Monday, April 28, 2008

Pictures for "The Second Week"

Erin playing games with the VBS children. The girls are making a circle and the boys are inside the circle.

Jaya-Rani chose Erin to be "it," which meant she was to enter the circle and tag each boy, while hopping on one foot.

Erin, Heidi, and Lily all ready for Daddy's birthday celebration. Erin is wearing her new chew-dee, Heidi has her new cotton church dress on, and Lily is wearing the poofy, sequin-covered fancy dancy dress that Heidi picked out, but which seems to fit Lily better.

Ahhhh. Daddy is finally home, and all our celebrating can begin! Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Erin and Lily working on laundry with Odyssey. First, they take clothes out of the washing machine, wring the water onto the patio floor (the water runs into some metal pipes that carries the water off the patio), then hang the laundry either on the "outside" clothesline (that's where Erin is hanging a dress), or on the "up high" clothesline, which is under the roof. On Sunday morning, we discovered that a flock of birds must have landed on our "outside" laundry, because it was all spattered with bird poop!

Only a small portion of the big Banyan tree is in this picture. I believe that this is the original trunk, as it was the most prominent one and closest to the park sign that described the tree. This tree stretched on out of sight--'way back into the forest. We were not allowed to traipse around and take a good look at this tree because there was a protective fence around it. Mani (our driver) told me that children like to swing from the trunks of Banyan trees (perhaps that's why the park is protecting this one?).
A cashew nut freshly picked from a cashew tree. The cashew is the green thing on top, and the yellow bulb is full of a juice that the Indians make wine out of, reports Mani.
One of the security guys/night watchmen. (We have two who work at this building--very nice gentlemen who speak not a word of English, but they're always very friendly.) This one was hacking at coconuts when we returned home from a walk on Saturday afternoon. He hacked away all the tough outer-parts from one end of each coconut (he did four coconuts total). Then he motioned to me that Mr. Jacob (landlord) would cut off the top when he was ready and drink the juice.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Responses to comment 04/27/2008

From BDB:
Anonymous wrote:
how close is this to where you live? do you have a post office a few blocks from you?,+Chennai,+Chennai,+Tamil+Nadu+India&sll=13.00715,80.253282&sspn=0.009345,0.014591&ie=UTF8&ll=13.004328,80.250953&spn=0.004673,0.007296&t=h&z=17

That link is quite close to where we are. If you move the map south and west a bit, you can see Tidel Park on the map. Follow Canal Bank Road south.

I haven't seen anything marked as a post office. However, that doesn't mean much. There are many, many signs on each building. Some in Tamil, many in English, some advertising local stuff, others marking what is in the building.

Drew said it appears that I'm somewhat close to where I work.

That is true. However, with one way streets and heavy traffic it takes about 20 minutes to get there. I'm usually quite good with directions but I haven't been able to figure a straight line to get to work. I think Kent walked home once or twice but I haven't been that brave. We also have a Chennai map from a small guide book but since isn't detailed enough to have all the streets, I haven't tried to use it.

Fred & Reba wrote: "It's been five days since we wrote..." As you can see from the previous posting, Dawn has been --we've been waiting for bdb (a.k.a. "the fact checker" to make a few adjustments :)

Someone made a private comment about praying for my ear. Fortunately, it is feeling much better. I think all I had really needed was some Ibuprofen to take down some swelling. Thanks for your concern!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Second Week

[BDB says this post is very long. Dawn says it is a barely adequate description.]

Monday, April 21:Shopping at a department store, and preparing for B’s birthday

Dawn and girls went shopping at reportedly the busiest shopping center in town, called “T. Nager.” Traffic is pretty wild there, and tons of shops and huge department stores. I had thought the girls and I would wander around, from shop to store, but Mani, our driver, suddenly pulled to a stop in front of a very large building and said, “You shop.”
When I got out, I found what looked like a harried doorman who kept telling me, “Bill. Bill!”

To make a long story short, it turns out that since there is no parking in front of this store; the doorman gives you a “bill,” which is a claim ticket for your driver. When you are done shopping, you present this bill to the doorman, and he somehow contacts your driver who shows up about 10 minutes later to pick you up. If you want to know how long it took for the driver and the doorman to explain this to me in their limited English and the harried-ness of very heavy traffic and other cars waiting to unload their shoppers piling up behind our driver. . . .

The store’s name was Kumaran. I decided we would look at salwaars, as I had thought to purchase them towards the beginning of our time here so that we can wear them while we’re here, and not just save them for wearing back in Kansas. We also really needed a new church dress for Heidi, as the dresses I packed for her are made of thick cotton, and she needs something very light and airy for our non air-conditioned church.

This store seems to be supplied with many people whose job it is to get shoppers from one place to another. After the harried doorman, we were met by a gentleman whose sole purpose is to ask you what you’re shopping for, and then to escort you to the elevator and inform the elevator operator which floor you need. The elevator operator waits until the elevator is full before closing the elevator doors and going to another floor. Usually it doesn’t take more than 5 minutes for the elevator to fill up.

We were deposited on 4th floor, where another gentlemen met us to ask what we were shopping for, and who then took us to the area where little girl’s “frocks” are sold. I discovered to my surprise that you do not try on clothes here before you buy them. The clerk eyes the person who wants the clothing, and then selects the size she believes they would wear. You are allowed to hold the dress up to your child or yourself to somewhat decide if it will fit, but that’s it. (And later I found out that this dept. store doesn’t allow returns—you are allowed to exchange, but not return things for a cash refund.)

We found a whole rack full of really fancy “frocks” in Heidi’s size (I assumed they were her size). These were the type of dress that little girls would love to play dress-up in—lots of sequins, poofiness, etc. Upon further discussion, the clerk understood that I wanted something plainer, 100% cotton, and cooler. The clerk stands behind a counter with shelves behind her. She studies her shelves, then pulls out what she thinks you want. She pulled out a little pink dress, then the same style in green, yellow, purple. (I found that once the clerk finds out you like a certain style of clothing, they like to pull out the same style in a myriad of colors and lay them all on the counter for you to see.) Once we picked out both a plain dress and a fancy dress for Heidi, we moved onto the salwaars.

Oh my, what exquisitely beautiful salwaars we saw! We were looking for something for Erin, and the salwaar clerk (who is a few paces down the counter from the little girls’ “frocks” clerk) eyed Erin, and then pulled out several styles of salwaars all wrapped up in plastic bags. When Erin pointed at one she thought was pretty, they’d open the package and hold it up for her to see. We noticed a lime green and purple one which was so pretty, but I just wasn’t sure we were ready to purchase a salwaar, so I told the clerk, “Thank you, we might be back.” The crowd of clerks looked quite surprised that I wasn’t going to purchase right on the spot.

For some reason, Lily decided she absolutely did NOT want to shop for a salwwar, but the clerks were already pulling out salwaars her size and gesturing for her to pick one she liked. She would not be moved.

Then the clerks turned their attention back to Erin, and pulled out another lime green outfit that wasn’t quite a salwaar—more like a short-sleeved shirt and pants that looked vaguely like a pantsuit from the 70’s, but more Indian-looking. They seemed to pick up on the fact that Erin and I like the way Erin looks in lime green.

Erin liked this one, too, but suddenly she decided that she just couldn’t leave the shop without purchasing the lime green and purple salwaar we’d first seen. So we said, “thank you very much” to the clerks displaying the pantsuit, and returned to the counter where we’d seen the lime/purple salwaar, and asked for it again.

