Saturday, 31 July 2010

Lazy Saturday

Amidst the relentless busy-busy-busyness of the last 2 weeks - today has been a haven of peace.

The driving rain outside was enjoyed from indoors.

The day started with our Saturday morning prayer time for JSK. This Saturday hour from 7.30-8.30 am is open to anyone who wants to pray. Today it was enjoyed by Andi and Sheba and two cups of tea.

Then a slow lazy getting up. The kids wanted some things moved around in their room - so parents are happy to oblige. Mould was found on some books (thankyou monsoon!) a brief, brisk clean-up ensued.

As the rain lashed down outside - the Eicher foursome sat down to a late breakfast of waffles! Our amazing Oma has ensured that some of the Eicher traditions are passed down and gifted us the machine 2 years ago. The waffle-iron makes its appearence every now and then - as it did today when we had waffles and maple flavoured syrup to the tune of the rain on our roof. I have to remember the formidable metal clunker from my youth - a venerable East-German machine that may have been made in the fools paradise of the GDR - but made superb waffles. Our current machine is a bit anaemic - but does the job passably.

The rest of the day so far? A short walk outside to by some chicken for supper (we hope that our dear friends the Gabriels will make the trip over to us). A stop at a cobbler to have one of Asha's chappals fixed. A short but hearty conversation with a friend who manages the back behind the cobbler. A few calls. Music practice by the kids. Books. The morning paper. More rain outside. A skimming of mail and some final comments on Ben Davy's capstone paper - off it went to Nebraska. And now this update on ye olde blogge.

Lunch calls. Hot rice and chole (what our American friends call garbonzo beans). I am a very blessed man (and have a small paunch to show for the great food and sedentary lifestyle I live). Off this post goes into the ether - and then we four will sit down for another beautiful meal - at 3 PM.

A lazy Saturday. The best there are.

Perhaps a book read together after lunch? Perhaps a snooze?

The rain continues to lash down outside. Inside all is warm and cozy.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Our man from AP

This week has been a mini-maelstrom - of which we are still spinning from.

In the middle of all of this we had a visit from Mr. Ravi Kumar of NICE Mission - Dommeru AP.

He came out to see what we are doing with HIV care here through Jeevan Sahara Kendra - and to attend the first day session of our Church partner training in HIV/AIDS care.

Looking back I wish his visit had been a bit better - he ended up sick for 1.5 days out of the 4 he spent with us. But all in all it was very much worthwhile for this young man to get a glimpse of what is going on this side of our land.

Ravi tells us that Dommeru is a village of 10,000 people. The government health authorities say that there are 170 known HIV positive cases in the village. How this figure came about he does not know. But it is shocking stuff.

Ravi's father helped start a group of 13 churches in the area - and one of Ravi's main responsibilities as a 25 year old is to run a school. They have 5 children who are HIV positive attending - and another several who are orphaned by HIV.

The village has 5 men who are sick - and whose wives have abandonned them. Ravi and his team have tried to help these men out. They took them to different local people and sought jobs for them. One was taken to a merchant, another to a tailor. The men were rejected because they looked so thin. Ravi tells me that a number of people have been disowned by family members when they were found out to be HIV positive.

Stigma and hatred towards people with HIV continues at so many levels.

This is why Ravi was amazed to visit the people we are working with here. "When I visit the house of the victims here" said Ravi "I see that they are being loved. It is not like in my village."

Yes, it is not like in Dommeru. But many of the people here have been through similar situations - but have stuck on - and have been helped by others. HIV is never easy - even in the most supportive family situations. The disease and the stigma that clings to HIV/AIDS are so insiduous that for most people with HIV the illness seems to ever expand (even when physically under control) and seems to invade every part of their lives.

But with love things can change. Simple acts done by simple people. Simple love put into practice by people who are often quite flawed themselves - but more often than not in our experience - have experienced grace in their own lives.

Ravi is back in Dommeru. I got an SMS earlier this evening saying that he had arrived safely after his 1.5 day journey home. We are so glad to have been able to share a bit of our lives and work here - and trust that it will bear fruit in the far-away East and West Godavari Districts of Andhra Pradesh.

End of the ride

On the front page of today's Indian Express was an article that I did not want to see. P.G. Tenzing - the cousin of our dear friend Dr. Chering Tenzing has died. Chering had told us before that PG was suffering from severe medical issues - and that he had almost died several times previously - but to see the obituary of someone you know on the front of a paper first thing in the morning is a shock.

P.G. Tenzing had made it big in the Indian Administrative service - rising up in the Kerala cadre and ably holding varied portfolios in Fishing, Transportation and Information Technology. After 20 years of work, he put in his papers and took to the road on a motorbike. Driving his trusty Enfield, he starting in Kerala and followed his whims - taking notes on the journey for a book he was going to write for Penguin. Chering told us about him when we visited her at the Nav Jivan Hospital in Jharkhand in 2007 - and told us that he may very well be coming our way too.

He did. We had a very brief encounter with P.G. in November of that year. He roared into Thane on his Enfield - spent a morning with us - and then roared on towards Gujarat. We merit a small vignette (page 201-202) in his book Don't Ask Any Old Bloke for Directions which came out 2 years later and which chronicled his 25,320 kms journey.

P.G.'s parting sentence about us was: "I have never prayed so much in such a short time. They were friends of my missionary sister and she'd wanted me to visit them. I did not regret the visit by I was overwhelmed by the praying."

It is so strange to think about Chering's cousin - a person who to me seemed almost larger-than-life - in the 'past tense.'

We meet so many people on this road of life. And then it ends. How fleeting our time is. How long the shadow of eternity looms.

Caricature Christ

Protests in Mumbai regarding the above image, led to the Times of India apology which appeared in today's front page, saying -

" WE ARE SORRY: An illustration resembling The Last Supper, which appeared in the Sunday edition of the paper (Page 18), has hurt the sentiments of a number of our readers. We sincerely apologise for the anguish it has inadvertently caused. This paper is truly respectful of all faiths; it is one of the cornerstones of our editorial philosophy."

As a Jesus-following iconoclast - I have no problems with pictures of pictures. The Holy Scriptures tells me not to have any graven images - so I hold no pictoral representation of my dear Lord close to my heart.

The common "Jesus" picture seems to be drawn mainly from a self-portrait that the German painter Albrecht Durer made of himself in 1500 when he was 28 years old.

Since I owe no allegiance to the plethora of pictures of pale-faced-jesus which people call 'Yishu-foto' here - I cannot really be too outraged.

In fact, the placing of RK Laxman's 'common man' in the place of Christ strikes me as singularly apt. Jesus was after all fully man - and would have looked like anyone of us. We know that he was Not handsome ("He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. Isaiah 53.2b). The beauty of Christ - the fact that his first disciples confidently said that he was 'full of grace and truth' came from His character, came from the words that He said and the things He did - and the power of a life that was stronger than death.

