28 August 2008
Bay St. Louis
St. Bernard Parish
I have not forgotten. I cannot forget. You are in my heart and prayers. May God continue to give you strength and hope...
24 August 2008
Real briefly, here’s how things are panning out for the travels:
Monday-Wednesday: Kickin’ in New Delhi
Thursday: Traveling to Jaipur
Friday-Saturday: Hangin’ in and around Jaipur
Sunday: Traveling to Agra
Monday-Tuesday: Rockin’ the Agra (Taj Mahal at sunrise is the main attraction)
After Agra is when things get a little fuzzy... Depending on mood, ambition, etc it’ll either be in the direction of Nanital or Hardiwar/Mussoorie. Either way, the plan is to head for the hills (literally) and find a great spot in the foothills of the Himalayas for some R&R and time away from crazy tourist stuff. Either way, the plan is to head back to Delhi on the 5th or 6th of September and see the boys one more time before flying out early on the 7th. The layover in Mumbai is a long one (17 hours or so) and that means the chance to spend a day there (minus luggage, almost like it was planned that way) before continuing on for the States touching down in Chicago early afternoon on the 8th (i hope).
23 August 2008
- As people, we are far more alike than we are different
- 11 boys have a lot of energy
- One can survive on a diet that consists of very little meat
- I am actually pretty functional on my own in a foreign culture
- About 18 words in Hindi
- Touching stones that were laid centuries ago is pretty surreal
- I am better at thinking than doing
- Most of India has not learned the secret of peanut butter
- I can make it through a day (and a few weeks) without coffee
- How to divide big numbers by 40 (roughly the number of Rupees in an American Dollar)
- Sometimes life is about showing up and seeing what happens
- I tend to overpack
- Some people are pretty good at being supportive from afar
- Consistent electrical power is a luxury
- I don’t think I like being landlocked in a hot climate
- Part of my heart is still in New Orleans
- My multiplication tables all over again
- I have virtually zero aptitude for learning things audibly
- Democracy without togetherness makes for very ineffective government
- 21 months on the Coast followed by 2 in India makes for one very worn out Kerry
22 August 2008
It actually worked out pretty well. Rita has been visiting her mother the past few days and it is definitely a lot of work for Birendra to keep up on his own. Friday night is also the big market night and this gave him a chance to get away for a bit and do some socializing and shopping for the home. It also meant that I got some really quality time in with the boys and we sure enjoyed the evening.
I keep feeling pretty grateful for the way things continue to work themselves out the past few weeks. As far as endings go, I really couldn’t ask for much more. Now if I can just talk ‘em into doing my laundry and packing for me...
21 August 2008
We have been talking quite a bit about my leaving. I currently have outstanding offers of a daily cup of tea, three slightly chewed erasers (tempting), room cleaning service and jelabis (a local sweet treat) should I choose to extend my stay. A few of the boys have wondered if I’m going to be living on the streets after I leave home or why exactly I would want to leave India for America.
For the most part, there has been a volunteer here at the home since it opened due to the fact that the boys were not in school and needed quite a bit of attention. So next week will really be the first time that there is nobody else living here at the Home. They have also found quite a bit of comfort here in the Home and assume that I as well have found this to be the best place that I have ever lived as well.
The truth is that I am ready to leave. It has been amazing being here and quite the way to spend a few weeks, but I am ready for more than just being a big brother. It has definitely become apparent how much the last few years have worn me out and sapped quite a bit out of me and I’m pretty sure that 11 boys don’t necessarily fill the tank back up.
And so I am preparing to leave. Ready to leave. Grateful for the chance to spend a few weeks just being me and living in the ups and downs that these boys have in their lives. It sure didn’t have to be this good...
17 August 2008
Today we celebrated Raksha Bandhan. The festival is a Hindu festival that celebrates the special relationship between brothers and sisters and is quite commonly celebrated through out India. Technically, yesterday (Saturday, August 16th) was the day to celebrate, but do to logistical reasons, Udayan Care chose today to mark the occasion.
All of the Udayan Care Homes met up at Indraprastha Park in New Delhi and the afternoon was filled with fun, food and festival. Traditionally, sisters tie Rakhis, or holy threads and bracelets, on the wrist of her brother and the brother in return offers a gift to his sister and vows to look after her confirming his love and affection. It isn’t necessary for the “brother” and “sister” to be actually related and there is quite a bit of exchanging that takes place between good friends as well.
Thus, we festivaled. There was much bracelet tying, and sweets consumption as well as just intermingling and getting to know one another since it is not a common occurance for the Homes to be able to get together. We were quite the big, happy family. Following the tying and vowing was a huge picnic and a chance just to enjoy what was a gorgeous day (well, until a thunderstorm rolled in and we all fled for our rides home).
Today was the third day in a row now that the boys haven’t had school and they have definitely been busy days indeed. I am so glad that this weekend worked out the way it did and I really feel this was a perfect weekend at the perfect time. Not only did I get some quality time with the boys the last few days, but I also was able to spend some good time with them outside of the Home setting and with the larger Udayan community. I’d love to say that I planned it all to work out this way and such, but nope. This all fell together under the guidance of One who understands much better what it is that I truly needed to close out my time here well (and to think I still get another week to boot!).
16 August 2008
We have had pretty substantial rain over the past week and I’m pretty sure I haven’t prayed for a rain free day this much since my days of track and field. I guess somebody was listening, because the day turned out absolutely perfect. Not only was today the first rain free day in a week, but the morning was nice and cloudy with temps a little cooler than normal. Perfect for traipsing through the Park. A volunteer who usually comes every weekend, Ravi, was originally going to join us with his two kids, but was called in to work on Saturday, so it was 10 boys, and 4 adults all packed into the Bolero.
As is the norm with me and groups of kids (most recent event prior that comes to mind is a certain trip to a water pack in Gulfport, MS), I somehow managed to be separated from the caretakers and our driver with 8 of the boys while they split the two youngest amongst them.
No complaints here. It was so great going from exhibit to exhibit and listening to the boys as they searched for which animal was inside and worked on getting the names right. Some of the big favorites of the day were the elephants, lions, tigers and giraffes, but the runaway winner was the gibbons. Regardless of which animal we were watching, the was a constant stream of laughter and it was really great just to listen to the boys enjoy the animals being themselves.
I also really enjoy the fact that being with a bunch of little boys means there is plenty of conversation around why a deer poops little pellets, how much pee the hippo actually peed, which bird is gonna win the fight for the fish, and just how great it would be to have a trunk like and elephant. Learning to read the zoo map was also quite entertaining and since I made them take turns trying to lead we went in circles several times.
After the zoo, we went to the India Gate for a spell to play in the park and let off a surprising amount of energy considering we had just spent a few hours in a zoo. Then we took a vote and hit up McDonalds (unanimous decision and a very special treat) for some lunch on our way back to Noida.
It’s now a little bit after 9pm here and the house is absolutely dead. I deem it a successful day :).
15 August 2008
Today is India’s Independence Day. Just like the States, everybody get the day off from school and work and all that jazz. But the texture of the day is a bit different. It has only been 62 years since India won her independence and the immediate fall out from the British leaving and bisecting India into the nations of Pakistan (majority Muslim) and India (majority Hindu) was a very messy and bloody affair. Millions died in the scramble to get to the right side of the new border. The first generation to taste independence is still living, so the stories are real and independence means so much to those who lived when it did not exist.
