He starts off with a quote from psychologist Viktor Frankl: “When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.”
Any spouse of a working expatriate knows this is true.
You’ll distract yourself with shopping, eating, or vegging out in front of a TV or computer — all because you’re not only uncomfortable, you feel like you don’t have a purpose anymore.
There was one instance when Michael flew back to the US for a week while I stayed behind in Delhi. Absolute worst week of my life. Without Michael there, the full weight of my lack of purpose in Delhi hit me like a ton of bricks. Who did I get up for every morning? Who did I do dishes for? Who did I wash and iron clothes for? What was I doing in Delhi?
Who needed me in that big, chaotic, foreign city?
I remember when Michael finally got back to the apartment, all I could do was cry. Some of it was because I missed him, but most of it was out of desperate awareness that without Michael, I truly had no reason to be in India. NOT a healthy realization to have.
And it triggered a season of depression and insomnia that I have not experienced before or since.
Obviously I learned A TON from that experience, but the most important lesson was my need to intentionally seek out opportunities to express my talents and skills.
So after we moved back to the States I literally craved creative opportunities. It felt like the artistic part of me had been stifled for a year and a half and I was hungry for new and challenging things to put my hands to.
So I made stuff:
An “Exploding Box” of pictures celebrating five years of marriage.
Creating a Purpose | Housewife Insights ashleycrist.com
And you know what? I felt alive. I felt myself growing. I felt like I mattered. I felt like I had something to offer that was unique and represented a little bit of who I am.
I don’t think it’s just because I’m a “creative” or “artsy” person. I think e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e is born with a need to build, imagine, and create. It’s empowering to be able to make something beautiful or useful.
And it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, perfection is a really lousy and suffocating goal to force on yourself. (And trust me, I am a type-a, anal retentive perfectionist, so I know what it’s like to make excuses that you’re not good enough to try something new because you’re scared to try and fail.)
Every single project I have completed so far has at least one or two mistakes. Unless it was something I knew would bug the absolute living daylights out of me every time I looked at it, I just moved on. I did not allow myself to equate mistakes with failing.
I want to excel at whatever I try, but sometimes the most excellent goal to have is to simply finish what you started and enjoy the process of learning something new.
I have no idea what our lives will look like once we’re living in Mexico City (which is totally happening and a little scary), but I at least feel better about finding ways to add value during our time there.
I recently joined a knitting group for expat women that meets twice a month in the D.F. area, so I’m excited about that. The verdict is still out on bringing the miter saw, but I do know they have Home Depot in the city. Either way, it sounds like I’ll still be able to find all sorts of creative trouble to get into during round two of living abroad. 🙂
I can’t believe it, this time next month, we’ll have been home for a whole year!
After we moved home from India, a lot of people told us they just couldn’t imagine packing everything up, living in a developing country for a year and a half, eventually coming back and spending the next couple months staying in hotels, temporary apartments or crashing at a friend’s place until they could move into their own apartment again.
When I stop and look back at that season I’m amazed that I (we) did all that too. I couldn’t feel or see it then, but I know grace had everything to do with our ability to handle so many changes in such a short period of time.
I once talked with a friend of mine about how intimidating having kids seems. I told her I was scared of my own selfishness and even inability to love them all the time. But she replied, “You know what though, there’s always enough grace. You don’t think you have it now, but you just have to learn to trust that God’s grace is always going to be there for you to tap into in the midst of the late nights and temper tantrums. You don’t think it will be there, but when you need it, it WILL be there.”
I think that’s so true for everything. Whatever situation comes your way, whether that’s living in a foreign country or having kids, grace is already there for you to access in those difficult moments.
As I’ve processed my [false] guilt over all the things I didn’t do in India, one of the things I’ve told myself (and others) is: “Yeah, I didn’t really excel at living in Delhi, but it’s ok because God just didn’t give me grace for that place, so I’m off the hook.” Rather than attacking the lie head-on that I needed to be more or do more, I just put another band-aid on the pain and dismissed it as simply not having a special India-grace-gifting. I still wasn’t letting myself believe that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t fail to begin with and there was no condemnation coming from His side.
There WAS grace for India, even though at the time performance kept telling me, “You’re not doing enough. You should be doing more. You’re doing a bad job. You’re disappointing God. You’re being a bad Christian. You’re failing as a wife. You should be stronger.” The loud, harsh voice of performance made it hard to hear the still, quiet voice of grace.
