Sunday, 30 December 2018

Truth will out!

She came in to our hospital in the late afternoon 3 days ago.

A young woman, who we will call Laxmi, brought by her mother-in-law.   Sheba has been holding the fort as the only doctor for the past 10 days and so naturally saw Laxmi.

Laxmi complained of abdominal pain.  She had a child a year ago.  Sheba asked her if she was pregnant.  Laxmi said she wasn't.  Sheba asked about her last period - she said that she had not had any since she gave birth to her child whom she was still breast-feeding.

Sheba saw that her abdomen was distended.  "Are you pregnant?" she asked Laxmi again.  "No."

Sheba asked Martha the nurse on duty to take Laxmi to the examination room and prepare her for a pelvic examination.  Routine stuff.

Martha suddenly bursts in the door: "Doctor-ji, please come quickly!  The baby's head is coming out!"

Sheba moves over the examination room and sure enough, the labour has already been productive.  A child is very much on its way!   A trolley is organised quickly and mother and child (with mother-in-law in tow) are wheeled to the delivery room.  Our able nurses assist and a healthy baby girl is safely delivered at our beloved HBM Hospital here in Lalitpur.

So here is the question:  Did Laxmi know she was pregnant.

She denied Sheba's questioning and yet minutes later gave birth to a baby girl.  How is that possible?

Option 1:  Deception.  Laxmi knew but didn't want her mother-in-law (and various sundry others) to know.  Her response to Sheba was a clear distortion of the truth.

Option 2: Sheer naivete.  Somehow, despite already being a mother, Laxmi was guileless and unclear about another life growing within her and causing her body to swell and finally enough abdominal pain that she sought help from a hospital.

Option 3: Unstable mind.  Laxmi is in a situation where for some reason she cannot discern what is going on around her.  The questions that Sheba gives her as a doctor are not understood.  She is unable to respond properly.  A child is born.

Option 4: Denial.  The bulge is there.  But Laxmi doesn't want it to be.  And so it isn't.  If I don't talk about it, it will go away.  But of course, it doesn't.  And one fine day, the baby appears.


I really don't know which of the four possibilities Laxmi falls into (and when we say 'Laxmi' we of course have to include the extended family who have been living cheek-by-jowl with her over the past at least 8 months or so!).

But my guess is most likely that we are dealing with denial.   A straight out deception is just too hard to keep going.  But denial?  Well the human heart is almost infinitely able to trick itself. 

And so the thoughts have wandered to my own little bit of real-estate.  Who am I and what do I 'deny' in my life?  Even a short internal examination brings up a fair amount of stuff that just doesn't fit with reality.  I think of myself as a "people person" - "friendly and approachable"... and yet I know that many people come to my desk with some amount of trepidation.  My scowl often comes out when I think of myself as a "smiler."

And what of other things that are 'there but I don't want to admit it'?

The end of the year is a good time to reflect.  Is there something that I just don't want to admit - be it out of pride, or fear of being considered a loser?  Something that I am holding on to, something that is clear to everyone else except me?

Or perhaps even worse - something that I know that I should be doing - but keep procrastinating.  Keep pushing aside.  Keep not wanting to address because it is 'hard' and 'uncomfortable'...

Our Lord was no stranger to the two-facedness of humanity.  In His deep love for His disciples He rebuked them, and welcomed them back to Him with deep biting grace.   At one point Jesus said that if we hold to his teaching we are truly His disciples.  We will know the truth and the truth will set us free (John 8.31-32).  Truth must be out.  Truth must be acted on.

As I step into 2019 I want this to be true of me.  No more denial.  No more excuses.   No more pushing-off-until-tomorrow.  Deep breath.  Quiet down. Spend time listening. Dare to look honestly.  Write down.  Pray up.  Live out.


Thursday, 20 December 2018

Support groups

I have been part of support groups for the past 2 decades.  

My first exposure was in the North East.  While working with people who use drugs - or who used to use drugs and were trying to stay sober - I came across the 12 step process that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) use.  "Once a junkie, always a junkie" was heard more than once.  Walking along people who are working with addictions meant a lot of talking and listening and talking some more.