We had our own little flag raising ceremony up on the top deck and sang a few songs commemorating the struggle and then the national anthem of India (and by we, I really mean I hung out while the boys did the heavy lifting since it was all in Hindi). It was great to share that with the little dudes.
The day was not all ceremony, though. I had put together some history on the Indian flag that we went through with the boys and this was topped off with a contest of ten flags from other nations with the one who identified the most getting a bag of potato chips.
Then the best part of all was we spent the entire afternoon flying kites. Not the plasticy-can’t-really-fly-but-are-dirt-cheap-at-wal-mart-so-we-still-buy-’em kind. But the real, bona fide paper kites that every child on the sub-continent grows up flying (if you’ve read the book “Kite Runner” then you’ll know what I’m referring to. If not, pick it up, it’s a great read). It was the perfect afternoon for it and the hours just flew on by. It was also pretty special in that the caretakers here at the Home, Berindra and Rita, were able to leave and see family for the afternoon so that meant that I had all the boys to myself for a good portion of it.
All in all, such a great day and a chance just to remember that many of the things we enjoy in life came at a huge cost to others in our past as well as enjoy the simple things like paper kites and string and being together for an afternoon...
14 August 2008
In other news, I managed to get completely soaked on the way back. Surprisingly this is the first real drenching I’ve received this monsoon season. Instead of taking the long way around on the major roads, I usually cut through the sector between the boys home and the girls. Needless to say, I am one of very few foreigners who have ventured into that neighborhood and am always greeted by so many curious children. Today was even better than usual since I got to surprise many of them by joining in their puddle jumping fun...
10 August 2008
This picture embodies a lot of what has struck me about India (click the picture to zoom in for a closer look).
In the foreground is a group of homes that have been built from whatever materials could be found. They are probably home to a bunch of construction workers and their families. The workers tend to migrate to wherever they are working with their families and when the job is done, they up and move on to the next one, family and all.
In the background, you can see a huge mall complex being built. Some of the tenants in the foreground may actually be helping to build it. Soon it will be filled with all sorts of goods and services and the surrounding neighborhoods will appreciate its close locale.
I know what it’s like to live in a world of malls. To go shopping and have options of what I would like to spend my “expendable” income on. I don’t know what it’s like to be in the other world. I have not had to struggle to put food on my plate. I have never had to choose whether my kids should work or go to school. I have never had to struggle for existence in a world that seems impossible to overcome.
Yet as I go though India, I can’t hope but notice that there are far more people living in the world that I don’t understand than in the one I do. Far more people toil for the comforts of a few than the other way around. I refuse to believe that this is due to laziness or a lesser intelligence or just dumb luck.
This disparity is also not unique to India, although the swelling population and social structures may make it more obvious. The system is broken, yet for those of us who benefit so greatly, it’s business as usual. I cannot reconcile this...
That’s all I have left. Crazy. I cannot believe how fast the time has been flying by. We had another quiet Sunday around here today and it was great to slow things down and relax. It is strange how all of life here has become the norm. Except for the heat and humidity... I’m convinced my body will never think of that as normal.
On the flip side, I am definitely tired. It has been non-stop action and the boys don’t slow down for anything. It takes quite a bit to keep up with them as well as quite a bit of energy just to function out ‘n about. Erin and I have been starting to finalize our touring plans and I am getting really excited to jump into the tourist role. I’m trying to be a good planner...
Two weeks to continue waking up each morning and seeing how the day unfolds... gosh it’s so simple :).
09 August 2008
1.027 Billion - Population (2001 census)
16.7% - Percentage of the World’s Population
53.7% - Literacy Rate for Women
75.3% - Literacy Rate for Men
41% - Families living in one-room homes
1st - World Ranking for reported HIV positive persons
60 million(est) - Number of Child Laborers
350 million(est) - Number of Persons below the Poverty Line
35%-40%(est) - Percentage of the Population that lives on less than $1(US) per day
2035(est) - Year in which India will surpass China as the most populous nation
08 August 2008
It was pouring rain most the day, but we still managed to have a great time. Our first stop was the Lotue Temple. This building is absolutely gorgeous and there is something about walking barefoot over the marble floors (they literally take your shoes) and sitting amongst quite the worldly contingent present there (quite the precursor to the Olympics country-wise).
Following our stop there, we headed over to the Defense Colony for some incredible South Indian food. Absolutely delicious.
After lunch, we headed over to Gandhi Smriti, which was Mohadas Gandhi’s final residence as well as the site of his assassination in 1948. As mentioned earlier, I’ve been reading through his autobiography lately and it was really great to see more about his life and times as well as have Rajiv there as a guide.
Even with all that on the agenda, I still managed to make it back to Noida in time to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics with the boys. They really enjoyed it and we spent most of the time with a globe in one hand and the list of countries in the other. I am much better at my geography now (even if they aren’t)...
07 August 2008
Let me step back a bit. These kids come off of the streets and face a huge task off the bat of adapting and adjusting to a life that is way more structured and regimented than they are used to. Then you throw a bunch of other kids in the mix with just as many background issues (if not more!) and try to let peace and harmony rule the day.
Once they just start to get the hang of things, then they are enrolled in school. Not some “normal” school, but the best they can find and afford in the area, and classes are in both Hindi, which all speak well and only a few can write, and in English which none come to the home speaking well and none can write well. Since education is of high importance to the decision makers of these homes, each child is place approximately one grade ahead of where their skills and knowledge actually are in hopes that they will rise to the occasion and apply themselves. So they are faced with the double barrier of language and skills with the expectation that somehow it should be okay. Oh yeah, and on top of all that, the girls started school about 4 or 5 weeks after their classmates had already started...
So I spent the afternoon at the Girls Home today. One of the girls had some kinda of appointment or other so it was just me and the two younger girls. One is in UKG, which is Upper Kindergarten and we spent the afternoon working on writing and spelling numbers one through ten and trying to get the order of the ABC’s down. The other is enrolled in first grade and we spent the afternoon working on first understanding her homework assignments and then mostly on mental and written math. She doesn’t know all of her ABC’s particularly well either and since most of her assignments are written out in English, she has a hard time even understanding what she is supposed to be doing.
Frustration is a constant companion and the littlest things can boil over into big things in a hurry. This only adds to the challenge of keeping them both engaged and on task. I have had similar interactions with the boys, but since most of them have been in the home and in school longer, they are definitely further along in some aspects.
We had a very productive day today. Part of it has to do with the fact that I don’t see them very often and they enjoyed someone new helping out and part if it had to do with it just being a good day. In a world and systems where progress is most always marked by quantity and efficiency, I find myself in quite a different reality (one I found while working on the Coast as well). Good days are to be celebrated not because of how much stuff got accomplished or how efficiently everything worked out, but simply because they were good days. With the myriad of barriers and challenges present in these kids’ lives good days tend to be hard to come by in terms of confidence and peer interaction and identity. So it becomes all the more important to pause when they come around and recognize them for what they are... Good days
06 August 2008
05 August 2008
04 August 2008
When the rest of the boys went outside to play football, the two younger ones, Vijay and Rahul approached me and asked me to help them make some boxes out of cardboard. We had a lovely afternoon designing, building and then decorating boxes (yes, I know how to use wrapping paper correctly, although ribbon might be a different story). It was only after I returned downstairs after a quick shower, that we then discovered that all of the boys were supposed have them done for tomorrow. Funny how it was the youngest that were the responsible ones...
