June 27, 2007
I am in Calcutta with a small Marist College/Beloved Community team
- Jamie Williams, filmmaker and Marist Campus Minister, Diya Wadwha, translator and apprentice filmmaker, Josiah
Eck (18), Colin Larnerd (16), and Jorden Eck (16), students, actors, and filmmakers. Both Marist College and
my co-projectkeeper of the Marist Praxis Project for Public Citizenship, Dr. Bruce Luske, have enabled the trip with
release of funds, including funding for our translator. The hot cab drive from the airport took us through street
after street of crowded, narrow sidewalks teeming with people from young to very old, selling goods on the sidewalk,
mothers washing children, and women in colorful saris walking briskly by.
are settling into the YWCA. After our plans fell through at the last minute - staying at an Ashram - we scrambled to
find a place where the six of us could stay inexpensively. Colleague Patricia Murphy from the International Philosophers
for Peace recommended the Y. This is where she stays when she comes to Calcutta every two years to work with
the Mother Teresa sisters and to participate in some of St. Paul's Projects.
The Y is a challenge
- especially the primitive bathrooms and showers - but the personnel are accommodating and gracious. Also we are downtown
in Calcutta with a few restaurants near-by, street vendors, a press of people, taxis several lanes across the thoroughfare.
This is our first day on the street, hands everywhere stretching to us asking for rupees, and pulling on shabby
clothes, showing the need for new ones. I clumsily reach for whatever rupees I can find, but all I have are large
bills. We exchanged our money at the airport and didn't think to prepare ourselves for the swelling need.
I want to just give out all I have, but am too practical to give way to the impulse. So I say, "later,
later." No one understands me and just keeps tugging on their clothes and stretching out their hands.
Next to the Y is a kiosk selling water and a few doors from there an air-conditioned Cafe. It is over 100
degrees and we head for the Cafe as soon as we partly settle in. Our rooms have a ceiling fan but no air-conditioning.
Our relief at the Cafe is palpable. Josiah, Jorden, and Colin are far less bothered by the heat and are straining to
explore the blocks surrounding the Y.
Heather, Josiah and Jorden's mom, and a co-director of the beloved community
house said to me, "Mom, would you maybe keep the kids on a tighter reign this time and not let them go all around Calcutta
like they did before? If anything happened to my boys I would never recover." I agree and am surprised
myself that I gave Josiah and Colin so much freedom when they accompanied me to the World Peace Congress here in January 2005.
It started simply enough. We were housed in the Sree Durga hotel in a very depressed part of Calcutta
but with little hole-in-the-wall shops, colorful and busy, all around. I heard that we were supposed to stay in a better
place but the accommodations weren't ready for us. I was given a room at Sree Durga on the 4th floor (no
elevator) that looked across the street at a dump. Early in the morning I would see a city garbage truck come and
dump its trash in the lot. Women with small children, a few men, and some kids would scavenge until the trash
was completely picked through. I can't remember how the residue was collected but the next morning a truck
would arrive with a new load of garbage.
Josiah, then 16, and Colin, then 14, had come with me to the Peace
Congress, co-sponsored by the International Philosophers for Peace. Each morning a vividly painted bus would come to
pick up the participants and take us to the Conference center, located near a staute of the Poet Tagore.
After a few days, Josiah and Colin begged me to let them sleep in when I left for the Conference and then let them explore
the block around the hotel. I said, "One block around the hotel. That is all. Do not even
cross the street. And stay tightly together at all times" They stayed right on the block and every
few days asked if they could stay at the hotel and go just a little further while I went on to the Conference. Little
by little they explored Calcutta, sometimes in rickshaws. They tried to get the rickshaw pullers to ride in the
rickshaw while they pulled. No one would take them up on the offer so they would give a big tip for the ride. They
always came back to the hotel on time and often with an entourage of kids who lived across the street from tthe hotel,
at or nearby the dump.
The kids on the street loved them. Josiah taught them to do the high five (see
pictures on Project site) and Colin let them see themselves in the pictures he was taking. They all trooped around
near the hotel and Josiah and Colin begged food from the hotel kitchen to give to the kids. At night the boys sat around
the little fire inside the dump with the kids and their families. I have no idea how they communicated since the people
only speak Bengali, but Josiah has a special ability to communicate with anyone and Colin is always accepting and
One night it was softly raining and I looked out my window to see families packing up their sleeping
cloths and making their way across the street looking for an overhang or someplace they could get out of the
rain. The mother of some of the children the boys had been hanging out with lifted a small child to her hip and started
across the street. Just then looking up, she saw me in the open window and waved. I felt
a current of connection with her and waved back.
intention in coming to Calcutta now is to start a Project among the Sree Durga children and mothers. Our core kids are
part of the extended famly Colin and Josiah had most gotten to know. After 10 days of their trooping around
with the kids, sitting around their fire, and eating noodles together, just to leave without looking back would
have been callous. We did set up a small fund with a Calcutta-based co-sponsor of the Congress to help the
kids from the extended family with what they needed to go to school. But with little communication, it
was hard to actually know what was happening. So we've come back to see if we can reconnect with the family
and set up a Project. We are not sure just what that will be, but one thing we have learned from Paulo Freire and other
liberationists is that any Project must be dialogically arrived at. In the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire
writes, "Dialogue is...an existential necessity....Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love
for the world and for people....Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue itself" (pp. 88-89).
