Sunday, January 28, 2007

Tonight, for the second time, a local woman who lives in the surrounding slum told me that I am very good with her kids. Nice. Yet, she goes on to share that she has no money to care for herself, let alone her kids and that I should take her two oldest (Selma & Roxanna) with me when I leave.

Right in front of both Slema & Roxanna she tells me this, for the second time. Both times I play it off as though she were joking. I don't know how much longer I can do that without screaming.

I've been taking bages of carrots and sometimes cookies or chipiti's (a flat bread) to their home when they are away. Often I go over and see their mom eatting and not them, maybe I'm just stopping over at the wrong times. I hope they get this food before their mom does though. I think sometimes they do, Roxanna was eatting a clean carrot this afternoon.

The other day when I stopped by Selma was complaining of a stomach ache while her mom was hitting her with her flip-flop. I did an intervention of sorts to stop the hitting and asked her mom why she was hitting her. She said that she caught Selma peeling off the top layel of their manure based floor and was eatting it. I guess the flip-flop hitting was a punishment of sorts. Wouldn't the horrible stomach ache be enough?

What can I do?
Why do I have such non-loving thoughts toward Selma & Roxanna's mom?
Is she not a child of God as well?
Why is it increasingly difficult to find beauty in her although the color of her eyes are brillant green?
Why am I such a jerk?
Where are we?

From their one-room rural mud homes found in the depths of decade old slums, young men and women often have no choice but to make their way into the circle of survival inside the walls of Delhi, India, more specifically Yamuna Bazaar. Illiterate, uneducated, and unaware, with poverty at their heels and little opportunity for upward mobility, many of these young men and women are unable to find adequate employment to support a healthy lifestyle. As a result, many eventually find themselves stepping closer into unknowing ways of self-destruction for support which often lead to homelessness and a continual worsening state of living.

After years of personal neglect, abuse and disregard for not only their life but for the life of all creation, those who were once considered simply poor now live in a constant state of high-risk poverty, disease, malnourishment, exploitation and negligence. Heartbroken by abuse and society; they are dismissed as worthless, ignored by all while slowly dying on the roadside.

Under bridges and in gutters, in a state of rapid deterioration, at the door-step of an undignified death is where we often find these sacred souls. Engulfed in tuberculosis, infected with HIV, bleeding with open gaping wounds deep with maggots, skin pulled tightly across the face, showing off the curvatures of the facial bones, waiting to die, they are found and brought into Sewa Ashram to rest their weary, sometimes missing feet.

Here at Sewa Ashram, life is a celebration. To live and survive is a celebration we daily take part in. Watching the young HIV infected artist look into sky and contemplate the beauty in the form of each cloud. Celebrating in the developing round cheeks of the abandoned, malnourished child found in the gutter two months ago. Celebration in the joys of newly discovered gifts expressed best by those who have experienced life’s hardships and are now crippled by TB, have lost limbs or the ability to live self-sufficiently. A celebration of life together. Yet, woven throughout the celebration of lives resurrected, we celebrate the sacred souls of lives lost.

Many beautiful faces imprint the soil of the Ashram yearly. Many of these footprints make their way around the grounds where current patients rest, receive treatment, and are cared for as one would care for his brother. Some footprints make their way out of the Ashram with shoes strapped to their feet, awaiting with anticipation a life of full recovery and unending opportunities to make right what once went so unnaturally wrong.

Yet, many times patients enter Sewa Ashram with irreversible damage for their bodies to heal. It is in these specific cases where we celebrate the exceedingly beautiful life we came to know during their short, precious time here. These are the lives which never leave the Ashram independently, but rather are carried out with dignity by their brothers and sisters, wrapped in fresh, white, beautiful cloth scattered with orange, yellow, and red flowers from the surrounding gardens. Their ashes will return to the earth and the cycle of life appreciation will continue in those who remain.

Monday, January 22, 2007

On Friday we handed the lives of Rumi and Reshma over to Hope Foundation. It's a strange place I am finding myself in. To see the faces of those I have grown to love be taken into the arms of a strangers. And for no reason should I be experiencing grief after only knowing them for such a short time. Yet, I am not sure what else I would name all that I am experiencing since my arms parted their skin.

