Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Kindness, Week 21

Here are this past week's acts of kindness!

May 21- Visited the hospital. This week, both Brandon and I had a grandparent in the hospital. I got some get well cards and delivered them to the Pappaws. I also escorted my Mimi to the hospital cafeteria before we went home, and bought her lunch. She was very touched, and that made me happy. : )

May 22- Left a present in a coworker's inbox. I was supposed to work this evening, but ended up working in the morning instead, which meant I missed seeing a coworker I really like to talk to. I went to the bookstore and saw these bookplates I thought she would really like- they had cats and books on them, two things she really loves- and left them in her inbox with a note, saying they made me think of her.

May 23- Made a switch. Conscientious buying is becoming more and more important to me. There are some months when money is tight and we have to buy small quantities of the cheapest stuff available, but I do prefer to make kind choices when it comes to my shopping. One thing I've never cared too much about is hair care- I usually buy cheap shampoo in whatever scent smells nicest. On this day, I did some research before I did my shopping, and switched shampoo brands. My new shampoo is from a company that doesn't test on animals, it doesn't have any harmful chemicals (which is kind for me, for the water supply, and for the workers who make it), and it smells good, too!

May 24- Tried. This was a very, very bad day, and I'm sad to say that my act(s) of kindness didn't come to fruition on this day, but I did try. After work, a group of coworkers were meeting at a local funeral home because the husband of the president of our Friends of the Library group passed away. This lady is the one who picks up cookies for our birthdays and arranges to send flowers if one of our loved ones dies. She was also responsible, I'm sure, for the flowers I received when I was in the hospital back in January. So it was my intention to go to the funeral home and pay my respects (even though I am really uncomfortable in those situations.) That ended up not working out, though, because of some stuff that was going on that day, so I was going to send a card with my coworkers to let this lady know I was thinking about her. But then I was told that we as a group were going to send a sympathy card, and the card was placed back in my locker. So I really did try to do something nice- twice. The card is still in my locker and I guess I will mail it myself.

May 25- Shower shopping. I think I have six friends or relatives that are having babies this summer. Plus there are two weddings and an adoption. I had some extra money this week, so I did some shopping for these special occasions. Thoughtful gifts are always a fun act of kindness- I love giving presents!!

May 26- Made a get-well card for a friend in the hospital. My dear friend Betty has been feeling poorly for months now. She hurt her back around the time I had surgery, so we have been emailing each other back and forth about our pain this year. She has been in so much pain, though, that it was making her really weak. I was going to email and check on her this day because I noticed she hadn't commented on my Compassion kids' letters that I posted on facebook, and that was unusual. She was taken to the hospital on Thursday night, I think, and then no one told my mom (Betty's husband works with my mom, but of course my mom has been off work for a month and a half so she hasn't seen him), so we didn't find out until late Sunday. As soon as I heard Betty was in the hospital, I immediately went to make her a card to send to her. Betty is very special to me and I hope she gets better soon! I think she should be going home from the hospital today.

May 27- Sweets for the sweet. This day required a trip to the pharmacy to pick up two of my prescriptions. You know what I learned? Pharmacy's run out of medicine on holiday weekends. They were completely out of one of my meds and they only had 5 pills of the other. But while I was there, I saw that these fancy schmancy salted caramel bars were on sale. You know who's kind of obsessed with salted caramel? My mom (and it is really good, so I don't blame her.) So I bought her a candy bar to sneak into her purse when I saw her later that evening at my grandparents', where we were supposed to have dinner. But then my stomach started acting up and I didn't get to go, so her candy bar is still sitting on my nightstand. That's kind of a bummer. Oh well. I will get it to her soon.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Sweet Greetings

On Mondays, blogging Compassion sponsors often post the letters they may have received during the week. I am linking up with Blogging from the Boonies- please check out Michelle's lovely blog and the wonderful Compassion-related resources she posts there.



I feel like I haven't received many letters lately, but I had three of them waiting for me when I got home on Saturday! And each of them had a little something extra!

The first letter I opened was from Jayid in India. I haven't heard from Jayid in a while, so it was nice to get this letter! It was a form letter about his week, and he included a very mysterious drawing with it. 




After waking up in the morning, my routine is: 
Jayid says, I awake at morning 7 o'clock. After rise they can go to field area for freshing his body. 

My school starts at
10:00 AM

I have school
6 days a week

My favorite day of the week is Sunday because on this day, he can enjoy fully because this is holiday. So,h e can playing full day with his friends. 

Things I like to do on weekends: 
He likes to went to croplands for walking with his friends

Through the week, I help my family with: 
He like Sunday holiday because he can help his mother full day

Dear sponsor, 
He is well here and we hope for you as same. He is doing well here. He can give thanks for your sending letters and gifts. You are saying about tiger so he also says our teacher can studied about tiger. My teachers say in our state highest tiger are living. Please remember him in your daily prayer. 



I had written to Jayid before saying I knew that tigers lived in India, and I sent him a picture I took of a tiger at our local zoo. It's cool that he wrote back about the tigers in his area!

The second letter I opened was from Said. He covered the letter with some of theses holofoil dolphin stickers I sent him last year. He even included a drawing!


Dear Jessi
Jessi, I greet you in the name of the Lord Jesus. I hope you are doing well. We are also doing fine here and we thank God so much. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for the letters you sent to me. The weather condition here is cold. Sorry for the operation you went through, may God heal you. I am doing well in my studies at school and at the centre to learn the word of God. 
Thank you for the picture of your [cousin] and a nice picture of a lion and your picture too. I am very happy and may God bless you. I love you. 



The third letter was from Mary. It's such a special letter, for several reasons. I really love the things Mary has to say- she is such a sweet girl and I love how personal her letters are. The really exciting things were stapled to the letter- two pictures. It's very rare to receive extra pictures with letters, as many child development centers don't have regular access to cameras. With this letter I received a picture of Mary, and a picture of her mother. I have never seen any of my sponsor kids' moms before, or any of their other relatives. This is a rare gift!!!



Dear Jessi, 
How are you? I hope you are fine and your family, too. I am fine and doing great. When I go back to school in 2nd term I am going to participate in folk dance, choir, and a set verse and I hope we will go to the next level. My family is fine and they are also doing great. My family and I are praying for you that He will shower you with blessings. 
Our country is fine and green but the weather is cold and rainy. We have our 6th president and hope that he will do great to our country. I have read the story of Paul and it is wonderful and it is more encouraging in our life today. I received the stickers and the photos. It is wonderful and it is more encouraging in our life today knowing each other even if we can't meet and they are beautiful. I am glad that I can be able to see you even it's beautiful looking at your city and it looks like paradise. 
I like socializing with my friends and also hanging out. We also talk about the challenges in life that encourage us. Yes, I like reading, especially reading novels. The current novel that I have read is encouraging "Double Cross and the Child of the Rainbow." The Bible is one of my best books in life that encourages and gives hopes. 
Thank you for the gift that you sent me, it's great knowing that there is someone who cares for me. I used the birthday gift for my school fees and the family gift we used it to purchase firewood for sale and they have really benefited my family. May the Great God shower you with blessings. 
Yours lovely, 
Mary


Mary's financial sponsor is actually a foundation (I know this because my first letter from her was addressed to the foundation accidentally!) I am so thankful that they were able to provide her with such a generous family gift. She and her family used it to purchase firewood to sell in their community. Here are the pictures included with the letter. 


Mary, with her family's firewood



Mary's mom









Saturday, May 25, 2013

The past six days.

This week has been absolutely bananas.

Something that happened on Monday frustrated me. I don't remember what it was, but I got home from work, went upstairs to eat my dinner and get on the computer, and I think I was a little grumpy. Then my mom called. Since they had had all that bad weather in Oklahoma, I was kind of worried that she was calling to tell me that we might have storms that night. I had just talked to her on my way home from work, so I figured that whatever reason she might have for calling, it wasn't a good one.  She said "hi. Don't get upset, but Pappaw's in the hospital." She said they thought he might have had a stroke, or mini-strokes or something, and that she and my dad might go up to the hospital to see him, depending on if my grandmother went up there. Then she said a little while later that they were indeed going up to the hospital because my Pappaw was just sitting in the emergency room by himself. He had apparently been there for several hours before my mom even found out about it- he told my Mimi not to tell anyone he was there, but Mimi called my mom anyway and told her. Anyway, mom and dad were there until after midnight, I think, and Pappaw was about to get a room and stay at the hospital overnight because he had indeed had a series of mini-strokes. I asked my facebook friends to be praying for him, and I also found out through facebook that Brandon's grandfather was also in the hospital (he has been in and out of the hospital since Christmas with various health problems and recurring pneumonia.) Of course, I didn't sleep very well that night (and hadn't slept well in several nights, because of some other stressful things going on right now.) The next morning I went over to my mom's house and we went to the hospital to visit both Pappaws. My Pappaw was having some tests done when we got there, so we talked with Mimi in his room for a bit before heading one floor below to visit Brandon's Pappaw. Mammaw Jones was very surprised to see me. I hope she enjoyed having some company for a little while. Then we went back upstairs to wait for my Pappaw. He was very cheery and had more energy than I have seen him have in an extremely long time- at least a year. He definitely didn't want to stay in the hospital any longer, but they had to monitor his heart because they thought it might have been throwing clots (he had heart surgery a while back because of some issues), and his blood is all messed up. BP too high, blood's too thick, etc. So he hoped to go home Wednesday. His blood counts still wouldn't get to where the doctors wanted them, though. They finally told him he could go home today, which is great! As far as I know, Brandon's Pappaw is still in the hospital. I haven't really been in contact with the Joneses much this week. After spending a good part of the day at the hospital on Tuesday, both mom and I were completely exhausted, and we didn't make it to Bible study that night, which was a bummer.

