Ketchup

Once upon a time there were two friends (who happened to be tomatoes) that went on a trip together.  They were walking across a road when suddenly a car came out of nowhere and crushed the second tomato.  The first tomato looked behind at the squashed, juicy remains of his friend and shouted:

“Catch up!”

That might be one of those jokes that works a little better when it’s told orally.  The point is that I need to play some “ketchup” now that I haven’t blogged for so long.  We’re going to do it with headings because it’s been so long and there is so much to say.  Here goes:

I have a new best friend, but he shouldn’t be.

There is an Indian boy in Acts29 whose name is Sachin.  He is amazing.  He is funny, has a huge heart, asks deep questions and truly looks for the answers, has been a gangster (legit) in his past, and is almost exhaustingly invested in any friendship he deems as worthwhile.  He is also amazing with kids, charismatic, super welcoming and buys me cute little presents when he makes me mad.  (He is also engaged to be married to the love of his life, Payal, and not my type, so all of you romance sniffers out there can put away your sniffy, nosey noses.  It wouldn’t work.  I would never ever, ever marry an Indian boy.  I don’t think I would even date one because gender relations are way too different between Indians and Americans.)

Suffice it to say, though, that we get along really well and we love each other in a platonic way.  We spend a lot of time together, as well.  Too much, evidently.

About a week ago a leader asked me to stop hanging out with Sachin.  Another leader asked Sachin to stop hanging out with me.  Why, you may ask?  Because the kind of friendship that we have is not done in India.  Girls and boys don’t spend time with each other as much as we do and a few of the Indian girls were offended enough by our friendship that they felt the need to talk about it behind our backs to our leaders and our leaders felt that this assault on what even they saw as a simple friendship was valid enough to tell us to back off.

We are here in Acts 29 to learn about culture, but what they mean by multi-culturalism here is conform to Indian standards and ignore the others.  It gets more offensive every day.

I wanted to sit down with a leader as a facilitator and talk to the people who don’t like our friendship.  I was told that it wasn’t worth it because the way the argument happened was “cultural” and it wasn’t worth anyone’s time or energy to fix it.

There were two cultural issues:

1.  Males and females shouldn’t relate the way Sachin and I do.  ( I feel as though I should tell you that Sachin and I barely ever touch each other…we are talking simply about frequency when we talk about closeness.)
2.  In India you resolve issues through a middleman.  In the United States you resolve an argument face to face or you are accused of being passive aggressive.

Sachin and I have won the first point.  We still spend copious amounts of time together, but we’ve both been made to feel uncomfortable about an innocent friendship, which is sick, wrong, and was created by a bunch of Christians who are supposed to be our friends.  So even though we are still friends we were both hurt a lot by our “brothers and sisters in Christ”.  Imma call bullshit on that one.

I also got an almost tearful apology from Sachin.  He felt bad taht I had felt so shitty about our friendship that he felt obligated to apologize for the hurt other people caused me AS THOUGH he had caused it himself.  Literally.  He said he was sorry that HE HAD HURT me through our friendship.  Sicknasty.

The second point the Indians won 100%.  I was asked (and being the respectful mofo that I am, I consented) not to talk to the girls who were offended.  I don’t get why.  I need the resolution that I think it would help them to understand that there is more than one way to relate to boys (the only way they relate to boys i8s through fear…I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been told that “you don’t know what Indian boys are capable of”.)  They could also learn how to have a healthy argument instead of telling stories behind people’s backs. 

These are the bits of culture that I think are important.  We can teach each other things that our cultures do that WORK BETTER and help each other grow as people.  Assertiveness in disagreements is something Americans have to offer to Indians, but they aren’t interested in receiving it.

I know for a fact that there are parts of my life that they could help me live better, but we never talk about culture.  We brush our disagreements aside as being cultural in nature and therefore unalterable and not worth our time.

What are we doing here?!  BLARGH.

Dehradun is a beautiful fusion of home and India, which is exactly what I need right now.

It is abnormally beautiful here.  It is cool in the evenings and warm during the day.  There are waterfalls and trees and big rocky things that they call mountains and I would call glorified hills.  There are evergreen and palm trees growing side by side.  There are waterfalls and rivers.  There are monkeys and parrots and chipmunks and it’s just straight up amazing.

