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.

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Dave Fairchild said...

If you continue to write such great stories, I will be forced to have the Indian government forbid you to leave the country. We need our BurkeBlog fix!


Wendy said...

I'm with Dave! Your posts have been such a delight--National Geographic Magazine has met it's match!