Thursday, 17 September 2015

So You Think You Can Volunteer...

It’s been two weeks since we returned from Haryana, India and the most common request I hear these days: "You have to tell me all about it"  leaves me overwhelmed - 2 weeks, 3000 photos and countless connected hearts later I struggle with where to begin, knowing it will never end: the story of how we first met - India and I.

Here is my photo attempt to describe this larger-than-life volunteering experience in 10 Hinglish terms. 

I owe the gratitude for teaching me - all of the following words as well as the ones from Hinglish for Beginners (Part 1 and Part 2) - to this man, we fondly got to call Vicky. Vicky - a devoted Sikh - sat with me many evenings, painstakingly answering my questions, patiently finding matches to numerous expressions I was curious about. He is my teacher-ji aka linguistic specialist.
But to the 10 world-wide-spoiled-brats that came to volunteer and stayed in his care for 15 days -- he was like a mother - counting us (yup, he counted us!), making sure we eat, sleep, have crisp clean clothes to wear and get to places on time. A devoted husband, a man of knowledge and unshakeable faith he makes India proud. Oh how much I miss you, (mom) Vicky!

Vicky and two of my favourite road-trip sidekicks
Let's begin! 

DIL: HEART - A must have on the volunteer's TO BRING list. Not just the beating heart, but the heart wide open.    

It is an asset way more important than a business card, let alone the little letters following your name suggesting your awesome qualifications. Please don't apply to volunteer should you not have a heart at all. And if you got randomly selected and still showed up, forget growing the heart and just bring patience, humility and basic decency. For 😖🔨⚡️🚽‼️'s sake. Bitte!

Be ready for your heart to be ripped out and shredded into pieces right upon arrival - witnessing extreme poverty is not for everyone. Miraculously, that same heart will be all stitched up and glued back together over the next few weeks. It will become bigger and fuller. Mine most certainly did! 

The reality of how 40% of people live - under the poverty line

Homeless sleep at the highway median. And dry their laundry.

Devastating sight of women and children living in poverty

          MUSKURANA: SMILE - Other than at the airport this was my real passport. Despite the immense August heat, I wore it every day, deliberately forgetting my sunglasses. It is a language everyone understands. What a volunteer MUST leave at home: judgement, sarcasm, idea of entitlement and a watch! Life in India always happens on time!
The universal language: smiling eyes & smiling lips 

          SAATH KAM KARNA: COOPERATION - Best described through witnessing the selfless effort of a motorist who for miles helped an overloaded bicycle move through Delhi’s overwhelming traffic. It is a part of the everyday human experience in India. "Paying it forward" at its essence. 

JHAN PEHCHAN: CONNECTION - the tightly-knit community is the main reason for low depression and minuscule suicide rates. One’s wealth is measured in friendships rather than in rupees. 

This is what retirement looks like in India: chai and chat

In two weeks some of us became good friends with our team India - we shared work experiences, enthusiasm for what we do and plenty of laughs.

❤️my PSI team!

         ASHIRWAD: BLESSING - Deeply spiritual, Indian people offer blessings even to strangers. I didn’t understand most things said to me, but a hand placed on my head or a fragrant guava offering meant I was welcome and appreciated. 

RANG: COLOUR - The backdrop of India is often bleak - chipped paint, mould stains, piles of broken bricks - but the life within it as vibrant and beautiful and alive and optimistic as it gets.

A girl's heaven: saree shopping!

Women wore the most beautiful fabrics - my fellow volunteer - KFC (a nickname earned on the first day given he is from Louisville - Kentucky!) noticed we have never seen the same pattern, much unlike the GAP! Even the men were not too far behind! 

JAWAN: YOUNG - India is the youngest of nations, its median age being 28. This will be a major asset for growth and the economy. These people are young, eager and have a fantastic work ethic that begins at a very young age.

SHAKTI: LIFE FORCE - Because how else does one explain the resilience despite all obstacles?

Agra mattress delivery service

Loading dry grass on a truck...
... that is tall as the Monkey Temple gate - singlehandedly @ humid 48C

ANAND: JOY - A habitual joyful demeanour overrides the everyday struggle and poverty. People look for ways to be happy and they keep finding them more often then anywhere I have ever seen. 

          Saying that - seeing a blonde woman wave at schoolboys is apparently hilarious! OK, I admit - these guys were so curious they gathered closely around my car . The only thing I had to do was blow a kiss - resulting in the explosion of laughter and teasing about who was the kiss for! Priceless! 

