Saturday, July 21, 2007

soccer as always

(from an email a week ago, the update on the last week and a half to come soon!)
I thought India was impossible to write about, but I am finding that this experience will be just as difficult in so many ways. One day here and I feel like I have been through a month's worth of experiences. I spent yesterday morning at the ministry of the interior, trying to find out if it was a big deal that my passport has
no entry stamp, no visa, no proof of my being here. I waited in long
lines, got screamed at for no reason, wandered from one office to the next to be told it was my fault for wanting my stamp on a piece of paper and I would have to face the consequences. It was wild and frustrating, but I started to realize this was just one small frustration that many Palestinians and Jews have to deal with here all the time-- except that the Palestinian ministry of interior is an
overnight wait instead of a few hours...

In the afternoon we made our way (rabbi jeremy and I) into the Bedouin village in the Judea desert, right across where the wall is supposed to be built in the west bank. The story of this group of Bedouins, known as the Jahalin Bedouin is extremely tragic. In the early 1950's, they were displaced from their land in the Negev by the Israeli army, a land which they had herded livestock on for hundreds
and hundreds of years in peace. This group of 3000 bedouins were moved near Jerusalem, where they lived in the Palestinian side in the Judea desert for the next nearly fifty years. As one of the largest Jewish settlements (called Ma'ale Adumim) began to be built and extended into their area (this settlement is the reason that the wall is planned to extend well into the West Bank, incorporating even more palestinian territory into Israel), the Bedouins were again evicted from their homes and their land, told that they could only move into an area right next to the
largest garbage dump in the jerusalem area, an area called unfit to live in by environmental groups. After fighting it in court, they were forced onto this enclosed small land between this enormous jewish settlement and a garbage dump, only a few miles from their old land. Most can no longer herd livestock and practice their traditional lifestyles because of their tiny, unfit land, so now they are mostly working for Israeli's living in the settlement on the land that was
theirs. It was fascinating to hear these stories from the rabbi I am staying with who has been working with the bedouin for 13 years, especially a day after getting an earfull from a lady who told me that the bedouins are increasing desertification and are overpopulating and that the only way to fix it is to move them from the land and force them out of their traditional way of life. Well, I guess that is not
only her thinking...

We drove into the area as I began hearing these stories, and I could see the trash dump only hundreds of yards away on one side, sending a stench whenever the hot desert wind blew. on the other two sides were huge, wealthy jewish settlements. It was an odd feeling as we entered the village. Not trying to draw some intellectual
comparison, but honestly my first feeling was that this first village we visited felt just like the the poorest townships I visited last summer-- tiny shacks, maybe larger concrete ones for the rich, so close to a beautiful city but cut off from it in every real way. It was an odd first day to enter because just the day before the village had lost a 14 year old kid-- the child had been scavenging and been
killed by a garbage truck. As if there were not already enough struggles for this community... so Jeremy took me into one of the larger concrete houses with around 20 men sitting around on small mattresses on the dirt floor, the air blowing into the openings, windows without the windows. They were in their second day of mourning (the entire community spends three days in mourning with the family), and sat around together drinking tea and coffee, talking some and sitting some in silence. We
sat with them, and of course I wished more than anything I had known some consoling words in Arabic. but words would not have been able to do it justice.

Jeremy and I left after a time, shaking the hands of the father and grandfather, me nodding my head hoping that it would somehow translate. Then we headed towards another village just a little ways away to give them space and see if we could hook up with kids in another area. We grabbed some incredible humus on the way and made up with a man named Younis, who helped organize a soccer game with the kids for me to play right outside of his shack on the the rocky desert hills overlooking mountainous jordan in the distance, the settlement in the foreground. Jeremy dropped me off and told me to get back to his house by bus. I didn't know what I was doing, but I decided I might as well loosen up and play some soccer. We played a small game of five v five in the desert heat, mostly younger kids but a few my
age as well, dribbling the rocky sand, pouring water over our heads, and clapping in celebration of goals here or there. It was an odd feeling-- for moments, i got so caught up in the smiles, the faces the kids made back at me for my crazy faces, the competitiveness of the game and enjoyment of the company that I could even forget the jewish settlement looming in the background and the fact that this particular
village would soon be forced to join the other a few miles closer to the garbage dump. Ah, it was great to play soccer, but I sure do wish I could do more, take part in more than enjoying their hospitality, just as great as that of the rural villages in India and the wonderful women of sweethome farm south africa I would visit last summer.

