Wednesday, April 29, 2015

At The Market

 So the other day, we had an interesting little adventure at an arts and crafts market in Hyderabad.

By "we," I mean a group of eight or nine women serving the same agency for orphans. Two - including my host, Natalie - are long-term foster moms. The rest - like me  - are helping out for a few weeks or months. 

All are white.
All are American, British, or Canadian. 
All are young enough to be my, um, younger sisters. Okay, my daughters.

The long and short of it is that we make quite an impactful group.  

The visit started innocently enough. We rattled across town in a pair of typically dilapidated auto rickshaws, disembarked into the blazing heat, and began the feminine ritual of meandering from booth to booth, examining the wares and  considering our purchases. 

Full disclosure: I struggle with this routine. Just not the way I shop. So I quickly transitioned from shopping to browsing to wandering aimlessly. 

snapped some random photos of the booths and then got distracted by the trees. 

I also found an unlikely kindred spirit in this rug shop. He looked up just after this photo, shocked to see a white woman staring at him which made me laugh out loud.

* * * * *

That's when the action picked up. After briefly admiring a quilt, one of our group cut off the aggressive negotiations of the shopkeeper and moved on. That old Indian woman not only hand-signaled wildly to us across the courtyard, but actually chased us down and tried over and over to restart the bidding war. 

Once we escaped her clutches, we joined a pair of our compatriots who were at a clothing stall, admiring a crocheted dress. It was cute but the potential owner concluded that the shoulder straps were just too long. "I fix," proclaimed the seller. "Ten minute." 

"No, that's okay," my friend said. But two minutes after we walked away, the seller chased us down, waving another dress in our faces. "Shorter! Shorter!" she shrieked. "Fine," my friend gave in, logically pointing out that it was worth paying a few dollars for the dress just to get the shopkeeper to go away. 

Emotionally drained and overheated, our group congregated in the shade to plan our next move. Suddenly, we realized that a fifty-something man had backed his wife up against us and was attempting to take a group shot. "No!" we protested as we scrambled out of shutter range. But no sooner did we stop moving than this pushy pair tried again and again to frame up a photo with all of us white folks. 

Laughing and breathless in the heat, we ended up running away to the relative safety of the auto rickshaws. As we swept out into the dark streets of India, our market day was done. 

* * * * *

Here is the full story of my trip to Hyderabad, India and my visit with the Indian Princesses:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

On The Balcony

In the late afternoons, Nat's foster girls play outside in the blazing Indian summer sun. 

I am not going to lie. I can't handle that much heat. 

So, in a spirit of sisterhood as well as self-preservation, I often spend playtime lounging in the shade of the second floor balcony. From that relatively cool vantage point, I can not only call back and forth with the girls as they careen down the steep driveway on various wheeled contraptions, but also enjoy some interesting views. 

^ Directly below me lies the front gate, which is guarded by watchmen at all hours of day and night, and the smooth, cool walk that leads to the house. No one gets in or out without me noticing. 

^ Our home is in an area of the city called Jubilee Hills. Not gonna lie, it's pretty swanky by Indian standards. Across the city, on another hill, the buildings are definitely more ragtag. I admire the contrast and count my blessings. 

^ I've been delighted to discover that the front yard of our home is devoted to a vegetable garden. Love to see the deep green foliage and tender produce flourishing in the red, well-watered indian soil. 

^ And here is Ground Zero of playtime at Joy Home. It's hard to make out the steep incline from above, but the girls settle onto their bikes and scooters and multi-person flying machines up top near the gate, then let 'er rip down the hill and into the lower level garage. Like children everywhere who are allowed to take risks, they know their limits perfectly well, and despite the speed and inherent danger of their play, I have witnessed not a single accident or spilled tear. 

^ But wait a minute. What's this? From my unseen vantage point, I witnessed quite an interesting sight. One of the children's Indian caregivers flirting with the watchman?!

Not gonna lie. That is a major scandal.

So I reported my findings to Nat, who then confirmed the details of this secret tryst with a trusted staff member. Within twenty-four hours, the brazen woman was fired and immediately removed from the house. 

Which just goes to show that you never know what you might see from up on the balcony. 

* * * * *

Here is the full story of my trip to Hyderabad, India and my visit with the Indian Princesses:

Trust Me, This Will Work

Here's my proposal for creating peace on earth and goodwill toward all people: squish painting. 

I truly believe that a human being has never been born who does not love this process. 

Fold a sheet of paper in half.
Open it up and generously slap some paint on one side. 
Refold the paper and squish the two sides together. 
Open and marvel at your creation. 

This exercise soothed the souls of my Indian companions today, adults and children alike. We burned through several dozen sheets of paper and a set of paints in an hour, and every moment radiated pure magic and happiness. 

So I'm convinced we can make this happen. Let's stop war, end oppression and build lasting peace for the ages, simply by turning to the therapeutic powers of squish painting. 