Thus commenced the “Great Cardboard Hunt ‘08” followed by a lot of chaos, fighting, and eventually, box making. The end result is 10 gift wrapped boxes ready to rock ‘n roll tomorrow and lots of Fevicol-ed (a brand name of glue) fingers and a dining room littered in cardboard, paper, ribbon and the like. We definitely decided that I was best at drawing and assembling box parts and Rita was the queen of making them look giftable. Birendra was mysteriously nowhere to be found...
03 August 2008
02 August 2008
For starters, Steve, my fellow American here at the Home flew back to the States this morning. It was so great to have him here and have someone to ease my transition into things. He will definitely be missed and it still hasn’t sunk in with a few of the boys that he will not be coming back any time soon. As far as where I’m at with all of that, I’m doing pretty well. I feel as if I have become fully functional on my own here and while it was nice to have somebody join me in all my little forays into the neighborhood and beyond, I don’t really see myself holding back for lack of a buddy.
I’m pretty excited to see where things go in month two with the boys. Now that we know each other pretty well, I hope that relationships can continue to grow and mature. I have already seen so many changes in each of them, whether it is asking a question properly in English (still got some work to do there) or seeing an improvement in study habits or even playing soccer a little bit more like it’s a team sport. They are still at most 10 months removed from a life that I cannot understand or imagine. Yet they are still boys and most days tend to be better than the one before.
I have no idea what surprises are in store for the next couple of weeks, but the beauty of this thing is that I don’t really need to. For me, just like the boys, every day is about waking up and giving it our best shot, helping each other grow and become better people, looking for the little markers in just how far we’ve come.
Now if only I can find a way to make August 10* cooler than July...
01 August 2008
I got to drive the Bolero today.
The home has an SUV to move the boys around and even though it’s really made for only 7 adults we squeeze the boys in it every morning to go to school. It’s big as far as Indian cars are concerned, but in American terms it’s not much bigger than a Ford escape (although the diesel engine makes it sound tougher and any vehicle with a spare tire on the back door says “don’t mess with me”).
Yuppers, I got to take it for a spin. An by spin I mean: the-driver-guy-was-horribly-late-and-the-boys-needed-to-get-to-school-ten-minutes-ago-so-let’s-see-if-the-American-will-do-it-in-an-act-of-desperation. It takes a little getting used to with the shifter knob on the left and the blinker controls on the right, of course not to mention the fact that you also have to drive on the left side of the road and India’s roads are notoriously chaotic and congested.
We made it to school safe and sound with no problems. Good times had by all :)
30 July 2008
Tonight we were sitting around the dining room table enjoying a bit ‘o tea and reading the paper when a few of the boys decided that they should pick out a girlfriend for Steve before he goes (he heads out on friday). One section of the paper in particular, the Delhi Times, is full of the usual pop culture icons, both Indian and the rest of the world (American, Canadian, British, etc). After carefully surveying all the girls, they decided upon a slightly underdressed and overly makeupped Avril Lavigne. They had no idea who she was, but I started laughing pretty hard. Then, of course, they had to pass the paper around to show all the other boys who Steve’s new girlfriend was.
The last boy to get the paper was Rahul. He is one of the youngest boys and has been feeling under the weather the last two weeks or so. He’s definitely the most skilled when it comes to verbal skills and probably speaks the best English in the Home. Since he hasn’t been feeling well, he has not been his normal self and we have heard barely two words out of him.
Anyway, when Rahul finally gets the paper and flips to the page he clicks his tongue and declares “uh oh, chi chi” (which means “no good”). That brought the house down. We were all laughing so hard. I guess Steve and Avril don’t have a chance if it can’t pass the 6 year old approval test... These are some pretty special moments...
29 July 2008
- It’s ok to eat my vegetables
- Talking slow is an art form unto its own
- Cows and cities do in fact mix
- Height is a liability no matter where in the world you are
- Boys have lots of energy
- Said boys seem to gain energy when they increase in number
- One water jug, four jump ropes and one soccer ball are all it takes to pull off a successful olympics
- I am not good at taking pictures
- Mangos are delicious
- Religions can respect one another
- The rest of the world loves Obama, McCain not so much
- Leaving the Gulf Coast “to escape the heat and humidity” was a bad excuse
- Ants and I are not compatible
- I like to travel
- Writing is good for me
- We have a long way to go before there is peace on earth
- I have a lot to learn about the world
- A tall, white guy in India cannot blend in anywhere
- I need to trust people more
- The best is yet to come
28 July 2008
It was really great to see the bigger picture of everything going on and share some joys and sorrows as a group. We also had a presentation on how to work away from motivating the kids based solely on external factors and fostering internal motivation.
There are many times where these boys just seem like any normal boys and there are other times where the trials of their pasts remind us all that they have had a pretty rough start to things. It is definitely no easy task at any level and the commitment that each and every person in that room has been making is huge.
I remember when I first realized that my parents didn’t have parenting all laid out for them, but pretty much had to learn as they went (there are definitely some benefits of being middle child as opposed to first guinea pig!). The task at hand for these mentors is just as large, if not more complicated. What a gift to have the group to work through the struggles and share the joys with!
27 July 2008
This is a sad day for India and yet another reminder that the reality of security is vastly different in many other parts of the world than it is in the States. All major metro areas have been put on high alert and there is concern that more attacks may come in the following days. The group who has taken responsibility for yesterday’s attacks has been under much scrutiny as of late and it is unsure of whether there will be more attacks and just how coordinated the days events were.
I am in no immediate danger as these attacks appear to be politically motivated and Noida has little connection to the major political happenings (nice to be in a wealthy neighborhood).
There is much outrage across the nation and I can’t help but think of the many other places worldwide where theses types of acts are a regular part of life (Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine come to mind). Let us all seek to give voices to those who feel as if they are not heard in hopes of a less violent tomorrow...
26 July 2008
Today we held the inaugural Udayan Olympics Day here at the home. We started out the morning in the basement learning about the history of the Olympic Games and about the upcoming Beijing 2008 Olympics to be held next month and the Indian athletes that will be competing there. After that, each boy selected the sport that they would like to compete in someday at the Olympics and drew a picture of that day along with writing a short caption.
After a break for lunch, we all gathered together to watch the movie “Soccer Dog” which was a smash hit and thoroughly enjoyed by all.
We then proceeded to go outside to the park across the street to compete in various events ranging from a foot race and soccer ball toss to water jug lifting, three-legged races and pull-ups.
To cap off the evening, Steve and I cooked up some good ‘ol American food in the form of spaghetti (with garlic and mushroom sauce), garlic and cheese bread, watermelon, pineapple with Hawaiian Punch to wash it all down. I have never seen the boys eat so much (it’s 9:30 and dead quiet here!).
This day has been in the works for a few weeks now and it turned out to exceed our expectations. It was such a fun day and the boys really got involved and gave it their best shot all day long.
I’m so stinkin’ tired, but can’t wait to look through all the pics with the boys tomorrow :).
23 July 2008
Thoughts and prayers are with those starting the cleanup in Mexico and Texas and Japan...