God doesn’t play by our rules or judge us by our own standards. His grace is not given based on someone’s abilities or aptitude. I still believe that some people definitely have more grace, either naturally or supernaturally, for India. I don’t know why that is, but I know it isn’t because certain people are “better” than others.
We have a couple of friends who have spent the past ten years living in Delhi. And when I say living, I mean that in the middle of paying bills and getting groceries, they’re running a business, shepherding a community of young Christians and trying to adopt a little girl. Another couple of friends who arrived in India around the same time as Michael and I, have no plans to return home either. They’re in the process of putting their roots down deep despite all the day-to-day challenges living in a foreign culture presents.
Both of these families count the cost of living in India every single day. They’re fully there and fully experiencing every bit of India that Michael and I did, and sometimes it’s still hard for me to not wonder at how in the world they’re doing it!
But it’s all relative right? While I’m busy being amazed by (…and blessing and thanking and admiring) their commitments to India, someone else is looking at me and wondering how in the world I did it.
So really, at the end of the day, there’s no use in comparing our lives to those around us and beating ourselves up.
To each a portion has been given, and He will always give you the grace (ability) to steward it well.
In my other post, I talked mostly about our boundaries (laws) with our staff and it’s relationship to Kingdom truths Jesus talked about in the New Testament. Here are some other ways having domestic help has made the Word and Kingdom come to life for me.
1. Being financially generous with your staff.
During the Diwali it’s customary to give your staff a bonus that’s the equivalent of a month’s salary. But you can give more or less depending on your situation or your staff’s performance. When Michael and I were thinking about how much to give, we decided that for most of our staff we would double their salaries for both Diwali and Christmas.
But when it came to our trash lady, I felt like giving her more than just double her regular month’s salary. She only gets paid a hundred rupees a month (that’s two US dollars every month to come upstairs everyday and haul away our garbage). I felt like it wouldn’t exactly be hurting our pocket books to give her more than just a doubled salary bonus.
But Michael brought up the point that if our driver or chowkidars (guards) found out that we gave the trash lady an amount that was proportionally more than theirs, they might get offended (which was a legitimate concern because they probably would found out about it one way or another). So we had to consider if it was ok to still give our trash lady a little more, even if that meant offending our higher-paid staff.
In the end we agreed that it was worth the risk, and in the process realized we were walking out a real-life version of an example Jesus gives in Matthew:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of an estate who went out in the morning along with the dawn to hire workmen for his vineyard.
After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour (nine o’clock), he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; And he said to them, You go also into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will pay you. And they went. He went out again about the sixth hour (noon), and the ninth hour (three o’clock) he did the same. And about the eleventh hour (five o’clock) he went out and found still others standing around, and said to them, Why do you stand here idle all day? They answered him, Because nobody has hired us. He told them, You go out into the vineyard also and you will get whatever is just and fair.
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, Call the workmen and pay them their wages, beginning with the last and ending with the first. And those who had been hired at the eleventh hour (five o’clock) came and received a denarius each. Now when the first came, they supposed they would get more, but each of them also received a denarius. And when they received it, they grumbled at the owner of the estate, Saying, These [men] who came last worked no more than an hour, and yet you have made them rank with us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.
But he answered one of them, Friend, I am doing you no injustice. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this man hired last the same as I give to you. Am I not permitted to do what I choose with what is mine? [Or do you begrudge my being generous?] Is your eye evil because I am good? So those who [now] are last will be first [then], and those who [now] are first will be last [then]. For many are called, but few chosen.” (Mt. 20:1-16)
In many ways our driver would be considered first in our lives for all the long hours he works for us. He’s there first thing in the morning and works into the evening until we’re finally done for the day.
Meanwhile, we hardly ever interact with our trash lady and the amount of labor she does for us is very little. She comes by in the morning, picks up the trash and goes. But in many ways she’s worthy of a greater paycheck when you consider what she’s doing for a living and how unsanitary it could be if she never collected the garbage.
“And those [parts] of the body which we consider rather ignoble are [the very parts] which we invest with additional honor, and our unseemly parts and those unsuitable for exposure are treated with seemliness (modesty and decorum) which our more presentable parts do not require.” (1 Cor. 12:23-24)
2. Working only by way of eye-service.
“Servants (slaves), be obedient to those who are your physical masters, having respect for them and eager concern to please them, in singleness of motive and with all your heart, as [service] to Christ [Himself]— Not in the way of eye-service [as if they were watching you] and only to please men, but as servants (slaves) of Christ, doing the will of God heartily and with your whole soul; Rendering service readily with goodwill, as to the Lord and not to men, Knowing that for whatever good anyone does, he will receive his reward from the Lord, whether he is slave or free.” (Eph 6:5-8)
Most of the time when we come home late, we find our chowkidar inside his booth, legs propped up, head laid back on a pillow and snoring. Technically we could have him fired for sleeping on the job, but there isn’t a night-watch in the city who doesn’t fall asleep as soon as he knows his employer won’t be there to catch him.
