Sunday, May 25, 2008

All those present, please say, "Aye!"

Hello Burke Blog Readers,
We have been hearing bits and pieces of who is reading the blog, but we haven't been getting a large number of responses or emails (thank you to those who HAVE emailed us!).

We thought it would be interesting (okay, and Dawn wants to know how vast her audience is, if indeed it is more than a handful of readers, which would be okay. . ..) for each of you to email us a brief note to say "I'm here!"

Would you please take a moment to email the following:
Your first name
Your city
Your state
Some people have said they're having trouble posting to the blog, and if that is the case, please email us at

Dawn is cajoling, begging, enticing, and indeed coercing you to PLEASE RESPOND, as it would just be fun for us to see who's reading and where they're from.
Many thanks!
--The Burke people in India

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Now we know where we live! (Pictures 3 of 3)

Something that hasn't stopped amazing us--seeing cows pulling carts down the street, along with the cars, buses, and auto-rickshaws. Many times the cows will have jingle-bells tied to their horns, probably to help them make a little more noticable as they trot down the street. Usually the cows will be pulling carts full of fruit, or baskets, or sometimes wood. When Dad asked Mani if the cows ever got hit by cars, Mani just grinned. (?) I do know that Mani told us that Gandhi declared that certain animals are sacred and should never be harmed, including cows, dogs, and cats. We've seen many pretty skinny cows and dogs--so apparently they aren't to be harmed, but they aren't always taken care of very well, either. We also found out that the cows with these long horns are females, and the bulls have very short horns. Since we've seen nothing but cows with long horns walking around and pulling carts, they've all been female. I asked Mani why all the cows we see in the city are female, and he said, "They give milk."

This is what an Indian street-cleaning team looks like. Why clean the streets with a machine when you can hire 7 ladies wearing orange vests? The photos we haven't included here are the photos that we took immediately following this one. The ladies noticed us taking their picture, stopped sweeping, and swarmed over to us. We kept taking pictures, and they came right up to us, one of them coming to pose right in front of the camera.

The Burkes on camels, going down a major thoroughfare in Chennai. Front camel: Lily's in front with the blue shirt, Heidi's in the middle with Dawn in back clutching Heidi for dear life. Back camel: Erin in front, Byron in back.

Grandfafa with Erin and Lily. Notice the bus zooming by right near them.

The Hindu god procession we ran into. See the drum player in the front, and one man pulling, another pushing the decorated cart with a Hindu god figurine riding in the cart? They just walked down the middle of the street, with traffic streaming past them on both sides.

A closer look at the procession (Another, larger platform was coming down the street behind this one. The larger platform included a Hindu priest riding in front of the Hindu god figurine, and was much more elaborately decorated). I am getting pretty used to men wearing skirts, and Byron said he'd buy a skirt if I'd buy and wear a sari. (!)

Now we know where we live! (Pictures 2 of 3)

At Pothy's Dept. Store in T. Nagar, the shopping district in town. These pretty ladies stood at the entrance, and would either smile or give a little bow if you caught their eyes. They look somewhat like the brides I've seen pictures of--all decked out in their jewels and pretty saris. I wondered what kind of job it would be to get all dressed up and stand at the entrance of a store all day--basically functioning as a live mannequin. These ladies got pretty excited when our girls talked to them. Heidi's wearing one of her chudy-das and some bangles in this photo, and was convinced she looked, "just like an Indian."

These are some of the white swirly designs we see marked on the sidewalk in front of some of the houses and businesses here in Chennai. From what I understand, the woman in the house will make these designs fresh every morning as a sort of good luck charm (?). Traditionally, these markings were made using rice powder (to feed the sparrows and ants), but nowadays it's common to use a synthetic chemical spray.

This is our most common view of Mani, our driver. I think Lily took this picture, so this is her angle of Mani. I don't know if you can tell from this picture that the steering wheel is on the right side of the car. They drive on the left side of the street here (sort of--if there's more room on the right side, then they drive over on that side instead!). I wish you could hear the incessant "beep, beep, beep," while you look at this picture, and see the cars and auto-rickshaws driving within inches of our car, and feel Mani swerving all over the road to get to our destination.

Erin in her favorite chudy-da, with jasmine flowers in her hair. I had thought that these jasmine flowers were plentiful all the time, but Mani explained to us that jasmine flowers will become more and more expensive, as they are "in season" now, but in another couple of weeks they'll be harder to get and more expensive. I guess that's one advantage we've had from coming to Chennai in the hottest part of the year--jasmine flowers have been very cheap and very plentiful!

The girls knew that I have been disappointed about not being able to find any classical Indian dance performances here, so they surprised me by getting all dressed up in their Indian outfits and performing a lovely "Indian" dance for Mama.

Now we know where we live! (Pictures 1 of 3)

Snake Park: The hooded cobra striking at the red handkerchief. This was the only snake that was placed into the glass cage during the snake demonstration. (The other snakes were allowed to slither off this rock into small nooks within the walls of this large rock after their demonstrations were complete.) Doesn't the cobra look menacing with its hood up? We saw that it can take its hood down and up in a moment's notice, and when the keeper wasn't waving the red kerchief, the cobra would calm down pretty fast and take its hood down.

How many zoo-keepers does it take to scrub a crocodile? See those bright red walls? They're freshly painted, and I guess no one bargained on what would happen if a croc scooted up against that wet paint. The keeper at the crocodile's head would intermittently sit on its head depending on how much the crocodile struggled. After awhile, I think the crocodile thought it was soothing to be scrubbed, because it just sat quietly after a few minutes and let them scrub all they wanted to. The keepers were doing a lot of yelling and jumping around, though, as though they expected the crocodile to became impatient at any minute.

At the zoo. Although this wasn't a part of the formal exhibitions in the zoo, I thought this ant-hill (or possibly termite hill?) was rather remarkable. Mani (our driver) is holding Heidi. Lily was not too eager to get that close to a huge ant-hill, but Erin fearlessly posed close by. It's pretty common to see huge ant/termite hills around Chennai wherever you can find dirt (we're in the middle of a city, so we're among paved streets and sidewalks and most the dirt we see is constantly being moved within a construction site). But whenever we go to a park or zoo area, we see lots of these ant/termite hills. Not all are as big as this one, but all are quite a bit larger than the anthills I've seen in Kansas.

Isn't this albino peacock pretty? I've never seen one with its tail all up and shimmery. I thought it looked like an angel.

The girls are standing beside a baby banana tree (to Erin's left, near her ear, between Erin and Lily). The girls are showing how tall they are compared to the baby tree that was about Lily's height just a couple of days ago. Here's some banana tree information for you: Indians use every part of the banana tree (much like the American Indians used all parts of the buffalo). Banana trees also grow extremely quickly--we've been measuring the daily growth of this baby tree in our apartment's courtyard, and it's grown between 3 and 5 inches per day! Within about 10 months of being planted, the banana tree can produce bananas. But we were shocked to find the banana tree (that had bananas growing on it when we first arrived) cut down the other morning! Just a stump remained. I asked Mr. Jacob, the landlord, why they cut it down, and he explained that once a banana tree produces ripe bananas, that the tree will never again produce bananas (it's a one-time happening) and so they cut it down and plant a new tree in its place. Also, did you know what a banana seed is? I've always wondered. Well, you don't plant a banana to grow a banana tree. You dig down a few inches under the soil at the base of an adult tree, and find a bulb (much like a tulip bulb, if I understand correctly). You dig up that bulb, plant it where you want a banana tree, and wa-la--in a few days you'll have something as tall as a human toddler.
Banana tree uses:
Leaves = disposable plates (Although Byron said he saw banana leaf-shaped paper plates at the wedding reception!)
Banana flower bud = edible, and used for medicine
Banana = food
Trunk = grind up and use as medicine for stomach problems
Long white tube inside the trunk = edible--tastes vaguely like asparagus

Incidentally, Mani reports that all parts of the palm tree are also useful:
Palm tree uses:
Leaves = weave for baskets, roofs, walls, etc (we've seen whole houses constructed of woven palm branches. These are the fisherman's houses by Marina beach--they don't look like very permanent, nor strong structures, but they protect from sun and rain.)
Trunk = burn for fuel
Coconut = food and drink
Coconut husks = make rope
(Doesn't this information just make you want to run out and grow a palm tree?)

Monday, May 19, 2008

1st week with Dad

Sunday, May 18: So happy to have Dad here. He said it's noticably hotter than Nebraska. He brought us silverware which we used already for breakfast (because Indians eat with their hands, it's difficult to find silverware for sale) .

We headed out to a couple more temples, not satisfied with the single temple we toured last weekend. On our way to our first temple, Mani gasped and pointed out two camels walking down the street. We all excitedly started talking and yelling, and Mani stopped the car and backed up so we could take a picture. As I rolled the car window down for a picture, the camel owner saw me and gestured that I should come out of the car for a picture. As soon as I was out of the car, he pointed to the kids and said they should sit on the camel for a picture. (The camel was kneeling at this point.) As soon as Lily and Heidi were on the camel, I was about to put Erin on for a picture of all the kids, but the camel owner gestured that I (Dawn) should get on behind Heidi. I tossed the camera to Byron, and got on.

Suddenly, the camel owner wildy gestured for me to hang onto Heidi, and we were going up!! I saw my life flash before my eyes. With Heidi between Lily and I, and I was up on the hump, I was sure that I couldn't both hang onto Heidi, and hang on myself. I closed my eyes and prayed for dear life. There is nothing like sitting astride a camel that is getting from a kneeling position to a standing position--I challenge any carnival ride owner to replicate the "I'm going to die!" sensation that created in me.

The camel owner noticed my plight, and wildly gestured that I should get off the hump immediately and slide backwards, sitting behind the hump. Even though that put me further away from the wooden saddle frame which is what I was supposed to be hanging onto (in front of Lily), it did stabilize me a bit more so that I wasn't bouncing quite so much.
With every step, Heidi's head would bounce back, hit me in the chest, then bounce forward, and hit Lily in her back. But Heidi was giggling, so I was sure she wasn't experiencing a concussion.

Buses drove by, taxis honked, people began to gather, and there we were on a major street riding on a camel. Lily was crying, "Help! Woooooo! Help!" but was also laughing, so I decided we were all alive and going to live through this.

Byron and Erin were suddenly up on a camel behind us, and there were the Burkes, foregoing the taxis, the bus, even the driver and the car, and taking a camel as our mode of transportation down the street.

When it was time to disembark, camel owner reached up for Heidi before the camel went back into a kneeling position. Camel owner handed Heidi to Mani (who was having a grand time watching us) and coached his camel to kneel. This wasn't quite as wild as getting up--possibly because I wasn't holding onto Heidi for dear life.

Then it was Dad's turn, and Erin and Lily joined him. What fun! (We told Dad that this sort of unusual thing, such as taking an impulsive camel ride , doesn't usually happen to us.)

Mani tooks us to a temple recommended by several of our friends, called Astalakshmi Temple, in a nearby community called Besant Nagar (where there is a beautiful beach that is connected to the famed Marina Beach). I asked Mani to come into the temple with us (since he's Hindu, he would know where we could go, etc.), and he showed us where to take off our shoes (hot, hot, hot pavement made us RUN at top speed through portions of the temple, desperate for shade).

