I am ending my sabbatical with 4 days in Varanasi, the holy Hindu city, thousands of years old. Varanasi, maybe the oldest city in the world, is also known as Kashi, the City of Light. Temples, all 800 of them, light torches and ring bells twice a day. Shiva, the creator and destroyer was born here. Twodaughters, the Varuna and Assi Rivers, join their mother Ganga at this place. The Ganges begins in the mountain streams of Himalayans. It is beyond beauty–and terribly damaged.
The river is the longest in South Asia and serves the highest population density. Flowing through 29 cities, it provides water to 40% of India’s population. Too bad Mother Ganga is treated like a septic tank–sewers, piles of trash, cows and humans take daily ‘dumps’ into the river. Diseases and fecal coliform rates are sky-high. Yet people daily swim, fish, and do their laundry. It is truly amazing how Hindis trust the health of their Mother, and I try to fathom such respect. During the two Hindu holy weeks, 70 million bathe in mother Ganga to ‘cleanse’ themselves.
It is revered–to die here removes one from the cycle of reincarnation which means to my novice eyes, one obtains eternal peace. Thus cremations are common along the stone steps leading down into the bilious river. Several categories of Hindus are not to be cremated, including holy men, pregnant women and children under 10 years old. These are often thrown into the river with weights on the bodies. Taking a row boat north along the river, many lit candles that floated across, flickering spots of flame on the dark surface. The lights spoke to me of lost friends and forgotten dreams as the boatman rowed past the ancient ghats (steps).
The monsoons have started, rains pouring down every other day. Deep gutters carve through mud, flooded streets; but also the fresh sweep of the air, tree leaves with a waxy shine. Rain, rain, heavy rain, and change. My soul has grown weary from human cruelty, hate crimes, children condemned by poverty. But the change in weather lifts my plodding feet over all the dust and crap. Read the rest of this entry »
What makes the city of Bhopal in India famous? It is crowned with a huge lake, and is dubbed the City of Lakes. Have you heard of its amazing inter-religious harmony- Christians, Jains, Hindus– all respect each other– and almost a third of its population Muslim? Have you heard of Bhopal’s prosperity with small commercial enterprises of jute, textiles and pottery along with a predominance of farming?
For those of us over 40 years, we know Bhopal as having the largest ever industrial disaster in 1984 with 4,000-16,000 deaths. The villain, Union Carbide, leaked 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas (MIC or cyanide), being produced for pesticides. As with Cherynobol and BP’s Deepwater explosion in the Gulf, the safety mechanisms were inadequate and the danger was minimized so that profit could be maximized.
I talked with several who remember the travesty. One Friend at the church, Sumand, worked day shift at Union Carbide, and missed direct exposure. Supervisors at the plant on Dec 3, 1984, turned off the alarm system and denied to police for two hours that anything was amiss. Most Bhopal residents exposed to the MIC gas were first aware of the leak by exposure to the gas, or by opening their doors to investigate commotion, not by being instructed to evacuate. Those that ran actually suffered more (sharp inhalation), as did children who breathe closer to the ground.
Another Friend, Devdas, told me he volunteered those first weeks at the under equipped hospitals. Some doctors had never heard of MIC, much less how to treat its effects. Trees lost their leaves, animals became bloated and died. Thousands died the first three days, (the total toll is not clear). Many babies were born with birth defects.
Devdas also pointed out that during the disaster mutual help was palpable. All religions and many from different classes worked in unity. That year the Bhopal Friends joined a project to help children return to school and to help victims earn a livelihood by teaching sewing handbags.
Union Carbide was bought by Dow Chemical Co. in 2001. Dow says the legal case was resolved in 1989 when Union Carbide settled with the Indian government for $470 million, and that all responsibility now rests with the state of Madhya Pradesh, which now owns the land. Thirty-three years later the local rivers where I take my morning walk are still contaminated. I passed the site of the chemical plant, now a dry blot with some steel towers encircled with barbed fences.
We are all haunted by wraiths of these disasters. They are accidents, and they aren’t. Since I was 8 years old living on the Chesapeake Bay I’ve watched how we poison the earth. Every Spring a couple of bald eagles (who mate for life) laid eggs on Marshy Point in a huge nest. But the eggs never hatched because of the DDT concentrated in their bodies. Those thin-shelled unhatched eggs linger on the edges of my mind.
We pay the price of pesticides, nuclear energy, methane mining, and excessive use of vehicles. We are greedy, we won’t give up our addictions to chemicals and fuel. Another description of being greedy is suicidal. Do we lack imagination or are we frozen in fear?
The good news: our lives can be different. I know we can be a better people. Despite of Deepwater, Exxon-Valdez, Orlando, and Bhopal we can turn the tide.
