While I was away...

While I was gone my wonderful friends/coworkers continued to feed the kids on the weekends and held a very special street girls day in honor of Christmas!


California Dreaming

As expected, I failed to snap too many pictures while visiting my friends and family. The trip was really quick and I felt like I barely had time to breathe! Walking up the ramp from immigration in LAX, knowing my mom was going to be  on the other end waiting for me was so overwhelming that even thinking about it now makes me feel the same. It was definitely a good moment. We (read: I) inhaled breakfast, I think that is the point where my mom realized that my eating habits have changed a bit. Saturday was pretty laid back, Sunday I spent the day with my best friend, had a yummy lunch and dinner and a very good time catching up face to face. Monday I drove up to the high desert where my sister and her family lives and arrived just in time for it to start snowing!! I met my newest niece (who is the cuddliest/best baby ever), played with my other niece and nephews and caught up with my sister. Tuesday my family celebrated my birthday late/my sister's birthday early, Wednesday I saw my best friend again, Thursday I hung out with my best friend from my old job and ate dinner with many old work friends, Friday I hung out and met up with a friend for dinner and Saturday we celebrated Christmas a week early.

Then Sunday came. I knew it would be hard. Seven days with the people I love was not nearly enough time. I hurt so much from Saturday night before I left, and even in this moment as I type I hurt again. Here is the truth as I have come to know it: Life is about making choices. Simple, right? I believe and feel that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt though that there is something so much greater than myself that is guiding me, orchestrating my path in life. I, as a human, have the choice to follow the path I am being nudged towards or to turn around and walk away. To walk into the comfort of the life I knew for 25 years, to have my family and friends at my fingertips. But I can't. I can't because I have tasted life here. I have had the incredible opportunity to be shown the value of giving up what you know for what you don't. Undoubtedly, the most difficult part of flying East of California is doing just that. Leaving. Everything else comes easily after. I would be lying if I said that I don't struggle. I worry that I may disappoint or hurt the people I love so deeply in the states by choosing this path. I worry about it more than I should even as they tell me not to worry. Who said it would be easy though, right?

As I watched my niece and nephews play, held my newest niece and cuddled her close I missed my children in India. I missed my kids here who only get hugs from us, who get fed through people across the world's generous donations. I couldn't stop seeing the children here in the faces of my sister's family. Will my nieces and nephews forgive me for being more of a part of the kids lives here than there own during this time? Will they understand? My family does such a good job of loving my nieces and nephews, that I feel comforted in that knowledge. My trip to the states, as hard as some parts were, filled me up to the brim. All of the support, kind words, hugs (and sharpies!) prepared my heart to come back to Guwahati and continue in this journey. Now, it is time for me to take my little sister on her first feeding adventure in the Lakhtokia slums :)


Out loud

The day that I arrived in California I stood on my parents' driveway and exclaimed to my mom "It is SO quiet." I listened, listened for anything and for what felt like an eternity, heard nothing. In a neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon, I heard NOTHING. It was maybe the first bit of culture shock I experienced on my visit home. In India life seems to exist out loud. As an exercise to testify to this here is a list of the distinguishable sounds I currently hear: -Monkeys jumping across rooftops (and making monkey noises) -Children's happy laughter -Kites fluttering in the wind -Car horns -Singing -A call to prayer projected in the distance -Motorcycle motors revving - Whistles -A plastic bathing cup being clanked against its bucket -The footsteps of a person who drags their feet -Dogs barking -A pressure cooker releasing steam in the kitchen -So many voices that they all meld together and just sound like LIVING. I have heard it said  before that in this great sub-continent, every aspect of life occurs right out in the open. It is something I have really come to relish about living here. It might be something that honestly overwhelms people at first. Put all of the above sounds together and at first it just sounds like noise. A whole lot of noise. As you absorb yourself into it a bit more though, you would find that just about every noise has a purpose and a place.  As I walk down the busy bazaar with my sister I am reminded of that. I hear an approaching vehicle, a communicative honk, and I instinctively move away from the sound. But there are so many other stimulations that my sister can't yet distinguish the patterns in the noise. So I am doing my best to help her out (because I definitely don't want her to get squished by an eleven year old driving a scooter.) I try to remember my first visit here, I certainly didn't understand or appreciate all of the horns, the singing, the voices, the sounds of cooking and I definitely didn't appreciate that if you put it all together it has such a positive, happy ring to it. Like putting the right notes together on an instrument, the sounds of life here meld together in beautiful harmony. 


