Our little construction site

Monsoon storm clouds close in over the WCOI campus this afternoon.

Monsoon storm clouds close in over the WCOI campus this afternoon.

There are all sorts of things that keep you on your toes when you live in the middle of a construction site. There is a never-ending sense of motion around here, and it seems like just about everyone is carrying something extra heavy around on their head. I worry about making them stop short (which they politely do more than once a day for at least one of us) because cement will slosh over the side, or bricks will topple over shoulders, or meticulously filled bags of sand will spill mercilessly onto the floor again.

Seeing someone carrying something on their head is both shocking and awe-inspiring.  It never ceases to amaze!

Seeing someone carrying something on their head is both shocking and awe-inspiring. It never ceases to amaze!

There is always a whining saw, or a drill making holes in concrete, or something sparking during the welding process. Seriously, at any given moment I would guess that there are 20 or more projects buzzing on the campus. We keep on the lookout and walk with caution. Admittedly, our eyes are peeled for Reuben, and we’re on our toes, always poised and ready to reach and pull him out of a possible disaster. I’m thankful that there are about a dozen other pairs of eyes on my kids at all times, or the sense of spectacular chaos would be too much.

It appears that no one is watching...

It appears that no one is watching…

This boy is always trying to ride off into the sunset...

This boy is always trying to ride off into the sunset…

 

This afternoon, before the storm clouds had gathered, I had been working at a nearby coffee shop. Just as I arrived back, JP was headed out on the motorcycle so he handed me the keys to the apartment. I was hoping to drop my stuff off inside and go find Leila, but when I got there, the key would not open the door. I tried four times because the lock can be a bit sticky. I then went downstairs, said hello to Leila, and tried our key in my in-laws lock just to be sure I didn’t have the wrong set of keys. I went back upstairs and tried again. No luck. But, I heard the motorcycle return, and thus went and reported the news to JP, that our brand new keys and brand new lock were not going to let us into our beautiful teak wood door. (I think both of us pictured the door having to be broken down.) At this point I think every male on the campus had to try the door, lock, and key three or four times for themselves. No luck.

How many Indians does it take to open a door?

How many Indians does it take to open a door?

My dear father-in-law stood in the background with a small hammer, insisting it would do the trick. No one would let him through until it was a last hope. And wouldn’t you know, tap-tap-tap, and the door swung open.  I happened to be there to witness the ease. I almost didn’t believe it. The lock is fixed now.

"See, I told them it would work!"

“See, I told them it would work!”

 

And, the power that went off due to the rains came on just in time to eat dinner, and went back off again just in time to (not) give baths. Instead the kids enjoyed some high hilarity at the expense of their shadows and some flashlights. A bit of a lost art back in Michigan, playing when the power is out.  The power now seems to have returned for the night, giving me opportunity to write a few notes on the blog before bed.

There are no dull moments around here.  Ever.

A few more photo highlights from the construction site…

Lots going on here.  Look closely and you'll see a bicycle rickshaw (very rare in Bangalore) delivering supplies!

Lots going on here. Look closely and you’ll see a bicycle rickshaw (very rare in Bangalore) delivering supplies!

Old school heavy lifting.  It took them all morning to reposition this granite slab up near the green house.

Old school heavy lifting. It took them all morning to reposition this granite slab up near the green house.

Should I be worried about this?

Should I be worried about this?

The Un-Changing Idli

An article written for our church newsletter.

I can recall the exact texture and flavor of my mother-in-law’s perfectly made idlis*. Idlis are typically a breakfast food. Their ground rice and lentil batter is fermented and then steamed into a white, spongy, and puck-like morsel. We use idlis to sop up sambar*, a savory vegetable-lentil soup, and spicy coconut chutney. My mouth waters as I type, for I adore idlis. Despite some valiant efforts on my part, I have not come even close to mastering the art of idli-making in Holland, MI. My near constant craving goes unanswered.

Idli with dishes of Sambar and Coconut Chutney

Idli with dishes of Sambar and Coconut Chutney

I am rejoicing a little bit right now, however, because idlis my mother-in-law’s idlis are on the horizon.  We have purchased the tickets that will fly us back to India this June.  June 17 is the day.  Finally Leila and Reuben and Mommy will eat idlis in south India, and we will smile.  (Daddy does not actually care for idlis, silly guy, but he will eat them anyway because that is just what you do in India.  And, really, everything taste good with some coconut chutney.)