Mani had us pay to go in the "fast entry" line, which got us right in (for a price) rather than standing for 20 minutes burning our feet and sweltering in the heat. Upon entry, Mani led us to a priest who offered us red powder to give ourselves "bindy dots." I've wanted to wear a bindy dot since we arrived, so I eagerly took some and dotted my forehead. None of the other Burkes were in the mood. Another priest offered me a lotus flower, which I brought home. It smells lovely.

We meandered through different rooms and passageways, stopping here to watch Mani wave his fingers to a flower-bedecked figurine and then kiss his fingers, or touch a picture of a group of Hindu gods and goddessses and then kiss his fingers again. In one place where people were standing in line, a priest was pouring some kind of liquid from a brass jar into people's cupped hands, which they would touch to their foreheads, then sip into their mouths.

The priest saw us, and called to us--gesturing that he wanted to give us some of the liquid. Not wanting to miss out on anything, I (Dawn) held out my hands and he poured a small amount of liquid in, then gestured that I should drink it. Some bits of flowers and leaves were in the liquid, and I was not at all sure that I should drink this stuff, so I pretended to and wiped my hands dry on my jeans. Byron and Dad followed suit, and Byron thinks it was a sort of tea.

On our way out, we stopped at a gift shop near the front door, and Lily saw a packet of strange-looking yellow lumps of something for sale. I asked Mani what it was, and he said it was tumeric. He said that people put it on their skin for wisdom. Ah-ha! I have noticed many, many people (including our housekeeper, Odyssey, and our cook, Chandra-Shake-uh) with a yellow tinge to their skin (face, neck, hands) and wondered what that was all about.

On our way to the next temple, Mani paused driving down a street, and said, "Procession, ma'am." I asked if it was okay for me to get out and take pictures, and Mani said, "Okay, Ma'am," and I jumped out of the car and ran down the street, looking for a procession. I found out I ran right past it. I had to run back in the direction of the car to take pictures of a drum and trumpet band, then noticed another drum and trumpet band, then saw two huge platforms with Hindu gods all covered in flowers being pulled down the street.

A priest was sitting up with each Hindu god, and men were manually pulling the platforms with ropes, with other men behind pushing the platform. I haven't ever seen anything like this. Not much of a crowd was gathered--in fact, more people standing around seemed more interested in us than in the Hindu god procession.

Back to the car to visit the next Hindu temple. This one is the one on the front of many India guidebooks--very, very elaborately carved, with many towers and very colorful. Mani came in just far enough to hand us over to a guide who spoke English (later we weren't sure if Mani actually handed us over to this guide, or if this guide came and attached himself to us at the shoe-taking-off area, and Mani figured we would be okay, so he just stayed with the shoes).

This temple was much, much larger than any we've been to yet. A long hallway with no walls but a very colorfully decorated ceiling provided shade, and we noticed several very old women sitting there, with a few families enjoying the shade further down the hallway. The guide told us that old people and poor people receive one free meal everyday at this temple, and that's what the old women were waiting for. He told us that donations to the temple defray the costs of the meals, and gave us a meaningful look.

We learned more about the many Hindu gods--this guide told us that though there are many, many Hindu gods, that there are 3 main ones. These three had several reincarnations, and wives, and children, but if you learn those three, you have a basic understanding and the hundreds don't seem so overwhelming. This guide, too, said that the thousands of beautifully carved figures on the temple tops had many stories to tell, and again I wanted to hear all the stories. (Who doesn't love a good story?). I think you could sit there for months and not hear all the stories depicted in these temple carvings. I wonder how long it took, and how many artists worked on these temple carvings.

Also at this temple, the guide took us to a tree, which he claimed is centuries old. The tree was covered in string, little paper messages, and little "baby swings." The guide said that people who want to get married but aren't having success finding a suitable mate tie a yellow string around this tree, praying for a spouse. Childless couples often visit the tree, and tie a white string around it in their prayer for a baby. Some even hang up a little baby swing with a "Baby Krishna (?)" swinging in it, to signify their wish for a child. Others who wish for success in a new job or venture will write their wish down on hundreds of pieces of paper, then carefully fold the paper, wrap string around it until they have a long string of their wishes all tied to it. They hang the wish-string on this tree as they pray for success.

The guide then took us around a corner and told us that we now needed to donate money to the poor who come to the temple for food, but that this donation wasn't compulsory. He also wanted to be paid for his tour-guide services. After returning home and reading our India guidebook, we now know that we should have negotiated our price for this guide's services before we even started our tour, and that we should not have felt compelled to give. He was pretty slick and we spent 'way more than we wanted to at this temple.

Home to recover from burning our feet on the pavement in these temples (Mani said that usually temples are open in the mornings, closed from noon to 4ish, and then re-open in the evenings--which keeps people away from the temple during the hottest part of the day).

We got ready for the wedding, which we were invited to en masse when the father-of-the-bride stood up in church and invited all those present to attend his daughter's wedding the following day.

We met our pastor at our church, and he got into an auto-rickshaw and led our car to another Seventh-day Adventist church (about 20 minutes away) we'd never seen. We were quite early--arrived at 4:00 for a wedding that was to start at 4:30. Our pastor talked to us for awhile, and Dad talked to him about arranging to do some recruiting for Union College (a Seventh-day Adventist college in Lincoln, Nebraska where Dad is a librarian). The pastor seemed quite interested, and arranged to meet Dad later this week and introduce him to some leaders in the church who might be able to help him in recruiting.

The church, which had no air conditioning, was quite bearable, so either I'm getting used to the heat, or meeting at 4:00 p.m. is a cooler time of day than meeting from 9:30 to 12:30 in the morning. The wedding didn't start on time, and it seems most people knew that, as the church didn't fill with guests until about 5:00, and the wedding began at 5:15.

The bride wore a beautiful creme-colored and gold accented sari, a western wedding veil, and wore a string of jasmine flowers draped over her right shoulder. She walked down the aisle with her father, as in western weddings. Preceding her were a Bible boy dressed in a creme-colored 3-piece suit, a couple of flower girls in western-looking dark purple dresses who were pouring reams of jasmine flowers onto the floor, a miniature bride and groom, and her one bridesmaid.

Throughout the wedding, neither the bride nor groom touched each other, nor smiled. The stage was filled with at least 10 men, who we later learned were [probably all conference officials in the SDA church (we think the bride's father holds a rather high office in the SDA church).

The wedding included having most of these ten men speak for a few minutes, and some songs--mostly western sounding (some congregational hymns were sung in Tamil, also). There was no "you may kiss the bride," nor do I think the couple even looked at each other. At one point one of the speakers told the groom, "You need to smile. This is the happiest moment of your life."

At the very end of the wedding, the couple turned to face the audience, and the bride took the groom's arm. The bride smiled a shy sort of smile, but the groom remained stoic.

An older woman and a little boy then dashed up and down each row of the church, handing each guest a fistful of jasmine flowers. We found that as the bride and groom walked down the aisle to exit the church, guests were to throw flowers at them. This was fun--and so pretty--to see the bride and groom covered with small, sweet-smelling little white flowers. (A nicer tradition, in my opinion, than just watching them walk out, or waiting your turn to greet them as you exit your pew). This gave everyone something to do, and made everyone smile.

We made ready to leave for home, but as we stood near the entrance of the church for a moment making sure we had everything and everyone that we started off with, a man approached Dawn and said, "I'm Israel!" ( Background here: I have been wanting to visit an SDA orphanage here, and got Israel's name from a friend of a friend back in the states as someone who could help us set up a visit to the orphanage. Isreal and I have been emailing each other, but were not getting very far in setting up definite plans.) Isreal, it turns out, wasn't able to keep up in responding to my emails because he was so involved in helping with the wedding this past week (he was the best man, and the groom was his cousin).

As Isreal and I talked, our pastor joined us, and it turns out that our pastor and Isreal are good friends and both realize now that they were helping the same person arrange a visit to the orphanage. Then Isreal turned to me and said, "I wanted to email you this week and ask if you would say a few words and give a prayer at the reception for the bride and the groom, but I ran out of time. Would you do that?"

I said, "But the bride and groom don't even know who I am!" But Isreal was persistent, and I asked Byron what he thought. Byron just wanted to go home, but Isreal can be convincing, and so we said we would stay if we could be early in the reception program, as our kids were getting tired, hot and hungry.

Before we knew it, we were seated in the backyard of the church listening to a lovely musical program, with drums (all kinds of drums--electronic ones, and "manual" ones), and keyboards, accompanying first a male singer, then a female singer. Both singers had an echo-sound in the microphone, which seems to be popular in all Indian singing that I've seen on TV and heard on the radio. It's quite pleasant to listen to, but different from anything I've heard. Of course we couldn't understand the words, but I found the music quite mesmerizing and could have listened for a long time.

Meanwhile, Byron was making suggestions of what I should talk about for my "blessing of the bride and groom," which made me crazy because I do better if I can just mull over what I might say in my subconscious and then get up and do it impromptu. If I think about it too much, it just doesn't work. Byron works in the opposite way and does much better if he carefully plans what he is going to say up front. I had to remind him that we are quite opposite in this way, and to please STOP trying to make me think about it. (Byron was offered the chance to also say something up front, but politely and firmly declined.)

The bride and groom finally appeared, this time holding hands. They had changed clothes (she changed to a burgundy sari, he to a different suit). They sat up on a couch on the stage, looking hot but a bit more relaxed. Suddenly, I was on. Byron, the girls, and Dad came up with me (Dad had said if I wanted to introduce him, that he would say a few words. I thought about it, but then I realized that Dad, who had been in India less than 24 hours, might not be coherent. Plus, I couldn't figure out how to work him in. So I did all the talking while the family stood there.)

The emcee had told me that the family should gather around the couple and place our hands on them during the prayer, so I told the kids they needed to do that. They looked uncomfortable (both the girls and the couple), but the couple did smile at me while I was talking. Don't ask me what I said (I don't remember)--I did feel pretty silly up there--the first feature on the reception program, and never having met the bride and grooom. But it is fun to be up front with a mic, even if I do feel silly.

After my "speech" and prayer, the emcee came up, took the mic from me, and hissed, "get off the stage! Get off the stage now! Go! Go!" I wasn't sure if he was a.) wanting to hurry the reception program along, b.) totally horrified at what I'd just said up front, or c.) thinking it would take some work to get 6 foreigners off the stage

Our pastor approached us and thanked us for coming. He told me that SDA weddings in India are not typical Indian weddings. He said that they're a combination of western and Indian, and I had to agree. One thing that both Byron and I noticed is that the wedding seemed to be focused on the parents of the couple, and on joining two families, with the couple just an accessory to the ceremony. The couple looked as if they were just there to endure the wedding ceremony--not having had any part in planning it. Perhaps that's a side-effect of arranged marriages.

Several people invited us to stay for the remainder of the reception and to join us at the upcoming meal, and I would have LOVED to, but the kids were tired of it and wanted to go home. (Byron, who had been walking around the reception area with the girls before the wedding started, reports that he saw banana leaf-shaped paper plates! I wanted to see those, but the girls were just done and needed to leave right away).

Dad has been here for 24 hours now, and has ridden a camel, visited two Hindu temples, seen a Hindu procession walk down the street, experinced traffic in Chennai (which he comments about quite often), and attended a wedding. We told Dad that not everyday is quite as packed or unusual.

