Sunday, June 24, 2007

dodging potholes, playing with monkeys, and seeing the most extreme poverty...

I have been trying to write for days now and have not been able to
figure out where to begin or how to make an email anywhere near
sufficient for the experiences here in Jagdeespur (in rural, central
india) thus far. I keep trying to put my experiences into some kind
of theme or category, but nothing seems to fit. So, be
forewarned—this email will be long, and I certainly understand if you
don't want to read it or just get through this part. Just know that
things are shaking me up in every which way and I miss all of you more
than you know.

I talked in my last long email of the extremes of Delhi and my
struggles dealing with them. The experience here has been different
in a wonderful way but also extreme in a way I could never before have

-John, Jamie and I have shadowed Joe and Sima (our two doctor friends
from Memphis) for rounds in the hospital. The first experience of
the hospital was completely overwhelming for me, to the extent that I
had to walk out of the ward at least three or four times to regain
composure. We met a girl smiling at us through serious hepatitis,
another with an abscess the size of a tennis ball, boys grimacing
through fractures without any good pain medication, men and women with
tb, malaria, and worse—a handful of people who have been part of a
recent problem throughout the neighboring villages of drinking
pesticide in attempted suicide. The poison shuts down half of the
nervous system and can lead to respiratory failure. joe and sima have
watched multiple deaths in the last few weeks as people from all over
have begun to try different methods, most pesticide but some even
gulping caustic soda which burns all the way down, ruining hopes of
swallowing even if people survive. I was overwhelmed, at a loss
seeing people in such pain and seeing the hospital facilities—beds
crowded into the ward, a lab that would not make it in a classroom at
a college, and ONLY 4 doctors to run the hospital which treats
villages all around here. And what could we do but talk to people
through a translator, smile back at children in the beds, comfort
family members, wish we had more to offer…

-we have spent mornings this week riding bikes into neighboring
villages with a girl named rena who works on some of the community
health projects and translates for the doctors. John and I get to
ride these hilarious single geared bikes (Jamie rides on the back of
rena's motorbike) with chains that pop off every five seconds. We
weave down the pot holed roads, dodging cattle and honking trucks,
looking out over the beautiful countryside, and laughing as we ring
our wimpy bells at staring storeowners on the sides of the road.
There is NO experience like it in America.

We have been going to the villages to get to try to find out anything
we can, especially for Joe and Sima as they try to find out about the
recent rise of suicide attempts and wonder what is happening
differently in villages. We have had some fascinating conversations
with the most welcoming people, most of whom tell us there have never
been foreigners in their villages before but invite us into their tiny
mud shacks for chai and odd fruits. The same problems are everywhere
here—people only able to get food if they can find work or if the crop
is good, hoping that the rain will come soon (monsoon just came a few
days ago); people who have sicknesses and injuries months old but
can't get to the hospital or believe that some local healer's saline
injections will heal their child's measles; laborers destroyed by a
caste system that is so ingrained that they don't even think of it as
an injustice despite the fact that they are starving, working day in
and day out for a few hundred rupees a month (less than ten dollars a
month often around here). Women who can't talk if a man is around.
Even if they are at the hospital suffering, a man must speak for them.
The women here do everything—make food, fix the homes, work in the
fields, take care of the children; yet, they get no credit for it. It
is so hard to try to be respectful of culture when certain parts seem
so obviously wrong to me. Anyway, there is so much more from the
village visits, but there are also many barriers—language, time,
comfort. We go in and ask questions and answer questions but again it
seems like we are but tourists of their villages, coming to find some
answers without giving anything in return but some candy or a blood
pressure test.