* * * * *

Here is the full story of my trip to Hyderabad, India and my visit with the Indian Princesses:

Getting There

In Hyderabad, India, even the simplest errand is a grand adventure. The reason for this unassailable truth is a mind-blowing conveyance known as the auto rickshaw. 

Now if you have already enjoyed the privilege of rattling around town in one of these yellow tin cans with the horsepower of a golf cart, you know exactly what I mean. 

But if, like me, you had no idea that such motorized chariots even exist, well, there is no way I can explain them to you. 

You'll just have to come here and see them for yourself. 

* * * * *

Here is the full story of my trip to Hyderabad, India and my visit with the Indian Princesses:

Monday, April 27, 2015

Rooftop Supper

^ Welcome to the roof of the Joy House. It might just be my favorite spot in India. 

So far. 

^ The view of the palms is frondalicious. 

Can't you just imagine the rattling whoosh as the breeze blows through?

^ And let's be honest. From this vantage point, the potential stalking opportunities are boundless. 

If you're into stalking Indians. Which I am not. 

^ I'm much more interested in the sunset-chasing opportunities. Very little chasing is involved. You just stand in the middle of the roof and let your jaw drop as the scene unfolds before your boggling eyes  

Tonight's offering was a doozy. 

^ But the main event of the rooftop experience is supper. Prepared by our lovely kitchen staff, tonight's offering was rice and - wait for it - tomato curry! That's the first break in the lentil curry routine since I arrived and definitely a reason to celebrate this rooftop supper. 

* * * * *

Here is the full story of my trip to Hyderabad, India and my visit with the Indian Princesses:

Do Hard Things

Here in India, in the room that I share with my host, hangs this sign. 

Do hard things  

Lately, I've been pondering that message, and the challenge implicit in those words. 

Surely, Natalie's year-long commitment to foster nine little girls in India counts as a very hard thing. 

And honestly, my trip here to support her has been a bit of a hard thing for me, too.

Today, as I sat on the couch with the two oldest girls, helping them learn to read through my stirring renditions of Hop On Pop, I thought what a beautifully hard thing they are willing to do. 

In fact, all these brave girls who are swapping out their early lives of brokenness and pain for this new hope of trusting the adults around them now to love and care for them - what a fantastically hard thing they do every day. 

And as my thoughts spiraled outward to my own daughters tasked with building up meaningful adult lives to my mom coping with her darkening dementia to the inherent optimism of every parent who ever lived, I came to realize that the world is overflowing with brave souls who, every single day, choose to do hard things. 

And in light of that fact, I hope to be just a little bit kinder to everyone I meet. 

* * * * *

Here is the full story of my trip to Hyderabad, India and my visit with the Indian Princesses:

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Meal To Remember

So this holy meal of sliced white bread and grape-flavored drink was a little unorthodox but its transforming power was legit. 

On this Sunday morning in India, I sat barefooted in the ground floor of a Christian house church and worshipped. 

There about twenty or thirty women and special-needs orphan girls, and maybe ten young men. 
The worship music was a mash-up of Hillsong meets Bollywood. 
The hour-long sermon was preached in alternating sentences of the local tongue and heavily accented English. 
I was treated to a rotating parade of Nat's happy girls who took turns sitting on my lap. 

So what I'm saying is that i struggled to stay connected to the worship. 

But that changed in an instant, when I heard these familiar and reassuring words:

Jesus took bread, blessed it, and shared it with his friends, saying "Take and eat. This is my body, broken for you. 

Then he took the cup, blessed it and shared it, saying, "this is my blood, poured out for you."

With these words, and the comforting gifts of bread and grape juice that were soon placed in my hands, I felt all the differences slide away, replaced by an utterly illogical but undeniable sense of belonging and connection to my companions in the basement. 

And that was an experience I won't soon forget. 

* * * * *

Here is the full story of my trip to Hyderabad, India and my visit with the Indian Princesses:

Primary Colors

My experience of India so far has been limited to city life. I've been riding around in crazy rickshaw taxis, hopping in and out of electronics stores and supermarkets, and chasing children around their spacious home in the hills.

Waiting outside house church this morning for the van driver to fetch us on the third load for home, I finally got a different perspective of this land. I noticed:

^ blazing red tropical flowers,

^ a carpet of yellow petals scattered under my feet,

^ and the brilliant blue sky overhead. 

For a moment, India gave me a rare glimpse of her natural colors, and I'm happy to see that they are good. 

* * * * *

Here is the full story of my trip to Hyderabad, India and my visit with the Indian Princesses:

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Before I left for India, I asked Natalie what I might bring fir her girls.

"Puzzles," she said. "They really like puzzles."

Today, I learned that she wasn't kidding. 

When Nat and I walked into the living room this morning, armed with load of fresh puzzles from America, the girls swarmed around us, buzzing with excitement. In an instant, we passed out the new treasures and all sat down to work. 

The older girls settled in with the more challenging option, and immediately demonstrated their puzzle-making skills. Clearly they were total pros. 