22 July 2008
so it’s no secret that i wasn’t a perfect little child. i had my moment of weakness and stubbornness that i’m sure my mother could attest to. while i’ve paid i’ve paid the consequences for some of my actions and probably got away with a few, i’m pretty sure that i’m in a season of repayment for another...
yes, it’s true and i confess, i burned ants with a magnifying glass.
i think that youthful transgression is coming back to haunt me.
you see, ants in minnesota aren’t really all that pesky. they don’t sting or run rampant or cause much damage other than the occasional carpenter ants colony. killing and pestering them was simply youthful curiosity and entertainment.
and then i moved to mississippi. there i found out i have a natural knack for stepping on fire ant hills. you see fire ants can, and will fight back. not a week went by that i didn’t sport some welts or another from my inability to watch where i stepped. they had it in for me. penance, i guess for my youthful carelessness.
and now i live in india. no big, hungry carpenter ants. no pesky fire ants. just these tiny little red ants that have this amazing ability to find a way into anything and everything. i continually find them in my bed, on my clothes, crawling on their little ant highways along the walls, even in my pens. i’m sure they are out to get me. they never sleep, never stop. quite a good number moved into my computer the other day. i have been squishing the pesky little buggars on their way out ever since. they no longer come pouring out every time i turn it on or every time it heats up which i’m taking as a good sign. i think i’ve gained the upper hand on this battle, but i’m a bit worried about the war...
21 July 2008
This is also exciting on a second level. Most of our neighbors know nothing about the boys or the home. There is virtually no interaction whatsoever between the two other than an occasional passing in the street or in the park. Most of this is due to the boys having lived here less than a year and hopefully with time this will change. It is exciting to see the possibilities of friendship with neighbors. The older I get, the more I am amazed at my parent’s ability to keep up with four of us, and we had a huge support network. What a gift for these boys to be able to have some of that added into their own lives.
I’m pretty sure that it does take a community to raise a child...
20 July 2008
- Snake charmers do really exist (as do the snakes)
- I had my first ever conversation with someone while they were holding a fully automatic rifle
- Narrow streets + too many people + motorcycles + rickshaws + tourist should end in lots of blood and broken things, yet mysteriously it does not.
- Anybody who has money (in India I fit into that category) does not walk anywhere, therefore if you break that norm people get really confused (and every rickshaw between you and your destination will stop assuming that you need a ride)
- Touching stones laid by distant Empires in the 1600s is an eerily awesome experience
19 July 2008
-Mark Twain, Following the Equator
18 July 2008
17 July 2008
i found myself standing in the middle of a dusty, empty lot in humidity that i had to swim through surrounded by a bunch of boys who were just as sweaty as i was, and to top it all off it appeared that some of the local cows had chosen that lot as their grazing plot this morning thus the addition of gobs of cow poo on the soccer ball, the kids and myself... and that’s when i realized that this is my life :)
‘twas a good moment.
15 July 2008
14 July 2008
The only real problem being that the book barely lasted me through week one (lots of time on airplanes makes for short reads). A few days ago I managed to stumble into a bookstore as I was out ‘n about for a bit. Mostly I was excited to get some good maps of the area in anticipation of the touristy stuff to come when I leave. That said, I of course spent a few hours browsing and ended up with an English translation of Mahatma Gandhi’s Autobiography. Best part yet is that it cost 30 Rupees or 75 cents. Perfect.
Below is an excerpt from the book that is an interesting perspective about turn of the century Christianity here in India. Unfortunately, it appears that such an impression was not an isolated incident in India’s past with concern for Christians proselytizing in India...
“I developed a sort of dislike for [Christianity]. And for a reason. In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood there to hera them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experiment. About that time, I heard of a well-known Hindu having been converted to Christianity. It was the talk of the town that, when he was baptized, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes, and thenceforth he began to go about in European costume including a hat. These things got on my nerves. Surely, thought I, a religion that compelled one to eat beef, drink liquor, and change one’s own clothes did not deserve such the name. I also heard that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country. All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity.”
India is incredibly amazing when it comes to religions. While most of the population is Hindi, there is a general understanding of other religions and an openness to allowing others to worship as they desire. We could learn a lot about what it means to be hospitable towards others of different faiths and open to dialoguing along such lines. There is still a common understanding that for Christianity it is necessary to adopt a certain culture (read British Imperial Christianity from the turn of the century), but even with that backdrop, I have been warmly welcomed and people are genuinely interested in talking about faith and religion.
13 July 2008
My arrival to India, however, has kicked off what will be a mostly vegetarian diet for the next few months. There are many reasons why India has quite a few vegetarians. Some of it economics, since meat is usually more expensive. Some of it is religious, since some sects hold a sanctity to all animal life. Some of it is social, since there is a limited distribution chain that is very much dictated by supply and demand.
I have had the opportunity for some meat. A local volunteer, Ravi, to the home invited Steve, my fellow American volunteer, and I over to his place last Sunday for dinner and to watch the Wimbledon final and the Asia Cup Cricket final. We had a very delicious mutton meatloaf dish and a great time with his family (tennis was a big rained out and India got blasted by Sri Lanka in the cricket match). Yesterday, Steve and I snuck away for a bit and grabbed a good ‘ol chicken big mac as we were out an about. I am hoping to find a little bit of meat once a week or so, but am fine with the majority of my intake being veggie... for now :).
12 July 2008
My role here in India is first and foremost to help the kids with their english skills. It’s pretty great really. I am to talk, talk and talk some more. I will also probably return to the states and talk very slowly using simple words and phrasing for the first few months as I readjust to speaking with people who actually know the language...
In India, english is very widely spoken in the major urban areas and the upper echelons of society, but is not so common among the rural peoples and those in the lower economic stratums. Therefore, here in India, education and english are closely tied together and most of the premiere job sectors require a high proficiency of english skills for employment. The cycle feeds itself.
It is exciting to realize that for these 11 boys here at the Home they will break the cycle and acquire good english skills both through their school as well as exposure to so many foreigners like myself during their stay here. This is something to rejoice about. It is extremely depressing, however, to walk through the streets and neighborhoods and realize just how many people will never have such opportunities. They will spend their entire lives cutoff from participation and inclusion in much of what makes India tick.
I know that there are so many factors that enable systems to function and that english is but a small part of the issues here in India (and elsewhere), but how does one come to tackle such inequality? How does one be a person endowed with substantial privilege and wield that privilege for leveling purposes? How does one (1) make a difference?
11 July 2008
7:00-8:00 Help the boys get through a quick breakfast and ready and off to school.
8:00-9:00 Breakfast and getting ready for the day
9:00-2:00 Most of the boys are at school so this time is filled with working with Praveen (who is not in school yet), some grammar work with Birendra and Rita, emails and blogging, trips to the market, etc.
2:00-3:00 Lunch :)
3:00-5:30 Homework time with the boys. They have a paid “teacher” who comes during this time and I assist them with their work.
5:30-7:00 Outside play time. Usually consists of some running, and then any combination of football (soccer), cricket, frisbee, and whatever other spur of the moment entertainment can be derived on short notice.
7:00-7:30 Snack time. This is probably my favorite part of the day since it usually is a time of much laughter and togetherness :)
7:30-9:00 Open time. Lots of baths take place as well as some computer time or finishing unfinished homework as well as reading and playing.
9:00-9:30 Dinner time. Yup, that’s right, dinner. The evening meal is extremely late over here and my stomach is still trying to catch up to that time schedule.
9:30-10:30 Down time and getting ready for bed
09 July 2008
A side-affect of this summit was a breakfast meeting yesterday morning between President Bush and India’s Prime Minister to continue discussion concerning a nuclear partnership between the two countries. I know in the US that people are divided on the proposed deal.
Some say that the thought of sharing nuclear knowledge with an Asian government is fundamentally a bad idea. Others are worried that India will use this partnership to further their standoff with not-so-neighborly Pakistan. Others see this only as a last ditch effort by Bush to put something positive on his international record before he leaves office.