The latest look of the Ministry Center

The latest look of the Ministry Center

I am rejoicing. I am also wondering. Like the majority of you I have only seen pictures and heard stories about the new Ministry Center going up in India. I have been in awe of the process, the size, and certainly the possibilities that the new space offers. But the thing is, I remember enjoying my idlis around the ever-too-small table (for the number of people present) in the screened in porch area of JP’s previous family home, a familiar space now long gone. It may have been scrunched around that table, but it was always delicious. It always seemed breezy and idyllic. It was good to rub elbows and develop relationships there, at that table. I’m wondering what the new dining area will feel like, yes, but  just this morning I started to wonder if and where such a dining area exists in the new building.

Katy eating a special Rice Meal when pregnant with Leila-- seated at The Table, screened porch windows behind

Katy eating a special Rice Meal when pregnant with Leila– seated at The Table, screened porch windows behind

Things are going to be different. I am pretty certain that the idlis will taste exactly the same even while many things will be radically different this time around. There will be adjustments to the new building. New staff members have some on board since I last visited WCOI. JP and I have a new nephew!  My own children have grown and changed very much since we last walked the landscape of our second home.

I trust that we are made for change, for growth and maturity, for new contexts, and new adventures.  I could not live this life otherwise.  And I trust that the idlis will taste the same and the dining room table will still fit enough people, making home timeless even in the midst of change.

Pronunciation Hints:

idli… id-lee

sambar… saam-bar

Sundararajan… soon-da-ra-ra-jin

Our Languages

Train Station Signage

A Helpful Chart:

Number of Languages (not including dialects) Spoken in India: 1,652

National Language of India: Hindi

State Language of Karnataka (where Bangalore is): Kannada

Common Language of Bangalore:  English?

Language JP’s parents spoke to him at home: Tamil

Language JP spoke with brother, James:  English

Language JP’s parent’s spoke to each other: Telugu (a particular dialect)

Number of Languages JP learned in school: three

Number of Languages JP can communicate in today:  six

Indian Language we hope that our children will learn:  Tamil 

India speaks 1,652 languages. Nearly as long as I have known JP, I have heard this number rattled off in sermons, presentations, video clips, around dinner tables, in personal conversation, and I even remember being tested on it during one of my bridal shower games!  It is a big and rather overwhelming number.  Even Indians tend to be surprised when they learn there are so many languages spoken in their country.  I always giggle inwardly at their surprise.  Indians seem to overlook and disregard the constant shifting between languages that happens all throughout every single day.  I think I notice it because I am a foreigner, dabbling in a little bit of several languages, but never excelling in one.  Growing up in the midst of so many languages– learning three or four in school, using one language for home, and maybe another for work, and yet another with the auto driver, or the guy selling you a pair of shoes– languages just seem to flow naturally in, and around, and off the tongues of Indians.

Not "My Fruit Vendor," but a Fruit Vendor nonetheless

Example number one:

I have a favorite fruit vendor.  He roams up and down our street, pushing his cart during the afternoon and early evening hours.  He became my favorite fruit vendor when he once sold me 3 kilos (6.6 pounds!) of my favorite fruit, the red banana.  Every time I see him, he is always happy to offer his sweetest, ripest fruit to me with a flourish and an eager smile.

Most every evening, after the office closes, JP and I take Reuben out for a walk in the stroller to the end of the street and back.  Every day we pass “my fruit guy.”  On the days that we stop to buy fruit, I let JP do the talking because English does not seem to be this guy’s forte.  I should mention that many, many people in Bangalore do speak English.  Bangalore is a very cosmopolitan city, and rather than Hindi, English has become the common language among the myriad of Indian and other languages here.  Despite this, I am not bothered or irritated by the fact that the fruit man does not speak to me in my native tongue.  Instead, I have been quite interested in the conversations that take place between him and JP.  He does not usually speak to JP in Kannada, the local (state) language, which is what I would have expected.  Rather, he speaks to JP in Hindi, which is the national language of India, but is more commonly used as the common language in the northern parts of India.  Now, JP does speak Hindi, (and Kannada) but has said a number of times that they’d have a much easier transaction if they just spoke in Tamil, which would the first (heart) Indian language for both of them!!

Fascinating.

Yes, it is interesting on a certain level that this guys speaks to JP in Hindi first, but this happens regularly, and has to do with the way he dresses and the very fair wife that often tags along with him.  What is definitely more interesting to me is that this humble fruit cart vendor, likely uneducated, or not very educated, is able to communicate in at least three languages.  This is so striking to me, coming from a country where even some of our most educated individuals do not speak more than one language, and might not even value speaking in more than a single language.  Here in India, it is very often the case that speaking more than one’s own heart language is both an every day fact of life, and a necessity.

