The conversations I came to India for have begun, and in the first two sessions held yesterday with Veeru and Nancy Henry, a beautiful story of life, love and their vocation as medical missionaries has begun to emerge. There are so many great details and side-stories that I have no doubt their biography will be a rich and interesting read.
When recalling the story of their meeting and romantic interest in one another, both tell me their version of when they recognized they may be more than. Veeru, a talented musician and singer, was invited to provide music for a gathering of the regional church assembly. He asked if Nancy wanted to accompany him on the flute and she agreed.
Nancy had recently received her flute from the USA and had taken to learning a popular song on the radio, sung in Hindi. Nancy had learned Oriya, the language spoken in Orissa where she was serving, but not Hindi. Veeru wanted to know if Nancy could play any Indian songs so she played the one she had recently learned, and Veeru agreed they should perform it at the gathering.
After they played the song, Nancy began to get smiles and giggles from those in attendance. She was confused as to why this was happening and someone finally gave in and told her the song they had performed while Veeru sang was titled, “A Foreigner Took My Heart.”
So darn cute! I can’t wait to tell the rest of this, and hundreds of other stories.
Veeru, who suffered a sever stroke nearly three years ago, had a very difficult time talking. I’m starting to understand more of what he is saying, but I’m having a hard time piecing together the connecting words, especially when he speeds up or starts describing places with Hindi names. I’ll be sure to have Nancy, or another family member, with me until I can understand better. So many great stories and I don’t want to miss any.
It’s great to see Nancy and Veeru laugh together. Following Nancy’s train accident and Veeru’s stroke around the same time, I know it has been hard for them to find a new normal. They were at the top of their game, highly sought after retired medical professionals who were training the next generation of Indian medical missionaries, when their accident and stroke occurred. Our talking together seems to be lifting their spirits, especially Veeru, who has been more isolated.
In addition to all this good fun, I became a patient at CHM yesterday – getting my own registration number and everything – CHM15908. Nothing is wrong, but the malaria shot I received two years ago was deemed “no good” by Anil so I needed a prescription for preventative medication. Two tablets once a week for the next five weeks. Maybe I should see if he can schedule the removal of the titanium plate from my collarbone while he’s at it…
The hospital is buzzing with activity. There are at least two large construction projects happening – an additional guest/staff apartment building and the completion of the cancer center. There are probably more, but those are the most visible.
Next to our apartment building the construction crew is busy working on a second similar structure. I recognize the builders – two female stone workers and one of the men working on steel frameworks that will ultimately provide new levels to the apartment as it rises to three stories. They ask if I am married and I say, “no, I’m engaged.” I show them Lindsay’s picture on my phone, they say, “wife?” I try to explain, but given the words “engaged” and “betrothed” or even “girlfriend” mean little in this world of arranged marriages, I give up. Sorry Lindsay, but to the construction workers at a hospital in remote northeastern India, you are my wife…
Looking on my PhotoShelter site, I see that I have pictures of some of them from my last trip and download them to my computer along with a collection of family images they asked to see. They laugh and are surprised to see themselves from two years ago and then ask me to take more pictures.
One of the stone workers is very curious about my tattoos. She has some too, and I believe they are related to her marriage. Each of the construction crew takes turns licking their thumb and trying to rub off my tattoos. “Henna?” they ask. No, “ink, like a pen,” I say as I pull a BIC from my bag. The conversation, or the hand gestures and Hindi-to-English non-translation, turns to how this ink on my arm is permanent.
I find a piece of wire on the ground and make a sewing motion, saying “needle, pin” and they seem to understand. I then over exaggerate the motion of the tiny stabs that the tattoo process involves, moving the “needle” to an imaginary ink pot as I point to the pen and say, “ink.” We finally understand one another and I say, “owww!” describing what the tattoo process feels like. We all laugh and I go back to editing my interviews at the guest house and find some relief from the 44 degree centigrade (112 F) heat.
On the way to my evening interview session with the Henrys, I’m approached by the ice cream (really sorbet) man to take his photo. He patrols his cart between the hospital compound and the nearby carnival that has been running for the last week. He is very proud of his cart and of the icon images of Hindu gods he has lining the frame of his cart. I ask if he would like to have a photo of just him. He scoops a cone full of lime sorbet and stands next to his cart – I take a photo. Then he pulls in friends, and motions that he wants to include his cart and images of the gods that bless his business. I ask them to stand behind the cart and make a few images before promising to have copies made before I return to the US. He hands me the cone and I hold out 10 rupees in coins offer to pay. Holding closed hands between us and shaking his head he says, “copy, copy.” All he wants in exchange is a copy of these photos… And I’m off, enjoying a cool treat on a hot Mungli evening.
The interview with the Henrys concludes by 9pm and I’m heading back to my room when a young doctor named Nirmal and the Danes call me onto the concrete playing area for some basketball. While I’m just an average height white guy who has shot baskets most of his life in the US, by Indian (and Danish) standards I’m a 5″9′ hoops powerhouse. Knowing the rules of the game, being able to dribble while running, and understanding the concept of rebounding are great assets when playing against others who haven’t grown up with the sport. I expect all this to change as Nirmal, who is probably 6’2″, begins to know the game better.
We are hot and sweaty when we head back to the home to eat a special treat – beef. Nirmal has found a local beef supplier who sells to Christians and Muslims in the area.
Just as we are cleaning up and preparing to eat, the grocer, Monos, arrives with a special order I had made – bottles of Kingfisher lager beer. Although I thought I was ordering US sized (12 oz) beers, these turn out to be large 650 ml (22 oz) bottles. That explains what I thought was a high price initially, but now we have twice the beer I had expected to buy. Oh, happy fault…
It isn’t forbidden for Hindus to cook beef for Christians and Muslims, so our housekeeper and cook Kavita takes those rough cut chunks of meat and delivers a delicious brazed beef in a mild, in Indian terms, gravy. It’s a great meal that includes fresh cucumbers and a spicy tomato sauce macaroni dish.
The cold beer is a great addition to our beef and spicy noodles. The Danes and I have a nice conversation on theology and religious practice in the US and Denmark. We split two of the big bottles of beer before my push-through-the-jet-lag exhaustion finally hits. It’s 11pm and I need to get to bed. I expect this is the last of the jet lag providing I can sleep in a little. By Portland time, it’s not yet noon, so the fact that I’m ready to crash is a good sign.
Until tomorrow – peace.