Monday, July 28, 2014

Nilgiris Tea House - the Tour

Although I've written extensively over the past seven years about the goings-on at the little TH, it occurs to me that I've never really taken you inside to see more than just a glimpse or two of the actual space.

So here are some of the spots I'll remember fondly - I took these pictures in the midnight hours of the last Friday night, after the wonderful Debbie M had cleaned and before the mayhem of Saturday hit ...

The first place everyone's eyes go to as they walk in the door is the fireplace. Mum's and Dad's pictures hold places of honour, as does the beautiful elephant carving - a wedding present to them and given to me by Dad on my fiftieth birthday - resting at the bottom of the Victorian mahogany mantel mirror. People would call and reserve the Purple Chairs for special occasions or just to be comfortable and watch the goings-on in the dining room ...

The table (which you can barely see!) to the left of the Purple Chairs is called Father Time, a nod to the clock Don and Norma presented the TH when we opened. The cabinet - acquired from Rosalie and David - contains, among other things, special little china cups and saucers and tea sets that our smallest patrons delighted in choosing to use for their tea parties ...

The bookcase beckons from between the Purple Chairs and Father Time. A treasure trove of reading material for all ages, as well as games, challenges for trivia buffs and, of course, elephants ...

To the right of the Purple Chairs is a nondescript table - the biggest in the room - named the Looking Glass because of its proximity to the largest window in the room. To its right are two little tables in the bay window: Quiet Corner is on the left, and Hidden Valley is on the right. (Hidden Valley's pet name is the Komorowskis' Table ...)

Hidden Valley is so named because it's tucked behind my favourite spot in the TH, the piano. This beautiful upright grand was given to me - through Bronwyn - from Foothills Alliance Church. Above it hangs a picture painted by my artist sib to remind me that the former things - antique pianos, estate china, Beethoven from my friend Mary, photographs of friends who have left this world and pictures from my own childhood, even me! - will be made new ...

The wall to the left of Quiet Corner houses one of my dearest treasures: pictures of Alex, the boy from South Africa who changed my whole outlook on life.

The story of my encounters with Alex is simple and yet profound. In the providence of God, on our first day of service I was in the group of people who met a woman asking for us to go visit a home where a young boy was "sick in the head." The home was not on our list of places to visit, but the team of home-based care workers from Hands at Work decided that we could go. We got there to see a small boy sitting on a blue plastic chair somewhat apart from his Go-Go (grandmother) and her sister. The latter two set chairs out for us and started to tell us his story: his parents had both died of AIDS and now these two senior ladies were attempting to care for this child, who had been doing okay until he was assaulted on his way to school some months earlier. From then on he began to withdraw into himself until he was unable to talk or participate in any way at school. When he became unable to control his bladder, the teacher called his Go-Go and said that he was "sick in the head" and couldn't return to school. The only thing for him was for his grandmother to beat him until he was able to "behave" properly. 

My sister, our team leader, earnestly spoke to these two ladies who truly wanted only what was best for the boy and believed that the educated teacher must be right. She told them how important kindness and love were to a child, how much better to build him up, how beatings would only drive him further away from getting better. She besought them to love him and not to leave him alone and to stop the beatings.  They listened carefully to her, interjecting now and then with some of their own sad stories. She in turn listened to them, encouraging them in their difficult journeys.

On impulse I wandered off to talk to Alex while this interchange was going on. As soon as I stood over his cowering little frame I realised that of course we wouldn't be able to understand each other through words; so I reached down and, holding both of his hands in mine, gently raised him to a standing position. "U sisekele," I said quietly. "You are so beautiful." These were the only words I could remember from our training, and so I reiterated them as I started walking with him, hand-in-hand, the length of the little house in which the three of them lived. I asked the ladies, through our home-care workers acting as translators, what his name was. Alex was the answer. I picked up a stone, and wrote Alex with it on the wall where I could see that pictures had been previously sketched. He pointed silently to his name. With the strictures of the others about writing on people's walls finally penetrating my consciousness, I turned Alex to the ground and traced around his hand in the dust. Then I handed him the stone and he did the same for me (centre picture). The Gog-Gos became animated - he was responding to something! 