I found my way back and took palestinian transportation into
jerusalem, an experience most israelis have never taken part in and
oddly so for its convenience and price. I experienced my first
security check and my passport got a nod much more easily than the id
cards around me. Then came another adventure-- wandering aimlessly
through the old city of jerusalem, weaving through the colorful
markets, not that different from the many Indian markets we explored only days before. I found the via dolorosa somehow, explored the church of the holy sepulchre for a few minutes, though plan on going back for a much more significant amount of time, and then wandered back for an hour walk to jeremy's place, south of the
city down a beautiful road with old arabic houses lining the roads (though ones Israelis now live in).

After that, I went with Jeremy to visit 43 Sudanese refugees who are camping out right outside of the government building here-- the knesset. It is a fascinating thing-- these refugees, from all over sudan wandered through egypt and eventually into israel illegally, hoping to find refuge here. Now all these human rights
groups are standing up for them and raising all kinds of stuff about them, thus currently they have a camping spot in the park on government property, fully visible to the government workers. For a while it seemed they would relocate them to the negev, where the bedouins were originally from (ironic), but now they are thinking
about putting them near to the border completely isolated and eventually possibly to be deported back to egypt, where they fled torture and persecution.
This group of sudanese were extremely welcoming, and I enjoyed playing with the kids and talking with some of the volunteers, a few of which are from America and have worked with STAND. It is funny that my Sudan knowledge would come in handy here-- I am just about to head over and tell the volunteers about the different conflicts in the area to give them some background. It was really interesting though, thinking about the way that Israel is struggling with whether or not to be a haven for this
refugees (hopefully it will decide to and come through), yet there are well over two million palestinian refugees who have no such hopes. I kept thinking of America-- of our country being a haven for certain groups of international refugees (albeit very particularly and stereotypically) over the years yet never
recognizing the displacement of the native americans. I know this all sounds
pretty critical of israel, but these are really just gut feelings from
my experiences yesterday, firsthand stuff that I haven't really fully
processed. I certainly think israel is great for trying to figure out
how to welcome the sudanese. I just think it is ironic how we
powerhouses respond so differently to different groups of people.

I then ended the night in a bizarre way, joining
greer (family friend) with her friends from hebrew university to go downtown and
celebrate her birthday. I got to catch up some with her but more than
that have some fascinating conversations, first with an American who
has been here a few months living in a Jewish settlement and is about
to be a soldier here. He says he is a die-hard zionist, and spent a
long time telling me all kinds of arab conspiracies and how the jews
would move out of the settlement areas immediately if they knew it
would mean peace. he then went on to talk about hamas being the
problem in every way-- saying the corruption in hamas and palestinian
leaders was the reason the problems had persisted so long and the
reason for the suffering of the palestinians. I mainly just listened,
really interested from his experiences in Hebron, where he admitted
terrible things were happening but also said that when soldiers have
rocks thrown at them, it is understandable to beat the shit out of
people. we talked a lot about terrorism, and it was so interesting to
hear his views and fears of palestinians, some of whom I had spent the
afternoon with drinking tea and coffee and riding a bus around the
city. the divide here is so insane; greer said at the university,
most of her friends who live here in israel don't even believe people
like Chacour's stories of displacement-- they think it is all made up.
It is so hard to figure out what is happening here because all the
people we were with last night talked of how scewed the media all over
the world is towards the palestinians and how it portrays israelis as
the evil ones. It just seems like people are so hurt inside, that
dignity on all sides has been so injured over the course of years that
the other is not even noticed anymore. maybe it is that people can't
recognize the humanity because their own has been injured far too
much. oppression has been internalized over years on all sides to such an extent that it is almost impossible to talk about their even being a different narrative, another part of the story.

