In America, you say, "The world is my oyster." In India, the saying becomes, "the world is my toilet (and add to that "my garbage can"). But I must say, it has not been as bad as expected. I have not seen any open sewers on the streets (those have been mostly done away with throughout India) but men definitely "whip it out" wherever and whenever nature calls. Of course, I have not witnessed the more refined and civilized specie doing the same. I guess some things never change.
At the second leper colony, they make their own string, dye it, and then use looms for making it into fabric. The fabric is made into beautiful home décor such as pillows, bedspreads, and table cloths, and then they sell it mostly commercially. Their goods are even displayed in catalogs that they proudly showed me. It's all very quality and all hand-made. I purchased a beautiful table cloth for Mom and Dad!
In India, even the innermost city is still reminiscent of country life. Cows (and sometimes pigs, goats, and monkeys) truly roam free everywhere! On a bustling city street they are standing on the median, or sleeping curled up like puppies in the middle of the street. I don't know how they keep from getting their legs run over because they just stick them out there in the traffic during lazy afternoon naps. Some of the cows here are actually cute—cuter than American cows (not hard to do). I don't know why, but see for yourself. They also stock HUGE piles of cow dung that they make into "cakes" and sell for fuel and also for smoking. You heard me right…they mix it with tobacco and smoke it.
As you may know, cows are worshiped by Hindus in India because it is believed that a cow is one of the life forms you may come back as after you die. There are many "reincarnated" life forms included in worship—monkeys, rats, elephants, etc. Fortunately for us protein eaters, chickens and fish are not among the honored, so we ate chicken at almost every meal. In fact, when you go into McDonalds in India, there are only chicken Big Macs. And you must be careful eating the chicken because when they prepare it, they just chop the whole chicken up, bones and all, and you find many small bones in every bite!
Many men (and some women and kids) you talk to have terribly red-stained teeth, like they are covered in blood. It's from a type of tobacco they chew that has a drug effect, called betelnut. It also has a very distinct odor. The stains are permanent (check out photo of the kid's teeth).
We got to visit a slum next to the second leper colony. We even got to meet the "slum president." I don't know if it's a compliment or not to be a slum president, but this man seemed very happy in his status and he looked like a little Buddha. He had a giant belly (presidency has its perks) and sat cross-legged on a hammock-type chair. He was probably sixty and I thought that, even at my age, I could not sit cross legged like him. He told us that he is very thankful for Hopegivers because they give a lot of help to his slum. He said that other ministries like Samaritans Purse give money but the "middle men" take it for themselves and the slum people never see it. But he was very thankful to Hopegivers for the support and also because they are trying to start a school for their community kids.
The kids were SO cute. They are very dirty but they don't even realize it or suffer from it. They look quite happy and they asked me my name over and over and practiced it with me. They love getting their picture taken and I was completely swarmed by them, both to take their pictures and then for them to see it on my camera screen.
Later in the day, I got to interview a dignitary of sorts. He is the very head of the Leper Foundation of India (Delhi is the capital of India and that is where dignitaries converge), and we spoke for about 30 minutes. Unfortunately by then, my head was about to explode with sensory overload and new information, not to mention straining to understand thick India accents from interviewing all day, and I was unable to sound even partially intelligent while asking him questions. I was toast (no rude comments from the peanut gallery). Couple that with the fact that this man was soft-spoken and we were in a room full of noisy people. But thankfully, he liked to talk and I did get his comments on a recorder, which I can listen to again later. His interview alone would be a great National Geographic article…he had great perspectives on leprosy and I learned so much in spite of myself. He is actually a lawyer and has dedicated himself to helping lepers.
We interviewed him at the Delhi YMCA which is a VERY successful business with a huge piece of prime property in downtown Delhi. We got to meet the couple who oversee the whole place too. Hopegivers have many friends in high places here due to their wonderful humanitarian efforts on behalf of the whole country. They do not face legal difficulties and persecutions in Delhi like they do in Rajasthan. They are so well-respected—everywhere I go people are so thankful for what HG has done for them or for the country.
I think tomorrow I get to meet Samuel Thomas and he will be giving Maria and me a tour of Kota, and perhaps we will stop at a few sights along the many hour drive to get there. Maybe even the Taj Mahal! I am very much looking forward to speaking to him and hearing all of his amazing stories of what he sees God doing in India!
We'll post more tomorrow!