Soon it was past time for us to leave. As was their practice wherever they visited, the home-based care leader asked me to "give a word" before we prayed together and went on our way. I was unable to speak so I just asked if we could sing the children's song Jesus loves me - except instead of singing me we would sing Alex. As I knelt down to his height the ladies surrounded us and began to sing and clap, their love and concern for this child palpable. He buried his face in my neck and I hugged him fiercely, wishing I could protect him, wishing I could do something (top picture) ...

That evening after dinner our team went back to our accommodations and decided to sort clothes and toys we had brought with us for the children we would meet. We had talked about our day and I had talked about Alex. As we went through the stuffed toys that people had donated we suddenly came across a teddy bear wearing a light blue baseball cap. And on his little white shirt was a name in red.


The ONLY toy out of all of them with a name on it!

Of course we had to go back - even though a home visit usually occurred about once every two or three weeks, when the home-care workers saw the little bear, they immediately agreed that we would return the next day! When we arrived at the house Alex was by himself in his little chair. He stood slowly to his feet as we approached him, and I held out the toy to him.

Cautiously he reached for it and looked at it, and then a shy smile broke out over his face. He traced with one hand the name. Then peeking up he said, "Aaaaaaa ...," almost inaudibly (left picture). The home-care workers swooped joyfully on him, hugging him and laughing and chattering to him about what a good boy he was, how beautiful he was. He didn't say anything else but he submitted to their love and gentle ministrations.

Again we had to leave too soon; but this time he raised a timid hand in farewell, the other hand clutching his teddy bear. I doubted that I would ever see this little one again because, really, two visits in two days was unheard of! However, we were able to obtain occasional updates over the next couple of weeks and he seemed to be doing better.

On one of our last days there our Canadian team put on a celebration of the local workers. We had prepared snacks and decorated the small hall, wanting to do what we could to express our love and appreciation for these women who basically volunteered their time for an occasional stipend but who served God and their people with their hearts and everything they were. 

Dressed in their finery, they sang and danced in procession to the centre of the room. After we sang and clapped and joined in as best we could, we partook of the refreshments and then we all sat down and talked about what we had learnt in the last few weeks.

"Alex," one of the ladies said almost immediately.She went on with words to this effect: "We learnt that love can change things when talking and beatings and nothing else can. If love can change one person at a time love can affect a whole community."

On our very last day the home-based care workers came to me. "Would you like to see him again?"

Would I?! My sister and a couple of others and I went with the team toward his home. On the way we met his Go-Go. "We are loving him and we are not beating him and we are telling him he is beautiful!" she said breathlessly. Oh, and he was not at home today - they had taken him a few houses down to a neighbour who was watching him because they were not leaving him alone to be frightened ...

We arrived at the neighbour's home and suddenly a little whirlwind in a grey shirt with red trim launched himself at me, hugging me. He was smiling. And his trousers were dry.

The only picture that was posed in this series is the one at the bottom. My sister took all the Alex pictures, and in this one we smiled together for the camera.

It is impossible to maintain contact with specific patients; but other teams who went out would check on Alex and a couple of years later someone sent me the picture on the right. He was thriving and back in school, was the report we received. His Go-Gos were still loving him and caring for him.

That was five years ago; but the memory of this child remains with me every day and he is what prompted me in 2011 to raise money through the TH for beds for the kids affected by the tsunami in India. It is what led me to try to raise money for the van for the Children's Home on the outskirts of Bangalore this year.

The life of one needy child on one continent is impacting the lives of needy children on another continent because you who gave so generously were also impacted indirectly by Alex. No wonder Jesus exclaimed, "Allow the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven!"

At the other end of the piano from Hidden Valley is the tea trolley. Above it hangs the inlaid wood picture of a leopard - Mum and Dad gave each of us one and they have a spot in each of our houses to this day. To the left of the trolley is Baby Elephant ...

On the other side of the foyer is Pat's Corner, named for Sweet William's Patsy and for my Mum, both of whom liked that spot a little bit away from the main part of the room. Above the window hangs the stunning print on three canvases of African elephants with Kilimanjaro in the background, given me by our own Brent. Update on him: he's been accepted into medical school!

Next comes the Safari table, dominated by the most impressive elephant in the room: The Power of One ... On occasions when I might have been a little discouraged, this poster reminded me that one person can indeed make a difference!

