Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Last Helpings

It is really odd and somewhat surreal to wake up and know that everything you do is for the last time (not last last, but last for India).  I rode my stationary bike for the last time (thank goodness, looking forward to being on a real bike).  Had my last breakfast of Indian bran flakes with California raisins, covered with Nestle boxed "slim" milk.  Last time to flush the toilet using an extra glass of water (gross, but I had to say it). Last time to hear the water pump whine as it pumps water to the top of the building for the day.  Last time to walk to the office and walk up 3 flights of stairs (oops, we really took the elevator - even with it's 3 inch drop jolt when it reaches the office floor). Last trip to our favorite Italian restaurant, Sartoria, to have bruschetta and fries.

Last talks with the missionaries we see each week. (It's worked out really well for our last 2 days in the office.  President Sackley interviews all the missionaries every 3 months and his interviews were yesterday and today, so we got a chance to get pictures of all the missionaries in New Delhi - notice their names).
Bayyavarapu, Amalaraj, Chadalavada and Gibb
Peddinti, Vuppada, Michael and Stephen
Mahanti, Neelam, Bodasingh and Gowthaman
Thivyanathan and Bogati
ChandraSekar, Walters, Botcha and Cooper

Nekkanti, Natta and Joseph
Nelapati and Ramesh Babu
Nelli and Idunnari

Paliparthi and Rijal

Bastian, Bangari, Dogga and Sudarajan
Last interview with President Sackley (I can't remember having one before so this might be a first). Last walk down the office stairs to go home (for old times sake, not because we're scared of the elevator).  Last bag of ACT popcorn that reminds us of home. Last batch of laundry that takes 30 minutes to fill with water.

And last of all, my last comments before we leave - Goodbye India New Delhi Mission - we love you and we will miss being with you.  

Elder and Sister Stevens.  

Our Farewell Dinner

Slocombe's, Sackley's, Pulla's, and Black's 
Monday night we had our farewell dinner at the President and Sister Sackley's home with all the senior couples serving in New Delhi.  It was pot luck with homemade Italian soup, a vegetable and fruit salad with raspberry poppy seed dressing and a great tasting (but spicy) ground mutton dish with homemade flat bread, and for dessert "chocolate fantasy" which is layered with chocolate pudding and whipped cream on a pecan and graham cracker crust.. Everything was delicious.  We had a good night of conversation with friends that we have come to love as we have served with them -  Elder and Sister Black from Humble, who are serving two years as Public Affairs missionaries for both missions in Indian.  Elder and Sister Slocombe from Saskatchewan, Canada who arrived in August serving 18 months as PEF missionaries (Perpetual Education Fund - provides funds for members to get a better education)  Elder and Sister Pulla, from Hyderabad, India, serving 18 months as MLS (Member and Leader Support) missionaries and are helping teach welfare and self reliance principles to those in the district.  They are one of the first senior couples to serve from their own country and we are so proud of them.  And of course, President and Sister Sackley who we have served with since day 1 and with whom we will find it hardest to leave.  We made it through the night without many tears - and of course a farewell picture.  We hate goodbyes...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Finishing Touches

 I guess I have been around construction too much...

Sunday was our last day in church.  A sort of "right of passage" for members of the Church is that they get asked to speak at our Sacrament meeting whenever they move in or move out of the area.  Angela would have been perfectly happy to fade into the sunset, but I wanted the "true" going home experience so I volunteered us to speak.  My sweet companion did a great job and I did okay.  It's hard for us to say goodbye to people we have come to love.  It's hard to know that this will probably be the last time in this life that we will see them.  There were some tears, lots of pictures with families and kids and multiple requests for us to come to dinner, which we politely declined (many times).  The Indian members are so gracious and humble.  Many of their homes are the size of an average bedroom.  They are dedicated to their families, and they love the missionaries.  I put a few pictures below.

The Anthony Frances family at church
He is the Elder's Quorum President, she is the organist
The Joseph Family.  President Joseph is 1st Counselor in
the Mission Presidency

Sister Verma and 2 of their 4 daughters in their home
(the little boy is a neighbor)
Picture of President and Sister Verma on their wall early
in their marriage.  President Verma is the Branch President

The Kumar family
Anil is the mission driver
Sarala Ambrose and her son Sarjan.
She's an awesome Relief Society President

Singh, the security guard at our church bldg.
(a great investigator for many years)

O Happy Day!