By contrast, my maid is an incredibly hard worker — regardless if I’m there supervising her or not. Before I hired her, I asked our cultural trainer how many hours a maid usually works. She said a maid should work around eight hours a day, six days a week. When I asked her if she really thought it would take her eight hours everyday to clean our apartment, her response was, “She will find ways to fill the time.” Meaning, she’ll clean a little here and there but mostly piddle around as long as I’m not giving her things to do.
So when I finally hired my maid, I didn’t set specific hours. I simply told her what I expected her to do, and if it took four hours, well then it’s four hours of honest labor and not an eight hour day with four hours of wasting time. She doesn’t just “fill the time.” In fact, much of the time, she goes above and beyond what I ask her to do.
Recently I decided to cut back on how many days she was coming out because it really wasn’t necessary to have her out everyday. I still wanted to pay her the same amount, so when I talked to her about keeping her salary the same even though she would be working less, she started to cry. It reminded me of Paul describing a good servant as one who has an “eager concern to please [their master], in singleness of motive and with all [their] heart.”
For my maid, it’s not just about fooling me into thinking she’s a hard worker. She takes pride in her work and works hard because that is the right thing to do, not just just when I’m looking to impress me.
I wonder though… how often do I maintain the same posture of working earnestly and out of love for Lord, rather than only when I think someone’s watching?
3. Wicked Servants and Forgiveness.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a human king who wished to settle accounts with his attendants. When he began the accounting, one was brought to him who owed him 10,000 talents [probably about $10,000,000], And because he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and his children and everything that he possessed, and payment to be made.So the attendant fell on his knees, begging him, Have patience with me and I will pay you everything. And his master’s heart was moved with compassion, and he released him and forgave him [cancelling] the debt.
But that same attendant, as he went out, found one of his fellow attendants who owed him a hundred denarii [about twenty dollars]; and he caught him by the throat and said, Pay what you owe! So his fellow attendant fell down and begged him earnestly, Give me time, and I will pay you all! But he was unwilling, and he went out and had him put in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow attendants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and told everything that had taken place to their master.
Then his master called him and said to him, You contemptible and wicked attendant! I forgave and cancelled all that [great] debt of yours because you begged me to. And should you not have had pity and mercy on your fellow attendant, as I had pity and mercy on you. And in wrath his master turned him over to the torturers (the jailers), till he should pay all that he owed. So also My heavenly Father will deal with every one of you if you do not freely forgive your brother from your heart his offenses.” (Mt. 18:23-35)
We had a situation with some of our staff once that required our involvement. One morning the chowkidar, U.D., came up and rang the doorbell. I speak very little Hindi and he speaks even less English, so in order for us to communicate I needed my maid to translate. But even with her there, there was still a lot that was either confused or lost in translation.
At the time, this is what I understood: Basically U.D. was concerned that a new driver driver downstairs was going to have him fired for not loaning him money to go buy liquor. He told me that this driver was known for getting other people fired and would try to lie about U.D. to us or the neighbors.
I assumed he was talking about some new driver of our neighbor’s, so I was pretty angry when I heard that that he was not only drinking on the job, but that he was a threatening one of our guards over beer money. Another reason it made me so angry was because, without contacting us or our permission, those same neighbors fired one of our other guards 6 months earlier because he wouldn’t carry their luggage for them upstairs. So I was already not happy with them about that, but the fact that their new driver was harassing another one of our guards set me over the edge.
U.D. continued and said that this new driver would get “shouty” and belligerent towards everyone downstairs in the evenings. And this morning, after supposedly having another one of our chowkidars fired, he brought over a friend of his to replace the other chowkidar.
At the end of this conversation, my heart was torn. I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure this man did not loose his job. It was so upsetting that even my maid was in tears.
So, you can imagine how I felt when I found out he was lying about 90% of the whole thing.
