Culture Shock is A Beautiful Thing : My Experience In Telanagana India
February 18, 2015
India in a word is vibrant. In rural Telangana, amid dust, trash, poverty, and toils of sustenance farming, I found the most proud, beautiful, and generous people.
Realizing I have enough credits to graduate but won’t transfer until fall, I decided I wanted to travel and help others during this time.
I started looking for mission trips online, and after praying God would lead me to the right one, I found Samaritan’s Feet and their India 2015 trip. Within 24 hours I announced to my advisor, family and boyfriend, this is happening.
No amount of stress from the visa process, vaccinations, trip costs, or flying halfway around the world to meet a team of strangers could make me question whether it was worth it. I’d do it again tomorrow if I could.
– Sunday –
After meeting my team in Dubai, we flew to Hyderabad, and drove to Vijayalaxmi Memorial Stonebridge School where we’d call home that week. We’d lost all sense of days or time. When we arrived the sun had just risen and the dust turned the sky all shades of pink above the red earth.
The chapel had around 300 pairs of sandals at the door belonging to the kids we were about to fall in love with. They honored us, their guests, by dancing, presenting us with a bouquet and placing a wreath of flowers from the garden around our necks.
In the afternoon we attended church in a nearby village. I grew up going to church, but this was completely unfamiliar. Christianity is viewed as a western religion, so they made a point to stay true to their culture. In traditional Indian style, men sat cross legged on the floor to the left and women on the right.
Barefoot, women covered their heads with their Pashminas (scarfs) during prayer. Between teachings, all in Telagu, the group chanted and sang to the beat of Indian drums and tambourines. Though radically different than my church, I still sensed that familiar love and peace, but with more passion.
– Monday –
After chapel at Stonebridge, we journeyed two hours to the HIV/Aids clinic in Mulkanur. Stonebridge School and the clinic are part of Harvest Ministries, started by Caleb Rayapati, our contact in India. At one point HIV was rapidly spreading in India. As a result, it’s highly feared, and a person with HIV is ostracized from their family and village.
This clinic provides its ill with medicine, nourishment, sometimes housing, a pastor and doctor.
A few members have children who attend Stonebridge. One boy came with us to translate, and to visit his mother. The stories of people with HIV there brought me to tears. Tears of joy for a man in the first stage of HIV for over 12 years, who looks healthy and happy, and for a couple who are both HIV positive, but have a daughter who’s HIV negative. In America there’s technology to prevent HIV from being passed down to children; in rural villages of India, this is not available.
Washing their feet, talking and, praying with them showed them that even though they may have been alienated from their villages; they still have incredible worth as individuals.
That evening at Stonebridge some girls invited me into their dorm. In a room full of bunks and little else, the girls crowded around me touching my face and saying, “Milk, milk!” (In reference to my pale skin). They braided my hair like an Indian school girl. I guess across cultures girls are still girls.
– Tuesday –
Today we visited a children’s home in the village of Aradhana. While most of the team was distributing shoes, I played with kids. My team member Amanda and I passed out bubbles, games and trinkets. The kids rushed at us, wanting as much as possible. One team member who was an anthropologist explained that experiencing extreme poverty puts them in a sort of mental survival mode.
With so little, they feel like they have to fight to keep anything. This in no way expressed ingratitude. Any gift means more to them than it would here, but the most precious gift is time. No matter what we played, or talked about through their adorable broken English, connecting with them was incredible. Most of them don’t have parents, yet they welcomed us strangers like we’d known them forever.
At lunch, out of hospitality, they set up a table for us, while they ate on the floor. We joined in, sitting crosslegged between them. I sat by Prabhyraj, a high school boy I’d quickly become friends with. “No spoon, Rebecca. Promise, you go to America – no spoon.” He wanted me to forego my fork and use my right hand. This was getting out of my comfort zone for sure. Prabhyraj showed me how he holds his hand and formed my fingers into position. The kids giggled as I struggled to guide the rice and curry sauce into my mouth.
– Wednesday –
After leading chapel that morning, someone told the Stonebridge kids it was my birthday. They kept me up on the stage so they could run around me in a circle singing. Best birthday present ever.
We arrived in the village called Bommakur Thanda to see villagers gathered outside the brightly painted one room church. Inside we started setting up our mock shoe store behind a curtain. In the middle we set up chairs with a basin, baby wipes, and powder beneath each chair. At the doorway a team member sized the recipient and motions them to the next available washer.
As a washer, I put my palms together, “Namaste,” and shake their hand. They sit and we begin wiping their dusty, calloused feet; telling them we wash feet because Jesus washed his disciple’s feet. Through a translator we get to know them and ask how we can pray for them. Usually they want prayer for health and for their families. After washing her feet and giving her shoes this sweet lady told me about her son who went to Delhi two years back in the army and she has not seen or heard from him since. My heart broke for her worried mother’s heart, and I’m not sure which of our cheeks were wet with tears first. After praying she continued to hold my hands and kissed both my cheeks
– Thursday –
On Thursday the pastors of the surrounding villages met at Stonebridge; some of them had traveled all night to attend. As we washed their feet we learned about the struggles they faced, as Christians are the minority, and prayed for safety and their ministries. After distributing shoes to the pastors and the 1st graders of Stonebridge, we had the afternoon to hang out at the campus. Some students, a few team members, and I wandered out to the farm behind the school. The cows grazed near the red dirt path dividing cotton fields from blossoming marigolds. Peace washes over us as we soak up the Indian sun.
Around 5pm we enjoy play hour with the children. The girls run up to me, “What’s my name?” they challenge. Even if I remember, pronunciation’s where I fail. “One photo?” They ask before taking several and starting to go through my phone. I don’t mind. A group of teenage girls embrace me as one of them and start painting my nails at the edge of the playground.
– Friday –
We lined up in front of the chapel and all 300 students lined up and said goodbye to us individually. “Happy journey” they said shaking our hands. A few kids gave letters, including Hari Charan, aboy who’d been invaluable at shoe distributions and spent time with us in the marigolds. By the time the girls got to me I was sobbing. How could I leave them after they’ve been left so many times? And I have no idea if I’ll ever be back. “Don’t cry,” I hear in a Telagu accent as the blurry form of a little girl wipes my tears. “One kiss,” They request. I bend so they can reach my cheek while struggling to control my shaking. I’d give anything for another day there.
This trip has taught me so much. America is not the center of the world, and there are so many other cultures to immerse oneself in. Drinkable tap water is something I vow to never take for granted again. Experiencing rural India was the most intense reminder that wealth and possessions do not equate to happiness. If orphans who have nothing are giving up their hair clips as goodbye tokens, I never have an excuse not to be generous. I learned how deeply it’s possible to connect with someone without knowing a word of a common language. Smiles and gestures go far. If you’re interested in going abroad there are a multitude of volunteer organizations to choose from. The need in this world is so great and even though as college students we might feel broke, but as Americans we have the kind of affluence to make a difference. So in the words of the words of the girls at Stonebridge, “Please come to India.”