The Times picture is probably wrong in putting a bevy of Indian political heavy-weights clustered around this 'common man' as disciples. If anything these dear worthies are un-disciples of Christ as seen by the sad spectacle of most of what passes as leadership from them. For the record - the artist feels these are the 12 most important political leaders in India today: Mayawati, Swaraj, Jaitley, Karat (funny to see him poking his head between the BJP big two), Advani, Gadkari, then the dear 'common man' followed by the Congress trinity of Rahul, Manmohan and Sonia, and then the other trioka of Mukherjee, Banerjee and good old Pawar to round off the lot.

Getting back to Jesus (what a relief) - if we do want to draw an image of him - how about something more along these lines.

If anything our Lord, being a praktikas (carpenter/builder/or as we say here in Bharat a 'mistry') would most probably looked far more like those of us who are melanin blessed rather than those poor in melanin (like yours truly for instance).

It is sad that global Christianity continues to be dominated by the European image of our Lord - that vapid bearded Durer-esque form endlessly reproduced in various forms. How I wish that the type could be erased and replaced with a desire to see Jesus through the words of the book - through His amazing life - and all the wonderful things that have been said about him. Even better - that the truth of Jesus would be seen in the lives of all who profess to follow him as Lord.

If we take Jesus at His words, then He is either Lord of all - or not Lord at all. There is no in-between. This is why the very earliest Christian creedal statement - predating even the writing of the first gospel - is these three words: Jesus is Lord. A statement deeply heretical to the understanding of the Jews (who could not see Jesus as fulfilling Messianic Deity) and dangerously seditious to the Romans (for whom Ceasar was Lord).

As for the caricature of a caricature that appeared in the Sunday Times of India ... draw on!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Our blessed pump

11 years ago yesterday Sheba's Dad suffered a massive heart attack.

Appa was still living in Rourkela then. I remember hearing Sheba telling me about it over the phone. She was in Chhatisgarh at that time - serving at Champa Christian Hospital. I was in Jharkhand, at the Nav Jivan Hospital.

After we got married Sheba told me that that most people live another 5 years after such an attack. By God's grace, not only did Appa pass the 5 year mark, but he passed the 10 year mark as well and has crossed over 11 years too. A massive contributing factor has been how carefully Appa takes medications of all kinds (he is a diabetic too) and how often he monitors his health through regular checkups with his physicians. And he (and all of us) pray too. God answers. We are so glad for these years that we have had together.

Last month Dr. Thomas Koshy gave a public talk on the heart and I saw something that I never thought of before. This amazing organ - which so tirelessly pumps blood all through us - is itself served by such a limited set of blood vessels on the outside of it. Just like the crudest thought of bankers as people who randomnly dip into the millions that pass through their hands whenever they want to - so somehow I had never actually considered where the heart got its own blood supply from. Having never actually thought about it - I guess that I had just assumed that it sort of 'took on' blood as it pumped the fluid of life out to the rest of the body.

Hardly.

Suddenly all the talk about 'clogged arteries' etc. makes sense. Cut off the supply to these few feeders - and the machine will slowly wind down - just like your computer does when the power suddenly flickers down to a dim-glow-bulb level (often seen in Mussoorie - but occasionally cropping up in my office in Thane these days). Put simply: No red juice - no working ticker. No working pump - no life in the body. Hence the value of making sure that ye olde arteries supplying the heart be without buildups of plaque and other gunk. Hence the concern over cholestrol other mouth-ingested-food-factors which contribute to poor areterial health.

The 'heart attack' takes place when parts of this amazing constantly working muscle is deprived of blood from portions of its coronary artery. Blocked arteries lead to muscle death since it is not getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs. A tiny amount of tissue necrosis may even go unnoticed. But there comes a time when it cannot be ignored. Muscle death can lead to heart failure. A heart that fails means that or body doesn't get the blood it needs. How strange that I spend so little time thinking about this beautiful vessel which makes life possible. How glad I am that my vital functions do not depend on how much I think about them.

Yesterday morning we got a call from Vishakapatnam. Amma said that Appa had not been well the previous night and had been sweating abnormally. Not a good sign at all. People with diabetes apparently often do not have pain in the chest when a heart attack happens. She had Appa taken to hospital in the morning and admitted for tests.

We spent the day praying. Text messages went out to church friends here in Mumbai-land and family members up North. Prayers went up - and out - as others texted the message further.

In the evening we talked to Amma again. Appa was a lot better. It may have been a change in the diabetes medication which caused a lower blood sugar level than normal - and triggered the sweats. Appa was cheerful and had been discharged home in the afternoon. He will be taking an ECG on the morrow to see if there is any heart involvement.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Deep Breath


We have to do it sooner or later.

Yesterday we sent an email to the government HIV programme.

In the email we asked the concerned official to activate our Integrated Testing and Counselling Centre. We have been doing HIV testing and counselling at a small scale for about a year and a half now. What we want now is to step up to the plate and be one of the recognised HIV testing and counselling centres - partners with the public health system in our city - and beyond.

In the same email we asked for something bigger.

We asked the government to make us a link ART centre. This means that we at Jeevan Sahara Kendra would be getting the Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) Medications from the government and would directly supervise their treatment. Currently about 110 of our 150 odd HIV positive friends are getting their treatment free from the government ART centre in Thane. They and 3500 other people. The government is very interested in getting other partners involved in providing this level of service. We assume that our patients would be immediately transferred over to us for their HIV medications (which the vast majority would very much appreciate). We also assume that we would be asked to look after at least 150 more cases.

All of this seems like foolishness at times when we see our own thread-bareness. When we see staff squabble. When we don't see patients come. On rainy days. When we look at our slender staffing resources at this time. Should we even be venturing further when we see so many areas where we need to still put our ship into shape?

One thing is certain. Time waits for no man.

If this is the time for us to move forward into becoming a partner with the government in ART care - then we must strike now.

We do so with prayer and hope that God will take us forward. The image of the priests carrying the ark and stepping into the Jordan river comes to mind.

And the scary thing is that this is not even the biggest step we may be taking - just around the corner is our shift to the current Lok Hospital building - and a Community Care Centre. The near and medium term future holds some amazing challenges.

Carpe Diem!

Thanks for being along with us on this journey!

Monday, 19 July 2010

An auto-rickshaw driver's tale

We were about to head back home. The pastor at whose church we had just conducted an HIV awareness session found out that we would be returned by train and told us that 'Vishwas' would be dropping us off at the station.

Vishwas got his autorickshaw ready - we piled in our boxes - and ourselves - and soon we were off on the short journey to the train station.

The trip was a mere 5 minutes - but long enough for Vishwas to tell us a major part of his life story.

Vishwas had been a 'goonda' - a local tough who was part of the vast underworld that lives on the underside of the shiny (and often grimy) urban exteriors that makes the India of today.

Nine years ago someone had given him 'supari' - a contract - to bump off the pastor at whose church we had shared about God's heart for people with HIV/AIDS. Vishwas had gone to church - in order to know how to kill the pastor.

