Saturday, October 4, 2008

Days 2-4 - Prelude to Bihar

9/15/08 – Monday

No rest for the weary and overwhelmed. We managed a breakfast, showered, got ready and went upstairs to meet with the elders. They have a district meeting every Monday morning. Our Preach My Gospel manuals were still buried in the luggage somewhere, so we made do by sharing with the elders. There was a good spirit there and we enjoyed getting further acquainted with these young men. I found out Elder Ivie is from Firth, Idaho, and knows one of my former missionary companions that lives there, Bill McClure. Elder Godi is from southern India and speaks excellent English and I know we’ll be calling on him for translation help at some point. Elder Burton is the district leader and companions with Ivie and Elder Williams is companion to Elder Godi.

After the meeting, Amy Smith picked us up to go shopping. She has a car and a driver at her disposal once her husband is taken to work in the morning. They live on our block about 6 or 7 houses down from us. Right now, they are a lifeline in helping us get established. First stop was an ATM which would not give us any money on any of our cards. Our mission today was to get a cell phone. That is one thing India has readily available to just about everyone. We found a cell phone store, and by store, you have to picture something with a storefront a third the size of a garage. In the market area we were in, there are no sidewalks, just a paved road strip and cars, motorcycles, and bikes parked everywhere. The power was out, something we had already experienced at home and knew to be a regular occurrence. What I did not know was that many of the “stores” had their own back up diesel generator and they were chugging away in front of the stores to keep their lights on. Just more noise and smoke to add to the din and the atmosphere. I did not buy a phone at that store and coming out, I spotted a CitiBank ATM “store” across the street. I tried my debit card, but didn’t request enough rupees on the first withdrawal which worked and the second request was denied because I had insufficient funds, or so it informed me. I’m guessing one transaction a day is all they allow. My credit card would not work either, but Cindy’s debit card did and we went for the max, 10,000 rupees, that’s a little over $200.

Now we had cash, we could do some serious shopping and scored a cell phone from a Nokia store for $40 including service set up. We’re running a prepaid plan and minutes are less than 2 cents and that’s only for sent calls, incoming are no charge. There was a “mall” across the main road by the market area we were in and we headed there next. It had a grocery store that had household items and food and we needed to stock up on cleaning supplies as well as food. Because of the bombings Saturday, every car was being checked before it was allowed into the parking area. The shopping was uneventful until we checked out. The store had scanners and PCs on a local area network for the checkout stations. Nothing like the states, but it did appear the checkout process was tied to an inventory system. Cindy found some Campbell’s Mushroom soup and the system kept telling the cashier that the item could not be sold. It kept escalating until finally the third guy they called over found a way to charge us for the soup. I am definitely feeling like a foreigner in this country being white, taller than all but a very few, and wearing a white shirt with a name tag does make one standout.

When we got home, Cindy dove into the kitchen and started cleaning until we had to leave for dinner at the Smith’s. They have their own cook, Uday, and he did some great chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy and vegetables. He also made rolls that would have passed muster in the states. Excellent dinner. It was not Indian fare and I was actually glad I didn’t have to jump into that yet.

With my cell phone, I called Elder Brown and he confirmed that the trip to Bihar is on and we’d discuss it more tomorrow. Great, throw in a trip on top of everything else and we’re supposed to be super-missionaries I guess. With a stove that does not have a hose nor a regulator to connect it to the propane tank, a kitchen that is barely marginal in terms of sanitation, the only water we can drink or put in our mouth is from our Reverse Osmosis system in the kitchen which makes brushing your teeth in the bathroom a planned event, the shower does work, but it is just open and I will get used to the squeegee process on the marble floor after I’m through, the heat and humidity even though we do have a/c in our bedroom and another unit in the front room that drips water on the wall, a lower cabinet in the kitchen that I opened to discover it was water damaged and covered with mold, and now a refrigerator that doesn’t work because the power plug burned up in the power strip it was plugged into, etc., etc. The thought of asking to be reassigned stateside has crossed my mind, but I’m not giving up. Others have gotten through this and I can too, but I am most concerned with the way I’m communicating with Cindy. We’re both at the end of our collective ropes and I’m frustrated not being able to take care of simple things that were no problem at all in the states. Where are my tools? And then throw in the language, those that speak only Hindi and even the majority of those that speak English are very hard to understand and I’m sure they have a problem understanding my English and American accent, and I’d be lying if I didn’t mention the security issue is in the back of my mind, especially in some of the areas we need to go to shop. To sum it up, I feel overwhelmed. The reality of a mission to India is not anything like I had hoped the conditions would be, but in the back of my mind, I believe I knew it would be like this. The advice in the MTC was to take time to settle in, actually a 4 week schedule was suggested and was well intended, but we have had no chance to do that and I believe we will be traveling later this week so who knows when we will find time.

