August 29, 2011

An exercise in being photogenic

Friends...I am NOT photogenic. I have never claimed to be photogenic and probably never will. Usually, I have squinty eyes or my hair is all over the place or I just look awk. Anyway. My friend Meg (BCA via Juniata) is one of the most photogenic people I have ever seen in my life. IN MY LIFE. Every picture she pretty much takes flawlessly or knows just what to do for the picture to come out looking awesome. 

Thankfully. She agreed to give me a lesson in how to be photogenic. 

"NO! I am not photogenic!"

You probably don't even know how many pictures I have spoiled by doubling over in laughter. SO MANY. I just can't take myself seriously enough to take a cute picture. I can't. So, I just giggle at myself the whole time. 

Oh, snap! Did we get one? Did we get it?
I like to call this one "The Meg." 

Tips from Meg: 
1. Put your hand on your hip. 
2. Make yourself as small as possible by getting close to the person next to you. 
3. Purse your lips in some fashion. (Maybe say "Prune.") 

PS - Sorry, Meg, but I probably will never be able to pose like this in the future. Also, I added that bit about the prunes...Meg never mentioned that.


August 20, 2011

Adventures in Sari Wearing

I wore a sari two times this week. TWO TIMES.

My first experience in wearing a sari was on Monday for India’s Independence Day.  My fabulous friend Gnanamani helped me tie the sari at about 7am that morning. She is the absolute sweetest! I had to walk about 20 minutes (IN A SARI) to get to the Village and school where my roommate, B, works. JJ and I were attending her Independence Day ceremony and then heading to Family Life Institute for MCC’s Independence Day celebration. It’s hard to walk in a sari. You can’t exactly stride in a sari.

Me and B, my roommate, at the FLI Independence Day Celebration!
Meg, Katie, and B at the Independence Day Celebration at FLI.
Formal wear that ALLOWS for your stomach to be exposed...
I just have a hard time wrapping my brain around sometimes. But that is certainly the case here!
Once we traveled to both Independence day celebrations, B and I just took a breather under the water tower on campus. It’s kind of a hangout place throughout the week, but since it was Independence Day it was deserted. We sat for a bit…then we decided to have a photo-shoot because we were both rocking out saris!
The road behind me is the path I walk down to class 3 days a week.  It's a jungle. A JUNGLE.
No big. Just walking along in my sari. Rocking pink like Elle Woods.
My second experience in wearing a sari was on Wednesday for my field placement’s 25th Anniversary Celebration. I wore my white and grey sari that has green and blue flowers throughout it. My friend, Gnanamani, helped me tie it this morning before breakfast – she is the best! In order to travel to my field placement, I must first cross the street. Believe me…this is a huge feat for ANY street in Chennai. Then I catch a train and ride that for about 45 minutes. On my train ride, I sat across from two women who were marveling at the fact that I was a blonde girl wearing a sari. The one directly across from me pulled out her jasmine flowers and began to tie them together, so that she could string them in her hair. It is very common for women to wear jasmine flowers in their hair – they give off a very sweet smelling perfume. When she finished a strand, she cut it and handed it to me. She wanted me to wear jasmine in my hair! She had tied the jasmine for me! I didn’t have a pin for it, so she took the pin from her hair and attached the jasmine to the back of my blonde head. I told her Thank You and before she left the train I made sure to catch her name, which I think was Moma. I think.

Snapped at the end of my long day. 
I thought that blonde girls get stared at a lot in India and they do, BUT that’s nothing compared to a blonde girl in a SARI. Walking the 10 minutes to my field placement was a funny adventure. As soon as I step off the train, I have to walk up some stairs and then down a ramp. Waiting at the bottom of the ramp, early in the morning, is a gaggle of auto drivers. They more or less cat-called as I walked by – “Auto, ma’am!? Looking very nice in Indian culturals, ma’am!” or “Sari, ma’am!?” I think they got a real hoot out of seeing me. I just laughed at them and kept walking.

While at my field placement, the interns were running around and hanging banners or pinning curtains, essentially climbing onto tables in bare feet and saris. I was one of them. Meanwhile, there were interns in Salwaars, which include pants and kurta with a scarf, who were on the ground handing us pins or fabric. For I second, I wondered whatwhatwhat is wrong with this picture? I am in a sari on a table and you are in pants on the floor. Why? Then I realized it’s really probably no big deal. Women in India live their whole lives in saris – they cook, clean, gather firewood, carry firewood on their head, sell food, walk long distances, manage cattle or chickens, etc, etc, etc. So, standing on a table in a sari is just another thing you can do in a sari! No big!