Instead of Vishwas doing the deed - he found his life changed. He surrendered his life to Christ and after confessing what he had intended to do - has become one of the pastor's closest friends.

Nine years later Vishwas is married. He is driving an auto-rickshaw for a living and has left his 'goonda' days far behind. Vishwas even moved his home so that he can be closer to the church in order to help out in the work of the church more often. Taking guests in his auto-rickshaw is one of the many small ways that he does this.

It isn't often that we (knowingly at least) talk to a hit-man (ex- or not). I have been pondering Vishwas' life-change - and keep coming back to the gut issue - a (would-be) murderer who becomes the friend of his (would-be) victim. What a powerful hope there is for all of us to change. What a wonderful door the Lord Jesus opened up for gut-kickers like me. Amazing grace - how sweet the sound...

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Books vs. Macbook

We had a dust-up yesterday. The (fairly wobbly in hind-sight) steel bookshelf in our livingroom toppled. About 200 books obeyed the law of gravity and went tumbling down. We were able to catch the shelf before it crashed - but the books made their ways floor-ward.

No damage to life and limb. We are really thankful to God for this. Really!

But a certain white item looks like it did not like having lots of paper-weight dumped on it.

Though the Mac initially looked like it had survived the large chunks of processed wood raining on it - the dear machine decided that it would not recognise that it has a hard disk.

Looks like the score is books 1 - macbook 0.

Now a big sad sigh and a check to see if something can be done for the dear macbook.

In the mean-time. A lot less computer access to me. Perhaps for the good? (this note typed out in the office computer).

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Eicher Hikers

Many moons ago a little lad looked across the wide expanse of Kodai lake - and along the road that snaked around it - and said "Daddy, I am tired. Do we have to walk so far?"

We were on our annual holiday trip down to Kodaikanal - it was the late 1970s - and instead of just hanging around on the lake, and eating picnic lunches in punts - my parents insisted that we go on hikes.

Each day the hikes became a bit longer. The end of Kodai lake. Cokers walk. Leving stream. Then some of the Sholas (narrow rainforests found in the valleys of the Palani hills). Then overnight hikes to the trout streams and camping at Berijam lake. My parents love for the outdoors was translated into amazing experiences for us as a family.

The memories still stand out sharply in my mind. The coolness of the cheese factory. The large tree outside the Swedish school. The ornithology section of the natural history museum at a Catholic Seminary. The sound of a 'whistling schoolboy' warbling in a shola forest. Getting drenched and making tea in a small cave. Hopping from rock to rock along a river bed. Many picnics. The greeness of the Palani grasslands. The wetness of fern-like heathers. Bedding down in tents and eating hot-foil-covered-coal-baked-potatoes.

Looking back on the miniature version of me - way back there in the 1970s I do remember grumbled about the walking - especially during the actual hikes. But am I ever grateful to our parents for giving us such a precious legacy of memories.

So no surprise that one of the biggest kicks that we get is to be able to replicate the hiking bug in a small way with our next gen Eichers. And the icing on the cake is that we are able to do this while still being with the originals - now called Oma and Opa!

CS Lewis wrote that: A pleasure is only full grown when it is remembered (Out of the Silent Planet). Here is a fully-grown pleasure - an amazing day that we spent during our holiday with Mum and Dad in Mussoorie in May this year.

Every journey starts with a single step. Our hike to the 'Pepper Pot Cave' began with us setting off early in the morning. Here Opa takes Enoch and Joanna (their cousin) up the hill past Jabbarkhet. I remember running this monster of a hill during school days cross country runs - it was so much more pleasant to walk up it with our kids!

The advantage of not going too far off the beaten track is that chai is always close at hand.

The Eichers are suckers for chai - while the younger lot enjoy wildly-synthetic tasting 'snacks' found in puffed up shiny packets (the change in altitude makes them like little pillows). I always wondered where all the styrofoam in the world goes. Now we know.

The view from the chai dukhan is not only natural beauty. We also have views of the most amazing fellow humans. I could have spent a good half-day just watching these two mountain men taking in the morning sun.

But further ranges called. So out of the chai dukhan (2nd JB of course) and off onto the Tehri Road again. We were treated with a sheer drop down the side and the marvellous views of forest and village. Only in the 'foothills' of the Himalaya...


A big draw for the younger Eichers was the view of something much closer to the view that stunning Himalayan pastoral landscapes - as we walked along we saw that the yellow raspberries were ripe. Yours truly was called upon to clamber up the side of the hill and extract these beauties from their prickly prisons.

But that joy of the slim pickings that I was able to glean was overshadowed by something even better.


Blackberries. No we are not talking about mobile communication devices. Real honest-to-goodness black raspberries. Usually perilously high up the hill side. But Daddy's climbing skills were again called upon by the hungry hordes. And the evidence was clearly seen on the tongues of our delighted berry eaters!

I don't remember these berries in my day - but their black sweetness was a real treat to young and old.


Speaking of young and old - here are yours trully ahead of the pack with Enoch and the girls holding Oma and Opa's hands. The joy of walking is heightend by the talking. There really is hardly anything better than to walk under the cobalt blue sky with people you love...

The perfect day? Throw in a small climb up the ridge from the road. With the requesit stops along the way to rest and see the view. More water and arti-snacks consumed of course. Binoculars out to look at birds and hazy attempts made to lock in on what species the beauties may be.


True to form, Enoch relishes being 'in front.' It brought back one of my first memories of a hike with Mum and Dad - going up 'Duke's Nose' in Khandala - at which time a stray dog adopted us and joined us for the hike - with us giving him the name 'Leader' because he loves running ahead of us.

We had left the Tehri road at 'Seven Sisters' (of the 7 original trees only 3 small scraggly apologies of trees remain) and gone up the ridge. In earlier days we would have walked the entire way along the ridge - but a large tract of the land is now fenced-off as private property - with very unwelcoming signs calling anyone who hikes there as tresspassers. So it was along the public road we walked until we could go up on public land. Jai Hind!

The small climb to the ridge took us into a delightful tract of deodar trees. And then, sooner than we knew it, we had reached our destination! There is a small cave at the gap in the ridge where a path goes down to the villages below. We call it 'Pepper Pot Cave" because you can see the hill beautifully from there - and almost reach out and touch it - it seems that close.

The deodar woods up on the ridge are ideal for families. Elders can lie down for a nap. Little ones can play 'house, house.' The in-betweens can build a fire and heat up the chappatis and alu bhaji! Nothing like eating in the open air with hot chappus and alus and cucumbers!


Then it is time for chai of course! Flavoured with the smoke of deodar wood! Exquisite.

The book was brought out - what else could we be reading but The Hobbit and all settled down to listen (and snooze).

Post lying down there was time to climb a tree (yours trully again) while others dispersed across the landscape.

And what a view there was. The place was so quiet - other than the occasional wandering cow who quietly announced is present by its bell - we did not meet another soul.