The real core of my support group experiences was the Positive Friends meeting we had on the last Wednesday of each month at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra in Thane.  People living with HIV got together and shared their experiences.  The sorrow and pain.  The joys of seeing small victories.  The multiple challenges of living every day in the shadow of death.  We met and sang and prayed, splitting into small groups at the end of the meeting.  We usually ended by continuing our conversations over a healthy snack and tea.   One of the core values of the Positive Friends group was the amazing benefit of People living with HIV having a safe space to talk - and to be with others who understood.

We started our first monthly meetings with our JSK staff usually far out-numbering the Positive Friends.  One memorable early meeting only had 2 people with HIV present - and one of them was working with another charity whom we had invite to speak to the 'group' - which turned out to be a crowd of one!  But over the years we saw traction and the support group continues even today - every last Wednesday of the month.

Our last 2 years here at HBM Hospital in Lalitpur we have been doing a variety of things - but support groups did not seem to be in the picture.  Things have changed a bit lately, though.

Earlier this year Sheba took on the role of the Palliative Care Coordinator for the hospital.  HBM has been doing palliative care for the past decade - starting one of the first rural palliation programmes and reaching out to families who are totally crushed by the hopelessness of terminal illness.

Our mobile team goes out by jeep - reaching families in a 50 km radius.  We have about 30 people with life-limiting diseases in Lalitpur town and care for another 60 or so in the villages.  Each family is precious and our team have done an amazing work building relationships with them as they walk through the dark valleys. 

The difference between the work here in Lalitpur and in Thane is one of community.  Our team go out and help people in their homes - but people getting palliative care and their family members and survivors have not really been meeting together.

Over the past 2 months we have made 2 small steps to rectify this.  On the International Palliative Care day we brought families together to the HBM Hospital.  We sat in a circle and took turns sharing about our experiences with palliation.  A nascent support group.

I use the word "we" because for the first time in the years of support groups - I am taking part as a member rather than an organiser.  Having lost Dad 2 years ago to cancer, and having had him cared for in the final weeks here at HBM, I am now one of the families who have gone down this path.  My fellow care-givers and those who are courageously living with cancer (the main need for palliation here) are ones who I share a common experience with.

Our most recent meeting was last week at the HBM Palliative Care annual thanksgiving and Christmas programme.   Amazingly, and totally unknown to us, the Jeevan Sahara Kendra annual meet was also held on the same day!

What a privilege to meet in the new palliative care ward - beautifully painted by the members of the Mission Direct team on their recent visit to us.  Besides singing and seeing a rollicking Christmas drama and hearing Sheba give a thanksgiving report of what the Palliative Care team did over the past year, the highlight was a time where people got up and shared a bit of their lives.

As a group here, we are still new at this.  Most have not 'shared' their stories with others.   Most do not 'know' each other.  The families who came have received help from the Palliative Care team - but have not really built trust with each other.  And then there is the challenge of having people with mouth cancer (the predominant cancer here) speak.  Some can only whisper.  Others have large disfigurations to their faces.  All are precious.  But we have some ways to go on our journey together.

It's a small start, but one with much potential. 

What support group can you be part of?  There is much to gain... and much to give as we share the journeys we are on.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

The beauty of normality

It's World AIDS Day today.  Another December 1st.  With a 2018 flavour to it.

The remarkable thing for me, is just how unremarkable it has become.  And I think mainly for good reasons.

We are witnessing today what we had hoped and prayed for 10 years ago.  A world where living with HIV is a possibility.  A world where just finding out that you are HIV Positive was not a death sentence.

A few small snapshots to illustrate.

Vignette No. 1
We work at a small Christian Mission hospital in central India.   One of my colleagues is HIV positive.  Amazingly, this colleague attended a conference on HIV what we organised in 2005 in Mumbai.  Our colleague is on regular medication.  This morning when everyone else shook hands with each other, so did this precious person.  Most of our staff know about the status of our colleague and our church routinely prays for strength and health with no one batting an eyelid.   The beauty of it all is just how normal it is to work every day with a person living with HIV.  One who last year celebrated 25 years of marriage with a supportive spouse.