Monday, May 19: "The Burkes girls get separated in downtown Chennai"

Wanting to take Dad to all the main tourist sites in town, we set up a schedule. Today is a visit to St. Thomas Mount, where Thomas, one of Jesus' disciples, was killed. Dad noticed what a draw our girls are, and sees how the Indians especially like to gather 'round Heidi and pinch her cheeks. Heidi has learned to turn away and dig her face into the stroller, and to throw up her arms, essentially covering her cheeks, when she' s not in the mood for cheek-pinching. It's just so constant--everywhere we go. EVERYWHERE.

Home to eat a quick lunch, then Sahjee wants to meet us at 1:00 to go shopping for fruit at T. Nagar (Sahjee explained to us that fruit at the local neighborhood supermarket is 2-3 times more expensive than fruit downtown at T.Nagar). I'm not sure why Sahjee wants us to go along with him, but I'm always up for a visit to T.Nagar.

I explained to Sahjee that I want to buy jingly ankle bracelets for Lily and Heidi, and he said he will take us to a store while he shops for fruit. Mani had to park far away from this part of T.Nagar. Sahjee led us through alleys and suddenly we were in the middle of what I've been looking for ever since we got to India!

This is what I remember as the BEST shopping areas in Korea--the backstreets, where the fruit and good and wares are all spread out on the streets and tiny little shops and stalls and stores are all crammed together--and the shopping is wild and fun and cheap and you get a real flavor for what the culture is like. Enough of the department stores, enough of shops with cash registers--THIS is what I've been wanting to find the WHOLE TIME!

You couldn't walk three steps without pulling out your camera--everywhere I looked were scenes that you see on the postcards here. Stalls overflowing with papayas, and the next stall would be overflowing with cucumbers and potatoes. Narrow streets, with trucks blocking the streets as men carrying HUGE loads on their backs carried the truck's contents to various stalls. The men's loads were wrapped in white burlap sacks. The men were leaning forward from the weight of these sacks, and each man had hold of a large metal hook that had pierced the sack, but was giving the man something to grasp as he carried it.

The atmosphere was charged with energy and busy-ness and people looked excited and happy. I just love marketplaces.

Sahjee took us into a department store (but this wasn't like the huge ones on the main drive in T.Nagar. This department store was 5 levels high, but very narrow--each floor was about the size of a large living room). No air-conditioning on any of the floors except the ground floor. Sahjee took us up to the 5th floor, showed us the ankle bracelets, and said he was going shopping. I asked, "where will we meet you?" He said, "Ground floor, half an hour."

Lily tried on a couple of jingly ankle bracelets, and from the looks of this store, and all the clerks who were helping her try them on, I was wondering just how much these would cost. I finally asked, "How many rupees?" When they replied, "2000 rupees," I nearly choked. $50 a set! I asked, "Do you have anything for 200 rupees ($5)?" They didn't laugh, but they did look at me askance. Finally, they said, "You try our sister store, Jayachandra Textiles, opposite." I've been here long enough to know that "opposite" means "across the street."

So, we took the tiniest elevator I've ever seen down to ground floor, and waited for Sahjee. But I just couldn't stand it. I was finally in the mecca of Indian shopping, and I had to STAND AROUND for 30 MINUTES?! I think NOT.

So, I suggested that we walk around to various shops and stalls just outside this department store, where we'd be in plain sight should Sahjee return. I bought a pair of shoes for a very little bit of money, Erin bought a nice bag for $2, and we looked at blouses. Dad and Heidi were getting pretty hot, so wanted to return to the air-conditioned ground floor of the original store.

We returned, but now it had been 30 minutes and Sahjee hadn't returned. I was so ansy--and I had seen the Jayachandra Textile store just across the street and down two shops. I wanted to see if they would have cheap jingly ankle bracelets for Lily and Heidi, so I told Dad I'd just dash over there with Lily and see what was available. I gave him a slip of paper with the name of the store written on it, and told him, "It's just across the street. Have Sahjee come and get me if he gets back before I do."

Lily and I then left. Within about 10 minutes we found a lovely display of jingly ankle bracelets, and Lily found a pair she liked for 110 rupees (About $3). I then realized that all I had on me was 10 rupees, and I couldn't even pay for the ankle bracelets! I thought I'd rush back over to Dad, and borrow some money. I asked Lily, "Could you stay here until I get back in a few minutes?" and she said she was fine. Leaving Lily, I dashed across the street to find that Dad, Heidi, and Erin were GONE!! Not a trace. The doorman at the original store said they'd left about 10 minutes ago, and had gone "that way." I dashed outside but couldn't see a westerner in sight. Thinking that perhaps they were in Jayachandra Textiles looking for me, I dashed back, found Lily, and waited. No Sahjee, no Dad. I finally figured that Sahjee might not have understood where I was.

I dashed back to the original store (leaving Lily again in Jayachandra Textiles with a bevy of clerks around her all smiling and asking her "name?" "Where from?") and told the doorman that if my family returned, please tell them I'm in Jayachandra Textiles. The doorman understood perfectly, which made me realize that Sahjee probably didn't know where Jayachandra Textiles was, but didn't ask directions, either.

I returned to Jaychandra Textiles, and asked to use a phone. I was directed to 3rd floor, where the clerks all claimed that no phone was available. I might have panicked a bit here and made a slight scene, because a man sitting nearby noticed and spoke up, saying, "Madam, I have a phone you may use. I do not work at this store. I am a customer just like you. Please limit your call to 10 minutes." I asked him if he would actually dial the number and talk to Mani, and tell Mani where I was. He did, and after a brief conversation, hung up and explained to me that Mani reported that my dad and other children were with him in the car, and Sahjee had gone off looking for me. I was to go to where Mani was parked, at a bus-stop.

Embarrased, I had to tell the man that I couldn't leave this store, as I had no money with me and my daughter was wearing some ankle bracelets that I need to pay for before we leave the store. Could he dial Mani again and ask Mani to come find me, bringing along about 300 rupees borrowed from my dad? This 2nd phone call revealed that Sahjee had returned to the car, and was now coming to find me with money in his hand. I told the man to tell Sahjee that Lily and I would be waiting on 2nd floor, where Lily had bonded with every clerk.

The man hung up, and then said, "Actually, I am not Indian. I am from Sri Lanka. Here is my card. Will you be visiting Sri Lanka?" I told him I would love to, and asked how much it would cost to fly there from Chennai. He named some ridiculously expensive amount, and I said, "I have a family of five, and we couldn't possibly afford that." Then he said, "Well, you could fly 2nd class, "and named an affordable amount. "If you come to Sri Lanka, I will show you around," he said. I have his card, just in case.

I returned to Lily, and told her Sahjee would be here shortly. We waited. We waited. I finally asked, "Can I pay with a credit card?" One clerk had said I couldn't, but another clerk said I could. Turns out that if we went to another floor, we could. It took so long, though, that I was afraid Sahjee would come and not find us. (Meanwhile, Lily and I were interested to note someone purchasing henna-tubes at the credit card counter. We could buy it and do henna-decorated hands on ourselves!)

Then, I found that I had told Sahjee that we would be waiting on 2nd floor, because I had climbed one set of stairs, which I assumed would be going from 1st to 2nd floor. The clerk said, "No, downstairs is ground floor, and you are waiting on 1st floor." AAAAAUGH!!!!!

Lily and I dashed outside the store and waiting at the entrance, thinking that surely Sahjee wouldn't miss us now. But it was hot, and flies were biting at Lily's legs, so we returned to the store and stood just inside the entrance, where Lily was in a prime spot for cheek-pinching and more "name? where from?" questions. (When Heidi's not nearby, Lily is targeted!)

Lily must be commended for her patience, but after an hour, it was just getting ridiculous. She was running out of patience really fast, and I was thinking that I needed to call Mani again, when Lily said "Mama, let's pray." I had been praying all along, but leaned down to take her hand and pray aloud. Three minutes later Sahjee showed up. We nearly leapt into each other's arms. He told me he had been running from 2nd floor to 1st floor to 3rd floor and everyone said they had seen us, but didn't know where we were now. . . .

Then Sahjee led us out of the marketplace to the car. I noticed that Sahjee led us down a lot of dead-ends, and we'd have to re-trace our steps. I also noticed that he asked NO ONE for directions. Then, as we reached a busy street, we started rushing down it one direction, then Sahjee suddenly stopped, turned around, and said, "Driver calling me, " and headed in the opposite direction. I looked up, and noticed Mani standing across the street waving his arms and looking extremely frustrated with Sahjee, pointing to his car which indeed was the other direction than where we'd been heading a moment ago.

I deducted the following: a.) Sahjee doesn't have a good sense of direction b.) Sahjee doesn't ask for directions c.) Sahjee doesn't stop and ask, "Where are the westerners?" like Mani does, because if he had, he would have found us much more quickly d.) next time we're lost, I want Mani to come find us. [BDB's comment: It also shows that when you tell Dawn to stay in one place she probably won't]

Reunited in the car, and headed home to rest up before an incredible dinner.

Sahjee may not have talents in finding people and places, but he is EXTREMELY talented in cooking. Wow! He had announced that he wanted to prepare an authentic South Indian meal for us on Monday night, and Byron even arranged to come home early for the event. We were not disappointed.

Sahjee cleared the whole table, and set each place with a huge banana leaf (these leaves are as large as cafeteria trays). Upon the leaf he and Chandra Shake-uh carefully placed a pile of rice, and smaller piles of sauces. It was a work of art, and no silverware was in sight!

We dug in. We were to eat everything with our hands, and it was messy, but fun. The food was out-of-this-world delicious. Even the girls ate it, which had Chandra Shake-uh dancing and Sahjee grinning from ear to ear. We asked Chandra Shake-uh to use our camera to take pictures of us eating, and Sahjee to use the videocamera and videotape us. I don't think either of them were at all familiar with cameras, as they looked quite out of their league. Yet, they were having as much fun as we were--all of us trying new things. Wow, what a meal!

Since then, Dawn and Erin have taken to eating with our hands for several meals, and we're getting quite used to it. It does take some getting used to to reach down and scoop up sauce with your hands, though. It's messy, but it's also feeling more natural. I told Erin we'd have to get over this pretty soon after returning to Kansas!

Tuesday, May 20 (Mahabalipuram, this time in cooler weather)

We returned to the city about an hour away with the incredible rock carvings that are centuries-old. This time, we followed Chandra-Shake-uh's advice and didn't arrive at high noon. We waited to leave the house at 2:00, which got us there at 3:00, when the day starts to get a bit cooler. We were surprised what a difference it made. We hired a guide this time, too, but this guide was so, so patient with the kids, and much more considerate of us than our last guide had been. He stopped several times and said, "Let the children play for awhile here," and he'd re-explain things and answer questions. At one point when we were touring the Shore Temple, he showed us how far the 2004 Tsuinami had come--all the way up to the gate that locks entry to the Shore Temple after hours. The water had also reached far up the pinnacle of the temple.

He told us that he and his wife had run when the tusinami came, and that it was terrible. His wife miscarried their baby boy at that time. When I replied, "Oh, I'm so sorry!" he said that everyone around town had something like that happen to them, and that it was hard on the whole village.