After my long day taking “snaps” of the celebration and staying late to help make a powerpoint, I caught a train home. There were no open seats when I got on the train so I just stood. All the while, I could feel the women (I was in the Ladies car) giving me an extra glance over. I’m pretty sure one girl snapped a picture of me on her phone. Pretty sure. One woman, in particular, had her eyes on me every time I looked her way. Every time. Eventually, some seats cleared up and I ended up sitting across from this woman who had been eyeing me the whole time. We began to have a little conversation.

She told me I looked nice in my sari and that it was tied nicely. (Thank you, Gnanamani!!) She said that I had done everything perfect like an Indian, except that I was missing a bindi for my forehead. Oh, and I just needed help knowing how to sit in my sari, because my pleats were all over the place, apparently! She mentioned how she had just watched and watched and watched me the whole train ride. I knew it! I asked for her name (in Tamil) and he eyes grew wide with surprise. We had been chatting in English and she was completely taken aback at this Tamil phrase that I whipped out. She mentioned that she was so impressed that I was a foreigner wearing a sari, because she can't get her daughters to wear one. 

I really didn’t mind wearing a sari. It's kind of just like wearing a fancy dress. I should start learning to tie it for myself and see how that goes! I doubt that I’ll be wearing these lovelies when I go back to the US. But I did find an awesome site that suggests a ton of ways to recycle a sari. I think they would make lovely window treatments, especially the white and grey one. Thoughts?

And because we all know how silly I really am…here are some goofy pictures of me in a sari. You’re welcome.

 And I can't forget the MOST EPIC picture of me in a sari to date: 

I am jumping for joy because I am about to go take off that sari and put on a tie-dye t-shirt! For real, for real. 

Love, K

August 11, 2011

A heart filled with ineffable joy

Today was a good day.

Today was my fourth full day at my field placement. I work at Sahodari, a project of YWCA Madras, which is a family counseling center and a short stay home for women. Even so early in my field work, I had begun to dread Tuesdays and Thursdays – my field placement days. Here’s why: on my second day of fieldwork, I was thrown into a room (by myself) with the women and told do some group therapy. As a sociology major with no social work background, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. I didn’t have any materials with me and was not even sure what one does in “group therapy.” Plus, I have a hard time communicating with them, when I speak English and they speak Tamil. So, that day was really rough and left me feeling very self-conscious about myself and my abilities. Each day has been better.

Sahodari is preparing for their 25th Anniversary Jubilee celebration taking place next week. They needed my help typing up some addresses to mail invitations and scanning in pictures for a slideshow for the program. I was thankful for the office work. My heart always races with worry when I have to spend time with the clients, because I remember that day I felt so lost. However, since that Thursday I have been working on a book, THE BOOK. A work in progress that includes games, songs, activities, crafts, and program ideas that I can do with the women on any given day. I also loaded up on arts and crafts supplies over the weekend. With my little red backpack filled with goodies – what should I fear??

In the afternoon, there was a lull in the Jubilee workload and I was instructed thus by my director, “Kate, why don’t you do some group therapy with the clients.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

I headed into their small concrete room with my backpack slung over my shoulder. They greeted me warmly – “Good afternoon, Miss!” came the chorus of voices. I figured we could color again. I decided to have a “free draw” until I have built up my rapport with the clients and get to know them better. As I handed them their own paper and set of crayons they all responded, “Thank you, Miss.” And they began to draw – beautiful intricate flower designs, helicopters, fruits and whatever they desired. Shortly, a counselor came in and told me to make them draw something different. “They draw flowers every day.” One, false. Two, this is only the second day I’ve done this coloring activity. C, it’s called a free draw for a reason. I brushed it off. I’ll guide their drawings when I want to guide their drawings.

The counselor left. I watched them draw for a bit; then decided to make a puppet out of paper, like my roommate had shown me to night before. I decorated it. The two young girls (aged 5 and 6) who live at the home watched me with fascination. I then pretended to gobble the little girls’ fingers in my puppet's mouth. They squealed in delight. They wanted puppets of their own, so I folded them and allowed them to color them. I had been with the clients for about 25 minutes when I was pulled away to do more computer work. I was reluctant to leave their presence. I left the crayons and paper with them, since they had practically no time at all to color.

I wasn’t able to go back to them until 5, which is when I must leave. They had stacked the papers and crayons neatly on top of their TV, which they’re allowed to watch from 5:30-6 everyday. As I took the papers, a chorus of “Thank you, Miss!” warmed my heart. 

