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.

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