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Archive for August, 2009

red scarves

I saw a man the shade of a wall today on my way home. I was crammed against ten people simultaneously on a bus but had managed to find a view out the window, and a red scarf caught my eye. I looked again, and it was tied around the neck of a man perched on a fence, smoking a cigarette. His legs were tucked up beneath him, and his skin, hair, and clothes were all the same dingy gray color as the wall behind him. Only the red scarf stood out against the gray. Those are the moments that I long for a camera to capture.

I know this isn’t true, but it felt like I caught a glimpse of what this man’s life has been. The monotony of a constant struggle for existence, with unnecessary and often unexpected moments of great joy. I love to watch the people laugh here, especially the women. Even with the load they carry, they find a way to create a life for their families. A home out of rubbish. A meal out of scraps. Joy out of simple moments.  They are the red scarf against the gray.

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The rich man and Lazarus

Last night, I saw a group of men digging a road in the middle of the night. They were Dhalits. It was a heavy weight to see these people that I have talked about for so long, laboring through the night, invisible to the world.

I have mentioned before the family that lives outside my gate. They are a beautiful, young family. I’m not sure how many kids they have as the numbers vary everytime I stop to visit. The kids do not go to school, but spend their days, as far as I can tell, sorting through my trash. This is where the Bible I read becomes the Bible I have to figure out how to live. There is this parable I’m sure you’re familiar with. The rich man and Lazarus. First of all, let me just start with the fact that the one that matters, the one with the name, is the beggar laying on the street. God sees that person and knows his name. This family that I’m befriending, He knows them. I’m not bringing His love anywhere it hasn’t already been, praise God. The weight of his love is not resting on me, but I am invited to share it. But how? Smiling, and asking how they are when the youngest is crying from hunger seems a long way from love. They are my Lazarus, and I am being invited to love them as my Father does. Unfortunately, the expression of that love is not so simple.

So, I decide to give them food. Then what? Do I give them food everyday that I’m here? I don’t see their circumstances changing. Do I give them food only sometimes? How do I choose when to give and when to say no? What happens when I leave? Honestly, last night, I am standing inside my gate, close to tears, asking this most basic question, “What would Jesus do?” and I have nothing. I know only this. The Lord loves that family. He knows their birthdays, even if they don’t. He knows their names and their hopes for life. And, I know, He is holding me in His right hand and leading me in the path of life. If I am trying to follow Him, He will not let my feet slip. So I am choosing to go day by day and to be faithful in whatever ways I can. I am choosing to show them ‘smiling face’ as my friend suggested, and to pray for wisdom. Please, do the same. The people of this city, some of the poorest of the world, are dear to our God. He is close to them in ways I will never understand, and I see, daily, how blessed I am to offer my life in this year as a small expression of it.

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crushed cockroaches

It really should be an incentive to do the dishes. Without fail (as in twice), whenever we leave the dishes to pile up in the sink, I find a cockroach at the bottom of the pile. I just can’t handle it. Spiders, mosquitoes, geckos, even snakes to some extent are fine…but cockroaches scurry. I think that’s the key. They scurry all over and under and up and down. I can’t handle it. So, I crush them. Today, I went for the old trap-them-in-the-empty-ice-cream-box-technique. It’s still in there, and I’m not sure what to do with it. I think if it’s still alive, I’ll release it as a gesture of good will to the rest of the cockroach community. Perhaps then they’ll leave my dirty dishes alone, as tempting as they might be.

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This last weekend was our staff retreat. We went to a beautiful resort about an hour outside of the city. It was so much fun to just get away with the staff and to meet their families. I loved watching the dads with their kids, especially. The work they do is beyond challenging, and it is so time consuming. Time away like that is rare, and it was beautiful to be part of it.

It wasn’t all beauty, though. We were sharing the resort with another group of what I gathered to be Muslim families. They really loved the swimming pool.  I should say the men really loved the swimming pool. The women didn’t swim, but, instead, they sat around the edge in their full salwar kamis while the men strutted around the pool and the surrounding sidewalks in their speedos.

Some things should just never be seen, and a speedo off the hanger is one of those. One of the people in our group was actually prevented from swimming because his shorts were too long. The risk of entanglement was too great. Clearly, that’s why all these Muslim men were wearing speedos. It’s purely a safety precaution. But I say, “Why not live life a little bit more on the edge?” 

But enough of that. 

I took more pictures. I would download them now, but I’m already avoiding the joy of studying for my bengla lesson tomorrow. Wednesday, Emily and I are going to our teacher’s house for a cross cultural evening with some of her bengali friends. I have to admit after the weekend with the staff that I’m a bit nervous about my conversational skills. Once the person’s full lineage and heritage have been established and all related birthdays (jonmodin) I’m pretty much at a loss for vocabulary. But smiling and shrugging seems to get the point across universally. “Sorry, I know your four year old child is fluent in 3 languages, but I can’t remember how to ask where you live.”