With the hands-on Project, we also want to make a documentary exploring the lives of marginalized
women, and based on our experiences write a liberation theolgy text. We hope to give voice and presence to women
who raise their children on the streets with few resources. As we find our Project we hear Freire reminding us
that our approach with these urban Calcutta women needs to correspond not to our own view of the world, but to theirs
It is our first evening and very hot. We make our way to Peter
Cat a Mogul restaurant, a half block from the Y, reasonably priced, but far beyond anything those living and eating on the
street could imagine. We pass people begging and when the doorman opens to us I feel a hint of privilege.
It feels good to walk into the dimmed and cool restaurant and to be seated comfortably. We can see out the front glass
windows to a gathering crowd of well-dressed people waiting to be allowed in. We notice that every restaurant,
store, bank. office, even the YWCA has a doorman/guard who is in charge of admitting patrons, but charged as well with keeping
out any street dwellers. I think to myself how would anyone know? Already I have seen mothers washing children
and others washing at a spigot. How most of the women on the street look clean with fresh-looking saris (though
not all women look this well) amazes me. I wonder why they don't just put on their best, look confident,
and walk up to the door to be admitted. But what would they do once inside? Wouldn't it be like
traveling to another country and acting as if you have been there all along, on the first day?
The meal is so good. I have some kind of noodles with shrimp. As we eat, out the window standing in the street
in back of the people waiting to get into the restaurant is a small mother holding on her hip a little boy around 3 1/2
years old. Clinging to her sari is a little girl around 8. Someone at the table points them out. We pack
up leftovers and send Colin out to give them to her. She gives the bread (pan) immediately to the little boy and motions
to Colin to give something to her daughter. Colin says a little surpirised, "share." But she shakes
her head no and still motions toward her daugther. Colin comes back into the restaurant (no trouble being readmitted
by the doorkeeper) and packs up something for the little girl. Before his going back out, we ask Colin to ask the mother
if he can take her picture with the two children.
The mother is pleased and nods yes to Colin.
So he takes their picture. On his way back inside, through the waiting people, a bejewled woman stops him
and asks, "Why do you take pictures of them? There is much more to India than those people."
When we leave Peter Cat, the mother and children come up to us. Diya translates and we learn that the woman's
husband is a rickshaw puller who has injured his back. He is in a cast back in their village with her older children.
She is begging to support her whole family. I want to help her situation so give her 500 rupees (only $12.50 in dollars,
but a half a month's salary for poor workers). She bursts out crying, so, dismayed, I put my arms around her, not
sure what to say. I am quite aware that our group has just eaten at a nice restaurant and we are feeling much better
than we did in the heat of the day. She, on the other hand, has stood out here for hours with no relief and has
the burden of an injured husband and several children to feed.
are gathering this first evening to kind of figure out what we are doing - or more exactly what we mean to do. Our rooms
are on the second floor of the Y, up a wide staircase from the first floor lobby. At the top of the second floor stairs
an open space opens to wide aisles off which are the rooms. In the space, in front of a double window with
a little balcony that looks out onto the street, is a round wooden table with an assortment of chairs, Our
first decision is to meet mornings and evenings here for reflection/prayer/discussion. We decide on a rotating leadership
for the sessions. "Jamie, why don't you start us off," I say. She agrees and asks us
to both name something each one of us brings to the group and something each us needs from the community.
We go around the circle. I say that I need to listen more deeply to the undercurrent of meaning beneath what is said
to me. We all take the questions seriously. After each person has shared, Jamie suggests that each evening
when we meet, we affirm the day's positive events and offer observations (translated "constructive criticism").
It is our second day in Calcutta, and I offer to lead morning reflection. I choose
Isaiah 61 since that is the convening Scripture for our beloved community house in Binghamton. After reading
the Scripture I ask what the text means to each one...... One of the themes that emerges is that in our effort
to be a healing presence in Calcutta, we need to attend to each other as well. I remember a study that Daniel Berrigan
quoted in a workshop at Maryknoll Seminary one summer when I was earning my Certificate in Advanced Religious Studies
in Justice and Peace. Berrigan related a study done on the effectiveness of peace groups. Surprisingly, or
maybe not so surpisingly, peace groups that attended first to their members' well-being in the end did more peace work
than groups that came together focused just on their peace work. I also comment on the Church of the Savior
in Washington, D.C. Members of the Church form into small groups that take on specific missions.
Each group decides on its own discipline - reading Scripture/prayer/service - as well as the larger discipline of the Church.
Our discipline is to meet each morning and evening and pray about what we might do here in Calcutta. Our first intention,
of course, is to form a Project at the Sree Durga dump.
this morning's reflection, led by Josiah, Jamie suggests that we map a five block radius to the Y - "what is the
geography of the place?" she asks. With Jamie starting off, we list 5-6 questions it would be helpful to know.
Among them: Is there literacy training for poor people living on the street; what vocational opportunities are there for mothers?
if there are programs, what are the obstacles; what is the 'system' of begging; how many individual beggars are
in great need? why does the mother wih her 2 children only come at night/ what jobs at what pay could she get if she had child
care? We spend the day getting supplies, further settling in, and walking the area.
Tonight Anna Zatsepina
who is interning with the Mercy Mission from Canada and the Assembly of God Church there, approaches us and says she
would love to join us when we have evening reflection. She leaves early in the morning to go to her headquarters
and comes back early in the evening. We are delighted. She plays guitar and brings it to our evening session.
