Monday, August 16, 2010

Now what? Of encouragement and unity.

Over thirty hours in airports and airplanes -- and I'm finally home. Hooray!! A hot shower in my own bathroom felt wonderful, washing away the bedraggled feeling of traveling in the same clothes for two days. I also washed away the not-quite-clean feeling of having walked the streets of India, breathing in the exhaust of the vehicles and the stench of garbage and sewage.

Now what? What do I do with this experience? Thinking about it as we flew home, I came back to the fact (one of those repeated things I come up against) that I really don't know what tomorrow holds but God does. If I seek Him, He'll show me the next step. That's true for everything about life, whether the daily experiences or the once-in-a-lifetime ones. The song "God is God and I Am Not" is apropos here.

Two central themes keep rolling around in my head. One is basically what I have been doing for the last couple of years: I need to continue to encourage people to do SOMETHING to fight modern day slavery on a regular basis such as sponsoring a child, buying products that are fairly traded and slave free, or donating to rescue groups like International Justice Mission, etc. Along with this message I now have pictures and stories to share, visually showing the need and putting real faces to the message. The stories of Mother Teresa and Aloka underline the power of one life, rich or poor, to make a difference. I think we don't really understand how much difference even small efforts can make in the life of another.

Secondly, it hit me that another message that I have to share is that of unity against the common enemy of slavery and grinding poverty. The group that I was part of was very diverse. Some very liberal, others very conservative. Ages ranging from 18 to 55. Many team members had traveled the world while others, like me, had not. The differences didn't matter. We were focused on the task of touching the lives of girls who have no one else in the world to care about them but their housemothers and other shelter girls. Our hearts were united in this effort. Other concerns were let go.

Our society, too often, focuses on what's adversarial instead of what we have in common. We waste time fighting each other about this or that, the cares of the world crowding out the seed we started to sow. Can we not come together more as Mother Teresa did, seeing the need and choosing to serve all regardless of their status, their faith, etc.? In time, after establishing relationships of side-by-side serving and caring, we can still discuss the issues that we disagree on. But issues don't have to keep us so far apart that we forget that all of us who are blessed with much are called to help "the least of these."

Lord, please open my eyes and lead me.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Personal stuff

Just gotta share a few things about personal "stuff" that you really have to experience to fully understand. If you're a diehard out-in-the-woods tent camper, you have some of this perspective. But that's not been my experience and these things made me laugh as I tried to figure out exactly how to do things this way.

First - Western toilets may or may not be available wherever you go in India. The "normal" here is a squat version of the toilet. Hmmm. And if you want to be sure that you have toilet paper, you need to take it with you!

Second - The electricity goes out here just about every day. It may be out for a few minutes, an hour, or three hours. One just goes with the flow, sweats a little more, and sooner or later it comes back on.

Third - Bucket showers are a quick way to refresh. Since there's not great water pressure in the regular shower, it actually is better in some ways. Difficult to actually wash your hair, though. I'd have to practice to get that down pat. Oh, and have you ever used a squeegee to push the water off of the floor and into a little hole in the wall (at floor level)?

Fourth - I really don't like bugs in my living space. Outside, yes. Little ants crawling in my suitcase, on the sink, in the shower/toilet area, not so much. I happened to see spray to ward off bedbugs in Bed, Bath, & Beyond before I left home so I bought it. I'm SO glad. Don't know if there were any bedbugs but if so, they were held at bay and the spray kept the ants under control, too.

Last item - The smell of raw sewage in the street is not my favorite. Makes the smell of manure sprayed on the fields at home seem not so bad. At least the fields are sprayed only occasionally so you don't have to smell it every day.

Ah, India. I realize that I've just gotten a little glimpse of life here. Just a snapshot. There is a wealthier India, a cleaner one, and maybe a less chaotic one. But the wealthier people that drive to Park Street to eat at Fire and Ice and Flurry's and shop in the expensive stores still have to go through much of the city, if not the poorest parts. What I have seen is real life for millions of people in Kolkata -- a hard, dirty, poor life. And I haven't even mentioned the corruption of government, police, etc.

I so appreciate my own family, my own home, my own little community, and life in the US.

Random Kolkata impressions

The environment:
Garbage everywhere
Slums, shacks, poverty
Man-powered rickshaws pulling up to the four level glitzy mall
Honking, honking and more honking
Exhaust in your face

The people:
Market vendors hound you to buy wares
Five people to do the job of one
Illogical inefficiency
Manual labor
No concept of personal space

Odds & ends:
A family of four riding a motorcycle
The car wash: A rag and a huge roadside puddle after a monsoon downpour
Requests to take pictures of us, the conspicuously white foreigners
Sweat dripping down inside my clothes
Spicy Indian version of KFC

The Emancipation Network and the shelters:
Safe places for children alone in the world
Sweet smiles, beautiful girls
Excitement over nail polish and making paper boxes
"Auntie, Auntie!"
TEN staff: Paul, Sally, Doel, and Soma - making a difference in the lives of so many
TEN founder Sarah: A whirlwind, a go-getter, cares so much

This experience:
Great group of volunteers
Heart wrenching
Wonder how God will use this in my life

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Someone cares at Nijoloy

It's been a privilege to visit Nijoloy Center this week. It's a shelter for about 80 or so girls, ages 5 to 20-something. Krishna is the woman in charge with another 4-5 women assisting her. She's a sweetie! So gracious and loving -- and the shelter reflects her manner.

