Sunday, March 16

Fish Intestines and making engineers happy: In India, Days 8 & 9


The easy end of surveying
While working, I make friends with the heat source
On Monday, it was my turn to lead the devotion.  Up until this point I had been emotionally stable, but oh the tears that morning!  Things went pretty well through the Bible study on Psalm 139 (with focus on story, intimacy and fear of the Lord), but once I got into my testimony and everyone on the team was listening so well, I was really honest and it all came pouring out! 

We were fairly productive on Monday -but before we get into that, let me tell you first that we spent that afternoon hiding in our bedroom.  I'll keep the reason why vague: foreigners at Children's Homes can be suspicious, and an inspection was scheduled.  During that time, Alyssa and I did got some work done, but let's be honest: there were also antics and silliness.  On top of that, there was an incident that was quite literally a "bedroom farce".  Matthew was standing at the door to talk to us for a minute, then stepped inside when he heard a car coming, and was caught!  In India, men do NOT go into ladies bedrooms.
this photo was taken after 5 hours straight in our room...
The process of kitchen inventory-ing
The site of the future Kitchen & Dining Hall!
Monday morning through Tuesday evening Alyssa and I were everywhere.  We inventoried the current kitchen equipment and recorded the cooking processes.  We gathered details about the place the building would sit and did a study of the sun's angles there.  With Madi's help, we interviewed one of the kitchen staff and later received his suggested floor plan for the future kitchen.  We imagined various elements of the building's program as a list and then a puzzle, put them together, questioned and tweaked them, and showed them to other team members, who inevitably brought up elements of local construction or structural limitations that we were not expecting.  Those engineers!  And then we started again. 

Tuesday night, with all our notes spread out and all limitations firmly in mind, we had a tentative plan for how the building could come together, just in time to start getting ready for our final presentation.
Playing around with table arrangements
This is us working hard
What else happened those days?  While Alyssa and I were out and about, we joined up with the rest of the team and I held the surveying rod for awhile.  We also met some more of the staff!  There was a nurse from Miroram, and the friendly schoolteachers from the local village, who invited Alyssa and I into their staff room during recess.  With maps and calendars, we had some points of discussion.  A couple of them even helped me with a little Hindi lettering.  After feeling some of the language and cultural barriers over the last couple days, it was exilerating to make this kind of connection!
the sentence game
Beautiful teachers from Himachal Pradesh
We even played a little.  My favorite was writing a sentence on the classroom board, which the kids tried to guess before I was finished - like a game show! So of course we put twists into the sentences ;)  Mine was "The monkeys are naughty, but God loves them anyway."
The bubbles Alyssa brought were a hit!
Finally, I want to mention our honorary teammate from Child of Mine: Chelsea!  Because of Chelsea, I had to eat fish intestines.  Her birthday was celebrated during our visit, and she loves fish!  So there was fried fish, fish soup, and fish intestines.  I tried everything, like a good little missionary.  The fried fish was delicious, the fish soup was fine and the intestines... bitter!  But not bad, really.  Another couple of different dishes I happily ingested were pumpkin leaf soup and tomato chutney.

Chelsea and the girls
But back to Chelsea and Child of Mine: they are Canadian group who sponsors Shanti Niketan and also sends large construction teams.  In fact, they will likely build part of the buildings we design.  Chelsea is their ambassador and is doing a sort of "career counseling" with the older students and generally trying to implement programs to help them prepare for moving into the world.  She's a fantastic woman who is loved by everyone at the home, took us under her wing, and held her own during our "dessert making" discussions. 
Matthew, Ivy and Shawn
Tuesday night, Matthew's wife and toddler son (Ivy and Shawn) also arrived.  And it was an event.  People had been asking all week about Shawn, and when their car pulled up there was basically paparazzi and general rejoicing.  Shawn enjoyed his celebrity status all week with the other children in the home.  This missionary family really has a wonderful relationship with Shanti Niketan.
Everybody loves Shawn

Sunday, March 9

Subathu Variety Show: In India, Days 6 & 7

Circulation sketches for the Kitchen and Dining Hall
On Saturday morning, we found out that the ministry leaders (Hmuni and Suvarna) had the time to meet with us that afternoon.  We started scrambling!  An architect's method of communication is largely visual, so I created sketches to convey some initial ideas and options.  We had the basic parameters of the project in mind, but still had lots of questions about how the building would be used.  I made sure that all these were written down, since our hosts would be busy with meetings during most of our visit and this may be our one chance to really talk.