Vignette No. 2
A few weeks ago I met a person working in our district of Lalitpur with an agency that works to break the transmission between HIV positive mothers and their unborn children.  You do this by testing every woman who is pregnant, and then both working to get the woman on the life-saving ART meds as well as giving a special dose at birth.  I asked him how many women they had detected in the last few months in the district.  His answer shocked me.

"We found one in August" he said.  One woman.  Only one.  In the whole district.  And that too 3 months ago.  None found in the following months.  I know that maybe not all the women were tested for HIV.  But to have such a low prevalence is nothing short of a miracle.  I am so grateful.

Vignette No. 3
As a family we returned to Mumbai for the first time in 3 years last month to be part of our church Family Camp in Khandala.  We were looking forward to meeting old friends and to being spiritually refreshed.  I didn't expect to run into a miracle.  What I saw was that so many of those of those present at the camp, literally dozens of people, were there because of HIV.   Some were HIV positive themselves (including teen-agers).  Others were kids of some of our HIV friends who had passed away in years past.  Others had been caregivers.  All were enveloped into the church.  All were part and parcel of the 300 plus lovely people who were attending the family camp.  The beauty of it was that it was all so normal.  No trumpets blown, no special fanfare.  People whose lives had been ravaged in the past now part of a family.

So here we are at the end of World AIDS Day 2018.

We are so glad that God has heard so many prayers over the years.  We are so grateful for the global roll-out of ART medications.  We are so thankful for the many, many who have worked on the issue over the years.  Every bit counts.  A small shout-out is in order to our past and present colleagues at Jeevan Sahara Kendra, Shalom Delhi, Salvation Army, the CORINTH network, CANA, Judah Trust, AIDS Hope and many others!  

Does this mean that there are no challenges left to deal with regarding HIV in our end-of-2018-world?

Far from it - there are challenges galore.  Our colleagues and Shalom Delhi tell us that new people are coming in for treatment all the time.  I still get the occasional phone call from Mumbai, where the caller tells that they are HIV positive, or have a relative who is, and need help.  So much of our sexuality is still very broken.  

But there is also real hope.  And so much progress in so many ways that we have a minor luxury of being able to deal with HIV as one of a spectrum of issues that face our communities rather than a single-do-or-die struggle.

For those of you who have been part of Sheba and my long and winding pilgrimage - which included 14 years primarily focused on working with people affected by HIV - thank you!

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

When the bullets flew...

Ten years ago tonight the bullets flew.   Men and women and children were butchered by a group of 10 men who came ashore at Mumbai to kill.   And kill they did.   Simultaneously.  With utter coordination – coached by mobile phone from a command centre in Pakistan.  Meticulously planned to wreak maximum horror.    

The battle raged for 3 days before the guns became silent.  And the odd seagull squawk mingled with the crows cries and the rumbling of colossal maculate city of Mumbai started up again. 
When the blood was wiped off the floor of the cavernous Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, when the stains on the plush carpets of the Taj Mahal hotel were removed, when the wreckage of the Jewish Chhabad house was set right the human toll became all too horribly clear.  166  lives snuffed out.  9 butchers took their own lives / were eliminated by security forces.  One was captured alive and later hanged.

We had been working for months to host a special talk with the American author Philip Yancey.  He and his wife Janet were staying with dear friends of ours in Thane who founded and run the Bethany Hospital.   Philip and Janet spent a day with our home-based HIV care programme, meeting people living with HIV in their homes.  The plan was for them to go down to town in the evening and give a talk in a large auditorium about the issues of pain and grief and grace.

Then the bullets started to fly.

We stayed in Thane.  And watched horrified as the tragedy took its horrible course over the next 60 hours.   A number of phone calls and emails started coming in, asking whether Philip and Janet were in the hotels being attacked in south Mumbai.  We were able to quickly assure the inquirers that they were safe.  But so many others were not.  How many guests and staff did not

Philip eventually shared meaningfully at a packed Church in Thane – while the final endgame was being played out in South Mumbai.  We bade him and Janet a very fond farewell a few days later.  Earlier this year we sent out a prayer brief asking for people to pray for rain in our area of Bundelkhand.  We got a reply from Colorado – Janet saying that she and Philip were praying for rain.  It rained – no drought this year.

