At Last! Connectivity! Of the internet sort, at least – there’s been plenty of the low-tech kind involving hands and faces and speaking in many tongues and drinking innumerable cups of tea.
The last three days the internet cafe has been unable to connect, but today Sunga returned home, bringing his lap-top and T-stick. So here we are again, visible internationally. A couple of days under the home radar, however, has been very busily spent being very highly visible locally.
Several from the team went to visit a local village, stopping several times (sometimes as per schedule, sometimes just because it was a good idea) to meet people, browse in the markets, and inaugurate Christmas celebrations by raising stars and switching on the Christmas lights! The highlight? Everyone I asked agreed that it was the warmth of the welcome and the generosity of our hosts everywhere, and this made up very well for the fact that they understood about one sentence in twenty, as and when the hosts remembered that only one of their New Zealander guests understood any Indian language.
There have also been women’s meetings, youth meetings, ongoing clinic work, many, many informal invitations to tea, lunch, afternoon tea, or just a sit-down and snack. The children, since the end of the school term on Wednesday, have mostly gone home to their villages, but several of those that remain love to come around straight after breakfast, get Connor out of bed, and play games of cards or ball, or sing with him and Tina. Right now as I type a game of snap is being punctuated with laughter and slapping sounds. The power is off (for the fourth time tonight) so it’s going forward by lamplight.
I’ve spent four days teaching the two Bachelor of Theology students here, covering subjects they’ve asked for ranging from “Healthy family/healthy church” to “Christ in his Palestinian context” to a four-hour session covering 17 pre-prepared questions on the book of Revelation. Exciting stuff.
We all have to be prepared to speak at the drop of a hat, and though that usually falls to Elizabeth or me, Bronwyn gave her testimony one night, and she and Tina took up the challenge to present a song at the youth event last night, too. Our friends here are all incredibly keen to honour us, and that, to a very large part, is due to the role kiwis have played here in the past. We are all seen to be the descendants and family of those who first came here, bringing the gospel in scripture, health services, and education that has sent many tribal people here on their way into the professions. That’s another connection, of which we’ve been largely unaware until we arrived; we are part of a Kiwi Community that has achieved fantastic things for others around the globe.
All of us hope to make our small contribution to that legacy – but our time to do so is fast diminishing. Tina has been busily devising strategies, such as a broken leg or a kidnapping to miss the flight and stay longer, a large part of her motivation being the fact that one of the Christmas traditions in Agartala is non-stop singing from the first minute of the twentieth of December to the last second of the second of January. As she describes it, “wicked!”
Tomorrow, Connor and I leave for Delhi, visiting other friends, and in two more days the rest of the team fly to Kolkata to rejoin Conor W. (if you’re reading this, Conor, give us an update – use the comments feature if you can’t get my email address to work), and then we all meet in Bangkok the following day. Only Elizabeth stays behind, continuing her work of stimulating the very many groups based here to work together, to take new steps in their activities, and maintaining such a dense network of connections that few of us can recall all of the people we’ve met in the last few days.
In the end, it’s always all about relationships.