I tried to sit down and write a thankfulness post on Thursday, but I just couldn't come up with anything- other than being thankful that Pappaw went to the hospital when he did, because the doctors said the mini-strokes were a warning sign that a big one was on the way, and it would have killed him if he hadn't gone to the ER and gotten treatment when he did. The past week and a half has been emotionally exhausting for me and my family. I didn't forget about Thankful Thursday, I just couldn't put my feelings into words (and I honestly couldn't come up with a list of five things, which is awful.)

Friday was really bad, too. I had an incident with a patron who has been really awful to me for the past several weeks, and he really stepped over the line on Friday. I felt disgusted, creeped out, and upset for several hours at work. I did talk to my boss about it and he took some steps and ended up getting the guy banned for 30 days, which made me feel so much better, but the whole thing just made me terribly uneasy. I cried for a long time last night, out of frustration and icky feelings.

I am glad to say, though, that today was a lot better. I was so worried it wouldn't be, but everything turned out fine. My husband worked all day, so I went shopping with my mom. She is really tired and we didn't go to quite all the places we had planned, but we did go to Target and I got some baby shower and adoption shower gifts (that I am really excited about.) We picked up lunch, and they didn't give me my food (we should have checked the bag, but still) and I called the manager and he is sending a gift card to make up for it. I wrote to all my kids this afternoon with the online letter writing tool, and watched some funny TV and napped. When I got back to my house, I had three really great letters waiting for me, and I'm looking forward to sharing them for Mail Call Monday! One of the letters had some extra special stuff included. : )

I hope everyone has a good long weekend. I know some people feel a little weird "celebrating" something called Memorial Day, and I do think that some of the original meaning has fallen away as people focus more on having time off work and stuff, but it's still good to have some extra time to rest. I'm very fortunate to have an extra long weekend, just because I'm usually off on Tuesdays and don't work until Wednesday nights, anyway. Hopefully I will be able to chill out some, and also get some stuff done around my house!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Waiting Kids!

There are currently three children on Compassion's website that are at the same child development centers as some of my kids. I am sharing their info in the hopes of finding them a sponsor!


Prenna is 3 years old. She lives in India. She goes to the same child development center as our Jayid. Her birthday is August 24. Prenna has been waiting 263 days for a sponsor. She likes playing house. She is too little to go to school right now, but she regularly attends church activities!



Ram is 4 years old. He lives in India. He goes to the same child development center as our Jayid. His birthday is June 10. He has been waiting 263 days for a sponsor. He likes playing with his friends. Ram is struggling in primary school, and would benefit from the encouragement of a sponsor!



Chrislande is 16 years old. She lives in Haiti. She goes to the same child development center as our Joane, who is the same age! Her birthday is June 24. She has 7 siblings! She likes singing, bicycling, and reading, and she's doing well in high school. 


Please join me in praying that these kids find sponsors soon. It would be really awesome if someone I know decides to sponsor them! : )

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kindness, Week Twenty

Here are this week's acts of kindness!

May 14- Remembered an anniversary. My friend Jess and her husband got married a few months after I did. Their anniversary is on May 15. On this day I got them an anniversary card, and then missed the mailman, so they got it a bit late. But hey, I remembered!

May 15- Planted a tree. I like companies that give me opportunities to help with my purchases. My mom has been buying this special dog food because our dog Diego has skin problems. The company is called Earthborn Holistic Pet Food, and you can clip the UPC codes from the pet food bags and mail them in to their UPCs for Trees program. A 28 lb bag of dog food equals one tree planted! On this day, I mailed in my code to save a tree. You can check out the program's website here.

May 16- Shared some memories and made new ones. This was the night of The Office finale. This may not seem like a big deal to some people, but for me and my best friend, this television show has played kind of a big part in our lives. My best friend Kelli and I have known each other for 12 years, and I'm sad to say that we don't get to spend as much time together as we used to. Kelli introduced me to The Office (right before season 4 started- I've been a fan ever since) and we have watched many an episode and blooper reel together. On this day we planned a sort of finale party- she picked up Chili's (which is referenced many times in the show) and I got ice cream sundae supplies. We had dinner together and watched a bunch of the DVD extras from the different seasons of the show, then watched the hour-long retrospective and the series finale together. We laughed, cried, and screamed at the TV. It was good to get together and remember all these funny moments together, and we had the best time (even though we're sad to see the show go.)

May 17- Did the right thing. OK, my original act of kindness for this day was to use some of my extra money to buy groceries for my church's food pantry (I was appalled to read in last week's bulletin that only 30% of the food in the pantry is donated by the church- they have to purchase the rest!) Anyway, when I got out of the grocery store, there were two carts parked in front of my car. I had to move one out of the way just to get around to my trunk. As I was loading my groceries into my car, the person in the vehicle next to me left their cart in front of my car, too. As I finished up, an older lady (looking quite able-bodied) parked across from me and one car over looked around, saw all those other carts, and just pushed hers forward to ditch it. The cart corral was only TWO SPACES AWAY FROM US. Two spaces. It actually would have been simpler for her to just put the cart away than to leave it, since the cramped space left her less room to get into her own car. I closed my trunk, put my cart away, and walked very deliberately toward this woman's car, looked her dead in the eye, and grabbed her cart and the one next to it and dragged them over to the cart corral. Then I came back for the other two carts. She watched me the whole time. My back was killing me, it had started to rain, and I really just wanted to go home, but it bothered me that this woman was going to do the wrong thing, even when the right thing was easier and even though she obviously saw the cluttered mess left behind by other people doing the wrong thing. I felt pretty good putting those carts away, especially since I had just been reading a widely publicized article about how selfish, thoughtless, and entitled members of my generation are supposed to be. As it turns out, this lady winded up driving behind me for a little ways, and I kept looking at her in the rearview mirror, thinking "I hope you feel bad, lady." You know, just a little guilty. It still counts as an act of kindness even if it made someone feel a little bad, right? I know that sounds weird.

May 18- Held my tongue. The Bible tells us to be slow to speak and slow to anger. On this day, my coworker and I got carry-out for lunch, and I was pretty sure that the restaurant had forgotten part of my order- really the part I was most looking forward to eating. I was immediately pretty ticked off and wanted to pick up the phone and call to complain. I was actually looking up the number when I decided against it. I decided to give them a break and not say anything, even online later. Which is a good thing, because I found that the thought-to-be missing food was buried under something else. I felt kind of dumb, and glad I hadn't called to complain. So, my act of kindness was being quiet when I really wanted to yell at someone, and I learned a lesson from it, too.

May 19- Served my church. I serve in the nursery every third Sunday. Obviously I missed the first few months of the year because of my surgery. I was supposed to start back in March, but the day I was supposed to serve was the day after my wisdom tooth removal, and my face was all swollen and I ran a little fever so I stayed home. Then the next month I was sick. I FINALLY was ready to go back to the nursery this week...and I had a really bad night on Saturday. I woke up several times in the middle of the night sick to my stomach. I was exhausted and grumpy, but I didn't want to cause any more inconvenience than I already have. So I went to church, and felt like curling up and sleeping during the first service. When I went to the nursery, I didn't last very long in the room I was assigned to (I needed lighter babies) so I moved to the little baby room. There were two adults and two babies. I didn't get to hold a baby. I basically just sat in a rocking chair and almost rocked myself to sleep. It was kind of silly, really, but hey. I was there if they needed me, and I felt good about not cancelling again. Hopefully next month will be a little easier.

May 20- Saved the Sloths. At least, I hope so. Anyone who knows me knows I love animals, and my favorite animals are kind of weird- like sloths. I am a huge fan of sloths. I really hope that some day I am able to visit this sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica, where they take care of orphaned babies, sick sloths, and sloths that were kept as pets, declawed, and then abandoned (without their claws, sloths can't survive in the wild because they can't climb the trees.) I really want to hug a sloth. Anyway, I learned recently that the sloth sanctuary is having kind of a financial crisis, and someone has started an online fundraising campaign to bring in donations for the sloth sanctuary. So on this day, I gave a small donation to help save the sloths. If you'd like to donate, you can click here. You can also learn more about the sanctuary here.

What nice things have you done lately?



Monday, May 20, 2013

Sweet Greetings

On Mondays, blogging Compassion sponsors often post the letters they may have received during the week. I am linking up with Blogging from the Boonies- please check out Michelle's lovely blog and the wonderful Compassion-related resources she posts there.



This week we didn't receive any letters from our kids, but we did get two letters from the pastors of our traditionally sponsored kids' churches, where the child development centers are located. I was excited to get these letters so I can learn more about their communities. 

