The same but different.

Everybody needs a hug sometimes.

Everybody needs a hug sometimes.

Time is slipping away! It has already been two weeks since we landed in India. This blog entry has been rattling around in the back of my mind the entire time as I’ve tried to come up with some interesting way to say that things are “the same but different.” Generally speaking, this is how India always is, the same but different. Even while everything changes, nothing at all changes. (Like JP is famous for saying, “Whatever you think is true about India, is also untrue. And, whatever you think is definitely untrue about India, is also true.” This all being said with a lovely Indian accent and head shake.) So while I have been away from India for more than two years, much has genuinely changed. In a very obvious way, I watched the pictures of our old Osborne Road home as it was torn down and built into a new, magnificently large and functional structure. Upon arriving on the campus two weeks back, I have found it constantly swirling with motion and people and dust, screeching with saws, pounding with hammers, rattling my teeth with the drilling. All day, noise and activity, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning!

GateThere is never a dull moment, and yet this is what I always say about India. This is just a newer version of an old experience. And, I’m glad that most things feel and appear much the same. It makes for a smoother transition. The kids, despite falling sick with viral fever even while navigating the throes of jet lag, have made themselves at home here.  Reuben was just 1 when we left, but you’d never know it. Now, two years later he lives and dies by having to go everywhere with Daddy. He wants to be a part of all of the action. Leila, loves her quite moments with Judith, or sitting on the divan in Tata and Ava’s apartment. (Though she made herself quite at home shopping for trinkets on Commercial Street tonight!)

Getting Reuben to stop and take a nap can be a full time job- even when he's sick.

Getting Reuben to stop and take a nap can be a full time job- even when he’s sick.

So happy to be together again, Judith and Leila worked on the same paper together.

So happy to be together again, Judith and Leila worked on the same paper together.

We’re all being brave and adjusting to this wild ride of a new home in a familiar place.  We’re grateful for the memories within us that make this seem so natural, and we look forward to the memories that we’ll create on the new part of the journey.

Family of four goes to Commercial Street via auto-rickshaw.

Family of four goes to Commercial Street via auto-rickshaw.

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

A Changing Space

View

Bangalore, India… View from Osborne Road

The question that everyone has been asking for nearly two years finally has an answer. When people ask when our next trip to India is, I say June.

JUNE.

Just around the corner.

It might not feel that way to you- especially if it is still 5 degrees Fahrenheit out there like it was for us this morning- but I know that June is just around the corner. I’m aware of June’s proximity because suddenly, right under the surface, I am always thinking about India. Admittedly, with a husband who travels to India regularly, and work that focuses largely on India, and half of our extended family living in India, India is just about always on my mind.  However, I have suddenly begun to remember what it feels like to realistically think of myself in India, my children in India.  I was wondering the other day if Leila has any shorts or skirts that will still fit her in June.  This morning I told Reuben that he needs to do a better job of practicing on the potty because big boys that use the potty are more likely to get to rides on scooters and motorcycles in India– one of his greatest obsessions. I am making mental notes of recipes to bring along to India, and I decided I need to go file for an international driver’s license because I don’t want to sit around on my hands for another whole season in India. Yes, my brain has kicked into travel-prep gear, allowing the dreams of my heart these past two years to bubble up to the surface.

JP will have been to India FIVE times without us before we make our family trip this June. As JP visited India during these last two years, he witnessed wild growth spurts in the new Ministry Center that had been just the whisper of a dream in May 2012. Back then I witnessed only the antsy-ness, the practically palpable energy around the campus as the decision was made to keep the primely located property on Osborne Road, tear down the old homestead and build in its place a multi-storied building. This Ministry Center will soon house WCOI’s director (my father-in-law) and assistant director (my brother-in-law) and their families. Plus, it creates a parking area, apartments for hosting guests, and a beautiful worship space. Through pictures and stories relayed by our family, as well as the occasional live-in-person visit by JP, we have held our breath and rejoiced and worried and waited for the building to near its completion this Spring. Next Thursday JP will head to India for that 5th trip, embarking on our first- and perhaps only- “India Work Trip.”  Their plan includes a lot of carpentry and painting and general assistance in the finishing tasks that remain around the building.  It is a very, very exciting trip, and it moves our family trip all the more to the front of my mind.

