Blessings, rest and some more blessings!

Blessings, rest and some more blessings!

 

 

Wonderful experiences, outings, rest days and blessings have occurred so abundantly over the past 10 days I could not have asked for a better end to my trip.

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At the beginning of my time in India I began exploring the possibility of leaving a week early and going to Goa for some sun and rest before I went home. However, after time spent considering the implications of that, and praying about it, I decided staying for the whole time at the school and with my Team family was the best option. Well…oh boy was I right, I would have missed out on some amazing times shared with them, and God really blessed my desire for some rest before I went home.

Last weekend my two flatmates and I decided to go to the nearby larger city and hire a small boat, a similar size to a Gondola, and get pushed around a very famous river and lake for a blissful 2 hours. To begin with the beautiful sun came out for us and lit up the water and the nearby mountains making them even more magnificent than they usually are. We were able to buy saffron tea, whilst being pushed around, from a vendor who was also making his way around the river. There is a community built up both along the sides of the river bank and actually on the river, so to see the different housing structures and stop at a few clothes shops and spice stands in the middle of a lake was a very surreal experience. Our boat was nicely laid out with cushions and a small foam mattress so it was like I had never left my bed. We were able to greet a few other people being boated around, dodged some people trying to take pictures of us, got ripped off when buying some rings and just completely relaxed in the peace and tranquillity of floating on a river away from the busy city and cars. After our boat ride we managed to track down the smallest French Bakery tucked away out of sight a small walk away. There we found croissants and some other pastries (a very very rare delicacy in our area) and finished the day off perfectly by savouring every crumb.

That same weekend we visited what is apparently Asia’s largest Tulip Garden. Sadly most of the flowers were coming to the end of their season but there was still plenty to see and we enjoyed the walk around a wide open space at the base of rolling green mountains. Funnily enough on several occasions it seemed people were more interested in taking pictures with us than of the Tulips. Apparently white people dressed as Indians is photo worthy. Who knew?! This day was also perfect as we were just able to get out the house for a while, have some fresh air and get asked 50+ times where we were from (answering that question helps us all remember just in case we forget).

After 1 day of teaching on Monday we then received news that there was going to be a strike day on Tuesday across the whole province, so no school, but we weren’t allowed to leave the house. A lay in, no work, a relaxing day of being able to lounge around sounded wonderful. We also have had no internet at our home since that Monday, so we were completely cut off from the outside world and really for us at that time, we didn’t mind. Tuesday came and went, it lived up to all our expectations and was blissful. Then Wednesday morning came, my alarm went off, up I staggered bleary eyed and dreaming of going back to bed. Then came the familiar call from Sarah that breakfast was ready (Sarah is a morning person and loves making breakfast, Grace and I are not morning people and love letting Sarah make breakfast). As I walked round the corner into the kitchen Sarah and Grace’s grinning faces greeted me and their next words were music to my ears. ‘It’s another strike day Naomi!’ At that I fell to the ground like the winner of Wimbledon always does at the end of the match. Wednesday came and went, yet another miraculous break of a day. Thursday then arrived and…you guessed it, we had an unbelievable 3rd strike day and so yet another day off. It was truly the most awesome blessing from God to have those 3 days in a row to sleep, write, clean up, spend time together, cook, read and just recover from a very intense time. Friday was then a nice easy half day (as it always is for every school in this area) and then we spent time at the school in the afternoon catching up with Internet life and letting our families know we were actually still live.