The beauty of the blue sky was bisected by a Lammergeyer. The breadth of that wingspan was awe-inspiring. Our bird-book said it could be up to 9 feet. You can believe it when you see these magnificent creatures swoop by.

For us city-folks - with our constant whirr and buzz and rumble that is the back-drop of our lives, to be in place of such quiet and stillness is an out-of-this-world experience. Up there on that mountain we had the wind to charm us and the sun to kiss us. It was a mercifully non-hailing day (we had a number of those during our Mussoorie sojourn). Instead, all we had was the spectacular vistas opening up below us.


Dad had not been feeling well for a good portion of our time in Musoorie - but on this perfect day he was with us in force. My mind's eye goes back to the many times he carried our little protesting bodies when we felt that we had walked far enough. The reservoir of patience that he had....

Our twosome (made a happy threesome by the addition of their cousin Joanna) provided us with little challenge by way of complaining. Asha and Enoch were such a joy to walk with - and the long walk back - which had to start far too early of course - was just as fun as the walk out.

On the way up the hill to Landour I was asked to tell Enoch every kind of dog that I knew. Cocker Spaniel, German Shepherd, Pekinese, Boxer... the names came till they dried up - and the footsteps took us closer to home at Shanti Kunj.

One of the most touching things I saw was the sight of Mum and Dad walking ahead of us at one point on the way back.

The picture captures to me there long and good walk together as a couple. As parents they have been such an amazing example to us. Their generosity of spirit, their courageous living out of their faith, their deep love for each other - and their willingness to forgive and esteem each other before us have imprinted a deep pattern of desire to be like them in our own family relationships.

Mum and Dad have walked their years on this earth hand in hand. We hope to live out this legacy for our own kids too.

Each journey does have an end.

Our perfect day did come to an end.

After a wonderful day of walking - what better place to come to than Shanti Kunj!


And so to end with our dear friend Tolkein. We have not cracked "The Lord of the Rings" as a family yet. That will have its time (and I think it will be sooner rather than later), but for this perfect day, here is his little gem of a poem:

"The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say"
J.R.R. Tolkien (The Fellowship of the Ring)

Friday, 16 July 2010

SMS

This SMS just came in:

Hi sorry to let you all know Villas is no more pls pray.

Villas was a young orphan with HIV who was being cared for and blessed through the work of OASIS India.

At one point - before they started accessing free AntiRetroviral Treatment through the government hospitals - OASIS would bring a whole vehicle full of kids with HIV to us each month for their treatment follow-ups.

Villas was one of them. I have him in my mind's eye now. His thin face, the beautiful shy smile.

That's how I choose to remember him - and that's who I will meet when we next see each other in glory.

In the mean time, our eyes are full of tears...

Another little boy dead to HIV.

---------------------

Kudos to our friends at OASIS for the love and care they poured into this young life. Their work is a deep blessing to many. How hard it is to love and to lose...

Thursday, 15 July 2010

a new symbol


Here comes the hot-stepper!

Into a not-so-crowded world of currency symbols - one dominated by behemoths with a face-recall that borders on the hard-wired comes a new kid on the block.

The Indian rupee has unveiled its official symbol.

The brotherhood (or is it a sisterhood?) of $ ₤ ¥ and of course now has a new friend. The sleek rupee symbol seen on the left.

A good year or so ago a contest was announced.

A contest to design the new official international symbol of the Indian Rupee. A way of putting identifying the financial power that India is - and is becoming. A pictoral image that captures some of our culture and presents it in an enduring way.

Here are some of the suggestions given:

Pretty awful most of them. I particularly wonder about the second from the lower left. How in the world can that be seen as an international symbol?

I must admit that I spent more than a few minutes daydreaming about participating in the contest. Turns out that other things (rightly) crowded their way in and put my opportunity for glory on hold.

Today's announcement says that the symbol chosen to be the new Rupee sign was designed by a D. Udaya Kumar - a freshly minted PhD in industrial design from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai.

Dr. Kumar is set to join the faculty at the new IIT in Guwahati.

Looking at the elegance of his design - you just want to say - 'I could have done that!' fit together so perfectly. The double bars – a sign of stability – are not put down in the middle like the Yen and the Pound – but lifted up. Dr. Kumar says it is to remind of the Indian flag – but it also allows for the incorporation of the line that the Devanagri script uses on top.

Bravo! May this symbol last long. Hooray for good design!


Better

Thanks for the notes of concern about my health. I am very much on the road to recovery and was able to start work again yesterday after only a day away!

The highlight of my sick day was a visit to the Lok Hospital ENT doctor about my ear. She took a look into it and asked me whether I used cotton ear-buds to clean them. I sheepishly admitted that I did. The sheepishness was because I was talking to the same doctor who had just a month previously suctioned out a wad of wax from Enoch's ear. That wax had been compacted next to the ear drum due to my cleaning his ears with ear-buds.

The doctor then put her instrument in my ear and showed me on the monitor how I had a blockage too and that it had become infected. She suggested that she try and suction it out. I agreed. In went the small tube and then a few seconds later she had something rather large at the end - and I could hear *so* much better.

What she had was the end of a cotton ear-bud - that had made its home in my ear. How long ago? Who knows. A granuloma had developed and I am now on a 5 day antibiotic course to work through the infection.

Embarassed? Of course. But so very grateful for the opportunity to be free from the swelling and discomfort in my ear. And very glad for the short but vital procedure that Dr. Nandita did for me at Lok Hospital.

And so I am able to respond to people with the cheery: "Yes, I am very much better. Thank you!"

And thank God!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Monsoonal Diseases

With the monsoon come flies and mosquitoes. With flies and mosquitoes come gastro-enteritis and malaria - and nowadays dengue fever as well.

Though not insect-borne, we can add to the above diseases the H1N1 flu (Schwein flu mein Freund!) which is making a slow and steady come-back in Maharashtra. 81 cases were reported last week.

Our kids sleep each night under a mosquito net. During the day we go about with many a winged insect around.

The government public health department occassionally does 'defogging' using insecticides like in the pic above. That happens about once a year around here. Usually when there have been some deaths to dengue already.

We have a chap who comes at least once a week and squirts what must be a larvacide spray into standing water. Dressed in khaki, he wears a big cylinder of pesticide strapped to his back and carries a small nozzle by which he sprays the stuff. He came to the JSK office this morning while we were singing during our morning prayers. Since he knows what to do - he walked through the chorusing staff - and went into the JSK toilet - squirted a bit - and then came out - got a signature to show that he had done his stuff - and then headed back out to continue his work.

As a nation we may be hurtling into the wonders of the 21st century - but we certainly have not figured out how to protect ourselves from small insects that enjoy our blood - and our faeces.

Things are only worse in the hinterland.

I remember taking a session on malaria with some of the outreach workers and health volunteers of the Diocese of Palamu in Jharkhand. We were about 30 folks in a room, and I wanted to get people thinking about how unpleasant malaria is. I was sure that someone in the room would be able to tell us, so I asked: "please put up your hand if you have had malaria." A forest of hands shot up. I then asked the opposite question: "please put up your hand if you have never had malaria." My hand was the only one up. Every single person in that room had already had malaria - and survived. How many others were dead?