The first letter was from Tasya's pastor in Indonesia:



Dear Jessi,, 
We send greetings from your sponsored child Tasya. 
Greetings in the name of God!
I am VCK Lunt, S.Th as the pastor of Evangelical Christian Church in Sangihe Talaud, Immanuel Kalasuge Church and in charge in Project Mangsumombo where Tasya attends. Project is located in Kalasuge village, Sangihe district, Eastern Indonesia. I would like to say thank you so much for sponsoring Tasya in our project. 
The majority of people in our area have low-income with limited resources. Most parents are just as the farmers because their land had been sold to someone else, so that life is uncertain. 
We wrestled with existing stewardship of children's life in Kalasuge who had not able to be carried out in the field of spiritual care. The church is less able to touch another aspect to be an integral part of a child's life, which is the provision of health services for child nutrition, growth, intellectual improvement, and aid for the needs of children such as tuition assistance and others. This is due to the lack of funding of the church. There is help for children's services but small budget presentation, and most of the funds are absorbed by financing the building physical structures of worship and ministry of the church. 
The children we serve initially had poor nutrition, lack of awareness of healthy living, were still not daring to pray, still shy. But after the presence of Project, children are bold to lead the opening prayer, even closing prayer intercession in group worship. 
Project also helps assisting in the fulfillment of nutrition, providing an understanding of how to live a healthy life. Even some of the children who are served show a chart of significant increase in the value of school. Some of the Project children get the champion their classes. It is something of great pride for me personally, especially to God. 
In addition, the presence of Project can also maximize the potential of the church workers who have a desire to serve children. Some of those are entrusted by the church to be staffs and tutors of children. 
Through the Project we have a vision to make the children get high intellectual ability, personality of God, and become a leader in the transformation process in the Sangihe. They become agents of change both in the neighborhood, at church, or community, so that future generations eventually became the inheritance of the church and God's favorite. 
After 3 years passed, there is no any sponsor visited the Project we serve. But from the deepest of heart, we have desire that there will be sponsor who can visit our children to see their progress and even to become motivator that helps the children to get out from poverty. 
In one year there have been 145 letters from sponsors that we received for Project children. This makes children more enthusiasm in learning. Communities around the Project also been aware and take part in this ministry by helping to prepare the land for children's learning space. Until now we are still borrowing room of school and church hall to be used as a study room for the Project. 
The positive impact is also felt that contributes to the child's relationship with the sponsor. We are seeing more and more children are motivated to learn when the sponsor is also providing advice through mail communication, gifts, and prayer support. 
Please pray for the church, child, their parents, and all project staff. We also ask prayers for recovery for our environment, because there is still a lot going on, binge drinking, gambling, domestic violence, which certainly is major obstacle for the development of Project children to their maximum potential. In addition many children still do not have a father as a result of relationships outside of marriage. 
Pray also that this vision will remain stay in the midst of the congregation of Immanuel Kalasuge so that everyone has a deep desire to serve children and become active contributors in their development. 
Thank you for reading my letter. I pray blessings of God's anointing to you. God bless!
With love, 
Pastor VCK Lunt, S. Th

It made me sad to read that no sponsors have visited Tasya's center in a long time. It is out of the way and when Compassion does do sponsor trips to Indonesia, they really don't go up to where Tasya lives (Indonesia is made up of several thousand islands, so you really can't blame them.) I sincerely hope that I am able to visit Tasya some day.

The second letter was from Jayid's church leader in India:


Dear Jessi, 
My name is Mrs. M. and I am the pastor of the church associated with the project where Jayid attends. This project is located in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India. We are very glad for your sponsorship to Jayid. We heartily thank you. 
In our project area there are many people that live below the poverty line. They make local cigarette called Bidi. Many family member and children are also involved in this. Because of this people also suffer from tuberculosis and other diseases. Because of employment problem they have to do this job. 
Children are unable to attend school because they go to shop for taking material and they also learn to use tobacco. Children are selected from the families that are involved in fishing, begging, rickshaw pulling, bidi making as their profession. 
Needs of the children in this community is basic meal, cloth, and education. Children see their parents fight every day. They live in make shift houses because they lack money to build a reasonable house. Many times parents are unable to give food to their children. Children suffer from depression. 
We are thankful to God for this project because many children and their parents are coming to know about God. At the project Jayid listens to scripture stories, learn memory verses, action songs and learn how to pray. 
Jayid and the other children were weak when they enrolled in the project because of malnutrition but now they are good in health. Children are learning good manners, habits, and godly values at the project. 
Seeing the changes in their children, parents are happy to. They have become aware about the importance of education. Children's study taking interest. 
The project has come as a blessing for the children and the community. People have become aware of many things through the project, so they send their children regularly to center and school. 
The project staffs have learned many things through the curriculum. They also get training from time to time through the workshops they attend. This helps them to teach the children, take care of their needs and minister to them in a better way than before. Their spiritual life has also improved.
Our vision for Jayid and the other beneficiaries is that they may get an opportunity to break free from poverty and be change agents in the community, because children are the future of our nation. Approximately 46 letters were received for children within the last year. Sponsor child relationship established through letters and prayers is important because it helps to bring the child and sponsor closer to each other. 
Jayid will be edified trough this bonding and your letters will help him to know that there is someone who loves and cares for him, and is concerned about his life. 
Our children are very glad and they are filled with joy when they get a letter from their sponsor. 
Please pray for our children, that they may come to the knowledge of God one day. Many children are not good in studies so please pray that they can improve in their studies. 
We are very thankful to God for your support and how Compassion has come forward to help us minister to the needs of these children. We are grateful to you for your support and concern for our children and community. 
May God bless you, 
Mrs. M. 

It sounds like many children in Jayid's community are forced to work to help support their families, and it's unfortunate that cigarettes play a big part in that. Maybe I will try to find some coloring pages for Jayid about taking care of our bodies and explaining that smoking is not healthy (but with a message that's delivered with grace and love!)

I love getting these letters because it helps me better understand every day life for my kids, and how I can better pray for them. Have you received any pastor letters lately?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thankful Thursday

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." Colossians 3:15

Here's what I'm thankful for this week:


  1. Prayer warriors. I have some wonderful people in my life that I know I can totally rely on to pray, whether I have a request for myself or an urgent prayer need for someone else. I was reminded of how awesome these people are this week. I'm so thankful for them.
  2. Family ties. Without going into detail, I will share with you that there has been some dramatic upheaval in my family recently, and everyone involved could really use prayer. I am thankful that I have so much family that lives nearby, and that we would do pretty much anything for each other. Though we may not always agree with everything, we are very closely knit together. 
  3. Old friends. Last weekend I got to spend time with some of my oldest friends when they came over for my birthday. I have known Kelli and Sarah since 8th grade, when I started a new school, and I have known Lauren since before kindergarten- we went to the same church for a long time, and we went to the same schools off and on, too. We all get together twice a year: once for my birthday and once for Christmas. It was good seeing everyone again, and getting to spend time with them. Also, tonight my dear friend Kelli came back over and we had dinner together and watched DVD extras for "The Office" before watching the finale together.  We had a most excellent time, and of course we cried. I am very, very thankful that we got to share that memory together.
  4. Reading time. My church read through "The Story" recently (we finished at Easter), and while I really enjoyed the book, my favorite part was reading the Bible (all four versions of "The Story") with my husband throughout the week. I have been bugging him lately about wanting to read more together, and we finally started a few nights ago! We are reading Francis Chan's "Crazy Love", and at the same time, a children's devotional book about animals (we both love animals and it's nice to have a light-hearted break from the grown-up books I have planned for us to read. ^_^) I'm thankful that we are spending time together, and that he is open to listening to me read out loud from some books that could potentially bring about big changes. 
  5. Day off. This is my first Friday off since I returned from my medical leave. My schedule hasn't really meshed so well with Brandon's since I went back to work, so this is one of those rare days when we both have the whole day off. We'll be running errands in the morning, but we are also going to go see the new Star Trek movie tomorrow morning, as well. I'm looking forward to it- it's nice to get out and enjoy a movie once in a while, and I'm glad I get to spend some time with my husband. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Kindness, Week Nineteen

Here are this past week's acts of kindness!

May 7- Gave credit where credit was due. Well, I don't know about "due", but I did help someone get credit. I was shopping at a pharmacy with my mom on this day, and we were browsing in the cosmetics department. We kept getting asked by the sales lady there if she could check us out or help us with anything, but we had a prescription to pick up, so it was more convenient to just pay at the pharmacy counter. My mom thought the lady thought we were trying to shoplift or something, but I told her that I thought that the sales clerk would get credit or commission if we bought our stuff at her counter. It turned out to be true- we got the prescription and then mom took our stuff back over to the makeup counter to pay.

May 8- Emailed for change. I had the opportunity to send an email to a few clothing companies demanding that they change their safety policies in light of the recent factory collapse that killed over 1,000 people. I am happy to report that one of the companies we emailed has recently announced they would comply with these changes, and the other company is "considering it." Which is better than nothing, I guess. Sometimes it's easy to fight for social justice!

May 9- Crashed a baby registry. I recently learned that a friend from middle school is going to have a baby in a few months. Something I saw on this day reminded me of our friendship, so I checked online and found that she had a baby registry at Target. I decided to order her a small gift as a surprise!