And the five-year-olds happily distracted themselves with a spirited exploration of a book full of baby photos. They spent at least a half hour analyzing the book in great detail, working their way from cover to cover at least five times. 

Which left Natalie and me free to help the middle-age girlls collaborate on an oversize floor puzzle. 

As far as I'm concerned, nothing can express the joy of puzzle-making success any better than a girl in a blue sparkly tutu sitting on top of her proud creation. Until her sisters squealed at her to get off, so they could admire their handiwork too. 

No doubt about it. Nat's girls definitely do like to make puzzles. 

* * * * *

Here is the full story of my trip to Hyderabad, India and my visit with the Indian Princesses:

Friday, April 24, 2015

Art Is Art

So here is something I learned today. 

Little girls in Hyderabad, India are just as obsessed with the colors pink and purple as their American counterparts. 

They also love ripping and glueing and creating. 

Even here on the other side of the world, where life is often upside down, art is still art. 

* * * * *

Here is the full story of my trip to Hyderabad, India and my visit with the Indian Princesses:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Indian Princesses

Welcome to India! 

Here are a few glimpses into my first few hours with Natalie's girls, spent writing letters, playing with babies (both human and plastic) and looking through a suitcase full of new clothes. 

It was the most extraordinary of days. 

And also one of the most ordinary of days, like a thousand other days I've spent with a houseful of little girls. 

These little Indian princesses are a bundle of contradictions like that. 

* * * * *

Here is the full story of my trip to Hyderabad, India and my visit with the Indian Princesses:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Under The Same Sun

Meet my friend, Natalie.

She's the pale face, sitting in the middle of this little heap of happy brown-headed tykes, radiating love and peace like a madonna.

Natalie is a foster mother in India, and these are her girls.

I know. It's a lot to take in. 

At the ripe old age of twenty-three, Natalie flew away from Seattle for a year-long commitment to care for these orphaned babies. Although she is affiliated with an agency that provides legal and logistical support for her foster family, from an emotional and relational point of view, Nat is very much on her own.

She protects and watches over her girls like a lioness, but fully understands the limits of her power. These children have seen and experienced unthinkable things. There is no way that anyone - not even a blond-haired American wonder woman - can wipe away their pain. But she can love on them, and share the love of God with them, and that is exactly what Natalie does. 

Since Natalie began this journey last fall, I've been staying close to her. 

It's always nice to have someone to talk to, right?

And as the months have advanced, I've seen some needs emerge. 
  • Those girls need infinite amounts of love. No such thing as too much.
  • They could use some help developing their English skills. Nat wants to support their school-based learning at home, but isn't exactly sure how to go about setting up a homeschooling plan. 
  • And even Natalie - bold, courageous Natalie - deserves some love and support for her own self. 

Somewhere a few months ago, it dawned on me that I am supposed to go help her. 

And it dawned on Natalie too.

We began to dream out loud together about me coming to visit.

And slowly, over time, that wild notion became an airplane ticket. I am leaving today for Hyderabad, India to spend three weeks with Natalie and her girls

To be honest, I'm a little freaked out. I really have no idea what I'm getting myself into.

But I'm pretty sure that whatever happens, there's going to be a lot of love.

* * * * *

To read more about Natalie's remarkable journey and outspoken love for her girls, 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Safeco Sunday

Not everyone loves baseball.

Just recently, I found myself defending the sport to a group of non-believers.

It's like fishing, I said. You have to settle in and adapt to the slow rhythm of the game. 

The warm-up, 
the pitch, 
the swing or the look, 
the umpire's call, 
the return of the ball to the mound. 

For long stretches of time, there may very well not be much excitement. 

And that's okay, I explained. Those are the moments when you settle back in your seat, crack open a few roasted peanuts - or scoop up some garlic fries - and enjoy the warm sun on your face and the appreciative murmurs of the crowd as the game meanders along at its own pace.

^ This is what is commonly known as an obstructed view. I chose to pay no attention to that giant yellow foul marker, and concentrated on soaking up the sun instead. 

But the payoff eventually comes, I insisted. Just as the fish will most certainly bite, sooner or later, so will a home run suddenly drive the crowd to their feet. Or a sustained rally will drum up a handful of runs in a single inning. Or a pitcher's mistakes will jam up the bases and force in runs. Or the score will teeter totter back and forth with sudden volatility and unpredictability.

Sometimes, it's possible for the game to end in a flash - a ninth inning walk-off - where the home team comes from behind to suddenly win the game. Which might be a bit like reeling in the fish that almost got away.

Baseball is a game of patience, I summarized. And for those who are willing to lean back and enjoy the ride, rewards of excitement and thrills are almost always forthcoming. 

^ I might have come home with a sunburn but I have no regrets. 

And today was proof positive, as I enjoyed a twenty-one run hitters' derby between the Texas Rangers and our hometown Mariners, that ended indeed in a walk-off win for Seattle.

An afternoon at the ballpark may not be everyone's cup of tea, but today, it felt pretty good to me.