Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Simple Worship

Realizing Ash Wednesday was fast approaching only on Monday, I had limited time to do what I've been meaning to for some time: research the church options in Hyderabad. Before we left, I emailed the one Anglican church I found with a website, and that pastor wrote me back with two other Anglican church names. Given the limited time frame, I figured that was a good place to start.

Since traffic here can be horrendous at times, and not having any other criteria to go by, I chose which church of the three to try solely based on location. It was a simple choice, really: one was less than 2km from the office and, a phone call from a local staff at the office on my behalf determined there would be an English-language service at 7AM. I tried calling, but speaking in foreign languages over the phone is still a little beyond me. Greg and William decided to sit out this adventure.

My driver from the consulate eventually found the church (addresses here are not precise) far back from the main road, nestled into a very residential community. My guess would be that most people living in the neighborhood attend that church, actually. I walked through a tall but rusty gate, through a dusty courtyard, following women in pale orange saris who my driver assured me were some type of nun and thus definitely going to a church. I did quickly find myself in a very simple church - not even glass on the windows.

When I arrived at 10 of seven, a few single men and women were sparsely seated throughout the church, and then nuns in either white habits or the pale orange saris were seated mostly together towards the front. Even in India people avoid the front pews! I tried to inconspicuously take a seat in the middle, but honestly given my apperance, anything I do is pretty obvious. I enjoyed the calm sound of the ceiling fans and the birds, waiting for the service to start. Some elaborately adorned saint dolls were in cases in the front surrounded by somoe electric candles and christmas lights, framed pictures of the stations of the cross hung on the walls, and then there was an alter and a crucifix. Otherwise, the sanctuary was devoid of ornamentation.

People continued to file in and by the time the three priests came down the aisle, I was surprised that every pew was full and people were standing in the back - there must have been over 150 people in this small, simple space. A few families, but it appeared to be predominately single people. Some women used their scarves to cover their heads, others didn't. But everyone was very quiet - pretty unusual here.

The service progressed as most Ash Wednesday services do. When it came time for the Lord's Prayer, I confirmed what I had been suspecting after seeing the crucifix - it was a Catholic, not Anglican church. Not a problem to receive the ashes, but I was glad to know before I went to receive communion. As with most services, though, the Catholic and Anglican service order are so similar that I still felt "at home." The only books in the church were bibles, so prayer words and hymns were projected on a screen at the front which, along with the guitar and sythesizer, was the only indication this worship was taking place in the 21st century.

After the service ended and the priests processed out, people stayed for quiet meditation and left the sanctuary as the spirit moved them. As I sat thinking about my surroundings and the service just experienced, it struck me that even without all the creature comforts of a US church, this congregation seemed alive. No matter that there were no kneeling cushions (let alone hand-stiched ones with custom designs) or air conditioning - the people were there to say the words that Catholics (and close enough words to those of the Anglicans) around the world were repeting on that same day. The globalness of religion, and the basic beliefs that tie people together, hit home that morning. Everything else that causes drama in churches is extraneous and detracts from why one should choose to worship.

Later at the office, I educated everyone on Ash Wednesday - even some of the American officers! People were really concerned about the smudge on my head :) After giving the brief explanation behind the tradition, I also told people how refreshing it was that even a simple church could provide a moving and meaningful experience.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Yummy things come in small, shinny packages

This Saturday morning we loaded William up in our hiking backpack and took a little walk around the side streets in our neighborhood. Greg had been with Bagwelle before, but I had never been.

We started turning out of our apartment and walking up a short flight of stairs to another road. At the top of the flight of stairs is a small clinic for leporasy and TB, across the street from a Shiva linga (small temple). Next is a government school - now I know where all the kids wearking khaki and white uniforms are headed! Then we hit a main road, called Imam Khomeni Road or Road #7, depending on your political views :)

We stopped at a small, but sufficient, grocery store named "More," where we picked up some maida (flour), eggs, juice, muesli, and some other staples. Heading down Road 7, we started towards some carpentery shops, to see what they were making. Lots of chairs, some small tables, and other decorative pieces seemed to be their specialty, all made to order. One also had some antique pieces with wood inlay and a beautifully framed Mughal-style painting (I have no way of telling if it was authentic or not). I think a second trip for closer inspection and price haggling is in order!

The real find, though, was not a typical Indian-style shop. On the first floor of a three storey home, I noticed a nice looking Western-style women's fashion shop. On closer inspection, a sign also advertised "fine chocolates." Good clothes and fine chocolates? I figured we couldn't go wrong so despite some eye-rolling from Greg, in we went. Now, we had a valid reason to buy chocolate: we're going to our boss' house for dinner tonight and need a gift. The woman who hand-makes the chocolates, though, did not want us to make our selection without sampling each option. Did I protest? Well, for about half a second. Then after the first truffle, I accepted everything else she offered.

We ended up with a 250g assortment for the gift (coffee, plain and butterscotch truffles, and then an almond-chocolate bar that is her speciality). Then she forced another 100g box on us for free "for home enjoyment." I didn't even bother to protest at that point.

As we were chatting more, we found out that the Consul General is a weekly customer of hers (perhaps this accounts for the good service?), and she also volunteered to come with us to negotiate with the carpenters. If she gets a kickback or not, I have no idea, but since the carpenters spoke Hindi, not Telugu, and only a little English, I might just take her up on the offer.

Here's a picture on the street from our walk - we get 6 bananas for Rs. 10 ($0.20) from a hand-push cart every few days.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

All together again!