“You are so very welcome, my dears.” One client, who had passed on the first free draw I led on Tuesday, came up to me.

“Thank you, Miss! Thank you, so much,” she beamed. “This morning, I sat, sat, sat and was bored, bored, bored. My back hurt and I had pain. But then you come this afternoon and we draw and I am so happy, Miss. Thank you! I am so happy, Miss. Thank you!

“I am so happy that you’re happy,” Understatement of the century, my heart was about to explode from ineffable joy!

I was so hesitant about spending time with the clients this morning – how could I have been so silly? I was beaming as I walked from their room. My heart was light. How could I have hesitated at the opportunity to make their days just a little bit better?

I feel so re-invigorated with a passion to bring something new and exciting for them to do each day. I hope to watch them grow over the next few months, teach them, learn from them, have them teach me, and grow together with them. I am not afraid to spend time with them anymore, I have my Book – I’m not at a loss of things to do. Will everyday feel as rewarding as this? Highly unlikely; I’m going to be stretched and some days will be hard. But I have this nugget of bright joy to carry with me. These are the moments I live my life for.

Other mentionable things that happened today:

On the train ride home, I was standing by the open door of the train looking out at the city scape as we zoomed by. We passed by a stopped train and a man leaning out of it landed his eyes on me. Instead, of giving me a peculiar stare, he waved and smiled at me. I beamed and waved back. Thank you for acknowledging me as another human being, sir, instead of staring strangely at me. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Also on my train ride, I spotted a cow. Nothing unusual, right? Well, this cow, instead of having large patches of black or brown, looked as if God had splatter painted her with black spots. She really looked like a modern painting. It was beautiful.

I ate lunch with three ducks today and shared my lemon rice with them. Their names are Sophie, Alice, and Mr. Wimbledon. Sophie is a white little duck with a limp in her waddle. Alice whines and begs me for more lemon rice. Mr. Wimbledon hovers in the background and only reaches for the rice I drop in spoonfuls, instead of grains here or there.

I feel truly blessed by my surroundings. Thank you, India, for helping to bring joy into my life today. 


August 6, 2011

The girl with the golden hair...

Being Caucasian in India is fascinating.

Today, I went shopping for a sari that I could wear to my field placement some days. My hair was really curly today and I had it down because the Saravana Store was air conditioned. In Saravana Stores attendants are in ABUNDANCE. While, I browsed saris I had three female attendants trailing me. Just hovering. I had my back turned facing the long rack of saris and I felt a hand fluff my blonde hair. As one of the attendants walked past she had reached out and touched my hair. I didn’t really mind.

They asked me whether I knew Tamil before talking about me as they hovered. They made motions to my hair and whispered to each other –“gold color.” I have gold color hair. Not yellow color hair. Gold color.

We went shopping for shoes, too, at another Saravana Store. (Saravana is a HUGELY popular store in India, especially T. Nagar with no less than 6 or 7 tiers.) While, I was trying on a pair of shoes to wear to an Indian Wedding a group of women came to up to us. They remarked to our Indian friend, Shakti, that I looked like the heroine from Titanic. Rose? I look like Rose from Titanic? It was probably because my hair was curly and pulled back in a loose ponytail, I had those crazy wisps all around my face.

The women I spend time with at my field placement all comment about the way that I look. They are women that stay at a short stay home and most of them don’t speak English. They comment on my golden hair, too. One woman asked me if I wear contact lenses and I do – because I need corrective lenses, but that’s not why they asked me. She thought I was wearing colored lenses, because my eyes were blue and that’s such a strange color.

The girls in our hall love our fair skin, which sometimes makes me uncomfortable when they praise our fair skin and degrade their brown skin. I think their skin is beautiful. Skin is skin. Why wouldn’t you like the skin you’re in? They always advise to wear lots of sunscreen to keep our skin so fair. I have to wear a lot of sunscreen or I’ll burn and be miserable.

Advertisements for skin lighteners are on all the TV screens here in India. Skin lighteners are SO bad for your skin and can cause cancer. The popular brands are Fair and Lovely for women and Fair and Handsome for men. As if being fair makes you a lovely person!? History has showed us that that is clearly not the case as Caucasians have showed themselves in ugly, oppressive ways towards individuals of different skin colors.  

Fair and Lovely commercials depict a man initially refusing to take a woman as his wife because she is too dark. Then she uses Fair and Lovely for 7 days and then hoards of men are trailing her in the streets. Imagine. We have commercials in the United States that take us from pale to bronze. Attaching any sense of worth to skin, eye, or hair color troubles my heart so much.

