Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hyderabad, December 15

Life is good here. The Bund (which I realized was just Hindi for ‘closed’; hit self on head, I knew that…) stopped and normal life resumed. (Also one of the other elders reminded me yesterday at zone conference that there’s a more concise way to say ‘hit self on head’, namely '::palmface::'. Just in case you need it.)

I don’t really have a lot of exciting stuff to report this week. I’m slowly growing to understand Elder Stephen and work together well with him. From my experience, the evidence is the planning and companionship study sessions that we have every day. If our relationship is good, like it is now, where we’ll sit at a desk across from each other, and our conversation will be back-and-forth like a good tennis point – I’ll throw one idea out, explain it for 15 seconds, Elder Stephen will modify it, complete it, volley it back over the net, we’ll agree move on to the next step, and I’ll be back talking and pitching another idea in a few seconds.

If the relationship isn’t working, if the trust or unity isn’t there – that’s been the case before – we end up haggling over the same small detail for endless amounts of time, or one person, usually me, is talking on and on and the other person isn’t saying anything, probably because they feel like the first person won’t listen.

I’ve been mulling over this for the last month of so, and it’s making me devote a lot of conscious attention to developing a good relationship with my companion. Not blowing up at small stuff, genuinely listening, being aware that my way of reasoning out problems in a discussion can be seen as intellectual bullying and self-justification, thinking before opening my mouth.

On careful consideration and reflection, all of these things are things I haven’t ever really learned to do well, so it’s really good that I’m learning now. It’s nearer to the surface now especially; we’re in peoples’ homes all the time, and it’s usually pretty apparent in watching their communication with each other what many problems in all the family members’ inter-relationships.

I can think of one family in Vizag we were visiting; the daughter was doing her Ph.D. equivalent on English literature written by Sri Lankan diaspora; the son and father ran some sort of a biochemical products business together and engaged in several social-entrepreneurial side projects; but the family seemed unable to communicate properly with us or each other because of their individual tendency to go on and on about the many things they knew and not listening.

I’m human. That tendency, and many others I’ve seen, I find in myself also. If I reproduce these in my companionships now, it’s unfortunate, but if I reproduce them in the family I will have one day, it would be tragic. I started paying attention to that matter about a month and a half ago; though I had no idea what to do. Slowly, I’m learning what to do and then doing it.

(I realized recently that the comparison of companionships to relationships is fairly close. For example, you refuse to admit a lot of the problems you have until it’s over, when you can look back with a greater degree of peace on the matter.)

With love,

Hyderabad, December 1

The last week was good but sadly filled with annoying logistics. Basically because I was running around doing other stuff and because Baba told me not to eat the bread anyway, I ended up not picking up the package on Wednesday, and then I forgot on Thursday and my flight was on Friday morning. Elder Pritchett promised to send it to me (for whatever else you put in there – DVD of the new basement?) and even if he doesn’t throw out the pumpkin bread first I definitely will not eat it now, don’t worry.

Then I got here on Friday, but didn’t unpack because the American couple living here was going home and they wanted us to stay in their apartment until a new senior couple got visas, so we moved there on Tuesday. And on Monday we stayed inside and played chess for the afternoon because there was a strike (which, interestingly, they call a Bund) – apparently Telanganas were mad about educated Andhras and Marathis and Tamils getting preference for jobs over uneducated Telanganas.

So anyway, I’m here in Hyderabad, I really like my companion, Elder Stephen, he’s way hard working and has lots of ideas to do stuff. He lives in Delhi; his father is a copy editor at a publishing firm and he has two older sisters and a girlfriend named Katherine who writes him.

It’s a pretty interesting dynamic; like me, he’s kind of hotheaded and tends to run off and start acting on those ideas without thinking about them/talking to his companion about them first. Basically that was the source of most of my conflict with Elder Pritchett (because I did that), so I have something to learn here. Now since I’m the senior companion, it becomes my responsibility to channel our energy and ideas and enthusiasm into concrete and effective plans and logistics and such. That’s good, it is teaching me not to just run off somewhere with a random idea. And we have pretty open communication. You’ll be interested to know that his first suggestion for me was to go get some new socks, which we will be doing today.

Hyderabad is really cool; we’re basically on the outskirts in a place called Medinaguda. I’m probably going to put on a little bit of weight here; there are tons of church members and they keep inviting us over and stuffing us full with rice and daal and chappati. I’ve already been completely stuffed twice and I’ve only been here four days. Anyway, it’s really good here. I hear a lot of Hindi now, though I also hear that it is junk Hindi (not that I could tell the difference…)

Life is fine here, I’ll tell you more as it goes. Hope all is well!


Vizag, November 16

Amusing stories this week were both on Monday.

Over lunch after our planning session, after Elder Pritchett and my conversation about Subash Chandar Bose (sp?) turned into a general conversation about conquering the world.

Me: The general problem with world-conquest schemes seems to be that you can't get all the territories you occupy to support you and become part of your culture.
Elder Pritchett: Hollywood!

In Raju's house, after a really good lesson. He was talking about a Catholic church he visited in Pune. Keep in mind that this in all going on in like 1988, and you know Indian cultural views about male-female relationships, and marrying Saraswathi was probably the best decision Raju ever made.