My favourite memory
          ASTHA:  "A deeply-rooted belief in something for which you are ready to do anything". I feel shivers. Everybody should have this clear in their mind and heart. Indian people draw their spiritual strength from their family and their many religions. This is the answer to my most pressing question - how come everybody is so happy? Every breath they take they serve something greater than themselves. 
Her privilege is to clean and prepare flowers for the Hindu temple

FIR MILENGE:  SEE YOU AGAIN - Because of course this can not be the end for me. I have to come back. Soon. 
Hey India, can't wait to see you again!

Friday, 11 September 2015

Always a bride, never a bridesmaid!

The first wedding I ever attended in North America was that of my friend Mary, whom I knew from work. She was the right hand of one of the specialists I worked a lot with in those early years. When she invited me to their wedding I was elated! Firstly, she and John are a great couple. Secondly, they're Scottish and Scottish people I had heard knew how to chill. Thirdly - ok, firstly - there would be bachelors wearing kilts and I was very single back then. I was looking forward to checking out the offerings, if you know what I mean!
[Public notice: Kilt-wearing men and firefighters in uniforms - yes, women often have a thing for that sort of attire, just so you know!]
There was no 'plus one' on my invitation and I pretty much didn't know anyone at the wedding other than the bride, so after an hour or so of people watching I felt compelled to talk to someone. It's moi after all! 
The easiest target was the jolly-looking father of the bride. With his rosy cheeks and cute outfit I was sure I would find something to talk to him about.
"Hi - my name is Marina. I work with Mary." I leaned into him so that he could hear me over the background noise of the talking people and clinking glasses.
 "Congratulations! It must be exciting to be at your daughter's wedding!?" - I said that both as a statement and a question thinking it might propel him into telling me of the many suitors she had turned down while still overseas, finally settling for John in Canada.

"Ayeeee... Weddings!" - he screeched a thick Scottish accent - it sounded like "weedings"He put his arm on my shoulder as if he were about to reveal some rare truth - "It's all rubbish!"  His rough rolling "r" is still ringing in my ears, making me laugh all these years later!
Credit: Black Lamb Photography
And although I too once thought that weddings and marriage were rubbish, this third and last time I tend to love the idea of a marriage. But not the one I grew up with - with the expectation and pressure to find a soul mate slash equally-educated slash gainfully-employed slash 'good genetic material' (ha, ha, ha #youknowwhoyouare) slash no-baggage kind of deal while the biological clock is ticking.

My perfect marriage is the one with the sole-mate, s.o.l.e. - someone with whom you walk effortlessly through this lifetime. Soul-mates are everywhere - most of my girl-friends are my soul mates – but there is only one sole-mate. The one with whom you will aimlessly walk the world's cities. The one who will go with you to the parent-teacher meetings and paediatrician's appointments. The one with whom you will look at funny silly videos on YouTube. The one who will tell me the hotel is booked and so is the car rental and now we just have to hunt for flights. The one who convinces me it's time for an All-You-Can-Eat sushi dinner. The one who appreciates what I do for our family. The one who surprises me with how much he does for our family. And the one who is happy for me go to places like India to fulfill my desire to experience something raw and intrinsically important only to myself.

Tomorrow, one of my dearest and closest friends will say yes to her man. Linda was the very first person I met on my very first day at work in Canada almost seventeen years ago. Let's just say we've been through a lot together. The ups and downs and heartbreaks and real scary moments and hope and courage and joy and infinite love and gratitude. Linda is a soul-mate of mine!

I guess it must be a good thing that Linda and her man decided to have a relaxed ceremony followed by a night of dancing and debauchery (the actual words on the invite!). This means no formal uptight stuff. Just heart and soul and fun stuff. But alas, this also means no bridesmaids. Which consequently means no war with a certain Jen I'm about to meet tomorrow as well as an army of her childhood friends aka "beach-getaway-girl-crew" I was always so jealous of. That's good, because I don't take rejection very well and one clearly can't have 10+ bridesmaids, can one? But I have never been a bridesmaid!!!
And I really wanted to be one for once, dammit!

I can't fall asleep tonight in the sweet anticipation of seeing my friend standing tomorrow gloriously happy. And, oh, happy she is! Congratulations! Félicitations! Čestitamo! Mazel Tov, you guys!

Let me now go to my sole-mate and watch this for the umpteenth time... The supreme court and the slice of lasagna part! OMG!!!