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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Quiet Christmas

Our first week at home in our brand new apartment passes in a blur. New beds and sounds, on top of long travel and stopover hours, an inverted sleep schedule (Indian time is 11 and 1/2 hours ahead of Minnesota's) mean unanticipated.moments of sudden sleeping or disorientation during the week.  Still, we manage to get a lot done, tuning in again with the the household staff in the process of last minute details to the apartment and the assembling of Christmas treat bags for neighbors and those who help us regularly.

We had a relatively quiet Christmas. I use the word 'relatively' advisedly (is that acceptable grammar?) . Friends had brought family and staff a few days earlier to rejoice in the progress of their tiny inner city hospital , as well as to welcome us with Christmas hymns and prayers of blessing. Other friends sent fruit and sweet treats.  Our families with whom we might have spent the holidays were in Chennai or Bangalore with relatives, had gone on a tour of Kerala, or stayed home in Hyderabad this year.  One brother and his wife who live in the first floor of the same building went to church, and only one group of carollers came around our street Christmas eve, so it was  quiet in the neighborhood.

But on Christmas eve we drove with Raghava's (driver) and Pushpa's (household helper) children town to look at Christmas lighting around town, and sit a few minutes in meditation at each of several churches :  St. Matthew's West and North parishes, St. Joseph's Catholic Church, and Trinity Congregation in the old Kugler Hospital Campus.  Darkness fell soon after we set out.

You would think that, after fifty years I'd worked things through, but as we passed through thronging shopping areas, and over a bridge spanning a number of railway tracks, I had to admit to what could only be called culture shock. ( Second time in fifty years isn't too bad a record, but I wasn't thinking of that at the time.)  There was more than just amazement at the unforgiving sea of auto rickshaws, motor cycles and cars, all of them with bright lights and none of them particularly observing the lane system, the closeness of the exhaust-polluted air, the scene stitched together with people intent on their various ways, determined, really, to keep moving despite traffic, ignoring signals and danger, clambering over medians and between cars.  By now, you, as well as I, realize that this is India:  To put it tritely, up close and personal.

In one dark lane, an lone older woman with a cane waited and watched for her chance to cross an unbroken stream of cars.  None slowed or stopped. Neither did we. And for a moment the intellectual knowledge of class and cultural disparity became irrelevant.  I was one with the stream of people; I was that woman waiting for a chance to cross. What did a passport in my purse and the relative spaciousness of our vehicle matter?  I was in a car contributing to both the mass and the mess. I was the old woman unsure of crossing a busy street. I was both problem and solidarity.  The mind could not encompass what it wanted, or needed, to think, except to admit that, in that moment, I could not process the thought, as I felt myself shrink, speechless, wordless, into my comfortable seat.

The next day after church, again, we make short visits to four churches. First, we stop to worship at St. Matthew's West, under tinsel and styrofoam decorations hung from high rafters, and saints keeping their watch from stained glass windows --brought here by German missionaries a hundred years ago, damaged panes here and there patched with faded imitations of original images. We observe the scene and remember simpler Christmases past at each of the churches, awed at vast shamianas shielding thousands of chairs and temporary outdoor stages from the sun. People attending the neighborhood Lutheran church's outdoor service walk past beggars at the gate, or are driven in to be dropped off, each in their own due time, arriving anywhere from an hour early to very late, during the three hour worship service.

Back at home, I break open a bag of candy kisses to share with the helpers who'll care of us and our household this season.   Raghava is nonplussed, and starts to unwrap his.  Pushpa takes her cue from the rest of us, but pauses at the sight of what (here, she turns toward Raghava and lowers her voice) "looks like a turd..." The three of us eye each other tentatively: Raghava-- wondering whether and what to explain about this observation, either to me or to her, Pushpa-- seeking a social clue, and myself-- hesitating to say more lest I appear to belittle small cowpies topped with fresh flowers which actually do figure in a local celebration every January.

A beat.

Pushpa looks surprised as Raghava pops a candy into his mouth, and she hesitates before slowly following suit.  Raghava and I wag our heads to indicate that it does indeed look like what she thinks, but I go on to explain that it's a popular American chocolate treat, called a candy kiss. This is too much for Pushpa, whose eyes bulge with an attempt at restraint, before the three of us burst into laughter at the multicultural incongruities of this conversation.

The rest of the day is quiet, as families throughout the neighborhood and town get together with their own, and we are thankful.  The hours-long worship broadcast on loudspeakers from our nearby St. Matthew's North Parish is heard in the background.  My husband and I take part in preparing a holiday lunch to share with Raghava and Pushpa and their families--we are six adults and four children, and pass the time together amiably at noon, when the spirit of Christ, our Savior, is born once more.

Here We Go Again

It's been fifty years since I first arrived in India, fresh from college,eager to begin a three year assignment teaching English as a foreign language at Lutheran mission schools in Guntur. Since then my husband and I have tried unsuccessfully to establish a work relationship that would allow us to live here (bureaucracy, lack of needed/promised infrastructure), gotten too entrenched in jobs (good ones) and with family (precious children, growing up as children do) to leave America, been derailed by personal medical contingencies (if you know us, you know what), watched our children launch their own families (grandchildren--yay!), and finally, after retirement, started an all-volunteer non-profit organization to accompany people in several rural Guntur District neighborhoods on their journey to community and sustainable lifestyles (widespread needs).

Fast forward:  This is at least my twentieth trip.  I was not at all looking forward to it. I need more time to rest, heal, strengthen after a particularly difficult year..But after a ten day adjustment period, I think I am getting my 'sea' legs  And, Lordwilling, 2015 WILL BE a better year.