First of all, he wasn’t talking about the neighbor’s driver. He was talking about OUR driver. Secondly, our driver doesn’t drink on the job. Period. He admitted that he does drink at home, but what do I care about that? He’s off work, he can do whatever he wants. Thirdly, he wasn’t even around when the most recent chowkidar was removed from his post, so how could he have lied about him and had him fired? And lastly, the most recent chowkidar was removed from his post because he didn’t show up to work for a month! He abandoned his job — he wasn’t fired! Heck, I wish I could have fired him!
And to top it all off, this same chowkidar who stopped showing up for work FOR A MONTH, also just so happened to be a distant relative of U.D.. So now it’s not about poor defenseless U.D. trying to protect himself from our belligerent and scheming driver — no, it’s much more petty than that! It’s about U.D. wanting to get revenge because he doesn’t like the fact that his distant relative is being replaced. Are we being waited on by a bunch of teenagers or what? Grow up guys!
I was so mad that by the end of all of it, that I seriously debated whether or not to just go ahead and fire U.D. He unnecessarily put our driver’s livelihood and reputation in danger to protect his own interests. If he had simply come to us in honesty, we would have addressed his concerns and the issue could have been resolved right there on the spot.
I’m not saying I experienced a “righteous anger” towards U.D. when I found out he had lied about our driver, but I can still imagine the ferocious anger of the Lord when He’s forgiven us of all the debt we owed Him and we don’t do the same for our fellow man when the debt we are owed is almost inconsequential by comparison.
So we didn’t end up firing U.D. (or throwing him in jail to be beaten, as the parable goes). We forgave him and kept him in our employment. Which meant that he had to sort things out with our driver – and that eventually brought reconciliation between the two of them. Reconciliation can only happen after there’s forgiveness, but it’s one of the most beautiful things a human heart can experience.
We all report to (S)omeone, and we’re all held accountable to that higher authority. In the end, the offense U.D. made was worthy of the same amount of forgiveness as what God showed me — even when the debt I owed God was beyond what I could ever hope to pay. And more than that, this “wicked servant” was able to experience reconciliation with his fellow man and us. “
“But all things are from God, Who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to Himself [received us into favor, brought us into harmony with Himself] and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation [that by word and deed we might aim to bring others into harmony with Him]. It was God [personally present] in Christ, reconciling and restoring the world to favor with Himself, not counting up and holding against [men] their trespasses [but cancelling them], and committing to us the message of reconciliation (of the restoration to favor). So we are Christ’s ambassadors, God making His appeal as it were through us.” (2 Cor 5:18-20)
We’re moving back home in less than three weeks. In less than three weeks… Seems hard to believe.
While we’ve lived in Delhi, we have intentionally avoided travelling very much inside of India. We know there are a lot of people who have a higher tolerance (or call it grace) for this place, and some who even love it. But Michael and I are not those people, so whenever we’ve had an opportunity to get out of the country, we’ve taken it. Of the ten cities we have visited since we moved here, only two of them have been in India. (1. Mussorie (India), 2. Phuket (Thailand), 3. Rome (Italy), 4. Naples (Italy), 5. San Diego (US), 6. Singapore, 7. Chiang Mai (Thailand), 8. Madrid (Spain), 9. Toledo (Spain), 10. Jaipur (India))
But after my last visit to the US and getting back into Delhi, we wanted to visit one more place in India before coming home and so we booked a trip to Goa.
Whenever Michael and I plan to go somewhere we try to think about what kind of trip we want it to be. Do we want to rest? Do we want to do a lot of sight-seeing? Or do we want to do a really awesome mixture of both? But for some reason, whether we were in Mussorie, Agra, or Jaipur, we have always struggled to find a balance between relaxing and enjoying the change in scenery.
I think it has something to do with the constant mesh of positive and negative in India. Any other place we’ve been, the “undesirable” things are hidden. You know that they’re still there, but since you can’t see them, you just forget about them and it’s easy to enjoy your time. But in India it’s all out in the open. You can tower over the city in a 5-star hotel and be looking down at a slum right next door. The good and the bad live side by side together.
We walked everywhere while we were in Goa. To get to the beach from our hotel, we had to walk little ways through town. Every day we passed these guys who sat idly on the wall of a guest house:
Up ahead we’d walk through the smoke of someone’s burning trash or something. Further on we’d pass this woman holding her baby, squatting along the road behind next to a laid out blue tarp with an assortment of fruit:
“Heeellloh, madam, come and have a look. Try my watermelon!”
When we reached the main road that runs through town, we would again be approached by taxi wallas as we waited for a gap in the traffic of mopeds, bicycles, buses, cars, dogs and cows.
