Thursday, May 28, 2015

Road Trip!

Hi Everyone! This is Carson this time. I thought I'd add my two cents about the recent little trip we took to the state just north of where Rising Star Outreach is. We went to Andhra Pradesh, just over the border to Tirupati, where we stayed for two days. You can see it on this map.

... india packages east india packages west india packages south india
RSO is near Chennai, in the state Tamil Nadu.

Anyway, we left early Tuesday morning, drove about four hours, then got settled into our hotel and had lunch. Then we drove another hour to a village that RSO only visits once a year. We set up our mobile medical clinic outside a Christian church. Everyone seemed especially grateful that we had come, perhaps because no one gets out there very often, since it's such a far distance from anything else. Definitely the most remote location we've been to.

We treated 67 patients that day. Besides medical treatment and giving them bandages and medications, Rising Star also gave some of them these nifty hand bands that have a pocket for a spoon or fork to go in, so that people without fingers can eat more easily, and on their own. We also gave a few people crutches and walking sticks who have trouble walking. We saw some of the most advanced cases of leprosy there--many had lost all their fingers and toes. One guy had lost his entire leg up until his knee. It was very humbling to see how grateful they were for such simple gifts.

My beautiful wife and I both did bandage removal and washing. We saw some very intense leprosy ulcers. I had to fight down my gag reflex many times. Just when you think you're becoming desensitized to the blood, oozing sores, and bug-infested craters in someone's foot, you see another that is worse than the last. For one ulcer, I had to do battle with the flies and tiny bugs that had decided to make their residence there. As the sweat poured down my back, I wondered why I was choosing to spend my summer in this god-forsaken jungle colony of India.

This thought only lasted a short while, because right then I looked up at the patient I was helping. Her eyes were directed up, with what was left of her hands held together as if she were praying. I saw years of hurt, sadness, and despair etched into her wrinkled features. Then I remembered why I was there, why I am here. I am in a leprosy colony in India because it is in fact not forsaken by God. He remembers these children, even though most on this planet don't even know they exist. He hears even their prayers. He knows their tears, their needs, and their dreams. He still loves them. I hope and pray that I may come to see and love these people as God does.

With each new day, and each new colony we visit, I think I'm starting to see, bit by bit, the immense love God has for the forgotten, the unknown, the untouchable.

Another favorite experience with this colony was with our new friend Raja (pictured below).

After Raja received his treatment, he voluntarily began to help Faith and I with cleaning the water bins after each patient. This allowed us to get to more patients much faster. I was amazed at his cheerful attitude, and willingness to help. We learned that the name "Raja" actually means "king" in Hindi. The service of this "king" reminded me of the service of another king that I look up to greatly. King Benjamin once said "Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?" (Mosiah 2:18) Raja used what he had left of his fingers to grip and carry heavy water bins, empty them, and wash them for us. His beard couldn't hide his nearly-toothless smile as he served us. He taught us that no matter our limitations, circumstances, or situation, we can always serve others. I thought that I'd learned this lesson many times before, but this humble, sincere, smiley leprosy patient taught me a lesson on service that I'll never forget. 

On our way home, we stopped to get some famous Indian mangoes. No diversity here, tons of vendors all line up in the same place and sell the same thing for the same price. I hope that I'll have the opportunity to do some business consulting here, because I might be able to help them out!

I'd like to thank Faith 'Gorgeous' Ralphs for the opportunity to be a Guest Writer on her famous blog, and I look forward to reading her future posts! This is Carson, signing off. Nos vemos amigos!


 Most of you know that Carson and I both majored in Public Health at BYU. While Carson plans on the hospital administration route, my forte is health education. One aspect of our medical clinics here is education about how to prevent and treat disease. I love that we not only treat, but teach.

This is a picture from the first medical clinic we did, last week. Carson helped to A) find electricity and B) set up this projector with a very effective video about how germs spread. I didn't understand a word, but I understood the video perfectly because the images get the message across. 

The crowd seemed very interested and receptive. 

The girl next to me is named Jennifer. She speaks perfect English (which is pretty rare) because she has gone to school at Rising Star for several years! Her family lives in this leprosy colony, even though she personally is very healthy. It is neat to see the backgrounds the Rising Star students come from. 

That little boy in front is starting kindergarten here next week. His mom said he can't wait. He'll be one of the students I'll get to help tutor all summer!

 It's very clear to see here how much difference education can make in someone's life. It's the difference between these beautiful children living in this colony their whole lives, and going out with skills and opportunities to help their families improve their conditions. 

This is us a few days ago on our roof after a short rainstorm. Can I just add how much I love being here with my amazing, handsome husband? There are a lot of amazing aspects of being in India, but being with him is the best part!

All pictures taken by Shane Maryott

Monday, May 25, 2015

Love is Prevention and Treatment

Today our first volunteer came! It's kind of an anomaly this time, because we only have one volunteer for this whole two-week session. His name is Matt. He heard about Rising Star because his mission president and wife (Becky Douglas) are the founders of Rising Star! 

Anyway, this session is a medical session, meaning we are strictly doing medical projects, not education or community outreach (which are the projects Carson and I are in charge of). Today we went to a village called Chettipuniyam and set up a clinic in an empty community hall type building. It was a little cramped but met the need. 