Raju: I went there with my girlfriend.
(We look at Saraswathi, since when she was his girlfriend they went and shook the Pope's hand.)
Raju: Not her. My firrrst girlfriend.
(We look quizzically at Raju.)
Raju: I would not marry to her. So she became nun.

Things have been crazy during the last week. Raju came up with 2000 rupees from his manager so he won't get kicked out of his house, and then had the strength to turn down his manager's subsequent invitation to come to the bar. He and his wife and son should be getting baptized on Sunday.

Right now, Elder Pritchett and I are kind of exhausted -- constantly worrying about and planning for them has taken a toll on us. And while worrying about them won't be over after their baptism, things are on an upswing. We had some residual concerns about their motives, and on Monday we were just asking them questions about why they were doing all these things -- coming to church, giving up coffee, tea, alcohol, gukka, etc, getting baptized. We were worried about something like 'We think God will help us with our financial problems' or 'Because we like you so much.' But then they started telling how they wanted to follow the commandments, build a stronger family, and live forever with God -- and they clearly meant it.

On Wednesday more elders are coming from Rajahmundry, a nearby city, for a conference, so we will all go on a tour of Vizag together. Then on Friday we will have the conference.


Vizag, November 10

This week has gone pretty well! I’ll start with some amusing outtakes:

In church on Sunday, in one class we were reading from the manual, and everyone has varying degrees of English. One brother who had a little bit less was struggling through a long paragraph including the phrase “man’s eternal destiny.” The funny part is how the third word came out – ‘density.’ I’m sure as you’re reading this, your mind, as mine did, hearkened to the somewhat less-eternal Marty-George-Sheila-but-before-Biff-enters diner scene in Back to the Future Part I. Cue: “I am your density.”

On the way here (we have a bit of a walk to the bus stop) Elder Pritchett and I were trying a game. One person makes up and then repeats some variation on “She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes.” The other person has a couple of seconds to think of the middle two lines. Here are the two we came up with:

Elder Pritchett: “She’ll be missing all her luggage when she comes.
She’ll be missing all her luggage when she comes.”
Me: “She will only have her backpack
‘Cause her stuff’s all on the train tracks.”
Elder Pritchett: “She’ll be missing all her luggage when she comes.”

The other one:

Me: “She’ll be waiting at the diner when I come
She’ll be waiting at the diner when I come
Elder Pritchett: “She will think there’s no one finer
After I have wined and dined her.”
Me: “She’ll be waiting at the diner when I come.”

On a more eternally important note, life is kind of crazy. John, the brother who got baptized right when I got here, got fired because of office politics, got a new job, but then the firm with the new job closed down, so he was all depressed on Monday, but then we went over to his hostel on Tuesday to chat and cheered him up. Now his mind is all awhir about how he can get a new job, become a better teacher in church, etc, and that’s great to see. His friend Vasu who was set for baptism is way busy with school and isn’t lifting our calls. (John says he gets way scared and freaks out when we make an appointment and he doesn’t come and we call him, he juggles his phone and exclaims, ‘What should I do, what should I do.’ Alas.)

Raju is about to get evicted again ‘cause he’s behind on rent, but this is way different than the first time. His landlady came over when he were there and started screaming at him. This time he’s telling us, he’s like ‘Well, first wrong is mine, I am not paying,’ he’s not shouting back (last time he was according to Saraswathi “full fighting.”). He realizes he will not get his deposit back, and he has so much more peace about the matter. Worst case, there is a room we know about that belongs to a church member, and he can stay there until he gets his salary (December 24) or a commission which is coming. He’s way more happy than last time, and it’s definitely because he left tea, coffee, gukka, etc. Last time he wasn’t thinking clearly or rationally at all, and this time he’s calmly explaining that we should help him look for a new room just in case (we did), but he probably won’t have any money to move in.

Some other bad stuff happened with someone else that stressed me out a lot, but I can’t really say a lot, and it looks like it will be fine.

We were really and happy excited on Sunday also, because two new people came to church this week, a bachelor named Sammy who we met when we were visiting a recently baptized church member named Balakrishna (they live in the same hostel), and a sister named Madhavi that I think I mentioned last time. We took this wonderful couple from the branch to her house on Saturday – they rode a half an hour on their motorcycle, each way, to come with us, and then they sat with her at church and answered all her questions. It was so wonderful and she was really happy at church so we were also very happy. We’re going over there tonight, her probably-autistic sister wants us to bring American coins but we can’t seem to find any sadly…

It’s pretty cool to watch the other brother, Nageshwar, that we are preparing for baptism. He was scheduled for this Sunday and is super excited. He went to a church activity and was energetically describing how they played “telephone” – I guess it’s called “Chinese whisper” here – with ‘She sells sea shells down by the sea shore’ to illustrate the importance of explaining the scriptures clearly.

He’s having a hard time getting Sundays off so he can come to the right branch and stay for all three hours, so we talked to President Nichols and we will push his baptism back a bit. He will be very sad when we tell him though, but the next step for him (and everyone, and he’s really excited about it) is to serve in the church and that’s only really possible when he comes to the right branch. He wants to go on a mission too, though (somewhat selfishly) counting forward a year from his baptism I don’t think I will get to be his companion because I will come back first :((

So all isn’t perfect this week, but my life and Elder Pritchett’s and those we are teachings are works in progress, and they *are* progressing well.