Notes from an airplane v2.0

I arrived in California on Saturday and so far my visit home has been so great! Travelling to the states usually takes around 30 hours, a majority spent squished into a plane. For some reason my internal monologue goes out of control when I'm travelling....

230pm: I love airports.

256pm: The foreigner count in the Guwahati airport is up to 16. This has to be some kind of record.

445pm: Who goes to the toilet 3 times on a two hour flight?!

505pm: Guy next to me is fully staring at my screen right now. No privacy. Ever.

810pm: Got choked up walking up to immigration to leave India. I can't believe I am going to hug my mom in Los Angeles in 24 hours.

1007pm: Air Emirates, I love you!!

1243am: Starbucks in my hand. Starbucks in my mouth. My mouth tastes like Christmas!! Doing a happy dance. A Christmas themed happy dance!

214am: Just fell asleep in a bathroom in Dubai.

218am: I've been wearing these pants for 17+ hours. Glanced in the mirror on my way out of the bathroom and  noticed that you can see my bright pink undies right through the pants. Classy.

245am: Dear Sir complaining about having to wait 15 minutes in the security check line even though you're "business class." I'd love to give you some real life perspective.

247am: Aisle seat on the four seater middle row. Dang!!

330am: Wait, no one next to me on a 16 hour flight. It's a party in row 25!

557am: I'm impressed with how compact I can make myself in order to sleep horizontally.

112pm: There's nothing like being woken up by your own drool going down your shirt.

140pm: When did become the lady that shoves her extra airplane food in her bag?

151pm: "Wanna be my chammak challo, oh oh ohhhh?" Bollywood dance party in row 25!

715pm/715am: A bread roll just fell out of my bag. The 70-something-year old man to my left picked it up and handed it back to me. So much judgement in his eyes.

745am: Accidentally told U.S. immigration that I would be in India another 5 years when I meant 5 months. Freudian slip?


Funk off! while you still can!!

This week has felt a bit long and it is only Wednesday, but I think that has to do with anticipating my visit to California! We are working hard around the surgical center and things have felt so smooth lately, it is amazing how this place has built itself from the ground up over the last year. One of my roommates left today as her year contract is finished. I can't believe it! Time is passing quickly and it feels like the clock is just ticking down... will I ever want to leave this job? Daily I get to look at adults and kids alike and say that this is their day. Everyday I am there is potentially the best day of that persons life, whereas working in the Pediatric ICU was the polar opposite of that on most occasions. I feel like I am living in a different world completely!

I was walking home both last night and tonight through the ever busy "fancy bazar" picking up gifts and such for my friends and family. Last night I heard "Sister!" yelled across the bustling street and glanced over to see three of the girls we feed in the slums. They ran up to Lousie and I to say hi and stare at us for awhile before we parted ways. It was so cute and then tonight I was walking through the market again by myself when another two girls (one of them with a baby on her hip) ran up to say hi also. One of the girls is Anjuna, my sweet but sassy friend who gave me the monster hug that melted my heart last Sunday. She walked me half way home, hand in hand and boy did we conjure up some stares. I am used to getting started at, so much so that I don't even notice anymore. That means for me to notice tonight, it must have been extra bad! I guess a foreigner walking hand in hand through the market with a street child isn't something you see everyday though it is becoming my everyday as well as theirs... I stopped and bought the three kids dinner before we parted ways, though I am sure they would have been happy to just walk the whole way with me. Again, it took everything within me to not take them straight home for a good bath and warm home made food. Ugh, my heart is so insistent on finding a way to do that! 

Weekly support is coming to these kids in ways that I never fathomed to be possible. A woman has offered to hand knit blankets, another to collect clothing and now Funk Off! who makes vegan bath and body products teamed up with Sometimes Sweet and is donating to Asha Guwahati! Funk Off contacted Danielle sometime ago to make a signature scent series with her and is now offering $1 (that's 4 or 5 meals!!) from each purchase of her signature series will go towards feeding the kids here! Danielle is also graciously hosting a give-away over on her blog click here to be taken to her blog for the details! Or just go here to order the "Sometimes Sweet Signature Series" soap, lotion or spray (or all 3!) 



