Saturday, January 21, 2012

Indian Love Story Day 11: The Colors Of A Day.

Our days start with a half a mile walk to the sea-foam green house where the girls stay, a long stone's throw from the construction site of their new home. Each morning the walk is the same, cool weather shivers on naked toddlers being bathed on street corners while school children in cardigans and strawberry jam colored v-neck sweaters squeeze in a little play time before their studies. Cows amble by, dogs lounge fur-matted and manged in the gathering sun and the lovely little town of Rayagada shakes itself from dust and slumber and slowly greets the day.

When we arrive there are girls in the road, others bathing or washing and still more inside studying or dressing, undressing, stitching tears, mending missing buttons, pinning broken zippers and then re-dressing in their smart blue uniforms. Everyday an ocean of blue-clad and beautiful girls, like waves swirling around our waists, but today maybe more like the sky, like clouds floating quickly past us that gives the sense of flying. My heart has never had wider wings.

The girls cook for each other in groups of five on a regular interval. It is a perfect democracy conceived in the tender heart and mind of Jainy. The food is incredible this morning, Mookta and Smita have made a lovely hearty earthy meal whose many shades of yellow conjure a bowl of sunshine, certainly as warm if only mostly from the tenderness of today's cooks. The Oriya name of the dish, which I have already forgotten, makes the meal sound so exotic but sitting here on concrete, fingers for spoons, eating with the girls, this meal more than any so far is deeply humbling. It feels as if it has been eaten by countless generations in the state of Orissa, a solemn feast celebrating the harvest or a long forgotten battle from some bloody war. But this morning it is a holy communion, served from one pot, the pot of sisterhood. And oh what sisters they are.

Mookta in Yellow.
We walk back the same way we come to the girls school which is a few long strides from a second rented house where we live with Abraham, Jainy, and their two boys. It is approaching ten a.m. at this point, the road to the school has come alive with motorized rickshaws and tractors hauling sand or bricks and college boys everywhere on bicycles. The girls laugh and giggle the whole way. Spontaneous eruptions of 'I love you Aunty' and 'I love you Uncle' bring laughter and giggles from us as well. What a sight we are! Everyone stares and watches this daily parade! A pale American in cowboy boots, bellbottoms and 2 dollar aviators and the gorgeous Iranian draped in the bright fabrics of India, both of us hand in hand with tiny brown bundles of joy and wonder!

The girls are dropped at the school's gate and after many kisses, some planted, some blown, they head inside and we backtrack again to the construction site. At 4 we return to gather the girls and then back home for a quick change out of school blues into a rainbow of dresses and then its all about play until 5 when English class starts. The principle contest involves a small stack of broken marble tiles and a plastic grocery bag wrapped round a bundle of rags to make a ball of sorts. Several girls stack the tiles while one girl hurls the bag-ball at the little white pile. If she topples the tiles she runs screaming giggling arms flailing and then a mad chaos erupts where the bag-ball is blurring by until it connects with a head or leg or passing cyclist. The rules of this game escape me, they seem as fluid as the girls themselves. The only true constant is the laughter and Assist has more laughter than any place I've ever been.

English class has the girls separated into two groups. I take the youngest 12 to one of the bedrooms or outside on the patio while Narges and the older girls sit in a circle in the main room. I try my best (read bribe) to keep the girls engaged in learning a language that will surely help them practically in life but will never be as beautiful to express their precious hearts as the vibrant color of their native language. 

After 30 minutes the girls grow restless and it time for photos, the aforementioned bribe, so out comes the camera and dress up begins. Today they take turns with a couple of head scarves and my boots.

Pria above and Jumanu below.

6 o'clock brings prayer time and all the girls grab a paperback new testament and sit facing  one girl who leads the songs and prayers. Tonight it is Nabya, she is gentle and soft-spoken but the sincerity of her prayers and the vulnerability in her worship is deeply moving. The girls sing mostly in Hindi I think with the occasional English song. Tonight I am trying to hear them, not as a whole but as 35 individual voices, 35 facets of the gem of this precious sisterhood. Each one revealing a perfectly unique spectrum of Love's light. All glowing in the loving gaze of a Savior basking in their praise. An aria of angels has never so captured the imagination of heaven, of that I'm sure.