May 10- Kept my cool. I work in customer service, and so do my parents. I hate bad customer service. I stand there and think to myself "I would never do that" or "my parents would have a fit if they were here" (because they value good customer service, too.) On this day, I experienced some atrocious customer service. I really should have spoken to the manager at one place (there were 11 people working, standing around, dancing and joking, and I had to wait 25 minutes to get a simple ice cream cake. It was lame.) But I patiently stood there waiting, smiling whenever an employee glanced my way (I guess they were looking to see if I was still bothering to wait?) I was friendly and cordial, and when someone mumbled "sorry about your wait" right before I left, I nodded and went on my merry way. This was not the only place I had problems, either. A sales clerk accidentally got me locked out of access to my debit card at another store, and then I had to deal with the bank, and a few other things, but I stayed patient and nice the whole time.

May 11- Supported a local business. I read somewhere that 80 cents of every dollar spent at local businesses stays in your community. I think that number's right, anyway. Even if it isn't, supporting local businesses is a good thing! This day was my birthday, and my mom would have bought me lunch pretty much anywhere I wanted (and it would have been more convenient to go to a chain restaurant) but I chose a local restaurant instead. The food was yummy, but a lot spicier than usual!

May 12- Remembered all the moms. This day was Mother's Day. I didn't have a lot of money for gifts this year, but I think my mom and Denise liked the bracelets we gave them (handmade my Haitian parents working for fair wages to support their families!) My act of kindness for this day was to remind the other moms in my life- my grandmothers and my aunt- that they are special to me. So I gave them cards. : )

May 13- Returned some stuff early. Working at the library, I check out a LOT of books. Tons. I had way too many to deal with recently and decided to change the way I check out books (I'm going to limit myself to a certain number of different kinds of books at a time.) I had at least a dozen books that had people waiting for them, and I decided to go ahead and turn them in early- and read them another time- so those people could go ahead and enjoy them. Carrying all those books in to the library made my back hurt, but it was worth it. Now those people don't have to wait as long to read the books they had ordered.




Country Profiles: Burkina Faso

I hope you enjoy my post on Burkina Faso! It's a bit short, because the country is small and not much is going on there, apparently!






The flag of Burkina Faso. The yellow star represents the guiding light of revolution. 



Land:

Burkina Faso's name means “the land of upright and courageous people.” The country is landlocked and covers an area of 105,869 square miles making it somewhat larger than Colorado. The northern quarter is mostly flat, and is characterized by sand dunes and a dry climate. Half the nation is covered by the central plateau, and forests are most common in the south. Burkina Faso's highest elevations include Mount Tenakourou (2,300 feet) and Mount Naouri (1,372 feet). The country's main rivers are the Mouhoun, Nakambe, and Nazinon. The rainy season is June through October. The dry season (November–February) is generally warm, though cooled by a consistent dry, dusty wind. Daytime temperatures average 85°F through most of the year, but soar to 110°F during the hot season (March–May).


Some rocky features in the hills of Burkina Faso


Population:

Burkina Faso's population of 17.28 million is growing by 3.1 percent annually. Most citizens live in rural areas- almost 75%! The nation's two largest cities are the capital, Ouagadougou (often called Ouaga), and Bobo Dioulasso. The Mossi people (about 40 percent of the population) inhabit the central plateau. A number of smaller groups comprise the remaining approximately 60 percent of the population, including the Fulani in the north; the Gurmantche, or Gurma, in the east; the Bissa and Gourounsi in the southeast; the Lobi and Dagari in the southwest; and the Bobo, Bwaba, Samo, and Senoufo in the west. Most Burkinabè are tolerant of other ethnic groups and religions, and rivalries tend to be good-natured.
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A group of Burkinabe people


Language:

More than 60 languages are used in Burkina Faso, but the most widely spoken are Mooré (by the Mossi), Dioula (a trade language used by many groups), Fulfuldé (by the Fulani), and Gurmantchéma (by the Gurma). French is the official language of government and education but is only spoken by 15 to 20 percent of the population. Burkinabè use Dioula and Fulfuldé to communicate with ethnic groups in neighboring countries. These languages and Mooré are used in some television and radio broadcasts.

Religion:

Both Muslims and Christians inhabit Burkina Faso. They celebrate each other's holidays and respect each other's beliefs. Burkinabè from all ethnic groups belong to these religions, although Fulani are less likely to be Christians. Most people believe Muslims make up about 60% of the populations. Christians, making up a little over 20% of the population, are most often Roman Catholic, but there are active protestant groups. Traditional animist beliefs are practiced exclusively by about 15 percent of all residents of Burkina Faso; practitioners retain their Burkinabè names. Animist traditions act as unifying factors in Burkina Faso's tolerant religious climate, since many Muslims and Christians combine animist practices with their religion. It is not uncommon for Christians or Muslims to consult a diviner or to participate in ritual dances. Masks play an important part in animist rituals. For example, dancers wear them to ward off bad luck or to perform agricultural ceremonies. The shape and color of a mask depend on the ethnic group and purpose of the wearer. Fetishes, amulets, and totems are used by animists for various purposes, which may include protection or luck.


Worshipers gather at a church in Ouagadougou


The People: 

Burkinabè admire those who are warm, friendly, and generous. Honesty, wisdom, and loyalty are very important to the people of Burkina Faso, as well as an ability to control one's tongue. Burkinabè have strong family values centered on sharing and on respect for customs and tradition. They rely on family networks for support and advancement. A financially successful individual is responsible for the rest of the extended family. The elderly are highly respected. Young people are expected to do whatever older relatives, teachers, or neighbors ask. Humility and generosity are among the most desired personal traits.

Burkinabè wear both African and Western clothing. In rural settings, men wear a Muslim robe (boubou) while women wear a wraparound skirt (pagne) with a blouse or T-shirt. In urban areas, women wear elaborate, colorful outfits made of locally designed or imported fabrics. Men often wear the tenue de fonctionnaire, the civil servant suit, with a shirt and pants made of the same cloth. Men also wear slacks or jeans with shirts made of colorful pagnes. Both rural and urban residents buy used clothing imported from Europe, Asia, and the United States. However, embroidered traditional outfits have become more popular attire as leaders urge the people to buy more local goods. Women often have elaborate hairstyles and change them every few months. Braided extensions, wigs, and “spikes” of hair (made by wrapping hair with black thread) are common. Although on the decline, traditional face scarring is still sometimes practiced in rural areas by some to distinguish between ethnic groups.


Girls in Burkina Faso have their hair braided


Before engaging in any social activity, Burkinabè take time to greet each other and shake hands. Greetings include asking about family, health, and work. Urban people who have not seen each other for some time may kiss each cheek. A person may show respect by bowing one's head or, when shaking hands, placing one's left hand at his or her own right elbow. Male friends may touch their right fists to their hearts after shaking hands. Urban and educated men may also touch foreheads as they shake hands, particularly if they are greeting a friend after a long separation. In Muslim settings, men may not shake hands with or touch women. Not greeting all those in a room or at a table is considered rude. Kneeling is appropriate when greeting a person with higher social standing, such as a village chief, and it's important to avoid turning your back on a respected person when you are leaving them. 

Burkinabè use the right hand to greet people, pass items, and eat. Using the left hand, especially for greeting or eating, is extremely offensive. Men and women hold hands in public with friends of the same gender, but displays of affection between men and women are considered very inappropriate. It is rude to call someone's name unless the person is nearby. If the person is farther away, it is polite to whistle or make a loud "psst" noise in order to get his or her attention. Burkinabè express disgust at events or actions by rounding the lips and making a noise by sucking air through the front teeth.

Visiting friends and relatives is an important part of Burkinabè culture. Visits generally occur during the evening, sometimes during repos (a nap or rest time from around noon to 3 p.m.), and at any time on the weekend. Most visits are spontaneous, and visitors are allowed to stay as long as they wish. People announce their arrival by clapping their hands (instead of knocking) or saying "ko ko ko"; they wait to be invited in. 

Guests are always offered a place to sit and water to drink; refusing to drink is socially inappropriate, even if one is not thirsty. After the afternoon rest time, Burkinabè often make tea or coffee to share with friends and family. Tea-making is an important social ritual among men. It can take half an hour to prepare each of the three rounds on a bed of charcoal. The third round is the weakest brew. Burkinabè also enjoy having guests over for a meal or evening socializing. If guests are just dropping by, they are not expected to bring a gift. However, rural people visiting from another village for several days commonly give their hosts chickens, eggs, kola nuts, salt, or sugar.

It is considered a huge honor for a resident of Burkina Faso to receive letters from someone outside of the country, such as the relationship between a sponsor and a sponsor child. Receiving letters from a foreign friend raises one's social standing in the eyes of his or her peers. If you sponsor a child in Burkina Faso, know that your letters are especially treasured for this reason. 


A Compassion staff member translating letters for the children in Burkina Faso



Family:

Most families in Burkina Faso are large, especially in rural areas, where a family might have 10 or more children. Children live with their parents until they get married. When elderly parents need care, they usually live with their eldest son. Burkina Faso's traditional social network is based on the extended family and guarantees that family members will help a relative in need.

