Each morning I’m awakened by the traffic right outside my flat—engines revving up, go-cart-sounding scooters/motorcycles breezing down the road, horns blowing endlessly, and the hum of bummer to bummer traffic. I must say, it helps drag me out of bed in the morning. I commute to work with my roommates, Chloe from London and Sharon from Canada, and we split the fare – roughly $2 one way. It amazes me how we continuously (but often begrudingly) place our trust in the auto drivers after arguing over 10-30 rupees difference in price. They drive defensively like they’re competing in a live game of Tetris; it’s a game of understood chaos I guess. Hardly any traffic rules apply here. Crossing the road is probably the only time I feel unsafe here. The key to understanding their honking is: if they see you they’re responsible to dodge you, and if you don’t see them they will not hit you, guaranteed. So, the danger is when you see each other, that’s when you can get hit or scraped by an auto flying by.

The commute allows us to observe others in their daily routines.  From the auto seat we watch dozens of children walk to school in their adorable uniforms, tethered together as they make their way through the scary traffic. Hundreds of businesses line the sides of the streets and the back alleys selling produce, jasmine flowers for women’s hair (it smells like gardenia!), and knickknacks of all sorts. Everyone’s trying to make a  rupee to survive. The whole city is plastered with advertisements as if it has been dipped in glue and paper mached; and, the walls are painted with scenery and inspirational quotes. We pass a river that reeks of human excrement and I don’t understand why it’s so stagnant, but I’ve heard the monsoon season will clean it out. There are SO many weird smells here – but I’ll spare you from description since it would require more references to human excrement! ha! We arrive with windblown hair ready to begin our day with devotions. Here’s a rough schedule of the day:

9:00-9:30 Personal Devotion

9:30-10:00 Group Devotion

10:00-1:00 Work / Cup of chai

1:00-2:00 Lunch

2:00-3:00 Work

3:00-4:00 Scheduled power outage / Meetings / Second cup of chai

4:00-6:00 Work / Commute home

It’s IJM policy to have personal devotion and group devotion every morning. Ever heard of such an organization? I haven’t. They recognize personal/group devotion as the ultimate buffer against vicarious trauma and burnout but they also provide Staff Care from external psychologists. I’ve already been through a workshop on vicarious trauma and a training on Critical Incident Stress Debriefing since I’ve been here so they’re steadily growing in the area of Staff Care.

We can’t live without our tea in this office! Chai’s available on every corner in the city but there’s a wonderful guy to makes it for us everyday in the office. Oh so delicious. No matter how hot it is outside (or in the office!) you still drink the tea. Funny as it sounds – we have a scheduled power outage everyday; if it doesn’t go off it’s a bit shocking. Goes to show just how many people live here – about 8 million in this city alone. There isn’t enough electricity for the whole city to continuously function at one time so every business loses power for an hour a day. The same is true for my flat. They don’t want you to run your AC all day and waste precious power. My writing skills fail me in bringing you onto the scene of everyday life, but maybe it will provide a glimpse of the city. 😉


Poverty Mentality: Good and/or bad?

When I was in graduate school (it feels so good to say “was”- what a relief!) I developed a pseudo career program for the homeless for my Career Counseling class. I interviewed Lyn Walters to gather perspective since she is the director of 15 Place, a homeless agency in downtown Mobile. Sidenote: Lyn is a female version of Dr. Mashburn from the University of Mobile- the UMers will understand. Dr. Mashburn taught philosophy and he got his DPhil at Oxford University. No one quite ruffled my feathers like this man. I would leave his World Religions class burning with disagreement, but he challenged me and I love him for it. Lyn stroked her chin in a philosophical-Dr.Mashburn-kind-of-way as she spoke of the homeless in Mobile and their lack of motivation to change. I remember her saying, “There’s something about beating the elements of life that they enjoy and until the pain is great enough they won’t take the steps to change.” I can sense that same string of pride woven into my fabric: there’s something satisfying about being here and surviving. The differences between surviving and thriving are two concepts I think about often and I don’t just want to survive in the subcontinent of Asia– I want to thrive and most of the homeless that I know do not thrive.

Some of you know one of my best friends, Tume’, who’s from Mongolia. In more ways than one, being here reminds me of her lifestyle when we were both at the University of Mobile.

@ Serda's in Downtown Mobile

She had the basics in her room and she lived as a minimalist. Often I would find her with her earphones in listening to music- seeking for some connection to her culture, along with a gallon of yogurt. 😉 Don’t get me wrong though- this girl is strong, independent, and resilient . .  and there’s nothing like a spoonful of stubbornness to go with those traits for a good intrapersonal recipe to thrive in a culture not your own. We’re a lot alike. I find myself feeling most connected to my culture by listening to music, using social media, skyping friends and family, finding delicious food, going to the beach, taking time to reflect, and reading online newspapers. I can’t go for a run here unless I want to be chased by undomesticated dogs and have people stare at me wondering, “What is she running from?” As we were told in training week in DC, “Running is an extreme sport in south asia.”