 

How many of us have come down that slope to be welcomed and eat a delicious meal around the Sundararajan table-- right inside that remaining window?

How many of us have come down that slope to be welcomed and eat a delicious meal around the Sundararajan table– right inside that remaining window?

 

The space is made ready for building.

The space is made ready for building.

 

Holes.

Holes.

 

You'll notice that a building is also going up just next door.  This place will be so different when I return!

Notice that a building is going up just next door… This place will be so different when I return!

See them toss the bricks?

See them toss the bricks?

Major Progress.

Major Progress.

I know we’ve been quiet these last two years. Really, I’ve been quiet, as I’m the main blogger around here. Somehow the blog has become my “India Brain” space. I’ve always hoped and desired the blog to be valued and utilized in our whole life, but it obviously gets much more animated surrounding our Indian travels.  I’m not sure if I’ve had nothing to say, or if it was truly just a quiet time.  Life kept on moving,certainly, but I fell quiet. Perhaps I just needed a bit more spice.  😉  Whatever the case, my words are rising up again and I invite you, humbly and with a bit of self consciousness, to follow along, listen to our story, and participate in the color and spice.

Many thanks to my brother-in-law, James Sundararajan, who was on site to take all of these great photos!!

Postscript

This blog entry is long over-due.  Since Katy’s brilliant post mid-April, we have had our hands absolutely full with plans, contingency plans, disasters, near disasters, joy, sadness, culture-shock, jetlag, and everything else in between.   I’ll try to do a brief re-cap of what happened the night of April 16th (the day we were scheduled to leave India).

This week in mid-April was a long, tedious, frustrating, and unfortunate week.  We had begun to steel ourselves to say our painful goodbyes, get our laundry done, pack our suitcases, and clean our apartment.  We did a fairly decent job of getting it all done in good time.  The drama happened after we got to the airport.   Later I remarked to Katy that had all the drama involved just me or even us (Katy and me), we could have handled it. The fact that Leila and Reuben were involved got more tiring and felt more personal.

We spent the day knee deep in suitcases and packing.   The kids didn’t really want to nap because they were excited too.   We shrugged and said, “Oh well, we can sleep on the plane.  They might as well stay awake now!”   Our cars were packed, and we were soon off to the airport.   After taking almost an hour (near midnight) to check in all 10 suitcases, get boarding passes ready, and steadying ourself with the hope that we can soon sleep once we buckle in…at the very last gate for immigration, the normally routine process went really bad.

The problem was that we came to India on a 5 month trip, so we applied for the normal 6 month visa. We applied a month before we left, which seemed like the “savvy-traveler” move to make.  However, the geniuses at the Indian consulate in Chicago stamped the visa that was effective from when they actually received our application, not for when we would actually land!   So the visas for Leila, Reuben, and Katy would expire on April 10… not april 17 when we hoped to leave India.

Note:  I must be clear here.   As soon as we saw the visa in our passports, I called the consulate and talked to them about my concern.   The official on the line assured me that it was ok. He explained to me in clear terms that the visa would not be effective till we actually land in India, which made perfect sense to me. So I was happy, I didn’t need to check again because this was the Indian embassy that assured me of this. This, my friends, was a BIG MISTAKE as we would discover the night of the 16th!  🙂

The immigration officer at the gate looked at us and said in a monotone, “Sir, your visas are expired.”   Confidently I replied, “Yes, I know.  We were assured that it would be ok by the Indian embassy.”   I even showed him our date of entry that was stamped on the passorts.   He kept saying, “But your visas are expired.”   I was puzzled and asked him in exasperation, “So now what? Is there a fine?”  He said, “Um, you will not be able to fly tonight Sir!”   I was holding myself together admirably up until that point but then I lost it.  I let them face the full fury of words that I had bottled up all night.  Deep down though, in all fairness, even then I knew that they were doing their job and it was ultimately our own oversight (even if we were misled by the immigration authorities).

