A Day in the Life of a Child
Here is a draft of the short movie I put together for the PEB. I follow a day in the life of a child in a Pakistani village.
Indian Stations of the Cross
This year's Good Friday liturgics emanating from the Vatican featured meditations for the Stations of the Cross written by Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Gwahati (India). Besides being a very nice contemporary presentation of the Stations, the wisdom and experience of the Indian Church is beautifully interwoven throughout the text.
Pakistan and Other News
Sarah and I have had a very busy couple of weeks! As the six-month mark of our journey approached, hotel clerks began to ask us about it. (Our visa lasts for ten years, but tourists are only permitted to stay for six months at a time.) So we had to make plans to leave the country.
Bundi, Ajmer, Delhi
The autorickshaw-wallah is a minor lord of the Indian underworld. His travels and his mobility make him well-networked, and well-known amongst those who do things unseen by the law. He is accountable to no law but his own, for rarely does the law check his behavior. He feels no remorse lying plainly to the face of his customer if it will make him an extra fifty rupees. He is greedy, and he grows fat on commissions from a whole litany of shady deals.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Some of them are worth even more. This picture encapsulates our time in India with effortless humor.
The other day at the Internet Cafe, I broke a 50 rupee note. Literally. I was taking it out of my hot and sweaty money pouch, and it just ripped in half. Whoops.
It seems to be wedding season in India. Sarah and I came to regret the cute little balconies that our rooms had in Ajmer and Pushkar.
Saints and Prophets
Here’s an interesting question we’ve been throwing around, and I’d love some other opinions on it. What is the difference between a saint and a prophet? Or (to give the question a more personal spin) which would you rather be?
Adventures in Ajmer
Sarah and I have wandered on to Ajmer, another little holy oasis town in the Rajasthani desert. We passed through the city briefly on our tour with Lydia, and incidentally found it compelling enough to make another, longer visit.
So we’ve taught Nicky to play chess.
Travels with Lydia
The Next Chapter
On Tuesday night, we put Lydia on her plane bound back for America, thus closing another chapter in our India venture. We will be spending the next several days in Delhi, resting, reflecting, and planning the next phase of our journey.
Pushkar And Respect
Pushkar is a built on the shores of a sacred lake, an oasis in the Rajastani desert surrounded by a congress of sharp hills. Legend has it that the lake was created by Brahmin himself, who dropped a lotus petal to the earth to create the body of water. It is a very ancient site of pilgrimage; a single dip in its waters is said to be worth several hundred years of ascetic exercise.
Sarah's friend Lydia is visiting us for the month of January. We have sketched out a loose itinerary; something that won't be hardcore tourism, but will also give Lydia a good swath of experience.
Self Understandings Of Missionary Work
I’ve come across a beautiful treasure in the contemplation of one of our sticky issues—the meaning of missionary work. Theologian Raimon Panikka identifies five distinct self-understandings of the Christian mission, each particularly suited to its cultural and historical context.
Holidays in Shimla
A Personal Economy
Sarah and I have had to learn a lot of hard lessons about how business gets done in India. The lessons we learned growing up about how wealth is to be used, how information travels, and how we relate to the world around us don’t always translate in this cultural context. While we are learning little by little, it is tough to work against the assumptions and strategies we’ve developed from living in America for most of our lives.
Our anniversary trip to Chail was fantastic; truly amazing. I don’t think we’ve had that much fun since we’ve been in India: indeed, perhaps since our wedding!
Shimla is going weird.
Christ Church Shimla
Christ Church stands in the center of Shimla, its yellow tower stretching up from the ridge like a pale beam of sunlight reaching back for the heavens. The city revolves around the church; its streets an unconscious echo of the footsteps of the British rulers who constructed them.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Besides going to Shimla, Sarah and I didn’t make many plans for Christmas. We knew Shimla would have the advantage of feeling like home—cold, mountainous, maybe snowy. (We simply couldn’t imagine a Christmas spent in short sleeves in Delhi, or on a Goan beach.) But beyond that, we didn’t know what we would need or want to fulfill our seasonal impulses. This is, after all, our first Christmas together, and our first Christmas away from family.
It’s fascinating—every single person who has approached us in Shimla has been a trekking or mountaineering guide. We attracted touts in Delhi as well, but there they had all sorts of wares and services to offer us. I’m not sure if these ones are better or worse. There aren’t as many of them here, but they are far more persistent. Only one of them has actually stopped to ask us whether or not we want to go trekking in the first place. And, since they are all trekking guides, they are all in splendid shape and very difficult to outrun.