We find ourselves a long way from the Sree Durga dump. Jamie and I talk
about just what we are meant to do; why are we here at the Y. Jamie's intention is to film marginalized
women and their stories, wherever they are in Calcutta. She goes out to film the "neighborhood" with Diya,
who translates for everyone. Josiah, Jorden, and Colin are getting to know the kids around the Y.. We
don't have to look for people. They surround us anywhere we go, begging. I am more concentrated on a liberation
theology text and am reading in between meeting those at the Y and those on the streets. Across the street from
the Y, two mothers with 4-5 kids live. I think a mother-in-law also lives with them. At night they spread
out a cloth and bed the kids in a pile on the sidewalk, with no mosquito netting, and eating whatever gets begged.
Actually the two older kids sell gum on the street, so they are not actually begging. But they beg you
to buy their gum.
July 2, 2007
Jorden leads reflection this morning and
reads Psalm 41: Consider the poor and while on your sick bed the Lord will be with you and you will live....
I have had pretty terrible diarrhea and have thought of death a few times. It seems I will live. Jamie comments
on "Consider the poor...." - so while we are about meeting our needs to be mindful of the needs of the poor.
A minister from Sri Lanka, Mahdu de Silva has moved in and asks to join our group. She is here to work with the
Mother Teresa sisters at one of their outposts. She is assigned to work with mentally challenged children. She
has come from a hard, rather unloving childhood, but has embraced Jesus to her very soul. She is deeply spiritual.
Colin had a fever a few days ago and she and Anna prayed over him, both charismatic.
We have spent the week meeting together, talking with Margaret, a Board member of the Y, and beginning
a noon lunch program. Up the street from the Y we invite the women and children who are all around us to eat at an outdoor
grill. Diya translates between the women and our group. Josiah finds benches along the wall and helps everyone
to sit down. Colin and Jorden film and help out. All the boys play with the kids. Diya serves the plates
of rice and vegetables, negotiating and connecting between the cooks and the rest of us. Jamie and I sit next to the
women and through Diya talk to them. Diya is invaluable. She was in my World Views and Values course last year
and in her self-profile mentioned being born in Calcutta. It turned out that she spoke Bengali, the language of the
poor in Calcutta. Marist College helped with her airfare to join the team as our translator.
Though I primarily want to see what we can do at the Sree Durga dump, with the YWCA quite
distant from the dump, we locate ourselves first among the people near us. With our lunches with the women
surrounding the Y - and our intention to meet and talk with marginalized women, in general - the opportunity to meet
and talk with the women close by living on the pavement and raising their children seems sent to us. I follow Jamie's
lead as she suggests that the women meet away from the street and that we talk together. She works with Margaret to
rent a school room where just the women can meet with Diya, Jamie, and me. The school room is nothing like the forbidding
institutions one finds in American school architecture (with the exception of those with more level ground arrangements).
There are green benches and the colorful room opens into a courtyard where a woman is washing clothes. There are
other open doorways, one leading to a kind of foyer that leads outside.
Piling the women with their
small children into cabs after walking a distance in the heat to get to the school, following the lunch, we arrive and find
the man and wife who run the school and Christopher who teaches English twice a week. We fill the benches kind
of turning toward each other and talk among us for a few minutes. Then Jamie good-naturedly sends all the men out
of the room so the women can have privacy as we talk. Christopher and Josiah, Jorden, and Colin form their own
conversation circle out in the "foyer."
Jamie has us all go around and introduce ourselves to each other
and then asks how the women see themselves and what they would like to do if they had the opportunity It is more a beginning
of conversation. This takes awhile and we agree to meet again in a few days.
After morning reflection, I head for the Cyber Cafe, across the lanes of traffic. It is a long
two blocks from the Y. There is no internet connection at the Y but we are very glad that there is this Cafe relatively
close. It is so hot already. As I near the Cafe, I run into Christopher. He is delighted to see me
and wants to talk on the sidewalk. But I begg him to come inside the Cafe and sit in the air conditioning.
He tells me he wants to take Josiah, Jorden, and Colin to see sites in Calcutta. I am glad because I suspect that
"experimenting" is going on. These kids are lively, curious, adventurous, and maybe a bit reckless.
I don't think they will miss much in Calcutta - even things I want them to miss. And all kinds of forbidden
substances abound - on the streets, in sidewalk kiosks. They also do not share my concern with addicitions and overdoses
and brain damage, that is, consequences of injurious behavior.
I think Christopher will be a great influence.
He is deeply Christian, lives poor, serves blind people and abandoned kids, wants to build a refuge for these kids, the blind,
and abused women. He is warm, embracing, completely enthralled with his work, and has taken an interest in the boys.
He tells me he perceives a woundedness among them. I have been praying for God's healing during
this trip for what I know to be inner pain, so feel God has sent him. He hurries off to an appointment,
and I turn to the internet.
I am happy to hear from both Heather (Jorden and Josiah's mom) and Jory (Colin's
Reading Freire: "Critical and liberating dialogue, which presupposes
action, must be carried on with the oppressed at whatever stage of their struggle for liberation. The content of that
dialogue can and should vary in accordance with historical conditions and the level at which the oppressed perceive reality"
(New York: Continuum, 2003, p. 65).
