A Little Homesickness

It’s amazing that it’s taken this long, but I finally got hit with a little wave of culture shock/homesickness. The trip to Darjeeling is definitely what triggered it. The combination of four days of not much “me” time, lots of people not speaking in English, being in an unfamiliar place, and limited contact with people back home added up to me having a VERY grumpy couple of days.

As you read about grumpy Lara, enjoy these pictures from Darjeeling of pretty flowers.

Most of the time, I don’t mind not being able to understand anything. It can even be like a kind of game because even when people are speaking in Hindi or Nepali, there are some words that they say in English either because there’s no translation or just because that’s how everyone says it. Usually, I think it’s fun to try to piece together the sporadic English words and people’s hand motions and imagine what the conversation is about (the conversations that I imagine are probably way more fun than what’s actually being said). It’s good because then I’m paying attention to what’s happening, and people don’t feel like I’m bored or ignoring them (instead, they often think that I understand since I look so engaged).

Like I said, most of the time, I don’t mind, but I learned that even I have my limits. I got especially frustrated when I would hear someone say my name, so I knew that they were saying something about me but then no one translated. I’m sure that no one was ever saying something mean; that’s not the issue. It just gets old very quickly, and it starts making you feel a bit isolated… as if I didn’t already feel a little of that ALL the time. Combine that language isolation with the feeling of separation that comes from being a guest who isn’t asked to do anything, and you’re like a forgotten island. Like imagine that all of the other women are in the kitchen helping to make dinner, but you’re not allowed to help because you’re a guest… so they’re all laughing and having fun working together, and you’re left on your own. It’s nice because they don’t want to make a guest work, but in that moment, you feel like you’d do almost anything just to be included (hence me forcing my way in on momo-making night).

Another thing that starts to get tiring is the politeness of people always telling you to sit or come or this or that. This really threw me off when I first came, and the school coordinator would tell me to sit in her office. I kept thinking that I was in trouble or that she had to talk to me and then she never came back… I finally realized that she was just being polite and trying to give me somewhere to go. This happens everywhere though… every house you visit, every public bench that you happen upon, etc. Sometimes I just want to stand, and when I say that, I get these looks like, “You should really sit. Your legs must be tired. You should sit. Just sit. SIT!” And I’m looking back like, “PLEASE JUST LET ME STAND. I WANT TO STAND. PLEASE. PLEASE. I WANT TO STAND.” And then it’s a… wait for it… stand-off. Hahahahahaha that was great. I’m hilarious.

People are also always asking me if I’m bored or tired which is fine sometimes, but then it will happen when I think it makes literally zero sense to ask. For example, when we were walking around the zoo, someone asked me if I was bored. Huh??? No! I love the zoo! How much stimulation do people think I need to feel interested?? Of all the people in the world, I’d venture to say that I’m up there with the most easily entertained. Put me and babies right next to each other.

You know how once you’re annoyed, EVERYTHING annoys you? That’s pretty much what happened. My irritation level grew and grew until the slightest thing made me want to snap. I knew that it was ridiculous, but sometimes it’s hard to control how you feel. Then, the endless pictures and selfies made it all worse because I feel like I should smile in pictures, but when I’m SO unhappy, making myself smile for a picture feels like a lie. That makes me not want to be in any pictures (at the risk of my grumpy face breaking the camera), and anyone insisting on taking one even after I’ve said “NO!” needs to beware my wrath.

Thankfully, all it took was a couple of days being back in a familiar place and self-imposed solitary confinement to get my head on straight. I’m okay now, but I’m not going to let myself forget that feeling. It all stemmed from me feeling isolated, and that’s a good reminder to always be thinking about making people feel welcome and included in situations where they don’t necessarily fit in.

Darjeeling

Darjeeling is beautiful!!! I already feel like I need to come back here to do some hiking. The crew I’m with right now is not exactly the hiking type, so I don’t think we’ll be uncovering any hidden gems of Darjeeling while we’re here. Anyone out there want to come and trek across northern India with me?

The train at Ghum Station. It’s interesting to see how the British have left a legacy in the most random of places… if you’ve ever been to London, that station sign should look familiar. It’s the same symbol as is used for the tube.

We took the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (also called the “Toy Train”) from Sonada to Darjeeling (elevation = 6,700 feet). Its tracks are only 2’ apart, so obviously, it’s much smaller than normal trains. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been running since 1881. It’s kind of amazing to see how the tracks wind their way through the mountains, and they’re 48 miles long! I mean, that’s not that impressive if we’re just talking about regular train tracks, but add in the mountains, and I think it’s pretty remarkable.

