Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Lotus Flower

Dear Friends,
I am starting this entry for the second time on a different computer, having just spilled tulasi tea on the keyboard of my laptop. Don’t worry, the computer is fine, but I’m giving it a few hours to recuperate. This is not the first time I’ve done this. Last time, it was a spill from a plant on a shelf above the computer. Bhoomi says my computer has "an herbal attraction." Maybe it comes from the fact that all of the passwords are different types of plants.
The past two days have been full of many different experiences. Two days ago, I went with Krishnammal to some of the flooded villages. On the way, we dropped off some workers who were doing a survey of people hit by the tsunami who were not receiving aid. The villages were in a very sad state. Children played outside government-built houses that were too unsafe to enter and corroded by the flood waters. The palm-leaf huts had holes in their roofs. We brought clothing and Krishnammal asked the villagers to join in her food for work program in which people build their own houses in exchange for food. We found at least two willing communities. At one village, the moment we arrived a man jumped into the village tank and brought out a beautiful dark pink lotus, which he presented to me.
After we visited the villages, we drove through Vellankani. The situation there was very different than Nagapattinam. Instead of a broad expanse of damaged buildings, there was a strip of land, once a thriving market, that was completely flattened, but past that there was little damage. The great church was just on the border.
The next day was the Oriyans’ last day in Tamil Nadu, and a new team had arrived. Bhoomi wanted the old team to show the new team the school that LAFTI is planning to fix up until it is better than before the tsunami, but the team members just wanted to go their own ways, and Bhoomi finally gave it up. I had not understood this, and was becoming very frustrated with the disorganization. It is at times like this that I wish I knew either Hindi or Tamil.
Nagapattinam looks far better than it did a week ago. Much of the garbage is gone, and the roads are leveled. There is even electricity. The crows that landed on the functioning wires were killed, and hang by their claws. Butterflies flutter through ruined houses. Some of the Oriyan students wanted to see "all the places that Jagannathanji had worked," and asked me to come along. I said that such a trip would take years, and that I had come to work. I don’t know what came of that, because I left with Mani to see if one of the schools needed any help. We carried benches for them from one school to another, holding them on our heads. The last table proved too heavy for both of us together, but just at that moment, a man with a bicycle trailer showed up, and offered to carry it for us.
A reporter from Associated Press came by and asked us for an interview. We asked him to come back after lunch. He turned out to be a friend of a friend of Mani’s, who is a scriptwriter in Bombay, and will be coming back to Tamil Nadu in a month to help Krishnammal.
When we returned from lunch, the headmaster of the school asked us to help with sorting papers, but we were more of a hindrance, as neither of us can read Tamil. We gathered up the garbage papers lying around, and made a fire. A group of very small girls, five or six years old, came to watch. We asked them to help us collect paper, but they kept bringing us plastic bags. The papers took a long time to burn, and while we were burning them, the Associated Press man arrived, nearly two hours late. He just wanted some pictures, our names, and where we were from, but I managed to get in the purpose of LAFTI, as Amma had asked me to. When the fire had burned out we returned to Kuthur, where the rest of the team had already gone.
In the Light,


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