"Because [libertarian education] starts with the conviction that it cannot
present its own program but must search for this program dialogically with the people, it serves to introduce the pedagogy
of the oppressed, in the elaboration of which the oppressed must participate" (p. 124).
persons, bound to a mechanistic view of reality, do not perceive that the concrete situation of individuals conditions their
consciousness of the world, and that in turn this consicousness conditions their attitudes and their ways of dealing with
reality. They think that reality can be transformed mechanistically, without posing the person's false consciousness
of reality as a problem or, through revolutionary action, developing a consciousness which is less and less false. There
is no historical reality which is not human. There is no history without humankind, and no history for
human beings; there is only history of humanity, made by people and (as Marx pointed out) in turn making them.
It is when the majorities are denied their right to participate in history as Subjects that they become dominated and alienated.
Thus, to supersede their condition as objects by the status of Subjects - the objective of any true revolution - requires
that the people act, as praxis" (p. 154).
"Nor can the people - as long as they are crushed and oppressed,
internalizing the image of the oppressor - construct by themselves the theory of their liberating action. Only in the
encounter of the people with the revolutionary leaders - in their communion, in their praxis - can this theory be built"
"Any attempt to unify the peasants based on activist methods which rely on 'slogans'
and do not deal with these fundamental aspects produces a mere juxtaposition of individuals, giving a purely mechanistic character
to their action. The unity of the oppressed occurs at the human level, not at the level of things. It occurs in
a reality which is only authentically comprehended in the dialectic between the sub-and superstructure" (p. 175).
"This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors
as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength
to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently
strong to free both....In order to have the continued opportutnity to express their 'generosity,' the oppressors must
perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this 'generosity,' which is nourished
by death, despair, and povertry. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat
to its soruce.
"True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity...True
generosity lies in striving so that these hands - whether of individuals or entire peoples - need be extended less and less
in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world" (pp. 44-45).
"Those who authetnically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly. This conversion
is so radical as not to allow of ambiguous behavior....The man or woman who proclaims devotion to the cause of liberation
yet is unable to enter into communion with the people, whom he or she continues to regard as totally ignorant, is
"Conversion to the people requires a profound rebirth....Only through comradeship
with the oppressed can the converts understrand their characteristic ways of living and behaving, which in diverse moments
reflect the structure of domination" (pp. 60-61).
"The insistence that the oppressed engage in reflection
on their concrete situation...leads to action. On the other hand, when the situation calls for action, that action will
constitute an authentic praxis only if its consequences become the object of critical reflection. In this sense, the
praxis is the new raison ^etre of the oppressed....
"Political action on the side of the oppressed
must be pedagogical action...and, therefore, action with the oppressed....Accordingly, while no one liberates [oneself]
by [one's] own efforts alone, neither is [one] liberated by others" (pp. 66-67).
- the process of humanization - is not another deposit to be made in men. Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection
of men upon their world in order to transform it" (p. 79).
"Education is constantly remade in the praxis.
This movement of inquiry must be directed towards humanization - the people's historical vocation. The pursuit of
full humanity, however, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity...."
"Problem-posing education does not and cannot serve the interests of the oppressor. No
oppressive order could permit the oppressed to begin to question: Why?" (p. 86).
"Human existence cannot
be silent....Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection" (p. 88).
is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world....Dialogue is thus an existential necessity....
"For the truly humanist educator and the authentic revolutionary, the object of action is the reality to be transformed
by them together with other people....Revolutionary leaders...approach the peasant or urban masses with projects which may
correspond to their own view of the world, but not to that of the people" (p. 94).
"The starting point
for organizing the program content of education or political action must be the present, existential, concrete situation,
reflecting the aspirations of the people" (p. 95).
"In this first contact, the investigators need to
get a significant number of persons to agree to an informal meeting during which they can talk about the objectives of their
presence in the area. In this meeting they explain the reason for the investigation, how it is to be impossible without
a relation of mutual understanding and trust....The investigators should call for volunteers among the participants to serve
"Meanwhile, the investigators begin their own visits to trhe area, never forcing themselves,
but acting as sympathetic observers with an attitude of understranding towards what they see" (p. 110).
"Because this view of [liberatarian] education starts with the conviction that it cannot present its own program but
must search for this program dialogically with the people, it serves to introduce the pedagogy of the oppressed, in the elaboration
of which the oppressed must particiapte" (p. 124).
I am reading Coleman McCarthy's
I'd Rather Teach Peace. It is rich with human experience, touching the depths of humanity. I interviewed
Coleman for the Praxis and Public Citizenship: A Pedagogy of Conscience manuscript. He was gracious and radical.
Loved the talk! There seems to be two very confliciting attitudes in the world - those living for their own
gratification and unconcerned with the dire conditions so many live in, and those who are trying to change the conditions
of misery to which so many are subject. I feel in-between. I want very much to make things better, but I
still seek my own comfort. I admire those who live sacrificially, actually sharing the lot of the marginalized.
Jewish theolgian, Marc Ellis, with whom I studied at Maryknoll summers, spoke of the concept of the chosen exile. The
chosen exile is when one leaves one's comfort and shares the conditions of those who suffer, coming to identify
closely with them. There are many people doing this. I expect they are here in Calcutta. I think Christopher
comes close, though he lives with an older couple and not in the dump.
joins us for an evening session. She is awesome! She is helping to make a short documentary of the kids who live
and work on the huge city dump. The mission she is interning at had built a residence school for 69 children.