After probably an hour on the train (it doesn’t go very fast, plus it made some stops along the way), we arrived at Darjeeling Station. The views for the entire ride were great, and at the station, we got another glimpse of some of the awesomeness that lay beyond (I say “a glimpse” because there were power lines galore blocking us from getting an unobstructed view). I personally am all about mountain views. I’ve seen a lot of them, but I don’t think they’ll ever get old for me. Plus, they’re all so different. The mountains in Peru were green and awesome, and these are also green and awesome, but they look NOTHING alike. Earth is the coolest.

Ah, what a beautiful view! I’m so glad that there isn’t anything blocking it!

The wildlife starts before you even get to the zoo. There are wild monkeys all over the place. Pastor Daniel talked to me about the monkeys soon after I got here and told me what to do if you’re even in a face off with one – don’t make eye contact and DON’T smile. It’s funny how, depending on where you grow up, you learn very different animal facts. Growing up, I learned about what to do around alligators and mountain lions. Here, the kids learn about what to do around monkeys and elephants.

From there, we headed to the zoo. It’s a decent size, and it was interesting to see what animals they had because many of them are native to nearby areas. I also got to see my BFF, the snow leopard. It was just as magical as it always is. Pro tip though, the best place I’ve found to see snow leopards is the San Diego Zoo. You might have heard about how amazing that zoo is, and I’m telling you, people say that for a reason. The zoo is beautifully designed, it’s HUGE, they have multiple snow leopards, and you can get so close to them! Anna (the snow leopard) and I made eye contact and instantly became best friends. Sorry this is a huge aside, but seriously, you should go. Also, they have koalas. And Tasmanian devils.

Anyway, as I was saying, this zoo wasn’t the best ever, but it was still cool. I felt like we were in the forest (because we were), and besides the snow leopards, they also had some red pandas which are adorable. As we were leaving, one of them climbed up into a tree that was probably 100’ tall (at least). It’s nice that they have the space to give them such a big habitat! Or maybe it escaped, who knows.

Not a bad-looking zoo!

It’s a yak!

I love you, snow leopard.

One of the many super-cool walls at the zoo. Come for the animals, stay for the moss-covered walls.

Weird bear sculpture-type thing in the bear enclosure.

 

Some 100% safe electrical wiring at the zoo. Yes, at the zoo. Like in a public place where people and children visit. Yes, those splices are wrapped in electrical tape. Keep in mind that the voltage here is 240V, so a shock would be quite unpleasant.

After the zoo, we spent some time wandering. We walked farther up the mountain, somehow managing not to get hit by a single car even though we were basically walking in the middle of the street. I frequently feel like I’m some sort of safety nut here because I’m like “hey, maybe we shouldn’t walk in the middle of the street” and everyone else is posing for selfies right in the path of oncoming traffic. I think I’m just being reasonable though, right?

 

This makes me laugh. All of the bags of chips here are puffed out because they’re brought up from a lower altitude (so as the air pressure outside of the bag decreases coming up the mountain, the pressure inside stays the same and puffs the bag out).

There’s another cultural difference you can add to the list. People here love selfies. Well, okay, maybe that’s not a cultural difference, but the love of selfies here is far beyond anything I have ever experienced before. Maybe I’m just not running in the right crowds at home. It’s not just selfies though, to be fair. It’s all pictures. People take SO MANY pictures, and most of the time, they’re of very underwhelming things. Like we’ll take a selfie in the middle of the street with nothing interesting in the background. Then we’ll take a selfie on the train. And next to the train. And sitting at the train station. And walking down the street. And and and and and… the list could go on forever. I’m more of a “take pictures for the memories, but also use your eyes and just enjoy the experience” kind of person, so I quickly grew weary of the constant picture-taking. Luckily, everyone’s phones except for mine were dead long before the end of the day. Life’s little blessings.

By the time we finished our wandering and made it down the mountain, dark clouds were starting to roll in. Oh, rainy season, how I hate you. The rain comes frequently, quickly, and heavily. We snagged a bus back to Sonada before the worst of it started, thankfully. Oh, and we also ate more momos… yummm! I ate beef ones this time, so now, in two days, I’ve hit three different kinds. That’s pretty good, right?