As Louise, Michael and I fed the children this past Sunday I found myself in the midst of a huge, bear hug from one of the girls. It was that type where she just leapt up into my arms and wrapped her thin arms and legs around me then giggled. She hugged me tight, and I could easily feel her joy there in my arms. We nuzzled into each other, I squeezed my eyes closed and softly I thought "This must be what Agape love feels like." I honestly hadn't even heard or used the term 'agape love' for at least ten years but I think I, for the first time, am experiencing it. This week the children did not panic with the fear that they would not receive food when they saw us. Instead we received smiles, hugs and (fairly) organized lines. This is the fourth or fifth week in a row that I have fed the kids in this particular slum, I love these children in a way that I have never felt before. I wonder, I hope, I pray that they feel it too. 

We changed things a little bit this time around. There were only three of us and I was worried because usually we have around five. We made the fifty meals in record time, and when I return to India after my visit to the states I will finally be able to purchase the huge pots and a gas counter-top stove. That means that I will be able to increase the meals I make each time. When we walked away this week, I told Louise that it seems I could start making 75 meals or so. So I have to. In addition, I brought along a sharpie marker so that I could mark each child's hand as they receive their meal. This significantly reduced the chaos, plus it was really cute to see the children in the line catch on and come to me with their hands out, palms facing down as opposed to up. Their hands are so dirty, so it also seems that perhaps since things are calming down that I could take the time to wash them before getting their meal. 

As we left to walk home, some of my favorite girls grabbed our hands and walked with us. I stopped and asked them each their names, they gazed at my Mahendi and we shared some more hugs. It took everything within me to not just march them down to my home and allow them to bathe and maybe even feed them again. Maybe someday. 

In four days I fly to the states. I have to admit, that though I miss my family and friends dearly I am going to miss this the next two weeks. Luckily, I have amazing friends and coworkers here who will continue to feed the kiddos in my absence. Then, I will arrive back just in time to have an extra special Christmas with a street girls day and a Christmas meal for the slums made with that crazy, unique Agape love. 

Sam Means/Christmas All Over Again/Petty/Asha Guwahati

Wait, what?

Last time I wrote, I mentioned that my friend Danielle blogged about what is happening here in Guwahati. She is an amazing woman and a well-loved blogger. She decided she wanted to do something with her readership and spreading the word about Asha Guwahati was on her list. In just over a weeks time her post has garnered crazy amounts of support for the kids here. To top it all off, she approached me a few days ago about the following:

Sam Means is a musician based out of Arizona, his wife is friends with Danielle. Sam is formally of the band The Format, and I have to be real for a second, I may have squealed when I read Danielle's e-mail because I am a big fan of The Format and have been for many years. I squealed again as I continued to read and found out that he and his wife heard about Asha Guwahati and wanted to help. They had already made a donation after reading Danielle's post but they are not stopping there. Sam covered Tom Petty's "Christmas All Over Again" this year and like Tom Petty, Sam wanted to give the proceeds to charity. From Sam's site:

Originally written and performed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Featured on the second "A Very Special Christmas" CD to benefit Special Olympics, Petty generously donated the royalties to the song to the organization. Since its release in 1992, the song has raised more than $200,000 to benefit athletes with intellectual disabilities. 

All donations from this version will be donated to 
Animal Welfare League (aawl.org) & Asha Guwahati (he.llomer.ch/asha)
released 01 December 2011 
Don Raymond, Jr., Bass Guitar 
Patrick Carrie, Electric Guitar

You can listen to the song below and purchase it (for only 99cents!) right then or head over to iTunes and purchase it there! I am so happy and still in disbelief at everyone's support. Please let me and Sam and Danielle know if you purchase the song! Every purchase will go so far.


"Picnic" time

A few months ago I was approached by one of the local nurses regarding setting up a nurses picnic. I said of course, it sounded fun and asked her how we should plan it. To me, a picnic is packing a lunch and taking it to a park to eat then leaving. Not here. Here a picnic is an all day event. You cook at the site, play music, games and hang out. I told her that maybe she should plan the picnic and I will just chip in financially as I had never had such a picnic experience before. Weeks went by and for one reason or another they ended up throwing it together at the last minute. So, on Saturday it happened. We got a late start but drove down to a remote area on the bank of the Brahmaputra and set up. By the time I had moseyed down to the river bank the local nurses were in action mode. Some were chopping up vegetables, others setting down collecting water, washing meat or setting up a make shift awning. I had never stepped foot in the Brahmaputra river before (or any body of water here for that matter) but for some reason it just seemed right. The river bed was really sinky, my foot got sucked into the guck within the first step. I ventured out further though and the girls showed me how to skim the less dirty water off the top of the tiny ripples. It was interesting to say the least. After we filled the bowls it was cooking time. They brought along a cook from the hospital's canteen and he cooked chicken masala, dal and a veg dish. We chopped up salad and the feistier ladies enjoyed a nice Fosters beer. The car was playing music, there was dancing, hair doing and game playing. Eventually the feast was ready and the food was fantastic! The most touching part of the day was that there were a lot of left overs which were donated to me to give to the kids the following day! It was a very unexpected and great day on the Brahmaputra with the nurses I have come to love like family!