Rural families often live in a compound-style arrangement, with separate sleeping quarters for men and women. A mother generally cares for her children until they are weaned, at around age three. At this time, boys move from sleeping in the mother's house to sleeping in the father's house. Both boys and girls are cared for by their parents until they reach adulthood, but boys generally receive more support than girls. Once girls marry, they are perceived as having changed families.

In polygamous families, wives share chores, including cleaning the courtyard and preparing family meals. Rural women have few property rights and can be sent back to their families if their husbands are unsatisfied with them. Some ethnic groups, such as the Dagari, are matriarchal- families are led by women, and lineage is traced by women. In these areas, women have more rights. In urban settings, women are more often educated and able to find jobs. This gives them greater autonomy and decision-making power.


Living:

Most rural people live with their extended family in compounds made up of several small mud-brick houses with roofs made of millet stalks. In polygamous families, a husband typically has a small house and each wife lives in her own house. Houses can get quite hot, so people spend most of their time outside. They may sleep outside on plastic woven mats on the ground or even on roofs. In some villages, chairs are placed on roofs, and people climb ladders made of tree branches to go there to talk. Many neighborhoods have a communal well. This water may be unsafe for drinking, but villages with limited or no access to clean water may have no choice but to drink it. Even in cities, many people are without indoor plumbing, so children are often sent to a communal pump or well with a large barrel to fill. Electricity is available in urban areas, but blackouts are frequent in all but the largest cities. A few families own solar panels. Most urban residents live only with their nuclear family. Moving into one's own home, even if it lacks running water or electricity, is an important goal.


A compound of homes in Burkina Faso


Although casual dating is becoming more popular in urban areas, marriages in the countryside are usually still arranged. Many times, the only way a woman can get out of an arranged marriage is to run away. Marriage expenses are shared by the groom, his parents, and the extended family. In many cases, however, couples do not formalize their relationship and simply begin living together, after which they are referred to as husband and wife. The average marriage age is 22 for men and between 18 and 20 for women. Islamic laws allow a man to have as many as four wives if he can care for each of them equally. Polygamy is decreasing in urban centers due to the cost of raising and educating a family, but it is still practiced in rural areas.

Christian Burkinabè celebrate the birth of a child with a baptism, and Muslims celebrate at a naming ceremony, which occurs when the baby is a week old. At Muslim naming ceremonies, guests are expected to bring money or soap for the mother to wash the baby's clothes.

Initiation rites for boys are practiced only in remote areas and vary among ethnic groups. Groups of young adolescent boys are traditionally sent into the bush to be circumcised and instructed on their roles as men. Many girls still undergo brutal, disfiguring circumcision, even though the practice is illegal and symbolic ritual alternatives now exist.

When a person dies, burial almost always occurs on that day or the next. In some communities, a funeral is scheduled for several months later. The delay gives all relatives and friends time to prepare for the trip and earn enough money to put on a celebration to properly honor the deceased person. At funeral ceremonies, attendees consume large amounts of food while joyously remembering the life of the deceased.


Food:

Burkina Faso's main staple is sorghum, millet, or corn flour cooked into a hard porridge known as . Rural people usually eat twice a day with different sauces made from peanuts and local plants and vegetables, such as okra. A rural breakfast usually consists of leftovers from the previous night. Urban families with more financial means often prefer to eat their meals with rice rather than . People eat couscous and pasta cooked with meat on special occasions. Due to recent fishery and gardening projects, fresh fish and fruits are more plentiful in major cities.

Food is not treated casually and meals are often eaten in silence. In rural areas, men usually eat together in a circle on the floor, sharing a common platter and using the right hand. Using the left hand is forbidden. Women and children eat together in a different section of the family compound. If offered food, guests must take at least a few bites or risk offending the host.


Burkinabè women and children having a meal


Urban families tend to eat together, and they use a dining table and utensils more often than rural residents. Most single urban men eat their meals at street-side stands or in the numerous open-air bars where meat kebabs and roasted chicken are sold; some hire young men or women to cook meals for them at home. Cities and villages usually have dolo cabarets (beer stands), tended by women, where both men and women gather for drinks (such as dolo, or millet beer), food, discussion of local events, and gossip.




Recreation:

Burkinabè enjoy visiting each other and meeting at dolo cabarets. Men play cards and games like checkers. Women often meet to do each other's hair. On Saturdays, urban dwellers pack popular bars to dance to the rhythm of African and reggae music. These bars are also known for their kebabs and broiled, spicy fish. Soccer is the most popular sport, and cycling, boxing, volleyball, basketball, and handball are also popular. On many Sundays in Ouagadougou, local businesses sponsor cycling races. During the harvest (October–November) and on holidays, villagers enjoy wrestling matches and traditional dances.


Spectators gather to watch a cycling race


The Fulani people make colorful cotton blankets used as wedding gifts or decorations. Artisans carve sacred ancestral masks, talismans, and other religious figurines. Oral history is performed by djeli (praise singers) at civic ceremonies, and storytelling is common at festivals. Traditional music and instruments are heard at religious and secular activities. Dance troupes are often invited to perform at funerals and other events. The balafon (a wooden xylophone) and calabash gourds beaten with metal rings are common instruments.


Musicians play calabash gourds and a balafon


Every other year, the biggest film festival in Africa is held in the capital of Burkina Faso. FESPACO (Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou) promotes African films and filmmakers.


Holidays:

Public holidays include New Year's Day, Fête du 3 janvier (January 3, for the 1966 uprising), Labor Day (May 1), Revolution Day (August 4, for the 1983 revolution), and Independence Day (August 5). Political holidays are celebrated with speeches and parades. Other holidays include International Women's Day (March 8) and various religious celebrations. Important Muslim dates include a feast at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan; Tabaski, the feast that honors Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac; and Mouloud, the birth of Muhammad. Christians celebrate Easter, Ascension, Assumption (August 15), and Christmas. End-of-the-year festivities remain the most important, and Burkinabè of all creeds join together to celebrate the New Year.


Burkinabè choir sings at Christmas



Health:

The people of Burkina Faso face health problems that include dysentery, hepatitis, diarrhea, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. The infant mortality and maternal mortality rates are very high due to malnutrition, malaria, and lack of access to medical services. Between 16-20% of Burkinabè children die before age 5. Almost all cities have primary care clinics All provinces have regional hospitals, but these are overburdened and very underequipped. Most patients or families must pay for hospital stays and medicines, but government employees have some health benefits.

Education:

Traditionally, all instruction in Burkina Faso has been given in French, so mastery of the language has largely determined one's success (the better you are with French, the more educated you are.) A movement toward bilingual education (in French and a local language) is gaining traction. Elementary school lasts six years, and secondary school lasts seven years. On average, children attend school for only five years. Many students drop out because they can no longer afford school fees. Enrollment rates are lower for girls and rural students, but the cost is still too much for many families. Attendance for boys is given preference due to girls' household responsibilities and early marriage. Rural schools often lack enough teachers, so students might miss certain subjects for months or sometimes. Entrance to one of the country's three universities is available to those who pass very difficult exams. Usually only a small percentage of students pass these exams because they are not prepared.


Burkinabè girl hard at work in school



Books to Read: 

[I write this section after ordering and then reading all the books that my public library offers on the country in question- unless there are a ton of them, like in India's case, and then I read as many as I can. We don't have any books about Burkina Faso. Amazon barely has any, either. I will come back and edit this section if I ever find any, though!]

Bible Verse: 

"Oui, Dieu a tant aimé le monde qu'il a donné son Fils, son unique, pour que tous ceux qui placent leur confiance en lui échappent à la perdition et qu'ils aient la vie éternelle."  Jean 3:16


From Compassion's Website: 

"Compassion's work in Burkina Faso began in the summer of 2004. Currently, more than 21,700 children participate in more than 100 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches and denominations to help them provide Burkinabé children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be."


All information came from CultureGrams. It's an excellent resource if you have access to it!


Monday, May 13, 2013

Sweet Greetings

On Mondays, blogging Compassion sponsors often post the letters they may have received during the week. I am linking up with Blogging from the Boonies- please check out Michelle's lovely blog and the wonderful Compassion-related resources she posts there.



This was a pretty slow letter week. I was happy to receive a letter from Victor, though!




23 March 2013

Dear Jessi, 
How are you? I hope you are fine together with your family. I'm also doing well with my schooling and I know at the end of this term I will do the exam and I hope I will be somewhere, and my family is also doing well in the other side. 
I thank you for the Christmas gift you send for me. I was very proud for that gift. I was given gumboots and exercise books, those things made me happy. 
Here in Kenya there is a lot of rainfall in some parts, even others have started planting crops and I hope those crops will do well. What about your country? I'm very proud with the letter you sent for me and I know you will send more and more. 
I am also praying for you so that God may guide you in what ever you are doing and I hope God will give you more strength for working. Remember to greet for me your family. May God bless you. Goodbye. 

Your beloved child, 
Victor

Victor is very right- I will send him "more and more" letters! : ) We also received a packet of  "new" pictures of Mishel, our most recent correspondence kid, but they are exactly the same as the pictures we got with her sponsorship packet a few weeks ago. I don't know what that was about, but it's nice to have more pictures of her!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Ice cream and cake and cake.