But then a met josh, a bartender who talked to me for a good
while about so many refreshing things-- his views on the call for
justice in the scriptures, his struggles to challenge other Jews to
remember the call toward the oppressed. He is about to join in an
interfaith effort for peace and go to rabbinical school, so we discussed our similarities and he invited me to shabbat with his friends tomorrow, a week before he heads off to rabbinical school in america.

Anywho, that is a way drawn out version of my experiences
yesterday. today has been much more quiet, except that I caught a
palestinian bus that heads to bethlehem to get dropped off south of
jerusalem and watched as the bus got pulled over randomly so everybody
could get their id checked, except me who they didn't worry about.
Meanwhile, they pulled off one man for not having his id with him,
harrassed another for talking back. It is the first time I have
experienced this kind of discrimination before-- with id cards and
security like crazy. it is disturbing, shocking. And more than that,
frightening to me when I experienced it; even though I knew I would be
fine, I still shook when those soldiers walked on the bus. I thought
of the stories of the demeaning pass cards in South Africa, the id's
in Germany-- the way that Tutu always said it was the little things
that hurt most. Watching the demeaning and discriminatory process, I
could only wonder how much pain must be inside of the Israeli soldiers
to be able to carry out something that was so demeaning to many of
their own histories.

I think the only thing that really helped today is that I found this random beautiful church that was empty and spent almost an hour in prayer and
reflection to start my day, one of the advantages to a place like
this. Truly, with all that I am seeing and experiencing, I am finding
that I have to have plenty of time to remember that I am loved, that
there must also be peace in me. I am also realizing how much of the
pain I am internalizing, how angering it can be to me and how bitter I
can get. All of it needs to be a part of prayer, but it sure is hard
to get it out sometimes. honesty with myself is not easy when there
is one thing after another affecting me.

Anywho, but the last part is also refreshing. I spent tonight back
with the Sudanese, organizing a soccer game with all the men in the
camp after we played some volleyball and juggled a bit. We had a
great game out on the slopes of the park-- Israelis, Sudanese, and me.

Again, with my lack of language, soccer becomes my mode of
communication. And tonight, it was quite a way to connect...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

the last of India-- in the Himalayas!

Here is a wrapup of our last week in India with a few reflections at the end.

After almost three extremely intense weeks in Jagdeeshpur, we flew back to Delhi for a last week of travel and adventure, hoping to process but also to let loose some...

Highlights from the trip:
-Visited the Taj Mahal-- albeit packed with tourists (though mostly Indian ones), the Taj was beyond words. I had been a bit skeptical of it all, but was stunned by the symmetry, lighting, reflections, patterns, and exquisite carvings. It was one of those things I thought wouldn't be much different from the gorgeous pictures-- but was I ever wrong on that. We travelled with two californians we had met at the hotel (one had been outside delhi for 10 months writing a biography on an incredible woman) and spent our time goofing off, taking leaping pictures, discussing our experiences in India, watching the light change, exploring the carvings, chilling in the grass waiting for the sunset and fighting off people wanting to take our pictures (never had people so interested in posing with us). Jamie even had one couple come up and say, "take our baby" because they wanted her in a picture with their baby. We also took a picture with these random guys who we later were driving next to. They laughingly held the picture of us out the window. absurd.
though the story behind the taj could be another rant, I will leave it at the wonderful day we had travelling together, especially because that certainly best represents the day :-)

-- spent the night at an ashram, a peaceful community in Haridwar, a city on the Ganges north of Delhi. We spent the day winding through the markets and riding a cable car to a Hindu temple, then enjoyed the thousands gathered at the Ganges for the night ceremony sending colorful offerings into the Ganges-- Jamie and John joined . We also had a morning of yoga in an incredible yoga hall, starting our day panting like dogs (one of the exercises our instructor repeated again and again, probably so he could laugh at us)