I have worked with adults and adolescents alike. I have grieved for lives lost to alcohol, drugs, abuse, etc. I have witnessed distress, depression, hopelessness, despair. Even here, at the Ashram, the experience of loss is a daily encounter I have learned over the years to embrace with celebration, peace, and rest. I have worked diligently not to attach myself to those I serve, which I have come to recognize as a gift as well as a fault. Yet, I have never had to work through the loss of children. Children engulfed in grief, deprivation, starvation, lack of attention as well as healthy stimulation. Children, whose bodies feel like silk but speak helplessness. Children whose faces shine with natural beauty but demonstrate negligence. This weekend I grieved for the touch of silk, the natural beauty of their eyes and lips.

Yet, during such a time as this I have found peace and healing like I would have never anticipated receiving. Peace in the hope which lies in the tough callous hands of old junkies who work together in communion, peeling pea pods for tonight's supper (P.S. The man on the far right with the blue pants, his feet are ticklish).

I find hope in the future of those who were once hopeless, like Renu & Ramesh. After over eight months of TB treatment at the Ashram, left last week to start their life together down south, both rehabilitated of the disease which once threatened to take their lives, TB.

I find joy in the daily jabs and jostles that occur between staff and patients alike. Playing, I have found, has become a lost art. A lost art often rediscovered and practiced here on a moment by moment basis.

I find laughter in the hugeness of these carrots and the little teeth and hands which work diligently to demolish them. Murari (on the left) has been here for the last year and a half, after being rescued from the road-side. He has acute juveinle onset arthritis and is quite an instigator but is also locally known as the boy who can get anything out of anyone. Kamal has been here for a number of years. Found abandoned, he has made himself a staple at the Kid's House and is quite sneaky is getting a couple other kids to do his daily homework... such beloved stinkers.

Forgive me for being so horrible at remembering names, it's a gift I really hope I am anointed with someday, but... the man on the left I call Mr. 20kg, because that is what he weighed upon arrival at the Ashram. His body taken captive by TB, for the first two+ weeks he would simply lie in bed, laboring for each breath. At that time we worked out a deal through broken language and began a cookie/sandwich black market between the both of us. His weight is increasing ever slowly and the last four days he has been independently sitting up and walking around the Ashram with only the help of a walker.

The boy of the right, Ramier (I think, I hope) came to us with his father two mornings ago. Him and his dad had traveled four days to come to the Ashram after his father had fallen into a camp fire during a seizure. Covered with 3rd degree burns on his chest, arms, hands, and face this beautiful dirty boy checks on his dad frequently; helping his dad go to the bathroom and when others aren't looking, helping him smoke bidi's...

I can't imagine a place better than this to grieve. Surrounded by hope, love, laughter, peace, resiliance, joy, and amazingly huge carrots for healthy teeth.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Failure to Thrive

Yes, I cut my hair.

No, we have not adopted them.

Yeah, they are amazing.

The children of the woman we wrote about yesterday. They have ear infections. The youngest is probably a month old, but barely knows how to suckle. The oldest is probably just over 1 year old, but doesn't know how to chew solid food. I think he has been fed only dal (stewed lentils) and chai his whole life. We are trying to teach him to eat.

BBC News - Child Nutrition Program Failing in India. Why? Because every one of the programs is created from the top down by "experts" who wouldn't know a real idea that might work if it jumped up and bit them. This type of education MUST be done from the ground up, based on personal relationships among peers, by people who are dedicated and integrated into the community. Otherwise, they will fail. And they do.

Jake and Jess
A story of death; life marches on.

There is so much to say that I struggle to find the words to even begin. So much happens every day that I can't even remember it all, let alone find a way to describe it.

Take last night for example. In Delhi a "rag-picker" found a dying woman on the side of the road. She is poor, sick, dying, and has 2 children with her. What does he do, he tries to call us at Sewa Ashram. See, just that name has come to be a holy word among those cast out and uncared for. They hear the words Sewa Ashram as a whisper of hope, love, care, and health.

Unfortunately for this man, for some reason he could not get through on the phone. So he grabs the woman and the children and brings them on the bus. The ride takes nearly 2 hours; the woman dies on the way. So he shows up here with a nameless dead street woman and 2 newly orphaned children. The police are there, and what do they do? Nothing. They stand there smoking their little cigarettes while this man tries to carry the dead woman and her two children from the road, along the alley, back to our door.

So what can we do? One of the children is about 1 year old, probably a little older since malnutrition always makes these kids look younger. The other child is about 15 days old. What do you do? Both are sick, both are malnourished. So we do what we do every time. We wrap up the body and stick it in the shade. We feed both of the children, clean them, wrap them up in blankets, and head back in to the streets in search of her husband, a relative, or anyone who knows who she is. We also take photos to the police and ask for assistance.

