea, with his heart melting smile and insatiable love for Indian cinema. He rarely will give you the time of day...unless you have a frog in your hands or will serve as a loungechair in front of the tv after dinner. Andrea's mother lives here at the orphanage, however, she is mentally ill and gave birth to him in the bathroom. On any given day, she won't know Andrea is her child. Manny, the notorious frog killer, is wanted on several counts of animal torture and biscuit thievery. Just last night he covered a frog in yogurt and then rolled it in sand. He offered it to me as a special 'Indian sweet'. Yah, sure, thanks Manny. Then in comes Santos. The Dr. Jackle and Mr. Hyde of Prema Vasam. With his round cheeks and little grandpa belly, he stares up at you lovingly....until his stare turns into a dubious grin and he stomps on your toes. His shirt is always untucked and his pants ALWAYS fly half mast. One afternoon, there were around 30 girls visiting the orphanage from a catholic girls high school in Chennai. While most of the girls were in tears looking at the handicapped children, Santos was busy stealing their shoes. One in the flowerpot. One in the pond. And, this is my rubbed on his butt. In the morning, Santos will be pinching my legs and trying to pick off my freckles. Then come 4 o'clock, he falls asleep in my lap. Menace by day, sweetheart by 4.

And then...there is the love of my life.... Amal. Its like my arms ache for this kid. Maybe thats a taste of what it feels like to be a mother. (Don't worry though, i'm not heading down that road anytime soon...but am excited to someday) His facial expressions could rival the three Moran sisters and he hangs in the balance between troublemaker and sweetheart. When he sees me, he yells AKKA! (which means older sister in Tamil) and he runs full speed and does a classic gymnastics launch into my arms. Either that, or he runs full speed away, giggling and hoping for a good chase. I will be standing in the hall talking with Sarah or one of the visitors, and he comes from behind me and slips his hand into mine. Everynight I tuck these boys into bed...on their straw matt with a blanket....and everynight....Amal gives me a big fat kiss on the cheek...and then a nice ole salut. I can't sleep otherwise.

I have spent the last two weeks trying to figure out why I am not in tears every night. In lots of ways, I think its my welcome to the world. Learning to be in the presence of such pain and abandonment... joy and euphoria... in such un-processible amounts. I think somewhere along the road I figured....okay Mal, lets ride it til the wheels fall off. Love now, cry and fret later. My days are far sweeter and sweeter still when I ask God, "Okay, who needs my arms today?" Beyond that, my thought is paralyzed. For now, I am just filling my pockets with these 'over the moon' moments... and am hoping that sometime later I will come apart at the seams and begin to process it all.

Usually wherever I travel, I find a favorite place to do my deepest thinking. Up here on the roof, I do my deepest.....breathing.

Much love. Til next time,

Friday, February 5, 2010

GROWING PAINS (NOT related to Kirk Cameron)

What to say....what to say!?! Okay, I'll start with this....


I just returned from a little shindig for a woman who is retiring from her teaching position at St. Xavier's after 30 years. First there was mass, then a break for tea and fried goodies, then dancing, then skits, then more dancing...and then MORE food! Indians do it RIGHT!!! In Southern India, you typically eat lunch using big banana leaves as plates. In these modern days, they use 'computer leaves' computer paper in the shape of a leaf! I gotta kick outta that. But then again, I get a kick outta India. I can easily say today was my greatest joy in India thus far. Having girls arms around me constantly...and laughing endlessly with the sisters. It's not like...its LOVE.

I am packing my bag for my bus ride to Chennai tomorrow evening. I don't even want to THINK about leaving! However, I did decide to come back here to Kodaikanal for I guess that makes saying goodbye a little easier. When I was a wee tot, I was convinced that if you are still unmarried by a certain age, then you are fated to become a nun. It has been a long standing joke at the Moran household, so you can imagine their remarks when I fell in love with the convent. Don't worry though, I won't be taking any vows until marriage.

