Monday, 30 November 2015

Adventures in Mexico

Why, yes,  I DID say I was in the US. But you know, a 12 hour car drive later, and what do you know? I'm in Mexico! My organization takes their new trainees on a 3 week trip to Mexico, and we spend our days visiting little old lonely/handicapped/poor Mexican people in their tiny adobe homes, and doing prayer meetings out in the ranchos in the middle of the hills surrounded for miles by nothing but cactus and cold winds. Also eating a lot of fresh, hot tortillas and beans. Yum.

Fun things that happened:

1. I almost got arrested at a police checkpoint on our way back from a rancho, because apparently random Indians with nose-rings driving in a vehicle of Americans in the middle of Mexico is an unusual sight. Also, we had forgotten to carry our passports and visas. Oopsie. I also blame team member V who was driving- he is Mexican- American, and has a man-bun. They sniffed his hands, and smelled my breath (that was a first). We were saved by V's cute 1 and a half year old twins who waved "Ola!"from their car seats to the scary police shining a flashlight at them, and broke the tension.

Didn't see THAT coming, did you, Officer?

2. Our van broke down at a rancho in the middle of Nowhere, Mexico at about 8 pm one cold evening... No phone service, and no repair shops in the tiny community. We prayed for a miracle for our van (our organization sees plenty of those), but it wouldn't start. A chilling mountain wind kept us company as we- V, his wife, D and little twin girls and I, took shelter in the tiny chapel. Most of the people who had attended the prayer meeting eventually made their way home, but two sweet Mexican ladies and seven children wouldn't leave us. "Why is God keeping us here?" I wondered, as I amused myself and the kids with my ipod. And then we found out. After an hour and a half of small talk, one of the ladies timidly asked my team mate V how to read the bible we had just given them. He was thrilled to explain. As soon as he wrapped up his explanation, our Mexican friend came in and said "We fixed it! Time to go!"When you ask for divine appointments...

On our way to the rancho

3. I landed up staying at a (semi-abandoned) decrepit Mexican mansion for two weeks- complete with a courtyard INSIDE the house, in the center of which was a stone fountain, a bathroom big enough for ten people to live in, doors from bedrooms leading to surprise extra living rooms, a garden outside with ORANGE TREES with REAL ORANGES growing on them!! (City girl excitement)


4. We went out once a week for a morning of quiet prayer to some of the most beautiful corners of God's creations. Who knew Mexico had spots like these?

5. I also for the first time in my life started the grand adventure of... CROCHETING. I used to visualize myself as a very pregnant wife cozily knitting in the comfort of my living room, maybe thinking that was the only time I would have the luxury of doing nothing else. But you know, time is passing, and why wait? A bunch of my community members, from 10 year old girls to mothers of six all started learning how to crochet, so I thought, "NOW is the acceptable time!"(I always think in bible quotes.) So instead of being a pregnant wife knitting in a living room, I have been a contented bundled up single woman crocheting and soaking up the sun in Mexican courtyard on a wintry day, not to mention crocheting away furiously on a loooong road trip from Mexico to Louisiana. And I love it every bit as much as I thought I would. Dreams do come true.

Yes, I crocheted that.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

An Indian Catholic in Catholic America

Did I mention I was Catholic? And that I work with Catholics? And that I'm in the heart of Louisiana that happens to be very Catholic. (Hollywood hadn't prepared me for this.)

So... observations, experiences, thoughts.

1. Mass Etiquette: The Sign of Peace

Well, throughout my life I assumed that the hands pressed together gesture actually was THE 'sign of peace'. I did not realize that it is the Indian namaste adapted for the Church in India. So I come to the US, and people are shaking each others' hands, hugging each other, kissing each other (spouses.. on the lips... IN THE CHURCH.. the horror!) Also a bunch of old ladies make the two finger Jesus-peace sign (as opposed to the hippy make-love-not-war sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll peace sign) to everyone across the aisles.

But apart from repressing the urge to namaste to everyone, the confusing thing is... whom do you hug? (Answer: People you are close to, not perfect strangers... oops) Whose hands do you shake? (Answer: Strangers, and friends who are not into physical affection, or perhaps are more liturgically reserved) How do you know the difference? (Answer: Wait for them to make the first move, and react as if that is what you were planning to do all along. This is a very delicate operation, as you can't wait too long or you'll look like the awkward Indian. Awaiting with reluctance the socially awkward moment when the person I turn tries exactly the same thing, and we both stare at each other, willing the other to make the first move.)

2. Mass Etiquette: Posture and Body Language

In India, it is inappropriate to cross your legs at the knee at Mass. It gives Indians the impression of being a casual viewer, the audience at a movie theatre or a show, not particularly reverent. I was trained into this by my mum who worked hard at getting my siblings and me to 'assume a more prayerful posture' at family prayer as well- no lounging about, feet tucked under us, etc. In Catholic congregations here, many people lean back with their arms around their (respective) spouses, legs crossed. Sometimes there is applause after the last hymn. It definitely makes me feel like we're at a performance.

3. Catholic Dating Wardrobe

 One of the girls living here was going on her first date weekend with someone with whom she had an online long-distance relationship, and invited all the girls in to help her decide what to wear. It was quite the experience for me-about six girls viewing and commenting on each outfit... VERY unanimously. They spoke with one voice. The details of discerning date outfits was something they had obviously worked on many times before.

It sounded from the conversation that every young Catholic woman had the same set of clothes in her wardrobe, which included such items as a flannel shirt, boots, a black dress, dressy sweater, a variety of scarves, black and gray leggings, and such categories as casual but classy, meeting the parents and ordination- appropriate, but also meeting-the-guy-friends-at-the-pub appropriate, Fall-outdoorsy-cute not trying too hard bonfire outfit, etc. Maybe it's because I don't go on dates, or because I have a much smaller set of clothing options (my dress style is 'Gospel poverty' aka shabby/ repetitive), but I have a feeling it would not have taken me that much time or mental energy or friend support to make those kinds of decisions.

4. First All Saints' Day Party aka Holyween.

Super fun Catholic controversy is whether or not Catholics should celebrate Halloween (glorifying evil or 'O Hell, where is your victory, O Death, where is your sting?') My peeps here ignore the whole argument by having a saints dress up party which includes a LOT of candy (known as sweets/chocolates in India). Catechesis plus candy = win-win. We had decorations with lots of saints cards hung everywhere, games, stigmata cookies (not even kidding), etc. I live with about 70 or so very Catholic people, of which about 30 are kids. EVERYONE was very into costume- creating.

So we had multiples of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and Mother Teresa, randoms like Saint Philomena and Polycarp, extremely recents like St. Zelie and St. Martin (St. Therese's parents, canonized a few weeks ago), famous biblical characters like Queen Esther, and assorted animals from Noah's Ark.

And then you had the Lamb of God. She occasionally said, "Behold," and gambolled and pranced a little.

And of course, for my very first All Saint's Day party I went as... 'That Unknown Indian Woman who Made It to Heaven But Noone Ever Officially Canonized Her or Made Saint Cards with Her Picture.' Patron saint of humility. She was so humble, noone ever heard of her.

Whatever. I bin busy.

Anyway I loved that part of Catholic America, remembering and honouring the members of our family who have gone before us. We don't do that much in my Catholic world in India. I'm bring All Saints' Day parties back home!

Okay, more later. Buh-bye.

P.S. Sorry I haven't written in SO long. It's apparently one of the busier times of my life.