On giving thanks

I can guarantee you that I did not know the thankfulness one year ago that I know now. How do you truly give thanks? You go down to train tracks; you go right to the slums. You hand out food to tiny outreached hands. To children without clothing. To babies with bellies rounded from a mixture of starvation and parasites. You hold girls from the slums on your lap, you grasp their hand and hug them with big hugs. You donate one dollar, ten dollars, one hundred dollars. And with that touch, that smile, that donation, that meal, you are telling them how much they are loved. You, from places all over the world, are showing them how much you care. So when the man from the shop across the way tells me that what I am doing has no point, that the whole of India is poor and starving I can hear you with me in response "We have to start somewhere, and right here in this slum, with with these kids is that place." I think of how much support I have received, especially in the last two weeks and I am broken with gratefulness. To those of you who helped me pass out food last Thursday, those on the mission team and those of you who have donated over the last week in response to Danielle, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. The relationship you are enabling me to build with these children and this community is real. The potential for this project is immense. Honestly, at times I feel intimidated or inadequate but your support pushes me forward. For some reason you have chosen to believe in this, to love these children as they deserve to be loved. There is nothing that I could be more thankful for than that. 


147 new smiles + 2 dance parties on a boat + 1 wedding

That pretty much sums up the last week and a half of my life. The mission went incredibly smooth, I have to say that the team came together really well and it was so apparent. We did 147 operations in 7 surgical days. Those 7 surgical days were sandwiched between CPR classes on either side, so now all of the medical staff at the center are trained and certified in CPR by the American Heart Association!! That is a HUGE deal and I am so proud of all of the staff for taking the class and completing it successfully. You'd be hard pressed to find a medical facility in India that could say the same.

On our one off day (last Thursday) we had the team lunch on a boat as it cruised up and down the Brhamaputra. These rides are always nice but for some reason this time around the team was extra dance-y. The music came and everyone ran to the open space on the floor and we all danced like crazy! There was western music, Bollywood music, traditional Assamese music and we danced to it all. It was soooo much fun, I think the International team that came for the mission wasn't quite prepared for that spectacle! Normally, mid mission week, the teams don't have to encounter such skillful and enthusiastic dance moves but for some reason it just happened.

This brings me to the final party. The end of the mission parties are something we in Guwahati look forward to for weeks. We talk about it constantly, we study, we practice in our rooms (okay maybe that's only me) and as the day comes nearer the levels of excitement are enough to make those of us with weak hearts pass out (okay, again, maybe that's only me.) Every final party I've been to here has been held at the Ginger Hotel on the outskirts of the city. At the end of the night you might hear me muttering "Classic Ginger party, classic" because they are always so much fun. This time around it didn't make sense to hold it there so we had we found ourselves on yet another boat. I think I danced for four hours straight. At one point I took a break to go down and eat my dinner but was dragged back up stairs mid-meal because a good song came on. Then I went down stairs to cool off and was dragged back up stairs while the sweat was still drying because another good song came on. I love dancing here because, unlike high school prom or any club in the U.S, the dudes and ladies here can dance with one another without it being sexual. In fact, the guys probably dance more with the guys and the girls with the girls, because everyone is having fun and not needing to rub up on each other which is really awkward and uncomfortable. Every single one of you knows exactly the situation I am describing. Now that we've made that clear, we can get back to the fact that we danced for hours upon hours and we did it in sarees! I'll spare you of tons of pictures but the night was funnnn!

Lastly, on Monday a few of us attended the wedding of one of our co-workers. It was quite a drive away in bad traffic but it meant a lot to him that we go so it was well worth it. We only attended that part with his family/village so it was different from the last one I attended. There was food, live music, a bit of dancing, and lots of pictures. I am happy for him and as always, am very honored to be allowed to be a part of these special days.