'What I do is me: for that I came.' G M Hopkins

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pick Jesus

It amazes me that two people can part for five weeks and each travel thousands of miles in opposite directions on various safe and not-so-safe means of transport by road, air and rail and arrange to meet up at exactly 9.15am at the Meeting Point at the International Airport on a particular date and both actually arrive there! My father often used to pray for ‘journeying mercies’ and the man and I are thankful for those.

The wandering minstrel has returned intact. While on tour the band members were given all sorts of gifts and mementos, including a plectrum which says, ‘Pick Jesus’! At one gig in Portland an enthusiastic fan bounded up to him and asked, ‘Could you please sign my coconut?’ ‘How exactly,’ I asked, ‘does one sign a hairy coconut?’ With a sharpie, apparently.

When you go away for a long time you miss things. I missed my son’s graduation – LLB (Hons) from the University of Reading. We are very proud and the man flew over for the ceremony and attendant liquid celebrations at the School of Law. Our son is our baby and it’s scary to think that he’s the last to finish his primary degree. More thankfulness.

I wasn’t there to gush and coo and cry but I did write him a card quoting from an ancient prophet who attempted to define what God wants from a young man. ‘He has shown you what is good. And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice and love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’  As our warrior son heads out into the world of ethics and judgement, I am hoping that he will aim high and identify with those who need someone to speak out for justice and mercy on their behalf.

So Congratulations, my boy, and best wishes for the next stage in this legal adventure! Congrats too to his girlfriend, Connie, who is about to embark on a Master’s in International Relations. May you both make a difference.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Letting India In

It’s a couple of weeks since I returned from India and as the days go by it isn’t getting any easier to process the dirt, the smells, the colour, the industry, the poverty, the squalor, the vibrancy and the sheer press of people. The traffic is amazing and after spending two or three days thinking that I and my charges were going to perish on the roads, I began to admire the swerve and dodge of the skilled Indian drivers. It’s the cattle on the roads that take the biscuit. There they loll or lie while cars, buses, auto rickshaws and motorbikes roar round them blasting dirty fumes into their weary eyes.  I know they’re considered sacred because of their status but it doesn’t seem to me that they’re cherished at all. Surely that can’t be better for them than the lush green fields of confinement endured by our own dear fresians?

Anyway, eighteen pupils from three NI schools, Catholic and Protestant, taught in three Indian schools. We arrived in Delhi where we visited the Taj Mahal. We then travelled eight hours north by train to Dehradun and from there further north again to Mussoorie where we taught for four days in a school in Kaplani – fabulous mountain scenery shrouded in mist. On the Friday we trekked two and a half hours in torrential monsoon rain to visit a tiny two roomed school in the mountains. When we arrived soaked through we tried to teach by shouting over the rain pounding on, and in several places through, the tin roof. Our materials were sodden but we persisted with basic colouring and counting until we were forced out back into the rain to clamber up the mountainside again, accompanied by tiny tots walking home from school without coats, parents or even proper shoes. That has since been remedied because now those same children have new brollies and will also have lunch in school, thanks to Saphara.

In the second week we returned to Dehradun where we taught in a much larger school with 1100 children, the vision of Dr Reeta who gave up her work in a mission hospital to start a school for the ‘untouchables’ from the slums. It was amazing to meet the teachers and pupils. I taught some songs and rhymes to a class of seventy toddlers. The enthusiastic teacher echoed my words in her very own version of ‘The elephant goes like this and that…’ Her concluding line was, ‘But goodness of creation, what a nose!’ and why not?

I was saddened and fascinated by India – I was a teacher in charge of seventeen-year-olds and so could not wander at will and take time to explore and reflect. However, I did spend half an hour watching the world waken one morning and penned these thoughts:

I am sitting here at the window with India out and me in. Apparently it is too dangerous for me to venture out alone. Who is going to harm me – the frail frame of a woman of indeterminate age who is awakening from her sleep on the hard pavement opposite? She stirs, sits up watches the dogs scavenging in the road and then lies down again, drawing her faded sari around her tousled head.

Beside her on the narrow walkway brown and dirty white sheets are draped from the railing to the road in a kind of half tent. I wonder who lives under there. The woman sits again and turns her back to the road. No one disturbs her; no one walks on the pavement – people live on the pavement. The road is the place: motor bikes, auto rickshaws, buses, bicycles, cars, pedestrians and always, always horns blazing ‘Coming through.’

We are caught in this moment of time together, she and I. We will share this day in Dehradun; we may even breathe the same air as it blusters across the junction, swirled by the build-up of morning rush hour traffic. Now she sits lotus-like rubbing her aching bones. She lights a cigarette and waits.

Who is she and what is her name?
Who am I and what is my name?

I catch sight of mine written on a water bottle so that no one can steal it. What a privilege to have a bottle of fresh, clean water of my very own. But what is my life if I cannot even share this water with my nameless, hopeless friend?  I open the door and let India in. I take my water and my name and I cross the road to give it to my sister.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Journey with Purpose

 I have returned from my trip with Saphara to India. The charity takes teachers and teams of sixth formers from schools in both sectors here to teach in schools for the poorest of the poor there. Fifty-four young people are going this summer to bring interactive learning and love to gorgeous little lives in the slums of Dehradun and the remote areas in Kaplani. Sitting on a train for eight hours as we travelled north I learned how to make friendship bracelets and penned a poem – all to avoid using the squat toilet!

India arrives, an assault to my senses.

She plays with my mind and my defences.

Splashes of colour and ‘rainy’ and wet,

People who smile and survive and hurt.

Literally sleeping on the job,

Driving in the care of a monkey god.

Beggars and hawkers along the way

‘Please mam sahib’ There’ll be hell to pay!

The sun rising, an Indian dawn

Waking to the orchestra of horns.

What is it to us, this India we see?

Is it nothing to you, nothing to me?

Or is it possible, one child at a time

To make of this chaos some reason, some rhyme?

Is the God of creation watching the pain

Of the child who pleads again and again,

‘Please come and help us, give us rupees’?

What can I give him? I can give me.

From a child of plenty to a child deprived

The gift of today, to change her life and mine.