We haven't even started talking about diarrhoeas - something that our dear flies and dirty hands are oh so good and passing on. Having just come through a (mercifully short) episode of Bombay Belly - I can testify that it is no fun to have the runs.

As a team we are stressing "hand washing" this month as our main health educational message. For the sake of stopping the runs. For the sake of preventing long-term gut dwellers who eat the food our friends eat - but from the inside of their digestive tracts! And amazingly enough - handwashing also stops the spread of H1N1 (swine flu) for which our HIV positive friends are especially susceptible to. Good hand-washing takes six separate steps - and should be done long enough to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice. Its easy to tell others to do something. Its always quite another thing to live it out ourselves. But change we must - and so you see the Eichers urging each other to do the 6 steps when we wash our hands before food.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Sick

I woke up sick this morning.

Ye olde trusty alarme - Donau waltz being played on my mobile phone - found me at 5 AM in a less-than-pristine state.

Headache. Slight nausea. What we call 'loose motions' (very loose). My right ear some-how blocked on the inside. Unable to hear much on the right side. A look in the mirror revealed a very pasty-faced Andi. Back to bed. Some gentle groaning and my dear wife asked me the question I wanted to hear: 'Are you alright?'

A couple of paracetmol tablets and a fervent prayer later I was drifting back into dreamland. Another couple of hours and I resurface to the loving hugs and kisses of my two junior nurses.

The day is cool and rainy outside. We decide I will have a sick leave. I drift back into sleep.

As I write this, half the day is over. I was able to see Sheba off to the clinic at 11 AM and manage the kids till they got onto their school-bus at 12.30. A few dishes done. The house is clean. Some reading of Spanish football celebrations in the newspaper (and a few more gory stories), a spell on the computer, some Bible reading and here I am - remarkably better.

Now imagine if this was my daily lot: Wake up. Sick. Bed bound. Sky grey outside. Damp moisture seeping in through wet walls. Filthy bed. Have to defecate in the common toilet outside.

Instead of being married to a loving doctor - imagine if I had to pay a hefty sum for a 5 min consultation. And imagine knowing that I have HIV and bearing the crushing set of fears and anxieties that so many live through who have the virus inside them.

For so many of my dear friends this is no imagination - but the daily reality of their lives. Sickness for me is an aberration. An occasional discomfort - almost a holiday. I am surrounded by love and care.

For many it is not so.

However much we may 'progress' in terms of quick diagnoses and wonder drugs - the cruel burden of being sick continues to be borne by so many.

Though we work with people who live with HIV, though we meet our friends with AIDS every day, I find myself so easily slipping into a heard uncaring heart towards the challenges they face. Today's experience reminds me just a bit of how much more empathetic I need to be. A small bout of sickness for me may in fact be 'just what the doctor ordered!'

On Oracles... and Octupii

Here is one thing that no one could have predicted about the World Cup Football Championships in South Africa: the world wide fame of an English-born, Germany-dwelling cephalopod named Paul. A google search of 'octopus' and 'paul' done 35 seconds ago revealed 9,520,000 hits. That's a lot. Especially for a mollusc.

The final 'predictions' that Paul made were pure showbiz - covered breathlessly by more reporters than Wayne Rooney (who is he?) could have dreamed about. Paul the octopus 'predicts' the country that will win an upcoming football game, based on which flag-adorned-plastic-bin he first opens to eat a morsel of fellow mollusk. His run of choosing the 'right' flag has coincided with all the Germany-related games of this world cup - as well as the final match between Spain and Holland.

Before that match we also decided to choose who will win. The 10 humans in the room chose which country they thought would win and wrote down the scores (ranging from 0-0 in extra overtime to 3-2 during regulation time). We also gave a black dog who was in the room with us the choice of a yellow (Holland) or red (Spain) coloured doggie treat. The humans were split down the middle. 5 for Spain. 5 for Holland. This was based mainly on who we wanted to win. The dog ate both treats. But 'Pepper' (the hound's name) ate the red treat first. 50% accuracy for the humans. 100% accuracy for the dog. Except that the doggie sample had an n of 1. Had we had 10 doggies who all chose red before yellow I would be more convinced.

A certain parrot called Mani from Malaysia - who makes its living as an astrologer's assistant 'correctly chose' the quarter-finals and semi-finals outcomes. But in the final it chose Holland. Google count: 146,000. Nothing helps fame like success. Failures don't get much press.

What makes us so hungry to know the future? 'Tis nothing new. The term 'oracle' (derived from the Latin 'to speak') goes back at least to the Greeks where the consulting of seers to find out what will happen was common. Probably the most prominent of these were the oracles made by the pythia - a high-priestess in the city of Delphi. People came from far and near to inquire and were given answers. Almost every culture echoes this desire for knowledge about the future. Most have formal and informal means which people use to try and find out what will happen for them.

"Religion is the opiate of the masses"
opined a certain London-dwelling German who went on to lend his name to a religious belief system called scientific-materialism (a.k.a. Marxism). Far from being a death sigh - spirituality - of which a desire to know the future and a belief that future events are knowable - is very much bound into the very fibre of what it means to be a human. That much of what is called spirituality is rank superstition and the crudest forms of occult is no surprise. That 'despite' high levels of technology and 'progress' people should desire deeper meaning in life than a bank account and a bungalow should surely not raise any eyebrows. Finally, that a country that like Germany which is so largely irreligious and post-Christendom, for such a country to be a hot-bed of all forms alternative spirituality and occult will surprise us only if we are closet materialists (which a lot of us seem to be).

The reality is that we are deeply and fundamentally hungry for worship. If our desire for worship is denied or belittled - such as it is seems to be many post-Christian western societies - then we will search it out in birth-stones and water-drawn-at-certain-phases-of-the-moon and other increasingly outlandish dabblings in occult realms. It is no surprise that the "Orakle Tintenfisch" is housed in Deutschland. Paul the Squid's popularity is only a small reflection of a spiritual hunger tied up in the heart of man.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Mannschaft

With more goals than any other team in the tournament (barring the heavens opening and the Dutch scoring 7 goals against Spain in the World Cup final tonight) the German team leaves South Africa with a bronze medal around their necks and bright future ahead.

The 18 goals scored by the Germans included 8 vs traditional football superpowers Argentina and England. In those games the Germans' 'shock and awe' of taking an early lead and then running away with the game was just too much.

Tonight they came from behind to see a 3 - 2 win over Uruguay which saw 20 year old Thomas Mueller take another goal early - only to have the gritty Uruguayans put 2 past the Germans before the Mannschaft restored order and did what the Germans are notorious for doing - win.

What makes a team click? How do a group of individuals gel together and move forward - in any arena? The genius of the beautiful game comes down to a certain basic simplicity - a round ball happily booted between players - seeking to bury it in the opposing goal. The odd crackpot aside - most of the world (judging by the TV figures of at least a couple kabillion people) love the game. So how do talented individuals click together to form a cohesive whole?