Now they are opening one for 500 children. They want to produce a documentary to show in Canada (from where Anna comes)
in order to raise funds to support the school. This morning Anna and her supervisor approached the main entrance
to the dump but weren't allowed in. Determined to get the pictures of kids working all day every day on the dump,
with no schooling, health care, or decent food or clothes, they found away around to the back of the dump. It required
them to leave their vehicle and walk for 40 minutes through muck and snakes. When they finally reached the kids working they
spoke with them, the supervisor interpreting. Anna asked one of the boys what he wanted to be when he grew up.
He didn't understand the question at all. As it was carefully explained to him, he nodded and then pointed to the
higher area of the dump. There, he said, the bigger kids earn more money. His whole life is on the dump and
he couldn't conceive of a life otherwise. Anna got the footage she wanted, and thought of the children, "You
children have been fought for."
Some of the mothers the entreneurial
project is working with are Annie Clipton, Asha Fernandes, Bonanda Bisewas, Payal Das. Again, Jamie travels
to the school room with the women, their children, and Diya translating. The women are sharing more about their lives,
though we learn that they create some of what they tell us. The mode of the street is to tell the most heartwrenching
story one can so to gain sympathy from the better off passing by - and added rupees. So it becomes a slow process of
sharing and building trust. Over the sessions the stories change little by little, and we assume, become more honest.
I try to push back the thought of the mother with her rickshaw driver husband in a body cast. Was it true? It did
make me reach for all the rupees I had with me. So we might not be very pleased when told of situations not
quite true, but, on the other hand, why is there such poverty which drives the stories.
third time Jamie and Diya met with the women, ideas began to emerge. One wants to sell saries back in her village, another
wants to sell cosmetics on the streets. Jamie explains to the women that she has a source that will make a loan for
a start-up. The women express consternation. Why give one the money if it has to be given back? The idea
of a loan seems unheard of. I begin to think that living by begging doesn't quite prepare one for "paying back."
Jamie explains the process of loan/pay back, but the wome are unconvinced. Jamie realizes that before the women can
run a business they need some kind of preparation. She mulls this over with Margaret and together they come up with
an idea for the women to participate in a training program that Margaret knows about.
is appalled at the messiness of the boys' room. It is a long room with each having a section. There
is no space left on the floor. Clothes and crumbs mix together with dirty laundry in the mix. I expect other things
are tossed in as well but it is hard to tell. Jamie speaks at evening "observations" that we should make of
our rooms here sacred space. The boys nod in agreement. I affirm the idea. We'll see.
A tall, blond traveler with guitar and backpack joins us at the next evening's reflections. His
name is Bastian Verdina and he represents the Yann Veerdina Foundation. Up on the floor above us are girls part of a
special program here in Calcutta, They have come from around India to attend. After our session Bastian
takes his guitar up and we hear singing. Joe, Colin, and Jorden go up to join in. The next morning
there is a sign put on the steps, "NO MEN ALLOWED." Diya takes a marker and adds WO before the MEN.
Later a security guard comes by and turns the sign to the wall. Bastian's story is that when his brother was dying
he asked that all him money be given to the poor. After his death his parents set up the Foundation to support a Project
in India. Bastian visits periodically to check on the Proejct and run the Foundation. The Project is called New
Hope Trust and the contact name is Eliazard - T. Roje. There is something of the romantic in Bastian. He
has taken the train up from southern India to Calcutta.
Josiah has a rash on
his arms and I take him to the clinic. We walk there - several blocks away. We ente the open iron gate, make
our way pass a row of motorcylces that clinic personell, including the doctors, ride, a kiosk of medicines, and find the door
leading into the clinic. Immediately inside Indian women are behind a counter. One asks Josiah's name
and tells us to take a seat. Within 10 minutes, a doctor calls us in and gives Josiah close atttention. We
learn that he studied in Russia and now works here. He is easy to talk with and seems knowedgeable. When
we leave with a perscription (which we will fill at the kiosk outside) we go to the counter to pay - $5.
It is staggeringly hot. I make my way to the Cyber Cafe but when I get there I am almost sick with
the heat. I work on answering e-mails and writing to Jory and Karen (Colin's parents) and Heather and Tom (Josiah
and Jorden's) and others. Almost two hours later I still feel sick and wonder how I will get home in the heat.
I think, what if I keel over? What on earth would Jamie do with my body? I will have to tell her should that happen
to have me cremated. I'd be easier to get home. Anyway, I wonder how I am going to get back to the Y through
the heat. I leave and stop at a near-by air-conditioned shop. The guard lets me in and I look at shirts.
I want to buy one but don't see one I like. So I leave and get to the corner tea room, again for the air conditioning.
From there I get to Flurreys where there is wonderful pastry and air conditioning. Again the guard lets me
in. The next lurch home stops at the Cafe where we get water and like to go in the morning. There a little boy
around 8 sleeps on the doorstep at night. From the Cafe I get to the Y and head right to Rosemary who is in charge to
say we have to have an air conditioned room. We can't afford the extra charge for us all to
have one, so I rent one as a retreat room. We leave the door unlocked except at night when whoever sleeps there
is inside. This room is open to our whole group to come in and read or pray or just talk with each other.
I sleep here at night but keep my room upstairs with all my things. One night, Colin and Diya put down mattresses
on the floor to sleep. I mean to say, "be comfortable," but say, "be careful.
After the lunch time meal up the street from the Y for women and children, Jamie and I talk.in the
Retreat room. We are both a little frustrated. I expected to be at the Sree Durga dump by now and she is not sure
in what direction the women's group is going. We only have a few more weeks and no firm Project is established.