Our flight was stopped and our luggage unloaded.  We trudged slowly downstairs to the Air France desk where two valets eventually showed up with trolleys loaded with our checked bags.   We had them usher us to cabs from where we made the slowest and longest trip back to our home in Bangalore.   We crawled into our beds and went to sleep restlessly, disappointment writ large on our faces.   Our tired bodies couldn’t rest with our minds racing relentlessly.

Early the next morning, after we narrated our stories to our families, we hunkered down to re-book tickets (earliest available ones were for the 29th, two weeks away), go to the Foreigners Registration Office (the less said about this place the better), get visas regularized and exit permits issued. It was a 5 hour ordeal to get Leila’s and Reuben’s stuff taken care of but for Katy, we needed to get a police report.  This was a wonderful demonstration of incompetency on the part of the police department. They even had to send an officer to our home to verify things and interview me for an hour. Anyway… after spending even more time at the FRO next day (no joke.. close to 8 hours), we got our stuff taken care of.

We celebrated by hitting McDonalds with Leila and having delicious gelato afterwards! 🙂 I am sparing you all the other details of this ordeal because it was pretty ridiculous. Through it all though, Leila and Reuben have been wonderful reminders of good things in this world. There were no temper tantrums or behavior issues that we had to be saddled with in this. While I have always been proud of my kids, I think the pride was kicked up a couple of notches to see how easily they rolled with the changes.  Katy’s previous blog post was only reinforced through all this.

We are finally all back in the US as I type this.  Hard to believe that it has been almost a week since we have been home.   Our memories of India are now infused with sounds of laundry, the aromas of Katy’s cooking, the briskness of the Michigan air, and the comfort of our own home.

We are happy to be back.

Reuben gave us another reason to celebrate, watch and enjoy!

 

A-OK

A-OK

Those of you who follow our blog may recall that back in November we landed in India, during the wee small hours of the morning, without any luggage.  It had been a terribly long and wearisome journey.  And, when we were absolutely certain that our multitude of suitcases was really not going to come tooling around on the conveyor belt, we had to go wait in a short, but very slow, line to talk to the airport personnel about our missing bags.  You would think that our kids would have been throwing tantrums at this point, or at the very least, whining and whimpering.  But, no, my two little kiddos rose far above my expectations.  While Mr. Reuben sat happily on the floor and played with some flight tags on his car seat, Leila asked me for a pen.  For nearly 20 minutes, Leila entertained herself by decorating several cabin baggage tags, including the one pictured above.

It wasn’t my intention to save that little tag, but when I found it a couple of days later, I stuck it in my bedroom mirror.  Throughout our stay here, it was my reminder that my kids are going to be OK.  When I found myself worrying that our travel-the-world lifestyle was becoming too overwhelming for our kids I would go look at those little scribbles, and tell myself a story about two kids who are learning to be flexible and adventurous.  I tell myself about happy and healthy kids, who make my travel more complicated, but all the more rich and memorable.

In Leila's world, the travel pillow is really just a small Boppy pillow.

I’ve never been one for saying goodbye.  I think it has gotten about 20 times more difficult now that I have children who must also say goodbye.  Yet here we are again, at goodbye time.  It has been five months since we arrived without luggage at the Bangalore International Airport.  The bags, which did finally arrive, have now been refilled with with a whole new assortment of goodies to bring back.  And, in the meantime, we have been blessed.

More than any other thing, it has been a delight to watch our children be loved and enjoyed by India. In the same way, we have watched them grow to love India, and treat it as their own.  It is home, just like Michigan.  This is good and sweet, and it makes the hard goodbyes just a little bit more OK.

on the road again

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.