The clerks don’t let you hold or carry the things you’ve decided to purchase. Rather, they carry them off to the cashier, who waits for you to finish shopping on that floor. You pay him, another clerk packages up your purchase, then they ask if you have more shopping. When I mentioned that we wanted to look at shoes, they wouldn’t let me have our package and dropped it down a chute where it arrived at the “shoe floor.” We were met by a clerk there who was holding our frock/dress/salwaar purchase and gave it to us there.

At this department store, I happen to wear the absolute largest size in women’s shoes (I wear a size 6 ½). The only other place that this has ever happened was in Korea, where a size 6 ½ was the largest women’s shoe that could be bought ready-made (at least this was the case 20 years ago). Heidi was getting stir-crazy in the stroller, so I let her get out and run around with Lily while Erin and I looked for shoes. I think the entire sales-staff on this floor (shoes/purses, and cosmetics) stopped everything to watch Lily and Heidi running around. Then they began to run around with Lily and Heidi, pinching cheeks and asking, “Name? Name?” (The favorite question here is not, “How are you?” but “Name?”)

By the time Erin and I were done finding shoes, every clerk knew Heidi’s and Lily’s names, and Heidi had been offered a make-over session in the cosmetics area, which she refused. Upon our shoe purchase, we were then allowed to carry our purchases since we declared that we were done shopping.

This appeared to be a posh department store, by the way, and there was no air-conditioning, no open windows, and no fans. We were so, so hot by the time we were done.

Out to present our bill to the doorman, and magically our driver showed up.

On our way home, I asked Mani (the driver) if he knew where we could purchase a cake for Byron’s birthday the next day. (For those of you who are saying, “Oh, Dawn, don’t tell me you can’t handle making a cake!” I need to clarify that I checked, and there is no oven in our kitchen. Just a stove-top and a microwave. Duncan Hines cake-mixes are sold at the supermarket, though, so someone somewhere must have an oven.)

Mani told me that in order to have a cake tomorrow, you have to order it today. He then took the girls and I to a bakery that smelled absolutely heavenly, and every pastry you could want was on display. For the first time, Mani left the car and accompanied us into an establishment. I was so grateful, as he described what we wanted to the clerks and I felt as if our order was in good hands. (The girls told Mani we wanted a chocolate cake). We asked for the wording, “Happy Birthday Daddy” to be put on the cake, and the clerks all smiled and seemed to think that was terribly cute.

Back home to cool off and plan for the surprise birthday celebration.

Tuesday, April 22, Byron’s birthday

This is the day we’re going to VBS. Equipped ourselves with plenty of water bottles and our most 100% cotton-ish clothes. After dropping Byron off at work, our driver headed to the church, which took a good 40-45 minutes to drive. (I asked Mani, and he said we live in the south end of Chennai, and the church is ‘way over on the west side). Arrived at 11:30 (VBS runs from 9:30 to 12:30, but we couldn’t leave for VBS until dropping Byron off at work at 10:30).

When we arrived, a little girl gestured for Erin and Lily to join her in the sanctuary, while Dawn and Heidi were accosted by ladies wanting to adore Heidi. Eventually, Dawn and Heidi made it to the sanctuary, where a lady whose name is Jaya-Rani and who speaks reasonably understandable English told me that I would be teaching a song and telling a story (she is a rather pushy lady, which admittedly is a useful trait for anyone in children’s ministries). She specifically said she wanted me to teach them a new song, and I told her I didn’t know what songs the children knew, so I didn’t know if my song would be new to them. I sang the first lines to several songs to her, and she nodded and said they knew them all! I was stumped. Then I asked what the theme for VBS was, so that I could tell a story that would fit the theme. She said, “Oh, we are just teaching the children to be kind and nice.”

Then, Jaya-Rani asked Heidi if she wanted some juice and a biscuit (did I tell you already that “biscuit” means “cookie”?). Heidi said yes, and before I knew what was happening Jaya-Rani had whisked Heidi out of the sanctuary and I was being summoned up front to “do my thing.”

Well, as I was walking up to the front I was trying to think of a good story to tell. I couldn’t decide whether to tell a Bible story or a modern story, but ended up on an old Uncle Arthur’s favorite about the greedy little boy who always took the biggest and best food at the table, until one day his mother and aunt collaborated to teach him a lesson by serving a feast but making sure that all the biggest and most beautiful foods on the table tasted terrible.

Then I decided to teach the children the song I thought they would be least familiar with, which is the Heritage Singers song, “Let’s Sing a Happy Song, Let’s sing about Jesus.” I asked Erin and Lily to join me up front, and Erin came up quickly, and Lily reluctantly joined us a few minutes later. We were each handed mikes, and belted out the song acapella. Then someone wanted to write the words on the blackboard, so while she was doing that we stood around feeling silly. We sang the song 3 more times. Just as we were finished singing, Heidi arrived in the arms of yet another lady. (Heidi ended up being very disappointed that she didn’t get to hear the story nor sing the song up front with us, as it’s one of her very favorite songs. I was told later that she was taken to the pastor’s house, where she spent some time with the pastor’s wife. Heidi reports, “I was with a lady, but there were no kids there.”)

VBS dismissed for games shortly afterwards, and Dawn and Heidi were absolutely MOBBED by children who would rather talk to us than go play games. I’m not sure what was going on with Erin and Lily, as I couldn’t see them from being surrounded by Indian children. The children were all eager for me to ask them their names, and to ask our names, and to all stand around looking like they wished they could ask more but didn’t have the words for it. Finally, they took us outside for games. Heidi seems to get worn out quickly by either all the attention, or perhaps the heat, so she fell asleep. Lily declared it was too hot to run around and play games. I left her with Heidi and went out to see what Erin was doing.

Erin looked hot and somewhat dazed, but was playing games with the other kids. This is how the game worked: All the girls gathered around in a circle, with the boys inside the circle. One girl would be chosen to enter the circle. She had to hop on one foot as she chased the boys and tagged them in this confined space. Erin was chosen as one of the first girls, and she had a time trying to hop on one foot in her new flip-flops.

It’s also interesting to note that Erin is taller than most girls who seem to be her age. Erin is nearly as tall as Sahjee, our cook. I also tower over many Indian adults, which is a new experience.

In talking with Jaya-Rani, I think all the VBS teachers are also elementary teachers at the SDA school which is right there on the same property as the church.

Jaya-Rani has a 7-yr old daughter named Ritti, who speaks reasonably good English and who has bonded with Lily. Ritti showed Lily all around the church grounds.

Jaya-Rani insisted that we return to VBS everyday this week, but I made no promises. It’s so far away from our house, and gas (which is called, “fuel” here) isn’t cheap.

After VBS, we returned to T. Nagar shopping center to return one of Heidi’s dresses, as the zipper broke the first time I put it on her. The clerks indicated that I needed to pick something else out to replace the defective dress (exchanges are allowed, but refunds are not), and Heidi selected the most “fairy-tale” dress hanging on the rack. That dress was less expensive than the one we were returning, so we got another fairy-tale dress to get up to the price of the dress we were returning. We had to get these dresses in a bigger size, as I think one reason the zipper broke is because the dress was a bit too small for Heidi.

When we got home, we found that the dresses fit Lily, (a bit on the short side, but otherwise they’re a perfect fit.)

On our way home, I asked Mani to stop at the grocery store, as we had seen some magic pads there (those special pads of paper that you rub a pencil on the paper, and a picture magically appears.) Byron likes those, so each of the girls bought him one for his birthday.; I also picked up a bunch of other things I needed, such as safety pins, rope (we’re making a clothesline in the spare bedroom—it is so humid here it takes 2 days for cloths to dry outside but in mild air-conditioning, it will dry in a few hours), lots of bread, more peanut butter, etc. When we got to the check-out line, I prepared to pay with my credit card, but their credit card machine was down! I panicked, because I knew I didn’t have that many rupees left. Since I had no choice, I paid with rupees. I truly believe God was blessing, as I pulled out every single rupee I had, including coins, and found that I had the EXACT amount of money to pay for the groceries!