Jamie says, "I come from a line of women who make things happen...get things done." I say, "my mode is
more awaiting things to come to me - to discover the truth of what I am to do." Colin observes, "That's
my dad and my mom wants to get things done." I say, "Both are needed." Earlier in the day Jamie
had been at a store and thought of making post cards. This morning I had looked at post cards we had bought and didn't
like their inauthenticity. They were prettified and sanitized. I didn't see the Calcutta of the streets.
I thought why don't we make post cards with pictures of the real Calcutta that we see on the streets, especially the kids,
to sell for the beloved community. Jamie and I shared our ideas and were pleased that we had both had the
idea of making authentic post cards - the correspondence a sign to us that we are on track.
It is Sunday morning. Jamie and Colin head off to St. Thomas. One of the street girls join them and they
take her along. Mahdu takes Josiah and Jorden with her to her church and then to walk through some of the poorest sections
in Calcutta. I decide to go to the Service held at the Y. The Scripture centers on James 1;1-4 and Hebrews 12:1-2.
The speaker talks about being ready when we hit the wall of life's Marathon. He said, as Christians we hit many
walls - usually the walls are other people. He told the story of a donkey without value. The donkey
fell into a well. Friends came and shovelled dirt on the donkey because ther was no way to get him out. But with
every shovel that fell the donkey shook it off and stepped on the dirt till eventually he came out of the well. He continued,
We're going to be wronged by so manyh people - but then two options: keep going and trusting god; OR, stopping and
being distracted. We need to keep running the race - a marathon our whole lives. When we fall we go to God with
repentance and keep going. The prophets all fell down but they got back up and kept running the race - to persevere.
He told another story. A young college student studies a lot for his final exam in orentology. He went
to the test and found it to be all pictures of birds' feet. Going to the professor he said, what is this?
The professor answered, Well you have to know a bird's feet to know the bird. He is mad and says he's not going
to take the test and starts to walk out. With hundred of students, the professor didn't know him, and asked who
he was. He took off his sock and shoe, held up his foot, and said You tell me.
The pastor finished the sermon
with saying God wants us to endure and finish the race. He ended with the story of Winston Churchhill who saved England
during World War 11. He went back to Harrow his old school to speak a few years after the war. At that school
he had failed many courses, but during the war England did not need a scholar. Churchill pounded the lecturn and said
only - Never give up, never, nver, never, never. And then he sat back down.
As I leave the service, someone
at the Y sees me and says a woman is outside and wants to see me. I go to the door and it is Mapuda carrying a very
small malnourished baby. She looks exhausted and says to me, can I sit down? I quick motion her into the Y and
have her sit on a chair immediately to the right of the entrance. Mapuda comes from another area and there is
resentment among those who we have been communing with. At one point Michael, an addict who has offered to translate
a little for us and give us information, spoke to her giving her a message from us. we had asked him to tell her we
would get milk for her baby tomorrow if she could come back. Colin happened to have the recorder turned on and inadvertantly
caught him telling her not to come back, that she had received all she was going to get. We learn later that Michael
is one of the women's husband. She had told us she didn't have a husband and sleeps with a brick at night to
keep anyone from kidnapping her baby. Evidently kidnapping of young children happens to those who sleep on the streets.
But here Mapuda is, with the baby who she says was her sister's but left with her when her sister left Calcutta.
I think she needs milk, though I can't understand what she is trying to tell me. She holds up a bottle with a
nipple so worn that she has sewn it together with thread. I sit next to her on a chair by the door.
Almost immediately people start to throng out from tea time following the service. A group of school girls circle
in front of us drawn to the baby. One of them speaks English and tries to translate. I am aware that Mapuda is
not allowed into the Y and hope that my sitting with her will keep her from being forced to leave. The young
tanslator is very attentive to Mapuda and the baby and tries her best to convey Mapuda's anguish. She is hungry,
the baby has no more milk, and back "home" she has two disabled children. As we speak a well-dressed
woman comes up to the girls to have them leave and return to their home. I tell her how Christian the girls are in their
ministering to us. I know she is displeased with their talking with Mapuda and me and I try to remind her that
what they are doing is being Christians. She tells me that the girls were on the street themselves and rescued by the
Institution (?) where they now live, go to school, and have good food. I admit to being very surprised.
I had thought the girls were quite well off.
Later in the afternoon Jamie
and Diya go out to meet with some of the women who have agreed both to be videotaped and to video tape each other. Jamie
is very progressive in her views and seems to have internalized such liberationists as Freire and feminist videotographers.
Very sensitive in her filmmaking she deeply respects the women, and their perrogatives. It seems they like the
idea of being on film and relish filming each other. Diya herself has fallen in love with filmmaking and decides to
change her graduate work to filmmaking from global public relations.
Later in the evening Jamie, Diya and
I talk about Mapuda. I say I would like to visit where she lives, but don't know how to arrange this. Diya
says, we could say we would bring food and then you wouldn't have to beg. Jamie says, "I think we could just
ask, 'Can we visit where youlive? Could we go home with you sometime?'"
the next day, Jamie asks Jorden to go to the store with her. We have made a rule that not any one of us will go
off alone, With 6 of us, this works pretty well. But today, Diya is meeting with her Uncle, Joe is in a deep sleep,
Colin is still recovering from cutting his foot on glass, and I still feel queasy. Jorden wants to sleep too,
Reluctantly he goes to his room to get ready, pantomining protest so I can see as he walks/wiggles down the hall. In
a few minutes I go down to his room to tell him this is his time of sacrifice - to grow his soul. Just as I start to
knock he comes out and says he decided in his room to have a good attitude - so he came out cheerily and met Jamie.
