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.