THIS IS SO COOL!!!!!!

Hi, mountains.

Beef momos! Not nearly as beautiful as the ones we made. This is very close to what my first attempt looked like, actually.

The Road to Sonada

Just to give you a sense of where we are, Darjeeling is about 5 hours west of Jaigaon.

For the next couple of days, Anisha, Neha, and I are staying with Anisha’s aunt and uncle. They live in Sonada, a town about 17 km away from Darjeeling. We’ll go into Darjeeling for tomorrow, but just getting to Sonada was enough of an adventure for one day!

Us on the train with some of Anisha’s cousins.

We left Jaigaon this morning at 5:00 to go to the train station which is about half an hour’s drive away in Hasimara. From there, we took the train to Siliguri. That took 3-4 hours, and from there, we still had a way to go. The train was MUCH different from the trains at home. There are usually different classes of train ticket that you can buy, but I don’t know that the train we were on even had a first-class-type car. We got our tickets (that cost about US$2) and sat in a car with bench seats, broken fans, and glass-less windows.

The train is moving… and the train door is very open.

There was no conductor or anything in our car, so after the train started moving, no one closed the door. It was just flapping around as we chugged along, and I don’t think anyone even thought twice about it. The windows had shutters that you could slide up and down to block the sun as well as a glass window that you could also slide up. Can you imagine a train in the States where you could completely open the window and could stick your arm out??? There were a couple of horizontal bars so that you couldn’t fit your whole body out, but still…

One of the things that I CANNOT get used to is the way that people dispose of garbage in this country (and to be fair, it’s not just here). When I’m travelling and eat a snack or something, I put the wrapper in my bag until I can find a trash can. Here, you just throw it out the window. Anisha and Neha got some tea, and when they finished, out the window their cups went! Every time I see someone litter without a second thought (probably without even a first thought), it physically pains me. I want to just go and pick everything up! All of the trash cans here say “Use Me” on them, and at first, it’s kind of funny because you’re like, “Uhhh, why does the trash can have to tell you what to do?” Then, you realize that it really does need to be said, and it’s not quite as funny anymore.

This isn’t the one we took, but it’s basically the same (besides the lack of chickens).

When we finally got to Siliguri, we took a car the rest of the way to Sonada. It was basically the same concept as the mini-buses that I took in Ghana and Peru, but this was clearly made for the mountains. I’m not fully informed on car terminology, but I think it would be an SUV? I have no idea. It reminded me of an army vehicle or a hummer or something. Ugh, I don’t know. Just look at the picture. Ours also had caged chickens strapped to the top, so that’s fun.

Here’s a map view of the drive from Siliguri to Sonada. Needless to say, my stomach got a little queasy at times.

Leaving Siliguri, it was hot, dusty, and miserable. About half an hour into the drive, we started climbing up a mountain, and the air started changing. It got cooler and cleaner (or so it felt), and I felt like a new person. The drive took about 2-1/2 hours, including a lunch stop along the way. We got vegetable momos (dumplings), and I was in heaven because momos are quite possibly my favorite food here.

Dumpling wrapping!

We finally made it to Sonada, and all I wanted to do was go to sleep. I don’t understand why travelling is so tiring when all you’re doing is sitting for hours and hours! The plan for dinner was chicken momos (yes, we did just have momos for lunch, but those were COMPLETELY different… vegetable vs. chicken… duh), and I was determined to learn how to make them. I’ve been trying to force my way into the kitchen this entire trip because I want to learn how to make a few things for when I go home, but no one ever lets me help with anything. I refused to take no for an answer this time, and I learned how to wrap the momos! They had already made the dough and the filling by the time I got there, so that will have to be a lesson for another day.

Check out that beautiful detailing

The first one I wrapped looked horrible, and everyone (myself included) spent a solid 5 minutes laughing at it. I watched Anisha’s sister make about three more before I was convinced that I understood the technique, and from there, mine got better and better! By the end, Anisha’s sister said that mine were better than hers! Which, of course, I protested against, but I will say that I made vast improvements. Of course, each one took me about 1 minute to make while hers took maybe 15 seconds, but you have to start somewhere!

Tomorrow we’re going into Darjeeling, and I’m excited for more mountain views! The views were amazing on the drive up to here, and Darjeeling is even higher in the mountains.

You can see the road zig-zagging up the mountain.

