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October 21, 2003

Bangalore Rain


After a month of being in India, we have finally run into some rain. Funny how something so simple can bring such a feeling of normalcy, of all's-right-with-the-worldness.

Bangalore is a city of about six million people, near the middle of India. Swamy and Saroja live in a rented house in a nice area of the city. They will have to move because they are struggling with the rent, but for us, it is perfect!

Don and Beverly Norwood are here, and we are having a great time visiting, eating, shopping, and most importantly, worshipping and fellowshipping with the brethren in Bangalore. The Sunday worship was four hours long! I must admit that I was getting very tired of sitting. J.C. spoke for an hour. Then Don spoke for another hour. Then Swamy introduced all the preachers who had spent the last week at the school, gave three of them an opportunity to tell their story, then presented each one with a gift.

Afterwards, Swamy, Saroja, Sheila (their daughter-in-law), the Norwoods, Choates, and I went to a Chinese restaurant. Because of the rain, we did not travel to another congregation that night, but just visited at home. If you have never visited with Don Norwood, I highly recommend it. He can tell stories all night long, and you would never get tired of hearing them!

It started raining last night. I turned off the fan and let the rain lull me to sleep. I wouldn't say that I have been homesick in India, but I will not deny that the strangeness of the food, living conditions, travel, etc., takes its toll, and weariness sets in. But then something as commonplace as rain happens. And, as I look out the window and see it dripping off the trees, I feel a comfort, a settled-ness.

I think back over the last month and recall those moments which, though seemingly insignificant, have brought that feeling of connection: The sweet burst of citrusy juice from an orange, the smell of soap, the burn of a long swallow of that occasional Coke, the yellow blossoms on the trees across the road, the old dog in the street scratching fleas. And those more significant moments: the hug of a sister or brother in Christ, seeing a scripture reference, and not recognizing anything - but the chapter and verse look familiar!

I recognize the truth that God's world is basically the same, as are the people who inhabit it. The differences in culture and language and food are the spices that jazz it up a bit. And wherever you are, however strange those customs, there are things that keep us connected, things that keep us from losing our footing on the earth; things from the small and insignificant to the great miracle of God's grace.

It has stopped raining. Time to get busy again.

October 16, 2003

Kakinada by Train

Monday, October 11, 1:36 am, I struggle to put on my socks and shoes, climb quietly down from the top berth. I sneak quietly past a sleeping J.C., notice that Betty has disappeared somewhere in the night. I pick up the liter bottle that I have been craving for the last two hours and drink greedily, disappointed that the frosty, slushy concoction of earlier in the evening has turned into lukewarm tea.

We said goodbye to the New Delhi brethren at about 7 pm, after the evening worship, drove with our sixteen pieces of luggage to the train station (yes that is more than we left the US with). Francis and Vinay, his son, and Sunny and his wife Nargis came with us. We sat on the train together until 8:30, had a pray and said goodbye to them. And we were underway.

At about 9:00, we had the famous train-food that Betty, Elzy (Francis's wife) and I had been cooking all afternoon: masala potatoes (fried potatoes with Indian seasoning), fried pork loin with Indian soy sauce (note to self: bring soy sauce from the US next time!), fried chicken strips, and chapatti (Indian bread similar to tortillas).

Ugh! Train sickness. See you later.

Well, it is Thursday evening. We spend Sunday night, Monday, day and night asleep. All those good intentions of listening to language CDs and reading were lost to a Dramamine/train-rocking induced sleep. And after the first night, the train-food lost its appeal!

We arrived in Kakinada on Tuesday, about 12:00 pm and drove to Joshua and Kabita Gootam's home. Their three boys were all home from college. That evening we went to a village and J.C. preached for about an hour. Since most of the audience were women, after a short break, Joshua Gootam translated as Betty spoke to the women for about 15 minutes. All was going well until Betty finished and Joshua said, "And now we will hear from sister Barbara."

I leaned over and said, "Joshua, I am not a speaker." He said, "Come on. Just say a few words." So before I knew it, I had said a few word and was again seated in my chair, squeezing the plastic arms so tightly they squeeked! The evening ended wonderfully as three were baptized.