Upon return to the car, I explained to Mani that I needed to return home before we picked up the birthday cake, as I was completely out of money (I was hoping I could find some rupees at home to pay for the birthday cake). Mani said he would loan me the money, and we arrived home with a fantastic-looking chocolate covered birthday cake with a flamboyant, “Happy Birthday Daddy” decorating the top.

The girls spent the rest of the afternoon eagerly getting ready for the big event. You wouldn’t believe what Erin can do with a bit of yarn, a few pieces of construction paper, a pink napkin, some scissors and tape. The kitchen was transformed into a festive hall. Lily and Heidi were busy making birthday cards, and the girls found more gifts for Daddy from the free stuff they got on the plane (the girls received some give-away things on our flight, such as a magnetic checkerboard game). They wrapped gifts up using “The Hindu,” for gift-wrap, which is an English newspaper we get on a daily basis.

(Just an aside. I think that “The Hindu” needs a native speaker of English to work in its office as an editor. Although the articles are written in English, I often read them and then say, “Huh?” It’s as if I’m talking to someone who is sort-of speaking my language, but I’m obviously not getting the point.)

The girls worked out an elaborate plan to hide under the table, and when Daddy rang the doorbell (he doesn’t carry the key, so he has to ring/knock when he gets home) they were going to count to three and then burst out, yelling, “Surprise!!!!!” They practiced this for at least 45 minutes.

All three girls wanted to dress up for the occasion, so Erin wore her brand new salwaar, Lily wore one of Heidi’s new fairy-tale dresses, and Heidi wore the new 100% cotton dress. Erin and Lily also each were clacking around in Erin’s and Mommy’s new high-heeled sandals. If we have any neighbors who had any doubt that there were people living in this apartment, those doubts are now completely dispelled.

Finally, Daddy arrived home, and was mobbed by his girls. He was truly surprised, and we had a fine celebration.

Wednesday, April 23: Out of rupees, so we had to stay home! (This turned out to a great blessing, and I think God made us run out of rupees so we’d be home for Nadiya’s visit. (More on this later.)

Byron and Dawn decided on not returning to VBS, as the cost of fuel is a bit too high to drive that far everyday, and Dawn is confident that her help is not needed—that the Burke presence was just a little “extra” special feature for the one time that we did go.

The girls did a huge amount of homeschooling, and staying home in the air-conditioning helped Heidi’s heat rash heal up a bit more. It’s doing much better.

About noon, our apartment was invaded by ladies—our two beloved housekeepers (Odyssey and Mahalak-shmi), another housekeeper who likes to hang out with the other two but doesn’t usually work very hard, and a surprise visit from Mahalak-shmi’s sister-in-law, Nadiya. Nadiya speaks quite good English, and she had taken a day off work to come and meet the Burkes. I was so glad that we hadn’t gone of gallivanting somewhere that day.

Nadiya was able to answer quite a few questions that I have had, and that our housekeeping friends were wondering about us. One of their questions for us was, “Do you have housekeepers in America?” I laughed and laughed at that one. Then Odyssey said that she wants to come to America and be our housekeeper. I told her that would be delightful, and then I heard the ladies saying words like, “passport” and “visa” sprinkled within their Tamil conversation. Hmmmm. . . .

The ladies also asked us through Nadiya if we had known about Heidi’s limbs in a sonogram before she was born. That gave me the opportunity to share with them that yes, we had seen her limbs and that God had told us before she was born that she would be alright, and that He is continually showing us how He is blessing her. They all heartily agreed that she is very talented and capable.

We were then surprised by all the cooks and housekeeping staff in the building to show up in our kitchen, sit down on the floor, and have “tea.” Odyssey brought 4 small cups to each of us Burke women, and their tea is absolutely delicious. It tastes like hot chocolate, but Odyssey told me that’s because they put a lot of sugar in it.

Nadiya explained to me why the Indian children are generally dressed in western clothes—“for ease of movement.” She said that educated women generally wear “salwaars,” but that that Tamil word for “salwaar” is “chew-dee.” She is a highly educated lady, and works at a bank, I think. She said she wears a chew-dee everyday, and wears a sari only to temple and to family functions.

She also said she’ll take us chew-dee shopping, and that she knows a place where we can purchase them for about half the price of the one I bought for Erin at the department store.

Byron found out from one of his co-workers that he could change money in the office building rather than having to go to a special bank and have three forms filled out, stamped and approved by three people. So he changed more money this day.

Byron got home about 8:30 p.m., ate supper, and then stayed up till about 11:00 working.

Thursday, April 24: Ventures into the wilderness (well, at least it seemed like it)

Armed with some rupees, we asked our driver to take us females to see some Indian dancing (this is something Dawn has been looking forward to forever). He drove us to a College of Fine Arts, which is in the middle of Chennai (a wildly noisy, crowded city), but was a patch of peacefulness. It was as if we were in the country while on this quiet campus. I think it was called the Kalasadra Fine Arts College Foundation. Our driver, Mani, left his car for the second time to accompany us into a building where we entered an office and were ushered to sit down in front of a man sitting at a desk piled with papers and catalogs.

This man asked me, “Why are you in India?” I answered, “My husband is working here for 2 months.” He said, “But why are you and these children in India?”
That was a question I guess no one has asked me before. It stunned me, actually. I actually felt a bit foolish answering him, “We are here to see India.” He seemed to think that it was a rather flippant answer.

To make a long story short, after the man spent a great deal of time extolling the virtues and importance of this school, and how foreigners from Russia, Japan and Germany attend this establishment to learn the Indian dancing techniques, and how Queen Elizabeth even visited their campus (in 1986, I think), and showed us catalogs which included Queen Elizabeth’s picture, he revealed that the college is “on holiday” right now, and that there were no dances or even practices available for us to observe. Sigh.

But wait, he was willing to give us a tour. He showed us this incredible Banyan tree—which is widespread tree with lots of trunks. Would make an EXCELLENT place for kids to play—I can see hide-and-seek, a ready-made tree-house in the branches, climbing—endless possibilities. The staff and students have compulsory devotions underneath this lovely Banyan tree every morning. It looked like such a peaceful place to gather for worship. I asked the man if I could take a picture of the tree, and he said absolutely not, that no photographs were permitted on campus! My!

He then took us to an “instrument cottage,” where he showed us a collection of instruments. Apparently the instrumental students store their instruments there every night, and a full-time repairman checks every instrument every evening, fixing broken strings, tuning, oiling and doing general upkeep. There was a wall full of what looked sort of like guitars, but are an Indian instrument called, “Tambouras.” Another wall was full of “Veenas,” which are another stringed instrument played somewhat like a guitar but are so heavy they have to lay on the player’s lap. Two pianos were in the room, and when the man hit a few keys, the pianos sounded awful. However, he opened the top of one of the pianos to show us that it was dated 1804, and said that it is from London.

The man also showed us an interesting box that fans out like an accordion, but plays only one note. It’s called a “Surudhi box.” I am still baffled as to why you would want an instrument that would play only one note.

When we left the campus, I asked Mani if he could take us to a Banyan tree sometime that I could actually take a picture of. He nodded and we found ourselves at a park in a few minutes. The park hours on the sign listed the opening hours as “8:30 to 10:30, and 2:00 to 4:00). We were there at noon, so were refused admittance.