We’d cross safely and continue walking down another street lined with vendors on either side the rest of the way to the beach. Every minute or so a water truck or two-wheeler came whizzing past and honked so that we would have to quickly move over:
“Yes, what’s your price?”
“This way madame, just come inside my shop.”
“Yes, this way.”
“Looking for nice quality pashminas?”
“Come and have a look my friend!”
Trailing behind a couple of cows the rest of the way, we see this snake charmer who, after watching him “charm” some unlucky de-fanged cobra, tried taking us for a mere seven hundred rupees (that’s about fourteen US dollars). He’s settled instead for a hundred.
After all that, we’d make it to Candolim beach.
Candolim isn’t as busy or popular as Calangute, but it still attracts a decent-sized crowd.
Wednesday morning, we were making this same walk to the beach, except in addition to the usual routine of shop hawkers and taxi wallas, we were greeted by children armed with bags of colored powders. When they saw the two of us headed in the their direction they all started shouting and coming towards us: “Happy Holi!!! Happy Holi!!” And never missing an opportunity to make a rupee or two they start in with the bribes: “Ten rupees, or color! Ten rupees or you color!”
Awh, what the heck.
So the we spent the rest of the morning sporting our “beards of many colors” in pink, yellow, purple and green. (And yes, that was a nerdy biblical reference to Joseph’s coat of many colors).
After a good scrubbing with castor oil and soap later on, we went out to dinner. In the middle of enjoying fried prawns, steak and tandoori chicken, we sat back and watched a cow attempt to come inside the front door of the restaurant. This went on for a while until he had enough of being yelled at and hit with a switch.
It was another moment where Michael and I just looked at each other and said, “Only in India!” I mean really.. How many places can you be enjoying shrimp and steak and get interrupted by waiters shouting to shoo away some garbage-eating cow?
The second night in Goa, I had a craving for something sweet so we stopped by the hotel buffet downstairs. It was expensive, but we agreed to only do it once and to at least eat enough desserts to make it worth our while. I was going back up for a second helping of tiramisu when out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. Scurrying across the table, there he was: a cock roach.
Here we are, staying in a four star hotel and I’m staring down at a cock roach twitching his little antennae around in between the platter of orange sponge cakes and bowl of gulab jamun. I couldn’t decide if I was more disgusted or disappointed. The gulab jamun was so good. Almost worth still going for it and getting another helping. But, I’ve always had a weak stomach when it comes to stuff like that…
I had trouble enjoying the free breakfast buffet the following morning too… Especially after watching a waiter wave one of those tennis racket bug-zappers directly over the food and visualizing the charred remains of fruit flies and gnats pepper the chocolate croissants.
In India, it’s all out there in the open: the rich and the poor, the good and the bad, the clean and the disgusting, the honest and the dishonest. There is no compartmentalizing your positive experiences into one neat little box and then putting your negative experiences into another box. Everything gets thrown into the mix and you can’t separate the end result. You just have to take it or leave it for what it is.
Incredibly, in less than three weeks this stranger than fiction story will come to an end… And as for this last trip to Goa, it seems like a the perfect way to summarize our good and bad, up and down, forwards and backwards time in India!
There are a lot of things about Delhi that remind me of stories from the bible, so I’ve been thinking it would be really neat to write about them over the course of several posts.
One of the many life-lessons Michael and I faced shortly after we moved to Delhi had to do with setting up proper boundaries with our domestic staff. We learned that despite what our American instincts tell us, it’s confusing and inappropriate to “buddy up” and give our staff total freedom to do whatever they want.
No matter how much we value them and all they do for us, we had to clearly define that our “staff” were “staff” and not “friends”. At the end of the day it’s a business relationship with rules and restrictions.
They will never be adopted into our family nor can they take part in inheriting our estate or possessions. My maid cannot help herself to the food in my cabinets whenever she wants and our driver has to ask us permission before he takes the car somewhere by himself.
We don’t tell them our plans or keep them updated on everything that’s going on in our lives. And we definitely don’t share our intimate secrets or our heart’s desires with them.
(And just a side note: Our home would be considered a good place to work. These boundaries actually create a healthy and safe environment for everyone because our staff knows we’ll never take advantage of them and they honor that by not taking advantage of us. With that said, unfortunately our home does not reflect or even come close to comparing to the working conditions of most domestic help in this country.)
