Monday Morning Musings

Posted on January 30, 2017 under Monday Morning Musings with no comments yet

The Cross at Mantharamputhur

Most of us are creatures of habit. We establish routines and patterns and rarely deviate unless some outside force like a winter storm or a man cold (!) appears unexpectedly. You have your coffee or tea at the same time every morning, your meals are set in stone and you have your favorite television show that you wouldn’t miss. Sometimes, it can become humdrum and even monotonous. You often hear people saying that they’re in a rut.

If you would like to remove your lethargy, might I suggest a trip to India.

One of the best things about my current volunteering situation is that I get to meet people from all over the world visiting the B@B run by the Sisters. The best internet connection is on the patio outside the office so it’s a natural gathering spot. It is so interesting to hear so many stories and to hear other points of view of travelling in India and global affairs. We share many similarities with people from far flung places around the globe.

When quizzing people about their travels, three words always surface: adaptability, flexibility and patience. This is true for travel anywhere but it is much starker in India where the rhythm of life is not predictable.

A few days ago, I was having breakfast with the Fr. Jean Jose , the priest who had just said mass for the Sisters at their chapel. He asked me what my plans were for the day. Other than possibly subbing in for Ninian and Carol at the B@B while they went for their daily walk, I had nothing pressing. He invited me to spend the morning with him.

Here’s where flexibility comes in. An hour later, I was standing on a platform as a guest speaker at a private academy for a Republic Day flag raising ceremony. It was India’s “Independence Day”, a national holiday. I kept my talk short and sweet urging the students to be tolerant and understanding of people from different cultures and religions. I also spoke of lifelong learning and that travel was one of the best educational experiences a person could have.

We spent some time visiting  poor people from his parish at their homes. I always enjoy these connections with people who have so little but treat me like an old friend. We also went to a construction site where Fr. Jose showed me a project near and dear to his heart. In the shadow of the mountains, he is having a place for the community to spend time as there are no parks, playgrounds or gathering places in the village. Yes, it has spiritual overtones with a large stone cross as the centerpiece but it is meant to be a welcoming place for all. Local Muslims, Hindus and Christians raised the money and provided the labor. It is a display of ecumenism at its finest.

I’m glad you liked the massage story. I am still trying to recover physically and emotionally from the slightly traumatizing experience… especially the loin cloth!!! If you missed it, you’ll find it at the bottom of my homepage. It’s called “ A Well Oiled Machine.”

We have received donations for the Sisters from four provinces so far: B.C., Alberta, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Can we make it 10 provinces and 3 territories??? The fundraising campaign is off to a great start. My web designers, Simply Ducky ( consummate professionals – I would highly recommend them ) updated my home page so all the information on the campaign is available for you or if you have a friend who might be interested in helping out.

BTW. Sorry. But we can’t provide tax receipts. I’ve checked it out and it is too complicated. Any donation will be straight charity.

Hope this finds everyone well.

Have a great week.

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A Well Oiled Machine

Posted on January 26, 2017 under Storytelling with 7 comments

 

 

Abhijith- Masseur extraordinaire

Everyone knows that for machinery to work properly, it has to be maintained on a regular basis. Scheduled maintenance is a must and when the time comes, it has to be replaced, often with new, more efficient technology. In my youth,  I worked in a saw mill on the maintenance crew and one of my jobs was to oil the machines every day. I also owned a car around the same time and as I recall, it required oil every time I filled it with gas.

The human body is a machine and must be maintained. This requires the proper inputs including good nutrition. The body needs regular exercise and plenty of sleep. Once a year, a trip to our doctor is recommended to get an update on how we’re doing , as time marches on relentlessly. And occasionally, we all feel the need to pamper ourselves and this could come in the form of a vacation, a spa treatment or a therapeutic massage…. or chilled Chardonnay!

Back in my running days, a massage was just a part of the program. Besides running, pool running, exercise classes and yoga, a massage was crucial to keep my muscles from disowning me. I still enjoy a massage every once in a while when my back acts up.

