The adventures continue this week . . .
India seems to be throwing a lot more at me lately. Last night, I was sitting in a room next to the one I’m staying in, talking with the principal from the girls' side about her experiences when she first started teaching at BTC. It was a pretty funny conversation: she’s got lots of stories of the group of boys I’m really good friends with. She was in the middle of talking to me about what it would mean for me to teach on a more permanent basis when she pointed at the floor behind me with an increasing look of concern.
When an Indian woman points at something with an increasing look of concern, that’s a very good indication that you are about to have a big problem.
I didn’t really want to look . . . but I felt compelled. Sure enough, there was a big problem. You know those foot-long centipedes you see in movies? Like the ones that are in the ‘bug cave’ in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Yeah . . . they are actually that big in real life too. I wish I didn’t know this, but unfortunately, I now know from experience. This was that big, and that ugly.
I was perfectly content to watch this thing just walk itself right out the door and go away because seriously, this thing was 5 inches longer than my shoe. Our principal had other plans. “I will kill!” she announced, and darted off into another room. I just stared at this monstrous thing, walking across the floor in a wave motion at a leisurely pace, still trying to make myself believe that this wasn’t a movie prop. It was so big that I wasn’t even freaked out by it anymore . . . I was seriously wondering if it was even real.
Then it occurred to me: if this thing goes out the door, it can go to my room. I jumped out of my chair, knocking it across the room. This was suddenly an emergency situation. Something had to be done thissecond. But how do you kill a foot-long centipede with a body that’s as thick as a broom handle? It could throw my shoe back at me. I needed Mythbusters to come with C4, announcing that “Jamie want big boom.” I needed an ACME anvil to fall out of the sky and flatten the thing like on the Wile E. Coyote cartoons. I needed Steve Irwin to come back from the dead and yell, “Crikey, look at the size of that thing!”
I was watching it meander out the door in front of me with increasing panic when our principal reappeared with a 4 foot long bamboo stick. She raised it over her head and pounded this thing. She probably incapacitated it on the first shot, but she kept right on pounding it. She pounded every inch of this centipede on steroids, smashing it flat. My roommate came running out of her room to see what all the pounding was about and was greeted by a flattened monster centipede, complete with various scattered appendages. Seriously, there were bits of this bug everywhere. We found 2-inch long red legs of this thing everywhere the next morning. Our principal used the stick to hit the flattened body of this thing over to the other end of the hall, scattering more bits of bug across the building. She looked at me and said, “That was big like a train!”
Note to self . . . know where the nearest bamboo stick is at all times. It’s more important than knowing where the fire extinguishers and emergency exits are here.
Earlier this week, I had taught a Bible study for the small boys and I ended up reading story books in English to them until it was time for them to go to dinner. I ended up missing the dinner shift for the girls entirely, so I just ate with the boys. I sat at a table with Inder (whom I unfortunately don’t see much because he has classes in town all afternoon) and Alok. As I was finishing, our snake killing superhero came and found me sitting with them and pulled up a chair without a word. I just kind of watched him for a second as he spaced out, quietly simmering.
This was disconcerting: I hadn’t known it was possible for him to sit still. If he had grown up in the US, he would have been a candidate for ADHD meds, starting in Kindergarten. Something had made him really frustrated and from the look of his demeanor, he didn’t have a way to fix the problem. I asked him, “What happened?” He looked at me surprised and confused, like I had just read his mind. That’s when I remembered that my ability to sense things on other people isn’t always a good thing . . . it can be intrusive. He explained that he was mad about something that happened on the boys’ unit. I didn’t ask questions, and I doubt that I could have gotten an answer I could fully understand. Language barriers are such a pain. I said “Ok’ with a shrug and went back to talking to Alok. Our hero was still staring at me like ‘how did she just do that?’ Inder laughed at him and offered an explanation in Hindi. I have this interesting ability to sense things on other people, like shifts in their demeanor and emotions. It’s more than just watching their face . . . I can, to some extent, feel what they’re feeling. I can usually differentiate between others and me without a problem. Some people like Inder, Sunil, and my best friend Heather are a lot stronger than others. I’ve been able to call Inder out on stuff several times before.
Out of all the boys here, Inder and Sunil are probably the ones that I have been able to be the closest to because we just somehow understand each other. Sunil just has to look at me and he can read me like a book . . . and vice versa. I can just shoot a look his way and he’ll catch it. That’s both good and bad . . . I have never been able hide anything from him, and if I try he straight up asks me about it. Inder and I are so much on the same wavelength that we often communicate without using words. This was no exception. I glanced over at him and he tipped his chin up at me, saying that it was ok now; he’d explained that I’m not crazy or psychic. Our hero was still looking at me like he was wondering what other superpowers I had. Alok was still talking about how he wanted a girlfriend. Inder stealthily pantomimed sticking his spoon through his temple while he straightened his hair. I cracked up across the table from him. This is why I love these boys: they have allowed me to come into their world and participate.
Our hero ended up walking me back to the girls’ unit that night with some of the aunties because I got held up trying to get on Facebook on one of the guys' cell phones. I got to read the messages, but not send any. Our hero spent the entire walk explaining how he was going to wrap up scorpions or snakes and give them to us for Valentine’s Day . . . and how he was going to get in big trouble with the principal from the guys' side for doing so. He said, “You should not be doing this. This is very dangerous, you know. They are your sisters and this is very unkind.” We all cracked up. Our hero had his voice and inflection down exactly, and that's pretty much what he would say on the matter. Thank you, but . . . maybe you should just stick to candy or something.