Meeting with the ministry leaders
During the difficult situation they were facing (see previous entry), we weren't sure if discussing future plans would be stressful.  To our relief, planning with us proved to be both a distraction and encouragement.  Shanti Niketan has been hoping for more and better housing for their boys and a place where everyone can eat together for years.  Currently, the staff eats in Hmuni and Suvarna's house, the boys eat at the school and the girls eat in their dormitory.  Food and tea is carried across campus, the kitchens are small and everyone is crowded.

We also discussed putting staff housing below the dining hall, which would be accessed from downhill.  Some of the current staff housing is in really sad shape.  The Shanti Niketan campus used to be a leprosy colony, and mud buildings like some of the staff housing are relics from that time.  This would later prove to be a problematic idea, because the spot this building will stand doesn't get much direct sunlight from the East (the direction the windows would face).  And, like everything there, the building will heated only by the sun.  This was a different sort of design constraint than I am used to, and a bit of a reality check.
Janelle (more often behind the camera)

Now, dry shampoo had only taken me so far and it was time for a shower!  My Indian teammate Madi was extremely patient with us Westerners and explained the "Indian shower" ways of filling a big bucket from the tap, and using a small one to pour water over yourself, then cleaning up with a squeegee at the end... since the whole bathroom floor gets wet. 
The shower end of the bathroom

Overall, it was kinda nice, and really saved a lot of water!  But, since there was a high window open, making the room was about 40 degrees F.  So the experience was a roller coaster of the lovely sensations of hot water, lingering for a minute or so as I frantically washed and then ebbing away as the chilled air cut through and made goosebumps. 

Everybody adores this baby
Just hanging out
It was casually mentioned on Saturday night that Shanti Niketan would like us to be responsible for some of their Sunday morning program, doing... whatever!  We ended up doing everything from leading "action songs" (Peace like a river) to Madi's testimony, me story-telling through the book of Jonah, Alyssa greeting the children with verses from a Pauline epistle and Matthew talking about some strange difficulties he's encountered lately - comparable to some of Shanti's difficulties.  But most enjoyable was listening to the student-led worship in both Hindi and English - these kids are enthusiastic singers and musicians! 
Cows in the marketplace

The day was full, with helping in the kitchen, playing with the kids, attending afternoon church in the nearby village of Subathu. and walking around the Subathu market.  A clean, charming military depot - but in the streets there were still cows - which politely begged for peanuts - and monkeys, which rambunctiously raided the trash. 

Madi shows off the salad we made
That evening, it was my privilege to hear a little of the ministry leader's history.  Hmuni is from Mizoram, a small state in NE India.  An English Christian missionary came to Mizoram in the 1800s, and now much of the state identifies as Christian, including Hmuni's family!  She helped found Shanti Niketan as a missionary endeavour in Himachal Pradesh, a mostly Hindu state.  Much of the staff also comes from her church in Mizoram, but her husband Suvarna is from Nepal and was the first (but not only) person in his family to believe in Jesus' resurrection.  Praise God!

Thursday, March 6

Strange Beginnings: In India, Days 4 & 5

Opening the project meeting at the EMI office in Delhi
Entering the EMI office the next morning, I met our final team member: Madhulika (who goes by Madi).  She's an architect about my age, and was a pleasure spend time with.  Such a different story than mine. She's lived in India all her life, was raised in a Hindu family, and came to know Christ a couple of years ago.  But she's also spoken English as her primary language for the last twelve years AND has read all of Harry Potter, so it was easy to relate to her.   

As our official opening meeting began, we received surprising and disturbing news from Matthew our team leader concerning the children's home that we were about work with.*  It's copied here from an email he sent out later:

"On 29-Jan the Home received a notice from the government that all the children should be returned to their own homes, or if not then surrendered to a government children’s home in the district, followed by the closure of the Home by 15-February. This notice... came two days before their 25th Jubilee celebration...