We arrived home for our usual lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (our daily American meal), and found Odyssey hanging up the laundry. One of the highlights of Erin’s and Lily’s day is to help Odyssey with this task. They love to remove the clean laundry from the washing machine, wring out the water, and carefully lean over the railing to hang the laundry up with clothespins.

As an aside here, Erin and Lily adore helping the maids. They love to sweep, and get out the mop and help with the laundry. The other day they decided to make our apartment so clean that the maids wouldn’t have anything to do when they arrived. Remind me to tell you what Sahjee said about this.

We returned to Mani who wished to take us back to the state park when it was open for the afternoon. We arrived and Mani again left his vehicle to accompany us to the Banyan tree. The park had paved pathways, and again it felt as if we were in the country, away from all the noisy traffic and in a quiet, nature setting. (Later on, I discovered that with nature, comes bug-bites. We left our bug-spray in the apartment, and boy, were we all bit up!) Mani pointed out a couple of mango trees, and then a cashew tree, of all things. Did you know that cashews grow like this—one bulb full of juice, and at the end of each bulb, is the single cashew. (Mani said they make wine out of the bulb’s juice).

The Banyan tree was quite impressive, and I took many pictures. However, how do you take pictures of something that is about a block wide and long? Here are the dimensions as posted on the sign: “One of the largest Banyan trees in the world. North to South, 238 feet. East to West 250 feet. Total area exceeds 59, 500 square feet.”

Erin and Lily, pushing Heidi in her stroller, decided to go further down the path while I was busy taking pictures of the Banyan tree. When they got too far down the path for Mani’s comfort, he called out the only name he knows of the three girls, “Lily!!” Byron and I are trying to figure out if he knows Lily’s name because she is often disciplined to be quiet and sit down in the car, or if it’s because her name is very common in India?

Byron home again about 8:30, looking tired. The days are getting long for him, and very long for Dawn without Byron home for most the day. Byron stayed up for a 1:00 a.m. meeting in Kansas City.

Friday, April 25: We find the elephant-carving shop, and two little guests come to visit

Erin has been on a quest since the day we arrived to find a store that we went to with Kent when he took us on a neighborhood walk his last evening here. We have taken many walks searching for this shop, but none of us could remember where it was. Oh joy—we discovered it today! Erin bought her elephant carving, Lily considered buying some sparkly purple bangles (that’s the word for bracelets) and Heidi found a blue kitty to buy! (For those of you who know Heidi, you would know that this child who has had a lifelong love of kittens, especially blue kitties, would find one in a small shop in India!) It’s a bluish-stone carving of a cat, and is a favorite toy now.

I bought some clothes at this shop, as Erin is low on clothes and I could use a couple of shirts. Once we returned home, I found that several of the things I bought for Erin don’t fit, so I guess I need to return and see if they’ll let me exchange for things that do fit. I did ask about trying some pants on, and the clerk said, “Okay.” I said, “where?” as the shop has no dressing room, nor even a private corner. She said, “over clothes,” so that’s they way it could be done in this shop!

Returned home for lunch, and were surprised this afternoon by a visit from Mahalak-shmi’s daughters who are Erin’s and Lily’s ages! The 9-yr old is Somiya, and the 7-yr old is Gowri. The 5 little girls eyed each other, a bit awkward for awhile. Another blessing—I had thrown a bunch of paper plates into the suitcase of things to take to India when we were packing, and those turned out to be a WONDERFUL craft item for 5 little girls to work on for an afternoon. They cut the paper plates, colored on them, tape them into shapes, and seemed to communicate well enough over crafts.

We are going to Mahalak-shmi’s house for supper (dinner) on Sunday, so we arranged for her to come meet us at 5:00 on Sunday. Turns out that Odyssey will be there too, to serve juice, she reports. Odyssey warned us that Mahalak-shmi’s house is very small. Mahalak-shmi also told me that her sister-in-law who speaks English, Nadiya, will also be there. This is going to be fun.

Saturday, April 26 Earaches and videotapes

Byron awoke with a terrible ear-ache. He hasn’t felt quite himself for a couple of days. He thinks the breeze blowing from the air-conditioner is causing his ear problem. Dawn suggested he take an antibiotic we had gotten for diarrhea in case he has an ear infection, and he did, which gave him a terrible stomachache.

Sahjee wanted to know why Byron didn’t eat his breakfast and went back to bed. When I explained that Byron had an earache, he immediately suggested a remedy. Sahjee dashed downstairs and returned with Mani, our driver. Mani had a long green stalk of some sort, and he and Sahjee took it into the kitchen, turned on the gas burner, and held that stalk over the flame. I had to go help the girls at this point, but Sahjee later explained to me that they squeezed some juice out of the stalk, and then put the juice into Byron’s ear. Byron said it made his ear feel much better for about 10 minutes.

Later, Sahjee showed us where in the courtyard they had picked the stalk. It grows out there with the coconut palm trees, like a weed. Who knew?

With the Byron’s ear treatment, and the usual inevitable Sabbath-morning disasters, we were late to the car for our ride to church. Byron said, “Mani, we are late. That is okay. We don’t mind being late. We are okay.” In high hopes that Mani wouldn’t feel the need to rush through this wild traffic.

We arrived intact and it was slightly cooler today. Still, sitting for 3 hours in a church without air-conditioning isn’t easy.

We encountered squat pot toilets at church! I hadn’t seen those since Thailand, on my way home from Korea 20 years ago. These didn’t feature toilet paper, nor a way to flush, nor even a hose nearby to wash off with. (Every toilet in our apartment, and the toilets at the airport, have a hose hanging nearby. The Indians, it seems, use these hoses to wash off instead of using toilet paper.) I don’t know what one was supposed to wash off with in this particular bathroom, and hadn’t thought to bring toilet paper along to church. There was no faucet or running water anywhere that I could see, but a very large bucket, about the size of a huge garbage can, was full of water in the middle of the bathroom, outside the stalls. Don’t know what that was for.

The pastor, who just returned from a month-long visit to Maryland, enthusiastically greeted us and profusely apologized for being absent our first Sabbath at church. We all attended the adult Sabbath School program, but then the up-front person announced it was time to split for classes, and that the youth would go with Sister so-and-so, and the adults would remain in the sanctuary. I wondered if the girls and I should go with the youth, and asked an older man, “Is the youth Sabbath school in English?” He answered me, “If you teach it, it will be.” I thought he was kidding around, so I asked again, “No, really, do they speak English in the youth Sabbath School?” He repeated, “Well, it will be if you teach it.” Well!

The girls chose to remain in the sanctuary for adult Sabbath School lesson. About halfway through it, an older lady approached me (she could see Heidi was totally bored, and Lily was getting there. Erin was entertained reading the adult quarterly mission stories), and whispered, “Why don’t you take your children to the Youth Sabbath School?” I asked, “But I didn’t think they taught it in English.” She said, “Yes, it’s in English.” I didn’t know what to think! The girls didn’t want to go, so we remained.

Later, during the church service, little 7-year old Ritti came to sit with us. I asked her if there was an English-speaking children’s Sabbath School at the church, and she shook her head and said, “No.”

Even later, the pastor stopped me and asked if I would teach the Youth Sabbath School next week. It’s just 30 minutes, so I agreed. If anyone has suggestions of stories and songs that sort of go together, I’m open for ideas. The age range in that room is age 7 to 14. I told the girls that next week the children’s SS will definitely be in English!