Half of what I look at oozes Minnesota, and the other half prods me gently and reminds me that I am in a beautiful foreign country that I better appreciate while I can.  I love this place.

Funny sidenote:  Dehradun is considered a small town in India, but 800,000 people live here.  What happened to the small towns of 80 something in the US?

Charismatic worship is creepy.

Since we have gotten to Dehradun we have had some new speakers and people who share their testimonies and a lot of them worship in a more charismatic way.  They pray out loud and all at the same time, with several people singing as their own individual prayers until all that you can hear is this really creepy, religious babbling that makes me, honestly, feel like I am sitting in an insanitarium.   The leaders pray dramatic prayers and knock people over and people cry loudly and out of nowhere and lay flat on their stomachs in the middle of the worship area.

I have seen this kind of worship once before in an African American church (although it wasn’t so extreme there as it is here) and many times on television (usually documentary, not fictional stuff) and it has always freaked me out a bit.  Let me tell you, it is even worse when you are in the middle of it.  Half of it seems like theater, and I don’t understand how people can take their faith seriously if they are pretending to feel something so that everyone will see how big it is.  The other half is just creepy.  I don’t think I want to be struck by the spirit if the spirit is going to make me cry like a blubbering fool in the middle of chapel.

Just saying.

God doesn’t want me to be a Christian.

The other night we had four people visit us.  They were charismatic worshippers as well.  One of them gave a testimony and then the four went around praying for us for a while.  Two of them prayed for me.  One of them was a very sweet British lady who asked if there was anything in particular for which I wanted prayer and then prayed and talked to me afterwards to check in a little bit.  Very considerate. 

The other was an elderly gentleman who prayed silently and by simply putting a hand on my shoulder and without ever actually speaking to me.  Strangely enough, I actually thought that I felt something when he was praying.  I said something in my head about being completely empty, which I do feel rather often, and being willing to be filled.  And in a strange, spiritual kind of way, I actually started to feel like I was being filled.  I don’t know how to describe it better than that.  And then, being very spiritually unaware the man who was praying for me stopped before it had finished, and one of our idiot leaders came over and put an urgent hand on my shoulder and stared me straight in the eye and told me that God was telling her to tell me that I had to decide.  Was it going to be all or nothing?  I had already made the decision and was trying to be filled, but she interrupted it.  Thanks, lady.

That’s how it always seems to go, though.  I will feel on the verge of spiritual epiphany.  I can already walk the walk, talk the talk and think the thought like nobody’s business, but I don’t feel it, so I don’t usually bother doing what I know I can.  Why wake up early to go to church when I know that God isn’t going to be there?  If he’s not going to extend me the courtesy of making his presence known every now and then, why should I do the same for him?

Relationships require two parties, even when it is a relationship between God and person.

I just don’t get how whenever I get close to feeling what I imagine God feels like he backs off.  To me, that sounds a lot like a God who doesn’t want to be found, and if he doesn’t want to be found maybe I’m looking in the wrong place.  Maybe God doesn’t want me to be a Christian.

Leaders who act like children don’t make very good leaders.

The other night I went to get Indian Burgers (potato!) with Brenda, Sachin and Allen.  I told a leader that we were leaving, got her permission and told her we would be back in time for dinner.  We left immediately after I spoke to her (which was a lot closer to dinner time than I realized) and got back an hour after dinner.  Oops.  Holly made two mistakes:

1.  She didn’t know what time it was when she left.
2.  When it got dark outside and she realized that it was probably dinner time, she stayed at the restaurant anyways because they had already ordered their food.

When we got back to campus I immediately went to Carina’s room (the leader I got permission from in the first place) and apologized to her for our tardiness and told her that I wanted to take full accountability for everyone being late.  She said she was disappointed that we were late and that we might have to talk later.

20 minutes later I was called into her room again and this time Asher was there.  I repeated that it was entirely my fault and that I wanted to be held accountable if there were to be any consequences.

He told me, and I quote, not to give him that crap.  He then proceeded to yell at me for about 10 minutes, which I let him do after he made it clear that he did not want to even hear my side of the story.  When he finished I told him that I was no longer interested in telling him my perspective of the situation because he had made it clear that he did not care.  He softened a bit and told me to tell him.

I consented.

After at least a half hour of yelling at each other (which was the only choice…I swear Indians will not listen to you unless you are yelling) I had won both of them to my side and they realized that their faulting me for the entire situation was completely off base.