There are also those that support the proposed deal. They see it as securing and ally in a volatile region of the world. Or as a great way to de-escalate the tension in the region by forcing India to pursue non-weaponized nuclear technology. Some even see it as a way of ensuring that the US interests in India’s budding economy is secured for years to come.
But what about India? It appears that the National government is reaching a crisis situation over the proposed deal. A vote of confidence in the current administration appears both likely and unavoidable as the country is torn between immediate need and future security.
It is no secret that India needs energy. There are constant interruptions in power and rolling brown-outs plague many regions. Ironically, this is not due to an over-reliance on technology or people having too many gizmos. It is simply too many people trying to power their lights and fans and demand far out drawing the supply. India needs energy infrastructure now. This new deal would accelerate the process of creating sustainable nuclear power to enable India to continue to ride the wave of this economic boom as well as extend that boom beyond the cities and into the very underdeveloped poorer areas.
But for India, this is a short-term fix. In agreeing to the deal, India would be forced to play second-fiddle to the whims of the US government for it really is an all give and very little take for the long term. Much of the development would be lining the pockets of Western companies and India would be forced to not only back down on their own military security (even possible nuclear disarmament while being surrounded by several very capable nuclear neighbors) but also other concessions that have very little or nothing at all to do with sharing energy technology. The US would not be held to such standards, for really they are giving up next to nothing yet reaping quite a bit of control.
Thus a political system that is already hampered by the demands of being the world’s largest democracy (1 billion people strong) is spending far too much time debating whether to make long-term concessions for the sake of short-term prosperity and far too little time addressing the plethora of other needs the country has. In a government of coalitions, this division could affect the ability (or inability) of factions to work together for years to come.
I honestly don’t know where I stand on the deal. I will say, however, that the deal is a lot more real due to waking up in the middle of the night because fans are no longer running or attempting to eat dinner with 11 kids by the light of two candles. I can also say that my Bible talks about loving my neighbor as myself and that I feel a high degree of cynicism that any government will ever heed that directive.
There are no simple answers here.
Major Sud is the Chairman of the Home, which means he is in charge of the overall operations and has been heavily involved since its inception as he is retired and quite wealthy at that. His wife, Asha, as well as Anjana Jain are the two mentor mothers. They see to the overall care of the children. All three are quite committed to the home and usually try to stop by every day if possible.
Birendra and Rita Xana are the caregivers. They live right here in the home and are the ones that really make this place tick. They do not know english very well (we have been doing some grammar lessons for about an hour each day) which makes it a bit tricky, but they are an amazing couple who moved here to the Delhi region specifically to work in this home.
There are also several teachers, drivers, and volunteers that pour countless time energy and effort into making this place tick. It’s really quite incredible to see the outpouring of support that these boys have and the dedication present to enable them to succeed both at present and in the future. Note, the goal of this home is not to work towards adoption, but to equip each boy with the life skills needed to succeed here in India.
That brings us to the boys... Currently there are eleven boys: Gaurav, Mohit, Sandeep, Umesh, Ajay, Shivam, Manjeet, Vijay, Rahul, Praveen and Aryan. I never was very good with names to begin with, but it has definitely taken some practice to get all of them down! All of the boys, except for Aryan, have spent the majority of their lives on the streets and do not have any parents. Aryan is the youngest and is actually Birendra and Rita’s son, but lives right in with the rest of the children and is treated no differently (for the most part). They boys have their rough spots and are still less than a year removed from their former lives (less than for months in the case of Praveen). That said, they have made amazing progress under the circumstances and I am so thrilled to be here with them for a spell.
08 July 2008
Most of the children living in these homes have passed the ideal adopting age (3 years old) and all come from living on the streets in and around the New Delhi National Capital Region. They arrive at these homes via government involvement or through the efforts of other non-government organizations. There are currently 4 Homes for girls and 3 Homes for boys with one more of each in the planning stages.
The homes are placed in middle class neighborhoods both for stability and isolation, but also to provide them access to good environments to play as well as to be near good schools and such.
Each home has two caretakers, which is usually a live-in couple who are responsible for being the primary care givers as well as 2-3 mentors who are directly involved in all facets of the Home operation and care of the children. There are also countless volunteers who drop in roughly on a weekly basis to spend time with the kids and provide extra support and encouragement.
Which leads me to me. My role in all of this is to supplement the quality care already being offered to these kids and to do as much english work with them as possible. They have english courses as part of their school routine, but they still need a lot of attention as far as proper speaking, grammar and conversation are concerned. It is quite interesting, actually, to be in a position where I am charged with something so simple and I really hope to be able to embrace this fully.
07 July 2008
However, with this many boys things are usually pretty hectic. Whether it’s getting ready for school and making sure the right backpack gets with the right books and the right owner who needs to be wearing the right socks kind of thing or just making sure that everybody got some food at each meal, there are just lots of things going on at the same time.
It’s all an exercise in entropy really... Everything is kinda measured on the degree of disorder in the system. Some days have more measuring than others and some days are just flat out anarchy.
And every once in a while there are time like tonight... We came in from playing cricket, football (soccer) and frisbee in the street and park and all sat in the dining area for a snack and it was incredible; no yelling, no crying, not even anything goofy. Just 11 boys, 2 caretakers and 2 sweaty and exhausted volunteers all laughing, talking and still... magical.
...until the glass of milk got spilled, a fight broke out over the last few crackers, and anarchy reigned again...
I have had lots of those moments in my life. I gotta admit, as far as families go I think I came out pretty far ahead of the curve. But for these boys, I’m pretty sure that moments like this have not been the norm or even the exception for much of their lives to date. But this is why Udayan does Homes, for moments like tonight...
06 July 2008
Keonjhar (Orissa): A tusker, which had escaped with burns after villagers set it on fire last week, returned to Jodha Bhuyan Basti, 70km from here [Delhi], on Saturday and went on a rampage killing one man and destroying homes.
Panic gripped residents of the village as the elephant killed Phulchand Mohanta (40), who is originally from Mayurbhanj district’s Rairangpur.
The elephant, which has already killed eight persons in Barbil forest range area over the last two years, trampled Mohanta near his house around about 8am.
05 July 2008
Well, apparently a few (and by few I mean that it turned out to be six of ten) of the boys had been using the park as part of their early morning bathroom routine as well. Now remember, these kids have spent the majority of their lives on the street where the prospect of having such a lush bathroom was never even dreamt of. Granted, they knew better and had a pretty good idea what they were doing was wrong. But for whatever reason, convenience probably, they were being naughty.
It took about 20 minutes to sort out all the details tonight and find out who was guilty and what the whole story was and why they felt the need. I don’t know very many Hindi words, but I think I was able to follow most of the conversation. I was definitely struggling at holding in the giggles the whole time. We live in a gated part of the town and the fact that there is any grass at all, not to mention really nice grass, testifies to the income level of the community. I guess the bottom line (pun intended) is that they are doing their part to keep it that way... C’mon, that’s just too funny...
04 July 2008
One of the things that I’ve been hoping to get out of this trip is discipline. One cannot jump into a society and a people that is so foreign without needing take a good long look at themselves. Everywhere I go and in everything I do I am reminded that I am different and not of this place. Really, this is probably pretty good for me since I often find excuses and distractions in “normal” life back home.