I saw a lot of people carrying very heavy looking things this way. There’s a strap wrapped around the bundle, and then you wrap that around your head.

This guy had one of the most impressive loads. I tried to creep on the boxes as he walked past to see if they listed a weight, and I’m pretty sure one of them said 43kg. If that’s right and those boxes weren’t refilled with something else, that means he’s carrying about a 660-pound load!

Since Sonada is built on the side of the mountain, most of the town isn’t accessible to vehicles. There’s the one main road that we came on from Siliguri and that leads to Darjeeling, and the rest of the paths are more like this (or are made of rocks). Definitely not handicap accessible!

Another random “street” in town

Let’s Talk About Clothes!

You know how sometimes when you’re stressed out about something, you don’t realize it until the thing is gone and you feel the hidden weight get lifted? Apparently, school stressed me out. I know that I have to get back to work next week, but for now, I’m going to enjoy a little freedom.

This weekend, Ruth and I went on a little shopping trip to get me some Indian clothes! I love the clothes here. Everything is so bright and fun! I don’t think I’ve talked about clothes yet, so let’s do that now.

 

Me wearing a kurta and leggings. Also, this is a picture on our roof, and I want you to take a moment to appreciate the fact that they’re growing corn on the roof. That’s awesome.

Some of the clothing styles vary across the country, so I can only speak for the things that I’ve seen here. I’m also going to simplify this A LOT, but there are a few different styles that are most common so we’ll focus on those. Let’s talk about women first. In daily life, you can find plenty of women (mostly younger women and girls) in Western clothes, usually jeans and modest tops. For Indian clothes, I’m going to simplify it down to two categories: kurtas and saris. Saris are probably what you picture when you think of Indian clothes. Generally, these are more formal, but I don’t think it really matters. Older women especially will wear them all the time, though I assume you would save your sparkly and fancy ones for a special occasion.

 

One thing that varies based on where you are in the country is how you drape your sari. You have a blouse (often a crop-top length) on underneath and a petticoat, and then a long rectangle of fabric. I asked someone to explain the wrap/drape process for me, and she said that you wrap it around your waist, pleat it 7 times and secure it, then wrap and drape it back over your shoulder, pleating it 7 times again. So, there’s an example of one of the million ways you could drape your sari. Simple, right?

 

A semi-creepy shot that I cropped out of another picture to show you the other type of pants (salwar).

The type of dress that I see women wear most often is a kurta. They’re about knee length or a little shorter, and it’s like a loose-fitting dress with slits up the sides to around your upper thigh. Underneath, you wear pants. There are tighter leggings that are bunched up at the bottom (churidar) or loose genie-type pants (salwar). Most women also wear a scarf (like a summer weight fashion scarf), and every part of the outfit will be impeccably color coordinated. Beyond this, there are other tunic-style tops and other variations on a kurta, but like I said, I’m super simplifying and just talking about the things I’ve seen the most.

 

I got a couple kurtas and a pair of leggings, and they’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s hands down the most comfortable clothing I’ve ever worn that’s considered acceptable to wear in public. It feels like you’re wearing a nightgown and some pajama pants, but you actually look nice. Plus, you could run or climb over a wall or be a ninja in them because of the slits in the sides and the stretchiness of the pants. I like to feel like I can move in my clothes. Why is this not a thing everywhere?? I’ve been told that saris aren’t as comfortable (and your mobility is definitely limited), but I haven’t tried one on so I couldn’t say for sure.

 

Awesome princessy little girl dress.

For men, the same goes with Western clothes in daily life. A lot of people wear jeans and polo shirts, and for looking a bit nicer, you’ll see normal button-ups and ties. The male teachers at school all wear dress pants, shirt, and tie to work, and the women wear kurtas or saris. On some nicer occasion, they might wear the male version of a kurta which is pretty much the same as the women’s but made for a man’s body shape, and they have similar genie pant or slimmerpant options to wear underneath. Then, there are tunic-style shorter length shirts and such too. I’ll be honest; men’s clothes aren’t nearly as awesome. Plus, I’m not a man, so I don’t pay as close of attention as I do to the women’s clothes. They do have cool clothes that people wear for formal occasions, but daily life is mostly boring pants and boring shirts that are just like what people wear at home.

 

Little girls have the BEST clothes. They can wear awesome Disney-princess-costume style dresses, and it’s totally normal here. This also should be a thing everywhere. They’re all so fun and shiny and sparkly, and I wish I was 8 years old again so that I could join.

