Today was Sunita’s 23rd birthday. The other girls and I decided that it would be fun to get her a cake, and have a little kitchen-staff party. The HIV kitchen and the HIV nurses are sort of my India posse, if you will. We eat lunch together everyday and they include me in all the gossip and happenings around town. For example– Shobha: “did you hear Joythi’s daughter had 2 cows and 4 goats in her wedding dowry?! Me: [gasp] “no! my, thats alot of goats!” (etc etc.)
We’ve been planning a little surprise party all week. The tenative plan was for Rubina and myself to run across the street (the 8 lanes of crazy India traffic on national highway no. 9, which is certainly easier said than done) to the bakery and buy a cake for Sunita. Then after dinner we would all gather and surprise her! Birthdays aren’t really a big deal in India, especially for citizens of lesser socio-economic status (peasants, working class, the uneducted, HIV orphans, etc). Its just not practical to have birthday parties or celebrations. In fact, Sunita has never had a cake for any of her past 22 birthdays . I was excited to celebrate with her, she was overdue.
Then, this morning, I got a call from the chief! Turns out in addition to Sunita’s birthday, January 30th is Anti-Leprosy Day in India. Dr. Hrishikesh was recieving an award at the governor’s palace for 30 years of service to leprosy patients. And he invited me to come to the ceremony! I was honored, and accepted–but ack! what about Sunita!?
I told Rubina (the HIV counselor, who speaks English very well, and my closest friend in said posse) about the dilemma. We were scheduled to leave for the ceremony at 4:30, but our little party was to be at 7. I’d never make it back! Rubina and I put our heads together and decided the best possible solution would be to have the party at 4:00, right after work, so everyone could still come. “But how will we get the cake? We have to work until 4?” I was concerned. Our birthday plans were looking distressed.
“Well,” Rubina said, “we’ will just have to be..what is the word?” she tapped her forehead to jog her English vocabulary, “sneaky.”
“Oh! I can be sneaky! Sneaky is my new middle name!”
“What’s a middle name?” Rubina asked. The colloquilialism was obviously lost on her.
So after wolfing down our lunch, Rubina Begum and Regina Sneaky Pestak, dashed across the street to the bakery. We walked quickly through the crowds, navigating around motorcycles and autos parked haphazardly along the road. We needed to make it back before lunch was over, or else Rubina would be in trouble (I don’t really get in trouble, its one of my special dispensations. People just shrug and say, “shes American”). Our birthday plans were kept on down-low. We were afraid that if any of the administraters heard about our little party for Sunita, they might think that she put us up to it. Which wouldn’t go over too well for her. I felt like a secret agent. Mission: birthday cake!
We found the bakery, and purchased the cake. They didn’t have any chocolate, or even white cake. Our options were pineapple and plum. We went for the pineapple. And hurried back to the office, sneakily, of course.
Mission accomplished! No one noticed our absence (clearly, we were excellent sneakers), and we were able to gather all the girls (and even Uncle!) after work. Everyone brought Sunita little gifts that included: new bindi stickers, a 20 oz. bottle of mango juice, a new comb, embroidery thread, and a small pair of earrings (from yours truly). Sunita was so touched! We all sang “happy birthday,” cut cake, and then Marheswarie started a frosting fight!
There we were, 6 Indian girls, 1 American, and 1 white haired Indian body guard, running around shrieking swiping each other with frosting! Mary kept breaking out in gigglefits, and thus got annihilated. (Frosting wars are especially hard on the silly.) Then, suddenly, in all her sensibility, Rubina checked the clock. “gina! 4:25! You have to go!!!!” She threw me a wet towel.
ohman ohman! With all the birthday festivities I lost track of time! I couldn’t be late for the governor! For the chief! I went sprinting down the path to the administration office, hoping the car didn’t leave early. I shouted “namaste” to patients along the way, while trying to wipe all the frosting off my arms and face!
I made it in time! Just as I was huffing around the corner, I saw Dr. H walking out of his office towards the jeep which was pulling up. His wife was with him, along with Dr. Beine (see “epic OR fiasco”), and the head nun who is the matron of the leprosy patients. I wore my blue and gold tunic that I bought while out with Theresa, complete with gold wrap, and Mrs. Hrisikesh smiled. She whispered to Dr. H in telugu who laughed and translated telling me, “my wife thinks you look very indian!” which made me feel good. I scooted in next to the chief and we started off. Five minutes into the ride he leaned over and said, “theres something in your hair, Regina” scooping out a big pink blob of buttercream. Very sneaky, agent Pestak.
The leprosy ceremony was a.) long and b.) boring. Albiet, the governor’s palace was beautiful. The grounds especially were full of gorgeous flowers and lush trees and fountains, as one may expect to see at a palace. I felt like the whole ordeal was something of a PR stunt, with news cameras rolling and photo ops of the governor shaking hands with lepers. Not cool, your excellency. I was pleased for Dr. H, he deserves recognition for all his great work, but after he got his award I was pretty tired and checked out. The whole ceremony lasted over 3 hours! Dr. Beine slept through about four fifths of it. By the time we finally got home, it was past 10 oclock. I was wiped out, and went straight to bed.
The next morning I rethought some of my negative judgment of the governor and decided that a little PR never hurt anyone. That being said, Dr. H’s picture was in the Hyderabad paper, and I appeared on the Telugu morning news sans frosting.