Saturday, October 27, 2012

Not a Lonely Planet

It's hard to be lonely here in this city of five million people, all living on top of each other, taking up every piece of building and sidewalk to sleep, eat, and live on. Life revolves around family, making strangers intimate with one another. Strangers are called Auntie, Uncle, Babu (son), Dada (dad).

No one is a stranger in Kolkata.

We crowd onto the bus every day, rubbing shoulders and backs against one another, sweating together. The women hand their children to the closest people on the bus to make sure they are safe before they climb on themselves. They throw their purses to anyone who catches it and will have that person hold it until they get off the bus. They laugh and giggle as the bus drives away while they are still boarding, knocking into others who are standing, holding onto the rail. Those people smile as well. Indians have developed a culture of tolerance, even amusement, to deal with the crowds. They don't deal with crowds anymore, they grow within them as family. 
In her book Foreign to Familiar, Sarah Lanier says "the population of the entire world can roughly be divided into two parts. The two groups represented are 'hot-climate' (relationship-based) cultures and 'cold-climate' (task-oriented) cultures." The United States, Canada, England, and most of Europe can be described as cold-climate, places that focus more on business and getting things accomplished than they do on relationships. India is on the other side, making sure relationships are secure before going into any business deal, which is why you may sit and drink chai and have a long chat with the shop keeper before you buy a sari from him.  It's about relationships in India, especially in Kolkata, Delhi and the other major cities where becoming friendly and familiar is a necessity because of the size of the population. 

America is going to be quite the lonely place after so much hustle and bustle around me at all times. 

I can count my time left in Kolkata in days now: 24 days. I can't believe I've been here for five months. 

Everyday, I step over sidewalk sleepers; I play with my homeless friend Asmirah, Maria, Raju, Ricky and Bicky; I walk past dozens of people begging for money, dying on the sidewalks, or just sitting in a drug-alcohol induced haze; I watch old wrinkled women, bent over, carrying heavy loads of clothes on their heads; I see men and women bathing themselves and brushing their teeth in the street at the water fountain.  This is my day. This has been my life for five months.  

I will arrive in America the day before we gorge ourselves at a Thanksgiving feast, two days before America's largest display of greed and selfishness on Black Friday, and a month before western style Christmas where it's more about buying than worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ. 

I can't lie and say I'm excited about coming back, especially the time I'm coming back. I'm grateful that I'll miss out on all the political ridiculousness that divides people and makes everyone, even fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, choose sides. I will be grateful to see my loved ones again and be able to cuddle with my dog. But I can already imagine myself refusing to leave the house when I get back because I just don't think I'll be able to handle it all. From poverty to excess. Lord, give me the grace. 

I pray to not get sucked under the wave of consumerism and materialism that defines the western world, America in particular. I'm already so inclined toward consumerism that I'm afraid I'll give in without a second thought, that the acceptance of materialism surrounding me in America will overwhelm my compassion for the poor and I will buy a purse instead of giving the money to clothe someone. It's a heart problem. I pray to hold fast to love and justice and to remember, remember, remember the poor, the unloved, the unwanted. God help me. 

*All photos except the first one are from my friend Theresa

Friday, October 26, 2012

Durga Puja

Ahad says some awesome things during our English lessons, like, "Wish? Oh, "wish," like you wish on a broke star!"  And this video where he tries to imitate (kinda) my American accent...or an Italian gangster...

Then there was Durga Puja where the whole city set up pandals of their god and goddesses.

More Puja...

This display was really cool. Human statues who sat in this position for hours! With small breaks of course... They were depicting scenes from India's history.


Sari wearing...

More pandals and lights...

The pandals have been going up for about a month. On the last day of Puja, the Hindus took all their hard work and threw all the statues in the river. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Field Trip

Today, instead of our usual Sunday Macarena puppet party at Shanti Dan, we went on a field trip to the Sealdah train station market. It is the beginning of Durja Puja, a Hindu festival celebrating Hindu gods and goddesses that really lasts a few weeks where giant pandals (colorful stages) are set up around the city to be admired by beautifully dressed Indians. So, the girls dressed up and we went out to buy sweets and bangles!

Gita loves when she gets to use her walking sticks!

Asha gets her nails painted to match her dress

Josephine isn't really sure about handling the money

Asha loves cake!

The only real way to drink orange soda. Pinky up!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lessons from Shanti Dan

Shanti Dan is a beautiful place, full of color, peace, hope, and love, a great place for girls with different disabilities to learn and grow as young ladies. This is where I spend my mornings from 8am-1pm.

Yesterday we got out the notebooks, counting blocks, and other teaching tools and got to work on math. I sat with Cecilia, one of our Flowers from the higher functioning group. She is in a wheelchair due to her physical condition and can communicate in English and Bengali and lets you know what she needs. I sat with her, got out her notebook, and we looked at the first problem: 5 x 6 = ?

She counted out a few blocks, then stopped. "Auntie, you have to help me. I don't know how to start."

I helped her get started by counting out five blocks and telling her to count out five blocks six more times until we had six rows of five. Then she counted out each block and came up with her answer.

Cecilia knows when she needs help. She knows when she can do things on her own. She does what she can then asks for help to keep going, to make sure she is doing it correctly.

I need to learn this lesson from Cecilia, to do what I can, then not be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help. Cecilia does not have a problem asking me to help her with a task, to help her count blocks, feed her, or even take her to the bathroom. She knows her limits and knows she needs help to progress and reach her full potential.

Have I mentioned how much I love Shanti Dan?

These girls have so much to teach me. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Sow for yourselves righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.
- Hosea 10:12

I've always felt like I was on the edge of something great, a Grand Canyon of expectation and destiny, but I was always held back, stifled by fear, unwilling to jump into the unknown. 

Coming to Kolkata to live and serve for six months was a step toward the edge.  I inched my way slowly to the canyon drop, trusting and praying that God would catch me if I decided to jump. If I decided He was trustworthy. 

While praying at Shantinagar, having one of those typical conversations with God that I do, I told Him, "If you will just let me know that my house and my siblings will be taken care of if I walk this path You have for me, I will walk it without question."  Even as the words formed in my mind, I knew how ridiculous they were. "Show me, so I can have faith," was what I was saying.  The answer came clearly: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. 

I have not seen the future and I don't know exactly what God has in store for me, but I do know He is trustworthy and provides for His children. If He has called me, He will equip me and provide for me. And He has definitely called me. 

I made a decision to jump, right then and there. "Ok God. I'm willing to jump. Let's do this." I didn't look any different. I was sitting on the couch in a peaceful home in the village. But when I determined in my heart that I would follow God where He calls, regardless of the obstacles, I was filled with such an electric joy I started laughing. 

Shantinagar was the perfect place for this conversation. The mornings opened with either mist or sunshine blanketing the earth around us. 

We left our humble home each morning at 6am for mass with the Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity. At 7am the mashis (aunties) brought us breakfast of eggs and chapattis. The three of us (Elena, Steph, and myself) took turns washing the dishes and clearing the table. 

Each day brought something new. The first two days at this beautiful Leprosy Rehabilitation Center were spent in rest and quiet for peaceful mediation and prayer. 

Another day we moved rocks out of the garden to a pile of rocks ready to be made into useful marble materials.

We also picked green beans and wheat to be used for our own dinner. Working with the very material that will sustain you is a humbling, beautiful experience. I grew closer to God as I moved closer to His creation. 
Other days we helped Rita and other ladies in the kitchen make Chapattis and cut vegetables. We watched Rita, our master teacher, mold the Chapatti dough into perfectly flat circles.  I watched her hands at work, her hands so scarred by Leprosy that only three fingers remained. Regardless of her lack of fingers, she molded each piece of dough into a perfectly flat circle, showing up the rest of us. She couldn't form words, so she would make noises and point to her chapatti to show us where we went wrong in our own chapatti.

In the evenings, sometimes we would work in the garden. Sometimes we would sit and read. Sometimes we would go on walks to see the sunset or buy detergent from the little store down the street. 

Sometimes we would visit the women patients. One of these patients, Poonam, turned up her Hindi music and asked us to dance for her. She had no legs. We each took a turn doing a dance from our respective countries (Mexico, America, China). I did some sort of western jig. I don't really know what it is, but Poonam seemed delighted. Other women sang for us, a beautiful song about Jesus sung in Bengali. While they sang, another women rolled up on a piece of wood to join us. All that remained of her legs was the stumps of her thighs that she drug along the ground beside her as she listened to the three tourists sing, "My God is sop Big," because that's the only song we all knew. 

I also worked at the dispensary for a morning, handing out medicines to those with leprosy who could catch it before it had progressed. Leprosy (also known as Hansen's Disease) is a virus that produces sores and lumps on the body. It attacks the sensors that let us experience touch, and that is the reason you will see many patients without limbs. They cannot feel in their fingers, toes, etc, so if they cut, burn, hurt themselves, they go untreated because they cannot feel pain. These limbs usually become infected and must be amputated. Leprosy is curable with the right medication. It also stops the spread of the disease to others. The problem in India is that people are so ashamed to have the disease that they will not seek medical help until they have lost body parts and are in dire need of medicine. 

Being at Shantinagar, which means "Peace Settlement," gave me time to listen and reflect on God's creation and His plan for my life. As I picked green beans and made Chapattis from nothing more than the materials in the backyard garden, I was so full of life, remembering that this was the original design. Just God, people, and a garden. There was peace and true community. When we pray the Our Father, "Let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," we are praying for God to bring back the garden, to bring back the community, to bring back the peace that He created everything for.  This is what community is: peace with God, one another, and the earth. 

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
- Isaiah 2:4

As if this all wasn't clear enough, our loving God decides to dig it in a little deeper by giving me this verse:

So, you, by the help of your God, 
hold fast to love and justice,
 and wait continually for your God.
- Hosea 12:6
Go home.
Go back to Phoenix. 
Hold on to the lessons you've learned.
Don't forget.
Hold tight to love and justice. 
Rely on God.
Accept His help.
Wait on Him.
Wait for His Word.
Wait for His timing.
Wait for His providence. 

Now, I'm super excited to come home and begin the next steps, but I know there is still another month and a half of work to do in India. So I pray that God will keep me in the moment, not in the past or future, and that He would continue to lead me day by day. Today, I am applying for Mission Year.