Wednesday, I didn't go with J.C. and Betty to the village because Montezuma caught up with me. Wednesday evening, we met with the brethren at the church building here in Kakinada, and then today, we drove two hours to a village, where once again J.C. spoke. After baptizing seven people and having lunch, Betty spoke to the ladies, again with Joshua translating. I was sure I was safe, but I believe in the saying "once bitten twice shy", or something like that. Anyway, I was semi-prepared and lived through the experience. The good thing I can say about my little talk - short and sweet!

Tomorrow we board the train again for a 24 hour trip to Bangalore. My standards have really fallen. I am only keeping out two CDs, have my Dramamine handy and don't really expect to do anything but sleep!

October 08, 2003

Don't Laugh!

India is a diverse country with 28 states and 7 union territories. There are areas in the North East, near Bangladesh, where foreigners are not allowed to travel, and in other areas special permits are give out judiciously. We often hear of the clashes between Pakistan and India over Kashmir to the West. But there are states in the North East who want to break away from Indian rule and become independent.

Terrorism is a common fact of life here. With a population consisting of about 12% Moslem, there have been bombings during Hindu festivals and in Hindu markets. In just the past several months, hotels have been bombed, and just last week, a politician's car was bombed. In recent years, radical Hindu groups have been responsible for killing missionaries and believers in Christ.

Sunny was explaining to me about one such bombing that had taken place in Lajpat Nagar (an outdoor market). We were standing in front of one of the stalls, and he was telling me about how people in the stall had been burned alive when a bomb exploded during a Hindu festival, when the market was crowded with shoppers. Believing that lightening can indeed strike twice, and remembering that it was, on this particular day, a Hindu festival, I caught myself inching slowly away as he relayed the story!

Several brethren who have visited us while we have been here have faced potentially serious situations getting to New Delhi. One brother, who is from Manipur, has five children, all of whom lost a whole year of education because of the fighting between the Kuki tribe (pronounced "cookie")and the Paites.

Nepal, though not a part of India, is also plagued with internal strife. One brother who visited us brought his wife with him for protection! He was hoping that the Maoist insurrectionists would not bother him during his travels across his country, if he was with his family. He also hoped the same thing of the Nepalese army!

Nepal is noted for its Gurka soldiers. In fact, at one time its major export was soldiers. The Gurkas are known for their ruthlessness and total loyalty to whomever they serve.

Back in India, the state of Nagaland is also a hotbed of strife. There are about 16 tribes. The people of one of those tribes still wear no clothes. In fact, "naga" means naked. This is gradually changing, as the children are being educated. And there are still canibals in them there hills! So, if someone from Nagaland says he wants to have you over for dinner, run!

There is one other thing that I need to point out. If you are ever in Nagaland, and a Naga comes into town, and you happen to notice that he is naked, don't laugh! If you laugh at him, he might take out a big knife and, swish! Your head is gone! They take great offence at being laughed at. So the next time you see someone naked, don't laugh! He may be a Naga!

October 03, 2003

Third Eye Blind

Today (October 2) is a holiday in India. It is Gandhi's birthday. The streets, normally crowded with people going to work, are nearly deserted. Bicycle rickshaw drivers sit idly along the side of the road. Busses zip by, not stopping, because there is no one to pick up. Autos (motor rickshaws) and taxis are nowhere to be found.

This is also the festival of Durga. Hindus fast during the nine days leading up to October 5 (the festivals are based on the position of the moon, so the dates vary from year to year). On October 5, they will take terra cotta images of the idols and immerse them in rivers throughout India.

The Hindu philosophers believe in God as one entity. God is personified in a triune of deities, but also exists in everything. The triune consists of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer.

Durga, the goddess of destruction, is Shiva's wife. There are those who still sacrifice children to Durga, although it is illegal to do so.

Ganesh, the god of prosperity, is Shiva's son. When Ganesh was born, Shiva was so excited that he accidently looked at his son with his third eye (his eye of destruction), which burned off Ganesh's head. So Shiva sent his servant out to get the head of the first thing he found, which was an elephant. Therefore, Ganesh has an elephant's head.

