Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Delhi

New Delhi:

When your neighbor's house is on fire, you have two
choices: you can either run away from it or towards it. 
You are entitled to run away form it, but if you do that 
too often, you will eventually find yourself without any 
neighbors. And you will be lonely, until your house is 
consumed as well.

Flights, thankfully, uneventful. Made friends on the
planes, and they all promised to write checks. Folks 
are very glad we are here.

Someone said that it is unfortunate we do not have time
to get into Delhi, as it has changed. All public 
transport - buses, rickshaws, taxis - now must run on 
natural gas, and has cut air pollution (that used to be 
horrid!) in half. There are many "flyways" (overpasses) 
rather than four way stops, also contributing to 
pollution declines. And there is a new subway!

The air terminal looks the same though. Even the smells
(which I like). After antiseptic Seoul, I know I am in 
India. Garish colors, decorations, wonderful Indian uses 
of English. The warning sign about what cannot be 
brought onto a plane reads, in part:

Bows and arrows
Pickles and chilly powders

A terrorist attack utilizing pickles and chilly powders
(that's the way it was spelled) would be something right 
out of a Grade B Indian ("Bollywood") movie. The slogan 
for the new Indian Sahara Airlines is "Emotionally yours." 
Then there was another sigh about "Public Grievances 
Redressal Machinery" (report a problem and someone gets 
spanked?) Aliyah and I are both pleased by the Indian 
vegetarian food.

The news here, generally speaking, is not good. Yesterday,
a misunderstanding of sorts of a report issued by a 
small consulting group out of Oregon - M/S Terra 
Research - that another tsunami was about to hit as a 
result of an earthquake off the coast of Australia - 
se the government in a tizzy, and after 8 hours, they 
issued a warning. Folks in the coastal areas, already 
reeling, not having time to find no less than bury 
their dead, ran to the hills. Hospitals emptied out, 
and patients are camping (with their saline tubes, etc.) 
in the open air, refusing to return to the hospital 
buildings. Packets of food, water, and clothing 
distributed by aid agencies were thrown to the ground. 
There are literally mountains of abandoned donated 
clothing. Relief workers had no idea what hit them 
(no one told them about the warnings, all of which 
turned out to be based on a false alarm. The press 
accounts, which are extremely unclear, is that Terra 
Research had some kind of new technology that they 
refused to make public.

In another press account, apparently one group of people
was able to predict the earthquake and resulting tsunami, 
and act upon it. A small aboriginal tribe - the Jarawa - 
on South Andaman island (there are only known to be 271 
of them) apparently detected the onslaught several days 
in advance and moved deeply inland into the jungle. 
Virtually the entire island was hit, but the tribe 
survived. This was discovered when a 12-year old boy 
from the tribe turned up looking suitably aboriginal at 
a local health center, because he had an earache.

Not good news in my mother's district (Nagai) -
apparently it and the neighboring coastal villages of 
Cuddalore were the hardest hit of all. The pictures are 
astounding. The government is apparently spreading 
bleach powder on the beaches (a disinfectant?) - though 
these efforts were delayed, as airlines refused to 
allow the bags of powder on the planes as they are 
considered 'hazardous material' and the bags were not 
properly labeled.

But - there are always signs and signals of how tragedy
can sometimes bring out the best in the human condition. 
This is what should have been on CNN but wasn't. The 
five coastal villages of Cuddalore were entirely wiped 
out. In the center is Cuddalore town. The fish market 
was entirely destroyed, and no one really has any idea 
of the death toll. Most of the fisher folk are Hindu and 
Christian (many of them, of low-caste origin, having been 
converted in the 19th Century as an attempt to escape 
discrimination and stigma). The town merchants were much 
less affected by the wave. Most of them, however, are 
Muslim, many of whom send their sons to work and trade 
in the Gulf countries. Within minutes (10 a.m. on a 
Sunday morning), the local imam and the head of the 
local Muslim religious association called out the 
entire Muslim religious community. They started rushing 
folks to hospitals in vans, cars, mopeds, and bicycles. 
By noon, the Mosque had organized milk for a few hundred 
babies, and food for over 3,000 survivors. By evening, 
the 3,000 Muslim men of the town were tending to over 
10,000 Hindus and 3,000 Christians in makeshift camps. 
For the last 3 days, the Mosque has employed 24 cooks 
to feed the survivors. The local government has come up 
with milk and rice, but the Muslim religious association 
buys vegetables and everything else on it sown, even 
preparing strictly vegetarian meals for the orthodox 
Hindus (most folks in this area, however, are fish 