Tonight, I’m packing up my new kurtas because… road trip! Well, technically… train tracks trip! I’m going to Darjeeling with a couple girls from church, Anisha and Neha. It’s a city in the mountains and is supposed to have some amazing scenery. More importantly, I heard you can see snow leopards there!! They’re my favorite animal. And when I say favorite, I mean like SUPER favorite. I love them. A lot. So yeah, I’m VERY excited for scenery and travelling and most of all, for my true love, snow leopards.

One more picture to attempt to show some clothing (I should have gotten some better pictures of people wearing different things before this post, but I did not plan very well). Anyway, the woman on the far right is wearing a sari, and same with the woman in red, four people from the right. As you can see, the guys are all in boring button-ups. Though sometimes they wear shiny shirts which are fabulous.

Pastor Daniel and Ruth’s story

Since my time here is more than halfway finished, I feel like it’s past time for me to tell you a little more about Pastor Daniel and Ruth’s story, how they ended up here, and what work they’ve been doing in the community.

Me and Ruth

They met when they were studying at two different Bible colleges. I’m not sure about the details, but that’s not super important. Neither of them wanted to get married before finishing their studies, so they didn’t. Over the next five years, they studied, they graduated, Ruth got a job, Pastor Daniel went to school again, he graduated for the last time, and finally the wedding was arranged.

Now, both of them had been doing some thinking and praying about where God wanted them. Pastor Daniel felt very strongly that he was getting called to Bhutan. To put this in context, he and Ruth are both from South India. Bhutan borders India to the north, so going there would be a huge move that would take both of them far away from their families. At the time, the area of India near Bhutan had almost no Christians, and Bhutan itself is a Buddhist country (it still is). There was, and is, a lot of need in the area, socially, morally, and economically.

Back to what I was saying… Pastor Daniel was confident that he was being called to serve Bhutan. Meanwhile, Ruth had a friend from Bhutan, and the more she talked to her and prayed, the more and more confident she became that she was being called to serve Bhutan. At this point, neither of them had said anything to the other, but finally, Pastor Daniel knew that he needed to tell Ruth before they got married.

He told her, “God is calling me to Bhutan,” and he asked if she would go with him.

She looked at him. “God is calling ME to Bhutan.”

The view from the Bible school never gets old. Say “hi!” to Bhutan! Those mountains are all in Bhutan.

That’s how, two months after their wedding, they ended up packing up and moving to the border town of Jaigaon with only 10,000 rupees (about US$150) to start their new life. Ruth had a school connection who lived here, so the extent of their plan was to move, stay with him, and figure things out.

When they arrived, they realized that they need to rethink their plan, and quickly. The guy who they were supposed to stay with was having some family trouble and was not really able to host them. They were staying in a hallway in the guy’s house that also functioned as a church (a small house church), and they sat awake all night praying and wondering what they were going to do.

The next day, they found a one-room apartment with a shared bathroom. They had nothing to put in it, so they took what little money they had and bought only the essentials: a stove top, two plates, two cups, two bowls, a sleeping mat, etc. For the next 6 months or so, they got settled in the community and were doing some random ministry work, but they weren’t sure what the next big step was going to be.

They used to do prayer walks through the city, and Ruth said that they used to see tons of kids in the streets. They asked if they were in school, and the kids said no. They started giving free lessons and ended up with hundreds of kids coming, just through word-of-mouth. It was way more than they could handle, but they just kept working. Ruth also taught Sunday school in churches all over the city, and Pastor Daniel did ministry work in the towns around Jaigaon.

 

Assembly time!

Finally, there was a turning point. Ruth had another connection from college who had a plot of land in Jaigaon, and he wanted it to be used for some ministry purpose. He asked them if that was something they would be interested in taking on, and they said yes, but they didn’t have any money.

 

He said, “That’s not what I asked,” and just like that, it was settled! In the time that the land had been sitting unused, squatters had moved in, and people were trying to re-sell the land. The guy fought it and finally got the squatters removed and the land returned to him. He signed the deed over to them and fundraised enough money for them to build the first two floors of what is now the church/house building.

At first, it was school/church on the first floor and house on the second floor, but as the school grew, it expanded onto the second floor as well. They were living in just one room, they had a baby, and they were running out of space.

So. Many. Floors.

