Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why I went to India

It has taken me over a month to get this down.
Some folks think they know why I went to India.

But really, I have rarely said the true reason.

It all boils down to a newspaper in a hotel in Dublin, Ireland whose name I can't recall.  And because God, our Heavenly Father, told me to.
It was June 2009 and I was exhausted.

I had been care giving The Boy, Tom, myself, and just had almost four super cool weeks in the British Isles.

I had to hurry back to Missouri so that I could direct the leadership academy for 100 only a few days later.  I was tired already, with no end in site.

I had one night alone in Dublin, waiting to catch my flight back to the States.  I ate lamb stew (delicious!) and yummy Irish butter (if you haven't, you should.  As a matter of fact I just saw that brand at the Sam's Club the other day.  Worth every penny.)  I laid in my bed and was just "still."  It was a good feeling.

The next morning I hopped my shuttle to the airport, with nothing particular in mind.  As I waited for the rest of the folks to get settled, I heard a voice in my mind.

The voice said "Get off the shuttle, go to the lobby and get the newspaper."


I have had several years experience with the voice in my head and doing what it says.  Not that I want to sound like a fruit loop as my dad would say, but just keeping it real.

First, I didn't know if there WAS a newspaper in the lobby.  Second, I didn't have any country currency on me.  Third, and most important in my brain, I could not have cared less about the news in Ireland.

But I cannot recall going wrong when I listen to that voice in the past, so I did what it said.

Sure enough, there was a newspaper on the counter in the lobby.  And it was free.

As we drove along to the airport, as I skimmed the paper, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be reading.

I got pages into it and nothing.  The good news for the voice is that we got into construction and it gave me more time to read through it.  The bad news for Val is that I thought I might miss my plane.

Then I saw it.

A tiny little article on the mostly back pages of the paper.  I knew it on sight.  There was a familiarity that I had with this story I had never heard before.

Sex-trafficking and slavery of (east) Indian women and girls.

I felt something stir inside of me and the story was inadvertently tucked away in the back of my mind.
Remember what I said about being gone most of that month?

When I returned home from the leadership academy, I was cleaning up old newspapers that had piled up from that month.

One of them caught my eye.  An article from weeks before.  I am not Matt's grandma, so I don't pile up old papers waiting to catch time to read them.  But one of them "called" to me...this article from weeks before.

There was to be an art exhibition and guess what it was about...
Sex-trafficked and sexual abuse of females in India. With a twist.

I knew that article had been saved for me to find.  Without doubt.

So I went to the exhibit. I mean the voice had worked so hard to get me there.

The twist of this exhibit is that it included the stories of Indian widows who are Hindu.

As I read their stories and looked at the beautiful portraits of them, something swept through me.  I cried in the middle of that exhibit hall. And I could not stop.

You can read about the exhibit:

I attended the lecture of the photographer: Fazel Sheikh

It is weird to me to read those blog posts now, given where the path has lead the last four years.
The stirring feeling in my soul that has still yet to leave me.
Fast forward a year to June 2010
I was doing my Rotary thing in Montreal, Canada when I met up with an old Rotary friend, Madu.

Madu is East Indian, from Calcutta (now known as Kolkata).

She is a progressive mover and shaker in humanitarian works in Rotary and India.

As we ate breakfast together one morning there in Montreal, I told her about about the widow exhibit I had seen the summer before.  Is this real?  Are those ladies really turned out from society?

She told what I had learned was true.  Worse than I had originally thought she said.

There, over pieces of cantaloupe and melon, we decided to work together to do something about it.
And we have.

Later that year, 2010, Church Ladies extraordinaire Kathy, Cheryl, and my Girl pooled our talents together to create The Indian Widow Project.

The goal of our project is to collect money to disperse to Hindu widows for business micro loans. A micro loan is a Nobel Peace Prize winning concept.

Jewelry making out of a
hardened apple shell

The widows apply for loans ranging from $40 (jewelry making) all the way to $100 for the purchase of a cow.  Our loan repayment plan includes the ladies make quarterly payments and have one year to repay their loan at 6% interest.  The loans are guaranteed by the local non-profit in the widow's area with zero risk to Rotary.  When the loan is repaid, the money is then used to give another loan to a new applicant.  Recycling at it's best.