Beggars like to gather outside as people are leaving the church service, and Americans are a sure target. The beggars can be quite aggressive, chasing us down as we walk to the car, and banging on the car-windows to get our attention.

We sent Mani to his home after he dropped us off at our house after church, and told him to take the rest of the Saturday and all of Sunday off. He’s been a faithful driver, and we’d like to give him a vacation.

Saturday afternoon we took another neighborhood walk, and we went armed with the camera and the video-camera. I haven’t yet seen another video camera here, and only one other camera. Lily had the camera and Erin had the video camera when we passed a fruit-stand guy pushing his fruit-cart down the street. He took a double-take at us, and dashed over to have a look at the video camera. He was fascinated, and then dashed over to look at the digital camera. Then he literally started jumping up and down, grabbed Lily and positioned her right in front of his cart, then he ran back over to his cart, made signs like “take a picture!” and POSED. I told him to smile, and that made him laugh, and so I hope the girls got some good shots of him. By the time we were done taking his picture, a taxi-driver and an old lady with no teeth but who thought the whole thing was funny were there laughing along with the rest of us. I told her to curtsey and that I’d take her picture (demonstrating) and she thought that was hilarious, too.

I’ve found that people will stare at us, but generally if you catch their eye and grin, they’ll give you a lovely smile back. I really like these people. Most seem very friendly, helpful, and curious. I’ve also never seen a culture that adores toddler-age little girls so much. (Maybe they adore little boys, too, I don’t know!). Complete strangers—men and women, will wave and grin at Heidi, trying to catch her attention and get her to smile back. Heidi, on the other hand, seems to be tiring of all the attention. Perhaps there’s only so much that a 4-yr old can take.

When we arrived home, we found the security guard chopping coconuts in the courtyard. Using a long, curved knife, he was chopping away the hard outer hull from four coconuts, but on only one end of each coconut. He stopped after awhile, and in sign language showed us that he was done, and that he would take these to Mr. Jacob (the landlord) who would make one more “chop” and then drink the coconut milk. I need to ask Sahjee if we can try that before we leave.

Sahjee and Chandra-shake-uh made a spectacular dinner of burgers in buns! They looked like American hamburgers, but the insides turned out to be more interesting—including peanut butter, a thin slice of cucumber, tomato, a leaf of cabbage, and a vegetable-patty sort of thing they called a “cutlet.” I had noticed Sahjee rush out of the apartment at one point during supper preparation, and return with some kind of plant that looked like stiff grass. The stiff grass ended up being the toothpicks that held our tall burgers together! (Who needs toothpicks when you’ve got foliage growing in the courtyard?)

Our assistant cook, Chandra-shake-uh is cheerful 24 hours a day. Whenever we see him, he’s smiling and happy. His cheerful, “Good morning!” is just as enthusiastic and cheerful when he says, “Good night!” (And this from a man who spends much of his time in the kitchen!) He told me that he worked 13 years as a cook in either a German family or Australian family’s household, doing all their cooking, laundry, and ironing.

Sahjee does our ironing, and he’s very good. I’ve told him he doesn’t have to iron most our clothes, and he admittedly did look relieved. In fact, since he did that first load of ironing a day or so after we arrived, I haven’t found anything for him to iron.

The housekeepers can’t keep up with the Burke’s laundry—seeing that 2 housekeepers and Sahjee can’t keep up comforts Dawn (it’s not just me who finds laundry an impossible task to stay on top of!). We’ve taken to doing a load of laundry at night, and hanging it up to dry first thing in the morning, which does help out the housekeepers. We also have fashioned another clothesline out of rope in the spare bedroom. The washing machine here is smaller than ours at home—this one holds about 1/3 to ½ of what I’m using to being able to wash in one load at home. That also contributes to not being able to keep up.

Oh yes, Sahjee told me that the girls can’t help the housekeepers sweep and mop. He doesn’t mind if they help with the laundry. I told him that my girls love to help, and he said, no, that’s not okay. He said when our door is locked, they can sweep and mop, but they’re not to help the housekeepers. He also has vehemently forbidden me on two different occasions from wiping off the table after a meal. He said the housekeepers will do that. However, the housekeepers come here once a day, and we eat 3 times a day. I cannot stand having a table covered with crumbs, so I actually have to SNEAK to wipe off the table when Sahjee isn’t looking!

That’s all for now. Please pray that Byron will get better, and that his ears will stop hurting. When you’re not feeling well, it’s easy to get discouraged. Please keep us all in your prayers as well.

Photos will come when we have more time to post them.

Please take a moment to email us. We love email, as it’s our link with home!

Monday, April 21, 2008

BDB at Work

A couple people have asked about the work I'm doing here. First a little background - I used to work in the programming department of Black & Veatch. Black & Veatch (among other things) engineers and builds large power plants and uses a lot of custom software to do it. A couple of years ago, B&V outsourced the IT support and programming work (and programmers) to Electronic Data Systems. EDS in turn has hired some Indian programmers to help us develop the software.

My job is to help teach the new programmers about how our software works, what changes are needed, our procedures for making changes and how we document our work.

A typical day here (and in the past week there has only been two typical days--hopefully this will by typical day three) is going to work at 11:00, answering questions from the new employees, reviewing changes that they have made, answering questions from people at work back in the states, planning for future changes and trying to figure out why someone's computer or program is doing something that should never happen. Lunch is around 2:00 or 3:00 and then I work until 8:00 (7:30 am KC time). At that time, people back home are coming into work and responding to my questions so I come back to the apartment, eat supper and get back on email for another hour or so. To compensate for these long hours, I work about 1/2 a day on Fridays. Since I'm a morning person, turning around my day like this is quite a change.

As you can imagine with new programmers we run into a lot of problems that require a fair amount of time to solve (if I don't see three impossible things happen before lunch then I check to make sure I'm still awake). Solving these is a bit more difficult without the good support staff we have in Kansas City but so far we've been able to work through all the problems. Usually remembering all the mistakes I've made is the most helpful way to solve a problem.

All - in - all, it is challenging work but my theory / hope is that our work can make it cheaper and easier to build a power plant and, at the same time, help a few more people in India pay enough taxes so the country can afford to contract with Black & Veatch to build another power plant to help provide electricity to some of the fishermen we saw at Marina beach.

P.S. Here is a link to an article about the office I'm working at: what the pictures are missing are the hundreds of people coming in and out at all times of the day. The building has several shops and a large food court on the first floor.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

And they've had their first weekend. . . (revised 4/22)

Friday morning our housekeepers surprised us with jasmine flowers for each of the girls' hair. I don't know who was more delighted about the fun of putting those flowers in the girls' hair--both our girls and the housekeepers were full of smiles. It's very popular around here for the women to wear these lovely flowers in their hair on a daily basis, and so Erin, Lily and Heidi felt very fashionable, and smelled heavenly. But the flowers made poor Byron sneeze!

The girls and I had the driver take us to a bookstore, which I was embarrased to discover was completely within walking distance of our apartment--it seemed a waste to drive there, but I didn't know where it was! We were looking for a world map and postcards, and met with success. We also bought a little cheap globe. (The homeschooling mom in me couldn't live for more than a week without the world map and globe). The globe fell apart twice before we left the bookstore (it's really cheap!) but is easily re-assembled.

Sah-jee has hired an assistant cook since we've arrived. Chandra Shake-uh is a very delightful man who loves to laugh and kid around. He is an excellent cook, too. He is always trying to be funny, and likes the girls, too. He can't seem to pass Heidi without giving her a cheek pinch. Chandra-Shake-uh picked up the globe upon our return from the bookstore, looked at it, pointed at Africa, and asked, "USA?" I wasn't sure if he was kidding or not!