The Muslim association has even taken upon themselves
what would normally be considered unthinkable among 
many Muslims. They are carrying the bodies themselves 
to their last rest. To the largest extent possible, 
they are ensuring that the Hindus are cremated, and the 
Christians buried, with crosses on every grave. The 
head of the Muslim association has said he has not 
slept in days, but vows to continue caring for and 
feeding the Christian and Hindu members of their 
community for as along as it takes. And where 
necessary, and where they are no surviving relatives, 
they have vowed to take in infants and children of the 
community, raising them in the religion in which they 
were born. (And these are all owners of businesses that, 
themselves, will never recover.)

THIS is in the India I know and have come to love over
the past 30 years, and always have. In the meantime, 
a small article in today's paper notes the government's 
sendoff of the first of 12,900 pilgrims on the haj to 
Mecca. Two government officials - on Sikh, the other 
Hindu, went to the airport to wish them godspeed. The 
Indian government has a fund set up to assist all of 
its Muslim residents to make the haj at least once in 
their lifetimes.

Meanwhile, rickshaw pullers in Coimbatore, a city in
the very hilly areas of Tamil Nadu more than 200 miles 
from the coast, collected 3,500 rupees (roughly $85) 
for relief efforts. When they took the money to the 
bank, the bank refused to cut a check for the relief 
fund, because they couldn't be bothered to count 1, 2, 
and 5 rupee notes (a rupee is around 2 1/2 cents.) The 
rickshaw pullers, among the poorest people in town, 
blockaded the bank with their rickshaws and refused to 
leave, until bank officials cut checks using their own 
money. (They still refuse to count the contributions.)

Rickshaw pullers who are reading this are hereby
notified that Aliyah and I are accepting 1, 2 and 5 
rupee notes (or their U.S. equivalents.) We know that 
we can deliver the funds directly, and have no Red Cross 
officials to feed or offices to rent (and we are paying 
for our trip, etc., out of our own pickets). So we can 
stretch a rupee or two a long way!

Finally for those of you who feel called to do even more,
you are invited to visit  a 
quickly formed on-line community of relief workers. I 
haven't managed to long on yet (all our blogs have been 
catch-as-catch can), but we have heard very good reports 
about it.

We ask for your prayers, good thoughts, and continuing


P.S. We are a bit behind in posting, and visited a
devastated fishing village yesterday. Aliyah will be 
posting later today. In the meantime, my wife tells us 
about the wonderful outpouring of support, and we thank 
you greatly. A couple of notes based on inquiries we 
have received: it is not a good time to volunteer (at 
least in India) - currently the government has cut 
access by relief organizations such as the Red Cross 
(since my mother's organization is local, that isn't a 
problem.) But more relief workers right now would add 
to coordination difficulties. About a month or two from 
now, we will need lots of folks to help dig wells, build 
hoses, and engage in disease prevention. Adopting 
tsunami orphans from India is not possible - Indian 
adoptions are normally very difficult for foreigners 
(long story how we did it), and the tsunami killed far 
more children than adults. My mother's organization does 
take in children who are orphaned or whose family 
situations are under stress. Funds are urgently needed, 
especially now - it costs about $130 a year to feed, 
clothe, house, and educate a child, and we can set up 
formal support arrangements. Most of our current 
sponsors are from Italy and we would like to expand.

Finally, funds. In a month there will be even greater
need that there is today. I don't think it is yet sunk 
in how huge the rehabilitation effort will have to be. 
Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers, and on your 
contribution list.


Note from Ellen: If you call to make a donation,
please note we are in Olympia, WA (pacific time).


Blogger Ronda said...

Thank you David and Aliyah for keeping this blog. We received a link from our local homeschooling link and started reading it right away. We love getting the "real" news instead of the Media propaganda here is the US. I especially loved the news on the Muslim community and their outpouring of assistance.

We will send good energy your way. Thanks for you strength and courage and honesty in this difficult time.
Ronda Coleman, Mechanicsville MD

8:13 AM, January 03, 2005  

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