Carina realized that she had made assumptions about my motivation for being late, which made it seem like I had been disrespectful, but after giving me a chance to actually EXPLAIN myself, she realized it was simply a couple of mistakes.

Asher evidently didn’t care either way, because when he realized that he was in the wrong he gave up on the argument entirely and said that it had solely been Carina’s problem and he didn’t really care either way.  And he said this to me while texting someone on his phone.

The issue that I have with this is not that they tried to lecture me for something.  It is that they both acted like children during the conversation.  Asher would rarely let me finish a sentence and Carina would talk about her feelings when I was trying to explain a logical argument.

From the first moment I felt attacked by both of them and that feeling didn’t ease off until after they had been proved wrong.  I was shouted at and it was only after I pointed out that we were not conversing like adults and that we should have the conversation another day that they calmed down a bit.

That was not my place.  That was theirs, but they were too busy yelling to realize how rude, argumentative and childish they were being.

I think that they both owe me an apology, but I don’t expect to get one.

I don’t think I told that story very well but due to the way the screen is set up on this browser I can only read half of what I’m writing so I can’t go back and edit it.

No beautiful prose this time around.  Apologies.

I finally have seen some of India that feels like India! 

We went white water rafting last weekend.  It was beautiful and amazing and exciting, and I made friends with an American named Sam who is from Maine but currently working in Japan.

The best part, though, was afterwards when we walked through the town.  I can’t remember what it was called, but it was beautiful and crazy.

There were people who had their entire bodies and faces painted and were dressed in ornate costumes.  They were beggars, but they were pretty beggars, and who can fault a pretty beggar?  We were on the Ganges River, so there were a bunch of dipping locations where people could walk down a set of stairs immediately to the water and dip themselves in the holy water.  Unfortunatley theere was also a lot of trash in this part of the river, which was kind of gross.

The architecture was stifling and a brilliant mashup of Indian and British and something modern and not particularly interesting.  Street vendors were out in full force and white people with dreds and heavy backpacks were everywhere.

I want to go back.  The rest of my group complained about the spiritual unrest that is clearly going on there.

Christians are very annoying sometimes.

And finally…getting your ears pierced in India is…how you say?  A BAD idea.

I got three piercings in my right ear two weeks ago.  They still hurt a little bit, which I am told they should not.  Also, when we were playing in the river the other day one of them fell our and the earring that I got to replace it yesterday literally GREW INTO MY EAR overnight.

Brenda was kind enough to push it out again and Kapil let me wear one of his for the rest of the day (yes, we sanitized it first) but it’s disgusting. 

Brenda also got her ear pierced and hers looks even more infected than mine.

Life lesson:  if it only costs $2 including the new earring to getyour ear pierced, it’s probably not going to be the best piercing money can buy.  In fact your skin will probably turn purple or yellow and start spitting blood or pus out at you.

Just saying.

And it was all just a dream…

Or that’s what I requested in my itty bitty prayer to Mr Lord God last night, anyways.  It was kind of strange, actually, because I had had a really good day and a pleasant evening and the redundancy of our chipatti, rice and dal meals hadn’t bothered me as much as usual that day, but as I stared up at my ceiling I found myself praying and the words that went through my head were a plea for a chance to refuse my chance to come to India.  I asked that I could wake up from this dream of the past month and find myself in Minnesota and realize what an atrocious mistake I was on the verge of committing and back out.  Immediately.

Obviously my prayer was not granted.  Surprise.

For the record, I am glad that it was not.  I would be very disappointed if Sachin and Silvan and Roseann and Jacob and Filip and Asher and Rachel and Rachel (yes there are two) and Frida were all figments of my imagination.  There are some really great people here and I am glad that I have had the opportunity to meet them.

