How is India?

Since I landed in the Hyderabad airport on May 22 I get asked the same question a lot. How is India? I usually brush it off with a generic answer but 5 weeks in here is my honest answer to that question.

India is loud. The whole city of Hyderabad is always pulsing. There is a constant off-tune symphony of horns, people, and animals all at once. My favorite time to see Hyderabad is at night. Usually I will walk with a group over to one of the nearby streets. The city comes alive at night and there are people everywhere. I love eating the street food and watching people as they go about their lives. India is always in your face, I can never forget where I am. Even just a walk outside can sometimes be a sensory overload- there are so many different smells, sights, and sounds. Sometimes I love the overwhelming nature of India and some days I just want to hide from it all.

India is beautiful. There are so many colors everywhere. Sometimes I love to watch the colors flash by from by auto or marvel at the beauty of the saris drying on the balconies. Other times the colors hurt my eyes and I can barely take in everything I am seeing. On Sunday I went Golconda Fort. The trip advisor reports made it sound run down so we were pleasantly surprised when we saw the majestic ruins. As we climbed up higher and higher I was struck by how beautiful the city was. Close-up there is grim and dirt but from up above the whole city gleamed white. This is what I feel like God is trying to teach me right now. Yes there is pain and suffering but he made the world beautiful and he made beautiful people to populate the world. And sometimes I get caught up in the details of life and cannot see the whole beautiful picture that God is making in my life. Sometimes I need to climb to the top and see the whole picture for the details to make sense. There is beauty in the path to the top.

India is hard. Communicating with people across language and cultural barriers is always hard and being in India is no exception. It’s hard to draw the line between respecting the culture and trying to get done what needs to be done. It’s hard seeing children and young adults with special needs and knowing how much better their lives could be if they got adopted. SCH is doing a wonderful job of caring for all their needs but at the end of the day they all need families. It’s hard to know that the more severe children- the ones who have a special place in my heart- have an even slimmer chance of being chosen for adoption despite the fact that they need specialized intervention that we can never provide. It’s hard to see social issues up close and personal. It’s hard to be surrounded by a religious culture that isn’t my own. It’s hard to be a minority and get constantly stared at and asked to pose for pictures. Some days being in India is hard.

India is joyful. Every day I find joy in the work I’m doing. I find joy when Katherine finally reacts to her visual schedule after weeks of repetition- even if it’s to cry when I give her the ball the signifies the start of her PT time. I find joy when I get chai shoved into my hands and am forced to sit and drink it. I find joy in the sunset, in the flowers that get put into my hair, in the sky that is just a slight different shade of blue than at home, and in the smiles that greet me every day when I walk into Courage Home. And even on hard days I still find joy all around me if I look hard enough.

So here is the truthful answer to the question. India is loud but beautiful, hard but joyful.

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Meet Katherine

Katherine. This cutie has captured my heart!

Katherine. This cutie has captured my heart!

Katherine is the amazing two year old I have been working with at the preschool for the blind. We think that she is deaf, blind, and has some form of cerebral palsy. When I first meet her I had no idea where to start. She was so floppy and lethargic. Katherine slept almost the entire time during preschool and when she woke up she did not seem to respond to much of anything. I spent the first week of preschool trying to get to know her. During our first week together I discovered everything that she hates: physical therapy, being woken up from her naps, having to touch anything with texture, and being hot. And that her favorite thing to do is to eat.

After some research on deaf/blind infants (Katherine is two but like an infant in many respects) I decided to start doing some things differently with Katherine. I started doing an object schedule so she could associate certain objects with certain times during preschool. A great thing about the way the preschool is set up is that there is a predictable routine. The hope is that Katherine will eventually learn what each object represents and then be able to request something using a specific object. For example she has a bottle nipple that I give her whenever it’s time for her bottle. Once she associates the bottle nipple with eating she could be able to hand her caregiver it to request food. She’s still a ways off from that but communication is the ultimate goal! I also got the opportunity to eat at dialogue in the dark- a completely dark restaurant that stimulates what it is like to be blind. Eating lunch there really showed me how much sensory input Katherine needs to stay awake. I got sleepy not being able to visually attune to anything and Katherine has limited sight and hearing so she needs that much more input to make it interesting enough to stay awake! I’ve started making sure to incorporate touch and sensory input whenever I’m working with her.

Working on bearing weight on her hands

Working on bearing weight on her hands

The object schedule I've started to use with Katherine

The object schedule I’ve started to use with Katherine

At BumbleBee. Someday I'll be able to get her smile on camera!

At BumbleBee. Someday I’ll be able to get her smile on camera!

When I first started working with Katherine three weeks ago she always had the same expression on her face- she looked completely uninterested in anything. The preschool for the blind went to BumbleBee last Friday. BumbleBee is a play area attached to a café. A first Katherine was looking her usual uninterested self but slowly started to warm up. I eventually got a smile out of her by going down the slide and tossing her into the ball pit. Over the past two weeks she has slowly started to open up and express herself more. One of the Indian staff who works at the preschool told me: “Sister, before you came Katherine slept all the time. Now she crys. It is so good.” Even crying is so good because it means that she is learning some form of communication instead of just laying on her back and not making an noise. Today she even bit me when I tried to make her put her hand in rice. At first I thought it was an accident and then she did it again. It’s hard to be mad when she’s being so intentional! Over the past couple of days she has started to get upset when I put her down to leave. Usually I can’t resist going over to say goodbye one more time and a couple of times I’ve been rewarded with a smile when I go to pick Katherine up one last time.

I can’t wait to see how much more interactive Katherine will become in the next couple of months. I truly believe that this sweet little girl who has captured my heart will blow us away with how much she will learn!