when it rains it pours

This is a phrase that I have often heard.  Unfortunately, I have heard it a few times this week as the number of painful occurrences starts to stack up.  Some of these have been shared… some have not.

The most amazing truth I have experienced is that when the hurt rains down I also sense God’s spirit pouring down.  He has not taken away the pain, but he has been with us in the pain.  As we reach out, and also when we fail to reach out, he has met us.

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Saying Sorry

This gallery contains 1 photo.

It is Painting Day #3, and I am bouncing along in the back of an auto-rickshaw, on my way out to our new village.  My husband is there already, diligently plugging away at the never-ending task of wall preparation, and … Continue reading

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making ourselves at home

The walls... before.

Sand, prime, putty, putty, putty, putty.... yikes....

Same walls... after said sand, prime, putty, and paint!

I always wanted a red kitchen...

... it doesn't hold much, but it's cute!

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Tension

When we were in China, I had a vivid mental picture of a table morphing from a round to a rectangular table. The round shape represented the kind of activities that happen around round tables: eating, playing games, having tea…. relational activities.  The rectangular shape represented a study table, where one works, grows in knowledge, and puts their nose to the grind stone, so to speak.

This is the tension of the language learner.

You must study.  You must stretch every cell in your mind; strain to hear every different sound with your ears; twist your tongue into shapes that feel and sound wrong to you.

At the same time you must talk and build relationship.  That, after all, is the purpose of all this hard work.  Communication is at the core – showing love and seeing lives transformed.

Language learning is a slow process.  As a person who values deep relationships, how do you limit the growth of new relationships to this snail’s pace?  How do you resist the urge to switch to English?  How do you resist feeling like a fool when the person to whom you have just tried to say “I wish it would rain” looks back at you with uncomprehending eyes.  How do you laugh it off when you have tried to tell someone “I want to learn your language well,” and they start looking around a for a tea stand because they think you were asking for tea?

You remember.

You remember being in other countries, wanting like crazy to talk to everyone around you about the message burning in your heart, and knowing that you are able to do nothing except pray that someone else will come to put words to your actions.

You remember the light in a refugee’s eyes when he suddenly hears someone speaking in his heart language.

You remember years of struggle in another country because you failed to pay the price of facing this tension at the beginning of your time there.

I will remember.

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Sounds ‘n Blunders

(This picture has nothing to do with this posting. Except it is a picture of me in India... and I wrote this... in India.)

So many aspects of learning a language are totally unique.  It seems good to keep making note of them, if for no other reason but to reminisce later.

Sounds.  This is the biggest surprise to me so far – there are sounds I just can’t make!  For those who are unfamiliar with Indian languages, in Hindi there are 4 different D’s, and 4 different T’s.  None of them is ever used in English.  These, however, are not my challenge; they are coming along just fine.  It’s the R’s I’m having trouble with.   There’s a rather Spanish sounding ‘R’ – barely rolled, tongue forward in the mouth.  No problem.  Then there’s this ‘R’ that’s way back in the throat – I can’t even get my tongue to go back that far!  THEN there’s that same ‘R’ (throaty) with an ‘H’ added.  (I swear it sounds more like a ‘D’ than an ‘R’!)  For the life of me, I cannot make this sound properly, and it’s not for lack of trying.  I have sat listening and mimicking for collective hours.  Is there improvement?  Yes.  But precious little!

Blunders.  What would language learning be like without them?  I will never know.  This week I had two favorites, one of which was just silly, the other much more significant.  Silly blunder: while out practicing, I encountered a teenage girl who looked happy to see me.  I stopped to practice, thinking it was an obvious chance to talk with someone who looked like they wanted me to!  So… I stopped.  She stopped.  She asked how I was.  I said fine. I asked how she was.  She said fine.  And we stared.  For a long, painful moment, we stood in silence as I wracked my brain for ANY of the fine phrases I’d learned in the last month.  Nothing.  Finally, she gave me a funny look and said she had to get going.  As she walked away, I blurted out one word, totally unpremeditated and surprising myself.  Loudly and boldly, I turned and said the word for “son.”  I do not know why.  I’m sure I looked as confused as she did as we walked away in opposite directions.  Who knows?

The other blunder had more consequences.  There is a group of about six children who absolutely love me.  They are two families, I think: children of a rickshaw driver and of a fruit seller.  They don’t live in our neighborhood, but hang out near their fathers’ work stations after school.  They love to talk to me and are my constant customers – I mean practicers!  Anyway, one day last week, they were asking me a question I just could not understand.  They kept repeating a word that sounded like “room” and asking me something over and over again.  “Room?”  I repeated.  They nodded vigorously.  “I didn’t understand,” I admitted.  So they started pantomiming.  The girl pointed directly at the ground, and the boy got down on his hands and knees and looked like he was scrubbing it.  Then they repeated their question.  This time I recognized the word for “when” within the question.  I took it to mean, “When do you clean your floors?”  I answered “daily.”  Their eyes widened and they smiled really big. “Really?”  Stupidly, I answered, “yes.”

So yesterday, Ross and I were walking home from some shopping.  As we rounded the corner to our street, this group of children came running toward us, crying out and laughing and in every way looking delighted to see us.  They grabbed my hands, and pretty soon we were leading a small parade toward our house.  It did seem like they wanted to come over.  Ross, who understands much more Hindi than I do at this point, confirmed my suspicions.  “They’re saying they want to come to our house.”  I tried to explain that we were just getting our bicycles and then leaving again, when I heard the word “room”.  Aha!  It seems when they said “room,” they actually meant… “room!”  They asked when could they come and see our room?  I answered, “Daily!”