I try to be so understanding of the stares that I get and all the questions about my complexion. I know that I’m an anomaly here in a sea of black hair, brown eyes, and brown skin.  

August 3, 2011

Welcome to the Family

This is the song that was shared at the Social Work Department Fresher party. It's actually a children's song from a band called Psalty, who are from the U.S. Go figure!

Welcome to the family
We’re glad that you have come
To share your life with us
As we grow in love and
May we always be to you
What God would have us be
A family always there
To be strong and to lean on,

May we learn to love each other
More with each new day
May words of love be on our lips
In everything we say
May the Spirit melt our hearts
And teach us how to pray
That we might be a true family

How absolutely beautiful is that!? This is such a special place and I'm so glad I'm here - sharing in this family for a couple of months.

Allan even passed along the YouTube Video if you'd like to have a listen.

Highlights of the Fresher's Party

Indians know how to have a party. I just got back from the Social Work Department Fresher’s Party and it was a total and complete blast!

First off, the theme was retro, which we all took to mean our 60s and 70s retro eras. I came as a hippie, which is no stretch for my wardrobe. Seriously. The rest of our BCA group came as 50s Greaser chicks and 80s with killer side-ponies. However, the MCC Social Work fresher’s came dressed as Retro Bollywood. They looked so fabulous! Big hair dos, colorful saris, unbuttoned shirts, popped collars – it was fantastic! So, we looked a little out of place but we rocked what we had!
Picture credit to Hannah K. Thank you!
Second, this social work program is equally matched on the number of men and women. Unheard of! So, they paired up in couples and marched into the big assembly room to blaring music and cheers. We paired up with our decades partners and filed into the big horseshoe circle of fresher chairs.

Third, they had everyone introduce themselves by strutting their stuff up and down the horseshoe as if it were a runway! Then we had to stand up front and say our name and then an adjective that describes ourselves. I described myself as Kooky Katie! YAY for Alliteration!

Fourth, we taught them how to do the Cha Cha slide! I LOVE THIS DANCE. Basically, I love to dance. So, we got our groove on and did the Cha Cha slide with them, while the Ghetto Old version played on the projector. It was so amazing.

Fifth, they paired up again and the girls got to dress the boys up at GIRLS! So, all 6 of us ganged up on JJ and turned him into one hottie! He was such a good sport, especially because we gave him boobs! Once the boys were all dressed up, they had to strut their stuff as if they were Miss Universe and say one thing in support of feminism. It was a hoot watching the boys walk up and down as women.

Picture credit to Hannah K. Thank you!
THEN- in a twist of fate, we then learned that the girls would have to be dressed as boys! So, instead of all 6 BCA girls getting dressed as men I decided I’d take one for the team. No big! I’ve crossed-dressed before as Ron Weasley from Harry Potter for Halloween. Plus, I don’t take myself too seriously! It was such a crazy ball! I had a red button up shirt, with a scarf tie and the best part was my BEARD! JJ drew a beard on my face – which he got WAY too much enjoyment out of.
Picture credit to Hannah K. Thank you!
When we were finished we showed off our manliness and our fine ladies with a turn around the horseshoe. Each couple had a different cute spin to it. One couple even had the man beating his wife – crazy. JJ said he was glad I wasn’t an abusive husband. Uh, yeah, me too.

At the end, JJ and I were crowned the best cross-dressed pair. Holler! They crowned a Mr. Fresher (Ben or Big Daddy) and Miss Fresher (Shruti).
Picture credit to Hannah K. Thank you!
Finally, we all gathered and watched a slide show that Allan put together during the program. Some senior MSWs sang a beautiful song about being a family, where we support and lean on each other and grow in love with each new day. It was such a beautiful song. I should request the lyrics from Allan. [Edit: I did! Post about that here.]

THEN, THEN we got FISH. We got two fish in a little bag. FISH. We could take them home with us or drop them into the fish tank in the Social Work yard. I decided to drop mine into the tank and visit them a couple times a week. I think it’s better for them there, I don’t trust myself as a fish parent.

Finally, they closed with some dinner and sweets. We decided to grab dinner in the hall (Parotha Night!!), I opted for some tasty Indian sweets. Their peanut brittle in Tamil Nadu is to die for! It’s all peanut with little brittle, which is perfect because the brittle part always gets stuck in your teeth. They even included mints that looked alka seltzer tablets, but were minty fresh.

Walking back to my hall, I was in a completely blissful state, even though my cheeks hurt from smiling so much! I bounced back on a high of happiness from the dancing, laughter, and love, as my marker mustache melted from my mouth in the heat.