Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Just a Glimpse

"Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable." -Psalm 145:3

The simplicity and complexity of this city astound me.

Everyone lives day to day: enough food for the day, washing clothes everyday by hand, buying medicines and vitamins one pill at a time. Yet, the daily scramble of life here in order to live that daily simplicity is quite complex: multiple trips to the pharmacy, curd shop, fruit stand, grocery store, water store, etc.  I try to plan out my walk so I don't have to backtrack, but backtracking is usually inevitable.

When I leave the gates of my guesthouse, I carefully pack all my belongings in my purse, out of eyesight of the street children who will cling to me, begging for my water bottle or whatever I happen to be holding. I step over the puddles of mud and feces, sleeping babies sprawled out on their own pieces of plastic, and dogs curled up nearby full of ticks and fleas. I keep my head down, my eyes on the uneven pavement under my feet. I stay to the left to pass others on the sidewalk.

I come to the major street and quickly glance both ways before weaving my way through taxis, tuktuks, rickshaws, bicycles, and motorcycles to get to the other side. Once I reach the other side, I am verbally hounded by the men that congregate on the street corner selling fruit, t-shirts, or tobacco: "HELLO? How are you?" "Hey baby!" "HELLO! Which country?" This would not be so frustrating if these phrases were said with good intentions, and not yelled out to me at least 30 times a day.

I avoid their eyes, keep my head down, ignore their calls, and continue walking straight ahead, brushing past the man talking to himself and the woman who jingles a tin can at me saying, "Auntie, food. Auntie, water."

I reach the alley Mother House is on, notice the man who has been following my friends and I lately, keep my head down and quickly walk to the entrance. I am greeted by the Sisters' smiles and know I am safe.

I have learned a lot of discernment in this city. I have learned to not smile at the men who smile at me because smiling is an invitation to talk to me, to brush up against my arm, to grab my hand.  I can feel their eyes on me as I walk past them, their intentions like lasers to my soul.

It's refreshing when I meet people with good intentions, who aren't talking to me simply because they want to ask something from me or are trying to woo me into marrying them so I can take them away to America.  There is so much good in this city, drowned out by so much bad.

But God is still great; His greatness is unsearchable. This is His city and He is in the midst of the chaos, spreading peace, quietly.

Please continue praying for discernment, for wisdom, for peace.

Also, Jungok, our volunteer in the hospital, (see previous blog for details) is doing miraculously better. Everyone in the hospital is saying God's intervention is what is healing her so quickly. She is awake, eating, walking around by herself, which is completely incredible after the head injury she received. Thank you for your prayers! And thank You Lord for glorifying Yourself in this situation!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Unite My Heart

"Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name." - Psalm 86:11

Sorry it's been a while since my last blog.  There have been so many things happening, but with the lack of my personal computer (still not working), and not having time and a desire to be in an internet cafe with teenage boys leaning over my shoulder watching everything I'm doing on the computer, I've been lacking in the blog department.

A major prayer request: one of our volunteers was severely beaten and found unconscious at a train station. She is in critical condition and is in desperate need of prayers. We don't know what happened since she is in and out of consciousness, but her family is here and she is able to recognize some of them when she is awake.  Her name is Jungok.

Another development: The street family outside my guesthouse had a new baby on Sunday.  I knew this because I walked by them a few nights ago and noticed a new little bundle on his own mat. I leaned in to look and Asmeirah, one of the daughters, came over and said, "New baby!" I asked his name. "Raju," she replied. Little Raju, from the hospital to the streets in two days. The family keeps saying they're going back to their village with the new baby, but the guard at my guesthouse said that will never happen. "They make so much money on this street they won't ever leave. They don't want to work for their money and they are teaching their children to do the same...poverty here is a business."

More prayer requests: I have two friends with scabies, and while they seem to be getting better, the down time is getting to them. Pray that they see God and grow closer to Him through their struggles.

It is a bittersweet time for me right now, as most of the people I met when I first arrived are now leaving. Every night is another going away dinner for some new friend.  The other night we said goodbye to a few friends with a party on the rooftop-- ukuleles, Bengali sweets, egg rolls, good times. Pretty soon the summer will be over, and I will be left with a few straggling volunteers who are crazy as I am to stay in Kolkata. Some of them are staying a year or more on a student visa. One of the girls is here for a year because she used to be an orphan at Shishu Bhavan, Mother's home for children, and was adopted out to an Italian family and is now back to volunteer at the place she was cared for. So awesome!

I have gotten another cold, this one not nearly as bad as the other sicknesses, but more frustrating. I'm tired of being sick.