And so tonight we are 10 years on.   Would it be fair to say that the stain of humanity has only deepened in this decade?  Mass shootings are almost normal now.  I say “Paris” and in your mind a terrible massacre takes place in a rock concert.  I say “Berlin” and the horrible image of a large truck deliberately driven into a Christmas fair is conjured up.  I say “Las Vegas” and the image of a lone shooter up in a hotel room raining down fire on a large country music concert below.  And in between school shootings.  Beheadings on the beach of men in orange jumpers by the terrible IS swordsmen.    And in the meantime lots of ugly fillers.  The odd knife attack here.  A mini-van rammed into people there.  A young man with an automatic weapon unloading his hatred on campers in a Nordic land. Today an estimated 137 women around the world died at the hands of relatives or partners.  The most dangerous place for many women are their own homes.

Have we become comfortably numb?  Does nothing horrify anymore?  Have the lines between gore in imagination and the unimaginable become so blurry?

If we take a long picture perspective on human history, the current barbarism just fits into a long, long pattern of brutality.  The first brothers in history ended their relationship with one dead in a field.  The first recorded human death in the Bible was a murder.   Those whose names History records as ‘great’ often earned their titles over the bodies of many.  Many a throne was won – and maintained – by the sharpness of swords (and later the ever increasing efficiency of gun-powder).  If anything, the post World War 2 world can only said to be blessed with many islands of relative peace.  

It’s been 10 years since the bullets flew in the neon-lit darkness of a Mumbai night.

Tragedy can be a solemn teacher.  Millennia ago a wise man called Moses wrote a song in which he says “teach us to number our days, so that we may achieve a heart of wisdom.”  He had seen much of life in all its rawness, and been transformed from a reckless adventurer (who had blood on his own hands after killing a man as a 40 year old) to ‘the meekest man on earth.’  Knowing the finiteness of these days which we call life can help add meaning to them – and urgency.

I do not live in fear of bullets.  My life has been too silver-spooned for that.  The few bullets that passed my way were the stray shots exchanged by drug-lords that I heard as a student in New Haven, the pop of a rifle by a drunk security man in Kampala, the few shots between underground forces and the Indian army during a stint in Manipur.  The bullets of Mumbai 10 years ago were heard on TV, not by my ears while cowering under a bench.

No, my main problem is just the opposite of tragedy – it is the slow erosion that a subliminal pursuit of leisure brings.  The blunting of that which is true.  The myriad worm holes where time evaporates into while reading BBC news on the mobile for the 35th time in the day.  The silliness of staying up late into the night skipping from one topic to another on social media.  The bane of our age is banality.  A drowning in endless pictures of self.  A sea of narcissism. 

It is such a gift to be alive.  To be able to breathe.  To be able to run and catch a train at a station (which I just did earlier this evening – I am typing this on the top berth of a train, rumbling through the cold darkness route to Delhi).  What a blessing to be loved and to love.   To nibble a bit of eternity.  To have a fresh desire to say to my Lord Jesus: “I want you as my portion. And I want you to be more and more central to who I am.”  

Thinking of the bullets is good, because we need to get that jerk to bring us back to our senses.  To count and see what really matters. To remember the earnestness of my pre-40 self.  And today to honestly look within and see the rubbish that so easily accumulates – and ask the great advocate of our souls to toss out all that so easily entangles.

The broad sweep of history will continue to swirl around us.  The names of the dead are worth repeating by those still alive.  The vast future of eternity is just a few more years around the corner.   As we inch closer to our Jubilee year, Sheba and I realise that statistically we now have less than 10,000 days in the bank.  Sobering stuff – but also much, much to rejoice in.  Joy helps us to live a life which is very much in the here and now – and at the same time also very far-sighted into the vast depths of the future too.   We bungle a lot, but are grateful for the amazing grace we receive on this pilgrimage.

Bye-bye bitter bullets – shot in Mumbai 10 years ago.   It’s painful to think back on those few days of conflict, and on other maleficent days – swamps of life-less-well lived – not as dramatic as bullet-whizzers but perhaps more deleterious.  Numbering our days and gaining a heart of wisdom can also help us say “Hello” to the here-and-now-doors opening to the length and breath of life – hereafter!