Most Hindus have little shrines in their homes where they put an image of one of the Hindu gods or sub-gods, or a picture of their guru or one of their relatives. They decorate these little shrines with flowers and burn incense to them and pray to them. Many of the taxis or rickshaws have little shrines on their dashboards. Most shops have one, also. In India, representations and reminders of their gods are ever-present.

Ordinary people practice idolatry, going to the temples, making sacrifices, and observing the festivals and other rituals without paying much attention to the philosophy behind their religion. That is relegated to the holy men and gurus. In a simplified version, God is in everything, and everything is god. Rocks, trees, rats, cows, humans - god can take any form. Therefore, all things can be worshiped as god, and all things ultimately will return to the one entity of god.

According to Hinduism, during your lifetime, you forget that you are part of god, so you have to be reborn. If you are bad during your lifetime, you may be reborn as a rat. If you are good, you may be reborn as a holy man. Through millions of rebirths, you are finally born as a man, as a holy man. Only then can you escape the cycle of being reborn, to become again a part of the entity of god. Many people think of Nirvana as heaven, but the two concepts are not the same. Nirvana really means that you have escaped rebirth, and have been re-absorbed into the entity of god, ceasing to be a separate individual.

On October 5, about eight hundred million people in India will be celebrating the festival of Durga, the goddess of destruction, who demands appeasement with the blood of children. They will immerse their gods in water. But they will not raise them up out of the water.

On October 5, children of God will be worshipping the risen Lord, who gave His blood for all mankind, who redeems us once for all, as we are. He demands our immersion in the waters of baptism, but unlike the Hindu gods, He raises us up, fills us with the Holy Spirit and makes us children of the Living God.

Who will you be worshipping on October 5?

October 01, 2003

There's a Cow in the Street!

As I explained last time, the traffic here is horrendous. The larger streets have a median. The street, by the way, has no lane lines. Since no one even pretends to stay in a lane anyway, it makes perfect sense.

In the midst of this chaos, three or four cows will be lying out in the median. Pedestrians just walk around them. How they (the cows) got across those lanes of traffic, I cannot imagine. They just lie there, in bovine contentment as the rest of the world zips past.

Technically, the owner of the cows can be fined, since they do present a very real traffic hazard. But like the no-honking rule, it is apparently not being obeyed.

We went to Nehru Place to get a computer cable. In the middle of this big complex of shops and offices, there was a cow eating out of a trash bin.

Francis and I took our excursion to Nehru Place by bus. No one but me is crazy enough to take the bus - but even then, only with Francis. Although, he is threatening to give me four rupees and make me get on the bus and get home by myself. I think Betty will put her foot down about that. At least, I hope she will!

Sunday, after morning worship, some of the young people took us to the Dilli Haat. It is a market with booths from which they sell items that represent each state in India (there are about 30 states now). Each state is noted for some craft or cloth material.

We ate at one of the outdoor cafes. After lunch, the waiter placed a little tray of green anise seeds with a few grains of sugar, which were about the size of a half-caret. They are used as a breath-freshener and digestive aid. Most of the Indians I was sitting with said they didn't eat it out like this because it had dust, etc. But then, some of them reached in and got a small spoonful. I tried it, and they were right. It was a little gritty, and there were a few kernels that were something besides anise seeds. But it was really quite refreshing.

We went to the Red Fort for a little site seeing, but, unfortunately, it was closed on Mondays. The Red Fort is in Old Delhi. It was crowded and dirty, and hawkers and beggars swarmed us. It reminded me of what I don't like about India. The Indians don't give anything to the beggars because they say it perpetuates the abuse of young women and children, and many of the beggars are drug-pushers. They stand around and beg until someone comes up and gives them the signal that they want drugs. Like everywhere, it is big business and controlled by powerful people.

After yesterday's trip to Old Delhi, I have to admit that I was feeling depressed and culture-shocked. Like most Americans, I like my personal space and feel very uncomfortable when it is violated. But today we went to Defence Colony market to the internet cafe and then I invited Betty to stop in at a little espresso bar for a cappuccino for her and an espresso for me. I perked right up after that. I told Betty that that was all it took to cheer me back up. We both agreed that I am by nature very shallow :)

With renewed vigor, or maybe just a caffeine buzz, I step out into the world of India once more. Just have to remember to watch out for the cowpats.