At the evening session we read Scripture isaiah 66;13 and Numbers 20:8. Colin remarks that the Scripture we read in
our sessions pretty much relates to what we're doing here. Jamie comments to Joe that he should start organizing
something with the kids ont he street. Joe laughs and says, "like a gang...to rise up and take over the government?"
During Affirmations, I affirm Joe for staying up and talking with me in the middle of the night when he was so
tired. I wanted to hear about the day. Joe sort of mumbled and finally I mumbled something to Joe. He shot his
head up and said "What!?" I laughed and said, that's how you sound. Now in the session Joe says,
ARTICULATE, as I am talking - recounting the conversation. I affirm Jorden for going with Jamie when he wanted to sleep.
I affirm Colin for acting on Jamie's suggestion and making of his space, sacred space. I affirm Jamie for getting me
water and saltines and orange cream wafers when I wanted them but didn't trust leaving the Y. I affirm Anna for
the work she is doing with the children on the dump. Colin and Josiah affirm Diya for trakikng them aroudn all day.
Joe reflects on being at KFC (across the street and on the busy corner). Kids were begging for money.
But a thin man who looked very hungry was sitting outside and so instead of giving to the kids, since he had very little with
him, Joe went to the man with a feeling he should give him somehting. As he gave him 10 rupees, the man made the sign
of respect and thanked him, looking quite pleased.
Jamie and I talk a little more after Reflections, and
she says, "I have to find another way of being here. I am frustrated that we don't know what we are doing yet."
I think her frustration is more about the continued disaster of Joe's space, and somewhat Jorden's (though Joe's
is the worst). And there have been other trying incidents with the kids that would try a saint, some deeply painful.
At the same time there has been loving and generous service from all three. Mahdu sees a great need
in the kids and Christopher sees a woundedness. The next morning Jamie leaves a healing note under my door.
We are all "hitting a wall."
It is the next evening at Reflections.
Jamie has shared something from the Gospel of St Thomas, recalling the Easter story. Colin remarks, "I doubted
God and asked, 'What are you doing here? Why are the people suffering?' But seeing the suffering raises
compassion. You are asked, 'Do you care enough to help them out?' Still, with wars...." Joe
continues, "the goal is to try to make the world more perfect. You wouldn't have so many church groups
here helping...." Jorden continues, "In terms of doubting, I doubt if some people are really beggars.
My fears have been put to rest because some are real. Those kids were very happy getting those cloths." Jamie
comments, "I doubted my capacity to do anything. Like who do you think you are. That's the question of
all those doing global citizenship work. I'm grateful for those people in my life who have prepared me."
It is July 7th and we are meeting in the Retreat room for a planning session.
Jamie remarks that we need to mobalize people to give them a shared purpose. We decide that our shared purpose at this
moment is to meet the need for clothes among the people out the door of the Y. Jamie says, "This seems like a kairos
moment. We've been hearing from a lot of people of their need for clothing. Their need meerts our need - to
mobilize a project." We decide to take down sizes and colors and sex today of all the children of the mothers who
gather for the noon lunch.
We are able to buy clothes for these children and for the street children who
meet us everyday when we step out of the Y because Heather and her great friend Nicolle have sent us $200.00 to buy saris
for the women and new clothes for the children. Terrific timing.
this evening, we meet for Reflections and Observations in the air conditioned retreat room. Jamie leads and shares Elijah
seeking God - his not finding God in the great wind or in the earthquake or in the fire, but found in the silence. She
asks us "Where is the moment you saw and found God?" Josiah comments "What motivated me, got me
closer to God - to go out in the crazyness to find God - was during our reflections." Colin comments, "I
think we found God when we talked to the kids on the street, when most people were ignoring them - it seemed that in a way
that was finding God." Jamie remarks, "Our concern for women - always seeking [the experience] of women
- invites us to think of the Mother God - the God of the homeless. But that is really hopeful - giving us a space to
grow." Diya tells a story from her grandfather that concludes that everywhere God is - God is in each one of us.
"I see God in each one of these kids, in a leaf, an insect, everywhere," she finishes.
that there is a college student who seems to have dropped out of college and is living on the street with the poor on Sutter
Street. I want to meet her and hopefully get a taped interview. If real, this would be an example of the
Jamie is not feeling well at all. She is in a lot of pain.
Mahdu starts praying for her. Jamie's joints are freezing up and she cannot move her fingers or other joints.
We are all scared because it is so severe and none of us know what to do. Anna calls the pastor of the Mission for which
she interns. Mercy Missions runs Mercy Hospital as well as other missions in the City. She
is told to bring Jamie to the hospital, so she, Mahdu, and Diya take Jamie in a taxi. Mahdo spends the night with
her as she is admitted. The next night Diya stays all ngiht with her. I don't know if the condition was ever
diagnosed but finally in about three days she is better and able to come back to the Y. The cost was $15. a day for
a private air conditioned room. Jamie, Colin, Josiah, Jorden, and I have all had to see a doctor or visit a clinic or
take some sort of medicine. The ease with seeing a doctor or therapist is remarkable - and the cost is always $5.
I ask what the poor do when they are sick. I am told they go to a nursing home that dispenses medicine for those living
on the street. That is where one also can get milk for a baby, though there is a charge.