Never fear, though! God was still working things out for them, and they connected with another couple who believed in their ministry and managed to raise funding for a third floor. Even more amazingly, the lot across the street was for sale, and the couple bought and gave them the land to build a proper school. The school was built one floor at a time, started with just kindergarten, and grew as the first class of kids grew.

Now, they have up to class 10 and are hoping to add “+2” (11 and 12) in the future. The school has almost 400 students and is regarded as one of the best schools in the area. The families pay what they’re able, and most of the kids are at least partially on scholarship. They still run free basic classes for street kids, and the promising ones are given scholarships to school.

Ruth said that when they first started the school, most girls didn’t go to school. Girls are expensive to marry off, so why spend even more money on them to give them an education? One of her big missions is to teach people that daughters are a wonderful gift and it’s worth keeping AND educating them. I’ve been so encouraged by the way that women are treated in the school and the church. It’s so clear that women are incredibly respected and are seen as being just as valuable and capable as the men.

I love these mountains!

Besides the work that Pastor Daniel and Ruth have done to teach parents that their daughters are worthwhile and worth educating, they’ve also worked to take away some of the additional challenges that often hinder the education of girls. One of the biggest of those challenges is a lack of access to affordable and hygienic feminine products, so when girls are on their period, they don’t go to school. That means they’re missing 1 out of every 4 weeks of school! How is it even possible to be successful under those circumstances?

The is somehow the best picture I have of the Bible school… I’ll need to work on that.

To combat this issue in their school, they bought a machine and materials to make thousands and thousands of pads. They’ve educated the girls in the school about what is happening to their bodies and how to manage it, and the girls can buy a pad for just a couple rupees (like 5 cents). This is a huge problem in developing countries across the world, and it’s super encouraging to see it being addressed here! In addition, the pads are made by women in one of the nearby communities, so they’re also creating jobs for women. Is this not the most awesome thing??

One of the small community centers/churches that they built in one of the communities near Jaigaon. This one has a farm too.

In conclusion, Pastor Daniel and Ruth have the coolest and most inspiring story. They went from 10,000 rupees and homeless to running a grade school, a church, a Bible college, a pad “factory”, and more, thanks to their complete trust in God, some divinely orchestrated relationships, and their many skills and gifts. I feel like I find out about another thing that they’re involved with every day. Talk about a power couple! I could ramble on about how awesome they are for a VERY long time, but I think I’ll stop it here because I’ve given you enough to mull over for now.

Last Day of School

Happy summer break!!! Today was the last day of school before a month-long break, so as you might expect, not much was accomplished. The whole day was a little weird for me because even though I still have 2-1/2 weeks left here, there are a lot of people who I’m not going to see again. Honestly, I prefer it this way because now I’ll have a much easier time sneaking out. I don’t like making a big deal over goodbyes and would much rather focus my energy on saying goodbye to the people who I actually built relationships with. If school was still in session when I was leaving, they would have said something at assembly, and I probably would have had to give a speech again. Since I’m not leaving yet, nothing was even mentioned to the kids. Perfect!

I think I would be in much worse shape emotionally if there weren’t summer classes with the class 9 and 10 kids. They’re the ones who I’ve spent the most time with, and I get to see all of them again (for better or worse). That means I’ll get a chance to say goodbye to them without the whole school around, so it can be simple and lowkey.

Each day, a different class is in charge of leading assembly. It’s cool because all of the kids get used to talking in front of a crowd and speaking into a microphone. The younger ones are so bold! They get up there and shout out whatever they have to say with no fear. The absolute best is when the upper kindergarten class leads. The kids are 4ish years old and are leading prayers and songs in English in front of the whole school like it’s nothing.

The class 10 boys leading the assembly, along with one of the teachers on guitar.

Anyway, today, the class 10 boys took the lead. It was so much fun watching them lead the little kids in the songs and dances. I felt like a proud mother watching them. They got so into it too! The day was also fun because the kids got to wear normal clothes to school, and the girls didn’t have to wear their hair in braids (usually their hair has to be in two braids, and they have to be tied with ribbons in their house color). It’s crazy how different people can look with different clothes and hairstyles! I loved seeing how at ease they were in their normal clothes, and it made me feel like I was getting to see their true personalities.

Assembly went a little long… if “a little” is 50 additional minutes (it’s usually 40 minutes long). That means first and second periods were both shot. That left me with class 9 English during 3rd and class 8 science during 4th. I spent a lot of time thinking about what we should do on the last day, and finally, I decided that we should play a game. Let’s be real – no one wants to do actual work on the last day before a holiday break, and any attempts on my part to make that happen would just lead to frustration. I wasn’t interested in that, so instead, we played Pictionary in both classes.

