Thursday, March 17
Thursday - 17 Mar 2005
New things for the ashram
Today we are able to see a lot of new things that The Miracle Foundation has been able to provide to the orphanage. As we arrive, they are already breaking ground on the new kitchen that Matt Reppert, one of the volunteers, donated the money for. Before this, they have been cooking meals for 110 children on two burners. This will be a huge improvement.
We also receive delivery of new bookshelves for the library, and begin putting the donated books we brought with us into the new library. It is really exciting to see so many new things happening, so quickly and with such immediate positive results! The really wonderful thing about being involved with The Miracle Foundation and with Papa, and this orphanage, are how the donations go immediately and directly to needed items, and how much a little U.S. money goes such a long way to drastically improving the lives of these precious children. It truly seems to be a miracle sometimes.
Justice Misra's Visit
Later in the afternoon, Aja arrives with his esteemed visitor, Justice Misra. He had told us at our breakfast at his house that he had arranged a visit with this prior India Supreme Court Justice and Senator, who has been a supporter of the ashram for many years. I feel it is a great honor to meet Justice Misra, and am so grateful and happy that these children have such people on their side. After Misra is given a tour of the ashram to see the new improvements since he was here last, all the volunteers are invited to the rooftop to take a special tea with Papa, Aja and Misra. It feels wonderful up there, at twilight with a soft breeze blowing, the palm trees rustling right over our heads and the Indian sky turning rich shades of purple and orange.
Aja speaks first, reiterating the ties between India and the U.S. and thanking Caroline and the volunteers for our work there. We insist that we have received such love and happiness from the children, that we feel they have given more to us than we have to them. Aja says that the childrens' expressions of love and gratitude are poetry, a lyrical comparison that I find beautiful. I couldn't agree more.
Then Misra speaks briefly, a man of few, but wise, words. He is an elderly gentleman, extremely soft-spoken. As he speaks to the group of us, I must strain to hear his words. "Skin doesn't matter," he says. "Color doesn't matter. Only the heart matters, and heart to heart love is what you have achieved here."
Miilly and Jeenu bring us all snacks and the delicious chai. Papa is sitting next to me, and I ask him a question I've been wanting the answer to all week. Each evening in prayers, the children end with the same blessing: "Sandi, sandi, sandi," they sing. I ask Papa what sandi means. He tells me that there is a reason the word is always sung three times exactly. "It says peace to the world, peace to the universe, and peace to every human heart," Papa explains. Peace is something that Papa, Aja, Misra, and the children have apparently attained; something almost tangible, that is impossible not to feel in the presence of that prayer room - indeed in the ashram itself.
The Blue Lagoon
Tonight Caroline has a special treat for us - we are going out to dinner! Although the food at Hotel Akbari is very good, we are excited to be going somewhere in the evening other than our hotel restaurant. Cuttack is a small town, so there's not much of anywhere to go at night. Caroline is taking us to the Blue Lagoon, a restaurant at another hotel. She has made reservations for us at 8 p.m.; of course we are late leaving the ashram and won't even arrive at Blue Lagoon until at least 9. But we figure that's right on time, Indian time.
The girls all put on the salwar kameez we have bought, along with our bangles and bindis, and gather down in the lobby for pictures. It's great fun to be getting dressed up, for once - in beautiful Indian tradition, no less. Of course, this only causes us to be stared at even MORE curiously by the locals when we leave the hotel.
Arriving at the Blue Lagoon to a tranquil waterfall outside, we enter the restaurant to find it completely empty. We are the only guests! Chris mutters, "Good thing we made reservations." We are seated and immediately the A/C is turned on for us. Five Indians hover around us as one brings a few menus - not enough to go around. Caroline asks the waiter if we can each have a menu so we don't have to share, but he replies that those are all the menus they have. I don't know why this should surprise us, but it's still amusing. Someone orders a Kingfisher - but no, the Blue Lagoon does not have beer, or alcohol of any kind.
So far, the dining out experience has proven to be quite different from going out to eat back home - but then, that is part of the charm of this place. Over the course of the week I have felt the rush, the worry and stress, of my normal life disappear, and I don't miss it. When the food arrives, after much confusion about who ordered what and which dish is which, the meal turns out to be delicious and our night out an interesting adventure.