Going To Shimla
Our train for Shimla left at 5:50 am on Sunday morning. Without us.
More Moments on Main Bazaar
Getting Back on our Feet
We’ve been spending a lot of time indoors lately. This has been mostly because of illness. We pushed quite hard for my family’s visit, and when that stress was removed, we crashed. Hard. We were sick for about a week. It wasn’t a horrible illness, we just felt too icky to do anything.
Cross-Cultural Growing Pains
Learning a new culture is complicated, difficult, and disorienting, and a challenge we don’t often have to face in the United States. Even armed with shiny Liberal Arts degrees, a spirit of adventure, and a commission from all the forces of heaven and earth to go and take on the world, we are scarcely equipped for this task.
Elephant Ride in Jaipur
Here is a short video clip I took while we were on the elephants. It was such a surreal experience, I couldn't help myself. I forgot to put this up yesterday.
Here are some pictures, to go along with yesterday's post!
For those of you getting this via email, you'll have to click on the post title to see the pictures.
My parents and sister flew into Delhi early on November 21st for a ten-day whirlwind visit to India. We booked an intense and enjoyable tour for them through Indian Travel Consultant. It took us from shopping on Main Bazaar through the architectural wonders of Jaipur and the Taj Mahal, up to Varanasi for a taste of the Ganges (and a rendezvous with my brother) and then back to Delhi. They left early on the December 1st, and since then Sarah and I have been…well…recovering.
Reflections On Mumbai Attacks
It has been surreal to watch the Mumbai attacks unfold from within India. For the most part, when something happens in India, we hear more a little more about it than our friends back home. But in this case, the rest of the world is watching very closely, and has about as much information as we do.
Return to Paharganj
Kashmiri Tour Agents
The Kashmiris were rather unhappy when we decided not to use their travel booking services. Indeed, by the time we rolled off Main Bazaar, it had escalated to the point of outright hostility.
I didn’t really know that I was an American until I came to India.
Delhi Government Tourist Office
The hardest place to get to in Delhi is the place that all tourists are encouraged to visit when they arrive: the Government Tourism Office.
I’m beginning to understand the appeal of “distance,” I’m beginning to understand why tourist colonies so often stand a world apart from the place they inhabit.
Our time in Rishikesh
Rishikesh to Delhi by Car
It’s never a good sign when your taxi arrives forty-five minutes late and immediately pops open the hood of the car. Albert (probably the only punctual person in India) was stressed out on our behalf, and extraordinarily apologetic. “India very slow,” he had said over and over again, as he hung up after his umpteen “Where are you?” calls to the taxi driver. “Driver just coming.”
In honor of our last Hindi lesson today, I thought I would dedicate a post to our teacher, Robby, and some of the funny things he has said. Enjoy!
When we first came to India, we were amused by the selection we came across in hotel restaurants and tourist cafes. It differs marginally from eatery to eatery, but most of the differences are not in the types of food offered, the quality of the ingredients, or the ability of the cooks, but in the spelling of the offerings on the menus. We’ve come across Maxican food, Isreeli cuisine, Chinees and Chainess, Jarman and Swiz bakeries, and (of course) a smattering of Indian food. And amazingly, all of these options seem to comprise of the same ingredients.
When we were newly in India, and back at Ajay Guesthouse, the television was a thing of great fascination for us. It seemed unnecessarily and indiscriminately fickle. (For one thing, our choice in non-Bollywood fare was limited to the news, HBO, and the Hindi-dubbed Disney Channel, which we soon began referring to as “All Hannah Montana, all the time.”) Of these channels, none seemed to have as many quirks as CNN, which was prone to skipping, stuttering, and freezing. The reason for this was announced one day, apologetically, at the bottom of the screen: “We are experiencing some technical problems due to sun outages.”
“Now time of year, too many foreign people they come to Rishikesh to study yoga,” Albert told us. “Local people, they are not interested in the yoga, but all the foreign people come. They want yoga certificate, only from Rishikesh.”
No Smoking, No Bikini, No Kissing
We’ve known that public kissing in India is faux pas, but we didn’t know it was illegal.
As usual, we decided to go with Albert’s suggestion for a Hindi teacher, and (as usual) we weren’t disappointed.