-travelled to the hill town of Mussourie, about 7000 feet up in the Himalayas. We had a family from Punjab share a taxi with us on the way up and enjoyed the singing of their two little daughters as we drove the winding road up the mountains. We journeyed to a beautiful Buddhist temple in Happy Valley, shared conversations with an extremely intelligent couple from Punjab about the failings of American society and lack of our citizens' knowledge of the world (on top of a hotel balcony looking into the valleys below), ate lots of Tibetan food, explored the markets, and made an early morning hike to the highest point in the area, within view of some of the 20,000+ foot peaks. I LOVE THE MOUNTAINS, and it was wonderfully refreshing to have the cool air and relaxing time to close out our intense trip.

Funny stories from our time in Haridwar and Mussourie:
-met up randomly with this French guy who ended up tagging along for a day
-John had his face stroked on the streets of Mussourie by curious males
-Jamie got a meow on the streets of Delhi
-we saw three people in Mussourie we had met before, one of which who was a fascinating English woman who has travelled literally all over the world and liked to say, "wanker!"
-we went on a mission to find food at 1 am in Delhi and ended up at this ritzy and disgustingly overdone hotel coffee shop (only place we could find open) with VELVET carpets and waiters in denim suits
many more to tell...

and now for a few reflections...sorry this is so broken up, but it is the easiest way not to drag on for hours.
- The Buddhist monastary felt peaceful and free of the caste ridden India we had experienced. I kept wondering though, especially when a monk pulled out a wad of cash, if it was not similar to the experience we had in the rural area, that those who talked about being no caste, those places where it seemed to be devoid of caste and peacefully equal were simply places that were privileged enough to separate themselves. This may not have been as true of the monks, especially as many nowadays are not the most privileged, but it just reminded me of our time with Brishop, the old, welcoming man who told us of the new India without caste, who we were so taken by (and still are) but later learned that he was of the highest caste in the area, able to say that because he was not struggling to get by every day. THis is all not unlike racism in the US it seems, in the way that most of the privileged are the ones who can comfortably and even honestly (in their limited experience) deny that racism exists.

-speaking of privilege, I struggled more with my privilege on this trip to India than ever before, yet I still embarrasingly got drawn into using it at times: to stay in a nice hotel in the Himalayas, eat at that ritzy coffee shop in our dirty clothes (only allowed in because we were white-- our casual clothes were way out of place), to get put into separate lines at the airport (grant it, we tried to fight this one). I kept thinking that it was ok to half splurge the last few days, to relax since we had lived so simply. But I still could not rid myself of the thoughts that in the one night at a nice hotel, we were each spending two months worth of our maid in the rural area's salary for a MONTH (10 dollars a month), or that on my trip this summer, I am spending enough to provide food and shelter for the 28 orphans in Jagdeeshpur for almost 5 YEARS! Is this, as I once heard it claimed, the same as choosing a nice room for one night over providing a month for the orphans? Sure, I can excuse myself by saying I live simply, give pretty generously, and rarely buy things. But does that really allow me to clear my conscience over decisions that pick material over humans, sitars over beggars, mountain views over hospital equipment? My life must change, but I also know I can't live torturing myself. THe guilt doesn't help, but I still can't excuse it. I can do something. I can give up a ton. I can use my life, my resources, my knowledge, love, ability to listen, and more in order to at least be a part of change, however far fetched and idealistic it may seem. I am not willing to let things just be "the way things are". Though it certainly would be paternalistic to think I can go in and help bring about change, I don't think there is something wrong with being willing to make sacrifices, to make changes, to spend time and energy and spirit to help transform some small part of the suffering we experienced in Jagdeesphur, saw out of the train of Delhi, and ignore all the time in America.