Starting in Delhi, we went North to Himachal Pradesh
The purpose of this decision and the Act is to make children’s homes a last resort of the immediate/extended family of the child in question, and comes in reaction to cases of major child abuses that were discovered in various children’s homes across India over the last 10+ years."

Yikes!  Should we even go there?  We began planning and praying, while yet waiting for a phone call to tell us if the project was still on.  Whew - it was!  From office, we went to the train station where, based on Indian train lore, I fully expected a two-hour delay and cars brimming over with humanity and chickens.  Nope.  The train was exactly on time, and the seats were super comfy and pre-assigned.  Admittedly, this was first class.  We played Dutch Blitz, ate Indian snackfood and talked about CS Lewis.

Scheming in the rain?
On the way, I had a chance to talk with Matthew.  He's the director of the India EMI office, and an interesting and intelligent person.  You all know that I love to ask random questions, and Matthew answered all of mine - eloquently!  You may have noticed though that on this trip he was literally the "odd man out".  Most EMI teams are predominately male - on my first trip, I was the only female professional, though my leader's wife also came along.  This team was flipped.  Matthew handled the situation well, though I think he was baffled by the amount
of time we spent discussing how to make various desserts.

The amazing Hmuni and Suvarna!
By the time we arrived, after four hours on the train and an hour and a half in a van (where the darkness kept us from being able to discern the edge of the precipice as we wound up mountain roads), it was midnight.  That didn't stop the ministry leaders at the children's home* from greeting us with food and tea.  Throughout our visit, their innate hospitality was abundant, and the love of God and faith in His providence to them was clear.


The next day we toured the premises in rain that would linger, but of course as a Seattlite I took these conditions in stride :)

The current "small boys" dormitory - around 100 years old!
EMI has an ongoing relationship with this Christian children's home* in Himachal Pradesh.  Among other things, our team's goals were to create conceptual drawings for their new dining hall/kitchen building and to make the existing conceptual drawings for a new boy's dormitory and ready for construction.  Specifically, I was in charge of the first task.  And it became clear that afternoon when I called our first meeting to order that I was the most "type A" personality on this team.  Despite the uncertain and sensitive situation, I wanted to give these amazing people our best efforts.

Work is always better with tea
About four times a day, we encountered a classy ritual: tea time.  "Chai" in India is black tea with cardamom, boiled with milk.  Ya'll know I love tea.  I especially loved it in India: because it was served in elegant teacups.  Because it punctuated the day with awareness of the people around me.  Because it was cold, and it felt really good to drink something warm.  And because there was no coffee, and over the past three nights I had gotten a total of 15 hours of sleep.  Seriously, friends, praise God that I stayed healthy and functioning through this trip, because the sleep deprivation would only continue. 

*The children's home is unnamed in this blog post, because of some the details I've included about their situation.  They have a desire to cooperate with the government, but are trying to figure out the logistics to do so.

White Pines at the edge of the Himlayas

Wednesday, March 5

Kindred spirits in Delhi: To India, Days 1, 2 & 3

Sleepy selfie at the airport.  My sister says selfies are the opposite of a missions trip. 

Come with me on my journey to India...

There is pleasantly little to report about my flight from Seattle to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Delhi, except that I actually slept a bit and caught up on my viewing of animated films.

Royal Delft booths at the Dutch Kitchen
The Amsterdam airport is delightful in many ways.  One, that it fulfills all of the stereotypes I had about Holland, being surrounded as it was with canals, cows and tulip fields, selling wooden shoes, and decorated with Delft pottery and Old Master's artwork.  Two, that it's easy to feel as if the airport is part of a holiday with the mini-museum and delicious poffertjes.  And three, that (unfairly?) English is the major language on signs - a pattern, I might add, that continued throughout the areas I traveled in India. 