Ahh! I still can't believe I am leaving tomorrow! I feel as though I have just started to dig in with these girls. We laugh and joke as they teach me Tamil. To them, I am an escape from life. To me, they are the life I have been looking for.They call me 'Auntie' and constantly treat me like a human jukebox...always requesting songs. The lyrics that come out are always a surprise, especially to me! Today it was Neil Diamond and Michelle Branch. Who knows, tomorrow the Beach Boys might make an Indian debut!

Yesterday I found a slingshot on Sr. Lucy's NATURALLY I thought it had been confiscated from a mischievous student (not unlike a certain Tally Latcham and myself in our schoolgirl days! Tal, this slingshot is a BEAUTY. It coulda made a bigger dent then our whole clog-on-the-ledge scheme!) After a brief inquiry, I discovered that Sr. Lucy is the master sling-a-teer herself!! She can scare away a monkey king with only the slightest sound of stretching rubber! We had a good laugh, and then later at dinner, it was decided that I will marry a man who is excellent with a slingshot and equally talented with a hammer. Then we will move to Kodaikanal, I will teach and he will be PEST CONTROL. AKA-monkey man.

Today a teacher asked me how old my husband and children are, and what kind of marriage we have if he just lets me take off to India for three months! I laughed for a solid five minutes. It's not the first time I have been asked this question, however. She was aghast when she learned that I am neither married nor in school! I am quite the delinquent by Indian standards. Lets just say that independence isn't woven into Indian values. Something I love about India and hate at the same time. It's good for family values but equally abusive to women.

Even after four weeks here, the dust has hardly settled. Its been kicked up rather. It's incredibly sad, and somewhat amusing at times, how I can travel thousands of miles, to a different WORLD it seems, and still be stuck in my own head. My first two weeks here were sweet to say the least, but they were....without.

Last week I was knocked sideways. Through the course of one day, there were at least 5 different women who came to the door sobbing to the sisters about completely unrelated yet desperate situations. I was drinking tea in the next room just listening to these women cry. They were speaking in Tamil, so all I could do was sit and listen to the sobs...and imagine the despair. That afternoon I read a few emails from friends back home...and was just broadsided by the heartbreak. There is so much ache in the world, so much grief, sorrow, doubt, loss and total despair. I don't think scale, circumstance or location even matters much. Heartbreak is heartbreak.

I have discovered that I see my own ailment, my own joy even, as a little bit (or alotta bit) more important than that of others. And to what end? It was all too easy to buy into the wanderlust idea of escaping to India for awhile and returning completely changed...with long hair and new earth-shattering wisdom. None of these things are wrong or bad...but the idea that MY change, MY experience is the most important thing...THAT idea is narrow. Without. It leaves me MISSING out, on a world of joy, and yes, a world of hurt. Perhaps heartbreak and perspective go hand in hand.

I have had more than a few melancholy afternoons this past week. Feeling disheartened and angry at myself...for spending the greater part of my life sitting on my own curb, and often in my own gutter....when now I see that the truest treasure lies in the gutter of others. It seems backwards by so many standards, but that's what I love about Jesus. He loved and led from below. In the gutter.

There is such a mental reaction. To just shut down in the presence of poverty, heartbreak even. Its as if my body's defense mechanism is....distraction. The poor cannot afford food or even the freedom to compartmentalize their lives. It's all one. One heart, one ache, one joy. I don't get it...but I desperately want too.

I feel a bit like Tom Cruise in Jerry McGuire...feverishly writing a midnight revelation. There is probably no one out there who caught that ref...even my movie buff sisters....You had me at hello?!?! Anyone?

I am pretty sure that my eyesight and understanding are being turned inside out. These few months are not a full and complete work that will end April 6th when I fly home to the states. Things are just getting started. For right now, God is showing me that compassion is only a product of something bigger. Passion for something bigger..HOPE in something bigger. I think India is saving me from a rigormortis faith. And thank God, because what is the point of faith if its dead?

Outgrowing the yesterdays faith is all I can ask for I guess. The growing pains are less than pleasant, but compared to the crooked hand these girls have been dealt...the heartbreak is bearable. I don't know what my internet sitch will be like at the orphanage in HOLLA until next time!

Much love, sorry for the rambles...just have alot on my heart.