I have been reading Mountains Beyond Mountains and found the section criticizing white liberals extremely powerful. Paul Farmer talks about how lots of people always talk about the poor as being happy so that they don't have to do anything about it, give anything up or change their lifestyles. This trip was yet another trip in which my idea of romanticizing the poor was turned on its head. It is not joyous to be starving. It does not feel good to have curable illnesses become life-ending diseases because of a lack of health facilities, or to have infections last years and lead to amputations. It is not pleasant to watch kids wish for a better tomorrow and women work in an overwhelmingly oppressive system. Yes, the hospitality is remarkable, the community is a model for us who have gotten so caught up in our affluence, but that doesn't allow us to excuse the fact that we must be a part of a change for the situations of oppression that leave these children without the proper resources to live. We can't live comfortably in a world in which so many are suffering because of our excess!

Anyway, I will end my rant there, more for my own sake than for the one or two of you who have made it this far (mom and dad). This trip opened my eyes to a lot that I haven't ignored but have certainly let sit uncomfortably without impact. One I will have to discuss in depth is the oppression of women, not just in India, but simply the ways it opened my eyes to it, the ways I have been ignoring it and even adding to it in my ignorance. More to come from Israel and Palestine!

leaving Jagdeeshpur, not quite as intense

Driving down the jarring road dodging trucks, an enormous cobra, and hundreds of annoying cows, we said goodbye to the Chhattisgarhi countryside through breathfulls of dust and exhaust. It has been a remarkable time these last few weeks-- much harder to say goodbye than I expected. The orphanage was definitely the hardest for all three of us, our last week filled with evenings of teaching red rover and tag, learning the wonderful game of kabadi (i'll have to teach it back home), bonding with the kids through hugs and smiles and lots of "deedee!" and "baya, baya" (sister and brother, as we were called hundreds of times a day). These 28 kids were some of the most remarkable I have ever met. I'll never forget their smiles, warm daily reception, jumping on us and chasing us, laughing, teaching the younger ones, caring for one another, playing with monkeys, even clothes lining each other in red rover and shaking it off without a fight... I wish I could make sure each of these kids gets the attention he/she needs, especially one of my favorites Sunny, a four year old boy whose smile stretches across his face but is never without a mischievious look in his eyes as he plays some trick on a kid twice his size.

It is impossible to sum up our time in Jagdeeshpur-- our exploratory bikerides to villages and the mountain in the distance through monsoons, intense hospital experiences (I witnessed my first surgeries, all quite disturbing-- an enormous kidney stone, a hernie the size of a nerf football that the kid had for 17 years! and a C-section-- interesting to see something incredible come out of such a disturbing surgery), games with the orphans, long conversations over hot chai and fresh mango, crazy monsoons and beautiful countrysides, touching and disturbing stories...I struggled for a moment the other day trying to figure out if this fit into my original idea for the summer. I got to the conclusion that I wasn't sure but it didn't matter, for I was meant to be in this place, to experience the more quiet and structural conflicts and a poverty we must fight as humans. Not to mention one of the simultaniously best times of my life with John and Jamie, who have been incredible throughout.

Other quick stories from our trip:
-church was an experience. one guy who sang a solo was wearing a shirt that said "best wishes, from me to you" with a HUGE middle finger in the center. We held back laughter as we tried to figure out whether or not he knew what it meant. Soon after, we heard a two hour sermon, partly translated, about putting on our "love shoes" and keeping our belt of god to hold our pants up. Interesting...

-high fives and crazy faces work wonders with kids universally. thank god I can wiggle my ears as I can. it provided endless and idiotic entertainment

-I have never been so thankful for coke (or should I say THUMS UP, as it is called)and sprite. always refreshing on a hot day in rural india

-bucket showers are the way to go. we should mimic them in the us-- a great experience and a lot less water used...

-I have no interest in scorpions but one of the nurses supposedly collected them for a while, giving them names from the Matrix...