Michael and I were talking about these boundaries and he shared how after having our own domestic staff, he could really understand what Jesus meant when he said to his disciples at the last supper: “I do not call you servants (slaves) any longer, for the servant does not know what his master is doing (working out). But I have called you My friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from My Father. [I have revealed to you everything that I have learned from Him.]” (Jn 15:15)
Our staff is not abused or mistreated by any stretch of the imagination, and yet there will always be a barrier there that prevents us from fully connecting with them. But when it comes to our relationship with God, Jesus ripped that barrier in half the night before he was crucified. Everything Jesus has access to, we also have access to. We’re no longer bound by the law, but have gained total and absolute freedom in Christ.
Ever believer in Christ has been brought in from living out in the servants quarters, to sleeping inside the house. We are partakers of His very nature and inheritance, which by right should only goto Jesus as the true heir. But He says: “No, you’re not just here to serve me. You’re my brothers and my sisters and I want you written into the Will of the Father. The authority I have as a Son in my Father’s house, I give to you also. Whatever you ask for in my name will be done for you.”
What’s even more astounding is that Jesus made this all possible despite us being the laziest and most dishonest bunch of servants. We had been such awful servants in fact, that we weren’t even fit for service anymore. But what the law failed to produce in us, Jesus fulfilled.
In our experience, we have had a few of what I would call “unruly” drivers, and it was enough for us to have them fired or removed from our service. But even now, though I consider our staff to be very capable and good people, it’s still a HUGE stretch to say that I’d lay down my life to cover their debts or offenses against me, and then take it a notch further by giving them all the same rights I have as an heir!
But what a wonder when we look at the matter and see that that’s the exact thing that Jesus has done for us! And how neat is it that it’s only because we live in a place where servants are so commonplace that we have a first hand experience of that truth?
I’ve said it before, Delhi is no different than any other big city – except that it’s in India.
It has all the same petty theft, traffic, pollution, and impolite attitudes that you’d find in New York City, L.A., or London – with a spicy, head-bobbling, chaotic twist.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in Delhi, then it’s safe to say you’ve seen it all: Bentley’s rolling through the capitol’s streets, naked children washing themselves in a puddle of rain water, cows grazing through piles of garbage, construction workers standing on bamboo scaffolds precariously affixed to unfinished buildings…
It’s such a bewildering place that in order for your brain to process everything it’s taking in, it can only being by making generalizations.
So the first time you get ripped off by a rickshaw walla, your brain automatically says, “All rickshaw drivers must be cheats”. Or when you get cut in line at the store, you think, “All Indians are cutters.”
Right or wrong, at the time, that was the easiest way for your brain to comprehend what in the world was happening. And it’s those first quick and over-simplified assumptions that slowly begin to feed your overall perception of the culture.
But to make a generalization in the first place means you have to be able to distinguish a commonality or obvious pattern over time.
And commonalities in Delhi are like the mythical unicorns of sociology. They’re elusive and rare.
So the moment you think you’ve finally reached the bottom of the matter and decide that, yes, all rickshaw drivers are indeed scam artists, you have a freak occasion that flips that generalization upside down on it’s head.
This is extremely rare, but it does happen: You might be haggling with a rickshaw walla who comes right out and tells you you’re offering him too much.
It could be the sum your offering him is so outrageous that even he couldn’t allow himself to take you for that amount of money.
That’s when your brain explodes.
You think: What the…? But you guys are all supposed to be sneaking, hustling, scheming, cheaters that are only after my money because I’m a “whitie”.
So then it’s like you want to suddenly hug this greasy, lice-ridden man and get his number and take him home to be your personal rickshaw driver for always.
You get in the rickshaw, riding the high that you found the one and only honest rickshaw driver in all of Delhi.
The sun is suddenly shining a little brighter. The sky is a little bluer.
Then you get to your destination, pull out your rupees to pay him, and as you’re climbing out of the rickshaw, he reaches out to grab your leg or breast inappropriately (you can never be sure).
Now this man you were ready to let sleep on your couch not 20 minutes ago, you want to thoroughly kick in the stomach.
As the Lonely Planet Guide calls it: The “schizophrenic capitol” of India.
One minute your heart is breaking as you watch poor, filthy, naked children playing in the street. The next minute it’s appalled because those same children are swarming you, digging their hands into your pockets trying to steal whatever they can get.
For every step forward it feels like you take 10 steps back. Just when I think I have this place figured out, it bowls me another curve ball. (“Bowling”, by the way, is cricket terminology for all you Americans out there.)
So I’ve learned to laugh.
