Discovering India: Part III

by: Our friend, Charlene

I wake up early, before my husband, and start making chai on the propane gas stove. I add the milk, water, sugar, and finally the loose tea leaves. Straining the steaming, creamy liquid into my favorite clay pitcher, I set it aside to wait for those who will soon be sipping it. I gather morning snacks that I find in a plastic basket above the refrigerator, biscuits (cookies) of differing varieties, some chocolate, others oats-based, and occasionally a jam and cream-filled sort. Sometimes if I have taken some time to bake the night before, I prepare to serve my homemade oatmeal walnut cookies, a crowd favorite, and once a week—homemade chocolate chip pancakes.

So begins a typical weekday in our North Indian town.

All of this is done in my warm pajamas and fleece “house coat,” unless it is happening during the one or two months that temperatures hit the mid-eighties. (Our town is unlike most of the country of India. Think Denver, Colorado, but Himalayas instead of Rockies.) If I am going to school that day, which I do most mornings, I quickly get dressed and wait for the first knocks on the door of our wood and brick one-bedroom house.

“Good morning ma’am!”

“Good morning! Come in, have tea, sit, sit . . . “

Children (and I mean teenagers, but in India children are children until they marry) soon fill the house with their busy sounds and early morning chatter. One or two may be playing guitar, practicing for the morning assembly. Others will be conversing with me or with each other, sometimes asking for items that they couldn’t find at home for a school project that day, a ruler, a piece of poster board, string, etc. By now my husband has joined in the activity, making his breakfast and asking the kids how they are doing. The students enjoy their tea and cookies, take last looks in the mirror at their hair or faces, leave extra baggage to pick up again after school, and run out the door before the morning bell rings, which can be heard through our thin, single-pane windows.

I often remark that I have the best life. I love every second of these early mornings together.

Most days I find myself at the 500-student school, teaching worship songs to individual classes, or leading the singing part of school assemblies, a carry-over from the British school system. Assemblies here are a 20-minute time set aside at the beginning of each school day. Students stand at attention in their formal uniforms, pleated skirts with white shirts and ties for the girls, boys clad in slacks, polished shoes, ties and sports coats. They sing songs, listen to a short talk and announcements, and finish by singing the national anthem or the school song. It’s held outdoors amidst tree-covered mountains, as the weather is mostly mild during the school year, monsoon being the only season that forces assembly time inside. I enjoy these routine days, feeling part of school life along with the students I treasure and love.

Later I return home, gathering my Bible and journal for the quiet rest and reflection I need each day while the children are busy. Some days I sit inside and read on the cushion-covered floor where we sit for all our meals. Other days I retreat to a balcony on a neighboring building where I can stare at the vast mountains and pray to the God who created them with a breath.

Afternoons bring a similar flow of students. This time we offer juice and chips, bread and peanut butter, or bananas and peanuts. We catch up on the events of the day, which often include stories of teachers getting angry, exciting celebrations approaching, or difficulties with Chemistry classes. And every now and then, some deep, meaningful dialog enters the mix and we take the opportunity to encourage and challenge, love and comfort, listen and speak into situations. These moments make every cup of tea or glass of juice extra sweet, worth any amount of energy taken to produce it.

Goodbyes are spoken, children rush to their bus or begin their walk home, and we prepare for our evenings together. Sometimes we cook and eat, other times we walk to a nearby restaurant for Chinese, Indian, or Western food. Often we spend time with adult friends over coffee, tea, or food, or we shop in the market for our daily vegetables and supplies. The evening comes to a close with a book or movie on the laptop, (no TV) sleep, and a new day rolls around with a similar routine of events.

Now I wake up each day in the piedmont of North Carolina, and I am often reminded of the contrast in daily life. I start the coffee maker, take the dog out for a short walk, eat cereal and watch the Early Show. I appreciate knowing news of world events but find that most of my TV time teaches me about new methods of plastic surgery or crafty decorations for the holiday table or how to make gluten-free desserts. The TV goes off and it is quiet, so very quiet. No one knocks on the door or shoves it open as if they live here along with us. Sometimes tears flow, as they are at this moment, because I miss making chai in my pajamas for teenagers that don’t have parents to make it for them each day. I miss those spontaneous conversations that often led to chances to remind them of the One who cares about the matters of their hearts.

I find myself needing the same reminder these days . . .

But I am thankful. I am thankful for each moment the Lord gave us to serve Him in Northern India. I couldn’t imagine a better way to have lived those seven years.

Take advantage of every moment. Look for opportunities to listen, share, and love. Speak the life giving truth of the Gospel, no matter where you are in the world. I will again learn how to do this in the piedmont of North Carolina. I must.

Did you miss the first two parts? Check them out below!

Part One

Part Two

About the Author:  Charlene and her husband have spent the past seven years serving in South Asia, most of their 11 years of marriage. With God's grace they will be transitioning back to America this Fall. Charlene loves singing, hiking, and spending time with people, and there is nothing more beautiful to her than the Himalayas and the faces of those who live ther