Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Let's Take a Walk

Hello again, Friends and Family,

Please put on your sandals and take a walk with me to the photo print shop...

...I hope you put on a hat, because the sun is beaming and the road is hot even at 11am...

...even the smaller lanes stay busy, especially in the morning and early evening. Look to the right, but watch out of the rickshaw ahead!...

...no, it's not grass. That's a stagnant pond! The last month of hot hot heat has really taken a toll on the water table...

...brick, mortar, and concrete. That's the recipe for architecture around here. Quick, turn around!...

...look at those goats! Whenever I walk past them, their dreaming about ancestral mountain homes. I guess pile of bricks will do these days...

...nope, don't take that turn. Don't get lost, this place is like a maze...

...ah, here we are. Sriniketan Road, one of the main thoroughfares around here. What's that to the left?...

...oh, it's one of those tea stalls on wheels. A bench, a tea pot, an awning, sugar, milk, a few cigarettes to sell and you're in business around here. Oh, speaking of being in business, look over there, to the right...

...if you don't feel like walking, just hop on a rickshaw and zoom around for a while. Why not, you'll only end up spending a buck or two. Let's go say hi....

...we come in peace, right? I'd be taking more than a few breaks if I were hauling around people in the hot sun (112F) all day...

...but it's not a bad way to earn an honest living, huh mister? You're not the only dignified, hardworking looking man I've seen around here. Is that right? This job allows you to send your two girls to school and live modestly. I'm impressed. Ok, well, I'm going...asche...

(25 minutes later)...well, I'm glad everything worked out at the photo shop. Four days does seem like a long wait for ten photos to be printed, though. Oh well, look over there. What a mix of huts, one story ramblers, and three floor mucho square footage houses. You don't see that in Seattle...

...another beaming example of 'the meek' and 'the middle' living side by side. It's like living in the suburbs where I'm from as far as the proximity to other houses goes, but instead of living next to other huge houses you have someone's trailer thirty feet from your house. I guess that's not all that far fetched. Hey, look over there...

...Woah! Look out for that chicken! Close call. But look at that, now THAT's far fetched. You won't find that in Edmonds. Yes, it's poo. People used it as cooking fuel around here. With all the goats, chickens, cows, and wild dogs roaming around, there is no shortage of it. All you have to do is gather a big wad like this, take a handful, flatten it out, and let it dry in the sun for a few days. Briquettes, on the cheap!...

...ah, we made it back to my nice friendly, safe neighborhood. What's that? What about the nails and barbed wire? Oh, well, that's to keep squatters out. West Bengal is run by a communist government, which deals with poverty by granting privileges to the poor so they stop complaining. So, if a squatter finds a comfortable corner in your yard for several days and decides to set up a shack to live in or sell goods out of, guess what happens? Yes, it becomes the squatter's property. Let's go pitch a tent in the neighbor's yard...

Ok, thanks for going on a walk with me. I had fun, let's do it again sometime.



Sunday, April 25, 2010

Old News is Good News

Hi Friends and Family,

Yet again, time has passed faster than expected and an update is in order.

First, to acknowledge the title of this post, please enjoy some photos of Holi - the celebration of the onset of spring, color, and friendship. I couldn't turn down posting some photos after a dear friend requested that I share some. Here goes!

This is Debu, one of my students who happened to see us at the celebration, which took place on the campus of Vivsa Bharati University.

Christine in her shades.

Loren seconds before a mob of Indians drowned us in colorful powder.

The aftermath...

Things are still steady here at CKS. This is the second week in a row that Shubhra has been doing trainings elsewhere. Her first week was spent in the northeast state of Assam, and now she is doing more trainings in Bihar.

Andrew and I are chipping away at our projects, as usual. Our printing is pumping out document after document of disaster preparedness related literature, and our friend the book binder (Mr. Pandit) is enjoying our business. Andrew is also making headway in his study of homeless children who live in train stations. He is gathering data by going in the field and also carried out an extensive literature review. Yesterday I finally completed the map which will work in conjunction with the manual I put together. It shows most of the city we are in, and I will be adding markers for places that are worth knowing the location of. I'm hoping this map will be helpful to future volunteers in getting their bearings, and am thinking of making one of my neighborhood when I get home.

Besides all this, Andrew and I are doing our best to keep the house together.

Sweety is growing everyday.

In less than two weeks, I'll begin my journey west to see the Taj Mahal, Varanasi (where you can see funeral open pyres, and Bodhgaya (where the Buddha reached enlightenment). After all that, I'm off to South Korea for ten days, then home to Seattle by May 27th (In time for Mom's B-day!).

Please keep me in your prayers. I love you all dearly.

