Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans. I made a decision when I booked that one-way flight to India, which I don’t think I fully understood at the time. I made a deliberate decision to pursue holy overseas work in India, not in Puerto Rico or any other place. Sometimes I feel a little bit guilty about that, especially considering what has happened on the island in Hurricane Maria’s wake. There is a severe shortage of teachers. There are hurting women, men, children, and teenagers. There are a lot of suicides happening in Puerto Rico. The U.S. government won’t openly admit this, by the way. Those who can leave are leaving the island in droves. It’s completely falling apart even though the U.S. government has a responsibility to provide for Puerto Ricans just like they would for white people in the states. BECAUSE WE ARE CITIZENS, DAMMIT.
Yet I didn’t go to Puerto Rico. I absolutely could have. For a while, I was in talks with this organization that sends people out to do holy overseas work. We extensively talked about Puerto Rico. Instead, I chose to come to India, a place where I’d have to learn multiple new languages, change the way I dress, eat differently, behave differently around men, and say goodbye to my favorite American/NYC things. Oh, and I said goodbye to my family and friends, too. I said goodbye knowing full well that I had no intention of returning in the foreseeable future. The only way I will return is if God audibly speaks to me and tells me to leave India or if everything completely falls apart, leaving me with no one to help. The former may happen and the latter is borderline impossible.
Some may say that I’m betraying my culture by doing what I’m doing. Why am I not focused on Puerto Rican suffering? Instead I’m intentionally immersing myself in a culture I was not born into, changing so many things about how I present myself to people, and even changing the way I spell my name (although I hate it), because I want my name to be better understood and pronounced by the Indian people. I will belt out “Jana Gana Mana” in a heartbeat but will never again sing “The Star Spangled Banner.” You don’t have to reject your home country completely in order to do this type of work, but I just intensely dislike the U.S., so that’s me. Sometimes I pull my hair back into a bun so that my afro isn’t so striking. I try to stay in the sun for a bit every day to steadily darken my skin. I’m intentionally getting darker, which baffles every Indian I talk to about being tan. They tell me that my color is good and not to get darker. I tell them I want to get dark. They stare at me in amazement. I don’t see any of this as a betrayal. I see it as beautiful. I think of Amy Carmichael who went to Tamil Nadu from IRELAND, basically one of the whitest places on Earth. She wore Indian clothes and was one of the first overseas workers to do so. She stained her skin with coffee so her light skin wouldn’t be too shocking to the Indians she served. She had a strong cultural background as well and she gave it all up to be His hands and feet in India.
For now, I have traded arroz con habichuelas for rice and dal (chicken curry as well if it’s a good day). I have put the t-shirt and jeans aside in favor of salwar suits. Jhumkas jingle in my ears and chudiyan sparkle on my wrists. I have just about given up the hope of finding many people who speak Spanish, although the Lord has blessed me with one here who is learning Spanish! She calls me a “chica bonita”, a “pretty girl.” I probably won’t see my biological family for quite some time. But, to me, it’s all worth it. He’s worth all this effort, which honestly doesn’t feel like much effort at all. It’s all so easy for me, which I thank God for. To be frank, I don’t really see what I’m doing as very different or special. To me, this is the only way I know how to live. But, while writing this, I heard God say to my heart, “Do you realize the magnitude of what you’re doing?” I really don’t! I pray that He shows me. Just like for those who came before me and for those who will come after me, it’s all for Him. This is what I want to be remembered for: loving Him and loving His creation.