The guide was very personable, and said that now he has a baby girl--18 months old. His wife wants to have more children, but he said they can't afford it. His business is unpredictable, and they are currently living in a place without running water. He gave me his email address and phone number and asked me to refer anyone else who is coming to Mahabalipurum to him as a tour guide. I told him I'd pray for him, and he said he would pray for us. I'm not sure he's a Christian, but what a nice man. Even the girls enjoyed his tour-guiding, and actually listened periodically.

Believe it or not, this tour guide, as soon as he met us, said, "Oh! You were just here a week ago!' I couldn't believe he recognized us, and hadn't even been our tour guide. Then other merchants gathered around us and said, "Hello again! You come back! Good to see you!" It seems that every merchant in the city remembered us. This is surprising, because Mahalbalipurm is a pretty popular place for western tourists to go. We saw quite a few westerners there when we were there. Out of all these westerners, I am surprised they remember our family.

As we were leaving the Shore Temple, Erin wanted to buy a silk painting, and a merchant came dashing up to me, saying, "Hello! You remember me? You buy 3 silk paintings from me for 350 rupees last week, remember?" (Okay--is that incredible? Yes, I did buy 3 painting for 350 rupees in Mahabalipurum last time, but couldn't have identified the seller if my life depended on it.) We bought some more paintings from him, but were surrounded by about 15 merchants on the street at that point (apparently he also sells his paintings on the street), which makes for a great deal of confusion and cuts down on my ability to bargain. I know that we didn't get as good a deal as we would have gotten if all the chaos wasn't around us. Byron thinks they take advantage of the total chaos.

One thing that bugs me is that merchants will put their wares in your hands, even if you don't want it. There I am holding things I don't want, but I don't know which merchant gave it to me (there are 10 merchants in front of me, and 5 more behind me), and he won't take it back! I kept saying, "Take this away from me! I don't want it!" while trying to look at silk paintings with Erin, but it didn't work. Lily wasn't helping by repeatedly yelling, "Mama! Give those beads back! You don't want to buy them!" Then I realized Heidi was missing. I figured that probably either Mani or the tour guide had taken her and her stroller to the nearby car, but I wasn't absolutely sure, so here I was holding wares I didn't want, helping Erin determine which paintings she wanted, telling Lily to hush, and watching Dad try on sandals with his hands full of wares he may or may not have wanted, wondering desperately where my youngest child was.

Turns out that yes, the tour guide had taken Heidi to the car, where she was happily sitting in air-conditioning with Mani. We got to the car with 20 merchants in tow, all reaching their hands in until the last minute, when they all grabbed their wares back when they realized I wasn't forking out any rupees for things I didn't want.

When all the merchants were reaching in the car, Mani suddenly thrust a doll into my face and said, "Madam! Indian doll!!!" I looked, and it was a cheap plastic Barbie. She did sport a brown (not black) head of hair pulled back in a sort-of-Indian-looking braid, but she was wearing western clothes.

"Mani," I said, "she isn't dressed like an Indian."

"I make sari!" he yelled. "I make sari for doll!" I was startled, and almost took him up on his offer when I saw the doll had blue eyes.

"Nope--the doll has blue eyes. She's not Indian," I said.

Mani thrust the doll out the window into the waiting arms of a hopeful merchant. "Blue eyes!" he literally screamed into the merchant's face. "Blue eyes!!!"

I am beginning to think that my quest for Indian dolls is taking its toll on Mani. I also wish I'd bought one of those dolls, just so Mani would make a sari for it. I'm now looking for a western-dressed doll to see what Mani will make!

Wednesday, May 21st "Dakshinachitra--A kid-focused day."

Erin has especially wanted to return to Dakshinachitra--the recreated old-fashioned Indian village where kids can make all sorts of Indian-related crafts. She was sure that Grandfafa would enjoy going to this place, but I wasn't sure. I knew that it involved a lot of "watching the girls make crafts," but decided we may as well go while Dad is here.

The girls had a lovely time with their craft-making, while Dad and I tried not to think about how hot we were. This time, Erin, Lily and Heidi all did some pot-making on a potter's wheel, all three girls assisted a basket-weaver in weaving more baskets, Erin and Lily painted some Indian masks, and Heidi painted another papier-mache, this one like a sun. Erin and Heidi also did some glass-painting, and the girls ground rice again between two stones.

Erin, Heidi and Mama got henna this time. Lily didn't want henna again. Dawn was to discover that henna has a distinct smell--sort of like a plant-smell, which is very strong the first couple of days! But it is great fun wearing such pretty designs all over your hand and arm. Erin got both her hands done this time, and although he nearly drove her crazy having to keep her hands open and un-used for 30 minutes, she is pretty excited to have both her hands all pretty.

We lost Heidi's basket (that she'd helped to weave) somewhere between the mask-painting table and the exit to the village, much to Heidi's distress. Sigh. We might be returning to Dakshinachitra to weave another basket.

Thursday, May 22 "Dad recruits for Union College, and we meet a dancer"

Dad arranged that morning to meet our pastor, (Pastor Johnson) at the church, where Pastor Johnson will join him in the car with Mani and take him to the local SDA headquarters office (technically, Southest India Union) where he can meet people and promote Union College. The girls and I stayed home and did some math and laundry. Guess which of those the girls enjoyed more. (Yes, they love hanging up the laundry on the clothesline about 1000 times more than they enjoy doing math problems.)

Dad was gone from 10:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. Apparently the Adventist headquarters are a long, long ways from our apartment. He said they drove for quite awhile (to the far west part of Chennai? We live in the far south). But he was able to talk a lot about Union College, and gave away every single one of his promotional materials, and refer them to the Union College website. He said they sounded as if at least one and maybe more students could come to Union College for 2nd semester this coming school year (they didn't think they could make it for first semester). Kudos to Dad and his recruiting ability!

By the time Dad got home, Dawn was itching to get out and do something, so we all piled into the car and went to Spencer's to purchase 12 one-liter water bottles for our upcoming train ride to Agra (we've been told that water probably isn't sold on the train, so we need to take a 2-night, one full day supply). Then, still wanting to go out and do something, Dawn arranged for attending a classical Indian dance performance at a hotel, apparently the only one available in the entire city of Chennai during India's summer vacation.

My guidebook listed the dance performance at "Raintree." Mani dropped us off at the Raintree Hotel at 7:00 p.m., plenty of time to attend a 7:30 performance. My, this hotel was definitely a 5-star, with a turban-wearing, all dressed up doorman who even opened the car doors for us to get out. We entered the lobby to ask the concierge where the classical dancing performance was, and got a blank look. I asked, "This is Raintree, isn't it?" Upon further discussion and exploration, I discovered that we were at Raintree Hotel, and the dancing is at another hotel, called Taj Commodore, within a restaurant called, "The Raintree." Ack!

Another call to Mani, and he heads back to get us. It takes him about 20 minutes, even though he wasn't that far away, because the traffic in this part of town is really congested. I think at one point we were driving on a street meant for 1 lane of traffic, and there were 4 lanes trying to get through.

As we were driving to the new hotel, Mani said, "Madam, look to right. Look to right! No look left! Just look right!" I couldn't figure out what he wanted me to look at on the right, but when I looked to the forbidden left, there was Spencer Plaza! [BDB: another example of Dawn's ability to follow directions (ha ha)] I laughed and laughed at that one. Obviously Mani thinks I'm an out-of-control shopping maniac. I'm only a "looking for certain things to buy that aren't easily found, so I need to go out shopping numerous times and places until I find what I'm looking for" shopper maniac.

Mani then deposited us at the Taj Commodore Hotel, and didn't leave us until he had confirmed that classical dancing was here. Then he dashed off to pick up Byron from work (Byron didn't wish to view the dancing with us, and would have a nice quiet evening at home to get some work done in peace.)

On our way to the restaurant, Erin and Lily stopped at a bathroom. You know you're not in Kansas when your children dash out of the bathroom to yell, "Mama! You've just GOT to see this bathroom! It's so clean, and it has WESTERN toilets!" Their voices reverberated through the hall, which brought a hotel clerk over to remark, "Of COURSE we have western bathrooms. This IS a 4-star hotel!"

On to the resturant, where we had the option of sitting in air-conditioning, or seeing the dancing up close. We chose the dancing. I started getting nervous when a lovely hostess arrived and gave each of us Burke females "complimentary" jasmine flowers, putting them in our hair with hair pins that she supplied. (Usually the ladies at the jasmine flower-stands will either just hand you the flowers to put in your hair yourself, or they will work the flowers into your hair using your own hair to hold the flowers in.)

One look at Heidi, and the hostess was in love. She couldn't stay away from our American toddler (this time Heidi took to the person showering her with attention), and eventually just picked Heidi up and walked around with her, completely in heaven with this little girl who talked, and talked, and talked to her. She took Heidi on a tour of the grounds, impressing her with a fishpond with real fish, a jasmine-flower garden, and a mongoose, of all things.

Later I saw a rodent-ish, weasel-looking thing trot past our table and walk into some brush in front of the dancing stage. I was not sure if that was supposed to be at the hotel or whether it was something running rodent-wild. Later I learned that it was the mongoose, and that it was supposed to be at the hotel. Lily spent a good part of the evening trying to hunt down the mongoose, without success.

Then a waiter arrived to ask us whether we wanted our water room-temp or chilled. When I said, "chilled," he re-arrived shortly with 2 one-liter bottles. He held up a bottle for our inspection (I saw that it was chilled), then with a flourish he broke the water-bottle's seal and poured each of us a glass. (When I told Byron about this later, Byron asked if he had us sniff the cork!)

Then we received menus. At this point Dad got nervous. The menu was 12 pages long, and included long lists of appetizers, main dishes, 2nd courses, drinks, and desserts. I told Dad that I had called this restaurant last week, and was told that we could order as much or as little as we wished. I suggested we order the girls each a bowl of ice-cream, and ourselves something else. Dad and I obviously think alike, as he and I both independently chose the "rose-petal" dessert, which is actually made of edible rose-petals. (I got my "always wanting to try and do the most unusual thing" tendency from Dad).

The rose-petal dessert was very strange, but okay. Neither Dad nor I could take more than a few bites, as it was very rich--but it did taste like rose petals. The girls each had a bite and liked it. It was kind of a thick, syrupy kind of dish, sort of like apple-crisp, but very, very thick and rich. It would've been a nice topping on ice-cream if it had been less thick.

The stage was right in front of us, and featured a musical trio, including two drum players and a flute player. They knelt and sat on the floor. The drum players played very complicated rythyms with their fingers, while the flute player played something that looked somewhat like a regular flute, but it was wooden. It sounded like a typical flute.

Then, the dancer came onto the stage. I was surprised that there was only one dancer, but the girls were enchanted. The dancer wore a four-layer belt of jingle bells around each ankle, and lots of makeup and jewelry. Her long braid down her back went beyond her waist, with some gold fringle worked into the bottom of the braid to make it look even longer. She didn't wear a sari, but her outfit looked very Indian and good for dancing.

The drum/flute band moved off the stage, where the drum-players sat and played for the dancer, and the flute-player laid down his flute and instead sang a chant-like rhythmic song to accompany her dancing.

The hostess returned and said she would explain what the singer was singing, and what the dancer was expressing, if we wanted. Later, she did come and explain a song to Lily, but Lily was still confused after the explantion. We did gather that the dancer was expressing the message that the singer was singing. The dancer danced about 20 minutes, then took a break. Erin and Lily desperatedly wanted to meet her, so I mentioned this to the hostess. She seemed surprised, as if no one has asked for this before, but soon arranged the meeting.