SO, starting on December 15, we flew from Minneapolis to Mumbai via Amsterdam, with wonderful seats and service on Minneapolis based DELTA Airlines.. Long stopovers in AMS and MUM give us time to enjoy brand new international terminals, including immigration, and lunch at a transit lounge in Mumbai. A fellow passenger strikes up a conversation (a throwback to days when doing so was de rigeur on any long Indian trip, by bus, train, or plane);  it turns out that not only is he a pharmaceutical salesman like my husband was, years ago, but he also has contact information for a government approved airport renta- car-cum-driver,  which my husband promptly calls and arranges to meet us upon arrival at the Hyderabad airport. While cooling our heels in the spacious and modern Mumbai airport my husband and a familiar porter book an ongoing flight to Hyderabad on IndiGo, perhaps the youngest of India's domestic airlines. Indeed, few people in the whole busy airport appear to be older than in their thirties.  The Indigo flight crew look like children to us, and appear to be very new at the usual initial flight routine aboard their tiny and tidy white and blue planes.

Eager to be home, we've shelved our plan to stay and rest in Hyderabad for a couple days in favor of driving on through, arriving home at nightfall.  Husband and I are beyond tired, and the driver and I have never set eyes on the building before.  Not until an unfamiliar watchman's wife stares us down in consternation do we realize we have driven into the parking level of a similar building, two doors down the street. Backing out with apologies and just a wee bit of embarrassment, we finally drive in at the right gate,' laughing all the way,' where our watchman's young daughters dash to open our car doors with shouts of  'Uncle, Uncle!!' for my husband, and curious gazes for this 'new' person who is his wife.

Their mother Pushpa (same name as our ngo), who will be our household helper, helps Raghava (our local driver and husband's man-Friday for you-name-it regular and odd jobs around home and the town as well as driving) set to work downloading our baggage and sending it upstairs. Before the elevator gates clank, a voice inside repeatedly insists 'Please close the door!' before we ascend to our fourth floor quarters,where more clanks and the message are repeated again.  The elevator voice seems older and more subdued than one in a Hyderabad apartment where we dwelt briefly four or five years ago.  Our doorbell proves a different matter...a shriek, by anybody's definition.  But, never mind, finally, we are home.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

How About That?!


Already I know that a new year's resolution will be to submit, submit, submit; that is, to submit samples of my writing to magazines and other publishing sites.  Ever wary of sharing my 'gems' for scrutiny, I finally learned to use the electronic process aptly named 'Submittable', to channel my submissions directly to their intended destinations.  Whether an editor finds them worthy is out of my hands.

So this week I am pleased to say that my essay "Writing Poems at Sixty Nine", which I'd sent out via a new process, 'Submittable,' and with my blessing,  appeared online today.  I had submitted it to the's website, under the category "Writer's Block," which, I assume,  means place for thought, not obstruction.  My writing has been found worthy.

So how do I feel about that?  Filled with glee, fingers flying over the keyboard to tell all my friends and writing team (fellow writers and encouragers) (current parlance calls for a feminine counterpart to 'fellow,' but 'gal writers' hasn't quite caught on yet--shall we start?) that I am in print.  Online.  In digit (as in format, not hand or foot).  Oh my, terminology is such a variable  thing...with all the alternatives, how do we make the right choices?

I notice that the editor has changed a word choice in the 'Writing (etc.)" essay, substituting "teaching artist" for 'teacher,' which is the word I had written.  After living in India where tradition has it that teacher is third deserving of respect/reverence only after God and parents, and having been a teacher for thirty years and more, the term 'teacher,' for me, conveys a world of responsibility, skill, and respect (although opinions and teachers may differ).  'Teacher' has all the substance and wonder (wonderment or wonderful, take your pick) that my essay required, and indeed honored.

But the editors, bless their hearts, have their own messages to convey.  In this case, making a statement that writing is an art form.  I would not disagree. But 'writing' itself is a term for a respected and skilled occupation.  Other people, who could be writers too if they just realized the potential and practice of writing down the thought and spoken word, often express awe and wonder when they find out I am a writer.  So I do not believe the term 'teacher' is enhanced by changing it to 'teaching artist.'  In fact, the two word term, repeated as often as it is in the essay, becomes somewhat of a distraction, too weighty in diction for the purpose, which, in my mind, was already served.

Come to think of it, even the humblest occupation, say doing the dishes, can become an art form, a spiritual discipline. Think of Brother Lawrence.  Attitude, attitude, attitude, (and practice).

In the end, however, I bow to the editor.  The piece was published, after all. And I thank you very much. Personally,  I will continue to use the simple, direct term 'teacher.'  With all due respect.

(Stay tuned to, where you are now, for tales of this year's adventures in India, probably not the ones you might expect, beginning after a week or so.  You can 'follow' via the link on the right hand side of this page --->, to receive an email notice whenever I make a new entry, at least once a week, for the about next six weeks. No advertising etc. emails will accrue, 'promise.)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Dawn, a new day...

Morning fades pastel pinks and blues into a wispy-clouded, baby blue sky, sun hesitates, it's eight a.m. and I'm back at the desk, stealing a few moments before speaking with others, breakfasting, segueing into the activities of a new day.  Morning meditation has me noting, once again (do we ever really learn?) Micah 6:8, that the ultimate to-do list is simply three items:  do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. So let me give it a try, with the help of God.

(I was about to say 'Let me give it a shot,' then many phrases and sayings we have in our language which could be construed as violent...and what would happen if we purged them in favor of more neutral or gentle terms...)

Later in the day, I hear that an essay I wrote, describing first impressions of a writing class I enjoyed, will be published online next week.  You can find it at <> in their blog page, "The Writers' Block."  I hope you'll give it a look:  Let me know if the essay gives you a mental picture of the LOFT can leave a comment right on their blog.

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