We have afternoons playing cricket and Frisbee with kids at the
orphanage down the street, laughing as they throw rocks at monkeys in
the trees who return the favor with berries aimed for their heads.
The kids are incredible-- smiling, laughing, hugging us. They have so
little yet take such good care of one another, seem so happy just with
our few hours of hanging out. And their creativity amazes me; what
kids can do when they don't have video games to keep them from the

We have stopped by gardens on our bikerides and been given fresh
vegetables, with the gardener refusing to take our money, saying he
was so happy to have us visit. Hospitality in all of these places
that blows my mind, people wanting to share their best with us when
they have so little. And I feel guilty for not having great gifts
back, for knowing that they are sharing knowing they may never get
anything in return but our smiles and a look at the picture we have
taken (they love pictures here—the easiest way to connect is to pull
out a camera and show them their pictures).

John, Jamie and I have had incredible conversations with Joe and Sima
about caste, religion, cultural barriers, struggles to sustain life
here and to have hope.

I themed this summer an exploration of peacework and thought it would
be difficult to connect this part of the trip with my time in more
obvious peace-work in Israel and Palestine. There was a Buddhist
declaration I read right before I left the states that talked about
the greatest barriers to world peace, claiming that oppression of
women, economic disparity and extreme poverty, and racism were the top
three greatest barriers to peace in this world. Here, there may be
no war or newsworthy conflict, but the barriers to peace are some of
the greatest I have ever experienced: the structures of hierarchy of
the caste system so rampant in the rural areas here, the oppression of
women, the corruption of government that has no legitimate schools or
health clinics in this area and sends politicians to hand out sandals
for votes.

In some ways, Jagdeeshpur seems most in need of the "peacemakers" who
can fight the structures from within. I have witnessed some—Joe and
Sima combating the plague of health problems, the pastor who took in
twenty five orphans down the street, women gathering to start a soap
making business together, the families who have welcomed us into their
homes with such graciousness. But where are those who can help
overturn caste and gender barriers, rural neglect? It must start
somewhere but how here when it seems like such an ocean of
overwhelming problems. Joe says he feels like he is trying to throw
starfish back in the water but there is no foundation to keep them
from being thrown back on the beach to dry up.

I was thinking the other day that something like the millennium
village approach—something that addresses extreme poverty from a
number of directions simultaneously would be needed. But I don't know
how it would work when there is such a resistence to change here, when
things have been the same way for hundreds of years. Women still have
home births because of tradition despite the huge amounts of deaths
because of them. It is so hard to see change…

I have been reading a book called the spirituality of imperfection,
and one of its first main sections is on our need to be emptied, to
surrender our control. I don't feel like I have had much of a choice
here. Things feel out of control but I have still having trouble
seeing why that is a good thing at the moment.

But don't get me wrong, moments of blessing and great hope abound—the
sun setting over the beautiful mountains in the distance with kids
running happily on the soccer field, children exchanging fire with
monkeys, people offering us hospitality and community that we don't
see where people have more than enough.

What does this mean for us back in the states, where certain parts of
life aren't in question, where we don't have to worry where our next
month's worth of meals will come from if the rain is too late, where
we have medicines to keep us from feeling headaches much less
abscesses the size of tennis balls? It seems so wrong to me when I
hear people tell stories of their extreme poverty while eating their
food out of respect for a gift, wondering why I was born with access
to resources while they are struggling to get by, crying out because I
want to do something, anything, yet can't even seem to collect my few
words of hindi for a proper thanks, realizing that there is a god who
is above all of this but wondering why these serious problems remain
untouched by those of us who have resources to make change. Are we
not in ways just as guilty as the man building a billion dollar
mansion in Mumbai just miles from some of the greatest poverty in the
world? A whole village that we visited did not own a single car, no
running water, no electricity; my family owns three cars. What does
this say? How can we change? How can these experiences reach a core
for me? What does it all mean?

The saying, "live simply that others may simply live" strikes a cord
here. Yet still I know there has to be something more, something to
move the whole structure. It isn't just here in rural India, but

Wow, that ramble was far too long. I have another entry I will paste
soon on my blog, so please check it at your convenience. I love you
and am about to return to playing with kids and monkeys…

No comments: