In the early morning, I awaken at 4:50 am, dress into my very colorful salwar kameez, which is quite bright compared to the black I usually wear in NY, brush my teeth and my hair and take a long walk to church. The walk is through the main section of the muslim district and I pass cows, people sleeping under rickshaws, step over sleeping bodies, past muslims on their way to the mosque and stop for some boiling chai on the way. A woman named Sultana, who the long termers all know, will generally be waiting to have some tea with you. Yesterday, I was with Bernie, a long termer who has come every year for over 25 years. She works on the railways and collects people who need to be hospitalized, gives them medicine and does aid work at its most raw level. There are a number of people here like Bernie, they go back to their countries to work for a few months to gather monies and then come back here to the “city of Joy.” We stopped to have tea with Sultana and she told me about her situation. Her begging supports her entire family. Bernie explained that sultana was in a terrible accident and she only found out because some Irish friends had heard her speak about an article they had read. When they went to the tea stand to ask about her, they were told Sultana was dead. As it turned out, her husband was killed by the car that hit him, and she sustained injuries to her head and legs. No one thought she would live, much less walk again. She has the most darling face and you can see the joy that fills her soul.
My first day at the Mother House and the following experiences had me fighting back tears all day. After leaving my shoes by the door, I walked into a large room with floor mats for pews and hundreds of women who looked like Mother Teresa. I absolutely love that this order integrated with and embraced the culture here and wear a version of the sari that all Indian women wear. The bells rang and Mass began with a beautiful song sang by the sisters. We would kneel and sit and touch our heads to these mats. The sisters were all on one side of the room and volunteers on the other side. I prayed hard. I prayed for everything I’d seen and everything I felt in my heart. During the consecration, we didn’t just bow our heads and kneel, we touched our heads to the ground, an act that made me think harder about the mystical moment in the Mass. We sang songs, we prayed after the Mass and walked out of the room and down to the area where breakfast is served. Breakfast was chai tea, a piece of bread and a mini banana. I met some volunteers and followed some to the place I wanted to volunteer with, a place called Daya Dan, for physically and mentally disabled children. A running bus start (you literally have to run and jump on buses) and a rickshaw ride later, I was at Daya Dan. A naked street woman was washing herself outside and I waited for the gates to be opened. After removing my shoes, I walked into a large room filled with young kids running around. I was overwhelmed for a moment and then instinct took over and I just decided to do whatever was needed. I noticed three boys sitting alone, all three were blind and rocking back and forth, two had no eyes. One loved when I massaged him and touched his arms and head. Another felt where I was and got into my lap. One of my favorite boys was someone named Mucala, a boy who didn’t let go of my hand for hours. He grabbed on so tight and just wanted to hold on forever. Any move I made away from him, he grabbed on even tighter. Prince was a boy who loved my watch and Mongol has physical disabilities but seemed to be the only boy that was mentally able. He knows everyone and everything and studies constantly. One little Asian boy named Joy only began to speak last week for the first time although he is six. I can’t remember every boys name, but I’m sure I will continue to get to know them over the next few weeks.
By the time I walked back to the mother house in the evening to officially register with Sister Karina, I couldn’t hold back the tears. We had a private conversation and she had me wiping my face and crying within seconds.
Later, I did a favor for a friend and walked to BMS, the Baptist Mission House, with Serena to see if reservations were all set for a group of people coming. Through that, I met Anu who invited us to her house for tea. We had tea standing up her rooftop and then later stayed in her house while she changed into her formal Sari for a Christmas play/concert she was going to sneak us into at the Assembly of God Church. What a juxtaposition her home was with the home of a lady who sells samosas on the street. Her house was a little larger than my bathroom and had a wooden bed up as high as my waist to be able to sleep in the monsoons. The bed occupied the entire room except for the tiny doorway entrance that you could stand in, otherwise you would have to lay on the bed. Puja, a little girl around the age of 10, lived there with her mom, the lady selling food, her two aunts and the aunt’s three sons. All slept in the same bed. That is seven people.
Anu’s house was a mansion compared to that. It was a mansion compared to my apartment. She had two bedrooms, a bathroom, living room and a kitchen with a stove – all of this was supersized. The interesting thing is that she had recently moved into this place. She had been a homemaker for 25 years and decided it was time to work. Somehow she landed a job that required very good connections and English skills. Before that, Anu was living in one room with her entire family. In India when you marry, you marry the whole family, meaning your husband’s family and your family, including grandparents and parents all live together, unless they are married off or dead. Anu said it was a hard life, but she said it with a smile, like most Indians do. They do not complain like we do.
I don’t want to say too much about the play because it was worse than a grade school play. It was a Christmas play in a church for Indians, which is fine because it is a Christian church; however, it was obviously trying to show that a perfect Christmas was one that looked like a Hollywood American family would have. I think they tore out a gap ad and just copied that, down to the scarves, snowman and fake snow. It doesn’t even snow here, who here would shop at United Colors of Benetton, you can’t cut down a Christmas tree here, and where were the saris? Why did they not integrate into the culture and be proud to be Indian? When the preaching started, using sparkling letters from the the word Christmas, I became really restless, but we were white and siting in a VIP reserved section and had gotten in for free, so we couldn’t leave. Only two good things happened. One, a man sang a religious song in Hindi which was really neat (the only Hindi song that night) and secondly, I heard the national anthem. I think it’s one of the best anthems I’ve heard besides the American anthem.
Every day here is so full and there is so much to write about, but I can’t even get half of it down. I feel like I’ve been here for months, but it’s only been a week. I said to myself I wouldn’t give anyone my finger print in this corrupt country, but today a new law came down and all internet cafes take finger prints, photos and enter passport information. Perhaps it’s because the terrorist’s sim cards were bought only a few streets away. Oh well, I figured I couldn’t go for a month without any internet.