Why is it that we love elephants so much? What draws us to these giant rough-skinned mammals? Is it their flappy satellite-like ears and noodly trunks? The sheer size of these animals is enough to impress anyone. I think it's more than appearances, though, that make elephants so adored by people. They are gentle (unless threatened). Elephants are herbivores which means they don't prey on other animals. They can communicate across long distances and live in family herds. They're just humble giants. I have been lucky enough to hang out with some Indian elephants on a couple occasions. Back in 2011 I spent some time in India for the first time. While riding back to Delhi from a day trip at the Taj Mahal in Agra we stopped to feed and ride some elephants on the side of the road.
While I was abroad this year interning with Ashraya Mission I recorded some of my favorite moments. I spent 3 months in India (6 weeks in Karnataka state, 6 weeks in Delhi), but I also visited Laos, Thailand, France, Portugal, Ireland, Denmark, and Sweden. Here are some of my favorite moments that I luckily captured on camera. Enjoy.
This was my favorite photo while working on a fundraising campaign for Ashraya Mission. This energetic 12-year-old girl that now calls Ashraya her home has so much room to grow and sew seeds of hope for her future. She completely captured my heart after only a few days. Her awkward mannerisms and bashful smile were completely captivating. If I ever have a daughter one day I want her to be just like this girl. One day during art therapy KB and I noticed she kept getting paint on her fingers. She would casually turn around and wipe her paint covered hands on the corner of the wall behind her. KB and I nearly collapsed with laughter. It was ok because the paint on her hands was white and the walls were white, but the fact that she was so nonchalantly wiping paint on the fresh clean walls was too funny. There are dozens of stories I could tell you about this little duck, but for now we'll leave it to just this one.
These two little youngsters would come by the house a few times a week. They are from the nearby slums and collect people's old food that they have thrown out. We assume that they use this food to feed their own families. These little girls seemed to take no notice that we didn't understand their native language. They jabbered at us, we sang Backstreet Boys to them. We shared laughs and dances. We loved seeing their bright eyes peeking over our front wall.
Here Drew and I are attempting to pose for a photo with our friend Sanju. Sanju's English is great, but even better, his sense of humor is great. He would say things that would cause us to double over in laughter. His jokes weren't always "PC", but then again.. we're not so "PC" either. haha One day Sanju told me to "get in a fridge". Of course I was confused. He then explained that "get in a fridge" basically translates to "you're not cool, you're lame, to become cool you need to get in a fridge". We really miss Sanju and his jokes.
One afternoon Katie Beth and I decided to climb the mountain that is Ashraya's backyard. This isn't like any hike in a park you'll find in the states. There is no trail that follows a gentle slope to the top of the mountain. You basically have to forge your own path. We got lost, but luckily we ran into some kids that we knew from the nearby school. Let me add that going anywhere out in public as a white female in India is a task in itself. People stare incessantly and approach us by the dozens. Sometimes it can be a bit intimidating, but I guess I can't blame them since white women roaming this part of the world are about as rare as Bengal tigers roaming the streets in Nashville, TN. When we finally made it to the top we had to endure mild harassment from some local guys who would not stop snapping pictures of us with their cell phones. It was windy up at the top and two small children had curiously followed us from the base, so I felt responsible for them. But with all the chaos going on around me, I couldn't help but be in awe of the site that lie below. We could see all of the town we had just hiked up from. All the homes, shops, and the market. We could even see the little rickshaws scuttling through the narrow streets like Bowzer from Mariocart. It was quite a sight, being so high, so far away. It gave me a new perspective on the city below. As big as it was, the rural farm land stretched out for miles beyond where the people were dwelling. We are such small people in this big world, but if we give a world of care for a great cause, we can make a big difference while we're here.