When I made it back to the unit, the girls were dancing in one of the common areas . . . without music. I decided that I had to remedy this. I ran upstairs and got my computer and speakers, then came running back in, blasting Bollywood music. This got all the aunties and girls in the courtyard running in the room behind me, watching me attempt to dance to the music. There was a lot of laughter at my attempt. The girls taught me some moves, and I showed them The Twist and what Dubstep is. I got out my video camera and tossed it to one of the aunties: I wanted to film this one for posterity. Once again, I turned on Gangnam Style and filmed the reaction. These girls were also experts at this dance, and had their own moves to go with it.
We were dancing for about 45 minutes when the power flickered off. I thought that was rather strange. If I’m understanding how the water system works around here (I may not have this all correct, but the effects are the same), they don’t use the regular electric power to run the rooftop tank filling system. They use a generator. As I understand it, our handyman hero turns off the main power just long enough to fire up the pump generator every night at 9, usually when he walks back from dinner. If he doesn’t fire that generator up right then, it usually means that the rooftop water storage will run dry sometime around 9 the next morning . . . so I pay attention to if it kicks on or not. If it hasn’t kicked in by around 10PM, I know that I need to fill every bucket and water bottle we own immediately so we have water to flush our toilet tomorrow. I was wondering what in the world had held him up when it dawned on me: he had walked me back to the girls’ unit at 9 . . . and our handyman hero is usually walking around the courtyard, clanking his snake-killing stick on the cobblestones, running behind buildings and tinkering with pipes and water systems or something, killing all nasty bugs and fixing all maintenance problems on the unit after dinner. That would mean that . . .
He had still been on the girls unit.
He had probably been somewhere on the unit all during my pathetic and hilarious attempt to do Bollywood dancing . . . for around 45 minutes. I hadn’t thought of that. He's a busy guy and I've never seen him just standing around, so he wouldn't be standing around for this either. But here I was shaking my hips in an attempt to dance like Madhuri Dixit for a laugh and if he had seen that, he was probably laughing his head off at me. He was not the intended audience. No one was the intended audience.
The morning after, he didn’t say anything about it when I saw him on the way to breakfast and told him about the ‘centipede incident’. I thought I was in the clear. I did the exact same thing with the girls the next night, only the party was bigger this time: more girls dancing, more aunties laughing at me.
The next morning, I got up late (yeah, my fault) and I ended up eating with the guys. I sat down at a table and Akram and our hero joined me. Akram asked me if I had done any dancing with the girls like the time I did Gangnam Style with the boys. Our hero cracked up and about spat out his chai.
He knew it too. He looked at me a little sheepishly, but I just laughed. So he knows I am capable of dancing like an idiot. I do plenty of idiotic things in a day. The next night, we did almost the exact same thing . . . with even more girls this time. I didn’t even check to see if he was out there. The girls didn't care either. I said something about him maybe being around and they basically said, "Yeah, we know. So what?" He really is like their brother. He doesn't even register on their radar as being 'a guy', just 'family'.
For Valentine’s Day, we gave the girls' staff a pretty good bit of money and asked them to go shopping and get something nice for all the girls. They did not disappoint. They went out and bought nice semi-formal tops for the young girls, really nice clothing material for some of the ladies and some gorgeous saris for the aunties. They also managed to find flower hair clips like the ones I have (that earned me my nickname) to give to the girls. They know all the girls personally, so they know what style and colors they would like. We spent a late night on the 13th sorting out all of the clothes and labeling who would get what. We got to pick which sari to give to each auntie and match the flower clips to the tops the girls would be getting. It felt like Christmas.
We gave all the clothes to the girls the morning of the 14th. They were so excited! They had done an awesome job picking out what they would like. Some of the aunties actually cried when we gave them their saris. The flower clips were a hit. Some of these girls never step outside their building without it in their hair.
Amazing what a little love can do. It was no problem for us to give what we did . . . and these girls were really blessed by it. I hope I can always do things like this for others.
Also on Valentine’s Day, I received the best Valentine’s Day gift I have ever gotten: Potato Chips.
I’ve gotten stuffed animals. I’ve gotten jewelry. Heck, I’ve even gotten my absolute all-time favorite chocolate you can only get on the west coast ordered and delivered for me on Valentine’s Day. But this trumped them all.
The day before, I had been talking to some of my guys about how all I wanted was some dang potato chips. I discovered recently that the reason why I’ve been craving salt so badly is not just because I eat it all the time at home: it’s because the kitchen, under orders, doesn’t use any in the food it makes due to some people with dietary restrictions. I’m chugging water all day long and I’m really not getting any salt, so I’ve been craving potato chips and fries and cheese and Velveeta with fish sticks and Oh God I need to stop now.
Anyway . . . there were some guests that came to visit Ashagram recently, and the kitchen made them fries. As in, potatoes cooked in a fryer and slathered with salt. I was coveting those fries like you would not believe . . . and my guys were paying attention. So, the next day when they went to town for classes, they spent some of their own money and got me 8 bags of potato chips. It’s not like these boys have regular jobs or an allowance. This is their own personal spending money they get from the things they grow, create or sell themselves. When these boys handed me these chips, I about burst into tears.
It wasn’t the fact that I now had potato chips . . . it was that these boys cared enough about me and what I like to buy them for me.
I felt like the most loved person on the planet. Happy Valentine’s Day to me . . . my boys buy me potato chips! I am LOVED.
Today, I realized something. I don’t feel like I’m a mission trip. I feel like I’ve always lived here. I’ve settled into a pattern and standard of living that is different, but is very doable for me. This life is suiting me very well: flying-ninja scorpions, broom-handle centipedes, intermittent electricity and all. We’ll see if that changes when I run into a snake.