My Rotary club, North Kansas City, holds the funds we collect until we are ready to send it. We have pooled our resources together with the Calcutta Uptown Rotary Club, which Madu is currently the president of.  She carefully disperses the funds to ladies who have been vetted out by the non-profit groups we work with.
When we started the project, I taped a small green envelop to side of the refrigerator so that I would see it everyday.  It was the motivation for me to start saving for the day I would travel to meet them.  It took me two and half years to get there, saving rebate refunds, Rotary reimbursements, etc...nothing out of the family budget.
We have been back (the Girl and Mr. Fun's mother went with me) two weeks.  I have had a little time process about what we saw and experienced. I journaled the trip and made my favorite kind of list:  numbers

7 planes, 28 security check points, 38 hours to Calcutta, 39 hours back, 4 countries, 11 1/2 hour time change, 24 countries recognized air spaces, 94 white people in 12 days in India, 9 Mormons, $1,500 loan monies given out, total number of people our hired car nudged--2, total of cars that nudged us--2, number of bikers we nudged with our car--1, 1 pick pocket incident, 3 days for the man from Nepal to wave at me, first friendly face--chicken slayer, a zillion feral dogs, 9 kids I would have brought home with me if I could have, 4 National Geographic photos that I missed, one 4 am surprising nun prayer over intercom, 3 times I recalled I have five cats, 1 in a 10,000,000 chance of meeting a boy that knows a boy from Eagle River Alaska who my buddy Tiel is a friend of, 12 delicious boiled eggs the man-servant made for me, and the percentage of chance I will  return to Calcutta:  100%.
Everyone wants to know what India is like. Trying to be as respectful as I can, Calcutta is a catastrophic urban disaster.  You can see it on TV.  You can watch "Slumdog Millionaire" and think you get it.  But you don't. You can't.

For the first time in my life, I think I might have found some place without hope of recovery.  At least on a the big scale.

If you are living in these great United States, we really just have "first world" problems as my friend Alaska says.  The cell phone won't charge.  The dinner rolls burned on the bottom. The hot water heater is going out.  In true perspective at least in my life, they are first world problems with first world solutions.  Temporary set-backs.

Imagine a city of 10,000,000 without a sanitation system.

This a trash picker.  They dig through the 
zillions of pounds of recklessly-thrown trash on the street
for something of use 

Imagine a city of 10,000,000 beyond countless numbers of families living "on the pavement,"  meaning they sleep, eat, bath, cook, go to the bathroom, and raise a family on the street sidewalk.

The sidewalk.
These folks are lucky because they have "walls" and a "roof"

Imagine a city that only has grass in the few parks it has and the pollution is so bad that when you blow your nose, the snot is black.  The city looked like a volcano has spewed it's ash over everything.  The leaves of the trees are dark grey.

Many of the people we would see on the street looked focused, trying to safely get to where they wanted to go.  Friendly is not a phrase I would use to describe their auras.

They were so beautiful with their dark skins and colorful saris.  The Girl said going out into the city was like going to a prom everyday.

That said, when we interacted with them as individuals, they were wonderful.  So accommodating and mindful of our well-being.  They were so humble, perhaps due to their third world living.  Whatever the reasons, Americans could take a lesson or two from their gentle ways.

Meeting the widows and their children was as humbling as I imagined. It is hard to put into words the look of love and appreciation that people can have for each other when they have never met or cannot have a conversation with.

But it happens. I know it because it happened to me.  And them.

The good news is we have collected over $7,000 in the last couple years.

The bad news is it is not enough.
My puny mortal mind had the thought that I would go see the women and the project, come home and move on with my life.

I was wrong.

I know that I am on the Lord's errand.  Without sounding wacky, I know it. He has put it in my heart to know it.

I am not at the end of project.  I am at the beginning.  The closure I thought I would have when I finally arrived to Calcutta actually did not come.  It awakened something in my soul.  That same kind of familiarity that I had with that tiny news article from the Dublin newspaper.

I felt like it was home.

I cried when I left the nuns of the village we were at.  I cried when I left Calcutta.  The kind of crying you have when you can't breath or catch your breath, except it didn't come out of my eye ducts.  It came out of my spirit.

Calcutta is part of me now.  And I cannot leave it.

They need me, and perhaps I need them.

Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.