Blogging is part of this desire to be disciplined. Not only does it force me to process through the massive amounts of information and thoughts colliding in my brain, but it also affords others a peek into this experience and a brief taste of life a little different. I have had quite a bit of feedback, which is both wonderful and appreciated, and am starting to realize that this kind of experience is not possible for everyone to undertake. Hopefully the thoughts, words and stories here will not only continue to convey that fact that I’m still kicking, but also push all of us deeper into this whole living life mindful of who we have been, who we are and who we want to be...
(oh yeah, and last night I realized that I reached my goal of having all 10 boys’ names down)
“Udayan” is a Sanskrit (an ancient Indian language heavily tied into current religious writings) word that means “eternal sunrise.” It is the hope of all who come through these doors, whether they be here to help or be helped will then leave these doors as part of that never ending sunrise on India and the world. In fact, since practically all of the children all come to the Udayan Homes without last names, they inherit Udayan as their legal and official last name. Pretty incredible :).
To Regenerate the Rhythm of Life of the Disadvantaged
For every child a home and education, for every adult the dignity of self-reliance and desire to give back to society
This Vision and Mission has led to the development of 6 Ghars (Homes) for children rescued in and around New Delhi as well as programs to assist underprivileged young women with money and mentoring as they seek higher education and learning and supporting underserved communities by assisting in vocational training and personality development programs so that these affected individuals can then enact change in their own environment.
I have the opportunity to participate in only a small part of the bigger picture here, but it is pretty incredible to realize the scope of how many ways the underseved and underprivileged of any society need assistance and chains to be broken. It is incredible how large Udayan Care has grown in the past 14 years and amazing that they have been able to tackle several different issues head on. Even more exciting is the fact that it is a completely native Indian organization and not a Western dependent program.
You can find out much, much more about Udayan Care as well as ways to get involved at their website: www.udayancare.org
03 July 2008
I had experienced this motion by car when getting picked up at the airport and delivered to the Home, but today was a bit different. I went into New Delhi today to pick up my luggage which had finally been recovered, but since I didn’t have a car, the method of transportation was an auto rickshaw. These tiny little three wheelers are really the taxis of India (along with their bicycle counterparts) and have replaced the traditional rickshaws which were pulled by people running (great little aside: the “autos“ can run on either gasoline or propane along with many of the cars here in India). They don’t have seat belts or any real sense of safety (Mom, start breathing again), and compared to some of the trucks we’re little more than a bug about to get squashed, but the city is full of them and they are really quite useful to anybody who needs to get around and doesn’t have a vehicle.
So really the good news is I got my luggage (yay!) and the ride of my life to boot. There will definitely be more fun rides to come (Erin start working on those nerves of steel)...
02 July 2008
Just prior to my arrival here in India, the boys’ home where i was to be working was flooded. The monsoon rains came 2 weeks early this year, and the location of the home is apparently not on the highest ground. The boys are all currently living eith with volunteer families or at another temporary facility, so I have been rerouted to Noida, India which is a South East suburb just across the Yamuna River. The name of the home is Yaakov’s Light and is still part of the Udayan Care Homes. I’ll talk about Udayan Care more in a later post. I am no longer living with a host family, but am living in the home for my stay. We have internet access here, so I should be pretty consistent with updates and emails :).
I have a roommate. Steve is from Philadelphia and has been here for a month now. He is taking some time this summer to hang out here before heading back for his senior year at college this fall. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have another American around just to be able to ask questions and process things with. What a welcome surprise!
My friend, Erin Counihan, who I worked with on the coast for 21 months is ending her term with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in the beginning of August. Before settling in to “normal” life, she is coming to India for two weeks at the conclusion of my stay at the Home. I can’t tell you how excited I am to have a travelling buddy to explore more of the New Delhi region with and to have an excuse to prolong my stay.
I got word this evening that my luggage has been delivered in New Delhi and will be taking an auto-rickshaw into the city tomorrow to retrieve it. I have never been so excited about clothes (and most importantly flip-flops) before in my life. I’m also still working on the whole acclimating myself to life thing. I did not get much more than four hours of sleep during the traveling craziness, so needless to say I was pretty wiped when I got here. I fell asleep Tuesday afternoon at 3pm and slept hard until about 2am. Of course, since my internal clock was flip-flopped, I spent the rest of the night awake and doing the few miscellaneous things one can do when there is one roommate, 11 boys and a caretaker couple all sleeping in most areas of the house. Today was much better, I hit the wall at 6pm, but with a little bit of soccer time, I’ve managed to make it this late (10pm). I’m hoping to crash hard tonight and be close to getting on schedule after that.
30 June 2008
My luggage, unfortunately, has not made it :(. The good new is that it isn’t lost, so that makes me really relieved. In all the switching craziness, I guess I got ahead of it and it was scheduled to come in on the 10:30pm flight. I’ve never prayed about luggage before, so I guess that’s one more thing to chalk up to this new adventure.
It hit me while I was waiting in line at the British Airways counter to sort out my luggage stuff the absurdity of what I have undertaken. I’ve jumped into new and unfamiliar things before (North Park, Mission Year, Gulf Coast), but somehow that’s a little different this time around. I am highly dependent on others for everything from finding water that is safe to drink, to working with money, to just getting around. I know that in time, I will gain a familiarity with what is going on and how to function, but for now it’s pretty crazy.
That’s just a quick hit for now, there’s plenty more to share, but really I just wanted people to know that I made it :)
New revelation? Nope. Spend a few months working in the wake of a natural disaster and one learns very quickly just how dependent we are on external factors. That said, this is still India Lesson #1 and theme of travel day numero uno.
Today I made it to the airport right on time this morning. Had a whole two hours to breeze on through security and check-in. Got to the gate with just enough time. Flight delayed. Apparently there was too much congestion on the East Coast and we would be delayed on our landing time, so our take-off time was moved back an hour. Even better. Go get some coffee and people watch (totally the best way to pass the time at airports).
2:00 rolls around and we go through the usual boarding fun time, and then we’re off. Around Cleveland, we get the announcement that we have been put in a holding pattern because there is a bit of storm activity up ahead that is slowing things down over there even more. Horray for second round of Mountain Dews :).
About an hour later (do we get credit for airline miles based on circles added to the trip or just straight as the crow flies?), the announcement is made that we have been cleared to proceed to the Rochester, NY area and then to hold there. Still on pace to make it in without having to stop and refuel anywhere. Small consolation at this point in the game and passenger comments clearly separate the optimists and the pessimists.
So we proceed forward, and keep practicing our best Nascar impersonation. They’ve switched to water now since they’ve run out of soda :(. Next thing I know, the sun is staying on the right side and the pilot is telling us that they’ve closed down all New York airports due to weather and with the already over-trafficed day, we’re being sent back to Minnesota.
Yup, that’s right, Right back to where we started. After four hours of flying in circles, I am now no closer to India then when we started (well unless you wanna get technical and count the fact that I made it from the G part of the terminal to F).
Let’s face it, at this point, I’m pretty flexible. The orphanage has me for eight weeks, I’m sure they won’t mind me a day or two late. But I feel pretty sorry for everybody just trying to get home after a weekend away or back to their families after a business trip or having some big meeting that they are now gonna miss tomorrow morning. Yup, still not having much say in how things are turning out. They all get a night at the hotel, I get to run across the terminal (I so go the better deal).
