Thursday, July 30, 2009

Agra again ...

The Delhi Mission has had a tradition of allowing elders who have completed their mission, or are close, to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal. In part to deflect any thoughts of taking a long Preparation day and heading down on their own. Sister Tanner and I volunteered to accompany Elder Swanborough and Elder Chilumula to Agra for their visit, maybe the last any of the elders will make. The mission budget is no longer there to support the trips. This was our third time in Agra. It held some surprises we had not expected. Since we funded the car to go down, we decided we could also determine who would fill the empty seat and invited Robin from our branch to go. He had never been and was so excited to go with us.

One of the elders remembered a carpet factory in Agra that other elders had gone to, so we asked and found where it was. We went there and after a tour, Sister Tanner and I stayed while the elders and Robin went to Agra Fort for an hour. We had been there before and were not exactly excited to be out in the sun for another hour plus.

Inspiration for carpet designs comes from many sources, but it is almost all of ancient origin. Here is a master designer working freehand on a design.

Those learning the design trade, work at putting colors to the designs already prepared.

The amazing part is to watch a weaver work magic. No pattern to follow, just in his head, and the speed that the hands move is unbelievable. Again, I am feeling duh!! because I did not think to take a video.

The pattern gets built up along a row before it is compressed. That is a knife in the right hand that is used to cut the wool yarn once a knot is tied. Knots are tied along the row using a single color at a time.

This is a shot of the back of the loom and you can see the knots that have been tied so far using different colors of yarn in the pattern.

The Cottage Factory prepares the designs, the yarns to be used, etc. and then gives them to thousands of artisans who have home looms. Once a carpet is completed, it is delivered to the Factory where the showroom is and sales are made.

I knew how much Sister Tanner wanted a real, quality rug/carpet, and buying a dining room rug at Home Depot was not what she had in mind. When the elders and Robin left, we stayed in the showroom and continued to look at rugs/carpets. I don't know exactly what name to use for the hand loomed real deal. Knowing how much she wanted one, I had worked to set some money aside and hopefully surprise her some time. Little did I know the opportunity would come on this trip.

After almost an hour, we had looked at tens of designs and sizes and were down to 2 carpets that were equally beautiful. It was then that I told Sister Tanner we could buy one and she was absolutely speechless. She couldn't decide between the two, but eventually made a choice. It is referred to as the most perfect design in terms of symmetry. Each corner of the carpet mirrors a quarter of the center so that each quarter of the carpet is also a duplicate of the others. It took 2 people 14 months to weave the carpet we purchased.

A corner shot and the one that follows is a close up. The last shot is of the center and you can see the pattern at the left in part of the center design.
The photos do not even begin to convey the beauty of this carpet. For example, there are 4 shades of green in it, but I don't think you can even tell there is green in the pictures.
The center of the carpet.

Who Needs a Zoo?

Some of the "wild life" on the Agra trip. Raj, our driver, is really great at spotting animals, and stopping, for Sister Tanner to take pictures.

It is amazing camels can even walk. What was it someone said, an animal designed by committee?

Sister Tanner is such a hoot, and fearless. We passed the elephant and by the time Raj pulled over, I saw the elephant pass by us, turn, and stop in front. The handler knew an opportunity when he saw one. 50 rupees later, Sister Tanner had her wish.

Earlier in our trip conversation, Elder Swanborough had said touching an elephant was something he'd love to do. Little did he know what was in store for him today.

"Go on elder, you can do it!" Can't you just hear Sister Tanner offering encougament.

A couple of the ever present monkeys along the road. These stayed thinking we were going to feed them, but unfortunately, we had nothing to pass out.

PS Word of advice, don't ever open your windows when you stop by monkeys.

Super Sunday

Last Friday we finally had a bit of a break in our schedule which was immediately used to prepare for the weekend and Monday ahead. The elders had asked me to do a training at District meeting Monday and after attending many meetings and trainings, they had set the bar way up there so I needed time to prepare. There is no way I could wing it with these great young men, nor would I want to. Sister Tanner had invited the elders to dinner and through a humorous, no other way to view it, series of miscommunications, it turned into an invite to the branch because there was a baptism after church at 1:00 PM and a fireside that evening at 6:30 PM and many of the members travel a considerable distance to get to church. The thinking was they could come eat and hang out until the fireside. So preparations began to feed the masses, but I could not find any 5 loave, 2 fish miracle, combo packages in any of the markets so Sister Tanner decided on Hawaiian Haystacks and a buffet. Sister Tanner also was taking care of treats for the Sunday fireside. Fortunately, the power stayed on Saturday during the prime baking hours as the Easy Bake oven got a real work out, not to mention Sister Tanner.