-we ate samosas with joe and sima and their kids one night in town. In the middle of our snack, a cow walked right in front of our table, did his business and joe added, "bon appetite!" to the pleasant view

-and last but not least, village life is quite funny sometimes. we met a man in the village who said he had heard from Basna (a town a ways away that we visited one saturday) that three white people had bought mangos and taken pictures in the town a few days ago. I was amused.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Do things have to be 'just the way things are'?

(this is for my time in India two weeks ago-- the israel/palestine update coming soon after)

from June 21 (sounds very similar to last post, but representative of ongoing feelings that first two weeks):
I just watched the most gorgeous sunset over the hill in the distance here in Jagdeeshpur, the muddy soccer field in the foreground with kids playing and uber privileged cows providing natural defense (walking through the games) just a few hours after the daily monsoon here. It is an odd sensation, looking at the natural beauty amidst internal struggle. Today may have been the most things have smacked me in the face. We made our way into one of the villages just a few miles from Jagdeeshpur. Words don't do justice to the pangs of this experience. Our few phrases of Hindi and blood pressure equipment were pretty useless with the floods of people with strokes, serious diseases, injuries of two years or more, even cerebral palsy. Even Dr. Joe could just ask them to visit the hospital as he handed them a few vitamins or simple medication he had brought along for this community health outreach.

We medicate for everything in the states and here were people who have absolutely nothing for serious injuries and illnesses I cannot even fathom. EVERY KID but one we measured the arm of was malnourished. HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN? ANd I sat there overwhelmed wondering how I could drive in and out and not shut down, angry because I have nothing-- no way to help, no skill to offer. How can one talk of peace when people cannot feed their children, when the only crops of the year go bad, when people get sick and have no access to help? Where is the world? WHere are we who enjoy the luxuries of three large meals a day, sweets, electricity, clean water, transportation, health care, education. What happens to these children? How many will live beyond their youth? Will anything change for them? Are they simply to be forgotten by those of us who can put up our walls of separation and shade our eyes from the extents of poverty?

I keep thinking, "where is God?". Though I feel God's presence so strongly in the smiles, the insane hospitality, the graciousness of the people here. But what about in their daily lives of grind work, isolation, debilitating caste, sickness, even starvation? It is such a paradox. Why is it that those who have so little are more giving, more gracious, more loving and hospitable than those of us who have our lives filled with material?

Sensory overload. Women's shadows reflecting in the flooded rice fields, kids hopping patties and bathing in the water, families gathered for a meal, wide-eyed children smiling as we ride by on bikes-- love in the midst of so little. BUT SO MUCH SUFFERING-- and they just continue, day after day, generation after generation. Nothing has changed in hundreds of years.

I ache to know answers yet can't even figure out the questions. I desire to be real but don't know what that would mean right now. The stirrings aren't the comfortable kind, not the great realizations where I feel I can sleep well for at least I had some great thought of the day. Instead, I ache. Where is my faith? What does faith mean here?

Religious jargon means nothing here to me-- how can we debate petty scriptures when the most serious call for justice and an end to oppression of the poor is so rampant? What is justice when government schools are corrupt, leaving no hope of education? When every child in a village looks through starving eyes? WHen people live with the most serious TREATABLE illnesses for years, wasting away, having body parts amputated because they can't refrigerate insulin for their diabetes? When 28 orphans who can live off of 80$ a month ALL TOGETHER are struggling to get by?

Can we talk about peace when many don't even see the conflict our affluent lives are causing? When we seem so far from the starting point of change? When even the dogs howl of starvation and the land begs for rain?

I don't know what all this means. I feel lost, dried up, desensitized, hardened, angered, confused...

Walking past the orphanage and then the village of Jagdeeshpur, Kavya-- Joe and Sima's 5 year old-- asked her mother, "why are things always 'just the way things are'?" SHe continued, "Do things have to be 'just the way things are'?" I wonder if we are beginning to internalize that, to believe we are fighting as if already defeated on every front. It seems quite opposite of the hope that moves us forward. But the more we leave unjust structures in place with the comment of "that's the way things are" the more they will become internalized until not even seen as unjust chains but as our shelter and foundation...