We're all together again, with no more business trips in the foreseeable future. What a novelty for all three of use to spend time in the same place! William was quite happy to see me Saturday morning, making Greg kind of jealous. When Greg returned from his two weeks in Delhi, it took William about two hours to warm up to him and give him a hug. I got one immediately :) Not that we're in competition or anything :)

The major feat today was unpacking almost all the boxes. Only two types of boxes remain: china, because we don't have the bottom half of our china cabinet yet, and desk / craft stuff, because we don't currently have appropriate storage stuff. We also have yet to hang anything on the walls, because we have to find out what "policy" is on that. Now we're ready for the final shipment to arrive (end of March).

The Vonage is also installed, so you can now reach us on a 512-area-code number. Email either of us for the number, if you don't have it. Apologies go to Beth and my parents - William was playing with it before we put it out of his reach and accidentally called them at 1PM India time (about 2:30AM DC time). Oops!

My pet project right now (aside from continuing to try to get the house-construction finished) is trying to find a local NGO that would accept an intern from SAIS for the summer. I have some good leads (two foundations, a women's development organization, a school for handicapped children, and a land-right's NGO). Now I'm faced with a chicken-and-egg scenario: do I pick one organization and work with them to create a discrete project and then work with SAIS to identify a student? Or should I have SAIS identify a potential student, see which organization s/he is interested in, and then hope a structured program can be developed.

The other issue is funding - SAIS has money for the airfare, Greg and I think we can host the students (have to double check at work), but then the student needs some nominal funds for local transportation and lunch. When I was in Japan, I received such a stipend from my think tank ($30/day - barely enough in Japan!), but funds are so short here. We'll see if I can pull this off, but at this point I'm hopeful!

Friday, February 13, 2009


As the cauliflower absorbed the deadly rays of the microwave, I heard that all-too-familiar whine of electrical appliances dying.  So what else to do?  I ate my cauliflower in the dark.  It still had a touch of a chill to it, but hey - think of all the starving children across the street.  So I ate, and waited for the power to come back.  After all, this is Banjara Hills, home to government ministers and Tollywood stars.  The power doesn't stay out for long around here.  Fifteen minutes later, I was starting to get impatient.  Then I noticed something curious: the neighbors' lights were on.  It was then that I realized that I had no idea where the fuse box was, and no working flashlight to search for one.  So I found one of the drivers downstairs who had a flashlight, found the fuse box, opened it, and lo! the power returned, with nary a touch to the fuses.  I have no idea what I did, and probably I did nothing.  But the lights were back, and that's all that matters.  

But a word about those starving kids.  Honestly, from what I've heard, people don't really starve to death around here.  Some eat better than others, and some have to live on very poor diets.  But actual death by hunger is rare.  So that's something.  Then there's the matter of the full-time nanny with three kids who we pay 7,000 rupees (about $140) per month for full time work.  Not great money, but it's certainly enough to get by on around here.  The moral issue with her is this: her 15 year old daughter is no longer in school.  Why?  Because her (the nanny's) one year old son needs child care.  So by employing the mother, we're effectively depriving the daughter of an education.  There are a few caveats.  First, the mother can't even read, so the daughter's eighth grade education is a big step up in the family.  Second, it's not like we're forcing her to take the job.  But those are excuses.  Really the whole situation just stinks.  So we'll see how much energy we're really able to devote to the issue, but we've had two ideas.  First, we could teach the nanny to read.  It's getting to be time for William to learn, so they could pick it up together.  Second, we could pay for a tutor for the fifteen year old.  Honestly, I think the former is more likely than the latter.  But we'll see.  She's been working for Western families for more than five years, and I'm sure we're not the first to have this idea.  

Friday, February 6, 2009

And the flip side...

... enjoying being "single" and having no responsibilities, at least for a short time! I do feel a little guilty in my morning shower, I must admit. Great water pressure, unlimited hot water, and I don't have to worry about taking William in with me :) I do get a little sad when I hear William chattering in the background, or when Greg gives him the phone and he lovingly yells "MAMA!", but having the time to myself is also a treat.

Today's plan is to go on a walking tour of the Old Fort, then to a handi-craft fair, and then back to the hotel in the evening to wrap up our tax information. Thrilling, I know, but normal life marches on even when on "vacation." Though I have to work during the day (and I find the work quite draining, actually), the evenings do seem like vacation with no William.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Single Fatherhood

Does it really count when you have a nanny/maid/cook to do all the annoying stuff for you?  I'm not sure.  But I'll take credit anyway, just because William likes to wake up before I get in the shower.  This leaves me with three choices: 1) take him in the shower with me, 2) put him back in bed and let him scream, and 3) rush through my shower in the 10 minutes between the nanny's arrival and my departure.  Today I chose number 3.  Tomorrow?  Who knows.  

I do know that William had a great time today at Janice's house.  Her dog, Abi, stayed at our house for the first two weeks (while Janice and I were both traveling to Delhi), and William apparently developed quite an attachment.  He was excited from the moment I said "Abi" through the whole time over there, until we left.  Then he kept saying her name the whole way home.  So I guess we need to see Abi more often.  Bagwelle had fun, too.  I think she misses all the other dogs she used to see at the park.  Oh, I had a good time, too, but it was much less of a momentous occasion for me than for the furball and the ankle-biter.  

At work, I am now the Entry Level Officer in charge of mosquito nets.  This is why they pay us the big bucks.