Saturday, Elder Erekson and Elder Shepherd came by to pick up mail we brought back with us from a mission office trip to Delhi so we gave them a pot, a large package of rice, and an assignment to bring it back cooked on Sunday.

Elder Barrick and Elder Schade with Mena and Johnny Peter. This is the first couple to be baptized in our branch since we've been here. I really like Brother Johnny's hair style.

Some of the extended Peter family. Richard their son, left front, and his wife Nancy in pink, are also progressing towards baptism.

Many of those we expected to come, could not for one reason or another, but we still had 15 for lunch which was a resounding success thanks to Sister Tanner. Here we are playing Uno afterwards while we wait to go back to the church for the fireside. This could be a bachelor's party with 5 eligible members and 2 investigators. Elders don't count in that category yet.

Saurup passed on Uno to take advantage of my laptop and internet connection.

The fireside was a success. President Jackson, the speaker, and his family, and President Katuka and his family came over from Delhi. We had around 45 there which was a great turnout for a Sunday evening event. President Jackson is a great teacher.

When we got home, we almost collapsed. Counting the preparation days and the very long Sunday, we were beat, but felt very good about all that had been accomplished and the little part we played in it.

Monsoon and Construction Disaster

We finally got a series of storms with a big one on Monday that lasted well over an hour. At least one person told me the storm dumped more water than any other they could remember. It caused a lot of flooding in the Delhi area. In Dwarka, there was one underpass that had over 20' of water in it along with 2 buses and several cars. Look at the newspaper photo I scanned. I don't even want to think of how gross that water is.

I was unaware of all this when we left for the press conference Tuesday morning, fortunately, very early, and we did not get halfway across the DND (bridge causeway between Noida and Delhi) when we came to halt with traffic backed up to a stand still. In all our trips and time here, never had the DND been slow or backed up, not until you got to the Delhi side anyway. Long story short, it took 2.5 hours to make it to the press conference site.

We are fortunate in our neighborhood because the rain water does seem to drain away fairly well even though it collects when it comes down hard. Haven't had to take our shoes off yet.

After we got off the DND, as soon as he could, our driver headed for the back streets to try and work around the back ups on the Ring Road. In the process, we came to the site of a major disaster a week ago. Delhi is expanding/building a rapid transit system that extends into Noida. The goal is to have it completed well before the Commonwealth Games in 2010. The pictures show a broken cantilevered piling that gave way under the weight while the spans were being put together that connect the piles. I have been keenly interested and impressed in the construction of this system as we pass by parts of it almost every day. Unfortunately, a tragic design flaw caused the death of 6 workers when it collapsed. There is more to the story, but you can look it up on the internet if you're interested. I snapped some pictures as we drove so you can see what it looks like after a week of clean up work.

You can see the broken cantilever/piling in the background. It is the same as the one in the foreground that now has support on it to prevent the cantilevered portion from also coming down

Part of the fallen track bed that hasn't been removed yet.

You can see the sand bags and metal supports that were added to secure the section while the other parts were removed. This section is now in the process of being taken apart and removed. A review group has already announced there were design flaws and material problems in the piling that gave way.

The thing that I am excited about is that the storms last week left water behind the check dams that were constructed in Rajasthan. See the next post.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Dam (Check that is) Press Conference

India New Delhi Mission
B-4 / 53 Ground Floor
Safdarjung Enclave
Nauroji Nagar Marg
New Delhi 110029
(011) 4602 6152


For Immediate Release

New Delhi, July 28, 2009 - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a world church with a world message and a world program, and its whole course is designed to help people, to lift them, to strengthen them without regard to nationality, race, or religion.

The Church and its humanitarian services organization, Latter-day Saint Charities, sponsor five on-going global projects to help people become more self-reliant. These initiatives include neonatal resuscitation training, clean water projects, wheelchair distribution, vision treatment, and measles vaccinations. The Church is also involved in worldwide emergency disaster relief. Projects in all initiatives except measles vaccinations have been completed in India.
Today, the Church jointly announces with its project partners, PHD and Rotary International, the successful completion of 20 check dams in the Rajasthan Sikar and Alwar Districts. The completed dams will benefit more than 70,000 people.

Donations, principally from Church members, but also from people around the world, are used to make humanitarian projects possible. One hundred percent of the donations given to the Church’s humanitarian services are used for relief efforts. The Church absorbs its own overhead costs.

Church volunteers involved in humanitarian services work do so at their own expense. Currently, there are 5 Church service couples donating their full time to humanitarian service work in India.

Since the year 2000, there have been approximately 500 humanitarian service projects completed in India with a US dollar value of $32,188,918 or more than 154 Crore. The Church presently has 25 humanitarian projects underway in India with a US dollar value of $2,855,109 or more than 13 Crore.


The above is a copy of the press release we prepared which was part of a press kit that included President Jackson's bio, a booklet on the church in India and 6 individual sheets with church information including basic beliefs. We found some really nice folders with the church name on them in the mission office and used them. Atul Dev, the PR pro, was impressed so we were very happy about that. Sister Tanner did a lot of good work in putting it together.

Sushil Gupta, Rotary, to President Jackson's right is a great friend of the church and the one who initiated the press conference. He, President Jackson, and Mr Meta from PHD all gave opening statements and then fielded questions.

It took us over 2.5 hours to make a normal less than 1 hour trip from Noida. One lady with PHD, spent 4 hours getting there that morning. When we arrived about 11:40, there were no press people and I began to fear for the worst. I know Atul Dev was very worried, but it worked out well.

10 media representatives eventually arrived which was a minor miracle given the travel conditions. I learned a lot about this process from Atul Dev. Of the 10, 2 were "line" representatives, ie, like Reuters, AP, etc. They will hopefully author articles that will find placement in many smaller papers, or large ones.

The press conference took about 45 minutes and then to stay on schedule, we adjorned to lunch. An 11th representative arrived about the time we were all leaving, but she did come and was given a press kit with all the info.

That soup in my hand, Almond, was absolutely delicious. The gentleman we are talking to was very impressed with the Church's humanitarian work. He told me he was definitely going to write something on the project. The purpose is to help people, but if we can get some recognition for the church along the way, so much the better. Our new mission president, Jackson, is a great communicator and teacher. It was nice to just sit and be part of the show and confine my talking to one on one's. Now like the farmer, we'll have to see what the harvest brings. Atul sent me an email yesterday that there was one short article in a Hindi paper, but I haven't had time to get our neighbor to translate it for me.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cricket and Baptisms

Did the title grab your interest? Read on:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

In the evening, the elders, some of our members, and a number of investigators met at the church, then walked over to same park we had done our service project at. It wasn't as clean as we left it, but not as bad as I expected either. Today's objective was to play a cricket match. We went with them to take pictures and support the activity, and I'll admit, I had some fleeting fantasies of playing too. But it did not take long for the 50 year age difference and reality to register. We're becoming educated on cricket which is quite a popular sport here among the young men and they have made changes to the way it is played to avoid the old day+ long matches, etc. I've also gained a lot of respect for both the bowlers (pitchers) and the batters. When you have a bowler who can send the ball to you on the bounce, with action, batting becomes a challenge. We enjoyed watching them play 2 matches. The first was a blow out, but the second was very closely contested, the competitive juices were really flowing, but all remained gentlemen. After the second cricket match, Elder Swansborough, our Aussie elder, convinced them to try playing rugby with an American football.

Nice form Robin, but what's that thing behind the bat by your right foot?

Elders Shepherd, Schade, Erekson, and Barrick show their style ...

Don't let the tree fall Elder! We attracted a crowd again, some in the back along the wall, and many more in the park.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Last Sunday, Dennis Thomas was baptized. He is a young man that has consistently been attending church for some time, including our Wednesday branch activity nights. It is so good to see someone come into the church exhibiting commitment along with a testimony and gospel knowledge. I believe he has a degree in marine engineering, but has been working for some time as a Java developer. For the non-IT types, that means he is writing software programs.

Today, we had a baptismal service after church and two more wonderful people became members of our little branch, although I do not know if I can keep referring to it as little when we had 58 people in Sacrament meeting today. A lot of those attending were visitors, but it is always nice to have a full house. Ironically, attendance seems to go up when we have a speaker from the District Council. This speaker had a special connection to us. It was Brother John, the District Sunday School President, who was another of the 4 elders that Sister Tanner’s parents taught preparatory to their missions back in 1985. They were the first group of Indian elders to serve in their home country.

The first baptism, Suman, is a young woman, remember who is writing this, that spent 13 years as a Catholic nun. She had a physically and emotionally hard time with it as her order was in a remote area where they had to raise their own food and lived an essentially self sufficient life style. It was extremely hard for Suman, who is a tiny person, and she was constantly sick. Her leader finally suggested that she could continue where she was and continue to be sick or return to Delhi. Suman choose the later and left the order. It was shortly after that she met the elders. She already bears testimony of living the Word of Wisdom as an affliction she has had since her youth cleared up when she stopped drinking tea. We had the pleasure of joining the elders in teaching 2 lessons with Suman. I’ll never forget the second lesson when she bore a very strong testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon with tears in her eyes and said how much she loved reading it and how consistent it was with the Bible. It was really an enjoyable experience teaching someone who had gospel knowledge, had faith in Jesus Christ, studied, and kept commitments. She is already a great addition to our Noida Branch Relief Society.

The second person to be baptized is the father, Ravindra, of a family whose initial contact with the elders and the church goes back quite some time. He has 2 young boys and I’m guessing they’re 3 and 1. His wife does not speak English, so the elders cannot teach her, but they come to church together as a family, the first young family in our branch. His wife is a very patient and sweet person, but the 3 hour block was a challenge for the young boys and prompted Sister Tanner to go on a quiet toy buying trip. We now have an area at the back of the main meeting room with a plastic basket of things to keep young people occupied and it has worked for them and for some other young ones that have attended.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Real Work

We had a great Sunday and Monday this week. The best attendance in quite a while and Sister Tanner had a full house for Relief Society with 7 members, 1 who will be baptized next week, and 6 other visitors. There's a good story on the upcoming baptism which will be in a future post.

After church, we had a baptismal service and a great young man, Dennis Thomas, joined our branch. Dennis is an IT guy, so I know he's good. His parents came to support him which speaks a lot about his family. We have an invitation to visit the parents and will do so soon.

District meetings on Monday's are always good. I am constantly amazed at the effort the elders put into their work and the training and practice we have each meeting.

After District meeting, the elders go to lunch. We were invited to join them at Papa John's in the Atta Market area. Sister Tanner's favorite pizza is Papa John's so our arm did not need to be twisted.

Elder Swanborough and Elder Chilumula complete their mission on August 11th. We're taking bets on whether Elder Swanborough's shoes make it. They've already been stitched up 4 times.

4th of July, etc.

For the 4th, we got together at the Zauggs for a pot luck dinner. Our new mission president Jackson, his wife Ann, and their 3 children came by and ate with us. Being in the country less than a week, their young boys were still a bit jet lagged.
Oh, the socks, yeah I know. I can hear my girls now, but you need to understand the situation.
The next day, Sunday, Sister Tanner had a dinner for the elders and Robin. It was Elder Shepherd's birthday so we had a reason to celebrate.
One day Robin showed up wearing a hat and it took a minute to see why ...

... empathy haircut.

Noida Branch Service Project

President Smith thought the branch doing service projects would be a good idea. On Saturday, June 27, 2009, we had a project to clean up the trash in a park through the block behind where we meet for church. It was well organized and our two newest members helped significantly in obtaining gloves and bags to use for the project.

You would need to understand the culture here to appreciate the significance of having 3 of our Indian members join in and pick up trash. A couple of things to note. It is endemic, at almost all levels of society, that when you unwrap something, the wrapping goes on the ground, no matter where you are. Even when we were getting ready to begin our pickup, several in the group unwrapped their gloves and not thinking just let the packaging fall where they were. I laughed and said are we here to pick up or put down. There were a couple of smiles and embarrassed looks as they realized what they had done. It is going to be a hard cultural habit to break, but I see signs of change as some have taken an interest in keeping the church building picked up. In addition, there were no trash containers (dust bins) in the park, so even if the practice could change, there are still barriers to facilitating that change.

The most significant thing is that what we were doing, picking up trash, is considered beneath most Indians. Sister Tanner in taking pictures invited the young men to join us and those that understood English immediately got a "you've got to be kidding" look on their face. I am so proud of Robin, who spoke to a group explaining what our service was about, and Kunal and Surap, for going out in front of their peers and working with us. Actually, not their peers, these three young men, in my book, are superior to those who sat and watched.

We met at the church and then walked around the block to the park. When the white faces showed up (7 missionaries and 7 Smiths), there were maybe 15 people in the park, mainly in the shade. Within minutes, people began coming over the wall on the far side, and from the street behind us, to see what was going on. We must have had a hundred or so watching us while we picked up and bagged trash for an hour. And did I say it was hot? Over a hundred, and only 9:30 AM.

Afterwards, we went back to the branch building to cool down, clean up a little, and enjoy some cinnamon rolls that Sister Tanner had made. Yummmm!! She performs miracles in her little Easy Bake oven. Overall, a very good time for those that could come.

Pictures from the activity:

Some of our audience observing.

Come on guys, it really is fun ... and it's your park.

Elder Erekson, Robin, Elder Shepherd

Grandpa Smith, living with the Smiths now and less than a week in the country, and Aaron, his grandson.

Rebecca, Elizabeth, and Hannah Smith, great young ladies!!

Sarup and Elder Swansborough (our Aussie elder)

Elder Barrick, Elder Erekson

Ben Smith, Elder Chilumula

Senior trash compactor.

Robin (Ammon) explaining what we were doing.

Kids and cameras go together. Can't use car tires for swings, they don't take them off the cars until they're shredded, ha! We been in several taxis that were running on absolutely baby skin smooth tires.
Note the boy with the cricket bat in the background, see below.

No matter how hot, when the work is done, you've got to play a little. I had wondered how I'd do at cricket. I did manage to get the bat on the ball on everything bowled (pitched) to me.