The German football team showed some of it. For most of the World Cup 2010 tournament, die Mannschaft had it going for them: fluid passes - excellent midfield skills - poaching forwards who got service from their hard-working midfielders. They had that elusive 'nous' until the semi-final that is. Then the Germans came up against the Spaniards (who beat them 2 years ago in the European finals). Suddenly it was a different game - the men in red were everywhere, dipping in and out, the ball flowing as if glued to their feet - until another swift pass got it glued to the next Spaniard. Germany's team seemed almost bewitched - moving in slow motion - unable to click. Spain ran rings round the lads with the black shorts. Painful for a supporter - but so beautifully done you had to wonder why they managed only a single goal to move them forward.

What fascinated me about watching these games is seeing team work made visible. In our day-to-day work we do cooperate with our colleagues - but so often it seems that we are all alone - pushing forward in whatever we do. But on the green grass of a football field - with 90 minutes to play and thousands of brightly painted fans cheering around them - the teams have no where to hide. Everything, every play is seen (by the fans at least - even if the referee may miss it) and what emerges is a sum of individual parts. The team that finally gets the ball past the other side the most goes home the winner. And the team that does this most consistently is the champion. Yes there is the occasional game where the result is totally against the flow of the game - but that doesn't last. The world cup is always won by a team of exceptional players - who play together against their opponents - and not each other.

The young German football team leave South Africa for Deutschland with more than a bronze medal around their necks . Much has been made of their youth and multi-ethnic make up (a big shift from the Teutonic sides of old). Die Mannschaft look ominous for the future goal posts of the 2012 European Championship and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. I have followed Germany since reading the Times of India story of their loss to Italy in the 1982 finals (blame it on a mother born in Leipzig). My support for the men in white and black has, however, mostly been a cringing one as over the years the football team seemed more adept at booting other players than playing the beautiful game (the dreadful 1990 final match stands out to me). But this year something new has emerged. While Germany will never play like Brazil (in fact Brazil doesn't even play like Brazil) the matches of this year's world cup showed a new kind of fluency and spark that not only warmed this die-hard's heart - but won many new fans around the world. Its a new experience to hear people talk about Germany and hear more than grudging respect - some of the current assessments of die Mannschaft have bordered on the effusive!

What about our own teams? We have a small team of 2 in every marriage. We have slightly larger teams in our families. In our work and church and other expressions of community we see different levels of team-living. How often we implode because we just don't 'get along' with each other? How many times we could have seen so much more take place - but do not because we don't want to give up the space we occupy - the rights we so dearly cherish?

Since I am writing early on a Sunday morning it is not inappropriate to think of one of the greatest teams of all time - a rag-tag group of 12 who helped turn the world upside down (many would argue right-side up). On the last meal with their master and mentor - a silly (but familiar) argument cropped up amongst Jesus' disciples about who was going to be the greatest. If I were the Lord I would have booted out that lot at that point. Especially since the argument took place after Christ had stripped himself of his outer garments and dressed as a slave had washed each one of their feet. Our good Lord did not boot them - but chose to teach them instead - and prayed to Heavenly Father that 'they all would be one.' After Christ's resurrection and ascension this core group then multiplied rapidly, forming new groups in different places - all following the risen Lord. History shows that these followers of 'the Way' were often persecuted, but when chased from one area, they splintered into smaller groups and continued to tell others about Jesus, forming worshiping communities in whose long chain of replication we as a family live out our lives today. In a few hours from now we will meet in a home and sing, share and break bread together. In doing so we recreate and extend the original team that ate supper with Christ so many years ago.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Day of Service

As I write there are 23 young people (ranging from 13 years to lower 50s) who are out spending a day with families living with HIV.

Its the Youth Against AIDS Day of Service and it means that young (and a few young-at-heart) people from different churches are spending a day with families affected and at risk of HIV.

We met in the morning to get oriented - to pray and praise - and see what God tells us about loving our neighbours - especially those with AIDS! Then we broke up into 10 groups and moved out to meet people in their homes. Each team with 2-3 volunteers and a JSK staff member to facilitate the time. The youngsters are going to spend this day with people affected by HIV. These young people are going to listen. To learn. To share. To work. To cook. To eat. To pray. To be.

We don't expect that the sky will be another colour tomorrow as a result of this day's work. But we do know that everything done for God - no matter how small or insignificant it may seem - has a purpose - and brings joy to the heart of Jesus.

Tonight we will regather and share what happened during the day. Going by the past YAA day of services that we had in March this year and November last year - this time will be deeply moving - as people share their first experiences of blessing - and being blessed - by people living with HIV.


Would that we will not have to have a Youth Against AIDS day of service. That every person with HIV would already be lovingly cared for. Even better - that the disease would only find mention in historical textbooks.

But till that day comes - this is a small step in the right direction.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

End of the day

Its raining outside. The frogs are at it. Its dark. The day is winding to an end.

The kids have come in from school. Their school is from 1.15 to 6.15 PM. After Asha and Enoch finished shedding their uniforms - and had a quick bath - we had tea and Sheba's 'diamond biscuits' on a mat on the floor.

We talked about the day. Then it was home-work time. Got out the diaries and saw what was there. Enoch has words with double letters to do. Reading a story from his English book. Asha had some history to do. We talked about her taking some extra classes for an optional Hindi test in Sept. She was not happy about it, but seems to have calmed down now.

The chappatis are ready. Now for the subji. Asha is helping Sheba cut the potatoes while Enoch reads aloud from the book.

The rain continues lightly outside. The fan whirrs in the kitchen. In our brightly lit flat a day is coming to an end. After supper we will read the Bible together (currently we are travelling through the book of Numbers) and then sleep.


z
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Except for Daddy. He will slip over to the neighbours house at 11.50 PM to see the Germany vs. Spain world cup football semi-final match! Deutschland!!!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Tapesh

A man walked by on the street outside the JSK Centre.

He walked by again. The road we are on is one he travels alot in his day to day activities.

One day saw what our rather descreet sign says - "integrated counselling and testing centre."

Some time later Tapesh walked in and asked for HIV testing. Tapesh has used prostitutes over the past few years and he was scared that he might have HIV/AIDS.

Most men who buy sex and come for testing are concerned. By God's grace most of them are negative when we actually test them. It's an amazing opportunity to change behaviours.

Tapesh was counselled and decided to have the test. He gave his blood sample. The next day he came for the result.

Tapesh's blood was reactive to the HIV antibody. He is HIV positive. Our counsellor spent time talking with him about what this means.

Tapesh's initial reaction was shock and fear. We were able to talk with him and start to develop a relationship. He does not want our staff to visit him at home, since he does not want anyone in the family to know about his status.

We hope that Tapesh will come back for his next appointment. He needs to share about his condition with his wife. For her to know whether she has the disease - and for her to be protected from further exposure through him. And for his own good. We see this over and over again: people who try to push through things on their own generally end up sinking. HIV care needs others. Especially family.