HOWEVER I am also a little bit tired of being told that we can’t do certain things because of “cultural differences” and then talking to a different Indian about the same thing and being told that the “cultural difference” we heard about does not exist.  There is no easier way to control people that to tell them that they cannot do something in the name of offending an entire people group and, imho, it is an incredible abuse of a people to do so.  A lot of what we’re told is wrong only because this is a new (and very different) generation.  Also, depending on the person, a lot of what we are told is simply personal opinion masquerading in their own minds as cultural differences.  It is so frustration.  Frustrating, I mean.  I leave that error only because my English speaking abilities have been degrading quasi-constantly ever since we got here.  Something about speaking primarily to non-native English speakers…

Example Story #1 (The Mob’s Gonna Getcha)

Pretty much the day that we got back from Mumbai we were informed that there had been a rape of a 12 year old girl in the school next door to the convent we are living in.  (Have I mentioned we are the only people living in this convent?  No nuns here.)  Her parents, understandably, were quite upset and went to the school authorities and asked what they were doing about the problem.  The school said that they had heard it was simple verbal abuse and had treated it as such.  The parents flew into a righteous hissy fit, which was overheard by a nearby political party, who took the opportunity to ingratiate themselves with the locals.  In order to do this they put together a rather beautiful mob and spent one night knocking on our front gate (not very politely…it was more the battering ram style of knocking than the Jesus at your heart’s door polite rat-a-tating).  Then they found a different door, busted that one down, threw rocks at the principals house, beat her two cars to smithereens with sticks AND destroyed the local schoolbus.   Oh, and they beat four teachers, none of whom were the rapist, who had already been caught and jailed.

We were told that lives were in danger and that those lives were not just school employees.  We were told to leave because as Westerners our presence would only make things worse for the Indians around us and we ourselves could be in mortal danger.  Some people wanted to stay out of some perverted Western need for excitement or proof of faith in Jesus Cristo.  Others (mostly the Indians and me…I have this odd tendency to listen to people who are probably more knowledgable than I am) were so sure that things would turn south that they were ready to pack up  their bags and go to their own homes if the school wouldn’t take us elsewhere.

We decided to go somewhere else, but literally the moment that we were “safe” and started talking to other Indians about the situation we were had just narrowly “escaped” and every single one of them told us that we should have stayed.  We should have stood up for the children in the orphanage beside us, that we were not being true disciples by escaping for ourselves and that, on top of all of that, we probably hadn’t been in danger anyways.

I wound up spending our time away feeling like we had run away from something that did not actually necessitate escape.  The other Indians that we encountered made me feel like it was the Westerners who had been afraid and had wanted to leave, when in reality none of us had been capable of feeling fear regarding the situation because it was so alien to us.  The best we could do was to listen to the voices around us and do what they told us was the most wise.  Which had then been to leave.

It was stupid and confusing and oh so Indian.

Pithy Example #2 (Thou Shalt Not Speak to Strangers)

We are constantly told that we shouldn’t speak to strangers.  If anyone so much as tries to make eye contact with us, even if they are only children, we should ignore them because they are quite likely out to get us.  This puts all of us Westerners in the very awkward position of constantly looking really, very unkind.  I am not a fan of it at all.

The other day we were waiting for the bus and a motorcycle stopped near us.  One of the men on the bike (there were three) got off and came over to us to introduce himself and shake all of our hands, ask us where we were from, etc.  We answered, but tersely, because we have been told so many times to ignore everyone.  After he left we talked to the Indian who was with us and he told us that it is find to talk to people, and that it’s probably the only chance that that particular Indian will get to speak to a white person.  It’s something kind of exotic, fun and different for them, and as long as they are not rude, there is no reason not to be engaging.

As I like this second interpretation it is probably the one that I will be following herewith, but I’m so annoyed that, again, everyone has an opposing opinion AND everyone is convinced beyond any doubt that their opinion is the right one.  And people who know they’re right are aggressive about their correctness, which is even more frustrating.

Pithy Example #3 (Shoulder = Boob)

There is a dress code for women here.  It isn’t written down anywhere and it’s not a law, but if you dress wrong, you will be seen as a (excuse me, Mum) a whore.  What’s weird is that the part of your body that you shouldn’t show is your shoulders and your legs.  You can show as much of your midriff as you want, but nothing else.  In fact the traditional dress here (saari) shows off that area of the body in particular and old women and fat women (and skinny women) alike all wear it.  It’s kind of unsettling.

The point is that for the first month and a half that we were here we were told explicitly not to show our shoulders under any circumstances.  It would make us look bad and, by association, it would make the school look bad as well.  I’ve laughingly had this conversations with Indians not associated with our school and all of them agree:  shoulders are not that big of a deal.  Tank tops would be fine and no one would look at us twice.

Example Story #4 (The Boy on the Train)