At the behest of a friend, I decided to get an Indian massage at the Santhigiri Ayureveda and Siddha Healthcare Centre in Kanyakumari. I stopped by their office and scoured their lengthy menu of options. I settled on “Rejuvenation Therapy” which entails a full body massage and herbal steam bath. Sounded pretty straightforward and the price was right: 1199 rupees or about $25. Canadian dollars.

I entered a well appointed massage parlor and was met by two men. At this clinic ( and others in India ), it is customary for men to treat men, and women to treat women. I rarely comment on men’s looks but these guys were quite “dashing.” The younger guy was stripped to the waist and as they say “ he was ripped.” There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him.

I was asked to strip down, which is customary but not usually with the masseur in attendance. I wasn’t one bit concerned until one of them approached me and strapped on the tiniest loin cloth … and waited for me to remove the last vestige of dignity.

I sat on a stool and faced the older of the two. He closed his eyes and said a prayer. “ When in Rome,  do as the Romans do,” so I closed my eyes and followed suit. He poured about a half a cup of warm oil into his hands and applied it to my head. I’m accustomed to using a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil when cooking. A half a cup seemed a bit much. As I was to find out later, this was just the “starter amount.”

He massaged my head for about 5 minutes and then he applied some short , sharp chops, followed by a slap or two and then a staccato of hand movements that I didn’t think possible.

I was then instructed to get up on the table. There were no warm sheets, pillows or heating pads… creature comforts back in Canada. No background soundtracks of tweeting birds and gurgling brooks. The wooden table had a slight bevel to it. I lay on my back as more oil was applied to my arms, torso and legs. Wrestlers know they’re in trouble when one of their opponents “tags” his partner. I didn’t hear or see the tag but before I could protest, they were both in attack mode. This was no gentle massage. This was war and they were determined to cast out toxins, poisons and possibly the devil himself. They twisted limbs and put my body in positions ( some quite compromising )  that didn’t seem possible. They slapped, whapped, scrunched, tweaked, scrinched, pinched, prodded , pulled and poked. They even cracked the knuckles in my hands which I found odd. When they did the same to my toes, I let out a yelp. Occasionally, they hummed or prayed.

I was slid over onto my belly. This was effortless as I was covered from head to toe with oil. I was often told by my former yoga instructor that my muscles weren’t very supple. So when they applied some killer wrestling holds and I whimpered, they told me to “relax.” Sure. I’m covered in oil and two guys are beating the crap out of me and I’m supposed to relax. A few well chosen Gaelic phrases put them in their place.

They poured me off the table and slid me over to the steam bath. I sat down and they closed the doors. There was something that looked like a guillotine that was wrapped around my neck. Ten minutes of profuse sweating and I was done. Cooked. Detoxified.

The bathroom was adjacent to the steam bath and I entered to find a bucket full of warm water to begin the “degreasing” process. You know how hard it is to get a bit of oil off your hands when you’re cooking? Try extricating a quart or so of 10w30 from your entire body. This was one time that having very little hair was a distinct bonus. In my fervor to remove the oil, I somehow managed to insert my pinkie finger into my right nostril. A geyser of blood erupted and started to mingle with the bucket of water turning the contents into a pink sea. Oh yes, my oily loincloth had been delicately removed before entering the bathroom.

There was a small hand towel on the rack that became my new loin cloth. Much earlier in the process I had surrendered myself so I didn’t feel out of place waltzing around so scantily clad. However , it’s hard to hold a towel in place and staunch a bleeding nose simultaneously. Something had to give. The two masseurs had a look of horror as an old man, wearing not much more than a smile, emerged bloody and beaten from the washroom. I think that they felt that maybe they had overdone it and had caused the Vesuvian eruption. I assured them that the wound was self- inflicted. They insisted that the bleeding be stopped before re-entering the waiting room.