Sometimes it’s out of incredulity, sometimes it’s so I don’t cry, and sometimes it’s because I genuinely find the situation funny.
But by trying to find the humor here, I’ve slowly been able to move past the generalization phase of my culture shock and start viewing my interactions with people and situations and their own specific instances.
I’ll never fully “get” India, and it will always leave me feeling dazed and confused, but I don’t have to let the negative things overshadow the positive things.
Delhi isn’t a city that asks to be understood as much as it simply asks to be experienced – no matter how mind-boggling (or is that head-bobbiling?) things may get.
The five-day “Festival of Lights”, as it’s otherwise known, is the most important holiday of the year for many Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.
There’s as much anticipation built up over over this time of year as Christmas and New Years combined in the US. All the same displays of gift giving, sweets, decorating and fireworks are practiced by Indians all over the country (if not at extravagant levels by Western standards).
Wikipedia explains the celebration of “Deepvali”:
“Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama, along with Sita and Lakshmana, from his 14-year-long exile and vanquishing the demon-king Ravana. In joyous celebration of the return of their king, the people of Ayodhya, the Capital of Rama, illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas and by bursting firecrackers.”
While I disagree with the Hindu belief system as a whole, I can still honor the shared desire to see good overcome evil.
It’s as Paul describes in his letter to the Romans: “Your personal convictions [on such matters]—exercise [them] as in God’s presence, keeping them to yourself [striving only to know the truth and obey His will]. Blessed (happy, to be envied) is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves [who does not convict himself by what he chooses to do].” (Rm 14:22)
For now, Michael and I can at least use the opportunity to give even more generously to our house staff and enjoy the seasonal excitement among everyone here in Delhi.
We’ll be in Chiang Mai this year for Diwali, but here is a video we took of last year’s celebrations:
“The worth of any journey can always be measured by the difficulties encountered along the way.” A.W. Tozer
Today Michael and I have officially made it one whole year in India.
It’s still hard for me to believe that we live here. We actually live here. We’ve learned so much in the past year: everything from how to hail down a rickshaw walla to how to navigate through one of Delhi’s busy outdoor markets.
Even the mundane things like finding the best places to buy produce, hiring a garbage man, or getting DSL installed have all been huge learning experiences.
Sometimes culture shock has gotten the best of us and we’ve had a hard time processing this complex place known as India. But it’s been an incredible experience. An incredibly frustrating experience at times, but still, an experience.
We have another six months to go before Michael’s assignment is completed. While I think we’ll be ready to move on, I know that a piece of my heart will be left here in India.
When Jacob wrestled with the angel, the angel touched his hip and Jacob walked away limping for the rest of his life. He was forever impacted and changed by that moment. In the same way, we have been deeply impacted by the past year here in Delhi.
We have wrestled with India and India has touched our hips. And when we finally leave this place we’re going to walk differently than we did before we came. It’s changed our perspectives, shown us our need, and most importantly, shown us more about the nature of God.
The following videos are a presentation given to international students at Columbian Business School. Michael and I watched it over the weekend and had some good laughs. Even though this video addresses culture shock within an American university context, we could still totally relate to what this student went through.
So if you’ve ever wondered if other people experience culture shock in the U.S., or what culture shock is like, check these videos out!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! I apologize for how long it’s been since my last post. It’s been quite an experience moving into our apartment!
We spent our first night in our apartment December 16th and it’s been a slow process getting settled in since then. If we could say anything about it, we would sum it up as one huge learning curve in expectations.
I’ll start with the cleaning. Everything is dirty. Everything. All the time. And for those of you who know me, you know I like a clean, well-kept home. So this has been my first reality check.
Michael took time off from work for my birthday and Christmas, but we had no idea we would be spending that entire time cleaning. I mean, I realize when you move into a new place there is always some cleaning to be done, but this reaches a whole other level.
I’ll acknowledge that the amount of cleaning was so surprising partly because our apartment is quite large compared to what we had in the U.S. We lived in a 800-something square foot apartment back in Kansas. Upgrade that to a 2800-something square foot apartment and my cleaning regiment just increased by nearly four times.
But the bigger issue is that we live in a different environment now. Suburban America is very clean with virtually no pollution (I know, I know, you may think you have pollution, but trust me, you don’t). The air quality in Delhi, on the other hand, is very poor. There are a number of reasons why, but the result is that all countertops and basically anything else with an exposed surface also has to be dusted on a daily basis. That includes the light switches, outlets, doors, plants, or anything else we leave out uncovered. Even our groceries must be wiped down before we put them away. Everything is coated in dust everywhere you go.