The Sundararajan family can speak 9 different languages!

Example number two:

In January, we went to visit JP’s relatives, and had the chance to eat some of our very favorite Indian bread, called parottas.  Parottas are pretty much delicious when eaten plain, with chutney, or with a special gravy that I learned is called salna.  When it comes to learning a language, I seem to have the easiest time remembering words for food.  So, given my affection for parottas (and something yummy to dip them in) I had no trouble filing this new word, salna, into my brain.

Fast forward to sometime in the middle of March.  We’re sitting at the table eating lunch with JP’s parents and his grandfather, Tata.  Mom is serving Tata, and I keep hearing her say “Salna?”  Tata, seemingly engrossed in his food, replies, “Salma.”   This sort of exchange happens at almost every meal, and sometimes multiple times during the meal.  Ever since January, that little salna file card in my brain flutters a bit every time this conversation takes place.  However, on this day in March, the conversation did not compute.  We were not having gravy.  There was not any salna on the table.

Later, I asked JP about this and learned that Mom was actually asking, in another language, Sal na? (Is that enough?) and Tata was responding, Sal ma. (Enough, dear.)  Interestingly, no one else around the table had ever once thought about the similarity between word and phrases in the two languages– and they all speak these two languages!  This is what I mean when I say that people here in India are so surrounded by, and used to navigating between, multiple languages that they are

Example number three:

This past weekend, JP’s cousins’ family came to visit.  This meant that Leila got to meet and play with their little girl, Kaushika, for the first time. They put on a delightful cooking show for us after Sunday dinner.  I can’t help but put it with this post because I feel it illustrates to a certain extent 1) the multi-lingual world in which I spend my time… you’ll hear English, Tamil, and Telugu in the background, and 2) the beauty of learning to play together in this multi-lingual world.  This was not the first language that Leila has learned to play in, and I hope it won’t be the last!

Happy.

Happy

Every time that I look at the pictures we took of these canopies at a beach-side, shack restaurant in Goa, I feel happy.

So Happy.

In mid-March, the four of us went on a 5-day vacation to Goa.  I felt like I was in a different country.  While Goa is definitely part of India– an overnight train ride for us, to be exact– there were a handful of things that made it feel like I had left the subcontinent, and entered a new reality.  (Certainly, the fact that everywhere we went we saw a bunch of white people driving around on scooters influenced my sense of place and reality!)  Goa is one of the more touristy, beachy, vacation spots of India.  I saw more flesh in Goa, during 5 days, than I have seen all put together in nine years of travels throughout the country!  I ate pizza in Goa, and it was good.  I played at the beach, wearing a bathing suit.  I swam in a beautiful pool at the the restort where we stayed, and it was cool and refreshing, and simply put: glorious.  All of these experiences made me feel like I was in a different country, but vacation, is what made it seem like a different reality.

train bound for Goa

Vacation has been a formative part of my reality.  Growing up, my family took a vacation each year.  We weren’t rich, so vacation meant “camping on a shoe string.”  However, despite the modest, leaky camper and tent accommodations, and the outdoor cooking, we adored our vacations.  I loved to wake up in my sleeping bag, and hear the sound of pine needles falling on the canvas roof of the tent.  I was mesmerized by the maze of those fallen needles. I could smell them, baking there in the sun, on their canvas skillet.  I loved to rise up and eat pancakes from the griddle.  I loved our long, lazy days at the beach, and the evenings spent peddling my bike round and round the pavement circle that housed the many campsites.  I loved the hamsteaks on the grill, complete with  buttered sweet potatoes.  I listened eagerly to the ghost stories my dad made up around the campfire.  And, I liked to sit as long as the grown ups allowed, around that fire, burning the tip of my “smoking stick” to ash.

Vacation.  I was free as a bird, brown as a berry, happy as a clam.

Doesn't a coconut tree just evoke a greater sense of vacation in you!?

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, maybe just a change of seasons in my life, but I nearly forgot about vacation.  I almost forgot about that free and happy self that bubbled up toward the surface of my life during vacation.  JP and I have not been good about taking proper vacations.  We find ourselves on the road, travelling, quite often– both in the US and in India.  Somehow, these travels tricked my brain into thinking it was vacation… but I don’t think my heart was ever fooled.  In Goa, my heart remembered the goodness of vacation.  It is another reality.  It is a place where tension rolls down off tense shoulders to a sandy floor, and stays there.  It is a space that opens up inside me, and feels like warm sun.  It is a taste of food, different food, rich and filling.  Vacation is a smile on my face, and a song in my heart.  

