Some of the most often repeated advice I received was to make “self-care” a priority. So I planned on trips to the spa and to the beach, and was certain I would take these needed breaks. But, alas, time came, and time went, and those trips never happened. The afternoons I did have free, I only wanted to sleep, or catch up on laundry. And during these rest periods, I tried not to think too much about my mental state or emotional health, because that would just be more exhausting. All of this culminated in me falling into a bit of a funk. While I was still happy to see the kids and the teachers everyday, I started to grow bitter at the fact that every day was basically the same: substituting for another teacher who was absent, in a classroom filled with more kids who wouldn’t listen to me unless I threatened to hit them with a stick (as is the accepted form of discipline here). I was glad to be helping Joice, but unsure I could continue this day-in and day-out crisis management.
Thankfully, and truly only by God’s grace, I was able to take a retreat to my cousin’s home. She married a man from India last year, and is now living with her in-laws, only a 10-hour train ride away! (Which is incredible, considering the vast size of India). I was so grateful for this time to sleep, shop, adventure, and most of all, process. God really blessed both of us by putting us both in similar situations. It meant so much to have someone, let alone a dear family member, who could understand precisely some of my frustrations and cultural adjustments.
Throughout my 9 days in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, I was treated to lots of wonderful food, including chicken, mutton, and shrimp (I have missed meat in my nearly vegetarian diet!). We went to many local markets and shops, and even went to the zoo, where I got to touch an elephant!
On Independence Day, my cousin’s father-in-law, an ex-army colonel, judged the marching competition of a local university, and brought the two of us along. As his guests, we were asked to sit on stage, with dozens of high-ranking dignitaries surrounding us! With paparazzi wannabes following us down the literal red carpet, we felt a bit like celebrities, but were just happy to join in the festivities. My final day with the family was spent at the beach. Well, we first stopped at a really cool handwoven market, and at a coconut stall, where you get to drink the water, and then enjoy the flesh! So fun! We also took a pitstop (my first experience with a “squatty potty”!) at Konark Sun Temple, a really cool ancient Hindu temple with thousands of hand-carved stones.
Finally, after an amazing meal at a hotel, we arrived at Puri beach. The first mile we walked along was veritably empty, and we took our time looking at the beautiful waves and seashells. Our destination, however, was quite different. Here, just outside of a resort, there were hundreds of beach goers, all crowded together around a small piece of beach. There were also dozens of food vendors and fair-like attractions – I got to ride a camel along the beach! I also got to “swim” in the ocean, thanks to two lifeguards we hired to take me out into the waves, in a tube, in five minute increments. It was hilarious, and exhilarating, and it reminded me why I love to travel: for these random moments you could never plan, but can only sit back and enjoy.
Returning to work has been surprisingly stress-free. I have had a few big projects on my plate, like figuring out the hospital budget and interviewing a teaching candidate, but I loved coming back to the kids. They really are the sweetest. What has been hard about this week has been seeing pictures of all of my friends returning to Wheaton. While I anticipated this being hard to endure, I really was surprised by the sudden attack of my emotions Monday morning. I ended up sobbing in my office, which if you know me well, is not something I do, really ever. But after a few good Skype dates and texting sessions with friends back home, I’m back on my feet, relishing in the beauty of this campus. God is no doubt teaching me many things here, but one message that has been resounding loud and clear for me is “I am enough.” And He is. He is overflowing in joy, and strength, and peace. And if He has given me so many wonderful people to miss, and to be missed by, how much more wonderful is He?
Friendships across cultural bounds can be difficult, but I need to remind myself that relationships take time, and investment. So while I learn to rely on God for comfort and companionship, I also need to push myself to be open and available to my new friends here. I am so thankful for the love you all have shown me, and I’m looking forward to realizing that love here.
Thank you for reading! Love and blessings from India!