Today at orientation I will be asking Sister if I can begin volunteering for a few weeks at Kalighat, the home for the dying and destitute, in preparation for working at the train station.  At the station is where you will find scores of elderly poor, sick, dying.  They come themselves or are carried there in hopes that some good Samaritan will take care of them since thousands of people come through that station each day.  The volunteer's job at the station is to bandage the wounds that can be bandaged, buy food for those who really need food, and take those who are dying to Kalighat to be cared for in their last days by the Missionaries of Charity. My friend who works at the station has told me stories of people who died the very next day after being brought to Kalighat.  They died in peace, with dignity.

I am still volunteering at orientation, where I give the English speaking orientation to the newbies. I love this job and will hopefully be keeping it while I am here.  There may also be an opportunity for me to volunteer at Mother Teresa's leprosy clinic, not the one most people know about located near to the heart of Kolkata, but one a few hours away, where I would be living with the Sisters while I serve the lepers by bandaging wounds.  Please pray for this opportunity to remain open! It would be for a few weeks in September.

I am still trying to put up pictures, but it is proving difficult at this internet cafe.  I want to write so much more as well, about the people I'm meeting, the conversations I have with the Sisters, the beauty God reveals to me through Adoration, prayer, and service. But there is limited time to write, and even more limited time to be on the internet at the cafe. Please keep praying.

Thank you all for your love and prayers.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

One Question

Journal entry July 17, 2012

Things I do now:
- Volunteer at Mother House every morning until noon
- Volunteer at orientation every Mon, Wed, Fri from 3-6
- Teach Ahad English lessons whenever possible
- Hindi lessons
- Bible study
- Pray when possible

Things I want to do:
- Pray more
- Read my Bible more
- Volunteer at Good news school teaching little kids to read and write
- Go to Holy Hour at 6pm each night
- go to Mass at least a few times a week at 6am

There's just no time for it all. 

It all boils down to one question: Why am I here?

If I could answer that question more specifically I would know how to spend my time. Some missionaries come to India and just spend the first year learning language and culture. Others go right into volunteering with some organization. Others teach. What do I do? 

I guess the goal is always the same; Draw nearer to Jesus and bring others along.   

Lord, make this a reality in my heart. 

Journal entry July 18

I sat down with Sister Mercy Maria to let her know my prioritizing/time issues.  I told her I would know how to prioritize my time if I knew why I am in Kolkata: to teach, volunteer, learn language. She listened quietly to my problem, closed her eyes to pray. 

"Sister, what is my goal?" I asked. 

Gently she opened her eyes and said, "Your goal in India is to draw near to God."

I guess that answers that question. 

So I sat down and wrote a daily schedule, oriented around prayer and bible study, giving up my Hindi lessons, keeping English lessons with Ahad. 

Lord, let my daily schedule be pleasing to you. 


Today was volunteers' day off, so of course on my day off I got up early to attend daily Mass at 6am, where the Priest read from Matthew 11: Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. 

"Come to Me, anytime. You are most welcome."

Those who are free must learn to be free.

Come to Me
Learn from Me

Thank You, Lord, for refocusing me on You.

Thank you, friends, for your prayers.

My stomach issues are definitely improving and are not keeping me from my daily activities, so that is good.

Please continue to pray for my health, for my focus on God, and for God to use me as salt and light to the community around me.

Also, my friend here, Jes, needs to make some big decisions soon and is not hearing clear direction from God. Please also keep her in your prayers.

God bless.     

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Om Shanti

May the Lord of Love protect us
May the Lord of Love nourish us
May the Lord of Love strengthen us
May we realize the Lord of Love
May we live with love for all
May we live in peace with all.

OM shanti shanti shanti 

[Katha Upanishad intro]

For a while, my internal monologue acquired a British accent, like the voices I was surrounded by daily. Now, the Americans and British have left, and the French and Spanish have taken over. My internal monologue speaks to me in Spanish and I understand only fragments. 

It is 11pm and still the taxis roam the streets, honking their horns incessantly just to make themselves known, just to prove they exist and have a right to be. Occasionally prayers can be heard from a passing loudspeaker attached to a van, sometimes a Hindi song. On my rented bed in this Kolkata guest house, I contort my body into different yoga poses I learned in the Arizona metropolis, wringing out my body like the salwar kameez I wash daily. Someone sprays something sweet and the room fills with a fruit-like aroma. I think of the books I am reading, Three Cups of Tea and Cycling Home From Siberia, about how they are both about going places, being somewhere else, somewhere unknown, foreign.  I think of how suitable that is.  Interrupting my thoughts , an English expletive screams through my mind as another sharp pain shoots through my stomach. The only comfort afforded tonight is the cool breeze being blown into the room by the fans. For this, Lord, I am thankful. Otherwise, I would be covered in a sticky layer of sweat all night, making the ache in my stomach seem so much worse. 