Today was my birthday. I turned 25. I don't feel any different, and all year I've been 25 in my head, anyway, so it's not a huge difference. I feel kind of weird about this birthday. I am definitely not where I thought I'd be at 25. I thought about writing about this as a separate post for my Compassion blogging assignment for the month (it's about motherhood) but I really don't want to, so I'll touch on it very briefly here before moving on. If you haven't known me for long, you may not know that my number one goal in this life, my heart's greatest desire, is to be a mom- specifically, an adoptive mom. My husband and I had planned to start the adoption process internationally after we bought our house, and even started fundraising a little bit for it, but some things got in the way, like policy changes, financial issues, then medical issues, and finally the realization that God doesn't necessarily want us to adopt internationally at first. I now believe it's His will for us to expand our family through foster care adoption at first, and save the tremendous venture of international adoption (which I still believe is a calling) for later. Anyway. I never thought I would turn 25 and still not be a mom. Not even be in the process of becoming a mom. Twenty five is not old, but it's old to me (because it's the oldest I've ever been, I guess. Plus it's halfway to 50.) It doesn't really help that I currently have eight friends or family members that are either pregnant or have recently given birth. I'm happy for them, but being surrounded by babies and growing families is overwhelming at times- especially in the age of social media, where constant reminders of our childlessness are waved in my face every few minutes. And then there's the fact that Mother's Day is tomorrow, too. I kind of hate it when my birthday is the same weekend as Mother's Day. I love my mom, and my mother in law, and am happy to celebrate Mother's Day with them and my aunt and my grandparents, but I still feel a little sad inside because I'm not where I thought I would be. So this birthday has been a bit difficult for me this weekend. 

That being said, I really am thankful for everything that everyone has done for me this week, and the good times I have had. My friend Jess brought me really wonderful presents and an adorable, sparkly penguin birthday card. I got to see my three friends Kelli, Lauren, and Sarah on Friday at my grown-up birthday party (I didn't really have birthday parties as a kid, so since I've been earning a paycheck, I have my friends over for my birthday and we eat off fun paper plates and watch movies together. It makes me happy and it's one of two times all year that we can all get together.) My friend Kelli, who knows me so well, got me some stuff that really made me smile, like a hilarious t-shirt and really cool socks with sloths on them (we have a thing for sloths.) Today I spent the day with my mom, and we went and got Indian food (and then wondered aloud "why do we eat this stuff?" It was spicier than usual today- one of the reasons we only get it once a year, I guess!) and we watched Whose Line together until I headed home in the afternoon. This evening my parents came over to my house and brought dinner and my birthday presents (Duck Dynasty on DVD! That show amuses me greatly.) 

I guess the point of this post is to say that even though I have had some struggles this weekend, and probably will tomorrow as well, I really am thankful for everything that everyone has done to bring some bright, shiny spots to my week. I have great friends and family. I love you all very much. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thankful Thursday

How is it already Thursday again?? Here's what I'm thankful for this week:


  1. My church. We are currently doing a series on marriage at church, and this past Sunday my pastor led all the married couples in a renewal of vows. I thought that was pretty awesome. I love my church!
  2. My friend Blaire. Blaire is very awesome and sweet and always willing to help. I am so glad she joined our Bible study group last year! I am especially thankful for her this week because she decided to sponsor one of the Compassion kids I posted on facebook! She is now sponsoring a very pretty 15 year old girl named Nisha, from India. This is her second sponsor child. 
  3. Financial blessings. This week I found out some extremely good news regarding my medical bills from my surgery- my biggest bills (for my hospital stay, pre-op testing, anesthesiologist...basically everything except the surgeon's fee) have been waived! All together they totaled almost $8,000. My financial aid application has been pending with them for over two months, so on Wednesday I called to check on it (again) and they said they had just put my acceptance letter in the mail. This is just incredible news. I'm very happy about it. 
  4. Letters. This week has been pretty difficult. I have been under more stress than usual, and on top of that, I strained my back on Monday and I am having a lot of difficulty with it even now, three days later. I hobbled out to get the mail yesterday, feeling pretty down, and found a letter from Victor waiting in my mailbox. The timing was really great. It put a smile on my face, and helped me perk up a bit. : )
  5. Weekend breaks. My boss graciously allowed me to work all my hours Monday through Thursday of this week so I could have the weekend off for my birthday, even though we really needed coverage on Saturday because there's a big event down at the main library and there will be at least one staff member working that. Working longer hours was really hard, and I ended up having to take some of my newly regained sick leave today so I could come in a bit later and give my back more rest, but I am so thankful to have the weekend off. Hopefully it will be relaxing and happy!

Country Profile: India

I hope you enjoy my profile on India! I have a special place in my heart for this country, so there will be lots of pictures! : )






The flag of India. By law, the flag must be made of khadi, a special type of hand-woven cloth or silk made popular by Mahatma Gandhi. 



The Land:

India is a vast country, covering over 1.2 million square miles. It is about a third of the size of the United States. The tallest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas, runs along India's northern border. India's most densely populated region, the fertile Ganges plain, lies to the south of the mountains. The Great Indian Desert reaches westward from the plains toward Pakistan. The Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats are the hilly regions that lie near the coasts of India's peninsular region. Less than one fourth of the country is forested, and about half is under cultivation. Most of India experiences three basic seasons: the hot season (March-May), the rainy season (June-October) and the cool season (November-February.) Temperatures rarely fall below 40 degrees or rise above 100 degrees in the cool and hot seasons, respectively. The seasons vary slightly according to region and elevation. Floods and earthquakes are common in India, and some areas have problems with drought.


The Himalayan mountains of Northern India


Population: 


India is home to the world's second largest population (China is the first most populous country in the world.) Over 1.2 billion people live in India, and the population is growing by about 1.3% annually. India is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. Hundreds of linguistic nationalities and hundreds of different castes, or tribes, make up each state. The Indo-Aryan tribes make up about 70% of the population. Dravidians make up about 25%. The government classifies castes in four different categories: forward classes (FC), backward classes (BC), scheduled castes (SC), and scheduled tribes (ST.) Class isn't necessarily defined by wealth, so a member of any caste may be rich or poor. BCs, SCs, and STs can receive government assistance in the form of affirmative action programs. These programs help to reserve jobs, scholarships, and other opportunities for members of these classes because historically, many of these people have faced persecution. People in the SC and ST groups have become known as Dalits, which means "downtrodden." A person's caste is determined by lineage and can't be changed, but the government technically has the power to assign people to different classes. Caste still plays an important role in some social interactions. Different castes maintain a strong cultural identity, and people from different castes rarely intermarry. Indian society can be viewed as being divided along four lines: rural/urban, male/female, wealthy/poor, and then the various castes. These differences are usually manifested in areas like social freedom, educational opportunities, and economic opportunities. Generally speaking, the wealthy, urban citizens, males, and those belonging to higher castes are more respected in society and have better access to different opportunities. In many areas, these divisions aren't as deep as they used to be, and the government does make an effort to promote equality, but these social divisions still remain pervasive in almost all aspects of Indian society.


Language:

India is home to several hundred languages, and more than thirty of those languages have 100,000 or more speakers. Twenty two of these languages are officially recognized by the government: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. Spoken languages vary by region. Indian law recognizes English as the "subsidiary official language." It's used in government, education, business, and national communication. About 40% of the population speaks Hindi. Hindi is the country's most widely spoken language. People who don't share a common first language usually communicate in English or Hindi. Some people who speak other languages sometimes feel marginalized because of Hindi's linguistic dominance in the country.



Religion: 

Four major religions were born in India: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. India is also an adopted home for Zoroastrianism (which is called Parsiism in the country.) A wide variety of religions exist side-by-side in India, and it's not uncommon to find a Christian church, a mosque, and a Hindu temple all on the same city block. Most Indians (about 80%) are Hindu. Officially, Hinduism is considered a way of life, rather than a religion. Family temples include images of gods from other religions, as shared beliefs from indigenous religions have kind of merged and melted together over the centuries. Differences between the religions are usually small. Some well-known Hindu concepts include reincarnation and veneration for specific trees and animals (for example, the "sacred cow") which are viewed as symbols for specific gods. Some of the most prominent Hindu gods are Ganesh, Vishnu, Rama, Krishna, and Shiva. About 13% of India's population are Muslims. Sikhism, which makes up about 2% of the population, arose around the 16th century. It draws on principles from Islam and Hinduism. Sikhism stresses simple teachings, devotion, and tolerance. Buddhism began in India and flourished for a time, but today less than 1% of Indians are Buddhist. Jains are politically and economically powerful in the country, but they also make up less than 1% of the population. Jains practice a reverence for life in the form of nonviolence, vegetarianism, and self-denial (especially among monks.) Less than 3% of the population is Christian.