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Mum at 81

81 years ago.  Leipzig, a big grimy city in Saxony.  A girl was born.  The storm clouds of war were on the horizon.  

81 years ago joy came to the home of Willy and his Black-forest-born wife Roesli.  They named their first and only child Christa Roesli Fischer.

81 years later we celebrated God's goodness on 11.11.18 with two of her grand children - Asha and Enoch.  Asha almost 18 mirroring her Oma's completed 81.

What a journey it has been.

Mum on her 81st birthday with her confirmation picture - when she was 13 in Leipzig with her parents at the Kreuzkirche - a Free Methodist Church in the then Marxist East Germany - where her father Willy Fischer was a lay preacher 
And the journey continues.

She has walked down some paths which were watered with tears, but in this golden part of her life there is also much beauty shining through.

The home that Mum and Dad built is nestled in the Landour hillside...  but also exists the hearts of their many sons and daughters scattered around the globe.

The meals today at Shanti Kunj glow with light, and sparks of which were shared around countless tables where Mum rustled together what best she could.  With love making up for the simplicity of the fare.

A true child of the outdoors, Mum gets deep joy from the myriad greens that make up Mussoorie.  Her youth-group outings in the Erzgebirge may be far in the past, but her current Spaziergange on the foothills of the Himalaya are an extension of her long walk of delight.

One of the key's to Mum's youthfulness that shines through her 81 year old self is a deep delight in the small beauties that are around us.   A song sung with gusto, a musical piece played by a student will bring Mum to her feet in applause and genuine appreciation for both the tune she heard as well as the effort that went into it.   Walk along the hillside with Mum and you will find her thrilled by the petite mosses which the monsoon clothes the hillside with - tiny forests at the foot of the gnarly Himalayan oaks.  Look! There are some of her mushrooms growing which she will occasionally harvest if she is sure about them.  And then there are Mum's beloved Dahliyas.

This year has been a particularly good one for Mum.  Her 'eye-brow' walk is festooned with these beauties.  And so is the pushta around Shanti Kunj.  There must be dozens and dozens of flower images in her mobile phone.  She shares her joy widely, and we have received some splendid Dalhiya photos via whatsapp here in very unHimalayan Lalitpur.  And then there are the sunsets too...

Mum with Sheba on the 'Eye-brow' path
It's been two years and a bit since Dad was translated to glory.  And Mum continues to live out the good story.

Every day she digs deep into that splendid book, and will spend a generous slice of time with our faithful Vickey discussing a passage of Scripture.  She songs of worship to her beloved Jesus and her fervent prayers have given life to many.  There are still those who come to be listened too, to be quiet, and to be prayed for.   Inwardly, we are being renewed day by day...

Occasionally someone will ask us: "What about your Mum?  Is she alone?"

I usually smile at the thought.  She misses Dad.  Of course.  But the old life of Bombay days and the open house that she held all the years of her marriage with Dad continue.   At any given time there are a long list of invited guests at Shanti Kunj - both old friends as well as new folks who are experiencing the charms of getting to know this remarkable lady for the first time.  And this is further flavoured with the odd dash of those who just show up unheralded, but always welcomed by Mum's great heart of love.

So we plunge on into this great vast mystery of life - the here-and-now collection of days - and the one eternal of which this one is just the faintest vapour in the light of the every-widening arrow of time.  All who know her will agree: Mum's done a pretty good job of using her days.

We have much to learn and are privileged to have received her love.  Nine-square is an amazing age to be - and that too with so much vim and vigour!

Our next gen Eichers are amazingly blessed to have an Oma like this.  We all dearly thank the Lord for His goodness and mercies in Mum's life.  81 years of fullness.

Enoch and Asha with their beloved Oma at Shanti Kunj on 11.11.18

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Calling all stations! Calling all stations!

Cssshhhhsssshhss sshcrtxhxshsdsff  cshsshdsffhshshs

Attention, attention!

Smxsusuerseres chrsshressshsshshshsshsssshhshdfs


It has been almost a year since the last blog post on this ye olde blogge.   

My very first post said that 'let my words be few' - but this is hardly what I had in mind.

If I can cut through the static, I would like to 'umbly start putting up the thoughts on Chai Chats again...