Finally, Christopher is taking Jorden, Josiah, Colin, and me to Sree Durga. To our amazement Christopher
tells us he knows exactly where it is - that he takes computer classes on the same street. We get a cab and head off
across the City. We have with us pictures of Colin and Josiah during the 2005 visit that were featured in Colin's
school paper. We have no idea if Laltia and her family are still at the dump or if they will recognize us. This may
be a fool's errand and we will not find anyone who remembers Colin and Josiah or even find a Project waiting for us.
We get off at the entrance to the dump and attract a small crowd. We show the newspaper with the pictures to kids
that gather around. One points to himself in the paper all excited. Christopher translates asking about Lalita
and her family. The kids tell us that yes they are still there but live down aways on the sidewalk. The
kids run to find Lalita and her brothers. Soon she appears with her school bag, and we are happy to learn
that the kids we had set up funds for had gone to school afterall. The kids surround Josiah and Colin excited to see
them. Jorden is off through the dump photographing the ground with decaying rats and debris. We have with
us polaroid cameras with a lot of film. Someone finds me a chair and I gratefully sit among the people. On one
side of me is the mother with whom I felt a current of connnection the night she waved up to me in the window. Josiah
and Colin start taking pictures of the kids individually and some with their mothers. They are very pleased
to get the picture and others come running to us wanting their picture taken as well.
Again with perfect timing,
Jory and Jamie, two of my sons, have deposited into my checking account $200.00 They have read my e-mails about the
need for clothing among the street dwellers. We take down sizes and names and gender of all the kids at the dump and
say we will come back with new clothes. Christopher offers to shop with us at a discount store that gives a special
discount to Mother Teresa's sisters and co-workers. We agree but with the pressing schedules of Christopher
and our team it turns out that with Jamie I just go to a discount store while we are near-by picking up supplies and
get all the clothes. A few days later again with Christopher we take the clothes back to Sree Durga and hand them
out. The kids and mothers reach for the clothes not wanting to be left out of the distribution. We take
pictures again with the polaroid cameras. I am standing on the sidewalk when a well dressed man and a man dressed
as an offical or officer walk by. They stop and with a look of bewilderment on their faces, ask, "What
are you doing here?" "Visiting," I reply. They keep walking slowly away with their eyes
still fastened on me with an expression of incredulity.
The last Sunday before leaving, I attend the service at the Y again. The sermon is called "Being
Radical," rather fitting, I think to myself. The pastor presents three main points of being radical: deny self;
take up Cross; follow Jesus.
He starts, "We radicals have a casualty rate...we're the ones that get
shot, hung, fired from our jobs - made uncomfortable, overshadowed by one factor - our philosophy of life: we have a cause
to fight for - for humanity. If life is hard, we have the thought that each of us in our small way is helping to make
a better world." He continues, "This force drives and guides my life. I have already been in jail because
of my ideals, because if necessary I am ready to go before a firing squad." He reminds us that the prophets "went
out to change the world with love - not hatred." He reads the Scripture 11 Corinthians 11: 24, and
comments, "New Testament Christians are soldiers. Be disciplined and learn. You can't
come after him until you come to him. We should be ready to march the streets for Christ." He asks, what
does it really mean to deny oneself? The opposite of selfishness, he insists, means love for God dominates our lives.
When you deny yourself you put God first, others second, yourself last. Then he comes down hard - "No one can deny
oneself and have sex outside of marriage." He makes a point that in the work for Christ one is not to work
to build up oneself. To deny oneself means that God dominates one's mind and thinking process.
If one comes by faith and surrenders to Christ, Christ takes over the mind; this means our intellect has come into the
Lordship of Christ. He cites Isaiah 1:13 - do not love the world - the system of evil. He preaches,
"It is this system from which we have to be separated. Jesus went to parties - but did not compromise with the
evil in them. If you are a true beliver in Christ you are going to be at war. One piece is to be totally
committed." A final thought - "the Cross was meant for criminals."
formally ends this Mar in Calcutta blog. I connect with the Scripture that says re: Jesus that if all were
told it would fill volumes. There is more to our experience in Calcutta, and if all were told, it would fill volumes.
But this gives an idea.
We are back in the States. Christopher is our liaison with the kids and families at the Sree Durga dump.
We give him $100.00 a month to help those at the dump and to help with his wider projects - serving blind people, abused women
and homeless kids. He has a dream to build a shelter for these populations and has the land, but no money yet to build
on the land. He goes to the dump two or three times a week and is taking the kids on field trips to broaden their knowledge.
He has also arranged for heightened education for Lalita and a few others who are very intelligent. He knows each
one at the dump and takes a personal interest in each one. We believe that God brought Christopher to us - that day
meeting at the school. We could never find someone like him to be our liaison. He writes to all of us, including
the 11 students of the Calcutta Children's Project, by both letter and e-mail, and sending us all pictures of the
kids. In response to Heather's request he has sent us a picture of each of the kids. Heather's idea
is to match each of the kids with someone conencted to the beloved community house to sponsor.
my World views and Values classes at Marist during Fall 2007 did great fundraisers and raised enough money to send all
20 kids at the dump to school for one year - with all their fees, uniforms, study materials. Faculty and relatives
of the students heard of the Project and spontaneously donated. Altogether students raised almost $1800.00.
Alanna Henneberry and Anthonhy Antonicchia took leadership. See link for Projects/The Calcutta Project for
pictures of the Project and pictures of the children at the Sree Durga dump sent to us by Christopher.