Turns out the dancer was as excited about meeting three little American girls as they were about meeting an Indian dancer. Mutal admiration abounded. My only regret is that the hostess had my camera and was using it to take pictures of the girls with the dancer (I always like to take my own pictures so I can be sure I get what I wanted). Dad was nearby taking his own pictures, so at least we should be covered.

Then Erin asked for the dancer's autograph, and I know that the dancer's never been asked for that before, as she seemed all flustered and surprised. She hestitated a moment with the pen, as if wondering if she should write her name in Tamil or English, but she chose the English. If I'd had the presence of mind, I would have asked her to write it in both languages. Then of course we got three autographs, one for each girl.

During the next dance performance, Erin rescued me by videotaping the dancing, so that I could keep an eye on where Heidi was with the hostess, and try to help Lily locate the mongoose.

The evening was a success, and we need not have panicked about the bill. The water was the most expensive water we ever hope to drink (about $8 for 2 one-liter bottles?), but otherwise the evening wasn't as expensive as it could have been. The girls were happy, and the hostess said that next time we come, to let her know as she'll bring more bangles for Heidi (Heidi was looking quite Indian this evening, wearing a chudy-da, braids and jasmine in her hair, henna on her arm, and her arms full of bangles.)

We followed the dancer out of the hotel, who asked us to please come back, maybe tomorrow evening? I think we're her fledging fan club.

Friday, May 23 Crocodile Bank where Erin and Lily each hold a croc, and a rock python

Took Dad to Crocodile Bank, as you can't really be in Chennai without seeing this place. Erin wanted to hold the 18-month old crocodile again, which must be 19-months old by now. Lily worked up her nerve to hold it this time, too. Then we saw that there was a rock python available to hold for pictures, and I never thought my girls would do it. But Erin surprised me by asking if she could! The keeper wanted to drap the snake over Erin's neck, which she definitely didn't want to do. She held it, and looked quite relaxed holding that snake, until it moved its head around to face her arm and moved its head that direction. Then she was decidedly done!

Lily, not to be outdone by Erin, then hestitantly decided she would hold the snake. Being littler, she found the snake to be heavy, and the snake apparently decided it wanted to inspect this littler person and moved its head around to explore Lily's arm. Lily didn't like this, and the keeper had to quickly take it away from her. But Lily did it--she held a rock python!

Heidi, on the other hand, was content to be carried around by Grandfafa and stay far away from the snakes, thank you very much.

Jaws Three still has chosen to stay hidden (he's the 2nd largest croc in captivity, I think). We are now wondering if these signs in his pen are just a sham and he's just a myth. His pen remains apparently empty, but we saw a sign that said crocs can stay underwater for 6 hours? (was that it? I'll have to check on this) which would explain where Jaws Three might be--hiding underwater in his green-slime covered pond. [BDB's note: Some ponds were very clean and nice, the water in others was just as scary looking as the crocodiles. Dawn surmises that the green slimy ones might be the ponds where the freshwater crocs are, and the clean-looking ponds might be where the saltwater crocs are. Or, the other way around.)]

We saw some crocs get fed --a different breed, this time. These crocs were smaller and had skinnier jaws than the crocs we saw getting fed last time we were here. These crocs were definitely more interested in the food, and moved somewhat rapidly to get it and gobble it up. Otherwise, the crocs just lay around looking like they never move.

We had planned on returning to Dakshinachitra on our way home (it's close to Crocodile Bank) to replace Heidi's lost basket. But, oh joy, Heidi saw a cart full of toys outside Crocodile Bank, and spotted a stuffed blonde dog that she wanted. It cost 20 rupees (50 cents) and she wanted it more than she wanted her basket. She now has a dog she's named Sweet Bone Jasmine.

I asked Mani to go ahead and stop at Dakshinachitra so we could at least ask at the lost-and-found to see if they have Heidi's basket. Mani went in with me, and after lots of asking and searching, they came up with a different basket that they gave to me, as it had been in lost and found for a long time. Heidi is happy.

After lunch we picked up some photos from a nearby photo shop (we have been meaning to get some photos of our girls with the housekeepers made into prints for about 5 weeks now). When we presented the photos to our housekeepers, you'd think we'd given them $100. Everyone had to come look (Sahjee, Chandra-Shake-uh came to see what Mahalak-shmi and the new maid, Davey, were looking at). They stared at the photos for a long time, and were so excited about them. I didn't realize it would delight them so much.

We were just heading out to go buy some jasmine flowers for the girls to wear in their hair for church tomorrow when our computer arrived. (Dad had asked if it would be possible to acquire a second computer while he's here so that the three of us wouldn't have to try and share Byron's laptop when he comes home from work). The computer arrived 4 days after we'd expected it to, but now we can email while Byron is at work. The girls are very excited about using it to hone their typing skills, too.

The two people installing the computer (a man and a teenage boy) needed to talk to Byron about his current hook-up, but he wasn't due home for 30 minutes. I asked if they could wait, and they could. So, we sat around for 30 minutes, all wishing fervently that Byron would arrive soon. Meanwhile, the teenage boy made friends with Heidi, playing with her and her new little dog, Sweet Bone Jasmine. There's something about Indians, at least Chennai-hites, that can't resist a toddler (even teenage boys are entranced!)

Saturday, May 24 Forlornly staying dry at Marina Beach

Church in the morning. Byron gave a talk up front on the theme of "contentment" at the Tamil Sabbath School, with a translator. Erin couldn't stay in the Tamil Sabbath School long enough for Daddy to do his talk--she doesn't have a high tolerance for sitting in a room where she can't understand anything, when there's an English option nearby. She left for the English adult Sabbath School before Byron even had his turn. Byron did quite a nice job.

Erin joined the youth Sabbath School again when it was time to separate for lesson study. She seems to have bonded with Dr. Susan, the pediatrician who leads out in the youth lesson study. Dawn, Lily and Heidi followed Ritti (a 7-yr old friend of Lily's) to the children's Sabbath School, where only Tamil was spoken, but the singing was fun and we don't mind not understanding much (I think Lily and Heidi find it more tolerable because Ritti is there, and she speaks some English--at least enough to communicate with our girls).

For the church service, a man who graduated from Spicer Memorial College (an SDA college in north India) preached. He's been living in England for 6 years, working in business administration at a hospital. Because he was an excellent speaker, I only looked out the window once during the service. This time I saw a woman feeding crows bits of bread from her hand on her roof.

After the service, the new pastor (I think his name is Pastor MuraliKrishna) stopped us and asked if either Byron or I would preach a sermon before we leave. Byron declined, but I said I would be willing to do our "Heidi presentation," which is a program we did about 5 times at various churches in Kansas City, Lincoln, and Georgia about 2 years ago. (I talked about Heidi's limbs, and how her limbs do not limit her from doing just about anything she wants to do. We talked about I-CAN, and our other amputee friends who do amazing things because they don't see themselves as disabled. We focused on how God has blessed our Heidi immeasurably, and how the biggest limitation on special-needs people is the limitations that other people put on them.)

I agreed to do this presentation if the pastor can find a children's church for our girls to attend, as we aren't willing to have Heidi present at such a presentation now that she's four years old and very much understands everything that is said around her. We don't want to "put Heidi on display," or put her on the spot or make her feel uncomfortable, thus we don't want her present at such a presentation until she's old enough to agree to such a thing.

So, I guess I'm preaching in 2 weeks--on our last Sabbath here in India. The new pastor said that he wants to start getting women on the platform at church--at least one woman on the platform every week, and he wants a woman to preach at least once every 7 weeks. I think I am the first woman who's going to start that trend.

He also has great plans for a children's church, so that the children can enjoy and wiggle and participate in a church service tailored to them. He certainly has vision and energy! Please pray for him, as he hurt his back badly lifting a box of books while moving his family to Chennai from Pune last week, and he's in awful pain. He's asking everyone to pray for him, and also that he and his family can find affordable housing near the church (they've not had success yet, and are starting to get concerned about this.) About his back--fortunately, his wife is a physical therapist, and she's used massage and hot/cold treatments. He said the pain is slightly better, but still almost unbearable, and it's really impacting his energy level and ability to work.

Saturday afternoon, we returned to St. Thomas Basilica, where Thomas the apostle is buried. We got to look around at everything this time, as we weren't in such a hurry nor were we putting up with a self-appointed guide who had an agenda for us. We found that we just have to say, "No, we don't want any guides," when we arrive at a church or temple, otherwise we end up being rushed through things we want to stop and look at, and we feel obligated (and are MADE to feel obligated) to pay the guide we didn't even ask for in the first place.

We lost Erin in the basilica for about 15 minutes. Byron was looking for her, Mani was looking, Dawn was looking, and Lily was looking (for about 5 minutes we lost Lily, too) while Dad stayed in the car with Heidi. I couldn't understand how we could lose a blonde American girl in this church, but she finally showed up as she thought we were going out the door we had come in, and she was headed that way. (We were going out another door instead.)

I have found that Erin and Lily are tending to wander off a lot, or get 'way ahead, if they feel comfortable in a place. This morning Erin wanted to walk to Spencer's supermarket by herself, and the girls don't want to hear that they're just not old enough to wander off by themselves yet, WHEREVER we are (India, or Kansas!).

After the basilica, we took Dad to Marina Beach. Dad had read the spiel in his India guidebooks about how unsanitary the beach is, and it strengthened our resolve that our girls stay out of the water. It didn't help that a whole lot more Indians were playing in the water this time than last time. Interesting to note that no Indians were playing in the sand--making sandcastles.

Our girls stood forlornly as close to the water as we would let them go, staring sadly out into the waves. They had to content themselves with collecting shells. The girls declared that a beach is useless if you can't even play in the water. I almost agree with them, although it was kinda fun to walk around, feeling the ocean breeze after the hot non-air-conditioned basilica.

I was also surprised that there were almost no vendors at the beach today (last time we were accosted by them) and the ones who there weren't persistent with us--one shake of our hands, and they went on their way. And no beggars bothered us. Mani said the beach is very busy on Sundays (that's the day we went last time), so perhaps that's why we had a more pleasant time on the beach today, Saturday.

We got home to discover that Mahalakashmi had returned 6 pairs of chudy-da pants that I'd given her two weeks ago. (The pants that had not ropes or elastic in the waist--remember)? Sahjee and Chandra-shake-uh (our cooks) told me that Mahalakashmi (our housekeeper) teaches sewing at her home in the evenings, and recommended that I give her our pants to add ropes or elastic to. I did, and thought Mahalakshmi would return them in a matter of days. Now I think she was holding the pants hostage until I gave her the photos she's been wanting us to print off for her for 5 weeks!

Sahjee was cooking supper, and he wanted help (Chandra Shake-uh was taking the day off) so he went downstairs and got his uncle, the night watchman/security guard, to come help. This is the first time I've had a man wearing a skirt cooking my supper. He's a delightful man--can't speak even one word of English, but so friendly and always smiling and waving at us when he sees us. Just shows you can make friends with someone without speaking a word to each other!

Sahjee made us chapatis for supper, and how delightful. They're just like tortillas. He showed us how he pats out the dough to be flat, then bakes them on each side for a minute or so on a flat pan, then plops the chapati onto the flame of a gas burner on the stove for few seconds until it puffs up and turns a bit brown, then flips it over to touch the flame on the other side. And then it's done--and wa-la, you have your chapati (tortilla).