Elevator during reconstruction.  They
use the drywall mud as an adhesive
to hold the granite sides in place
The title may sound like we are on our way out, but not quite.  In reality we have mixed emotions as we prepare to leave later this week.   The title has to do with our mission office elevator. IT'S WORKING!  I've mentioned before that the mission office is on the 4th floor of a 4 story building. Since the mission moved it's offices here in August 2012, there has been talk about getting the elevator fixed.  It was just a dream for the 10 months, with an occasional person coming by to "inspect" the elevator shaft.  About 6 months ago, they began in earnest to get it working.  I don't know how long it has been out of service, but they had to essentially rebuilt the entire elevator.  So for the last 16 months we have trekked up and down 3 flights of stairs (57 steps, yeah I counted them many times) 2-3 times a day M-F.  To top things off, our apartment elevator quit working about 4 months ago (we live on the 3rd floor).  It might be worth it if we could brag about how much better shape we are in, but in reality it just makes us feel old and out of breathe.

Finished (mostly)

With just 3 days left to enjoy it before we leave, I've thought about spending a little "quality time" in the elevator, but then again, do I really want to get stuck in the elevator that's cozy with only 2 people in it?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

India/Pakistan Border Closing

Sister Sackley's brother and his wife came for a visit this past week on their way to Thailand.  Sister Sackley asked us if we wanted to go with them to Amritsar, India for the weekend.  We thought it would be great to have one last "hurrah" before leaving the mission field.  Amritsar sits close to the India/Pakistan border and is one of the official border crossings for the two countries.  Every day, thousands of people drive to the border (from both countries) to watch the pomp and ceremony associated with officially closing the border at 4:30 pm (4 pm Pakistan time - there is a 1/2 time zone difference between the two countries ???).  There is a lot of flag waving, exaggerated marching by the military and crowd cheering/chanting as they try to out yell each other.  Vendors set up for 1/2 mile with food, and trinkets and painting Indian flags on arms and faces of those attending.  It's an interesting and entertaining event that we were glad we could experience. Below are some pictures that hopefully will give you a feel for what we saw.  
Flag painting on arms and faces

People wait in line to run up and down the road
carrying the India flag

A family we met while waiting for the ceremony to begin 

Flag waving during the ceremony

Indian army colorful headdresses 

Looking through the gate to the Pakistan side

Lowering the flags

Both  India and Pakistan gates closed

People on the India side who came to see the closing
This many people come every night

India's Golden Temple

Us with Sister Sackley and her brother and sister-in-law
(see the line of people waiting to get in the temple behind us)
While in Amritsar, we also visited the "Golden Temple", so named because the building, originally built in 1574,  was covered in gold during the early 19th Century by a Sikh named Maharaja Ranit Singh.  The Golden Temple (real name is the Harmandir Sahib) is a place of worship for Sikhs and holds the Adi Granth or holy scripture of Sikhism (thanks Wikipedia).  It is completed surrounded by water and you can wait hours to go in and see the holy scriptures.

We elected not to go in, but fortunately our driver for the day was a Sikh and said he would be glad to show us around the outside.  We gladly accepted.  The first step was to don our orange headgear (orange is one of the official colors of the Indian flag and while other colors of head cover were available, these were 'cool' and only cost 10 rupees each).  Before entering the temple site, everyone must remove shoes (and socks) and wash their feet.  We then walked the path of some 100,000 visitors each day.  In fact, our driver, Artindar, said that the Sikhs feed 100.000 people each day for free.  I really had my doubts until I saw the metal plates, the huge cooking pots and the chapati (unleavened flatbread) making operations (mostly manual, although there was one conveyor belt operation that flattened and cooked some of the chapati).   The temple was impressive, but we were more impressed by the the monumental effort and humanitarian service to feed so many people everyday, staff predominately by volunteers.  It was an inspiring experience for us.

People are fed throughout the day.  The Sikhs will feed
anyone that wants to eat.  We were also invited to eat.

Cooking pots

Lots of onions

Making chapati (unleaven bread)

Volunteers preparing garlic

We saw 4 different racks of plates like this one
Our driver/guide - Artinder Singh

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

We're Back Again (We Never Really Left)

For those of you who are still reading our blog - Thank you for sticking with us.  It's been a long absence since our last post and you might have thought we were released and went home.  Not so, I just (a) have been too busy, (b) couldn't find the blog site, (c) have lost some blog "steam" or (d) all the above.  Take your pick.

Well to update you since the last post, we have officially been given a release date of November 21.  When we get closer to our release date, I'll leave a post about all that we have learned and experienced here in India.  For now, I'll just say we have mixed emotions.  Trying to get my arms around everything and put it in words is difficult, so I'll work on it...  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Cheetos by Any Other Name...

Some time ago, we found a snack that looked suspiciously like Cheetos.  They are called Kur Kure, which means "crunchy" in Hindi.  They come in fancy names like Chilli Chatka, Green Chutney, and Masala Munch.  They are very spicey, but have the distinctive Cheetos crunch.  So I got curious and did some after hours research.  Wikipedia says that "the snack was developed entirely in India" in 1999, but if you continue reading, you find that Kur Kure is a product of the Indian division of Pepsico.  Next, I checked out Cheetos.  They were created in 1948 and are now a product of Frito-Lay which is a subsidiary of PepsiCo since 1965.  Ah hah!, another mystery solved.  I won't bore you with the details, but if you want more information that you ever cared to know about Cheetos, check out Wikipedia (like - did you know that Cheetos makes 21 different kinds of Cheetos in North America alone?).