Every once in a great while I have the small feeling of being settled here. (keep in mind I’ve been here 40 days so far, so I guess that would mean 3 times in the last week) Today, I was riding the bus for the second time, looking around at all the dark, smiling faces when I looked down at my feet and actually thought, “Who’s feet are those?” The white skin and pink nails looked so foreign. Sadly, they were/are mine. Everyone else gets that. Even the two year old child that hid his face in his mom’s scarf realized I was definitely NOT from around there. Maybe someday. Maybe someday I’ll stop to talk to the man that irons my kurtas and will understand what he is so intensely trying to communicate to me. But today, I smile, say sorry and shrug.

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Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Breakfast for dinner. Is there anything better?

Last Sunday was my roommate’s birthday, and I thought, “What’s a better way to start your birthday than with chocolate chip pancakes?” Clearly, there isn’t one, so that’s how we started it. Thankfully, there were leftovers, so we had them for dinner. Again, “How better to end your birthday than with chocolate chip pancakes?” I really can’t think of anything. The next night I was home alone and thought,”Today feels like a chocolate chip pancake dinner day”. So I made some more, which of course were accompanied by an ice cold coke. (It had been a long day.) Clearly, I cannot eat a single batch of pancakes in one sitting, so I finished them off the next morning for breakfast. Let’s just say last week started off on a good foot. 

I am doing really well here. I know my last few posts have been a little depressing, which is mostly because I am an external processor, so I just write when I have too many thoughts to keep inside. I will try to share my happy moments too. The family I mentioned that lives outside my apartment building on the street always catches my heart. A few days ago, I was watching them while waiting for an auto, and I was just overcome by how blessed I am. What an unbelievable gift to be here in this wonderful city. I have to be in the top 5% of the world to have the freedom and ability to just go and live in another country for a year because I want to. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of my Father to let me go and live in a foreign place, while completely taking care of my physical needs. It is such a privilege. Thank you for your gifts to make it possible. I consider myself truly blessed when I wake up in my room here. Even in moments of loneliness, the Lord has been so faithful to speak into the sadness and remind me of how good this season is. I can’t explain it, but everyday I have woken up excited to be here. (I can’t remember the last time I was excited to wake up, ever. Not even for Christmas.) 

So, with that in mind, let me share some pictures of my time here. I hope they give you a glimpse of the beauty all around me.

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a new life

The other day, I drove through the city on the other side of the river. In some ways it’s like crossing the tracks. The cramped and decaying buildings only become more cramped and decayed. Abandoned factories and apartments loom over the squatter camps.

There are many things about life here that amaze me, and one unique aspect of this country is the cheapness of human labor. Why use a semi truck to transport the steel frame for a roof, when you can pay 15 men to push it on a cart? Why use a single man and a bull dozer to dig a ditch in a day when you could pay 30 men and women to do it in three months? It takes more time, but it is so much less expensive because there are literally millions of people waiting for a job in this city and they’ll take anything they can get. Smita told me that a number of the men pushing or pulling the carts loaded with any number of goods are from a specific region outside of the city. It is a very poor region, and the men come here to make whatever money they can breaking their bodies hauling steel and water and trash all over this city.

That day, when I crossed the river, I saw more carts than cars. The streets were crammed with them. And I thought, “Will they really do this for the rest of their lives?” They will. Everyday until they die and one of their children takes over, they will haul someone else’s property. It wasn’t a feeling that I knew how to manage. Hopelessness staring me in the face everytime one of those men looked in the window. Then I remembered Kiva.  If I ever have a job that pays, and we all pray that I do, I hope that I remember those faces and give every spare penny to Kiva. Here is the link. (www.kiva.org) You give $25 to a widow in Zambia to help her open a cell phone business. She succeeds, as over 97% of their clients do, and gives you back your $25. Now, you can take that $25 and go out to dinner and a movie that night, or you can lend it to a man in Vietnam who wants to buy a motorcycle so he can serve as a courier. He soon makes enough money to pay you back, and you give a single mother in Cambodia the chance to buy a cow and start a milk business. Seriously, how magical is that? They are amazing people doing amazing things all over the world. Give people like these men the chance to do something more with their lives. To have dreams of a better life for their children. I have to believe that the family living on the street outside my apartment would rather be sleeping on a bed than on the street. (I truly meant on the actual street) If asked, I wonder what dream they would have? Would they want to open a chai stand?

I think this might just be a way for me to deal with all that I’m seeing, but I also think it’s true. The grip of poverty could be loosened, even if on one family’s life. That one person at a time, one new life at a time, the world can change.

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