After prayer homework and conversation. A tutor arrives at 7 and the girls begin to wind down. That is except for Emi, she has two speeds, crazed and comatose. We make our way slowly outside amidst goodnights and promises for tomorrow. The walk back is nice. We stop to put minutes on the phone and get Narges something cold and mangoey. 

I am thinking about the color of the orange liquid at her lips as it glows in the streetlights. I am thinking of the colors of other things too. The color of laughter. The color of worship. The color of innocence and sisterhood. All of earth's palettes and poets combined would fail to express those colors. They are from heaven's holy brush, the canvas of heaven itself, tenderly perfectly painted from the mind of God.


That is a typical day for the girls of Assist, now. It is not the typical day they once knew. Not the one where death and abandonment and sorrow punctuated every breath and  punctured every hope. This is why this home is so important. Why supporting these girls is more than a charitable work. With out this home as a safe place for these princesses the world is dimmer, the colors are faded. Please continue to support this work anyway you can. Prishan Foundation is meticulous in their use of the resources they receive. There is no overhead, not one dollar. All of your donations go to help these girls, to bring others in to this family, to give lasting hope where their was only grief and despair. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Indian Love Story: So It Begins!

Today I leave for India! I have never looked forward to a day more in my life. I am, as they say, like a child on Christmas morning. I am ready to unwrap the wonder of India!!! By Saturday afternoon I will be on a 30 hour train ride with the lovely Miss Ashtari headed from Delhi southward to Rayagada. Southward into the lives of 34 girls, Abraham, Jainy and their two boys.
Abraham smiling at the girls of Assist as they celebrate India's Independence day this past summer.
I am at once undone with this excitement and deeply humbled by what is to come. See, I have learned more about the big things, the capital letter things- Truth, Love, Faith, GOD- from children. So it is that I KNOW I am about to learn unimaginable wisdoms and mysteries infinite these next months. I have been meditating on children this morning while spending these last few hours in the States with my own son. Here are some quotes about children, what they reveal about the shrinking universes of our imaginations and the many universes yet to be revealed...

"Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again!"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." ― G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton, very much the big kid.
"Children are the hands by which we take hold of heaven." -Harriet Ward Beecher

"Every child born into the world is a new thought of God, an ever fresh and radiant possibility" -Kate Douglas Wiggin

"There are not seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child.  There are seven million."  ~Walt Streightiff

"If we could destroy custom at a blow and see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse." Chesterton

"Become like little children and enter the kingdom of heaven. Taking the lowly position of a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. So then, allow the little children, and don't forbid them from coming to me: for of such is the kingdom of Heaven." -Jesus


So consider the children. As it has been said many times, "Children are one third of our population and all of our future." Over the next weeks and months I will introduce you to a host of beautiful children. I will share with you what they teach me, (if my brain can wrap 'round it!) and perhaps we can all grow a little more child-like, a little more ready for the Kingdom. And...

May you see the world with new eyes, the eyes of a child...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Indian Love Story: T-Minus 4 Days and Counting.

We hurled it at each other across playground implements. It was a magic defense, impenetrable by the cruelty of our classmates. 

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Truth is, words do hurt. They cut with jagged force and then burn the wound into an ever-tender scar. We know this to be true. Most of us would never throw a punch, but back us into a corner and our words come out swinging. All the bitterness and un-forgiveness across the years distilled and densely packed into gratuitous verbal grenades, the shrapnel from which does lasting damage, festering well beyond the blunt-force concussion of the explosion.

But words can also build. They can give us wings to fly. 

These past two weeks have been some of the best days of my life, in no small degree due to the kind and encouraging words of others. I have experienced generosity that I have never know, so many gifts for my trip to India, but it has been the letters, the tender words that have accompanied the material donations that have, in a very deep way, given me so much of what I need for my journey. And it was one letter in particular from my dear friends Jerrod and Suzanne Jones, who sent me a quote, (the one from the end of MLK's speech below) that was like gasoline on the fire of my passion. 

I have often lamented that I was not alive for the civil rights struggle of the 60's. I have fantasized about being arm-locked with MLK, marching on Washington, picketing outside Rosa Park's jail cell.....but I was born too late. The reality is though, that today the struggle for human rights is greater than at any other time in history. There are more people enslaved in the world today than at any other time, 27 million! And there is no country where there is more exploitation than India! So it is that I am going to live that struggle. I am going to stand arm and arm with other abolitionists, with you, with Narges, as with relentless resolve we say "Not on our watch, not in our lifetimes. Not our children, not anyone's children. Not now. Not ever."