In the picture, Kur Kure made locally cost 20 rupees.  The imported bag of Cheetos cost 400 rupees (about $7.50).  On a equivalent weigh basis, imported Cheetos are 10 times the cost of the local variety.  This is our first bag of "real" Cheetos (anything for the blog).

Hindu Burial

Late last week one of the elderly ladies in our branch passed away.  She had been sick for some time and was in the hospital when she died.  She and her adult son were the only members of the Church in her family.  We had been told the night she died that the family was going to buy a plot of land and have a typical christian burial.  So we gathered the next morning with many other church members to go up to her home and pay respects to her family, and then make arrangements for a funeral service.  While we were walking up, a large group of people were coming down, with her body on a stretcher covered with colorful cloth and flowers on the shoulders of 6 men.  People followed behind throwing flowers and 1 rupee coins over her body.  Some of the church members told us that during the night, her brother and sister had decided to have a traditional Hindu cremation (or burning as they call it).  We followed them, not knowing where they were going.  We walked through some pretty busy streets for about 2 miles.  When we finally arrived, we had sweat through our clothes and had no water to drink.  We found some shade and waited for about 30 minutes.  They laid her on an alter-type structure, did some prayers around her and then took her to an open cremation area where they took off all the coverings, except a sheet did some additional rituals and then covered her with wood and started it on fire.  We did not stay, but understand that someone stays with the body to be sure that it is completed consumed.  Some days later, the husband and son will shave their head, spread mud mixed with her ashes on their heads and then spread her remaining ashes in the Yamuna River, which is considered a holy river.

I felt a little uncomfortable taking pictures, but I took these with my iPhone two behind the crowd of people.

Family and friends said prayers at the
foot of the body

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Our India Life

We receive requests from all over the world to have missionaries visit those interested in knowing more about the Church.   In many cases, the people live far from New Delhi, and all we can do is send them a copy of the Book of Mormon and other Church literature.  Due to the vagaries of the postal system in India, we get some of our mail back.  While not uncommon to get things back looking like they have been run over by a truck (multiple times).  This one tops them all.  The postal service tied the string around the package to keep it together...

Just this year the Church in India began having members clean the church building and grounds.  The US has been doing this for years.  While it is a way to save costs, the primary reason is to allow members to perform service and to have respect for the church buildings.  In India, this has been much harder to implement because of the holdover of the caste system (at least that's my opinion).  Sister Stevens and I wanted to help be a part of cleaning when it was our branch's turn, so we show up with our US mentality - not a "broom" or "mop" in sight.  I didn't catch me or Angela in the act, but these pictures will give you a clue on how floors are cleaned in India.
Typical broom - Oh my aching back

Mopping (a rag draped over a squeegee)

We were coming home one morning from our walk and these cows were sitting in the middle of the road right in front of our apartment...totally oblivious of the traffic.

Not phased a bit!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sister Stevens New Dress

For those who don't know when Angela's birthday is, this won't seem like I'm slow in posting, for the rest of you just pretend you don't know.  Someday I'll find a way to change the posting date so my procrastination is not so obvious. 

Since coming here and seeing all the ornate Indian dresses, Angela has wanted to get one that she could wear.  The typical Indian saree is 15 meters of material that you wrap and tuck  and pin around you - but be careful or it's laying on the ground.  Angela opted for a more "western style" dress, and found the perfect one for her birthday.  Of course it's so ornate, she could never wear it here, so dressing up at home is the best she can do for now.  

Angela's New Dress

A new dress needs a new
necklace and earrings

Monday, August 5, 2013

Pictures of Old Delhi

A while back, Sister Stevens went with Sister Black to Old Delhi.  Elder and Sister Black live below us and have been called for 23 months as Public Affairs missionaries.  Because the church is relatively small in our mission, their focus is to work with government and opinion leaders in developing a good name for the church and publicize humanitarian and welfare efforts supported by LDS Charities and the Church's legal entity in India - The Indian Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

But I digress... Old Delhi is a madhouse of narrow streets, hundreds of vendors and thousands of people shopping at all times of the day and night (well starting at 11 am and going long into the night.  Angela loves it...and I'm sure you know how I feel about it.   I thought you might enjoy some of the pictures they took the last time they were there. 
The only way to get around in Old Delhi

Flower leis - not unlike Hawaii 

Hand-made jewelry

Beans and spices of all kinds

School bus