A Friend, Jay O’Hara says, “When I sit on a mountaintop, or next to the ocean,… and I know that the world is such a way, and I know that the world needs to be such another way, am I able to live with myself and act according to what I know is true? Have I done what needs to be done?” We can stop the use of pesticides, we can stop fracking, we can travel by bike and train, we can grow kitchen gardens, we can…. We can. We have the technology to live differently, but how do we develop the will?
The Jewish prophet Micah asks, “What does the Lord require of you….”
The first of June saw the last day of our Nepal marathon—6 days straight doing AVP workshops.The last three days were at PsychDesk, a counseling/training center. Eighteen graduate psych students and social workers came, about ten were turned away for lack of space.
During AVP we often ask around the room, “Where would you most want to visit in the world?” 60% of the participants wanted to visit special temples, or natural phenomenon like Mustang, Muktinath or Manag — all within Nepal. Any other workshop people want to visit new countries. But there’s no place like Nepal. Please enjoy some photos posted below. Read the rest of this entry »
We facilitated an AVP workshop in Ramecchap Nepal for 18 Evangelical Friends. These Friends are not used to workshops on peace, social issues or self-esteem. The church has no running water nor chairs. But these Quakers were very savvy about social justice. They survived an earthquake; they heard about the generous world-wide donations after this disaster, and they knew that this money wasn’t distributed fairly.
These friends are not scholars, but they are wise in the ways of structural violence. They are fishermen and farmers living where the rivers run more and more turbid and the soil is too rocky to support crops. They live on steep mountainsides with frequent landslides. Nepal government released $150 for any earthquake family victim. Now the monsoon season has begun and the government’s many promises to disperse the international aid has not occured. Fifty years ago people in Ramecchap lived with milk and honey, their land a jewel. Now, what are they?–the salt of the rumbling earth. Read the rest of this entry »
So what’s different about doing AVP in Nepal? Alternatives to Violence is very needed and very welcomed in this country. Nepal, lying on the backbone of the world is wedged between 2 military giants: China and India. Nepal is around the size of New York, although it takes over 2 days to travel across east to west. AVP started in Nepal in 2006. Nepal will host the AVP international gathering in Nov. 2017. AVP leaders are excited to welcome peacemakers from 40 countries here. It’s a dream come true. Read the rest of this entry »
What can be more exotic than Kathmandu, Nepal? We will not go to the world’s rooftop or graze Mt. Everest. But we are happy to live in cooler climes. Mountain breezes brush prayer flags drying clothes equally. The mood is gentler: religion, farms and shops blend together. We are staying at Pradip, Barsha and Prabal’s home, a Quaker family. How soothing to make Darjeeling tea when we want and cook comfort food. Betsy sent us a care package which we got in Kigali and we still have some favorite foods from that!
Most people know about the Himalayas with eight of the ten highest peaks worldwide. But Nepal also has jungle, and parks where the rare tigers and one-horned rhinos can be seen. We have not heard anyone spotting yetis, but there is a Yeti Savings Bank. Are banks our modern abominable snowmen?
Did you know Nepal has the only national flag that isn’t a rectangle? Nepal has never been colonized and therefore doesn’t need an Independence Day. So my assumptions are challenged once again. Why aren’t flags different shapes? Why are most countries colonized, why is this the status quo? Read the rest of this entry »
We have been in India for 3 weeks. It’s a amazing place and I know so little about it. English is always hard to understand, only about 10% can speak with us. In Kerala the local language is Mayalayam which has beautiful script. It is related to the Tamil language. They speak in a fast cadence, to me it’s a rapid sound–madayamathiryala’am…
Kerala is great for eco-tourism, it’s a thin seaside state, much like the country of Chile with low mountains called the Western Ghats. This has many forests, some jungle, lots of mangroves. It has white tigers and langurs (monkeys) and lots of birds like storks, toucans, kites, and the heaviest air-borne bird in the world called a vulture. There are reserves and zoos. I see cashew, mahogany and cork trees. This is the land of ‘The Life of Pi’ if you read that book about an Indian boy and tiger marooned in the Ocean.
The history is rich here. This is a major learning center for Ayurvedic medicine. This ancient medicine (Ayur = life and Veda =Science) is at least 3,000 years old and is the foundation of Chinese and Greek science. I know very little, only that ayurveda is preventative and works to restore balance in your system. Balance between your kitta, vata and kapha or wind, fire and earth energy. when my knee joint started aching, I saw a practioner yesterday and he gave me 3 medicines to take: Rsnayogajagulgulu, Punarnavadi Kashayam, and Bala Thatlam twice a day. Two of them taste like bitter cashew leaves. He asked me about diabetes, blood pressure and accurately guessed my age. He said the joint pain is because of ‘old age.’ I’ll let you know how it turns out. The Ayurveda prescription seems healthier for my knee than a shot of cortisone, but more labor intensive. Jonathan had 2 teeth worked on, and the cost averaged about $30, whereas in the US it would be 10x that cost. Read the rest of this entry »