Going West allowed me to travel forward into the future, so I left Seattle at 1pm on Monday and arrived in Delhi at 1am on Wednesday.  It was a challenge finding the hand-written "EMI" sign among the many, many official signs held by people at the airport to meet other travelers.  But without too much extended drama two interns flagged me down and (as part of their training) safely deposited me at the flat above Engineering Ministry International's office.

The next day, I met most of the team.  And we did have an introduction to the project (more on that in my next entry), but it transpired that the trip hadn't officially started yet.  For the two of us who did not live in Delhi, this was the free/fun day we would normally have had at the end of the trip. 

Alyssa and Janelle
So, our team leader Matthew stayed at the office while I went off with Alyssa and Janelle.  Janelle is a current EMI engineering intern, and will be living in Delhi for the next few months working on this project.  Alyssa was an EMI architecture intern in 2012, and worked on a previous project with this same ministry - she loved them so much that she just had to come back! 

And readers, we had a ridiculous amount in common.  We all love to cook and read.  We each have two sisters.  We were shy children raised in Christian households who discovered God's love as we grew up. We are night people who watch many of the same TV shows; we even get cold symptoms in the same order! It's like we're the same person, but not really.

some of the Haus Khas complex
First, we visited Dannah, who was the Colorado intern director when I was an EMI intern in 2004! It was so good to reconnect with her about our directions in life over my first cup of Indian chai.  Next, we toured the Haus Khas complex, ate delicious street food, shopped in stores, took the metro, ate more street food, shopped in bazaars, ate dinner at Karim's (mouth waters...) and then went back to stay up late talking (not for the last time that trip!). 

One last note: it turns out that a number of the cultural differences between the United States and India are not intuitive for me.  For example, I packed "modest clothing": pants with loose-fitting legs, roomy sweaters with high necks.  For the US, quite unobjectionable.  In India though, they showed too much of the shape of my waist and rear.  My new friends helped me by shopping for kurtas in the marketplace and letting me borrow a couple as well.  So when you see me wearing them in photos, I'm not trying way too hard to fit in to Indian culture - I'm just being appropriate :)
100 Rupee kurtas - quite a deal!

Sunday, February 2

The Worst Reasons to go on this Missions Trip

In celebration of the night before I leave, here are some of the worst reasons to go on a missions trip:

To Travel

It's quite considerate of people who need help to live in such interesting places.  What an altruistic excuse to see the world!
*Ahem*.  A tad guilty here.  But I hope that this reason comes secondarily :)  If no sight-seeing occurs, I'll be perfectly content.

To Eat Indian Food

After being introduced to Indian food while living in Houston (not where I expected to have my first Tikka Masala, but Houston's food is more than BBQ) I have to admit that  my mouth is watering just thinking of the fresh naan that I hope to encounter.  But, I'm prepared for lots of dal too.

To Get Away From My Life

After Ben died, his nurse told me not to run away to the Amazon to take care of orphans the next week.  The common lore is that some people run, when someone they love dies.  Most people also agree that you aren't in your right mind at this time.

But this isn't running, and it is just two weeks.  And any longer absences will be examined in periods of higher sanity.


Don't worry, I'm not now a widow looking for love (plus my team is largely female), but just HAD to include this as a general comment on the heady feelings a missions trip can induce... and that some certainly seek.  Jon at "Stuff Christians Like" handles this topic expertly right here.

The World Needs Me!

I am a Christian and an American.  Also, I know some really good building codes.

Gosh, I really don't feel like going into a rant about how sad it is to be uppity about those things.  Probably there is some insidious pride in all of us, linked to how we define our identity. 

In the case of this trip, I keep praying to remember to ask questions and be humble and teachable about the buildings we design.  Really, any good architect is a servant to their client's goals.  And these clients have amazing goals.

 What are my real motivations?   You can have my official answer from my application, proof-read by my mother-in-law*.

"To use my training to be a part of enabling the Christian ministries who want to help the poor and suffering, both physically and in spreading and teaching them the Gospel.
To be able to share with my colleagues and church about the work being done around the world in Christ's name, so they can pray and participate, and/or know that God shows love with action.
To keep in mind a vision for why I want to improve professionally."

*She has lots of experience working with missionaries.  Asking her to proof-read was practically cheating.