I call Ahad to let him know I will not be making it to church tomorrow.  He lets me know he can't go either because he has also been in bed with a fever. We chatted about the day and how we were feeling and as we said goodnight, he interjects, "Wait! Wait! I practiced today!"  He asked me to repeat the words I had taught him as he spelled them out slowly, carefully: "Bed. B...E...D.  Dad. D...A...D.  Fed. F...A...wait, no no, E...D." I told him he is doing a wonderful job and we said goodnight. 

That was Saturday night, the middle of my bedridden stupor. I stayed in the house from Thursday night until Monday morning, not able to eat or really drink anything because of this stomach bug, when I finally had the strength to go outside.  Now, on Tuesday evening, I still have no appetite, but I am making myself eat and drink plenty of water.  Yesterday, Sister Mercy made me drink two liters in front of her, and I told her I'd drink at least six by that evening.  I drank five and started my sixth, but didn't finish by the time I fell asleep. 

My computer has also been on the fritz.  I think it's the charger, but I haven't had the chance to get anyone around here to look at it. I don't even know if they will sell this kind of charger here. I'll keep a lookout. For now, I will have to settle with internet cafes with sticky keyboards, which is why you may find several spelling errors in this blog. 

I am now off to give Ahad another English lesson. I may introduce him to the letter G today. 

Prayer Requests:
- Improving health!
- Daily guidance
- For Ahad's heart to be open to the Gospel
- For the Missionaries of Charity to have all their needs met so they can continue ministering to the poor of Kolkata 

Saturday, July 7, 2012


The Muslim call to prayer cries out from the speakers.
The Sisters bow their heads, singing to their Savior at Adoration.
The Hindus receive a blessing from the many sidewalk shrines.

I fall deeper and deeper in love with this city.

View from the very top of my guest house.

Today was absolutely beautiful.

Let me give you a little peek into my daily routine: 

6am: Alarm goes off, but I snooze it until 6:45...

7am: breakfast in the cafeteria

7:30: Mother House for announcements and helping the sisters clean up after the volunteers have left

8-12: Do whatever Sister Mercy Maria asks me to do at Mother House, usually something artsy like making posters.  I haven't been going to Prem Dan, the house for the elderly, because my cough is still lingering.  Sister has been allowing me to stay with her at Mother House until I am completely healthy again.  And I just love being there, so I think she lets me stay there for that reason too. 

12-3: Lunch, maybe a nap, maybe some bible study

3-6 M, W, F: Sister has asked me to help with registration for the English speakers, so that is my new job Monday, Wednesday, and Friday

6-?: Maybe give an English lesson on Sudder Street, maybe have a Hindi lesson in Salt Lake (a really nice part of Kolkata), maybe go to dinner with friends

9-12: Wash my clothes (in a bucket in the shower). I do this daily because I don't like piling up a bunch of clothes to wash since it takes a while to hand wash everything. Then it's time for a shower, some Facebook, then bed. 

Today was a little different. 

I went to Mother House as usual to work on some Volunteer Day crafts until noon.  Then I headed across the street to a little restaurant to grab an egg roll (soooo delicious), but apparently they were not serving certain menu items until 5pm.  So, I wandered to a restaurant nearby and ordered some chicken momos (dumplings). I sat down and began copying my Hindi lessons into a new notebook I had bought on the way to lunch.  A lady sat down across from me since there was no other places to sit, and we began talking.  After we got acquainted and decided to be friends, she told me she had seen me the other night at a restaurant with a guy friend, and then told me all the cultural boundaries I  had bent with that meal. She is seriously an answer to prayer and I told her so. I asked her to tell me more about the culture, male-female relationships in the culture, and how to avoid social fauxpas.  We exchanged phone numbers and headed off to our homes, which happen to be very close to one another. Thank you Lord for some local girlfriends!

My evening plans also fell through, so I went to the hour of prayer (Adoration) at Mother House and listened to the Sisters sing over the Muslim call to prayer, journaling my thoughts and prayers as they sang. I also had a delicious dinner (or snack, really) of lassi (yogurt-type drink), curd (yogurt), and sweet bread.  I was really craving some dairy!

Now it's almost 11pm and I am settling into bed, ready to sleep in a little before church tomorrow at 10:30am. 


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth of July, Kolkata Style

Two days ago I learned about Jainism, a religion 90% Buddhist, 10% Hindu, based on three concepts: sacrifice, truth, and non-violence. I learned this because I was talking with a guy name Rishabh, whom I asked to hold my chicken egg roll while I grabbed my water bottle.When I took my roll back, he said that was probably the first time he had touched meat.I was perplexed. He explained that in Jainism, non-violence is realllly non-violent, meaning you cannot eat (or touch, I suppose) anything that has been killed, or anything like eggs that is considered to have life in it.

Ahad was super intense on his lessons learning English.  He went over and over the first five letters he’s learned.  I love that he’s trying so hard and really making progress.