...Small aside... there was an elderly couple from Spain on the flight trying to return home and since they missed their international connection, they were rerouted to the same flight I am on. The only problem was that they do not understand English very well at all and apparently most interpreters for Northwest Airlines speak French and not Spanish. The poor couple could not understand that we had landed back in Minnesota and were convinced that we were in New York since the plane took off and landed four hours later. I tried to help with what little Spanish I still have sloshing around in the brain (with many gestures, of which, there is none sufficient to convey Minnesota) and fortunately both the translator and I were saved by a flight attendant passing by who just happened to be fluent in Spanish. There were many laughs to go around once everybody was on the same page. Maybe next time I’ll try going the pictorial route...
Currently, I’m on my way to Amsterdam (I hear it’s nice there this time of year). From there I catch a connecting flight to London and then head on down to New Delhi. Instead of arriving at 10pm local time Monday night (9:30am CST), I should get in around 6:30am Tuesday morning (7pm Monday CST). Good thing I’m on vacation :).
Now if only my luggage catches up with me... I’m not up for that much adventure in one day...
26 June 2008
- Curry. I’ve had a secret addiction for several years now (surprise!). Actually, it’s gonna be pretty interesting for this Minnesota farm boy to spend two months not eating cows. In light of rising food costs and the high cost of resources and time that it takes to keep meat on our plates, I am really curious as to how something as simple as diet can minimize our impact on what is becoming very limited resources.
- Price. After working for peanuts the last two years, I found a group that I can still afford to go with and not have to use my change to make it work. Volunteering India is a native, Indian non-profit organization that seeks to better their native land by making it affordable for individuals to come and make a difference throughout India. They are cheap on purpose and I’m definitely a fan.
- Multi-Cultural. India can trace its history well into the year 2,000 BC. New Delhi, the capital city which I will be living and working in and around, is built on the site of 7 historical cities. Couple all those rich traditions with a predominantly Hindu population that is far more open and inclusive to outside influences and you have, not the melting pot that America claims to desire, but a real stew of histories, ideas, and religions.
- English. Finally Colonialism pays off for the West. Oh, Err, wait... As part of what used to be the empire of Great Britain, English and many other little intricacies are decisively British. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that India was set free from British rule, yet a small part of the vast history of that region. While most would not agree that British influence was a high point in the region, we do have them to thank for some modern day realities such as the separate nations of India and Pakistan, the vast railroad system connecting the major Indian cities...
- Eastern. I live in the West. We like to think that we have the best understanding of what this world is all about and how we should function, but the vast majority of the human population and the origins of most of the major world religions today lie in the East. I know very little about what life in the East is like and what exactly sets the East apart from the West. Time to take on some ignorance hands on style.
- Desire to Travel. I like to be on the move discovering and embracing new places and new things. My time on the coast was the longest I’ve spent in one place since graduating from high school. And my time there was spent at 9 different volunteer hosting facilities. I like to think of India as scratching an itch in that department. Really, I think its gonna be great to dive into the big, wide world for a bit and use that as yet another lens with which to view life as it could be in the years to come.
- Iran wouldn’t take me. Something about being an American. Actually, I literally had a million possibilities of places to go and things to do. I guess when you start with the premise that you have 8 weeks to burn, a little bit of money to spend on the trip and a desire to go somewhere, it really doesn’t disqualify too many opportunities out there. I looked into several other opportunities (Ethiopia, Philippines to name a few), but this one just seemed to be the best fit, and the way things have come together, I can’t really object.
- Why not India? For all the posh and glitz of Bollywood, the massive skyscrapers rising all over the country and being one of the few nations advanced enough to manufacture nuclear bombs, the truth is that the vast majority of Indian people live in situations that are far from glamourous and comfortable. The majority of my time will be spent working with boys who have been orphaned and abandoned by their parents for many different reasons and my role will simply be to show up and help out and hang out with them. Who wouldn’t wanna do that?
- I have Obsessive - Compulsive Volunteering Disorder (OCVD). I think I may have a problem. The places and work keeps on changing, but the lifestyle seems eerily the same. Some days I feel like I’m ignoring the real world and others I guess I feel like I better enjoy the ability to be mobile and travel while I can. Unfortunately, this means leaving my cats behind to enjoy farm life for a bit, but I guess I shall have to deal...
- Good Question! Honestly, I feel like I can plot and plan and try and anticipate everything that is to come and I do believe that I have a few valid reasons for taking this trip, but I really have no clue what is in store for the next few weeks. I do know that the way things have fallen together means that this trip is meant to be, but I really have nothing more to hold fast to at this point than hope that my luggage show up when I do and my time and energy can leave things better than I found them...
09 June 2008
16 May 2008
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen.
-Archbishop Oscar Romero
09 May 2008
04 May 2008
-summer is upon us in all of it’s sunny, thundery stickiness (thankfully it’s not 2 t-shirt a day days...yet)
-olive tree has become home and i will be spending the remainder of my time here (yippee)
-i’m so ready to leave, but so not ready to begin life anew elsewhere (gulp)
-jazz fest was soggy and excellent (sogcellent?)
-the cats are getting HUGE and continue to be a source of so much joy and entertainment (who needs tv when you have pets?)
-my trailer is clean(er)
-the revival of the new orleans hornets has been so great to tag along with (CP3 anyone?)
-i am sorely lacking hobbies
-muffins are quickly becoming my breakfast of choice (horray for otis spunkenmeier)
-i desire to become a grand master scrabble player (bring it on)
-i am learning how to be a camera owner (talk about pressure)
-chicago is looking imminent for the fall (ugh, why am i skipping summer there?)
21 March 2008
20 March 2008
19 March 2008
18 March 2008
17 March 2008
15 March 2008
Christian Century: Shopping for justice: The trouble with good intentions
Julie Clawson needed a new bra. Most of the time Clawson, a Chicago-area pastor, would have just gone to the store, plunked down some cash and headed home with a new bra. But she had been reading about globalization, and her conscience made her wonder where her money was going and what was being done with it. So she decided to try an experiment. She decided to find a "justice bra"—to make a purchase that could do no wrong.
"The bra had to be made from an organically grown material. No synthetics made from petroleum, no pesticides . . . and no unsustainable practices," she wrote on the God's Politics blog. The bra must contain no toxic dyes, and it had to be "fairly made. From the farmers who grew the fibers, to the weavers who spun the fabric, to the tailors who assembled it, each person (adults, not children) along the way had to have been paid a living wage . . . not been coerced to work, and treated humanely."
Did such a bra exist? After searching for a couple weeks, Clawson found one. An online retailer based in Canada had a U.S.-made organic cotton bra that met her "justice bra" standards at a price of about $30—not much more than she would have spent at the mall.
Most of our clothes—and many other products we use each day—are made overseas. It's not just underwear that raises justice issues. In recent years, the living and working conditions of those making American clothes have come under greater scrutiny.
For example, the PBS documentary China Blue shows what life is like for Chinese workers who make the blue jeans that Americans wear. "They live crowded together in cement factory dormitories where water has to be carried upstairs in buckets," reports the film's Web site. "Their meals and rent are deducted from their wages, which amount to less than a dollar a day."
On a winter day in 1999, Pietra Rivoli, a finance and international business professor at Georgetown University, watched a student protest. A young woman stepped to the microphone and challenged the crowd: "Who made your T-shirt?" she asked. "Was it a child in Vietnam, chained to a sewing machine, without food or water? Or a young girl from India earning 18 cents per hour and allowed to visit the bathroom only twice per day? Did you know that she lives 12 to a room? That she shares her bed and has only gruel to eat? That she is forced to work 90 hours each week, without overtime pay?"