I don’t remember why feeding the turtles was so important, but at the time, I couldn’t really think about anything else. I even knew it was illegal, but then, no one really pays too close attention to the law in India. All the pieces were in place: we were taking a ferry ride down the Ganges, and I had my turtle food, which included (among other things that I don’t remember) a large, living fish, and piece of my gums about the size of a quarter that had mysteriously fallen off.
Albert of Rishikesh
In America, whenever we needed to know something, we asked Google. In Rishikesh, Google is called Albert, and works eighteen hours a day as the Receptionist and Restaurant Manager at Green Hills Cottage.
Sarah and I have finally found a used bookstore in Rishikesh. This is a welcome fact: we were beginning to worry that there were no English books in the area that weren’t about yoga or Hindu philosophy. Now we shall be preserved from boredom and remain connected to the world, regardless of what other chances we encounter in our time here.
You can tell a lot about a culture by the way they light off fireworks.
Economics in India
The economy may seem bleak in the US, but take heart. Things are worse in India. Last week, the US markets closed about five percent lower. In India, markets lost fifteen percent.
There are probably about a hundred ashrams in Rishikesh of one sort or another. We hear that a good ashram is a great place to learn just about anything about Indian culture and religion, from Sanskrit to yoga, Ayurvedic medicine to Hindu religious philosophy, traditional instruments to classical Indian dance. We’ve considered looking into it, but we’re not sure what we would like to study, and which ashram would be best.
Hamara Dost Amar
It has been wonderful to have our friend Amar with us on our trip to Rishikesh. He has helped us get to know the area, showing us to the landmarks in the local physical and spiritual landscape. He has been another point of contact with the culture for us, answering questions for us that we wouldn’t have even known to ask. And, of course, in traveling with him, we have been able to get to know him better.
Okay, here's a shout-out to our mathematically-inclined readers.
Reflections on Learning Hindi
Hindi is a fascinating language. And getting off Main Bazaar (where, in Sahid’s words, “even the dogs speak English”) has only increased my desire to become proficient in it. I have been spending most of our downtime in Rishikesh buried in a copy of “Teach Yourself Hindi,” that looks like it’s been with me for a lot longer than the two weeks it has been since I purchased it.
Rishikesh, Laxshman Jhula, and Rafting: A Photo Album
Today we went white-water rafting on the Ganges. It was ridiculously fun, although maybe a little sacrilegious. The scenery was beautiful. We floated serenely through the jungle, watched by monkeys, birds, and some curious villagers.
Besides the scenery, and the presence of monkeys, it wasn’t a lot different than rafting in the U.S. There was the sound of rushing water, the guide yelling, “Pull forward! All together!” and the swells of water crashing around and into the raft. In the middle of the 16km trip, we stopped at a rock outcropping and the guys took turns flinging themselves into the river. We were soaked and happy by the end of the trip.
Indian Gods, American Gods
On the menu of the restaurant at Green Hills Cottage is a little illustration of Laxshmi.
Monkeys and Pineapple Juice
Yesterday afternoon we walked down to Lakshman Jhula. It’s the second time we’ve visited. We followed Amar down the road, past stalls and street vendors selling water, cigarettes, religious trinkets, and plastic bags full of monkey food.
Public Service Announcement
Dear Readers of our Blog,
Rishikesh Catholic Church
The bronze relief at the front of the church depicted Jesus Christ standing to his waist in the Ganges, his arms outstretched. Peace and fervor lit his eyes, and a halo of flame surrounded his head. To his left stood John the Baptist, gesturing toward the Lord, to his right, pilgrims with heads bowed. Gentle mountains stood in the distance, little hermitages spilling down from them along the riverbanks. In the foreground, fish swam, and lotus flowers blossomed, silently animated by the presence of the Lord.
“Now is good time go Rishikesh,” Amar told us. Nicky said “I tell you now, but you go, you see, and then you believe it me.”
Our time on Main Bazaar, Paharganj
“I have something for you,” Nicky said, as we sat down on the curb to wait for chai, “Some the string.”
The Sorrowful Fatalism of Sahid Khan
The winds are changing…
Christian Reflections on Hinduism
Experiencing Hinduism through the eyes of our friends Nicky and Amar has been a truly unique and wonderful phenomenon.
I called Room Service this morning.
Alfonz the Beadsmith
Alfonz took the crucifix lovingly in his hands, turning it over a few times with care and reverence. He gave a sad, low “hmm.”