What can one person do in the face of this? It happens every day, thousands of times per day, to millions of people. Why even try?

The images shown here in this update have absolutely nothing to do with the story I just told you. Nothing except for the fact that every face here represents a person who came from circumstances such as this dead woman and her two kids. They all came from impossible lives that were spiraling downward to meet the doom of a million other poor people who die dismal deaths every day. The difference though was that one person decided to care, decided to do something for them. That is where this place came from. That is where all of these people came from.

In the face of millions of such horrors, what can just one person do? Nothing. But in the face of one persons horrors, they can give life. And if that is done, over and over, sacrificially giving and caring for those in need, before long you have hundreds, even thousands of faces of individuals pulled from death and disease, and placed into the arms of love and life.

It is what is being done here. It is what we are learning how to do.

What could be better?
Not for us, but for those that need it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

We lost two today.

Life here follows typical cyclical paths. We follow the rising and setting of the sun. Especially here it dictates our moves. In the winter we are frozen without its warmth, and we walk about from patch of sun to patch of sun to stay comfortable. In the summer you do everything you can to avoid the sun, walking to and from patches of shade to go about your day. Eating, sleeping, sickness and health, they all travel in cycles and intervals.

If we can back up and look a bit more macroscopically; life and death are each of our great cycles. Today two of our patients, two friends and community members ended this side of their life cycle, and entered into something new.

But first, life.
Mukesh and Rasheed here have been long-time members of the population here at Sewa Ashram. Both were found on the streets, pulled from some unimaginable circumstances, and placed in the arms of love here. Mukesh (read more by clicking here) was abused by the men on the street, he was an IV drug user and lived under a bridge. Rescued, loved, and now thriving, Mukesh makes up half of the amazing creative team that fills the walls of the ashram with paintings. (To see Mukesh's painting gallery, click here.)

Rasheed is one of the people I spend the most time with here. He is quirky, funny, a prankster, extraordinarily intelligent, and talented in ways I did not know were possible. His hips and arms are at 90 degrees from the "normal" orientation, so his mobility and dexterity are about 90 degrees from "normal", too. He is just someone you have to see to believe. He too was rescued from the streets and now spends his time adorning the halls of the ashram with laughter.

Javed is the other half of the creative design team here. Told by the leader here to start painting, he replied "but I have never painted before." Well, that changed pretty quickly, and his paintings now number somewhere near 100 and are in every building on the compound. Many of the visitors to the ashram end up leaving with one of his paintings packed away in their suitcase. See his gallery here.)

There is not a whole lot I can say after a photo like that. This guy is just funny and happy all the time. I am not sure of the story behind the neck brace, but he seems to really like wearing it. He is one of the people here who probably hold everything together, without us ever knowing it. He works all the time; cleaning floors, taking out garbage, feeding people, talking to people, doing laundry, drawing, and making fun of people.

On one side of the compound there used to be a nice little building where the "boys", those who have been here a long time and do most of the work, would meet every morning for meditation. Most of that building fell down, but the foundation still stands, and the little shrine set up to Jesus still stands. Jessica took this picture of one of our favorite guys here (truthfully, most of them are our favorites) stopping to give a little devotion before the shrine. It was just a beautiful little scene, and Jess captured the moment perfectly.

Though life is first, at the end we still come to death.
And many times here, death is exceedingly beautiful. Those who have had a long time to accept their fate eventually do so and go ever so peacefully across that divide. Some, right at the end, simply stop taking food and decide to walk willingly toward the new side of the cycle. Many times with long-term tuberculosis, at the very end, the skin pulls very tight across the face, showing off all of the curvatures of the face bones, and they become absolutely beautiful.

One of those that died today was a Muslim, so he will be taken to some Muslims that we know who give proper burials to those of their religion. This man in the photo, well, we don't know how to label within a religion, so we do with him what we do with all of our dead. We give them over to God and we follow Indian customs. All of the dead in India are cremated.

His ashes will return to the earth. The cycle will continue. Life, death, life.

Jake and Jess

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

VERY Graphic images included in this update. Guard your children. If you have a weak stomach, please proceed with caution.

Our new home: Sewa Ashram. If you don't know about them, please do read a little on the web page. The premise is that this is a home. It is a home for the mentally disabled, differently-abled, HIV positive, TB positive, elderly, homeless, sick, dying, and amazing people of the streets of Delhi, India. Over 100 patients live together in community; washing each other, caring for each other, cooking, cleaning, guiding the blind, feeding the weak, and carrying those who would be left behind. Jessica and I are but little cogs here in a machine that was set in motion nearly 10 years ago.