The way we do medical clinics:
  • We all get in a van or two with Indian staff and doctors and tons of supplies.
  • We arrive at a village that has patients with leprosy in it. The patients have been informed already that we're coming and are usually waiting for us at the appointed place when we arrive.
  • We form an assembly line to unload the van--tables, chairs, stools, buckets, medical supplies.
  • We set up the various stations: One for filing where we give the patients their file (they are seen once a month at this clinic), one for taking their blood pressure and blood sugar, one for removing previous bandages, one for washing the leprosy ulcers (usually always on the feet), one for putting oil on their legs and feet, and one for re-wrapping the bandages, one for counseling with a doctor, one for getting eye drops in their eyes if they need it, and one for receiving medications they can take home. Whew!
  • We all take a station and get to work! Today Carson and I both did washing. We soak their ulcers in an antiseptic solution. They are taught to do this at home every day. 

 This guy today was my favorite. He was the first to arrive, and with his glasses taped in the middle and his Nike baseball cap and little satchel, he reminded of a little school boy. He smiled when he got there and just seemed so eager to get treatment. His 2- tooth grin....priceless.

This is the volunteer, Matt, doing blood sugar testing. He's a phlebotomist, thankfully, In our training we had to practice doing all the stations, and when I had to do blood sugar testing I totally accidentally jabbed Carson's finger way too deep....I felt so bad. Haha. So good thing we've got Matt!

The hardest part of these clinics for me is the heat. We take our gloves off and steam comes out. Our masks get wet with sweat. There's just no relief. But I thought it would be more difficult for me to see the leprosy wounds on people. There are some wounds I washed today (with double gloves on, no worries! I won't be coming home with leprosy.) that were hard to look at. Most have lost fingers and toes. But I thought about if I had a child with a wound like that, I would never show disgust. Or if Carson had a wound like that, I would take care if with love  and compassion, and not with a look of repulsion. Really, it should be the same for these people because they are our brothers and sisters most literally. 

I'm really trying to get in the habit of viewing people as my brothers and sisters, and not as "poor people," or "lepers," or any other stereotype we often refer to people in India as. They are more than their economic status, more than their ethnicity, more than a disease, more than a stereotype. They have amazing personalities, talents, and strengths that I'm only beginning to see. 

Just a few comments about leprosy: It is a bacterial infection, just like ear aches or pneumonia. It can be cured 100%, but if not treated quickly, it develops into open lesions, nerve damage, even loss of vision and digits. Contrary to popular belief, it isn't even that contagious. You have to breathe in droplets from someone with active leprosy--like if they cough or sneeze and you breathe in droplets. 

The biggest problem with leprosy, I think, is the social stigma against it. The stigma is what cripples these people economically, socially, and psychologically. Just "leprosy colony" stirs up a terrible image that is much worse than it really is. Leprosy colonies are just areas where people with leprosy live nearby each other, often because they've been cast out to there. Really, leprosy colonies are just where a group of our brothers and sisters live who happen to have this disease. How would you feel if a few people in your household had cancer, and people started calling your house the "cancer colony?" It would hurt to be defined by the disease, not by who you are or your redeeming qualities. This is the same reason why we don't say "lepers." They are not defined by a disease, just like no one called you a "strep" when you had strep throat--you are you.

The stigma is terribly damaging. It is the reason why people are so afraid to seek treatment, which is what makes their disease get so destructive. When I think about it, leprosy wouldn't be nearly so bad if there was love instead of repulsion. Love is really what this world needs most, isn't it?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Spirit of God in India

We made our first trek to church today, and it wasn't as hot or un-understandable as I had expected. It was a somewhat long day, because we went to the airport to pick up another coordinator (yay!!), but it was wonderful.

On our way, Dr. Nevitha (she's the Indian volunteer program officer, just amazing and helps us out so much!) gave us a fruit called a jack fruit to try. Very different from anything I've ever eaten. It had the taste of corn, but was sweeter, it looks like a slimy yellow squash, and has the texture of....hmmm, I don't know anything similar in texture.

Here's Carson trying it.
 Then we (finally!) arrived at the chapel. It is just one of my favorite things ever to be in a foreign country and find the church, and set foot in a dedicated building. Such a sanctuary. Today was their district conference, so four branches were gathered together. I tried to sneak a picture, but it turned out really blurry. You get the idea. The mission president and his wife spoke, along with two returned young missionaries. Everything was done in English, and there was even a little air conditioning! We sat behind four Indian sister missionaries, and I wanted to just hug them so tight and say, "What you're doing is SO worth it!!!" Because I can only imagine how much they sweat and suffer in this heat, and how little reception they get. What angels.

 A choir sang "The Spirit of God" at the end and it was so powerful. I looked at that tiny sea of white-shirted men and nicely dressed women in their traditional dress, feeling the Spirit, enjoying the blessings of the restored gospel. I was so filled with gratitude that the gospel has reached so many corners of the earth. I am so HAPPY that these people, even though it's still a minuscule portion of India's huge population, get to be members of the church. It's pretty amazing what a few years of missionary work have done here, especially considering how many are Hindu and non-Christian. Just testimony that this is truly God's work. It builds my testimony to see it work in so many different areas of the world.
 This is the outfit I wore to church today. One of the fanciest in the repertoire here. I fit right in wearing it!