Rivoli realized that she didn't know the answers to those questions. So she decided to find out. While on vacation in Florida, she bought a $6 T-shirt with a picture of a parrot on the front of it and over the next five years traced the shirt's history, a project she describes in her book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy.
She tracked the shirt to Sherry Manufacturing, a Miami silk-screener that printed the design. Sherry connected her with Xu Zhao Min of Shangai Knitwear, which sold the shirt to Sherry. When Xu was next in the States, Rivoli invited him to visit her at Georgetown. During that conversation, Rivoli asked him if she could visit him in China to see where the shirts were sewn, the fabric was knit and the yarn spun. She also asked, "Could I go to the farm and see how the cotton is produced?"
"That might be difficult," Xu replied. "I think the cotton is grown very far from Shanghai. Probably in Teksa." Rivoli pulled out a globe and asked where in China "Teksa" was. Xu turned the globe around and pointed—at Texas.
Asking questions about the relationships between the goods, trade, labor and economics of globalization may produce some answers—but often they create even more questions.
Stories abound of unsafe working conditions, bad food in insufficient quantities, unsafe housing, child labor and low pay. Sweatshop Watch defines a sweatshop as:
a workplace that violates the law and where workers are subject to: extreme exploitation, including the absence of a living wage or long work hours; poor working conditions, such as health and safety hazards; arbitrary discipline, such as verbalSome sweatshops still use child labor, says Sweatshop Watch. According to the group's Web site, "Many child laborers are in exploitative conditions with low wages, long working hours, no medical or welfare facilities . . . exposed to dangerous working environments with few educational opportunities. Some children are working under bonded and slave-like conditions, harmful to physical, emotional growth and development."
or physical abuse; or fear and intimidation when they speak out, organize, or attempt to form a union.
Throughout the history of the mechanized cotton-clothing industry, Rivoli writes, the key input needed was a docile labor force willing to do dull, repetitive tasks over long hours with few breaks. In every country's textile industry, docility comes from "a lack of alternatives, lack of
experience, and limited horizons."
Yet to many Chinese textile workers, life in the mills is much better than life back on their farms
and in their villages. On assignment for the New York Times Magazine, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn headed to China to expose the evils of sweatshops. In their article "Two Cheers for Sweatshops," they describe their 1987 interviews with young women in a purse-making sweatshop in southern China. The women worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with a week or two off to go back home at the Chinese New Year. To the journalists' surprise, the women "all seemed to regard it as a plus that the factory allowed them to work long hours."
"It's actually pretty annoying how hard they want to work," the factory manager told Kristof and WuDunn. "It means we have to worry about security and have a supervisor around almost constantly."
In a 2004 New York Times column, Kristof tells the story of Nhep Chanda, a 17-year-old Cambodian girl who sifts through the city dump to make a living. She averages 75 cents a day for her efforts. For her, the idea of being exploited in a garment factory—working only six days a week, and inside instead of in the broiling sun, for up to $2 a day—is a dream.
American sensibilities regard sweatshops as inhumane places that exploit young women and girls. Kristof and WuDunn acknowledge the problems. Workers do live in firetrap dorms. Children are exposed to dangerous chemicals. Some managers do "deny bathroom breaks, demand sexual favors, force people to work double shifts or dismiss anyone who tries to organize a union." But sweatshops have also been the engine of growth in China and other East Asian countries.
Between 1981 and 2001, the number of people in extreme poverty (living on less than $1 a day) fell in East Asia by more than 500 million people. The percentage of East Asians living in extreme poverty fell from 57.7 percent to 14.9 percent. Also, the portion of East Asians living on less than $2 a day fell from 84.8 percent in 1981 to 47.4 percent in 2001.
Smaller gains have occurred in South Asia, including India, mainly because South Asian countries were slower to embrace international trade as a growth strategy. And in the rest of the developing world, the poverty rate has been about the same or has even increased because governments have rejected growth strategies based on the export trade.
According to economist Jagdish Bhagwati, author of In Defense of Globalization (Oxford University Press), jobs in poor-country factories that are run by multinational corporations pay much better than most other jobs in those countries. Generally, workers at such jobs earn up to 10 percent more than they would in comparable jobs in their countries. Some multinationals pay as much as 40 to 100 percent higher. Kristof and WuDunn report that wages in Dongguan, China, have risen from $50 a month in 1987 to $250 a month today, though this pay premium doesn't necessarily carry over to the locally owned subcontractors of multinational firms.
Some Chinese factories are even getting less "sweaty." Andy Mukherjee of Bloomberg.com describes a massive Chinese factory complex—with 200,000 workers—where Apple's iPods are
made. Dorms are air-conditioned and have TV rooms, snooker tables and public telephones. The campus has "soccer fields, a swimming pool, supermarkets, Internet cafes, banks, 13 restaurants and a hospital." The factory appears to comply with Chinese labor laws and doesn't use child labor. All the employees have medical coverage. The iPod factory is hardly the norm, but it shows what can happen as China's export goods become more valuable and as Chinese workers become more accustomed to modest but growing wealth.
According to Rivoli, sweatshop jobs can help workers develop a new set of choices. Schooling, independence and release from undesirable arranged marriages become possible. Rivoli notes that as Chinese factory workers have gotten more skilled, they have gained clout. "The factories producing textiles cannot find the workers they need to keep producing," she says. "The power has shifted. Rather than having millions of people begging for a job and being exploited, you have instead thousands of factories begging for workers. I think that is a sign of progress."
For Christians who want to improve substandard working conditions around the globe, Rivoli hints at a solution: don't try to eliminate the jobs through boycotts and similar tactics. Kristof and WuDunn agree: "Asian workers would be aghast at the idea of American consumers boycotting certain toys or clothing in protest." Instead, pressure the employers by shining a light on their practices and making them publicly known. Help the workers learn how to stand up for better working conditions.
Bhagwati agrees that public pressure is better than trade sanctions for cleaning up labor practices in developing countries. He admits that many people think formal sanctions—such as boycotts and bans and tariffs—will work better at improving overseas wages and working conditions than moral persuasion. "Indeed, we must remember that God gave us not just teeth
but also a tongue," Bhagwati writes. "And a good tongue-lashing on a moral cause is more likely to work today than a bite. Recall that, with NGOs and CNN, we have the possibility now of using shame and embarrassment to great advantage."
There are limits on how much even well-meaning people will pay for "justice." In her search for
a justice bra, Julie Clawson had found one for $100 made in the United Kingdom, but she balked at paying such a high price. "I knew this endeavor would require more funds than the typical sale bin at the mall, but I had my limits. There has to be a balance between saving a buck at the expense of a worker in a third-world nation and throwing one's money away on luxury items."
And it's not at all clear that Clawson really achieved the greatest justice by buying the
"justice bra." At best, Clawson could hope for a long-term effect: if enough people think like her, then maybe working conditions around the globe could improve as demand for unjust bras wanes. At worst, buying an American-made bra from a Canadian company made some poor sweatshop worker a little worse off.
Is Clawson's willingness to pay $30 for justly made underwear typical of most Americans? The Wal-Mart store in Lake Zurich, Illinois, has a wide selection of bras ranging from $8 to $15. Undoubtedly, these fail Clawson's justice criteria. But they were probably made by poor-country workers doing jobs they prefer over their other options. And the low price allows low-income Americans to stretch their hard-earned dollars farther. So which bra does more justice?