In Christ's Peace,


Monday, April 12, 2010

Steady as She Goes

Hello Friends and Family,

It has already been two weeks since my last post, which really amazes me. Things have been very steady around CKS. Shubhra returned a few days ago from a week or so of training villagers and other NGOs in disaster preparedness. One of the places she went was the Sundarbans, which if you remember is where Loren and I went to visit and evaluate another NGO. It is on the Bay of Bengal, and it very lush and tropical. It is where Cyclone Aila wreaked the most havoc during it's short tour of West Bengal.

Anyway, spoken English classes are still going well. There are officially nine registered students in the 7:30AM class, and five in the 7:00PM class. There's so much to learn from these young people; I really enjoy it. Being a student over the years, teaching always appeared to be quite the challenge. Only now am I becoming aware of just a few of the realities of teaching. It really pushes me to be on my toes, and to be attentive to each student - their level of comprehension, speaking ability, listening ability, etc.

This is the white board for April 8th, as you can see. Pretty simple stuff, but fun to work with when trying to put together grammatically correct sentences.

Besides that, I've completed the process of digitizing (photographing, editing with software, storing) an administrative atlas of West Bengal. It contains detailed maps about each district in the state, and code numbers (like zip codes) for each village in the districts. India's address system has some similarities to ours, but for the most part is quite different. The next task, which is completely separate from the atlas, is to create a map of Bolpur using googlemaps. All you have to do is have decent photo editing software and access to the internet. I am taking screen shots of google maps, pasting to my document, aligning the map tiles, and repeating the process. It's pretty fun, actually. The finished product will be printed as a big poster-map and put on a wall somewhere in CKS. It will be helpful for volunteers and interns who are trying to get their bearings. We will be able to put tacks in it and mark important areas of Bolpur. I hope to make one of Edmonds this summer. Also, I will start working on a calender for CKS soon.

So, things are steady spaghetti. Andrew is the other volunteer with me now, and is really a great person. He is very intelligent, focused, funny, prayerful, and easy to get along with.

Shubhra is hard at work preparing for her next round of trainings in a different state (Bihar, I think).

Andrew and I were invited to Mr. Pandit's again. He is the man who binds books for us. One of Andrews projects is to build upon CKS' current library by printing out published documents about disaster management, and have them bound into books. On April 11th, we went to his house for tea, noodles, and just plain old hanging out. It was really nice. His family and neighbors are so warm and welcoming.

Mr. and Mrs. Pandit

In the foreground is their little boy, and behind him is the neighbor girl.

The woman, older boy, and girl are neighbors. They all live in a building that is connected and forms their two living areas. I wouldn't really call them neighbors, come to think of it. They're more like housemates.

The whole bunch after sharing photos, drinking tea, and eating some noodles.


I've been running a few miles every other day in the early early morning, and it has forced me to think about how blessed I am. So many of the people I see at 5:30AM have already began their daily efforts to earn a living - tractor drivers hauling sand and laborers heading for a day of construction, tea stall owners pouring their sugar, milk and tea into kettles above mud stoves, farmers laying their paddy (rice plant) onto the road to dry - all this going on as I expend so much energy for the sake of fitness and health. I'm blessed to have the economic and personal freedom not only go running in the morning, but to even be able to even think about fitness and health. By blessed, I by no means am saying I deserve any of it. To quote Clint Eastwood in one of my Dad's favorite movies, "deserve's got nothin' to do with it". It has much more to do with our country's position in global politics and international trade - and our government's willingness to exploit just about any and every situation to maintain that position (never shying away from subterfuge or outright brutality to keep that 'free market' rolling). But to the billion plus people out there dragging their bodies around in their daily labors for the sake of filling their stomachs or the stomachs of their children (one time a day), what a foreign concept running for exercise must be. At the very same time, the people I described above, who we in America would consider destitute, are able to laugh and find goodness and light in the midst of so many hardships. This is not to play down the significance of their struggles, fears, and suffers - horrendous circumstances beset the poor in India - I am only trying to make the point that life without so much is still very much worth living and that there's much to discover in it. If it came down to a choice, I'd rather be economically and materialistically destitute than spiritually destitute. We should not be defined by our possessions. Of course, to apply this maxim to my life would unveil plenty of moral failings. I have more than enough food for me on the table, I have more clothing than I need, my family helps me so much with money, I have a cell phone, and so on. I hope, at least, to further explore these thoughts and be guided by whatever truths I discover.

Anyway, I'm sure you have all heard similar rants, but the subject of poverty has been on my mind over the past few years and more so lately for obvious reasons.

I love you, and thanks for listening to my blabber.