Now this brings me to Saturday and its activity, which has to be up there as one of my top 3 favourite activities that I have done on my travels. About a 2 hour drive away from where we live, you can arrive in the Himalayan mountains and if you pay a mere equivalent of £7.00 you can be taken on a 5 ½ – 6 hour mountain and river trek on horseback! I can see some of you shuddering at the thought of it, however for our team it was a perfect outing. Normally, we don’t have Saturdays off, but on this occasion a ‘teacher training day’ was organised and we went to the mountains. The most breath taking views I have ever seen surrounded us on that ride. From snow capped mountains to flowing green meadows, then a roaring river leading to small waterfalls, snow cascades and the tiniest pathways overlooking rocky cliff edges with rolling mountains covered with luscious green trees stretching out below us. I felt like I was in a movie, and if it hadn’t have been for the gradual onset of pain that came from being on a horse for hours on end, I would have thought I was dreaming. The occasional almost vertical rocky and uneven slope downwards always brought my heart to my throat and the 70-100 metre wide snow cascades that our horses had to bound and jump through made for a slightly turbulent journey, but it was all dream like. My beautiful horse had curly hair covering his body making him resemble a teddy bear, he was the sandy colour of a lion but ironically his name was Sheara which means Tiger. He was amazing, sure footed, obedient and steady, the perfect companion. Whilst 2 members of our group fell off their horses, the rest of us managed to stay in the saddle and we all made it back in one piece, if fairly sore and walking a little like penguins.

Yesterday (Sunday) us teachers spent a lovely afternoon visiting our local teachers home where she lives with her Father and Mother, 3 brothers, 2 sister in laws, 1 sister and her niece and nephew. As is the incredible generosity of the Indian people we were given more food and drinks than we could ever possibly finish, but spent the whole time talking, laughing, sharing cultural differences and feeling so at home with the whole family despite the language barrier. I was especially honoured to be chosen by the 2 year old nephew to play a game called ‘Duck’. The rules are as follows…run at the person with your head lowered like a goat and head-butt their head, then the smallest person proceeds to fall into the lap of the larger one and rolls about laughing. When fully recovered, stand up and repeat. I managed two rounds and then held my hands up for mercy. It was such an honour and blessing to spend time with the whole family and be so warmly welcomed and included. They gave us all small presents when we left and we were told whenever we were with them they considered us their daughters. I am also very excited to return to the house this Wednesday and get henna done on my hands and feet by our teacher’s sister. The whole time was a wonderful opening into the community and such a special relationship to have made, I’m just sad that it has come at the end of my trip, but what a special ending.

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As I go into my final week of school and my final time spent with everyone, I am loving every opportunity and special moment I am presented with all the more. Emotions are very mixed and currently running very high, but each memory is being firmly locked away and treasured. I can’t wait for the activities and time spent with everyone over the last coming days, but most of all I am so thankful that despite the tough start and continuing difficulties of this part of my trip, so many positives and incredible times have far outweighed any negatives that have tried to ruin my time. These last few days are going to be so special, and I’m not going to waste a moment…except maybe a couple extra minutes in bed each morning.

4 sleeps and I’m home!

Naomi x

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Smiling through challenges

It took me a long time to decide what and how to write this latest update. I wrote 3 different blog posts and didn’t feel like any of them were quite right. Too negative, too positive, too self-centred. So I sat down and decided to combine all 3 and this is what I got, I hope you can connect to it.

 

My time so far in my current location has been the most uncontrollable rollercoaster of emotion I have had in a very long time. It is by far the most difficult place I have ever lived, and has tested me in all aspects, mentally, physically, emotionally and most of all spiritually. Every morning I wake up and give myself a few minutes to shake off the cloud of sadness that gathers over me overnight (first thing in the morning is never my happiest) and then I pick one thing that makes me happy, or that I’m looking forward to, and focus on that until my mood lightens. “Why would you be sad, or be downhearted?” you may ask. Well, amidst the natural beauty and picturesque views of mountains, mustard fields, a river and rice paddies which surround the village I currently live and teach in, are a people ravaged and exhausted from living in a conflict zone. The fresh faces of the young are old beyond their years; the wrinkled and aged faces of the old are tired as though they have lived a hundred lifetimes. The dust clouds that fly up from the enormous wheels of the army trucks (which travel through the village day after day) create a hazy, fog like effect to your view, as though you’re walking through a cloud. But instead of the fluffy, cuddly, white clouds that we teach to children, this one is coarse and full of grit ready to cut against your skin. Rubbish lines the roads on either side, companionably resting next to countless stray dogs who lay unmoving all day, adjusted to the constant blare of car and truck horns, announcing their presence, as they erratically bounce around depending on which pothole they hit in the dirt road. The sense of oppression, hopelessness and unease hangs in the air and I feel it like a weight on my shoulders as my two flatmates and I walk to school. It’s a battle to push through it every day, to reach the bouncing rays of light (the children at the school) which make the time here so worthwhile. When I see them and see all the life and energy built up inside them, the darkness and sadness just melts away.