A tiny Indian Christian church




A brightly colored Hindu temple



The People: 


Indians are family-oriented, religious, and philosophical. Traditionally, Indians value simple material comforts, physical purity, and spiritual refinement. Even when faced with hardship, one is expected to accept one's course in life as the will of God or fate. Big expressions of gratitude are reserved for real favors rather than small courtesies. Many Indians turn to holy men in their religion, who are believed to mediate between heaven and earth, for guidance and blessings. Pretty much everyone in India deeply respects and admires the nation's founder, Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, and his ideals, which included nonviolence, humility, self denial, and religious harmony. However, Indians sadly acknowledge that these principles are hard to find being practiced in modern India. Indians are also troubled by the fact that the government is unable to provide basic necessities for its people, such as water, sanitation, health care, education, and housing. Also, tensions between religious groups (mainly between Hindus and Muslims), social classes, and the rural/urban divide make it hard for India's people to find common ground among such a diverse population. Still, Indians, as the world's most populous democracy, are trying hard to find balance amid continual social change.


Mahatma Gandhi at his spinning wheel


Many Indian women wear a sari (or saree), a long piece of fabric draped in various ways that represent socio-economic status and religious affiliation. Others may wear colorful pantsuits with a knee-length skirt. Jewelry is extremely popular in India- ear rings, nose rings, head dresses, necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and rings! Hindu women may wear a bindi, or red dot, on their foreheads. The bindi was traditionally a sign of gracefulness, femininity, and marital status, but today it usually serves simply as a beauty mark for many, and often matches the wearer's outfit. After a woman is married, the bindi signifies that her husband is alive. Widows do not wear bindis. Indian men may wear Western-style suits, or more traditional clothing such as a dhoti (a large piece of cloth wrapped around the waist.) With men and women, dress varies by region. A Sikh's outfit is comprised of the "five K's": kesh (uncut hair), kanga (a wooden comb worn in the hair), kaach (undershorts), kara (an iron bracelet), and kirpan (a ceremonial sword). Sikhs often wear turbans. Hindus and Muslims may wear a salwar kameez (a long shirt worn over pants), sometimes with a vest or jacket. Young people like to follow Western fashion trends.


Indian women wearing saris


The Namaste is India's traditional greeting. One presses the palms together, fingers pointing upward, below the chin, and says "Namaste" (or "Namaskaram" in the south.) A slight bow is added when greeting superiors, to show respect. Young people may touch an elder's feet as a sign of respect and to seek blessings. Out of respect for women's privacy, men usually do not shake hands with or touch members of the opposite sex. However, Indian men will shake hands with Westerners, and educated women may shake hands as a courtesy. "Hello" and "hi" are acceptable forms of greeting, but superiors are greeted more formally, such as with a "good morning". It is polite to use formal titles, such as doctor, professor, Mr., Shri (for men), Shreemati (for married women), Kumari (unmarried women), or with the suffix -ji with a last name (as in Gandhi-ji) to show respect. Indians usually ask permission before taking leave of others. Excessive hand gestures are considered impolite. People generally don't greet strangers- doing so would be considered suspicious. Indians beckon each other with the palm facing down. The right hand is used primarily for eating and passing objects. The left hand is associated with personal hygiene. One may grasp one's own ears to express sincerity or repentance. Your feet and shoes should never come in contact with another person- if it happens accidentally, offer an apology immediately. Whistling is considered very impolite. Women don't wink or whistle, as these behaviors are considered unladylike. Public displays of affection are inappropriate. Footwear is removed before entering a holy place such as a shrine or temple. All visitors cover their heads when entering a Sikh shrine. Women also cover their heads in temples.


Family: 

The family is the basic social unit in India. The family is considered more important than the individual. Urban families are usually small and have an average of two children. Rural families are usually larger. A typical urban household usually consists of a married couple, their children, the husbands parents, and any unmarried siblings he may have. It is becoming increasingly popular to only have nuclear families living in a household (a married couple and children.) Rural families tend to be made up of several family units, and may include a set of parents, their sons, and the wives and children of those sons. As each son marries, he and his family are given a bedroom.  Extended families are very close in Indian society, and they all may live near each other. Middle- and upper-class parents plan on taking care of their children until they get an education and a job, no matter how long it takes. Some parents may even continue to support their children after they marry. In poor families, children may have to find work at a young age to support the family. In these cases, education often falls by the wayside. Wives usually move in with their husbands and their in-laws after the wedding. Daughters-in-law are expected to do most of the cooking. Daughters rarely move out before they are married, unless they leave home to attend university or seek employment. The elderly are respected and cared for by their families. Advice from older family members is sought out and usually heeded by younger members of the family.

The father or oldest male in the home is the head of the household. His decisions are respected by the rest of the family. The oldest female in the home is in charge of the kitchen and manages the household. A growing number of women are seeking higher education and employment outside the home- mostly in urban areas, but a small percentage of women from rural areas are looking toward higher education and earning wages as well. Despite these changes, many women still have less access to education and economic opportunities than men. Sadly, women are also more likely to be victims of violence, and more likely to be malnourished.


Living:

In urban areas, houses are built from a variety of materials in a variety of styles. These are determined by climate, cost of materials, economic status, religious affiliation, and other factors. In major cities such as Mumbai, there are not enough homes for the millions of residents who live there. You can find urban slums near high rise apartment buildings in such cities. People living in these poor areas make their homes from whatever materials are available, like aluminum siding and sheets of plastic. Conditions are crowded and dangerous, and these areas are insecure because residents' homes may be demolished at any time. Clean water and sanitation are not available in these areas. In cities and suburbs, apartments are a popular style of home. Apartment roofs are often flat to hold water tanks and gardens. Central air conditioning is rare, but many homes have fans and small air conditioning units to help the people cope with the heat. Rural homes are usually made of bamboo, mud bricks, red bricks, stone, or concrete. Some roofs are thatched, and others are made of the same material as the house. The kitchen is usually separate from the rest of the house, so smoke from the cooking won't pollute the rest of the home. Gas and kerosene is becoming increasingly available, so many families, if they can afford it, choose to cook with these methods rather than over an open flame. These types of kitchens are usually located inside the home. Some rural families rely on wells for their water supply. The trip to the well can be long, tiring, and sometimes dangerous. Women are usually responsible for fetching water. Since air conditioning is uncommon in rural areas, most people prefer to spend their time outside when the weather is warm. Many rural families have gardens where they grow fruits and vegetables. Properties are usually not fenced, and it's important to have a good relationship with one's neighbors. Home decor varies by region, but many families have a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh near the entrance to their homes. Potted basil plants are popular as they are considered sacred and are believed to have healing properties. Families may also have a small altar in their homes. Very few families have wall to wall carpeting- instead, floors are covered with rugs. Many homes have access to electricity, but power outages are frequent. Home ownership is an important goal for most Indians. Hindus even have a special housewarming ritual! Mango leaves are strung across the entrance to the home, and a priest performs a ritual to ward off any bad luck for the new residents.


Part of the Dharavi slum in India

Most marriages in India are arranged by the couple's parents. The couple may be set up through friends, newspaper ads, or even online matchmaking sites. Caste and lineage are important factors when matching a couple for marriage. Young people generally have some input in choosing a match. It's pretty uncommon, but some people do choose their own spouses. When a young couple wants to be engaged, they approach their parents, who take care of arranging the marriage. Indian Muslim males and females stay quite separate from a very early age, so it's extremely rare for a Muslim marriage not to be arranged. Western-style dating is not really common in India, but it's becoming more popular in big cities. Though most couples don't "date" in the way we in the United States might think of the term, the idea is fascinating and romanticized, and media portrayals of dating and romance are popular. Hindu engagement traditions vary throughout the country. In northern regions, there is a ceremony where the parents meet and the couple publicly agrees to marry. Then they celebrate with food, music and dancing, and gifts. Then a wedding date is chosen, and the couple begin courting and getting to know each other. In western India, the bride's family brings a matli, a metal container full of gifts and sweets, to the groom's family. In southern India, the future bride and groom may not even attend the engagement ceremony- all the business is handled between the two families. It is common for the bride's family to pay a dowry (such as gifts, land, or money) to the groom, even though paying a dowry is technically illegal in India. Today the dowry may be less of a financial burden to the bride's family as it exists mostly for ceremony's sake.

In India, marriage is viewed as both a union between two people, and a union between two families. Marriage is considered sacred to most Indians and is believed to exist beyond death. Chastity is considered to be extremely important for women, but much less so to men. Prostitution is a major problem in India, both in the spread of diseases and in regards to the exploitation of women and girls. Traditionally, couples married young (in their late teens), but today's couples tend to marry a bit later. The average citizen of urban India marries between the ages of 25 and 30. That age may be considerably younger in rural areas.

Weddings in India are cause for great celebration, feasting, and expense. Dates and times for many Hindu weddings are planned based on astrological charting. Most weddings in India are religious, whether they are Hindu, Muslim, or Christian. Wedding ceremonies are often elaborate, and traditions vary widely from region to region. Caste also plays a factor in wedding traditions. Indian weddings are almost always full of bright clothing, flowers, and lots of jewelry. Many weddings are followed by a reception. There is lots of food and dancing at the reception, and the guests give the couple gifts for their new home. After the wedding, the bride moves into the groom's family's home. It's very rare for a newly married couple to move into their own apartment, unless they live far away from the groom's family. In many Hindu families, the doorway to the home is draped in mango leaves. The bride enters the house with her right foot first, which is considered lucky. She's greeted by her mother-in-law, and they have a ceremony of blessing, called ghar nu Lakshmi. Polygamy is not common in India, and is only practiced by Muslims. Islamic law in India permits a man to have up to four wives. However, few Muslims practice polygamy today, and the practice is becoming even less common with each new generation. Divorce is relatively rare in India, probably because of the cultural and religious importance of marriage in the country. If a couple divorces, Indian law requires the man to continue to financially provide for his ex-wife and any children they had together.