What also made my day was hearing that the Benitez family I met and taught in Paraguay that got baptized in May 2013 was sealed yesterday in the temple!!

And, this beautiful bride who got married in the temple last week was also baptized the same day as the Benitez family, two years ago! To hear of these temple sealings just fills my heart!

Carson also saw this picture on Facebook of a family he taught on his mission, who got sealed in the Gilbert temple last week.


We had dinner with this family last week right before leaving for India, and the father told us of how far he has come since joining the church, how his friends ask him, "What happened to you?" because he and his habits are so different. It's amazing to realize how many lives are changing for the better thanks to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and thanks to the fact hat it is spreading throughout the earth.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

First Saturday in India

Have you ever had to chase cows away from getting too close to your beach towel while spending a day at the beach? I wish I would have taken a picture of the cows on the beach today. Carson said, "I guess when you know you're sacred, you can go wherever you want."

When the volunteers get here, we tend to take them to some sites on Saturdays. So today we went so we would know the ropes and be able to take a group. We went to a place called Mamallapuram where there are engravings and stone carvings from the 12th century, near the coast of the Bay of Bengal. They were very impressive. Since we'll be going there nearly every Saturday, I didn't take many pictures this time.

 I thought this ice cream ad was funny, it says "Very Tasty. Zero Sharing." 

 Then we went to a resort where we paid to use the swimming pool and the beach. The pool water was rather warm, but the beach was a little better.  This is the beach that cows walked along once in a while. They're just everywhere!
This is Carson and Shane relishing the first time not sweating since we've been here, pretty much. 

We also ate at a restaurant that is universally loved by Rising Star volunteers, called Moonrakers. I wanted to try something new, and got something called Gobi Manchurian.  It was spicy, flavorful, and absolutely delicious! It's cooked cauliflower covered in a spicy sauce. It also came with parotta, which is one of the flat breads of southern India (naan is a northern Indian food).  It is just like the chapati I had in Africa. So tasty. Carson also loved his food, chicken tikka masala. 

Something interesting about the restaurants here is that they always say on the outside whether it's Veg or Non-Veg, meaning they serve vegetarian food or non-vegetarian, or both. Where we went to today was both, and pride themselves on serving the "Catch of the Day." They showed us the huge blue lobster, the fish, and the prawns...all very freshly caught. Funny how no one ordered seafood this time.

Here's a picture of my gobi manchurian and parotta, that our photographer, Shane, took. Beautiful shot, eh?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

First Impessions and Fun Facts

First impressions:

  • HOT and HUMID. Wow, we're living in a sauna! I can't imagine getting used to this, but I sure hope we do. The minute we walked out of the airport, that was India's first impression on me. I don't know how it couldn't be. We're eternally grateful for our AC in our room. 
  • Kind. So far, we haven't met a single Indian who's not super nice. From the cute Indian family in the Phoenix airport with 4 adorable kids, to the man who started chatting with us on our 9-hour flight from Frankfurt to Chennai, to all the staff here at Rising Star, to the residents of the leprosy colony we visited today. Very respectful. 
  • Beautiful. It's very green and lush, the campus is covered in mango trees full of green mangoes hanging down like Christmas ornaments. We're excited for them to be ripe next month. And, the clothing is beautiful. Well, on the native women it is. I still feel very not-so-beautiful, and that I'm lounging around in my pajamas. 
  • Lots of white rice. Every meal. We've only had three meals, but every one was some kind of sauce with some vegetables over rice. We've liked most of the food quite a bit.

My outfit today

Breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Take your pick!

Fun Facts:
  • Instead of the word "question," here, they say "doubt." Do you have any doubts? Just let me know if you have any doubts. 
  • "Love marriages" (marriages like ours that are not arranged) are very rare. Almost everyone has an arranged marriage here, and they seem to have pretty strong, happy families from what I can tell in my two days of experience. We've talked about how, essentially, you choose to love your spouse whether you chose them to be your spouse, or not. 
  • Drivers drive on the right side of the car, on the left side of the road, and they use their horns like blinkers. So, if you're about to pass somebody or switch lanes, it's the safe thing to do to honk a few times.  
This morning we got in a van with the other coordinator here, Shane, and six other medical staff who work for Rising Star. We went to a leprosy colony about an hour away. It was much nicer than I imagined. There were little cottages built by the government, and the people were gathered for us before we got there. They inform them by phone the day before of the place and time they should be. I helped take their blood pressure, then the staff assessed their wounds and re-wrapped their bandages. They visit each colony about once a month. We also set up a projector and showed an educational video about how cleanliness prevents disease.  I didn't understand the words, but the video was great even without understanding the words. The language barrier is a bigger problem than I anticipated, because most speak their mother tongue, which in this state of India is called Tamil. 

We're so happy to be here and are learning lots! Thank you for your support and prayers! We feel great and feel very safe. 


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