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My time here consists of 6 days a week teaching at the school, and then a day off Sunday for rest and to spend time with other believers in a nearby town. It’s very common here for children to go to school for 6 days a week, even pre-school (age 3-5) which is who comes to our school. We arrive at the school by 9am and children arrive at 9:50-10:10. The morning is then split between ‘Circle Time’ (which is singing nursery rhymes and songs with actions), English, Break, Maths, Science and Art or learning the local language. At 12:50 the children have an hour for lunch and then Art or the local language, P.E and home time at 3pm. My role as a short-term volunteer is teaching Science and P.E, helping with picking the children up, participating in Circle time, getting them ready for going home, filling in for any absent teachers and monitoring Break. I helped with Break time one morning, just because they needed an extra person, and quickly signed myself up for it permanently. The reason being, unlike most children in England, these little lovelies take great delight in sharing their snack with you. At one point break time finished and I had 8 cookies, 3 crisps, a piece of chocolate, half a grape and some pastry in my hand. Now before I get any rude comments, no I did not eat it all, I shared it back round with the children, except the chocolate…I confess I ate that one… and maybe a cookie. I also recently had the spontaneous adventure, when one of the other ladies was unwell, of teaching for a whole day which was wonderful and really tested my ability to spontaneously produce lessons. I’m currently absolutely in my element with being able to think up imaginative ways of teaching my Science class about their 5 senses using various items. The best reaction so far has got to be when they all had garlic, coffee and cinnamon put directly under their nose – trust me, they remember “what we do with our nose is…” “Smell!!!”

So far in school the biggest challenge is the language barrier. The children’s English is very basic, and my knowledge of their language is non-existent, and so this makes communication difficult. They are however doing the most incredible job of picking up words and phrases very quickly and so each day our relationship and ability to understand each other grows. Thankfully I have learnt that they understand tone, facial expression and volume of voice very well. And thankfully they have learnt that when you hit someone round the head with your toy, turn around, and discover that Teacher Naomi just watched you do it, it’s best to apologise straight away to the child you just mildly concussed.

One of the highlights of teaching for me is being able to make the children laugh in class, despite the language barrier. Dancing around the classroom, putting on a deep voice, or pulling funny faces is plenty good enough, who needs words! I have never been sat on or hugged as much as I am during the school day; if you’re feeling unloved just wait till 5 children decide they can all fit on your lap, and then one climbs on your head for good measure. In the environment in which I’m living and the tense atmosphere surrounding the area, the love and laughter from the children helps me to be able to keep going every day. Witnessing the progress of the children with what they are remembering and capable of doing, even after such a short period of time, gives me butterflies of excitement. By applying my limited artistic genes I have also really gotten into giving extravagant, colourful and picture filled homework to the children, which also keeps me busy in the evenings so I don’t allow any waves of sadness to creep into my mind.

If you had asked me after the first week of my stay whether I would be able to manage the 2 months, or whether I would still have chosen to come if I had known what it was going to be like, I probably would have said no. But I can say now that I absolutely can manage my final month here, I would absolutely have still come, and I am thrilled that I’ve got the privilege of teaching the most awesome children in a place where I am so clearly meant to be, and would never have come to if it hadn’t been on the path which God led me on.

Naomi x

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My two beautiful flat mates keep me going every day – and yes it really is that cold!