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 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.

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!

Ordinary Life

Real life makes Laundry

I am one of those controversial figures who loves doing laundry.  I have shared this information before, seemingly shocking and insulting many a friend and foe, and finding, gladly, a few fellow laundry aficionados along the way as well.  Personally, I love the very ordinary rhythm of the laundry process.  Despite my beautifully vibrant and semi-chaotic international lifestyle, I genuinely love the simple and everyday pleasures of washing and drying, folding and putting away laundry.  Laundry grounds me.  It reminds me that I am taking care of my family.  It reminds me that step-by-step, things get done.

Laundry is a slow process, particularly in India.  We have been very fortunate to have regular power and water during this trip.  Water has never been a problem for us, thankfully, due to a very good and consistent well on the campus, but many Indians struggle with water shortages all across Bangalore and India.  It used to be the case that we would loose power for an hour or two every day, but even that has changed.  This being said, laundering of one, maybe two, loads of laundry is an all-day process.  I begin as early as possible, hopefully before breakfast on the good days.  This means that the load will be done within a half hour after breakfast.  Then, I carry my clean, wet clothes downstairs in a pink bucket adorned by a large Strawberry Shortcake sticker that Leila gifted to me.  I head down the slope, across the campus, and then back up another set of stairs to the clothesline.  On a nice hot and dry day, which includes most of the year except monsoon season, the clothes with dry in a couple hours or less.

our clothesline

By the time I am able to get the clothes down off the line (er, by the time I remember) it seems like it is usually late afternoon, and there is a squirming baby to take care of (one who I looked over and saw standing(!!) beside the armchair on his 8-month birthday today… we really have to keep our eye on him!)  Folding usually happens after the kids have gone to bed, and the apartment is quiet.  It is a day-long endeavor that most often begins again the very next morning because our washer is small, and we’re a family of four.  But truly, I am grateful for the pace and regularity that laundry adds to my days.

ordinary life

All of this being said, things are about to change around here.  One of my dearest friends is about to arrive on the scene.  JP will head to the airport in just 30 minutes to collect him.  It will be three fun-filled weeks, likely lacking in the realm of quiet and ordinary.  We like this too.  I’ve had the itch to travel.  I want to see and taste some new places.  Leila is dying to go somewhere by train.  JP is already buzzing with energy that will flow forth in “Look at that’s” and “Did you know’s,” that will make all our heads spin.  We’ll leave behind our clothespins and laundry  OK, OK, so laundry always has to happen (hence the romantic words above…) but we will leave behind the ordinary pace, and fit laundry in the middle of trips and tastes, sights and sounds.  And, we’ll keep you posted on the fun that ensues.  For now, I’ve got to go get the laundry off the line!

This is the view from the top of the building where our apartment is, looking down on the top of JP's parent's home- where we hang our laundry.

May your Cup Overflow

Happy New Year! I'm headed your way!!

Happy 2012!  We’ve had some good times over the last couple of weeks.  We were blessed to spend time with a lovely assortment of family and friends over our Christmas Break.  Spending a holiday abroad prompts you to create a whole new branch of family, slinging your arm around those who show up, and inviting them to partner in your celebration and merrymaking.   This helps to comfort our hearts and minds as they become filled with thoughts of those of you that we could not spend time with in person.

JP's cousin, Prem, was Leila and Judith's new hero

The whole of Rev. Gershome's family with the whole of the Sundararajan family for the first time in history!

American friends, Kandyce and Jonathan, who are currently working in India

Besides time spent with family and friends, one of the most important parts of Christmas (or any holiday for that matter) is what I’m whipping up in the kitchen.  Cooking and baking are sometimes like the inhale and exhale of my life.  I specifically remember back in seminary, when I was stressed out and needed to take a deep breath and enjoy life again, JP asked me what would be a pleasurable and life-giving activity for me.  (He always played pick-up soccer on Friday afternoons when classes were done.)  I thought about it, and began baking then, or sometimes cooking a special meal for dinner with JP or other friends. Ever since then, I always know that I’ll find rest, and joy, and pleasure in the kitchen.

A Christmas baking success!

Finding my sense of identity in the Indian kitchen has long been a struggle of mine.  Even while the cooking methods and ingredients become more familiar to me, I’m often still baffled by the lack of recipes and the vast amount of new dishes that I want to make.  When I first came to India in 2003, JP’s mom had just gotten a microwave/oven/grill (looks like a microwave, operates like a convection oven.)  I had a few moderate baking successes with that over the years, but the experiences were not necessarily pleasant or restful in any way.  Then, on our last trip JP and his brother, James, bought Mom an “OTG,” an oven/toaster/grill that operates like a big toaster oven.  That was more fun to experiment with, though I remember I had at least one beautiful carrot cake that got ruined because the power went out half way though.

Meet my new oven!!

This year, thanks to a very generous gift from a friend, we were able to purchase a matching OTG for our little apartment!!  It was delivered just in time for some Christmas baking.  The first recipe I tried was a simple, five-ingredient Jam Cookie from an Indian friend’s cooking blog.  She lives in New Zeeland, so an added bonus for me was that I would not have to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius for my oven temperature.

These little Jam Cookies won the award for best taste!

In the Wing household, our Christmas baking has always included a handful of must-haves, with a smattering of experimental cookies and desserts here and there.  The Cherry Walnut Coffeecake featured above is a Christmas morning tradition at my mom’s house.  In recent years, the recipe has ventured out to New Hampshire where my brother and sister-in-law spend half of their Christmases, and to Seattle where my sister and brother-in-law spend half of theirs. It was my own first attempt at the coffeecake, having always been a bit fearful of working with yeast, but this year I threw all caution to the wind and worked with yeast in a foreign country!