We even had beans for the first time since we've arrived, and the girls excitedly piled rice and beans on top of their "tortillas." Sahjee came to the table and started saying, "No! No! Beans and rice on side!" In India, you put nothing on top of the bread or rice, instead you tear off a bit of the bread and using your hands you scoop up some beans and rice together with the bread and pop it into your mouth. We explained to Sahjee that he had just cooked a Mexican meal without even knowing it. He gave us a blank look. I almost dragged him over to the world map in the living room to show him Mexico, but was enjoying my beans and rice too much.

Sahjee told us he's bake up some chapatis for us to take on our trip to the Taj Mahal next week.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Now we know where we live! ("Gandhinager Adayar")

[Note - This blog entry is written backwards with the most recent news first]

Note: Dawn considers it a breakthrough that now I know the name of where we live, and can tell people. It's so exciting to stop answering people who ask, "Where do you live?" with an embarrassing, "I don't really know." Now we can say with confidence, "Gandhinagar Adayar" and are probably slaughtering the phrase with our pronunciation, but at least we appear less ignorant!

Saturday night May 17: Dawn and Mani left for the airport at 11:30 p.m. We arrived to find that Dad's flight was delayed for 30 minutes. Dawn asked Mani if there was any interesting shopping opportunities nearby, and he laughed and said, "No bangles here, Ma'am." So, for the next 45 minutes Dawn and Mani had a conversation that I'm not sure either of us completely understood, but Dawn learned some interesting things about Mani. 1.) He doesn't believe in getting married for love, but strongly belives in arranged marriages 2.) For 15 days out of each month, his wife and children go to a distant city to stay with an uncle 3.) For three days of his life Mani was in the navy. During those three days he was so sea sick that he couldn't eat nor sleep. He never wants to get on a ship again. 4.) He began his career as a driver by washing cars. 5.) He has driven tour buses all over India 6.) He moved to Chennai because he likes city-life 7.) His brother is a tour bus driver, and actually drove a tour bus up to the airport as we stood there. When I urged Mani to go say hello, he said "later." 8.) Mani can tell at a glance who is Brahmin. He said he'll remember to point the Brahmin people out to me. The women have much longer saris, which they valance and tuck into their waist bands.

45 minutes later, Dad's flight arrived, and I paid the extra 60 rupees for the privilege of actually entering the airport in a sectioned off area where I could see the baggage claim. There was Dad! We loaded up in the car, and were off. Dad audibly gasped at one point as Mani drove down the street, and I told him, "Oh my, just wait! There isn't even any traffic on this road right now. . . ."

Saturday afternoon (May 17)
Went to Fort St. George, the area where the British set up their government in Chennai in 1653. It was called "The English Company of the Eastern Indies" back then, but now it's where the Tamil Nadu (the state) government is housed. (Did I tell you that Chennai is the capital city of Tamil Nadu?) "The Fort" is a group of very old-looking, very British-looking, foreboading buildings. Within the fort is the oldest Anglican church of India, called St. Mary's church. Here's a tidbit of information for you: Mr. Yale (the gentleman who started Yale University) got married in this church.

The church is not only 3-centuries old and still being used as a church, but it is also a graveyard, with people buried in many places within the church sanctuary, including within pillars and under the floor. The church is filled with very interesting headstones for these graves, and many display very poetic, British-sounding verses.

In the back of the church was a black granite font where 3 daughters of a man named Job Charnock were baptized. A plaque states that Mr. Charnock did some remarkable things, including founding Calcutta, and carrying away by force a Hindu widow who was about to be burned upon the funeral pyre of her dead husband. Charnock rescued her, and she lived with him for the rest of her life.

Another plaque up on the front wall marks the burial place of a gentleman named Lionel Langley, of the Major Royal Engineers. He died on 18 April 1890 at age 40 "from injuries received in an encounter with a tiger."

Driving home, we passed the Chennai mint, where, if we understood Mani correctly, it's where all the money in India is minted. I wonder if they give tours to curious tourists?
Then home so Dawn could take a nap, as I'll be picking up Dad tonight at the airport when his plane lands about midnight. We can't wait!

Saturday: May 17

All three girls all dressed in chudy-das for church, complete with jasmine flowers decorating their hair. Every Indian in our apartment complex who saw them (Sahjee, Chandra-shake-uh, the night watchman, and Mani) exclaimed on how Indian they looked.

This week, the girls felt more adventuresome, so Erin went by herself to join the youth Bible study group (where the teacher speaks English) and Lily, Heidi and Dawn went to the children's Sabbath school program, where no one was speaking English, but there was lots of enthusiastic singing.

We were surprised to see a western couple walk in to the sanctuary shortly before the church service started. The couple came over to talk to us--they are older, and said that they were friends with one of the members of this church back in North Carolina, and had come to Chennai to attend that friend's daughter's wedding. We wanted to talk to them more, but church was starting. The woman got up front for about 10 minutes during the church service and talked about how she grew up in Ireland and went from being a Catholic to an atheist to a Protestant missionary and confirmed spinster, until she met her husband, who is from Peru. She was absolutely fascinating and we could have listened to her stories all day. But her husband had the sermon. He did not tell stories like his wife, but he did speak English.

A church member's whose daughter is getting married tomorrow stood up front and announced that everyone in the sanctuary was invited to his daughter's wedding Sunday at 4:30. Dawn took that as a sincere invitation, so we're going to an Indian wedding tomorrow! I don't know if it will be a typical Indian wedding or not, since this girl's father is Seventh-day Adventist and thus would have some cultural differences to most other Indians. We'll see.

The pastor approached us after the church service and asked us if we'd come to a meal next Sunday. I mentioned that we would be interested in visiting the SDA orphanage in Chennai, and he said that he would be happy to take us to the orphanage after the meal. He apologized that the church had not done much to "look after" us while we're in India, but he mentioned that it looked like we were being well taken care of by EDS (Byron's company), and that he thought that having church members phoning us would be bothersome. We assured him that we are well taken care of but calls would not be a bother at all. I think they are having this meal as a way to "take care" of us.

Then the pastor introduced us to a new pastor who will be taking over the pastoral duties for the English church so that the first pastor can concentrate more on his Tamil congregation downstairs. The new pastor is young, and his name is Mr. Krishna. I asked him, "How did you come to have the name of a Hindu god since you're Christian?" He said, "I am a converted Hindu. I attended a Christian school in Bangalore when I was in 5th grade, and I listened carefully to my Bible teacher, and I became a Christian when I was that age. I also got my seven brothers and sisters to convert from Hindu to Christianity. My father, who is a Hindu, isn't very happy with me."

I told him that I'd love to hear more of his story, and he said to come to church next week! He seems quite eager to begin his pastoral duties, and said that he thinks there must be a reason that we are here at the beginning of his pastorate in this church. Who knows?

Erin had a lovely time in her youth Sabbath School class, and reports that they talked about Isaiah. They also talked about climate, and asked Erin if she had ever seen snow. We've been told it's never snowed in Chennai. (When we talked to Mani about this on our way home from church, he said it has snowed in a certain carnival park in Chennai, where they make artificial snow. We told him that doesn't count.)

After church, Erin, who has been itching to play a piano (her mother has, too!) asked Dr. Susan (the church pianist) for permission to play the keyboard. Suddenly, the tune of "Largo" was being played quite beautifully, and also quite rapidly, by a happy 9-year old American girl.

We also seem to attract Indian children, particularly girls, to our pew at church. Our girls enjoy this, as it gives them someone new to talk with and color with during the service. The pastor apologized for this after the service, explaining, "You are such quiet people. The children come around you and are so noisy and are causing you trouble." Byron and I both burst out with, "Oh, the children are so welcome here! Our girls so much enjoy being with other children, and church is the only place where they can interact with children who speak English. We enjoy the children in your church so much!" He again said, "Well, you are such quiet people, I didn't know." I am not sure where he got the idea we are such quiet people, because what else are you supposed to do in church except sit quietly? However, I guess I'll take the "quiet person" label whenever it's given to me. (Har!)

The pastor is also going to invite Mani to attend the Tamil church downstairs next week. I think Mani just roasts in the car while he waits the 3 hours for us to come out of church. I've told him it's alright to start the car so that the air conditioner cools him off, but he says, "No, no" and insists that he mustn't do that. I don't know if Mani, a Hindu, would be interested in attending a Christian church. I would think anything would be better than sitting in a hot car waiting for 3 hours.

Friday "Spending the balance"

Okay, this is the deal: You buy something here, and there is NO WAY you can change your mind, take it back, and get your money back. You may, however, exchange it as long as you have kept your "bill" (receipt) and haven't opened/used the item. Remember the out-of-control shopping spree last week at the Saravana dept. store? Well, Dawn decided to return a few things and see if we could get other things we want/need instead. Oh my. It took us nearly THREE HOURS of traipsing around the department store, going from floor to floor, looking for things to spend money on so that I could spend my "balance." We had a clerk assigned to us again (it wasn't our beloved Selvi, the Saravana clerk we bonded with last week, as Selvi was helping another customer. We ran into her (how could we NOT?) during our three hour tour in the store, and we all were so excited to see each other we barely stopped short of a group hug.)

Mani came along for this particular shopping trip (which I think he'll forever regret). There aren't many men who can survive a 3-hour shopping trip with four Burke females (Byron is not among them), and Mani now has the battlescars to show he has survived, but barely. We looked for a sari for Erin, but found nothing that we liked. We looked for schoolclothes for Erin, but found nothing we liked. We looked for shoes for Erin and Lily, and Erin found a pair she liked (Lily liked it too, but they didn't have it in her size). We did find with some delightful jingly ankle bracelets for Dawn and Erin (they didn't have any in Lily's or Heidi's size) among other various and sundry items such as clothespins, a couple of glasses for the apartment (we've always been low on cups, and Dawn broke one earlier this week), etc. Who knew it would take us almost 3 hours to figure out how to spend $17.50 in an Indian department store?

Saravana Department store has no parking facilities, but Pothy's--a department store across the street, has a lovely underground parking garage for its customers. Mani parked in this parking garage, as we had a short errand to run in Pothy's. After our Pothy's errand, Mani suggested we remain parked in Pothy's and dash across the street to Saravana (little knowing we'd spend the rest of the afternoon in Sarvana "spending the balance"). After we returned to the car, carrying our Saravana shopping bags, I think we were severely chastized by a Pothy's parking garage attendant, and then for some reason, the car wouldn't start. Mani, who had already had to endure watching Burke women try on t-shirts over their clothes and reject every single one, try on shoes, try on jingly ankle bracelets, look at saris, look at chudy-das, jump and scream when a 4-inch long cockroach ran past us (much to the amusement of those standing nearby), and wander aimlessly but happily through most floors within the 6-floor department store, was at the very end of his patience.