One day Tom and I took the girls of Ashraya Mission to a famous waterfall that is in town. It was fairly early in the afternoon on a Saturday. We all walked down to the rickshaw stand to find that no one was working that day. So, we decided to ride the bus instead. We waited around for about 20 minutes at the public bus stop and one finally showed up. The perilous and winding ride up to the falls always makes me nervous, and this time the boys and I were chaperoning six teenage girls. We finally made it to the falls and guess what, there was hardly any water. This famous waterfallshad been reduced- by the lack of rain- into a small stream gently tumbling over the rocks. The girls didn't care, they hardly noticed. They were just so excited to have a day out, as a normal person. We all posed for photos together, goofed off, and had a great time. We ate a lunch of soft drinks and buggi (a southern Indian street food). It was a wonderful afternoon. While we were out it started sprinkling a bit. A rainbow formed and reminded us of His promise. He is coming back one day, He is going to renew us, He is going to renew these girls' lives and redeem them from the horrors of their past. He is faithful.
This is one of my favorite memories from the entire trip. One evening our friend Yallowah invited us to her house to have evening chai and snacks. Tom, Drew and I hiked up the mountain to her family's home. It had already began to get dark. By the time we made it to her home the sun had set and all the electricity in the town went out (it goes off every day from 7pm-9pm). We all sat together on her front porch, sipping chai, and watching an electrical sky storm. It was so surreal. Looking back on this just makes me wish I was there, living this moment again, but for the first time. Yallowah's daughter speaks English so we were all able to talk, with pauses for translation. It was such a sweet evening. I remember being so thrilled to see that these Indian people were just like us. They sometimes just sit on their front porch and watch the autumn storms roll by, too.
We spent sometime in Laos. We referred to our time in SE Asia as "fall break". We went tubing and kayaking, we ate BEEF which we hadn't had for the past 6 weeks in Karnataka. We had the luxury of relaxing and taking hot showers. It was wonderful. What was really great was seeing how the children in this country behaved. They were acting like.... kids. These boys rowing up and down the river in this narrow boat just for FUN. They weren't sitting in front of a tv watching reruns of old cartoons, they weren't playing video games, they were outside pretending to be pirates. Well, maybe not pirates.... But it was so cool to see children who just wanted to run around in their skivvies and jump off stuff. KIDS being KIDS. Who woulda thought?
Let me introduce you to our friend Blake, high school friend of KB's. We met up with him in SE Asia while we were on fall break. One day we went to a tiger temple in Thailand and played with the cutest (but surprisingly biggish) tiger cubs. We played with them for a while then we got to feed them milk from a bottle. Most of the cubs passed out on the cool concrete floor. Blake casually snuggled up to this meat-eating feline, asked me to snap a photo then said, "I just want to be the little spoon". One of the funniest moments of the trip.
The last couple of weeks have been crazy and I haven't taken the opportunity to blog, so sorry! On Sunday September 30th the team and I had to say goodbye to southern India and the wonderful community of friends, neighbors, shoppe keepers, tailors, and co-workers we had there. We had such an exhausting, but more importantly, wonderful time during our stay at Ashraya Mission. We are SO blessed to have been there when the six lovely ladies finally moved into the home. We hope to have left a lasting impression of the love of Christ on the people we built relationships with in that quaint but bustling town. I will never be able to adequately summarize our 6 weeks spent working there. It was truly a very special time for all of us.
After our tear-filled goodbyes we headed straight for the airport (a 6 hour drive btw) and we were off to Bangkok for a bit of a holiday. We spent a few days in Thailand and a few days in the enigma of Laos.
After Thailand and Laos we headed back to Delhi to get reacquainted to our home away from home, Asha Mission. Those children are simply indescribable and precious. I will most definitely be blogging about them all more in full later.
For the next four days, though, we are taking Hindi lessons in northern India. You've probably never heard of Landour, India.. or perhaps you have. It's a beautiful little Himalayan town built into the side of the mountains. We trudge up and down the steep paths to and from class. We love it here.
I hope I have been able to sum up these last two weeks well. There are dozens more photos and stories to tell, which I may or may not keep for my memory only. For now I am tucked into my bed with a pair of recently purchased woolen booties keeping my toes warm.
Until next time, nameste.