JP was eager to share these Beauties with the family!

Yet another Christmas tradition at our home is JP’s very favorite cookie on the face of the earth, (dare I say that this cookie monster has one favorite cookie?) the Candy Cane Cookie.  The process was a bit tedious, but it was worth it.  The Candy Cane Cookie was a show stopper with its beauty, and tasted great too!

The dough must be chilled, cubed, rolled, and twisted...

pretty, aren't they?

Yum

It was a treat for me to participate in the Christmas food festivities here by sharing some of our U.S. favorites.  The baking scene has really grown since my first visit to the Sundararajan home.  This year, in addition to a plethora of tasty deep-fried savories and homemade Indian sweets, Mom’s OTG was cranking out cake upon yummy cake.  We all agreed (including JP– gasp!) that the Raisin Cake made by my sister-in-law was a recipe to keep!!

Overflowing box of homemade Rava Ladoos

I found a treasure in this Ladoo

***

Life is Good

We didn’t have a white- or even cold- Christmas this year, but it was tasty, and we were surrounded by loved ones.  We hope the same was true for you.  In the same vein, we pray that you will have a good year.  We want you to feel that you are loved and cherished beyond measure.  We hope that you will feel held, secure, in the strong arms of  a good God.

Bless you, bless you, dear friend.

Normal Things

View from our Apartment Door

Yesterday afternoon, Leila woke up from her nap in a cranky mood.  The kids are sharing a room, and so when Leila woke up, Reuben also woke up, and far too early at that.  We needed to pass the time somehow, and decided on one of our (meaning JP and Katy’s) favorite late afternoon pastimes: taking a short walk down the street and back.  While Reuben tends to kick back and enjoy the ride in his stroller, Leila has not caught on to the simple pleasures and surprises involved in this little 10-15 minute jaunt.  Leila drags her feet and whines most of the way, wanting JP to carry her on his shoulders.  However, being the gluttons for punishment that we are, we  took our cranky three year old out for her least favorite activity in India.

Things went mostly like usual, except that we decided to stop at a little shop on the way back to purchase some pretty paper stars.  (These stars pop up everywhere this time of year, making Indian shops and streets appear even more festive than usual.)  Being that we really haven’t decorated for Christmas in any way whatsoever, I figured the stars were a perfect and natural solution.  The shop had a small selection of about six stars which made it easy for my typically indecisive self to decide on a red one, a green one, and for Leila to vote for a gold one.

This small Shop sells mainly school supplies

In the short time that it took for me to choose my three pretty stars, my two pretty children- without even trying- made a HUGE impression on the young woman and school age boy running the shop.  This is a common experience for us.  People love our children.  If I may take the risk of making a blanket statement about Indian people as a whole, I would say that they are a baby-loving culture.  Add to this “fact” the exotic looking nature of little Leila’s skin tone, and the adorable charm of young Reuben, and suddenly we find ourselves surrounded by clucks and chirps, winks and pinches, (plus generously given cookies and free pieces of candy) all designed to capture the attention of one child or another.  Though I’m never quite used to the effusive adoration, I have learned to smile graciously, and take it in stride.

Festive!

 Now, regarding the stars… as often happens in India, when it came time to pay, we did not have the exact amount for our purchase, and there was no money to make change.  The young boy was promptly sent hither and yon, to all the rest of the shops on the street, to find smaller bills and some change for us.  Two things happened while we waited- both very normal things.  First, a wandering cow paid us a visit.  As far as I can tell, the “wandering” cows do actually stay in about the same general vicinity all day, and make their way “home” to be milked in the late afternoon.  I’ve seen this particular cow on our street many times, and I rather like her.  She has a very lovely bell around her neck, fastened by what JP tells me is a “regular cow bell chain,” but I seriously thought it was some sort of motorbike chain.  She is also adorned by a simple, but nice, seashell headband.  (I tried to find her today for a glamour shot, but she wasn’t around, sorry!)  She came close enough that I really wondered if she’d kiss Reuben in his stroller.  Leila watched the whole thing with a good deal of interest.

Right after this, the young woman working in the shop came forward and asked if she could take Reuben.  I knew what she meant.  Everyone always wants to hold your baby here, so I nodded that it was ok, and assisted with the clips and straps of the stroller (a very foreign contraption in India.)  No sooner did the girl take him from the stroller, and she was up the stairs to share Reuben with what I can only assume were her family and friends.

Up 3 Floors to visit his 'Aunties'

And JP, Leila, and I stayed down below, waiting, and wondering what sights he was seeing and what snacks he might be given.  We heard happy chatter from the women above, and then, a minute or two later, the cries of poor Reuben who suddenly realized his family was down on the street.  I guess the good news is that when your baby cries in India, they quickly find mom and return the baby.  Soothing is momma’s job.

Around this time the boy returned with our change, and we happily returned home with three new stars, and a handful of new friends.  It pays to shop locally, I think.  This time it made me remember (and hopefully helped Leila learn) about how different (but fine) the normal things are here.

The stars in the sky look down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

Photos!

Katy mentioned to you in her entry that we do have some photos that were taken by our good friend Kristen.   She also promised that I’d put them up as soon as I got the opportunity.  Here is a slice of the wonderful morning we spent picking apples.    I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!