I eventually realized that even though I thought we were just playing a game to kill time, it’s actually really good for improving the kids’ vocabularies. I had to be very strategic about which words I gave to which kids because at the very least, the drawing kid has to know what the thing is. Mostly, I used animals and random objects. I made the mistake of giving one kid “doctor”, and he stood motionless at the board for at least 2 full minutes before refusing to even try and sitting down.

At lunch, the kids headed back into the chapel to eat all together. It was cool to see them sharing with each other and offering to share with the teachers too. I turned everything down except for this little cheeto-looking thing that was forced on me… and that almost burned my tongue off it was so spicy… which is precisely why I said no to everything else.

Pictionary is also good for developing creativity and critical thinking skills, which is probably why so many of the kids were so bad at it. They couldn’t seem to grasp the fact that they didn’t need to draw perfect pictures. They just had to be good enough for someone to guess the right thing. One kid panicked about the word “cow”, and I went up and told him to start drawing a four-legged animal, and someone would guess it. Sure enough, it worked. They’re so used to trying to get everything “right” rather than just trying their best and seeing how it goes.

Me with some of my teacher friends! People here love to take pictures at every opportunity, so this is our “the kids are eating lunch” group shot because that clearly cannot be allowed to pass without documentation.

In Science class, I mixed things up by adding in words like “global warming”, “acid rain”, and “eutrophication”. The girl who drew eutrophication did an incredible job… I should have taken a picture. The kids knew exactly what she was drawing but couldn’t remember the word (of course).

All in all, I would count the day as a big success. For the first time, I had the attention of every kid in both classes! I know that sounds like a lame thing to celebrate, but kids who haven’t participated AT ALL for the last 5 weeks were engaged! It felt like a huge win, especially after I convinced myself that they were learning, and we weren’t just killing time.

Now, I’m going to enjoy my one week of class-free time and get to work on my architecture project!

Lark-itect

 

I have a new project to work on! Since we’re off school today, Pastor Daniel took me to the Bible college in the morning to check out the construction work they’re doing. There are four buildings on the campus, and they’re currently adding a second floor onto one of them. The first floor is a big assembly hall, and now the second floor is going to have a conference room and some classrooms.

Work in progress… the part I’m supposed to be designing would be on the top of this building.

My task is to make a plan for the third floor. One of the ways they’re considering using the space is by creating mini-apartments that can be rented out to people who are travelling to Bhutan. Since we’re right on the border, hotels and short-term housing are in high demand, and this could be an easy way to generate some revenue for the school and the ministry.

That means I get to play architect again! I’ll probably give some lighting recommendations too, but I’m sure they’ll do whatever they were going to do anyway. I think it’s funny that whenever I say I’m an architectural engineer, it’s like people get bored and stop listening after I say the “architect” part.

Me: I’m an architectural engineer.

Person: Oh, you’re an architect!

Me: Well… not really. I’m an engineer specializing in lighting and electrical systems in buildings.

Person: Oh, you’re an architect!

Me: Yes.

The construction site. Not quite what you’d see in the States, but this definitely isn’t the States so it’s about what I expected. Watch your step!

Luckily, we did take some architecture classes, so I usually know enough to be able to satisfy whatever thoughts they have about what I can do. Plus, I DO have a minor in Architecture which is basically the same thing as a bachelor’s, right? (By the way, the answer to that is no, not even close.) Anyway, usually I’m fine. This task, for example, is simple. It’s not like they’re asking me to design the structure or anything (which is something that everyone assumes an architect can do on the spot… but like, there are structural engineers for that). I don’t have to tell them how to build it. The local builders know, much better than I do, how to build things here. What they want from me is more like the solution to a puzzle or a logic problem than a true architectural question: fit as many comfortably sized rooms as possible in this predetermined space.

 

Roof with a view! These roofs are my blank canvas. Imagine the possibilities!

Once again, I’m comforted by knowing what the alternative to me doing this would be. Like in the school, the alternative to me being the English Lit teacher was no one being the English Lit teacher. Here, the alternative to me designing the layout is someone with literally zero training just making something up. I can at least do better than that.

 

*Note: I know the title is dumb, but I think it’s funny so that’s all that matters.