Friday afternoon Odyseey (one of the housekeepers) brought her youngest son to the apartment to meet us--if I understood him correctly (and there's always a huge chance that I didn't!) he is in high school. I am often asked what grades Erin and Lily are in, and when I tell them they're in 3rd and 1st grade, I get confused looks. I think that their school system is quite different. (for example, a girl at church told me she was 10 years old, and in 5th grade. She thought it was quite odd that Erin is 9 yrs old, and in 3rd grade. Who knows?)

On Friday afternoon Mahala-shmi (another housekeeper) pulled out her cell phone, dialed a number and held the phone up to Heidi and was encouraging Heidi to talk. Heidi wasn't in the mood to cooperate (nap-time), but then I was handed the cell to discover a somewhat English-speaking woman on the other end who said she was Mahala-shmi's sister in law. She said she had a 5-month old baby, and that she would like to come visit us. I said that would be fine, and she said, "Okay, tomorrow morning. I told her we'd be gone to church, so she said, "Okay, the next day, then." This should be interesting.

It's interesting to note that almost everyone seems to carry a cell-phone here. All the housekeepers and cooks have them, and it's very common to see people riding in taxis and talking on cells (althought I can't figure out how they could hear anything on the phone with all the horn-honking noise of traffic), and to see a couple on a motorcycle--the man driving, the woman on the back in her sari riding side-saddle, talking on the cell phone. Of course in this picture the woman isn't riding side-saddle, as she's not wearing a sari. She's wearing the other outfit that women wear here--I believe it's called a salwar kameeze. It looks incredibly comfortable--like a pair of loose-fitting pajamas, yet elegant. I am hoping to purchase one of these for each Burke female. (The men, on the other hand, generally wear western clothes. Sometimes you'll see a man wearing a wrap-around sort of skirt--especially if the man is old, or if he is working outside in the hot sun. )

We discovered that we have arrrived just as the school year has ended, and summer vacation has begun. (A lady at church explained this to me--she said we came at the hottest time of year--that April and May are summertime, and that school starts again on June 2). Saturday, we arose terribly early, got everyone cleaned up and dressed up, and went to church.

We arrived 'way too early (Byron is the only reason we arrive anywhere on time) and found more people than Dawn has yet encountered who spoke reasonably understandable English. We had arrived in the middle of their VBS week (but they hold VBS for 2 weeks, I think). This particular Seventh-day Adventist church has two sanctuaries--one for Tamil services, and the other for English services! We started off in the English-speaking adult Sabbath School, with the service reminding me of small churches where things are done very formally. (I need to tell you here that the church is NOT air-conditioned, and I am certain that the temperature was at least 90 degrees, if not higher, and with the humidity I'm guessing it felt like 110).

About 30 minutes into the adult SS program, a gentleman tapped Dawn on the shoulder and gestured that the girls and I should follow him. He told us that he thought the girls might enjoy sitting in on the VBS program and observing. If I understood him correctly, there is normally an English-speaking Sabbath School and Children's church service, but during VBS they don't. We were ushered into the back of a large classroom that was absolutely packed with kids. Several ladies arose so we could have their seats (for which I felt terribly guilty!). Apparently our arrival caused quite a commotion--the kids were all turning toward the back to check out the newcomers and the lady up front had quite a time trying to get the kids' attention back to her. She was teaching the children a song in English that I had never heard before. She would sing a line, then the kids would sing a line, etc. I also haven't ever encountered such enthusiastic singers. Everyone at church, it seems, sings with their whole heart and soul.

After the singing, another teacher got up and started telling a story in Tamil. Erin and Lily immediately got bored, and wanted to go back to the English-speaking SS where Daddy was. I told them they needed to sit and watch, but things deteriorated with my kids. Heidi was so, so overheated, Erin and Lily kept begging to leave, and finally we were rescued when someone came up and asked if we'd like some juice and cookies.

In the juice and cookie hallway, we found that most the ladies who had been in the VBS classroom spoke English. They were all crazy about Heidi, and wanted to hold her, pass her back and forth, pinch her cheeks, listen to her talk, and fill her up with all the pineapple juice and cookies she could hold. Erin and Lily were still begging to return to Daddy, and the ladies overheard them and took them back to him. Finally, Heidi could take all the attention no more and threw herself from the 11th' lady's arms into my arms. Then she promptly went to sleep.

Then the VBS ladies started working on me, telling me that they needed me to attend VBS and teach the kids new songs and tell stories. (Sigh. I truly do like being involved in children's ministries at home, but the thought of a break was appealing to me!) Anyhow, I think we'll go to VBS on Tuesday and see what happens. I've thought of a few non-complicated songs to teach ("My God is so Great," "I have the Joy," and "Let's Sing a Happy Song, Let's Sing about Jesus,") but for the life of me can't think of any stories!

Saturday afternoon we took a lovely long walk around the neighborhood with Byron (it was Byron's first time taking a walk in the daylight!) Here is something we see often--a man with a sewing machine sitting on the sidewalk. I am dying of curiousity about what this man does. Can we take clothes to him and he alters them on the spot? Or do we take fabric to him and he whips up a shirt right there? I am baffled, but do not plan to stay baffled for long.

I have found the solution to forgetting to take pictures: hand the camera to your children! We now have more pictures than you could believe. Of everything, such as dogs. Chennai is full of dogs--they're everywhere, wandering around on the streets. The dogs pretty much seem to ignore the people, and the people seem to ignore the dogs. We often find the dogs sleeping in the shade or going through garbage. I've never seen so many dogs wandering around in my life. I've seen one cat.
Another common sight is women sitting at tables weaving the jasmine flowers into long strings. In addition to women wearing these in their hair, I've seen the jasmine flowers decorating street-side shrines (assuming they are Hindu shrines). Even in shops, you will see a 3-d carving of a Hindu god (?) hanging up on the wall, with fresh jasmine flowers decorating it.

Isn't this cool? I think it's pretty incredible how the people are not daunted at how to get a large number of objects from one place to the other--just load them up, and we're off!

Very common sight--these fruit and vegetable stands are everywhere. Sometimes in a nice covered stall like this, sometimes the fruit is just piled on the sidewalk, sometimes in a basket. Usually, it seems the poorer merchants will only be selling one type of food, such as watermelon. I think that this merchant is doing better, and thus can offer a variety. (There is a man wearing one of those skirts in this photo.)

Sunday we stayed home most the day and tried to pull ourselves together somewhat. Dawn is pleased to announce that she now has more than one outfit to wear, and has unpacked. In the afternoon, we ventured forth to the acclaimed Marina Beach. I had heard from many people (all Americans) that this beach was not fit for swimming, and that at the most, you could dip in a toe, but that afterwards you were to immediately go home and wash your toe. You can imagine what happened with three girls from Kansas who rarely get near a body of water, much less an ocean with actual waves. The directive, "You may dip in a toe," was forgotten in the excitement of jumping the waves, and hunting for shells, and digging in the sand. We also became a side-show, and should have charged people rupees to watch us. Out of the hundreds of people on that beach, just a handful were playing in the ocean (which says something loud and clear to Dawn!), and apparently it was just too interesting to resist watching with great interest three American children shrieking and jumping and squealing as they waded, fell in (Lily), and hunted for seashells. (Notice the photo below--how many Indians are NOT in the water. . . ?) We were then approached by every ware-hawker on the beach. We definitely need to learn the Tamil word for "No, ." Shaking your head, walking away, and completely ignoring doesn't work. We had people trying to sell us flutes, balloons, kites (it was as a perfect place to fly a kite), and huge conch-like seashells that you could hold up to your lips and blow like a trumpet. Byron bought a small pearl for a dollar, which is either a real bargain, or it's something plastic that was made in China. We can't tell.