Tapesh is not only a father - but a grandfather. Our hope is that we will be able to win his trust - and help him to make positive steps in his life. The choice is his - but it will affect everyone in the family.

Testing times

The good news came by phone.

Mr. Lamin's son has done very well in his SSC exams. He has got over 75% and is now enrolled for a course in computer engineering.

Mr. Lamin and his wife were working at labourers in Mumbai. During their time here they became part of a local church. They also found out that they were both HIV positive. Some of the church members encouraged them to meet us. We were able to help Mr. and Mrs. Lamin to make positive steps in their lives. They started medication here and were doing well.

After 2 years, Mr. Lamin decided to go back south to his native village. During the holidays, he had been working to build a small house from the earnings here in Mumbai. Since making a decision for Christ he had stopped drinking and he was able to put the money towards the family's welfare. The family found out that a local government hospital was giving the ART that they were taking here in Mumbai. The hospital here 'transferred' them to their native place.

That was 2 years ago.

Mr. Lamin started driving an auto-rickshaw in his native place to support his family. His children were enrolled in school there and did well. He joined a local church too where he and his family continued to find support.

And now his son is set for moving further. The institute where he wants to study is 2 hours away from home - so his son will probably live in a hostel. A big step into adulthood.

And looking back - such a miracle. There were times when Mr. and Mrs. Lamin despaired of life. When the crushing burden of being HIV positive seemed too much to bear. There were seasons where Mr. and Mrs. Lamin were both so sick.

Yet they have survived. They are moving forward. Their children are taking steps into adulthood. The SSC test - so dreaded by so many - has been a marker of some of the changes that are taking place in Mr. Lamin's family. Its a wonderful milestone showing God's graciousness to a family of four that is blended in with their billion-plus countrymen.

What a blessing to be part of lives that are changing - and making a difference. What an encouragement to hear good news from afar!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Bandhisthan

In the late nineties I had the opportunity of popping in and out of Calcutta a few times. Once it was to buy Permytherin. This was an insecticide that we at the Nav Jivan Hospital Community Health programme used to dip mosquito nets in - and which was then only available in Calcutta - and that too only sold to walk-in customers.

Well, walk I did one day.

Bandhs are not only found in our country - here are some security forces during a bandh in Nepal

Because I happened to be in the great city when the ruling Marxists called a general strike. A bandh. A shut-down of everything. The ruling Marxists who had been democratically elected decreed that all should shut down. The famed 'Writers Block' (the administrative HQ of West Bengal) was duly padlocked. And their local CPM neighbourhood committees set up chairs in order to man vigilance points on every other block - to make sure no vehicles passed. And no vehicle passed.

I walked. Amazing to go through the streets of the great grey city on foot. A holiday of sorts. The office that I wanted remained partly open so I was able to slip in and out and get the work done. But it took me about 9 kms of walking to do so.

Tomorrow the scene will be repeated in Kolkotta (as that huge metropolis has been rechristened) since the Leftist parties have called for a 'Bandh' to protest the rise in petroleum prices. Strangely, they are being joined by most of the opposition parties, including those of the Hindu right - not only the relatively centrist BJP, but also surprise surprise our local cousins - the Shiv Sena and their estranged offshoot - the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. This means that Mumbai will be shut tomorrow. With happy friends like these - who show no compulsion to beat up, smash and ransack anyone / shop / vehicle that dares go about 'business as usual' it is unlikely that many will venture out tomorrow.

As an Indian it irks me no end when a 'bandh' is called. Whoever the 'sponsor' of such a call is always uses force to enforce their call. I have yet to see any 'bandh' where everyone shuts shop because they agree with whatever is being demanded. Most of the time it is out of fear - and the fear is real. Any party worth its salt has what are called 'activists.' These are agents of the party who roam around - often on motorcycles - making sure that things are like they want them to be. If they find shops open - or cars moving about, well, then stones and sticks are wielded to make sure that the bandh is obeyed.

It is stupid to even say this, but in this game of bandhs the poor are always the losers. A middle class person can spend the bandh day sitting at home and watching TV - or go out to play cricket on the street after 2 PM. But a poor man who has to work to eat - who needs his daily wages - is not going to get it. Period. And all because some so-called leader wants to be able to parade before TV cameras and announce that the bandh has been 'a great success' 'a spontaneous act of the people' etc.

Some states are worse off than others. Besides the political parties - many states have the Naxalites who are also quick to call a bandh. Two days before Sheba and I were to marry, a bandh was called in Southern Bihar to press for a seperate state of Jharkhand to be carved out. That was the day my parents, brother and I had to drive down to Orissa for my marriage - so we took the hospital jeep and drove. A number of road blocks hindered us - but the jeep's 4 wheel drive was put to good use and aided by our skilled driver Elias we managed to drive around them. At one point a local politician and his men stopped us. I explained that I was off to get married. He asked for proof. I gave him a wedding invitation. We drove on. Needless to say Mr.-Local-Politician didn't show up at the celebration that we had the next day in Rourkela.

In the north-eastern part of our dear land, we do not have the bandh formula of political parties + naxalites. Instead, we have political parties + a huge number of 'undergrounds.' These tribal/insurgent factions are vying for control - Manipur alone is said to have 45 different 'under-ground movements' going on. And when one of them calls a bandh people obey. Bullets have been used to enforce them. Not satisfied with one bandh at a time - when I was there in the mid 1990s we even experienced an 'Eclipse Week' where some of the outfits declared that the whole week will be a bandh.

Do we have anyone speaking up against this? Of course there will be the odd OpEd piece in the paper tomorrow. Thank God for small mercies. One of our friends - Shantanu Dutta has just posted a short commentary too. But the long and short of it is that we have no mechanism to boot out the bandh-wallahs. They have people who will beat normal people up. We do not have protection to go about our life as we should normally be allowed to do.

So along with most of my country-folk, I will grimace and try and get through tomorrow. As an organisation Jeevan Sahara Kendra will remain open. HIV/AIDS doesn't go away on Bandh days - and we will tell anyone who threatens us that we are a 'hospital.' Our family case managers will not use public transport, but rather do their morning visits on foot to nearby homes. In the afternoon we will go ahead with a planned staff training session on health education and behaviour change.

We have the luxury of doing this. We are not facing daily wage issues. For many it will be another hit in the family financial solar plexus. Some will borrow a little more - or take a little more on credit from the local shopkeeper. Others will go hungry. Some will spend what they have in the bar (which I will wager will not shut down for the bandh).

Welcome to Bandhisthan. It seems that we are due to live in this form of our country for some time yet at least. We hope this condition will not remain forever.

Doctor


Asha was asked by one of the girls in her class:

"What kind of a doctor is your mother?"

Asha's response:

"She is a mixed doctor. She has delivered many babies, she treats HIV/AIDS..."