So what’s the key to cultural adjustment? I’ve yet to figure it out, and honestly, I’ve had a ROUGH first three weeks but the Lord has brought something to my attention. Let’s go back to the mindset of a poverty-stricken person. Generally speaking, when you look at the face of someone who’s lived in poverty for several years or all his life what do you see? What facial expressions come to mind? Body posture? Interactions with others? Don’t you imagine someone who is poor in spirit? — A poverty-stricken presence, lacking passion, lacking focus, absent of motivation, not wanting to give love and due attention to others because one’s cup is not full – this has been the hidden thought-glacier beneath my life over the past three weeks. As all of you know I have been struggling with having the finances to stay here and I have allowed it to rob me of my joy and I ashamedly have been having a hard time finding joy in my “daily bread” when I want my “yearly bread” right now. Uuggghh. Do you know how difficult that is? I don’t want your pity, but it’s tough. I know my friends Justin Hase and Dave Kakish are doing this now – they’re living off a “monthly bread” just as I am. This is a frightening kind of faith that I wanted nothing to do with until now. Now my challenge is to see if I can genuinely trust the Lord so much that I ooze an abundance of joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control– even without knowing if I’ll have enough or stay for my entire fellowship.

Thank you for reading a plethora of emails, blog updates, and letting me give you tasks to help me stay in the field. I’ve had a difficult time choosing what to write about in the posts so that they will be interesting, engaging, personal, work-related, and culturally-saturated. There’s just so much I want to share so I promise I’ll venture off the cultural adjustment box and into what you sent me here to do: the work of justice! 😉

So . . . Stay tuned for an update about work!!! I haven’t talked much about work at all and that’s because I’ve been sick twice so I’ve been out a lot! Next, I’ll share about what I’ve been involved with at work lately. I attended a Monthly Meeting in a rural part of the state, assisted with Freedom Trainings for a group of recent freed laborers, and provided a training for MSW students at a local university.

P.S. I now have enough funds to stay for July and August!

99 Degrees & Counting

I hope you took the time to watch the CNN link I included in the last post. They did a great job clearly communicating the collaborative relationship has with the local government. Check it out if you haven’t. It’s in the post titled “What is Bonded Labor?”

Saturday I went to the Bay of Bengal with interns and some  legal interns from another office met us there for the day since they were attending a traditional Hindu wedding near our city that night. It’s at a luxurious place like this beach that you’ll find other westerners, along with vacationing Europeans and some Japanese people. Imagine this: light brown sand, palm trees shading you along with some huts to sit beneath and free-flowing hammocks tied between the palm trees. That picture you have in your head barely encapsulates the aesthetics of this place. To help, I’ve included some pictures. The resort also has a swimming pool and American food. It’ doesn’t get much better than this folks. 😉 By looking at the waves you can tell the ocean is much deeper here than it is in Alabama or northern Florida beaches. You gotta venture out of the gulf of mexico to get some real waves; commonsense, I guess.

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Unfortunately that evening I began to have a mild dry cough that has turned into a full blown infection. Some of you will find it humorous that now that I have health insurance I am sick when I haven’t been sick in 8 years–except a few instances of dehydration–that doesn’t count in my book since I didn’t need medical assistance. When I was a bit younger I often had fainting spells because of the heat. It was always humorous after the matter. In 5th grade I remember asking my softball coach if I could have water instead of a popsicle after practice and he would say, “Sit down. We’re going to talk first and then you can get some water.” When I sat down, I slowly faded and down I went in the dugout. So, when I began coughing my first thought was “I’m severely dehydrated” but the next morning I awoke with a fever, chills, soreness all over my body, headaches, extreme fatigue, and a dry mouth. Talk about feeling miserable- gee whiz. All day I self-medicated with pain relievers, vitamins, and antihistamines – still thinking I was severely dehydrated after self-diagnosing on WebMd. A friend kindly wrote me, “Dehydration does not cause fever darling. Get thee to the physician.” Haha. But I am slightly stubborn and decided to wait it out since I didn’t have an upset stomach or a wet cough- still thinking “oh, I’m just dehydrated… I go through this once every couple of years.” I took my oral rehydration salts and downed some sports drinks, and for whatever reason, maybe the medically-savvy people can help me out here, once my body was rehydrated, my cough worsened and now I most certainly have an infection. These symptoms have taken my body on a very confusing rollercoaster but I went to the doctor  and he confirmed that I have a viral infection.

Now it is the end of the week and I have taken 2 sick days out of the first 5 days of work. Pitiful, right? Good thing I have an unlimited number of sick days. Come to find out, half of my department has an infection too along with several other employees. They’re used to this around here. After confessing how terrible I felt for getting sick even though I couldn’t control it, she reassured me that a lot of people get sick when they first arrive. I keep telling myself, “Be gracious to yourself, Neesha.”