The girls' attention was then focused on collecting shells, which were on the beach in abundance. Erin remembered when we were at the beach in San Diego 3 years ago, and that there had been almost no seashells on that beach. "Why don't people collect their sea shells here in Chennai?" she asked. We can only suppose that they either have more seashells here than they know what to do with, or that most people here aren't interested in collecting seashells. One of the shells Lily found surprised her when a crab peeked out of it! Byron threw that one back into the ocean so hopefully the crab can live a satifying life until the next little girl finds it.

The part of the ocean we were at was the Bay of Bengal. I had the girls find it on the map when we got home. (Now go find it on your world map, and feel smug all day because you learned something new.)

As our driver was driving us home from the beach, he pointed out the fishing village at the other end of the beach from where we'd been playing. Really abject poverty there--these little shacks made of woven grass, and obviously no plumbing or electricity. Actually, Byron said their running water consists of "running to the water," and then we realized why the beach is listed as "not sanitary." Yikes!

Last week, Erin grabbed a broom one day and proceeded to sweep the apartment. "I feel so useless!" she said. "I don't even have to unload the dishwasher or do any of my regular chores here!" (On the other hand, Dawn isn't missing the chores at all!) The girls also have had a GREAT time learning about the old-fashioned art of hanging clothes on a clothesline. They spent about 2 hours on Sunday morning carefully hanging clothes, and what excitement when Erin dropped a clothespin off our 2nd floor apartment! The girls insisted they go down to retrieve it, but we just weren't sure where the ground that is below our apartment is, or how to get there. Byron took the girls on a hunt, and ended up meeting Sahjee who gave them a tour of the apartment upstairs that it being completely gutted and rennovated (ask me sometime what it's like to try and teach math concepts when you've got drills, hammers, saws, and sanders going at full blast right above your head, housekeepers and cooks walking in and out of the apartment constantly and seemingly unable to pass the girls without stopping to talk with them, and kids who don't really want to be homeschooling anyhow. . . ). Erin and Lily report that they got to up on the roof and that there is a lot of sand up there. Oh yes--Erin and Lily also report that they saw a woman upstairs with the construction guys who was assisting them by carrying a basket on her head full of four bricks. Drat--wish I'd gotten a picture of that!

I see so many things I want to take pictures of while we're driving (Probably because I'm not trying to keep track of three kids and needing to pay attention to where I am so I won't get lost). But taking pictures through a car window of a wildly moving vehicle just doesn't work.

Jet lag is getting better. Now Dawn awakens at 4:00 a.m. in the morning, instead of 3:00 a.m. It's improving! By 8:00 p.m. I'm just dead on my feet, and not even a very nice person. Byron arrives home about 8:30, so after a long day at work, he arrives to find a wife who can barely keep her eyes open, children who are jumping all over him glad to see him, and a meal to be heated up in the microwave (we decided to have Sahjee fix supper at 6:00 for Dawn and the girls, and he leaves a plate of food for Byron to eat which we heat up when Byron gets home. That way Sahjee doesn't have to hang around, and Dawn and the girls don't have to wait until 8 p.m. for supper.) I should actually call it "dinner," as the word "supper" is unknown here.

The girls are pretty much completely adjusted to the time change, and Byron seems to be doing better. No one has gotten sick yet, Praise the Lord! However, Heidi has a severe heat rash on her chest and back of her neck, and if anyone has any suggestions for treating that, I'd be interested. I've been washing her down with a mild soap twice a day, using baby powder, and even at one point put over-the-counter cortisone on her rash, but it's not getting better. Is this something that she'll have to live with for two months? Medical people--any advice?

The weather--HOT

It is Sunday, late afternoon and we just got back from a short walk to the grocery store; all of us sweating like we were running a marathon instead of taking a relaxing stroll. We looked up the weather and found it was 96 degrees but with the humidity it feels like 111! Here is a link so you can see for yourself It looks like it will be in the 90's all week.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pictures! and first impressions

Our girls eagerly awaiting our flight from Kansas City. Armed with their stuffed animals in their backpacks (and passports that they made for their stuffed animals--hoping to get these passports stamped at airports in U.S., Paris, and Chennai India. The customs person very nice in Atlanta, but said she didn't have a stamp for us (they scan passports now). The customs officials in Paris did not appear at all friendly, so we didn't ask. And by the time we got to Chennai, too tired to ask!)
The girls noticed some bananas growing in a tree just outside our apartment. They excitedly check every time we pass this tree to see if the bananas are ripe enough to pick. Our driver told us yesterday that these are not eating bananas, but cooking bananas. Isn't that plantain?
The beloved bananas. Isn't it cool that they grow upside down? I never knew they grew that way.
You see a wide variety of vehicles on the streets here. Cars, little taxis (could be compared to a motorized rick-shaw), bicycles, motorcycles, and even cattle-pulled carts. Look at those horns! Well, everything else on the street has horns, so I guess the cow needs to have its own, too. (I've never heard so much car-horn honking in my life. Heidi explains, "They just beep and beep and beep and beep. They never stop!") Byron is pretty sure that different beeps (long, short, 2 long, 3 short, etc) mean different things but he isn't quite sure what the different signals mean). The driving seems as crazy to us as Kent has reported but we haven't seen an accident (yet).
These are the three ladies who clean our apartment every day. Actually, the ladies in the green and pink saris clean, while the one in the blue sari arrives a bit later and watches the other two work. The lady in the green sari is "Odyssey" and the one wearing the pink sari is "Mahala-shmi." Mahala-shmi managed to communicate to us that she has 2 daughters Erin's and Lily's ages. She's also invited us over to her house for dinner in a couple of weeks. These ladies just LOVE the girls--talking to them and watching them play. They're especially taken with Heidi--they like to tickle her, pinch her cheeks, pick her up. They're also interested in looking over Erin's and Lily's homeschool books.