A few minutes later, five men were gathered around Mani, yelling at him and he was yelling back at them. Mani would try to start the car, and it wouldn't start, and then there was more yelling. Quietly, I put the girls in the back seat, sat them down, and told them to be very, very quiet and not disturb Mani in the least, tiniest little bit. We began to slowly roast in this non air-conditioned parking garage, but I am very proud of the girls for being mostly quiet and non-obtrusive. Heidi was beginning to panic that "our car will never take us home," but we prayed, and a few minutes later the car did indeed start. A few more minutes of yelling back and forth between Mani and the men, and we were off. I handed Mani a bag of cashews and told him he needed to eat something (it was 'way past lunchtime, and my girls had been chowing down on cashews while Mani had been arguing). He took a few cashews, then brought us home, doing a lot of audible sighing on the way.

Thursday (May 15)

I knew we should return some things to Saravana after our too-big shopping trip there last week, but didn't have the strength to face it. So, I asked Mani to take us to a different department store today that I've heard people talking about. It's also at T.Nagar (the major shopping area in town) and it's called "Pothy's."

Mani deposited us, and we were off. We entered the store to find the most beautifully dressed ladies standing at the entrance silently greeting people with a hands-together little bow. They were so pretty that the girls and I had to stand and watch them for awhile. Of course, whenever the Burkes stand still anywhere in India, a crowd gathers. Pretty soon we were so surrounded by people who wanted to pinch Heidi's cheeks, ask us our names and stare at us, that it was difficult to move forward. We escaped to the elevators and found ourselves on the floor where chudy-das are sold. (My sister sent me some money to buy a chudy-da for her daughter, who is Lily's age.) I was on a hunt for an especially pretty one, and thought Pothy's might have it. This store is different from any other we've encountered thus far. There are racks of clothes (later I found out that the racks contain clothes that are under 1000 rupees (approx. $25). If you want something nicer, then you go to the counters and have the clerks help you find something from the selection behind the counter.

Anyhow, we were allowed to go through the racks at will, and I was so happy to just hunt and look and search all on my own without a clerk flinging potential outfits in front of me every 3 seconds. Clerks did stand at either end of each rack, ready to answer your questions, but oh joy! None of them offered to help! I found a chudy-da that I thought might work for Nicole, and was just about to have Lily try it on (over her clothes, as usual), when a clerk stopped me and pointed to. . .(drumroll please). . . three DRESSING ROOMS!!!!!!! (I had thought such a thing didn't exist in India!!!)

We happily trotted over to the dressing rooms, where a clerk ran after us and took the hangers from us (for some reason hangers aren't allowed in dressing rooms) before we went in. It was delightful to have some privacy and to actually try things on BEFORE buying them.

Mani came upon us after awhile (I'm never sure if he comes to find us because he's bored, or if he thinks something's happened to us, or if he is curious--maybe all three). Anyhow, I always find Mani immensely helpful. When we're in the car and I'm talking to Mani, I usually think, "Mani just can't speak much English at all!" but when we're in a store, suddenly Mani seems almost fluent. Perhaps because he is getting to know us, or perhaps because his English really is that much better than the average Indian, he seems to know just what we need and can explain it to a clerk and save us oodles of time and energy. He also is good at keeping track of the girls, pushing Heidi's stroller, and helping us find things. One thing the girls have been wanting is metal bangles (the ones we bought at a roadside shop turned out to be very cheap rubber and glass bangles, which disintegrate with use.) Mani took us to Pothy's bangle section, where the girls and I got all excited about all the sparkly selection. I asked how much a set was, and when the clerk answered in rupees, Mani gasped. I, of course, had to pull out my "cheat sheet" from my bag, but when I realized one bangle cost $10, I gasped, too. Mani whispered that he could find some cheaper ones for us, and to quietly leave.

At Pothy's, this is how you pay for a purchase. You take your purchase to one person, who rings it up on a cash register. The cashier gives you your "bill" (receipt), but keeps your purchase and waves you down the counter to two other men. You take your bill to these men, and give your money to one of them. The first one counts your money twice, then gives it to the second man. The second man counts your money twice, then suddenly produces your purchase, bags it, and presents it to you. I am sure this store rarely experiences mistakes at the cash register.

As soon as we left Pothy's (pausing, of course, to take pictures of the girls with the pretty greeting ladies who stood at the front of the store), Mani tooks us a 'way down the street to a cart full of bangles on the street, and said, "You shop here." Thirty minutes later, we were almost done making our decisions (Burke females do not make hasty shopping decisions when they are faced with a myriad of sparkly, shiny things to choose from). Erin, Lily and I all choose gold bangles with rainbow-colored jewels and jingle-bells on them. Heidi wanted some thin silver and gold bangles with tiny little bells on them. We bought 6 sets of bangles for about $5 (included in this are some I bought for a friend who wants bangles for her girls). Now we all jingle when we walk around! It is a rather delightful sound. [BDB's comment: Now we know who is responsible for the three wind chimes in our back yard]

In apartment news: Mr. Jacob, the landlord, is always striving to make our apartment more deluxe. Last week he installed a very large LCD TV in the living room, and smaller ones in each of the three bedrooms. The week before that all our hot water was switched to solar heating (now the water is much, much hotter than it was when it came out of a hot water tank). This week, he had a man come change our computer hook-up to Wi-fi. Unfortunately, when Byron got home that evening, he found that the Wi-fi slowed the internet connection down significantly. We already have challenges with the computer not working very fast in the apartment, and this was making Byron crazy. After 4-5 phone calls, we have had the wi-fi removed from our apartment and the cable reinstalled, but the modem must have been replaced with an older model, as the connection is not as fast as it had been before all the wi-fi occured. Byron wants to go home to Kansas where no one is messing with his computer hook-ups.

Wednesday (May 14)

We have been wanting to ride an elephant since we got to Chennai, and I thought that Mani had told us we could go to the zoo for that. So, we loaded up the car on Wednesday afternoon and asked for a trip to the zoo. One hour and fifteen minutes of driving later, we emerged from the car to enter a zoo. Mani must have sensed we would need him here, as he came along, which was just such a godsend. For one thing, I usually wander around completely lost in places with the girls, all disoriented and confused until I either get my bearings or someone helpful comes along. This zoo would have completely confused me if Mani weren't along. For one thing, you walked a half mile along a path before you even approached any animals (made the Kansas City zoo seem so compact!). Then we saw some birds--including a male peacock with his beautiful tale feathers all spread out in a gorgeous display. Three pea-hens in his cage COMPLETELY ignored him the whole time! They acted as if he wasn't even there--which didn't seem possible as they were in a small, rather cramped cage.

A few paces further, we came upon a huge, deluxe sort of cage housing about 7 albino peacocks, and one of the male albinos had his tail all spread out. It was so pretty--it looked white and fluffy, like an angel.

We also found out that the peacock is Indian's national bird. No wonder we see peacock figurines and pictures all over the places!

At the zoo we also saw monkeys, chimpanzees, zebras, giraffes, a pygmy hippo, and a giant adult hippo. This adult hippo was unbelievably huge--it seemed as big as a mini-van. He was just hanging around in the water when we arrived, and then after awhile he snorted, raised his HUGE head from the water, and opened his jaw as wide as it would go. All the children leaned over the wall to get a closer look, and all the mothers grabbed their children around the waist and hung on. That hippo's mouth was big and wide enough that Lily and I both think Lily could stand up in it. Then the hippo jerked his head and splashed grimy green water on all the bystanders. We were duly impressed by the size of this animal.

We did come upon some elephants, but there were 'way back in the forest area of their display and not easy to see. Some men were in their display with them, and one man was riding an elephant bare-back, but it wasn't clear why. I also was dying to know how the man had gotten up on the elephant, as I didn't see any platforms around. I asked Mani if we could have elephant rides, and he said, "No, no. No elephant rides." I was surprised, as that was our main draw to the zoo. I asked where we could find elephant rides in Chennai, and he said, "No elephant rides in Chennai." Hmmmmm.

As we were completing our zoo trip, Mani said, "Rain is coming. We go now." I smiled and said, "Oh good! The sun has shown every day since we arrived, and I would LOVE some rain!" The girls and I started exclaiming about how much we'd like to walk in the rain--such a cooling change to the hot, hot days we've had since arriving. We sauntered along, but Mani tried to make us hurry. After awhile, the wind suddenly started blowing really, really hard. It blew leaves and trash up off the pathways up into our faces, and made it hard to see. Mani started walking faster and trying to hurry us up. Then, a few raindrops came down. We got all excited and started to dance in the rain. Mani tried to hurry us up even faster. The rain came down harder. Within 3 minutes the slight drizzle turned into an unbelievable downpour. It was a deluge, and had us all completely soaked within seconds. No more dancing. Just running as fast as we could after Mani to the car. The girls said, "Next time Mani says it's going to rain, let's listen to him."

On the drive home from the zoo, Mani, who is not a patient driver, (we've had so many near misses that I've learned to trust him), had a minor situation with a motorcycle. At a stoplight, a motorcylist with his wife ridding side-saddle behind him, tried to cut in front of Mani. Mani didn't like that, and so moved forward a bit, giving the motorcylist dirty looks. Suddenly, the motorcylist's wife leaned down, and I thought she'd been knocked off. She didn't come up for about 2 minutes, but then sat back up with a sandal in her hand. My! I think that Mani's bumper had knocked her sandal off! Mani then allowed the motorcyle to go ahead of him, but made threatening gestures and gave such nasty looks to the motorcylist. Road rage in India.

Tuesday, Pastor visit, and we find dolls! (May 13)

Sahjee has been wanting us to attend his church very, very much. We have nothing against his church (Assembly of God) but we attend 3 hours of church on Saturday mornings, and aren't very eager to spend another 3 hours on Sunday mornings, especially since Sunday is our day to go out and do things with Byron. So, Sahjee did the next best thing, which was to arrange to have his pastor visit us. The girls were very pessimistic about having a pastor visit, but it ended up being absolutely a delightful time for Dawn. (I'm not sure why Sahjee's pastor wanted to visit us. I'm still not sure, after the visit, why they were here. We've found that people will often talk to us (on the phone or in person), and if they feel they've bonded with us, they'll either invite us to their house or say, "I want to come and visit you." I'm not sure why people are so eager to visit us.)

The pastor, Pastor Paul-raj, and his wife, Gloria, and their 21-yr old son, Ebenezer, couldn't have been more delightful. They were all fluent in English, and wonderful to talk with. I asked them so many questions, and got so much information on India I hardly know where to start here:


Many castes exist in India, and by no means is the caste system obsolete. In addition to many castes, different levels exist within each caste.

*People ALWAYS marry within their caste, with very, very few exceptions.

*Indians can easily determine each other's castes by observing the following: the way a person dresses (a different sari, for example, or the way they wear their sari), the way they walk, and the way they talk (I understood that different castes have slightly different accents, or perhaps the vocabulary differs from other caste's?).

*The Brahmin caste is the highest. If someone decides he wants to pretend he's of the Brahmin caste, it is possible for him to dress, act and even learn to talk as a Brahmin. However, it's common among Brahmins for them to ask each other, "Who is your father? What about your grandfather?" If you can name other Brahmin relatives the questioner is acquainted with, that's fine. But if they discover you're masquerading, it's very bad (I also think it's dangerous.)

Arranged Marriage

I know I touched on this last post, but the pastor, his wife and son gave me a lot more information about it.

*One never begins looking for a spouse for his/her child until the child reaches the age of 21. Then, they merely BEGIN looking. There is no rush.

*Rule number one: The young woman MUST be AT LEAST one year younger than her husband. This is necessary so that she will resepct and honor him as her superior.
*Parents investigate, research prospective families (not just the girl in the family as a potential spouse for their son, but they research the entire family) to determine suitability and compatibility to their family.