The children are very excited to see us. They quickly gather when we arrive, smiling and saying "Auntie, Auntie," as they try to get our attention and grab our hands. We begin the day by sitting with the house mothers, having an unhurried cup of tea and a cracker before going on to the day's project.

The little ones are darling. The older girls are beautiful. Some are quiet, others are mischievous. All are alone in the world or at least they were until they were brought to Nijoloy. Krishna, whose husband died in 1999, says that these girls are her family. It is a loving place and the girls are fortunate to be able to live there.

I'm so glad there are places like this for the unwanted, unfortunate waifs of Kolkata. They're not throw-away children like so much trash tossed out and forgotten about. They're sweet children in need of food, shelter, and love -- just like every other child in the world. Bright, inquisitive, creative and inventive, they are so happy with simple things like drawing with paper and markers or "doing the hoky poky."

I have been blessed by them.

Cardiovascular workout with Rajah

Ok. It's our 13th day in Kolkata and we think we've become somewhat adjusted to the way that they drive here but tonight's ride home from the shelter house proved to be an altogether new level of craziness. Rajah, our driver (who is the nicest and most helpful guy) drove like a race car driver out to set a new record. Our eyes got bigger and our hearts beat faster as he sped up and proceeded to wind his way through the crowded streets as if it was a deserted road.

For example: we zipped around a car then swerved to miss a bus only to find a cow in the middle of the road, nonchalantly looking around. We honked -- of course -- but the cow didn't move an inch (and didn't bat an eyelash) so we did a quick maneuver around it and sped on. At one point we were going 112 km per hour (is that around 60-70 mph?) With so many cars, trucks, busses, motorcycles, animals, bicycles, rickshaw drivers, and pedestrians on the road, it seemed inevitable that we would crash into something or someone, but we didn't. Hooray!

Our guardian angels must have been hard at work 'cause we made it back to the hotel without a scratch, dent, or case of whiplash. I'm not at all sure how or why. One other plus was that it was definitely a cardio workout. I think I'd rather raise my heart rate some other way, though!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Her father murdered her mother

At age 6, her father murdered her mother - in front of her. He was sent to prison and so was she .... simply because there was no where else for her to go. She stayed there for several years, a child being raised in women's prison. I can't imagine what she saw and experienced there. At age 12, she was taken to a shelter but was so out of control (wouldn't any child be after what she'd gone through?) that she was sent back to the prison. Bouncing back and forth for a year, she finally was taken in at Child Care House.

I met this beautiful twenty-two year old young woman this past week. She's intelligent and artistic and according to TEN staff, a little sassy. Now married, she has trained in the silversmithing program at CCH. She's a rescued life. Thank goodness someone cared.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sightseeing in 98 degree temps & 98 % humidity

Whew! It's HOT.

We rented cars and drivers for sightseeing on Saturday and Sunday -- the cars were air conditioned -- hooray!! Besides Mother Teresa's, we visited Victoria Memorial, a temple, and botanical gardens. It was interesting to learn of India's history at Victoria Memorial and the period of British rule in order to take advantage of the resources. Fits right in with the repeated history of the world: the conquerors, the conquered, and the unquenchable desire for independence and self rule.

Sunday's trip to the temple involved crowds of people and HOT, HOT feet! We had to leave our sandals outside and walk on the clay tiles of the courtyard in our bare feet. It was like walking on hot sand or hot blacktop. You just wanted to hop along until you found a little square of shade to stand in! I hadn't realized that the bottoms of my feet were so tender. Of course the Indians were much tougher, even the little children walked about comfortably.

The botanical gardens were a real treat -- a peaceful green, lush oasis away from the honking traffic and crowds. Birds chirped while families strolled along or had a picnic. It also seemed to be the place to go for couples to walk and talk or sit on a bench and look into each other's eyes. The Banyan Tree was a main feature, covering several acres. Thousands of air roots hang down to the ground and take root, forming what I'd describe as additional trunks of the tree. So it's a forest but actually all one tree at the same time. Amazing to see.

Whether sightseeing or volunteering at the shelters, we sweat through our clothes every where we go. It's monsoon season so each day there's a downpour or two and afterward it's generally a few degrees cooler. I feel spoiled to have air conditioning in our cars and rooms and this isn't even the hottest time of the year.