The guestbook desk stands sentry next to the space leading to the kitchen. AT the top left of the picture you can see the bottom right of the old 1955 Map of India, rescued from disposal and given to the TH by Mr A shortly after we opened ...

Across and a little bit down from the map are the shelves that house the teas we enjoy ...

... and across from the teas is the Wall of Great China. Many times people would walk back there to check out the Wall and choose the cup they would like to sip their tea from ...

But tucked away on the left side of the WoGC is found one of the sources of hope and joy that have sustained me: some of the little notes and written and / or given by Dad and others to encourage me personally as I try to do the same for my guests.

Go through the door you can see at the edge of this picture and you'll find yourself in the Staff Lounge ...

(If you were to continue up the stairs you would find yourself in my little apartment!)

Across from the counter is The Hug, table of confidences given and comfort received, presided over by the unique piece of art that reminds me that beauty can be found even in brokenness ...

And down the hall behind the wing chairs are the men's and ladies' loos:

(The fascinating maps will be returned to their rightful owner!)

H'mmmmmmmm ...

As you leave the dining room your eyes will be drawn to the Traveller, a sculpture formed entirely out of leather and given to me by Dad and Mum:

On the left hand side of the little foyer sits the Tea Tree, laden with little bijoux given to me over the years - miniature cups and saucers, tea pots, charms ...

And the last thing you will see before you walk outside again is stencilled right above the front door, a gift from my dear Zeba:

Thanks for visiting!


  1. So interesting, beautifully written, and I love the story of Alex.
    God Bless

  2. The TH has been a place of green pastures and still waters, with walls of refuge; chairs of soul restoration; tables of plenty spread before many. So now, though walking through the valley of shadows, you will fear no evil, for He is with you. Even if you encounter enemies, they cannot harm you. You are annointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit. Day after day your cup overflows. Teacups too! ... Goodness and mercy will follow you (through those doors) all the days of your life, to your forever dwelling place. Yes Jesus loves Karyn! U sisekele.

  3. Mim Dartnall-SmithJuly 29, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    Thank you for SHARING Karyn it looks such a magical inspiring place....but are you closing the TH ?

    1. Sadly, Mim, its last weekend as a tea house was this past one. I will still be doing special events in it for the time being. A couple more blog posts and then we'll have to say goodbye to it ...

    2. Mim Dartnall-SmithJuly 29, 2014 at 11:35 AM

      That's sad to hear Karyn. The love that you, your family and extended family have for the TH shone through in your blog. I hope that whatever you have planned for the future can give you the same happiness. xx

  4. Mary Butler GrettonJuly 29, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    The love story of the TH, with pictures, heartwarming...

  5. Jeannie Erickson DavisJuly 29, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    Dear Karyn, How are you? Thank you for the beautiful post about the Tea House. Oh how I love the TH. I wish I could come for one more Tea. What a beautiful place of love, care, refuge, unconditional love and comfort the TH has been to many. Our family has been so blessed by your kindness and hospitality. Thank you for loving my Dad when he felt lonely-what an oasis the Tea house was for him. Thank you for your gracious gifted hospitality to our family. I loved seeing each picture and corner again. I always loved the beautiful angel in the bathroom and how carefully you arranged things. Your family has a legacy of hospitality and you will take that with you wherever you go.

  6. Karyn, I wish you the all the best in your new adventures! When you say special events... Do you mean Thanksgiving 2014? Coming there for Thanksgiving has been a wonderful tradition for me and my family over the years. Thank you for all the special memories.

  7. Karyn, you have been a faithful and loving friend these many years. May God bless you and yours for many years to come. Take care my friend!

  8. Dear Karyn, May God bless you in your future endeavors. The tea house has always been a special experience any time I was able to go, though it was not often enough. I remember when my children arranged a wonderful surprise birthday party for me there and you did such a wonderful job of providing the refreshments and a delightful place to hold the occasion. Thank you for sharing this wonderful makes it that much more meaningful. You have a wonderful sweet, kind, spirit and I know it has been refined through your own trials of life. That is why you can minister so well to others. God bless you for that. You have a gift of encouragement to add to your many other gifts and you use them so well. I will always carry pleasant memories of times spent at the tea house. Thank you!!!!!! Joanne McMurray

  9. We will miss you and the teahouse so much.

  10. Thanks for the memories Karyn!!! so many of them...................


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