*Research includes talking to that other family's neighbors, church members, friends, and even employers. Meanwhile, the other family is researching YOUR family.

*When the two families agree that they would be an acceptable match, the parents arrange the FIRST MEETING between the young man and young woman. The meeting takes place at the young woman's house. Her parents are present, as well as the young man and his parents. It sounds like the young man and young woman get to look at each other while they listen to their parents do a lot of talking!

*After that meeting, if the young man AND the young woman wish to pursue this relationship, then they are allowed to call each other on the phone. But not too often, and not too much. And never, never, never are they permitted to meet in person without their parents present. (No walks in the park, visits to the ice-cream parlor or movies.)

*They (man/woman) are expected to ask each other questions and get to know each other on the phone, and if they each are satisfied that this is a good match, then the woman's family will go ahead and plan the betrothel party. All family members attend this event.

*Still, the engaged couple is not allowed to spend time together other than on the phone.

*Within 6 months of the engagement, the couple marries. The man's family plans the wedding.

*Then, the couple is allowed to spend as much time as they want together.

*Often, the married couple will live with one or the other set of parents, or at least in the same neighborhood or apartment complex. Grandparents are a much-used babysitting resource for a working couple, as most mothers work outside the home.

*By the way, it's unacceptable in Indian culture for husbands to do the cooking. The husband must not even enter the kitchen to cook or wash dishes, or he will be ridiculed and looked upon as doing "women's work." He might even be a cook as a profession, but when he goes home to his wife, he never enters the kitchen. Well! That explains why Sahjee doesn't like Byron going into the kitchen to help with dishes after a meal.

*A bachelor, however, can cook and wash dishes and still be considered very manly. Once he acquires a wife, though, his days in the kitchen are over.

The pastor's wife, Gloria, was sitting on the couch beside me for about an hour, and then she said, "I just have to get comfortable," and she stood, and then sat down on the hard linoleum floor. I was a bit surprised, but she sat happily there for the next hour!

I shared my quest with Gloria to find Indian dolls in Chennai, and she said, "Oh, I know where you could look!" I had her write it down on a piece of paper in both English and Tamil, eager to get out and see if indeed Indian dolls could be found.

Oh joy of joys! Glorida was right! We found dolls at a little government-run fleat market type of building, in only one stall (we looked at all of the stalls.) We took all the dolls at this stall (four) and asked her to order more (we have friends who have asked us to bring Indian dolls back). The lady looked completely confused, and said, "No more dolls." My heart sank, when suddenly Mani showed up! (I think God must prod Mani to come and find us at times when we really need him). Mani explained to the woman that we wanted more dolls, but are willing to wait for them, and could she order more? Yes! She'll order more and we are to come back next week. She even took Mani's cell number so she can call him when they come in. Yippee! (Communication is a wonderful thing.)

Monday, May 12 "The Burke girls roast until they're at nearly well-done"

People have been telling us that we need to visit "Children's Park," which we drive past pretty often because it's not that far from our house. I decided this was the day, and so the girls and I loaded up in the car and arrived at the park at 11:00 a.m. (Notice, this is the earliest we can arrive anywhere, as Byron needs the car to drop him off at work at about 10:45 a.m.) (Note also that 11:00 a.m. is just about the time of day that the heat becomes unbearable.)

Mani dropped us off, and directed us to go into the adjacent "Snake Park," which I didn't know existed. It cost around 50 cents to get in, but taking in our camera and videocamera cost $2.00 (this is very common around here--the entrance fee isn't very much, but you have to pay four times as much for the privilege of taking in your camera.) We arrived in Snake Park to hear a loud bell clanging, and saw that we were just in time for the snake demonstration show. A man entered an exhibit which featured a sandy pit, with a very large rock standing in the middle. Within this rock were several cut-out holes, some emtpy, and some with snakes curled up inside.

The keeper, using a long forked metal stick, opened one of three w00den boxes at the base of the large rock at a time, lifting out the snake and holding it up for all to see as a tape-recorded explanation of the name and habits of the snake played over the loud-speaker. The explanation would come first in Tamil, then in English, so we had some clue what was happening as long as we were patient.

At the end of each explanation, the man would let the snake go slithering off into one of the holes and he'd go get the next snake. The last snake was the deadly cobra, which was the only snake included in this presentation that was "harmful to man." The keeper handled this snake with much greater care, but the cobra managed to slither off the metal stick and go slithering off down the side of the rock. The keeper made a desperate grab for the snake, and missed, and then lunged after the snake again, barely catching it by its tail! He pulled the snake back up and dropped it into a glass box on the rock. Then, the keeper waved a red kerchief at the cobra, and the cobra raised its hood and kept striking at the red kerchief. Wow! The cobra got put back into its wooden box at the end of the demonstration.

We wandered around the park, and came upon an interesting scene: In one of the cages, three men were working on a crocodile. The crocodile had a gunny sack wrapped around its head, and a man was straddling its head. The other two men were holding scrub brushes and dipping them into water, then scrubbing the crocodile! I COULD NOT figure out why on earth they would scrub their crocodiles, and wondered if this was a common practice. Fortunately, a man standing nearby heard me speculating, and he spoke enough English to explain that the walls in the crocodile display had recently been painted (they were a bright red color), and the crocodile had gotten red paint on its legs and back. The keepers were scrubbing off the paint! If you get discouraged about your work, you could always consider coming to Chennai and getting hired as a crocodile cleaner!

About 12 noon we were ready for the Children's Park. We were also hot, hot, hot. I thought we might go to the car, have Mani turn on the air-conditioning full blast, and cool off before we went into another hot park. Mani either didn't understand, or else Indians just don't do that. He sent us off to the Children's Park and told us to have a good time. I thought ice-cream might cool us off a bit, so bought some wrapped ice-cream cones at the food stand right outside the park.

This created a side-show for every person within 1/2 mile. Soon, we had a crowd gathered around us as they watched every move we made, from unwrapping the cones to every bite we took. I now know how animals feel on display at the zoo. I had noticed a popcorn stand, and have been going through withdrawal of two foods since arriving in India--Ovaltine, and popcorn. I couldn't stand it anymore, and so I headed over to purchase some popcorn. This was even MORE interesting to watch, apparently, and people started taking pictures (with their cell phones) of the Burkes eating popcorn.

After eating, we decided to sit and rest for a minute, and sat on a log in some shade, trying to gather our reserve and strength for another hot walk in a park. An older lady sat down beside Dawn and started asking me the usual, "What is your name? Where are you from? Why are you in India?" She was very nice, and said that she has friends in Chicago and somewhere in California, and as we chatted, I asked her my usual question, "Do you know where we can find Indian dolls in Chennai?" She said she didn't know, but if I would give her my phone number, she would keep her eyes open and call me if she came across them. "But you would have to visit my house before I told you where the dolls are," she admitted. (!) Then she wanted me to meet her daughter, who was in the nearby car, and would I please come? I was then ushered into a hot car to meet a very nice 25ish year old young lady, who exclaimed that she was so excited to meet me, and how much her niece and nephew, who were 10 and 12 yrs old, would wish they'd been at the Children's Park that day and how disappointed they would be to find they'd missed meeting us. It truly is a strange feeling to think that merely by being a foreigner, you're elevated to movie star status.

Finally, we entered the Children's Park. We were hot and tired when we entered, and everything went downhill from there. We wanted to see the monkey and the jungle cat, and had no idea where they were. So we just walked around, hoping we'd come upon their cages. Everytime we saw a crowd of people, we'd rush over to where they were. Once, that led us to a drinking fountain. Another time, we found a group of children happily gazing down into deep well with trash floating around in it. Another time we rushed over to find a group of adults just standing around in front of an empty cage full of trash.

Finally, Erin said she couldn't take another step and she felt sick. I looked at her, and realized that she really did look like she was overheated. Lily was very red in the face, and Heidi kept moaning, "I want to go home. I want to go home." We had not seen the monkeys nor the jungle cats, but suddenly I agreed, and we started looking for the park exit. Turns out we were at the opposite end of the park from the exit, and even though we made a beeline for it, we had to stop and rest occasionally, and emptied 2 1/2 water bottles just during that beeline. As we resolutely marched out of the park, we passed the monkey and jungle cat exhibits, but were just too tired to even glance at them (other than Lily, who ran in slow motion over to the monkey cage to look for a minute because she just loves monkeys).

Once we left the park, Dawn realized that we were all in a really bad state. I thought I was going to pass out, and Erin looked even closer to losing conciousness. We found Mani, and gasped, "take us home!" He stood and stared at us for a minute, then immediately started the car and put the air conditioning on full blast. The air conditioning helped to pump a little life back into us, but when we got home, I could barely stand, and again thought I was going to pass out. I asked Mani how hot it was, and he said, "108, ma'am." Yikes!

We managed to get up to our 2nd floor apartment, where we all collapsed and could barely move for a couple of hours. I think we all had experienced some degree of heat exhaustion. What is noteable, though, is that the Children's Park had a lovely playground, and that the playground was FULL of children playing and jumping and running in this heat, while the Burkes could barely walk past the playground on their way out of the park!

Sunday, May 11 (Mother's Day)

Sunday afternoon, Byron accompanied Sahjee to T. Nagar to purchase some fruit. Sahjee explained that the cost of fruit in the nearby supermarkets is 2-3 times costlier than fruit at T. Nagar market, and he wanted Byron to come with him. Since we had given Mani the day off and didn't have a driver/car, Byron and Sahjee rode a bus. This is something the girls and I have been wanting to do, but it seemed a little to daunting to take a family of five into a bus for a serious fruit-shopping trip.

Byron said that as he and Sahjee were shopping at the fruit vendors on the street in T. Nagar, that Sahjee looked frustrated and finally pulled Byron aside, explaining that Byron merely standing there was making the price of the fruit 3-4 times more expensive. Sahjee took Byron to a corner, said, "You stay here. I shop." Sahjee then got the prices he expected to get--real bargains for lovely fresh fruit. Sahjee said that the best time to shop at T. Nagar is 5 p.m. everyday, when the fresh fruit comes into downtown T.Nagar on trucks, and is unloaded onto the fruit-stands and carts. He and Byron were just leaving at 3:30 p.m. as the trucks were driving into T. Nagar.

Sahjee also explained to us that today wouldn't be a good day to visit temples, as the stars were in alignment, or the moon was in a certain phase, and that was a good omen so many, many people had scheduled their weddings for that day. Sahjee himself had been invited to three weddings that day! Apparently the weddings would make the temples very crowded and busy. I would have LOVED to have been a bystander during a Hindu wedding, and wonder if a wedding actually occurs in one of these temples? It doesn't seem as if it would work for a crowd of spectators to be present, and that a wedding would get in the way of the regular worshipers. Oh, I have so many questions about Hindu weddings. All I know is that the bride wears red, and that her wedding dress is incredibly expensive, on the order of 30, 000 rupees, (if 1,000 rupees is $25, then figure out the math. I'm too tired to right now!) Apparently the family will save for years for their daughter(s)' wedding dress. The jewelry that a bride wears is also incredible (I get the impression that she rents the jewelry, but I could be wrong.) We've seen pictures in stores, etc., of lovely, bedecked Hindu Indian brides.