I usually put the girls' hair up every morning, as it is really hot here and it's not fun to have hair on your neck. Lily had just washed her hair and I hadn't had a chance to put it up when the house-cleaning ladies arrived. They were enchanted with the braid I had put in Erin's hair, and wanted me to purchase some jasmine flowers to hang in it (the ladies here often hang these pretty white flowers in their hair which smell so pretty). Ladies on the side of the road sit at tables stringing these tiny flowers (look somewhat like lily of the valley) and selling them. They also wanted to braid Lily's hair for her. This is what they're doing here.
FYI: Technical blog information, but something you might want to know, so keep reading even if you think "Oh please, the last thing I need is something technical! When you send a comment on our blog, we have the option of "publishing" it or "rejecting" it. Please let us know if you want us to publish it or not. If you do not wish the general public to see your comment, please indicate that. If, on the other hand, you always wanted to be published, this is as good a time as any to start, and we won't even charge you publishing fees. Since we are first-time blog makers, (remember, the Burkes aren't quite in the 21st century) we are learning as we go. Or shall I say that Byron is figuring it out while Dawn watches him in fascination.
In other news: If you ever need to have anything mechanical figured out, call Lily. She has figured out what every switch does in this apartment. Within hours of arriving, she figured out how to adjust the ceiling fans' speed, make the shower work (it has three different options of where water can come out), which switches on lights as opposed to ceiling fans, and how the remote for the many air conditioners work. On the other hand, the remote for the air conditioner plays a note every time you make an adjustment and Byron found her playing it like a piano the other morning!
Erin's favorite pastime is taking walks in our neighborhood. She is a bit disappointed that we aren't learning much Tamil. We've tried, but it's hard to ask, "How do you say, 'girl'?" when you're talking to some very nice housekeepers who don't have the slightest idea what you're asking. Or perhaps they do, but I don't understand what they're saying back to me. I need to ask the driver to take us to a bookstore where we can purchase an English-Tamil dictionary, a large World Map (I am going through withdrawal not having my world map nearby), and some postcards. Erin also has a list of things she wants to buy, which includes a coconut, a sari, and some pretty knick-knack things that girls always seem to like.
Heidi's comments: "We are in India. I don't like the smells. The cars beep beep beep beep, beep and beep. And beep. I like the flowers (many trees are in bloom with these gorgeous flowers around our neighborhood).
We brought some toys, but the girls' favorite toy is a rolling footstool (ottoman). It's been a bus, a taxi, an elephant. . . .
Sah-jee has managed to fix breakfasts and desserts that the girls will eat. We've had banana-coconut smoothies, french toast, rice-meal (similar to oatmeal), and pancakes. For dessert we've had "Christmas pudding," custard, and these crunchy cookies that are similar to Taco Bell's cinnamon crispy things.
We've heard that most Indians eat with their hands (no utensils, unless they're eating soup--then of course they use spoons). When we heard that, Lily decided she needed to pick up her crepe-thing-drenched-in-sauce that Sah-jee had just put on the table. Sah-jee exclaimed in excitement at this--Lily was eating like an Indian. Heidi now thinks she MUST eat her rice with her hands, so mealtime is getting messy.
We're working on having Sah-jee fix things the girls will eat. Lily is the most adventurous. Erin will at least try each thing. Heidi flat-out refuses (I think because many things are spicy, and she doesn't like her tongue and mouth to burn after a taste of innocent-looking noodle or rice dish. Now everything is suspect). Yesterday, I managed to comunicate to Sah-jee that he needed to make some fried rice with vegetables, but NO SPICES for the girls, not even salt. He put some of this tame fried rice on the girls' plates for supper, and Lily took one bite and said, "This is really bland. I don't like it." (sigh)
But oh joy, I found peanut butter and bread at a grocery store yesterday, so now I am equipped to make sure my kids eat something besides "bland rice" and fruit. The girls LOVE the fruit--mangos, watermelon, pear-apples, oranges.
Supper (they call it dinner here) is a four-course meal. Sahjee brings out the soup, then the salad, then the rice or noodle dish always accompanied by some lovely sauce, then the dessert. We could get used to this!
As we said before, we've taken walks in the neighborhood, but haven't ventured far yet because we're afraid we'll get lost. Even though they have sidewalks, not many people seem to walk on them. Most people walk in the streets, and it's easier to push Heidi's stroller in the street (no curbs to manage every few feet.) Erin and I are on a quest to find a market-place with lots of stalls offering a large variety of wares, especially knick-knack types of things. Lily wants a bracelet--we've seem some spectacularly beautiful ones for sale, and Mahala-shmi (one of the housekeepers) wears ankle bracelets that jingle as she walks, which is a pleasant sound. Heidi is just happy if someone is playing with her or listening to her talk.
We don't see much of Byron, as he is working long hours. We comfort ourselves that we are certainly seeing more of him than if he was in India and we were back home in Kansas.
We'll continue taking pictures. Can you believe that we get so interested in looking at things, that we forget about the camera?! (Must be the jet-lag.)

P.S. Our 12th suitcase arrived at our door this morning at 3:30 am (local time). Fortunately we had been having trouble sleeping so D and B were awake to answer the door.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

We arrive intact (mostly)

From Byron:
We got here about 24 hours ago (I think). We got some sleep, I met my co-workers and had some good Indian food (I have not idea what it was called; Kent, my American co-worker, and I ordered two random dishes on the menu so even if I could remember the names I could tell you which was which).

The mostly part of "intact" is for one suitcase which apparently took the long route. It should be here on Friday. (The girls had hoped it was the suitcase holding the homeschooling supplies. Instead, it was the one that has most of Dawn's clothes!)

Hopefully we'll get some pictures up tomorrow. For now, here is a link to Kent's blog for his trip -
P.S. For those that looked previously, we found out how to allow comments without having you create an account. We look forward to hearing from you and will try to answer questions.

From Dawn:
I don't want to sit on an airplane for a LONG time. The flight to Paris was a long haul for the girls and I (we let Byron sleep awhile), and then turning around and getting another plane for 10 hours was too much for me. . . !
Our apartment is spacious and comfortable, air-conditioned, warm showers, and incredible food! Sahjee (spelling?) is the cook, and we've had three large, bountiful, very tasty meals already. The girls don't care for Sahjee's cooking (a bit too strange and spicy for them at this point), so of course I feel pressured to eat a lot of it so that Sahjee will indeed know that is it delicious. This cannot continue, or I shall return a much larger person! I'm not sure what we've been eating--some noodle dishes, rice dishes, soup that tasted like cream of mushroom but since Byron thought it was good it couldn't have had mushrooms in it. We brought along a stash of granola bars and crackers for the girls to eat on the plane, and so far they've been living on that.

We went to a grocery store with Sahjee today--a very nice store called Spencer's. It was about the size of Sally's Beauty Supply in Shawnee--not too small, but not that big. The girls and I walked up and down every aisle, and found lots of familiar things, such as Oreos (thought I don't think they have the strawberry creme filling version here yet), toothpaste, toothbrushes, disposable diapers, deoderant, sunscreen, etc. We think we'll be able to find just about everything we'll need in the way of groceries or toiletries there.

This evening, just before Kent left for the airport, he took us for a walk around the neighborhood in the dark. (The Burkes had slept the afternoon away, completely exhausted. Now it's midnight here and we're all wide awake. . .) That evening walk was really fun--the girls were excited to see their first "store stalls," and little shops. We went into one shop on our latest quest--which is to find some more bathtowels--and found some things that all little girls and mommies like--pretty skirts decorated with sequins, bracelets, wall-hangings decorated with embroidered ladies in colorful native dress, carved fancy boxes, and some tiny little elephant carvings, with even smaller elephants carved inside of them.

Erin is on a quest to buy a sari or a salwaar kameeze (don't know if I spelled that right). Lily liked some of Sahjee's cooking . Heidi keeps getting her cheeks pinched by people who smile and seem to want to pick her up and give her a hug. I told her I'd heard that was a common Indian way of showing affection to little children who the Indians find particularly beautiful. Currently, Heidi seems to be okay with it.

So far we're having a grand time. So tired we're almost dizzy. Hoping either to find a place that sells granola bars or that the girls will learn to enjoy Sahjee's cooking very, very soon.

Keep us in your prayers! Hope to post some pictures soon.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Greetings from the Burkes!

We are almost ready to go to India. (For those of you who haven't heard, our trip was delayed by two weeks, so we're still in Kansas at the moment.) We tried to pack lightly. . . (Ba-ha!) so feel free to see in the attached photo what the Burkes mean when they way, "Oh, we're only taking the essentials!"

Actually, we are taking quite a few things because we aren't sure what is available in India. If you'd like to know exactly what a family of five needs to take to Chennai, India for a two-month stay, please ask us in about a month.

Many wonderful people have asked us to keep in touch with them via email while we're in India, and we thought the best way to do that was to start a blog. This is our first blog entry. We are hoping that you will check our blog periodically to get your Burke updates and news.
Must go continue the packing process. Please keep us in your prayers.
--Byron, Dawn, E, L and H