I am an idiot.  (Ross wants me to cross that out.)  Now I have to find a way to explain that our house is not really our house, but our friends’ house.  As much as I wanted to have them all over for a tea party, I simply cannot do that in someone else’s home.  <sigh>  Not sure how I’m going to get out of this one!

That’s it for today!

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Hindi Hazards

In just a few short weeks, we’ve had our fair share of interesting experiences as we practice Hindi with perfect strangers.  With no comment and in no particular order, here are some typical conversations we’ve had.  (All of the following conversations, unless where otherwise noted, occurred in Hindi.)

Ross

Namaste! I am learning Hindi.  I want to learn to speak very well, but so far I have only learned a little.

Man in the Ironing Shop

Go to school. 

Ross

Namaste! How are you?

Security Guard Carrying Massive Rifle

Namaste! (rattles off at high speed with a large grin.  As he prattles on, smiling widely, he grasps us both by the hands in a hearty handshake.  Massive Rifle waves around wildly.)

Ross

Uh…Well, I’ll be going now.

Mindy

Namaste!  How are you? I’m learning Hindi.

Lady in a Nice Dress

(in English) Well, isn’t that nice.

Mindy

(persisting in Hindi) I want to learn to speak very well, but so far I have only learned a little.

Lady

(persisting in English) Well, you will do just fine.  Practice a little every day.  Where are you from?

Mindy

(exasperated, in Hindi)  I am from America.  My name is Mindy.  This is my husband.

Lady

(smiling still, in English)  Best luck to you.  Have a nice day.

Mindy

(in Hindi to the last) See you later.

Ross

Will you help me learn Hindi?  What is this (pointing to the wire coming out of an A/C unit) called?

Electrician

(slowly, enunciating)  Wires.

Ross

Yes, but in Hindi?

Electrician

Wires.

Ross

And… what is this called?

Electrician

(pointing to each item and carefully pronouncing) Sock-et.  Co-ver.  Switch.  Cable.

Ross

Thank you for your help.

Mindy

(to two children in the park) I’m learning Hindi.  Will you help me?  (The girls nod excitedly.)  Okay, what is this (points to her shawl) called?

Girls

Dupatta.

Mindy

Dupatta.

Girls

No, no.  Dupatta.

Mindy

Dupatta?

Girls

(laughing wildly) No! Dupatta!

Mindy

Dupatta!  (Amidst much giggling, this went on for quite awhile.)

And so the adventures continue!  Of course, they’ve really only just begun!

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Learning more than language…

We are just finishing two weeks of India-living… and our first week of Hindi-learning.  As if acquiring all new verbs, adjectives and nouns is not a big enough bite to chew on, it is becoming quite obvious that living here in Chandigarh is going to demand that we learn many other lessons as well!

Like weather patterns.  We are learning which parts of the day merely leave you drenched with sweat… and during which parts of the day an outdoor excursion could lead you to your grave!   Lesson learned: we’re doing our “at home studying” during the oh-so-hot afternoon hours, where at least we can keep out of the sun.

And cooking.  After almost a year of not cooking regularly, I am again the primary chef for our household… in a kitchen I do not know, furnished with gadgets I do not know.  Do I use filtered water or amoeba water (from the tap) for this?  Do I have to make traditional chai for our friend or is milk tea okay?  When there is a floating blob of ants the size of a bouncy ball in our tea kettle, do I scream or just shudder and dump it out?  Ross daily finds me frozen mid-action in the kitchen, unsure of what to do next.  My old habits are no good – new ones must be invented!

And getting around town.  We require ourselves to stay on foot for language practice; but for errands and shopping we have purchased bicycles.  Not just any bikes… real, bona fide Indian bicycles… the ones with the huge sturdy frames, the high handle-bars, and the old-fashioned bells (which is my favorite part.)  Actually, my favorite part is the color: mine is hot (and I do mean “hot”) pink!  Hot pink bike with a hot pink basket!  Wow… I stop traffic with that thing…

At least I WISH I could stop traffic with it.  See, bikes are slower than any other wheeled form of transportation, so fitting in with the flow of traffic can be a challenge.  It takes much concentration….

… which is difficult when one is riding in a skirt!  My first day I rode the bike wearing a flowing skirt… which I continually had to keep from blowing up and exposing my kneecaps, which would be scandalous!   A bit later, when my seat started tilting backwards, I decided I’d better end the ride.  Too many things to think about while trying to protect my life on these Indian roads!  (Still waiting on the tailor to make clothes that fit properly, so I can make the switch from skirts to Indian saalwar kameez!)

We’re learning about maids, too.  We have one, or at least the couple we are house-sitting for has one.  She comes every day to do the toilets and floors.  She is lovely; we practice our Hindi with her.  So far she has come six days… at six totally different times!  Strangely enough, we happen to actually been at home every single time.  Guessing this luck wouldn’t last, we tried today to communicate to her a bit of our schedule, so she would know when we are gone.  Ross patiently used is few Hindi words to say; “Monday… Wednesday… Friday… 10 o’clock… we leave.”  And something to the effect of “morning is better.”  We just want to make sure she comes early enough not to miss us when we leave for our Hindi lesson!  Satisfied that we had done well, we sat back and admired our communication accomplishment.  Then she asked, “Friday… you will leave.  How many days will you be gone?”  Yikes.  Back to the Hindi lessons!

I’ve only brushed the surface.  Ross reminds me when I fall into bed exhausted each night… at 9:00 p.m…. just how demanding it can be to adjust to doing “normal life” in another culture… while learning a language, too!  Thankfully we can be certain that “His grace is sufficient” and “His power is perfected in weakness.”  We’re also glad that “with God, all things are possible!”

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