A lovely young woman asked me if I would like to book a follow up appointment as I dabbed the last of the blood from my nose.

I grabbed their brochure and my eyes went quickly to a treatment that I thought might be in order the next time around.

Ayusha. Anti ageing therapy. Priceless!

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An Investment in India

Posted on January 24, 2017 under News & Updates with one comment

A few of the great women in the Daughters of Mary congregation

 

I have been in India nearly three months now and it is obvious that this is a country on the move. It is emerging on the global scene as an economic powerhouse. Every town and city has an abundance of motorcycles and auto rickshaws, sharing precious asphalt with buses, cars, a variety of animals and pedestrians. The markets are always bustling. You can feel the surge of energy in the country.

But like many places, you’re only as strong as your weakest link and India is struggling to address the plight of the poorest of the poor. It is a Herculean task with a population in excess of 1.2 billion people.

The Daughters of Mary, a Roman Catholic order of nuns, operate several facilities in the southern state of Tamil Nadu where I am currently volunteering. They run a number of orphanages, a couple of facilities for women with mental illness, an old age home and are supporters of a community of people affected by leprosy. In many cases, they have rescued people from the street who have been abandoned by their families for a variety of reasons.

It seems that charities at home and abroad are finding it more and more difficult accessing financial support. In some ways this is a result of increased levels of poverty, with the gap between the haves and have nots ever widening. India is no different but charities here face additional challenges. Many groups like the Sisters have relied on government funding, foreign aid and private donations to finance their operations. Government funding has all but dried up. Ditto for foreign aid. There is a perception that funding organizations abroad see India as an emerging economy and feel that foreign aid is no longer required.

As you enter the premises of the Sisters’ convent, there is a board hanging from a tree which says: “ Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something.”

I am trying to do “ something “,  as small and insignificant as it may seem. I have visited many of their facilities which obviously require equipment and upgrades. I have committed to try and raise some money from abroad to help them in their work with the poor.

But why should people back home give money to foreign charities when there is so much need at home? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. Maybe a simplistic answer is that there are some people who have the capacity to give at home AND abroad. It doesn’t have to be an “either/or” situation.

In times of turmoil, Canada has shown itself to be a world leader in terms of building bridges, helping those less fortunate, welcoming immigrants and demonstrating progressive thinking. However, it all starts with individual action. Rather than worrying about things that we can’t change, maybe embracing the mantra of the Sisters is the way to go.

One of the big problems about giving money through some of the foreign aid channels is that people are wary that not all the money reaches its intended target. Some aid groups also use images of the poor to tug at our heart strings, which objectifies the poor . A month ago, I spent time speaking with a man from Germany who has been auditing foreign aid for decades and sadly it would appear that people’s worst fears about donating are correct.

I am asking you to make an investment in the Sisters. I watch them daily and can tell you that they are the real deal. While I am here, I can guarantee the folks back home that every dollar donated will go directly to the programs run by the Sisters.

 I have already received some donations which have been used to purchase five wheelchairs and five wheelchair tricycles. In addition to these items, there is need for repairs to the women’s dorm at the old age home ( 30 women occupy one large room ); a vehicle for one of the facilities serving mentally ill women: a few pieces of production equipment at another home housing 100 mentally ill women and repairs to a waste holding tank at the farm that the Sisters own next door to the convent.

I haven’t received all the estimates but the costs will be well over 1,250,000 rupees or $25,000 Canadian. I realize that this is a big ask. Especially so soon after Christmas. I am asking that you reach out to your friends as well from near and far who make have the desire and capacity to give.

A bank account has been set up at the Bergengren Credit Union in Antigonish for anyone wanting to make a donation in person. Just mention my name and the words” Invest in India.” You can also donate on line by doing an e-transfer to investmentindia2017@gmail.com. I will give you regular updates to let you know how things are going.

This is one situation where I would ask if you could hit the “share” button!

“Everyone can do something.”

Thank you.

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