So hopefully tonight a small post will be put up for olde times sake.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Deutschland Diaries: A moveable feast

We have been moving around Germany for the last 2 weeks, and have been feasting.  Really feasting.

At every home, we are have been blessed with the very best of what the homes have to offer.  The words 'spoiled rotten' come to mind - and some of us seem to have the kgs to show for it too!

Would you like to join us on the moveable feast we are on?  Here is a sampling of what we Eichers have been wolfing down on our Deutschland Reise.

We started our gastronomic journey in Baden Wuertenberg... and were treated on second full day in Germany to Spaetzle (noodles from the Black Forest) with meat and soup.

This particular feast was eaten at the home of Oma's cousin Otto and was lovingly prepared by his wonderful wife Rose.

That evening we had a sumptuous spread of cold cuts at Otto's son Michael's home.  Enid Blyton's stories have come to life for us.  While not every evening featured the lavish spread below - we have most evenings had cheezes, cold cuts and various forms of multi-grained breads baked in the same way that generations of Germans have chewed on (very different from our Indian 'double rotis').

Spaetzle appeared a number of times on our plates.  A real treat as we wended our way through the Black Forest and other parts of Baden Wuertenberg...

Breakfast in Germany?

Probably because we are guests we have been feasting in the morning as well.

Each day has started with the Lalitpur Eichers digging in to what for us would be a full meal...  Here is a sample from Shamshad and Inge's table in a small village along the Neckar river...

The spread above is a huge difference from the normal Eicher breakfast in Lalitpur, which is a cup of tea and a marie biscuit....  In addition to all the delicacies, we have also had liberal lashings of love as well.

You can't argue with a breakfast that has fresh Black Forest pretzels and fruit yoghurt!

And between meals, Germans drink coffee.   And for them coffee is not just a hot black liquid to drink... they seem to eat lots of sweet things with it.  As least we did, as we had timed our visit very well to be part of the Christmas festivities. 

Here is a picture of the coffee table at the home of Manfred and Gerda in Mosbach.

Stollen (not 'stolen') the lovely German Christmas cake anyone?  Or perhaps some lebkuchen?

It's Luther year this year.  500 years since the 95 theses.  But also 500 years of reformation in every area.   On the walls of one of the homes we visited was this picture of Martin Luther at the table of his dear friend Phillip Melanchton.  Food, family, fellowship and 'Fuerbitte' (prayer).  Four things we received lots of during out time in Germany.  500 years later the fellowship around the table continues...

Christmas Dinner?  In Germany Christmas is celebrated as "Heiliger Abend" on the 24th of December.

And at the feast we didn't have goose... we had something very, very different.  Raclette at the table of Christian and Irene Walter in Velburg, Bavaria.   Cheese melted on small metal shovels, with a bewildering number of options to put on top - and then added to boiled potatoes (Gemany's staple food).  Heavenly.  We had never had such a meal and will remember this Christmas feast surrounded by amazing people and celebrating the amazing grace of God. 

And then the next mid-morning a lazy Christmas day brunch was enjoyed at the senior Winklers home.  Dr. Winkler spoiled us with a full German breakfast at 11 AM - and what seemed a full lunch linked in.

As we continued our journey, the gastronomic adventures also ran apace.

After 10 days in the south of Germany it was time to head East.   We drove on the amazing Germany Autobahns (a sheer joy - esp. when your speedometer rests comfortably at 130 kmph).

We drove from Bavaria to Saxony, with our first stop being Plauen - where my Grandfather is from - we were treated to 'Klose' - grated potato balls 

 In Reichenbach it was Klose and raklettes.

Then further in the Erzgebirge in Geyer we were served green "Klose" with red cabbage and goose,

 And so the Eichers have been haing fine dining all around ... with more still to come as we write from Berlin and then still have to head over to Leipzig before rounding off our journey in Frankfurt.

But besides the delicious food - it was the company that really counted.  Every table was a new adventure in getting to know family and friends, and sharing the joy of  being together over sumptuous fare!

And tonight, we were alone - the 5 Eichers - for the first time in this trip.

And so what did we make here in the Capital of Germany, in the Deutsche Kueche of our cousin (thrice removed) Ina Winkler?

Why, Hindusthani Khana of course!