So... Sunday at the ashram, well for Hunter and I the day started at 4am when Hunter had a desperate urge to go to the bathroom. So we rugged up and headed out in the freezing cold to the volunteer toilet on the other side of the ashram. At this time the Sikh temple up the road was in full swing and their prayers or whatever they were saying were being blasted over a loud speaker. After this, little sleep was to be had until about 6am when they finally finished. At 5.30am Hunter had to make another trip to the bathroom... It seems the ashram food was a little too much out of the ordinary for her sensitive constitution. We thought it best she give the Sunday chow mien breakfast a miss and left her to sleep while we enjoyed our noodle breakfast.
After breakfast the kids and I gave Erin a hand cleaning out one of the underground storerooms. We sorted through donated clothes and other odd paraphernalia as well as a few worn out instruments. The dust and dirt that had accumulated in the store room was so thick we had to wrap scarves around our mouth and nose to minimise inhalation. As we worked one of the young boys about 15 years old came by and spent time with us. Morari (not sure of the spelling), I am guessing is about 14 years old. He speaks OK English and has had a very hard life. His parents died when he was young and he was mistreated by his grandmother and other family members, so when he was about 6 or 7 years old he ran away and had to fend for himself. He was very sick by the time he came to the ashram due to his hard life. He has a triad of diseases including chronic hepatitis, arthritis and I think the third was TB. I believe that his hepatitis makes treating the arthritis difficult.. it is quite sad watching him shuffle around the ashram like a little old man.
By lunchtime Hunter was starving but I though it best if she just had rice, even though she felt 100% better. Although there is filtered water to drink, it is not used for the washing of vegetables, cooking or tea. The food is thoroughly cooked so theoretically it should not be a problem but it still might not be enough for a sensitive stomach.
After lunch we found ourselves sitting with Renford the NZ volunteer. He truly is an amazing person. When he decided he would go to India to work at the ashram he put it in God's hands and said he would go but he would not fly. He set off from NZ by boat and sailed to Brisbane via Fiji. From there he hitchhiked to Darwin were he got a boat to Indonesia. Once in Indonesia he hitchhiked and island hopped up thorough the islands and into Malaysia and then into Thailand. From there he wet through Laos and then lost a couple of weeks trying to get though to India via Myanmar and Tibet. He then had to back track and head through China up and around Nepal into Pakistan and finally into the north of India. It took him 4 months, 6 pairs of shoes and about $2000 but he finally made it by land and sea to the Sewa Ashram. I have given you a very abridged version of the story... the adventures and the places he stayed (many nights under the stars) where all unbelievable. At many times during the journey he was ready to give up and hop on a plane and go home, but through the grace of God he made it and he knows he did not do it alone.
Renford has amazing patience and spent much of Sunday afternoon teaching Sam and Hunter how to splice a rope. Sam loved it and insists we bring the old rope with all its spliced connections home to Australia. Actually it is amazing how much fun kids can have with a piece of rope. When I got back from a trip to the family home Sam and Suraj where having a great time... Sam would lasso his wheelchair and try to reel him in. Just a quick tangent... I don't know a lot about Suraj but I know his mother died and he has no father. When he came to the ashram he had spinal TB which was quite severe and too much damage was done so he is now a paraplegic. Being in a wheel chair doesn't seem to slow him down much, he will wrestle and play with the other kids and seems remarkably uninhibited by his circumstance.
So the afternoon was great fun... we played Ludo with some of the guys including Rasheed who was severely affected by either spina bifida or polio...I am not sure... even with his twisted limbs and using a foot and hand together he is able to roll the dice and move the pieces. He is also very adept at using his feet to manoeuvre a laden spoon to his mouth at each meal and to somehow manage to drink a cup of chai. Seeing and interacting with people with such huge handicaps has been a real eye opener for both Sam and Hunter and it has been great to see them adapting to each new experience that presents itself to them.
At 4.30 I went with Erin to the family house which is a couple of kilometers away to pick up the family for the Sunday evening service. Erin is amazing how she has learnt to manage the crazy Indian way of driving. It was good to see more of Narela and also the family house where an Indian couple raise 12 children. We all piled into the 4 wheel drive...no limitations on how many people you can jam into a car here. On the way back we got caught at a railway crossing... now that is an interesting puzzle. Basically for 5 minutes cars pile up opposite each other on both sides of the road...when the boom gates go up it is chaos as two walls of bikes and cars merge into each other... why don't they just line up in an orderly fashion on one side of the road so the oncoming cars can easily pass each other by? Oh well I guess it wouldn't be endearing India if it was any other way.
Back at the ashram everyone assembled into the circle, which doubles as a ward and a meeting place. In the centre of the circle their are pictures of Jesus and incense is lit. Music is played on drums and other instruments; worship songs are sung in Hindi. It is really quite beautiful as everyone in the ashram of all religions as well as the the two dogs- Mo and Doggy gather together. After some singing someone shares a story or about something that is happening in their life. After the service a special meal of curried rice, chicken and vegetable all mixed together is served. And for the vegetarians there is the most amazing paneer dish... I have never tasted paneer so good.
After dinner it was time for us to head home after a most enjoyable and productive weekend (and we increased our Hindi vocabulary). I will get Ray to share about his time at the ashram in another post...
There is still so much to share about the ashram but I will save it for another time.