The following is from National Public Radio excerpting that speech Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered at St. Luke's Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in May of 1963 entitled "Keep on Moving":

"Now let me say this. The thing that we are challenged to do is to keep this movement moving. There is power in unity and there is power in numbers. As long us we keep moving like we are moving, the power structure will have to give in.

And we are probably nearer to solution of this problem than we are able to realize. And don't worry about your children they are going to be alright. Don't hold them back if they want to go to jail. But they are doing a job for not only for themselves but for all of America and for all mankind.

Somewhere we read a little child shall lead them. Remember that was another little child just twelve years old and he got involved in the discussion back in Jerusalem. As his parents moved down the dusty road leading them back to their little village of Nazareth. And when they got back and bothered him and touched him and wanted him to move on at that moment, he said, I must be about my father's business.

These young people are about their father's business. And they are carving a tunnel of hope through the great mountain of despair. They will bring to this nation, a newness and a genuine quality and an idealism that it so desperately needs.

Keep this movement going
Keep this movement rolling
In spite of the difficulties and we are going to have a few more difficulties
Keep climbing
Keep moving if you can't fly run
If you can't run walk
If you can't walk crawl
But by all means keep moving....."

Girls, hiding their faces in shame, outside of the Indian brothel where they are forced to service men for as little as 2 dollars a sex act.

So let us run or let us crawl, whatever it takes, whatever the cost, whatever the stakes, let us never stop demanding justice for the exploited, let us never stop letting our words be heard for the voiceless victims of trafficking. Let us be about our Father's business.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Indian Love Story: T-minus 9 Days And Counting.

Last night in a pseudo-sacred ritual of catharsis and closure I had a lil bonfire to purge the universe of my past life. All the woodland creatures were in attendance with wild moon-lit eyes. Together we celebrated, rode upon the "wheels of fire, cosmic, rich, full-bodied honest victories over desperation" that Thomas Merton wrote of. 

I burnt my vest from work (no deference here nor disrespect...I love my co-workers), I burnt bank statements, house papers, all the scraps from the table of that other life, not even fit for the dogs.

River officiated...from a distance...not wanting to add credibility to what he was sure was a black pagan mass of sorts. He refused to be photographed mumbling something about a future career in intergalactic politics and being permanently tainted by his complicity in this act, but he did agree to photograph the event, more for evidence I suspect than revelry. Below, is how I looked....
.... but this is how I felt....
Simultaneously looking backward and forward, straddling the border of the countries of two years, all the while en-wreathed in smoke, the scent of which, a sweet perfume, that slept in the tangles of my hair and woke me early with the thought, 'the deed is done, the day is new'.

This morning I walked back to that black spot, out of the cool ash of the same fire, in solidarity to the people of my new country, I put a grey dot on my forehead.

Fire is a cleaner, a refiner, it burns away all that is temporary, all that is impure. Nature teaches us this and we have learned to apply it, from the farmer burning off fallow fields to restore fertility to the doctor cauterizing a wound with intense controlled heat. But I was amazed to find, throughout so much literature and even ancient culture fire inextricably linked with love. But then what else fully describes the raw insatiable hunger, consuming transforming wild nature of love than fire?

An anonymous and maybe a bit whimsical proverb, attributed to the French, goes, “When a heart is on fire, sparks always fly out of the mouth.”  Scripture says the same, "Out of the heart the mouth speaks". Those beliefs, passions and desires that burn the fiercest in our souls will be the very things that salt our speech with fire. So it is that everyone I talk to these days gets a conversation sparked with my passion for India, ablaze with my love for her children, and of course quite consumed with Prishan Foundation and its lovely founder. 

So an update on the journey then! My week has begun with the kind of practical business that a move demands, banking and bills and such, but my mind is far from those tasks, deeply entrenched in Delhi with Narges, our epic 30 hour train ride to Rayagada and of course the 34 precious girls there! The highlight of the week, and sorta of the last big hurdle, was several large last minute donations with which Prishan Foundation now has the full amount of 43,000 dollars to build the girls their home!!!! AND they also have an extra 9 thousand that will help with any construction overages and then will pay for food and utilities at the new Assist Home for a whole year!!!! What an amazing last few days this has been, what an incredible start to this New Year!!!! Oh what a fire that has been kindled, and oh how brightly love will burn!!!!