 But we also had some fun ;)

Yesterday on Fourth of July, Teresa and I went to meet Rishabh at Mother House so we could go and get fireworks for our American holiday.  Before Rishabh arrived, Sister Mercy Maria came hustling by with a group of volunteers in tow.  Obviously in a hurry, she asked us, “Can you help with orientation today? My usual English speaker is sick!”  I called Rishabh to tell him to meet us at Shishu Bhavan, where we would be doing orientation. We got to orientation and there were about 200 volunteers waiting to be placed in a volunteer home. Rishabh arrived, but we were so busy giving instructions, answering questions, helping file paperwork, that we couldn’t leave to get fireworks.  I told Rishabh I was willing to spend 1000 Rupees and asked if he could go buy the fireworks. He agreed and left.

We finished orientation three hours after it began and headed back to the guest house to grab something to eat before I had to meet Rishabh.  We met up again at around 7pm and waited until Adoration (Catholic prayer hour) was over and all the tourists came out of Mother House.  As always when dealing with groups, there is massive indecision.  Some people wanted to go eat, others wanted to go party, some just wanted to sleep, and yet others, like myself, wanted to light some fireworks. After 20 minutes, everyone dispersed and the group I was with decided we would walk to Sudder Street, grab some food at Blue Sky Cafe, then do fireworks.

We walked to Sudder Street, and Rishabh and Nikhil had to leave for a bit for a birthday party. Myself and three other girls had a light dinner of curds and lassi, more of a snack really, and they all decided they were going their separate ways.  I was now on my own to figure out who to light fireworks with.  My plan was not going so well.

I walked to Ahad’s store where he had just closed up.  He waited with me for Rishabh and Nikhil, but they were taking a while to get back. Ahad started to get mad, telling me he was willing to wait with me because I was by myself, but that he didn’t want to hang out with those guys.  I told him I didn’t want to hang out with those guys by myself because I didn’t really know them. I had planned to be with a group of Americans by this point, but the best laid plans… He kept emphasizing how much I trust people too much.  He said “bye” agitated-like, and walked away.  I knew some of my roommates were at the Spanish Café right next to me, so I walked over there and let out my frustrations of how much tonight was really starting to be a bummer and I spent all this money on fireworks that no one was willing to light with me.  They were being completely goofy and hilarious and cheered me up right away saying they were willing to light fireworks with me. 

Ahad then called me asking where I was now.  I told him I was at Spanish Café with some friends.  He told me he was coming back.

When he arrive just a few minutes later he told me had seen some “bad” guys on the street and didn’t trust them.  Essentially he came back because he was worried about me and wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting into any trouble. “Stay with the group,” he told me, pointing to the ladies at the table.

A few minutes later, Rishabh and Nikhil showed up and we told them we’d be lighting fireworks but were going to sit for a bit.  They said they had to get going since it was getting late.   

We then headed to a park where I had heard some booms coming from earlier, figuring there were others lighting fireworks there.  We entered the park and were greeted enthusiastically by a mob of teenage boys who, once they found out I had fireworks, crowded around until I began passing them out. They took turns lighting them, showing off to the other boys and the foreign girls. 

We went through all my big fireworks then headed back to BMS (the guest house) to light the sparklers with the other roommates who had not joined us. However, for some reason, the sparklers wouldn’t light, so we ended up just taking goofy pictures with unlit sticks.

I ended up spending American Independence Day with a Spaniard, an Italian, a Canadian, an American, and several Indian boys in Kolkata. How awesome.

However, I am getting the feeling more and more that I should not be so trustworthy.  It’s so difficult when I don’t have anyone to travel with, I’m not meeting any local women, and the men that work at the touristy shops are the ones who are easiest to talk to because they are used to talking to tourists in their shops.

This morning (the morning of the 5th) I prayed that God would bring me some female friends.  Just a few minutes ago on Facebook, my friend Jessica (whom I met at church a few weeks ago) messaged me and asked if I would like to hang out with her girlfriend from Kolkata, currently on holiday from her job in Dubai. Thank you Lord for answered prayer.

“God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.” – 1 Thessalonians 5: 24

Thank you for your continued prayers, friends.  They sustain me and remind me that God has a plan for me in Kolkata; I just have to pay attention and listen, drawing closer to Him through everything.  

Prayer requests for myself: Please pray for wisdom and discernment, for local girlfriends, for guidance.

Prayer requests for others: Pray for Ahad, that he continues with the same fervor in his English lessons and that God would speak to him, give him visions of His love. For BMS (my guest house) that they would continue to provide a refuge for missionaries and travelers, a safe beautiful place to rest. For the Missionaries of Charity, that God would provide for every need and draw the sisters and brothers closer to Him through everything.