The bottoms of my slippers at about the half-day mark
Delhi is also a very dirty place – as in literal dirt is everywhere. It gets on your clothes, your linens, your walls – everything. And because of that, our floors, which are entirely marble – with the exception of the laminate wood flooring in our master bedroom – requires daily mopping. And even though they may be mopped every morning, by the end of the day our slippers and socks are entirely black with dirt.
The bathrooms alone are a day-long job. We were told by one of our neighbors that he believes our apartment had been vacant somewhere around two years. And it was probably during that time that the hard water stains we have found in the bathrooms accumulated.
The living room balcony
Of course the lack of drinkable water is probably one of the more notorious problems plaguing India, but the poor water quality is also hard on marble and other home fixtures.
Marble on average costs about $1-$3 a square foot in India, so it’s the flooring of choice in most homes. It has a cool surface that makes it great for the sustained 120°F degree temperatures in Delhi – but it’s easily etched and damaged by acid or calcium build-up from water. Unfortunately I’ve had to resort to using harsh chemicals to remove the stains in the bathrooms, which in turn has taken away the polish of the marble. But, I see that as a small price to pay in order to have clean bathrooms.
So the initial cleaning of our apartment has been an incredible task (and one that is still not complete). But whatever problems existed before didn’t suddenly stop with our arrival either…
The second part of this whole moving-in process involves (and apparently will continue to involve) having various plumbing and electrical work done. I can count on one hand the amount of days we’ve gone without a repairman or representative from LG or Whirlpool or Daikin or Venus in our apartment. There is constantly someone working on a geyser (or what’s officially known as a storage water heater), installing something, fixing leaks, tinkering with the electrical wiring, replacing an appliance or fixture, or more recently moving furniture into our apartment.
Booze I found hidden under one of
the bathroom sinks
And unfortunately, they usually don’t clean up after they’ve “completed” a job. We have been told that this might be due to the “nanny culture” that exists here. Even if you weren’t affluent enough to have an Ayah as a child, you still had a mother or older sister who took on the task of cleaning up after you. So while it seems disrespectful (and oh believe me, I really struggle on this note), it simply does not even enter their mind that they should be responsible for the mess they make.
So there are almost always wet bootprints randomly left throughout the halls and rooms. If they’ve been working on a geyser, there are usually puddles of standing water that need to be squeegeed into a drain. When they installed the curtain tracks, they obviously needed to drill holes in the wall to mount the rods – but they didn’t bother to sweep up the piles of wood and drywall all over the floor. Same story when the DSL was installed.
Geyser explosion? Not to worry!
Ashley to the rescue!
Recently the pipe exiting the geyser in the kitchen burst from the wall, spewing gallons (liters, if you please) of water all over our dishwasher and microwave. In a matter of seconds we had water running under the kitchen door and out into the hallway coming towards the bedrooms and dining room. And if once wasn’t enough, it happened again the following morning 5 minutes after the plumber had “fixed” the problem and left.
Throw into the mix communication barriers, incomplete or poor quality workmanship, people not arriving when they say they will, and you have your work cut out for you. Not to mention, nothing is just a quick fix. At any given time, there are at least four people involved in fixing a problem – and if they can shift responsibility to another party, they usually will. It all takes hours and multiple trips to the market so the repairmen can go to get “more parts”.
You put the pipe IN the hole. Simple,
And since you never know when a repairman will return, it makes it nearly impossible to plan to goto the store or leave the apartment. (Once again, this seems to be a symptom of the “nanny culture”. Most people expect that even if the owners are not home, there will still be a household manager, or at the very least a housekeeper available to receive visitors or repairmen.)
So despite the fact we’ve been here since October, it just now feels like we’re getting our feet wet (no pun intended!).
There are some mornings when we wake up, groan and say to ourselves: “I am sooo not in the mood for India today!” But looking at the big picture and not fixating on all the little things going wrong make a big difference. (All that talk about this being an investment and not just an experience is really hitting home.)
Our time here will be what we make it. Being intentional with taking our troubles to Jesus in prayer and letting His grace rule our lives is the only way, as far as I can see, to avoid becoming bitter or depressed. And thankfully God has supplied us with a close network of friends who are also going on this journey alongside us.
The good news is our ocean shipment from home is supposed to be delivered this Friday and the rest of our permanent furniture should arrive Saturday. It’ll be like Christmas, except we know exactly what we’re getting…… or will we? 😉