Indian brides traditionally wear plenty of jewelry, and beautiful tattoos of henna, a natural, temporary ink, on their hands and feet. 


There's great celebration and lots of dancing at Indian wedding receptions!



For Hindus, life is seen as a spiritual journey, and each step is celebrated with a ceremony called a samskara. Before a child is born, special ceremonies are often performed in order to ensure the health of the mother and child. Female friends and relatives give gifts to the pregnant woman at a godh bharai (similar to a baby shower). In some cases, soon after the child is born, the father touches the baby's lips with a spoon dipped in honey, curd, and ghee (clarified butter). The sweet mixture is intended to welcome the newborn with the sweetness of the world. A baby's first haircut (mundun) is a sacred event that occurs in the baby's first or third year. According to Hindu beliefs, the hair present at birth represents unwanted traits from a person's past lives. In order to ensure a new beginning and to encourage the hair to grow back thicker, the head is shaved. The mundun is celebrated with feasting, family gatherings, and religious offerings. Christian babies are baptized and christened within the first few months of life. Hindu families hold a namakaran (naming ceremony) 28 days after a birth. The father or another close relative whispers the baby's name into the baby's right ear. A priest chants mantras, praying for a long and healthy life for the newborn and then determines the best letters to start the baby's name, based on the position of the planets when the child was born. As part of the naming ceremony, the family seeks blessings for the newborn by holding a feast, making charitable contributions to the poor, and giving gifts to the priest who performs the rituals. Before a girl turns one, the family chooses an important date on which to piece her ears and nose. 


Food: 

Indian diets vary by region and culture. For example, roti, a type of wheat bread, is a stable in northern India, but rice is the staple food for the rest of the country. Indian meals are usually quite spicy. Some region's dishes are spicier than others. Northern Indian cuisine tends to be slightly milder. Onions are used in most dishes. A very delicious Indian food, onion bhajhis, are little onion fritters, similar to hush puppies in the United States (but more amazing!) Coconut is a common flavoring, particularly in the south. Different types of curry are popular. Vegetarianism is very popular in India, usually for religious reasons. Hindus consider cows to be sacred and will not eat beef. When McDonald's gained popularity in India, they had some serious PR issues when it was revealed that their french fries were flavored with beef tallow. Muslims do not eat pork or drink alcohol. 

On a personal note, I love Indian food (though it usually ends up giving me a stomach ache!) I like to visit a local restaurant called Shalimar and order a thali. The word means "plate", and it's basically a full meal served on a big silver platter (unless you get carry-out!) There are lots of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options at every Indian restaurant. My idea of a perfect Indian meal would include the following: lots of naan (delicious, soft, flat bread which beats the pants off of pita bread any day); onion bhajhis; vegetarian samosas (little pastry pockets full of a spicy mixture of potatoes and chickpeas); tender tandoori chicken (marinated in yogurt and mild spices, baked in a traditional clay tandoor oven); jasmine rice; saag paneer (like Indian creamed spinach- paneer is Indian cheese); raita (a sort of salad made of yogurt and cucumber, and a few very mild spices- an absolute necessity when eating spicy food); and some kheer (rice pudding with golden raisins) for dessert! 


Thali! 


Recreation: 

India's most popular sports are cricket, football (soccer), and field hockey. Cricket is extremely popular in India, and professional teams and players have large followings. More men play sports than women, but some women do enjoy playing badminton, ping pong, and tennis. In rural areas, people may play more traditional sports, which usually don't require the expensive equipment that other more modern sports require. Cinemas are very popular in India. The movie industry there is an even bigger deal than the one in the United States. Indian movie studios crank out twice the number of films each year than the US does. Television is extremely popular in India, and all but the very poorest Indians own a television. Those that don't own a television probably have access to one, whether at a friend or relative's house, or even watching TV at a video store. Indians don't wait for a holiday to gather and celebrate- Indian life includes many celebrations for various milestones and cultural events. They may even have a party if a family purchases a new car! Events like picnics and family gatherings are common. Children enjoy swimming, dancing, and playing musical instruments. Indian women commonly enjoy shopping, watching movies, gathering for socializing, and holding potluck-style dinners. 

India is well-known for the architectural treasure known as the Taj Mahal. A variety of dance and music styles are enjoyed in India. A popular Indian instrument is the sitar, brought to prominence in the Western world in the 1960s by artist Ravi Shankar, by way of the Beatles. Epic poems are an important part of Indian literature. Two of the very most prominent are the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Characters from these epics appear throughout Indian dance, music, and theater. 


Holidays: 

Many of India's most important holidays are religious. Diwali and Holi are two Indian holidays that most Indians celebrate, no matter their religion. Diwali si the Festival of Lights, which celebrates light's triumph over darkness. Thousands of lights are used to decorate stores and homes all over the country. Holi is the Festival of Colors. This celebration marks the end of the cold season. To celebrate, people throw colored water and powders on each other! Hindus may celebrate the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr, the three day feast celebrating the end of Ramadan. Muslims and Hindus may also celebrate Christian holidays like Christmas.  National holidays include New Year's Day, Republic Day (January 26), Independence Day (August 15), and Mahatma Gandhi's birthday (October 2.)   Several different calendars are used in India. The national calendar corresponds with the Gregorian calendar (the one used in the United States and other Western countries), but the years begin on March 22. Civil holidays are set according to the national calendar, but Hindu holidays are set by the Hindu astrological calendar. 


Indian children celebrate Holi, the festival of colors. 


Health: 

The people of India face a variety of health challenges which stem from natural disasters, poverty, poor sanitation and malnutrition. Cholera, malaria, typhoid, polio, and hepatitis endanger many, especially those in rural areas who lack access to preventative medicine. Healthcare workers are working hard to teach good hygiene, family planning, and good nutrition, but it's difficult when faced with impoverished conditions such as those that pervade many areas of India. The wealthiest people of India have private insurance and access to decent healthcare clinics, but many others rely on government-run hospitals, which suffer from lack of staffing and supplies.


Education: 

Education is important to the people of India. The country has one of the largest education systems in the world. Indians see education as an investment in the future, and as an important key in improving their lives. Public schooling is free and mandatory for children ages 6 to 14, but facilities are often inadequate. There are private schools in India, but it is very costly and not affordable to most Indian families. Primary school ends at age 14 or 15. Secondary school is divided into two levels: secondary and upper secondary. Each level lasts two years. Literacy rates and access to education vary among social divisions. Boys usually have better access to education than girls. Urban children have better access to education than rural children. Education levels and literacy rates are also higher among wealthier Indians and those belonging to higher social castes. Poor children are sometimes forced to leave school so they can work and earn income for their families. About 90% of children in India are enrolled in primary school, but only 49% of girls and 59% of boys are enrolled in secondary school. Parents are often very involved in their children's education. They help with homework and receive progress reports from school. Because parents are so involved, competition is high both in primary and secondary school. Upon entering secondary school, students choose a specialty such as business, arts, math or biology. Secondary school requires tuition payments. In order to proceed to each level of education, students must pass exams. India is home to about 250 universities and more than 3,000 colleges.


Primary students enjoy a midday meal



Books to Read: 

Gandhi: A March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty

Grandma and the Great Gourd: A Bengali Folktale by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni



Bonus! Movies to Watch: 

Bend It Like Beckham: This movie takes place in England, rather than India, but focuses on an Indian girl and her family life as she pursues her passion for playing soccer. One of my favorite things about this movie is near the end, where her sister gets married. In the movie, you get to see glimpses of Indian courtship, contrasting the traditional involvement of parents and modern attitudes about dating. You also get to see the wedding reception, which is a tremendous celebration and looks like lots of fun!

Slumdog Millionaire: One of my absolute, all-time favorite movies. This film is set in India and follows the life of Jamal, a boy from the slums; his brother Salim; and the girl they knew in childhood, Latika. The movie is very good and (spoiler alert) has a happy ending, but it is sobering. It provides a scary look into the impoverished life many Indians live, from children working to earn a bit of extra income for their families, to orphans living in dumps, picking garbage for a living, to child exploitation, (implied) forced prostitution, and human trafficking. It's hardcore. I can't watch it without thinking of my Jayid and my mom's Amisha living in India. I promise that despite the dark description I just provided, it really is a good movie.

Born into Brothels: This award-winning documentary about the children of sex workers in a poverty-stricken area of India is very moving. The children were given cameras and little photography lessons, and it's very interesting to see the world through their eyes. The documentary provides all sorts of information about this aspect of Indian society, and what it means for the children who are growing up in these situations.

Gandhi: A very long but spectacular biographical movie about the life of Gandhi. This movie is spectacular, moving, and inspiring. This is another one of my favorites.



From Compassion's website:

"Compassion's work in India began in 1968. Currently, more than 114,100 children participate in 478 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Indian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be."

All information came from CultureGrams. It's an excellent resource if you have access to it!