That's pretty much on the button. Thank God for Sheba's training as a Family Medicine specialist through the Dip.N.B.E. (equivalent to an MD). Thank God also for her fellowship in HIV medicine she was able to do through CMC Vellore.

We are so blessed that God has prepared her to treat the whole person - and the whole family - whether they have HIV or not - and especially if they do!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Monsoon poem


Asha has been chosen for a poetry recitation competition at her school next week. Here is a poem she is learning.

Monsoon
- by David Fischer

Big fat drops of rain tumble
Driving, slanting white streaks of wet
Splattering fiercely – the skies rumble
Winds whoosh. My! was that a jet?

A clean-clothes-wearing, umbrella-clutching daughter
I step out into a world of grey-greenness
Splash! A car shares a spray of muddy water
My once-dry clothes are now a soggy mess

Quick! Back home. I squelch through to the shower
Strip off my clothes, leaving small damp mounds
Clean hot water leaves me fresh as a flower
While the rain pelts my roof with drumming sounds

Holding a hot tea cup with fingers still wrinkly
I eat hot crisp pakhoras and am warm and dry
The rain rages outside - a sturdy wall away from me
My mother gently scolds me – but how safe am I!

But what about that soggy little girl
Whom I saw squatting at a bus-stop, does she have a home?
For me monsoon is fun, but this rain so wild
Only means misery for one so alone.

Big fat drops of rain tumble
Driving, slanting white streaks of wet
Splattering fiercely – the skies rumble
Winds whoosh. My! was that a jet?

Friday, 2 July 2010

Reading


Enoch (7) is reading Out of the Silent Planet.

I remember having a hard time understanding the book when I read it as a preteen. I certainly did not read it when I was 7. I think my first book was only read when I was 8 or so.

Curious to try and see what is going on in Enoch's mind, I asked him what the book is about. In the course of our conversation he in turn asked me a classic question: "Is C.S. Lewis a boy or a girl?"

How much do you have to know about the author to enjoy the book? Considering all that I know about Lewis - I wonder sometimes how much other knowledge creeps in to the essential joy of reading a story.

Spies

As a child of the cold war - with a mother who left the 'workers paradise' of the 'German Democratic Republic' - I have had my taste for all things spy.

Not for me the pure pulp of Ludlum or Fleming - I was more drawn to the greys that you find in John LeCarre and of course the master himself - his one-time-spyness Graham Greene. Layer over this what I read in Intrepid - the book about William Stephenson and the Allied intelligence network. It took my breath away to read about how the Allied intelligence took on the Nazi espionage apparatus. More so because the book recounted both the technical brilliance of breaking the enigma code - as well as told heart-breaking stories of allied spies being parachuted into Vichy France - often with an almost sure death sentence awaiting them.

Growing up in Bombay we were members of a posh swimming pool where many diplomats and their families came. We knew roughly who was who - based on the vehicles that they came in. The Eastern Europeans stayed mostly to themselves. I must admit I was especially interested in East Germans who had their own school - and always moved around in groups. Many (most) of these Eastern Europeans (the parents at least) will have had some links with the intelligence agencies of their countries. A person growing up in East Germany for instance - was almost always on some level of surveillance by the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit - East Germany's internal intelligence agency best known by its German nickname the Stasi.

With the fall of the Berlin wall - and the general unravelling of the Leninism around the world - one would think that the old cold war hacks would be out of business.

Did my ears ever prick up when news filtered out that 10 'sleepers' had been found in the US - living lives as ordinary Americans - replete with names like 'Vicky Palaez' and 'Richard Murphy' - and one of them even attending the JFK School of Governance at Harvard. The joy of it all - real life spies! High tech gadgets! Code names and keys! Steganography!

But after the first blush of news, the further details seem distinctly underwhelming - an unravelling of the sheer mundanity of their lives. Most of what they did was just totally drab. Getting a job. Moving ahead while keeping their cover. Raising a family. Keeping up with old course-mates. Trying to meet 'important people.' The amount of information that the 'spies' were able to pass on to their handlers seems to have been so meagre that the US authorities are not even able to accuse them of being spies despite tracking them for years now. They are apparently being charged for 'not registering as agents of a foreign government.'

And it gets even more absurd (if the reports are true of course). The dears apparently caused their handlers not a little irritation. One couple was fixed on buying a house. So as to blend in better of course. Their handlers were not amused. It seems they were wondering if their spies were putting down their roots for good.

Now lets step back just a little bit from what seems to be more of a farce than the stuff of a thriller - or even a good tragedy.

How does my life stack up against these Russian agents?

They had a purpose for which they were sent. They seem to have muddled through it. They are now 'caught' and the evidence of what they have done is being weighed in against them.

Given the very sad condition of so much of the world around me - and taking a long hard look at my life - where would I stand if the content of my life were put to public scrutiny? What real changes have I been able to see take place in me - and in people around me? What is the legacy that I leave my children - and the different people that I have met across the 41 and running years that God has graciously given me so far?

The Bible paints a picture of a final reckoning. A day when we all will stand before our Maker and give accounts of their lives. I have many things that I am ashamed about, many sad twisted secrets that I would never want others to hear or see. But I also have the confidence that my Redeemer lives. Coming to Him with my brokenness and the massive short-fall in my life of that which is good - I know that He embraced me and took away the sting of all that was wrong in me - because He took the punishment on Himself on that hideous cross almost 2 millennia ago. And what is more - He rose to give life - real life - forever.

I am also grateful that a decade ago the Lord brought Sheba into my life - to help and spur me on to things that are good and right. We still have many jagged edges - and there are still things that are not what they should be. Looking back on the past decade with Sheba, however, I am so grateful for the real changes that I do see - as well as for a growing hunger in me to be more like my Lord Jesus Christ. As for the fruitfulness of my life? Despite being more of the bumbler than the victor - I can say with confidence that God has done far more than I could have imagined a decade or two ago.

This is what I read this morning:
Sow for yourselves righteousness,

reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
for it is time to seek the LORD,
until he comes
and showers righteousness on you. Hosea 10.12

Its my prayer for today. For myself. And for you gentle reader. Amen.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Telling

She stood in the room and told her story. Her voice was barely a whisper. Others encouraged her to speak.

She was small and dark. Thin. Above her right eye was a big swelling.

She spoke about how she had been sick for so long. And how she had been so sad but had been helped by ladies from a church fellowship that she went to prayers for. She talked about starting on medications for HIV and that she had become so much better. She told us that she had started working again.

Our friend was sharing her story with a group of people who knew what she was talking about. Most of those in the room were HIV positive themselves.

She carried on talking. Last week she felt sick again. A fever. A crushing headache. She was so scared that this would mean her losing her job. She didn't want to stop working.

She prayed. Called on the name of Jesus. And went to sleep.

When she woke up she was so much better.

Her voice remained barely audible as she told her story. But her eyes flashed through moist eyes.

She walked back to her seat enfolded by the applause of everyone in the room.

Another friend with HIV - sharing slices of who they are - at the monthly Positive Friends support group meeting.