Mumbai, Sat. Aug. 18, 5:45 pm (8/18, 5:15 am PDT)
I’m remembering, now that we’ve been here about 12 hours, the “settling in” that happens in a two-thirds world culture. Hayley seems to be doing ok, even well. It’s a completely new experience for her, and different from Bolivia for me.
As we were leaving the plane this morning, we spoke with a woman returning to India with her daughter for a relative’s wedding. She lives in San Francisco now. (As an aside, it was interesting to note that the destination determined which ethnicity would dominate. To Taipei, it was predominantly Taiwanese. To Mumbai, predominantly Indian.) Anyway, the woman was really nice and welcoming to us.
Customs was WAY too easy-a guy in a uniform waved us past the X-ray, and no one checked our bags. We changed money, and divided into 4 cabs to go to the YMCA. Day was breaking as we took the hour or so drive, and it really made me realize how much Taiwan is like the US…because India is another world. Shanty towns and crowds and trash everywhere. Smell of fuel and rotting food and smoke.
The first thing I noticed was that even living in a teeny shack, or under a tarp surrounded by filth, the people took great care to look clean and beautifully kept.
The YMCA is an amazing treat! Air conditioned, clean room with 2 beds, shower, bathroom, and a TV. We rested all morning (I repacked and slept, Hayley colored and played.)
Lunch was at a restaurant a few blocks from here. Rachelle, Amanda, Hayley and I shared Chicken Binjaya (spicy rice like Tessa served us before the trip), vegetable Chow Mein, fried rice, and Nan bread. Dipping the nan in soup was amazing. I loved the spicy stuff-great meal!
Then we headed to the Bal Asha orphanage. This is a special place in Newberg Friends’ life. Rachelle over the last 7 years has placed children from this home across our country, including three who are a part of Newberg Friends. Josh was here four years ago, adopting his son Zachary Achish.
Bal Asha is difficult to find, apparently. Our cab went straight to it, but the other two took awhile, leaving us a little uncomfortable, wondering if we were at the right place. When everyone arrived, we entered the compound.
A dirt road took us past beautiful trees and many different social service buildings: a school for the blind, a cancer treatment center, the orphanage, a hospital (“King George V”, built in 1938, the year my dad was born.) The area felt very serene and quiet in the middle of a bustling city. Many children and women around gave us wide smiles and said hello.
I have the utmost respect for what Rachelle does. Over the last few months, I’ve heard more and more of her stories. She has had some harrowing and wonderful experiences, and she is strong and brave because of it. She walked in the orphanage, and in many ways she was home. Greeting and smiling at caregivers, touching and hugging children, she broke the ice for us. The visit is just a bonus for us-we aren’t looking at a long term connection here.
The first room had babies, still in cribs. Most are found on the street, though some are dropped off. After the child’s picture has been printed in the paper for 6 weeks and no one claims the child, Bal Asha has custody and works to place the kids either overseas or within country. We weren’t allowed to pick up or hold the babies, but the caregivers asked about Achish. It was our first sign of how well these women care for these children-they all remember a boy who has been gone for four years. In the face of the daunting and ever changing task of running a children’s home, they know the children well and bond with them.
Next, we entered another room/house with ten or so special needs kids. Again, Rachelle encouraged us by word and example to bend down and touch these kids, many lying eyes unfocused on a cot, and watch their faces light up with the attention. As I followed her lead, making eye contact and smiling while I touched their backs, I was finally HERE. I was fully present, and it felt like the entire world was me and each single child as I went from cot to cot.
Inside I was choking up at the thought of what each had been through, and the bumpy road that lies ahead. But outside, the warmth of their response, the spark of connecting kept me smiling.
I blessed each one, asking Jesus to send his Holy Spirit to protect, heal, and guide each one. I wished for more…but it was enough.
We then joined the group of older children, who greeted us with a warm hello and warmer smiles. Rachelle started leading the kids in games, then I took over, and we had so much fun singing silly songs and laughing with them. Golu was the oldest, and he stayed by my side the whole time we were there. We did the Hokey Pokey, London Bridges, dum-dum-dada, B-I-N-G-O, the shark song, countless things. The longer we enjoyed their joy, the more I realized how well they are cared for, how important that gift is to them.
Rachelle said earlier that India is not a joyful country, and we see that. The streets are hard and joyless. We walked this evening, Hayley and I and Rachelle and Amanda, through non-tourist places, where the people live and eat and buy and work. The shanty towns are not the joyful, community barrios of South America. Yet in our debriefing time, Tessa said the people here are much friendlier than in Kolkotta.
I’m tired, Jesus. Watch over us. Sear this in my memory, to process later. Make me present to you. May we spread your love. Thank you that we saw you in the smiles of those children’s faces. You are good.
(Posted from Mumbai YMCA, on 8/28.)