Reuben's first taste of Vacation

I want my husband and my children to know the goodness of vacation.  I once learned that Jewish mothers, at the end of the Sabbath, would place a candy on the tongues of their children so that they would remember the sweetness of the Sabbath.  I love that image.  I do believe that God blessed us with our vacation rest in Goa.  Even now, the sweetness of it lingers on my tongue, and the stress that rolled off my shoulders remains on that sandy beach. I am grateful for Goa, for the things that it reminded me of, and the things that it blessed me with, and for the things that it helped me hope for.

Yup. Happy.

 

The Fan

We’ve recently returned from vacation, and I hope to post some reflections soon about how nicely that trip soothed our souls. Until then, here are a few snippets on the way life goes for us in India these days, all centered around the fan.

REUBEN

For quite some time, Reuben has adored the fan. (Many babies like fans, I think.) I am sure he likes the motion of the fan, and I know he also likes its breeze. The fan was the first thing Reuben acknowledged, with a gesture, in front of an audience. If you were to ask Reuben about his best friend, I think he might point toward the fan.

LEILA

Miss Leila is dying to be able to speak Tamil, the language spoken by JP’s family. I believe that Leila understands a lot more than she is able to verbally reproduce, and that means Leila speaks a lot of gibberish these days- sometimes to us, sometimes to Tata and Ava, and sometimes to the room at large (and any imaginary play friends that might be present.) One of the actual phrases that Leila has picked up, and that she uses frequently is, “Fan enga?” A favorite game with Reuben is, “Where’s Reuben?” or “Reuben, where is Tata?” or “Reuben, where’s the fan?” (Fan enga?) Leila has made this phrase her own. You can hear her play, Reuben enga? often. She loves to say, Fan enga? And, much to my consternation when I was trying to find Reuben’s towel the other night, she just kept saying, Towel enga? instead of helping me find the towel! For the rest of my Tamil-speaking life, I am sure Leila will end up being my little translator.

Best Buddies

JP

Two days ago, rather out of the blue, JP said to me, “There is no sound more gratifying than that of the fan starting up again when the power comes back on.” I couldn’t agree more. We have entered the hot, more summery season, here in India. I guess true summer does not arrive until May, but it is more than warm already this March. As the heat comes, we inevitably loose power more often. With more air conditioners (and fans) running throughout the city, the power supply gets a little weary and worn. So, “The Powers that Be” shut off electricity in different parts of the city, at various times, to conserve energy. During one of our stays in India, we would loose power for an hour at the same time every morning. The predictability was kind of nice. During this stay, we just never know. It could be in the middle of a load of laundry, or in the middle of a shower, or while baking a cake. If you’re lucky, really, you’re just sitting there playing Fan enga? because the good news is that Reuben can find the fan with or without the power. But, like JP said, we all rejoice when the power comes back, and the fan creaks to life again.

No need for a fan here at this open air (to the sea) restaurant in Goa. Ahh... beats a fan any day.

A mouthful of a trip.

There is a day-trip that we often take guests on that we call the Belur Trip.  It is a three-stop journey, visiting the ancient soapstone carved temples at Belur and Halebidu, and the Jain temple and pilgrimage destination of Shravenabelagola.  So, you see, it would be a bit of a mouthful to call it anything other than the Belur Trip.  

I’ve been on this trip at least a complete handful of times, yet the picture-taking never gets old for me.  There are a myriad of details to get caught up in, especially at Belur and Halebidu.  Soapstone can be carved with such precision that a whole epic event can be captured in a mere corner of the temple.  It is nice to have JP as a tour guide because his brain is a vault for these minute sorts of details, and he finds immense pleasure in pointing out all the cool stuff that I have forgotten since my last visit.  He is a lovely guide, and I usually understand his accent better.

I'm always a sucker for an Elephant (or two)

I love this one because it shows some unfinished business on the part of the stone carvers.

Here, the god Shiva has triumphed over a demon that took the form of an elephant, and now he is dancing within the carcass. EPIC.

Shrevenabelagola is a steep hike up a mountainside.  At the top you can see both the sweeping coconut groves of the surrounding area, and the enormous idol of a Jain saint named Gomateshwara.  He is naked (as very ascetic Jains would not wear clothes because of their belief that the sky is their clothing) so, for the sake of your sensibilities, I won’t show a picture here.  I find this to be a very serene and pretty place to visit.

Attention to Detail on the pillar nearing the idol at Shrevenabelagola

Doorway in the temple wall.

My sister, Amy, and her husband, Kyle just spent two weeks with us at the end of February, and it was a delight to show them around some of our favorite haunts, including the Belur Trip.

good travel companions