The Paharganj Fortune Teller
We first encountered the fortune teller at the Grand Sindhi, on the same night we had our first dinner with Amar. It was toward the end of our time together. Amar had been gazing off into space for several moments, when suddenly something caught his eye behind us. A smile burst onto his face, and he was obviously suppressing a laugh.
The Delhi Dussera Mela
On my Hindi teaching computer program, “Magic Guru,” going to the fair is such a calm, joyful, and almost quaint experience. “Neal has lots of fun at a fair,” announces the British narrator. Neal and his host family go on some rides, eat some samosas , crack some jokes about the Ferris wheel. In real life, in Delhi, the fair was far more of an adventure.
It started innocently enough.
The Difference between Pilgrimage and Tourism
Describing our reasons for going to India to our friends and family back home was difficult. Sharing them with people we meet in India has, thus far, been impossible.
Unexpected Turn of Events
Another day on Main Bazaar. Nathaniel and I woke up leisurely, went downstairs for breakfast, used the internet. We dutifully applied our DEET mosquito repellent, braced ourselves for the heat, and headed outside and into the market. Immediately, Nicky waved us down from across the street. “My friends! You drink chai?”
“Nice tie.” I hear it probably ten times a day. Everyone on the street wants to compliment my tie. Some people have even offered to buy it.
From Rags to Inner Riches - Our Shoeshining Friends
In America, we love a good “rags to riches” story. We love it when we hear of poor but clever people who work hard and ascend out of their impoverishment to power, prestige, and wealth. It doesn’t happen very often: for the most part, poverty is a difficult thing to escape, even in America. But it does happen frequently enough that we can believe in the stories. We point to them and say, “This is what America is about. We reward people for who they are, and what they accomplish, not where they come from.”
Poverty in Paharganj
The poverty in Delhi is thick, is heavy—like the dust in the air, like the oppressive heat. It is manifested in bare feet, in unwashed clothing, in wrinkled and dirty faces.
This is Freedom — Sashi
We first met Sashi one morning after breakfast, as we left the Grand Sindhi Restaurant. He was sitting outside by the road with three or four of his friends.
Indian television is amazing. Of the ninety or so channels we get, several are in English, several show Hindi dubbed versions of old American shows, and several play non-stop Bollywood dance hits. There’s always something utterly fascinating on when we want to unwind.
Touts and Tourist Traps
Energized by the beautiful moments of Tuesday evening, yesterday Sarah and I hit the streets wearing a newfound spirit of openness and friendliness like a big yellow button. And as a result, we spent most of the day being shuffled from one tourist trap to another.
The Gospel According to Bardow
“Are you a doctor?” he asked me.
From Palaces to Prisons
The range of accommodations we’ve had so far in Delhi has been broad, to say the least. We’ve stayed in three places, and I don’t think we could have picked three hotels that are more different than each other, or from our experience in the US.
Our First Week in Delhi
The Inconvenience of Being Born Again
One of the things we often forget when we talk about being “born again” is what an incredibly unpleasant experience it is to be born the first time. After the pains and the joys of birthing, the first word of the newborn is, after all, a hearty wail.
The Creatures of Delhi
One of Delhi’s many surprises for us over the first few days of our explorations has been the density and diversity of its animal life. Creatures of all shapes, sizes, and species line the city streets. It is amazing that so many animals manage to survive in this area: Delhi is crowded, busy, and utterly ruthless toward any vulnerable or helpless creature. And yet here they are—a still lower caste of Delhi’s impoverished underside.
I think it's high time for some pictures! I haven't taken a lot, mostly having my camera out all the time attracts all sorts of attention. These were taken at Qutb Minar in Delhi. Nathaniel was going to post tonight, but he fell asleep as I was uploading pictures. Do not despair, he will probably write tomorrow morning before church. Until then, please enjoy!
There is a new Indian movie coming out called “Hari Puttar.” Warner Brothers sued for copyright infringement, and lost. The headline in the paper this morning read: “Hari Puttar: The Boy Who Won.”
The complementary breakfast at the YWCA International Guest House, Delhi is a unique culinary and cultural experience, though probably by happenstance, and not by design.
“I bet the first thing you’ll notice,” my father said, several weeks ago, “is the smell. The smell of India is like nothing else in the world.” Well, we did ultimately detect the smell. But it wasn’t the first thing that caught our attention.