9/16/08 – Tuesday

Cleaning is on hold as we had to leave at 7 AM to get to the mission office to meet with President Ricks, Elder & Sister Brown, and the Zauggs, who are the new office couple. The Smith’s gave us a number to arrange for the taxi and it worked out well, almost. You can hire a cab for 4 hours, but if you go over the river to Delhi, you have to pay the toll and there is a kilometer charge after 40, etc., etc. Noida, where we live, is actually in a different state, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi is more like an equivalent of Washington DC, a federal district, than a full state. We thought 4 hours would cover it, but once there after a lot of wasted time trying to find the address, we found out it was going to be a full day affair. It is an hour trip each way to the mission home, when the traffic is good. Indians take signal lights, where there is one, lane lines, etc. as suggestions, not rules. On one of the so called expressways, really just a very wide road with limited access, we counted 7 cars abreast at one point where there were 4 marked lanes on the road. The mix of auto-rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, and cars is unbelievable. Maybe the lane lines are for pedestrians to stand on while waiting for the chance to finish their trip across the road. I actually saw this multiple times on the trip in, guys crossing the road who got caught in traffic standing on a lane line waiting for an opening to go on. Found out later that large trucks are limited within the city limits to the hours of 9 PM to 6 AM.

All the couples met with President Ricks and his wife for a quick intro type meeting and to review some mission goals. Things are happening in Bangalore where a lot of anti-Christian activity is touching the church, the missionaries in particular. They may be pulled out of Bangalore. It is also being exhibited in Noida as the status of our use of the building is in question. The equivalent of a home owners association is making an issue over our use of the building and we may be forced to travel over to Delhi and meet with the 1st branch next Sunday. The elders have been advised not to do any street contacting and only go to appointments with people that they know are safe. One of the investigators, or at least a friend of the church, an Indian by the name of Dr Maurice (Morris) Ryder, was at the meeting last Sunday and offered his help to Brother Smith in getting the issues with the homeowners association resolved.

After our meeting with President Ricks, we met in Brother Zaugg’s office with reps from the Standard Chartered bank who came to the mission office to sign up all of the new missionaries, so we jumped the line and got it done so we could meet with the Browns. Our meeting turned into a lunch at a nice Chinese restaurant that had good food. The market area we walked through getting to it was another story not to mention the mouse terd that was in my menu. But I honestly enjoyed the food and the momentary escape it provided. The Browns are supposed to be on a proselyting mission, but had served previously in India as humanitarian missionaries. They took over for the Dunns when they left and are handling several projects that will become ours as soon as we can take them. In addition, a week ago Sunday, their branch president, Elder Katuka, was called as the new district president which means Elder Brown who was the 1st counselor is now carrying the responsibility of branch president. We discussed the upcoming trip and its purpose – meet with UNICEF in Patna, Bihar, and then travel to the flood areas to see first hand what is going on, and coordinate a newborn blanket gift that was put in as an emergency relief request and approved.

After lunch we managed to get another card to increase my cell phone minutes to something that would last a while, visited a food market that had a lot of good stuff including a fresh meat and fish section. Only trouble is that it is so far away from where we live, we can't use it. When we finished, finding a cab who would go back across the river was another story. Finally, one of the cabbies we had talked to came to us and said he could get someone for 700 rupees and at that point, I was not going to argue price, especially since he agreed to make 2 stops on the way – one to get some plug adapters, a 115 converter and a power strip, and another to drop Sister Brown off. Elder Brown had left us earlier to attend a meeting. The only trouble was the cab did not have a/c and we left in the middle of the rush hour and it took a sweaty hour and a half to get home, dead tired.

9/17/08 – Wednesday

Had a major morning of cleaning and there is progress on the kitchen and hope. Cindy is amazing, both in how hard she works and her vision of what she wants to do and how to organize the hand she has been dealt. I just need to trust her judgment more, but it is hard right now as I am at max stress and I think she is too. We have to leave at noon to go to the mission office to meet the Browns. We will be staying at their home tonight before going to the airport in the morning.
This time the cab ride was uneventful, but I’m still amazed at the driving. Oh, and when you accept the driver’s offer of a/c, it comes with a charge … and mosquitoes. Several of the buggers were flying around until they met an untimely demise when they ventured into the back seat. We had been warned they make a home in the moist vents on cars that use their a/c.

We met the Browns and had a few minutes before the mission car and driver would be available, so I got on the internet and checked to see if we had any money and if the ATM withdrawals had hit the accounts. That was about all before I had to sign off and go. We were headed to Old Delhi to pick up some linen sheets that are part of the NRT kits that Elder Brown had contracted for and were finally ready at the 11th hour before the trip to Bihar. As we headed for the car, it began to rain and in seconds it became a downpour. When we finally got underway, the street was a small river. Our driver, Alexander, is an amazing man, a human GPS. We ran into one flooded intersection after another and he continued to find ways around them including driving through one section where the water briefly washed up over the hood. If traffic congestion was bad when it was dry, the rain and flooding just made it a nightmare. We did finally make it to Old Delhi, got the linens, and were back at the Browns making spaghetti a little after 9 PM.

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