We don't have big fancy temples and domes here, like you see with the Sikh temple pictured here, but rather we have thatch roofs, simple buildings, and lots of soap and love.

The mornings here in Delhi are cool. The winter brings a chilly breeze and lots of damp fog that hangs low and long into most mornings. Every day we awaken to hot chai masala, wet wheelchairs, stiff bodies, and lists of things to do. Cooking, cleaning, distributing medicine, bandaging the wounds, bathing the not-so-able-bodied, fixing doors and chairs and beds, teaching skills, physical therapy, stretching and exercising, bringing in the food; all of these tasks are accomplished by the hundreds patients themselves with only minimal interference by the 5 (including us) Western staff members.

Some wounds are internal and require constant medication and very consistent monitoring. Tuberculosis is one of the more common things found here. The drugs must be taken EVERY day for 6 months, or the bacteria can become resistant and kill the patient without any means to combat the infection. So far this week, mostly thanks to the cool weather, no one has died. Most weeks in the summer there can be as many deaths as new patients. Constantly rotating population. Some are pulled from the roadside where they were waiting to die, other return to the earth from which they came.

Other wounds are external. On the dirty and rough streets of a junkies home, a little scratch or infection can be exacerbated by flies and maggots and eventually turn into a massive open wound like this. This man's family was killed in front of his eyes, then he was locked up, beaten by the police and left on the road to die. This wound on his head was opened up by flies and maggots to this point. What you are seeing is skull, pure bone. Now, with a few weeks of love, soap, medicine and care, the flesh is starting to regrow. You can see it in the stripes of pink.

After 5 days of almost no sleep, changing time-zones from Paris to India, being slightly ill, having very little food and I am sure not enough water either, it was all a little too much for Jess. After helping bandage a guy who was a victim of a train accident (one amputation, one mutilation), and then helping with the skull-cap guy above, she passed out and smacked her head pretty hard on the office desk. You can see the cut in the middle of her hair line and the bruise just starting to form on the right side of her forehead. After that we took a 3 hour nap, got some food, and in subsequent days, have now recharged and are going strong. Trust me, we are healthy and strong now.

That is us. We are finding out niches. I am definitely the handyman on staff right now. I have been spending my time cleaning, organizing and fixing the tools. Next step is I have to take on the cars - they are in really bad shape, all of them. The in between time is spent playing games with the children, visiting the old men, ensuring some of the debilitated patients get fed, helping organize the food room and fixing everything I see.

Jess is finding all kinds of diverse things to do as well. She is creating assessments for the children, organizing their files, investigating and soon to be applying for lots of grants (there are enormous of monetary needs here), playing with and teaching some of the kids, and just being handy around the office. The rest of her time is filled with visiting the old men (surprise), taking them on walks, bringing cheer around with her to the TB wards, wearing Santa jackets and distributing hats and socks for warm sleeping.

There is so much more, but where is there room to write it?

Jake and Jess

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


And here she is... After Christmas evening in Fes, Morocco we flew into Paris the day after Christmas and arrived at our hostel around 10:30pm... With anticipation and excitement we made our way up to the Basilique du Sacre Coeur (pictured below). From here you can see all the "sites" of Paris at one of their most beautiful times. Here is my very first view of the tower. Mom & Dad: After our long walk we had our dinner on you at a small little cafe where we were the only guests, under a blanket of candle light, enjoying rich hot chocolate, chocolate moose, hot soup, and a fancy vegetarian pizza...

Basilique du Sacre Coeur

Here she is, closer the following evening... I have to admit, although she is beautiful, elegantly designed, and my first experience with romanticism as a child, it's not all that I had dreamed of it to be... I think I am changing...

Arch de Triumph + Lauren (who, with her parents were the perfect Paris hosts)

Notre Dame... Although beautiful, I struggled with the idea of "worshiping" in a place filled with such generationaly decided "grandeur" and "significance." I cannot argue with the history or beauty that it carries, but I found myself being more of a tourist than enjoying God and his creation there...

This one is for you mom... When we arrived at the Louvre the line was at a three hour wait to enter in. Therefore, we weren't able to go in, but enjoyed playing in the courtyard...

So, there you have it - Paris in one day, with many hot chocolate stops throughout the day and a great time to spend with Lauren and her family... Thanks mom and dad for the wonderful Christmas gift... we really appreciated it...