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?


Anonymous said...

Hello Burkes!!
Your blog is GREAT. This is my first time reading. It's hilarious because as I read it, I think of exactly how Dawn would be saying it to me as if I were face to face talking with you.

I'd like to know what Byron is doing day to day too, if he has time to write.

It's finally warming up here in KC. It was a beautiful weekend with highs in the 70's. Oops, sorry, it's in the 90's or 100's there.

Thanks for the great updates.


Dave Fairchild said...

Dawn, you have found your calling. I predict you will end up writing travelogues some day! I hope you're keeping good notes - there may be a book in this adventure some day. Have some curry for me (and not BLAND curry, either ;-)


MrLucky said...

Let's see, Dawn has two house keepers plus an overseer, a male cook and assistant(should be familiar territory), a driver and a flock of admiring cohorts - sounds just like home! I'm thinking we will have a very spoiled Burke family when they get back. As for VBS - the Lord has sent you there at this time for a purpose other than to be pampered so Dawn you must get with the program and use your famous Chapel Oaks charm and vivacity. And this is for Lily - you're apparently in charge of the social activities and I have no doubt that you will have them all in precision marching order very soon, if you don't already. Erin appears to be very grounded and taking this all in as an enriching educational experience - PS I love geography too! And Heidi - well I too will pinch your checks when you get back - sounds like you will have marks just where to do it. And lastly, poor Byran - he's going to lose his cooking touch - or he'll have a number of new recipes for us to sample at pot lucks - hold the curry!

Byron and Dawn said...

BDB: I would like to get some of the recipies but I haven't seen anything written down yet. Most of the ingredients are rather different to. You can get american food (pasta, bread, peanut butter) which we do every few meals to make sure E, L and H don't starve.