Monday, September 24, 2007

Arrival of the SEA

On 14th morning Scott, Erin and Andrea (SEA) arrived from Seattle, U.S.A. to Calcutta, and Puthumai A. Nazarene brought them to Raiganj on 15th morning. Since then they are involved in the activities of Social Welfare Institute as volunteers and they are visiting many places as part of their learning process. Their experiences on the Indian soil is available on their Blogs as well. We will have a link created to their blogs shortly in our blog as well. Erin had taken a short video on the children. You may watch it by clicking on Erin's Children. (2 minutes)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

More Visit Photos

If anyone is interested you may also visit the following for more pictures :

1. In the engine cabin of a train

2. The City Square at Madrid

3. At the Entrance to the Senate, Madrid

4. Palace of the Spainsh King

5. On High Way to Frankfurt

6. Mineral Museum of the Suhms

7. Another Picture of the Mineral Museum

8. The Hagen Station

9. The Churras for Breakfast at Spain

10. Cemetery at Geislingen

11. With Ms. Lobo-Badr, Misereor

12. At the Indian Dinner

Stranger on Board !

Once I boarded the plane, I had a strange young woman sitting next to me. I call her "strange" because she looked more like an Indian, but had accent of German English. We introduced ourselves, and it is then I got to know that she is a Russian by birth. Her family had moved into Germany during the fall of U.S.S.R Our dialogue centered around India, her personal tour to Thailand as she was traveling to Bangkok, her family and her studies. She was interested in India because she is planning to get a job in one of the large IT companies operating here. The woman named Xenia A. though still in her mid twenties had enough knowledge of Russian literature. I was delighted to know that she had some fair understanding of Dostoevsky. Indeed she was surprised to know that I had good knowledge of Russia and Russian literature! She is a free bird. She just wanted to be along in Bangkok. Not a running-away-a-sort of thing type. But, had responsibly planned her travel, and had enough material with her on Thai culture, people and places in order to make her stay more memorable. She also exuded special interest in knowing more...hated by a large modern youth, which thinks that everything that media and internet cough up are the best. At Dubai, she behaved like a little child with enthusiastic eyes. She was in Asia for the first time! She went into the large shops selling perfumes of the Arab world, tested almost each bottle and chose some, rejected some.... and planned to buy some of them. We had coffee together and then we bid bye to each other. She still remains in my mind as a child throbbing with life! I took my flight to India and reached Calcutta (Kolkata) at 7.50 a.m. on 12 Sept, and disappeared in the maddening noisy crowd of the great Indian city. (End of European Visit)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Journeying Back Home!

On 10 Sept I spent a lot of time in the morning in packing things and in spending some time with all the family members of the Kusters. We had an early lunch and then Julia, Barbara and me left by car to Seist, nearby town of the ancient Germany. The houses and churches had still the medieval touch. Many of them built in Gothic and Byzantine styles, it was a wonderful journey that included the visit to the Mohnesse lake and a cup of hot chocolate. (Photo : With Barbara along Mohnesse) In the evening we had some dinner and kept talking till almost 11.00 p.m. and then went to bed as I am supposed to leave for India on the 11th.

By 7.00 a.m. I, Julia and Sebastian left by car to Hagen from where the Inter City Express took me to Frankfurt Airport. Once I was in, I had lot of time, because I had reached the place by 11.15 a.m. The counter opened only at 12.15. Once I got checked in, I was a free bird. I moved around the whole of the airport, traveled by the sky train, went to see an A-380, and finally, took some snacks and waited. Believe me, being the 11/9, there was enormous security all over the airport which I had not seen in my previous visits to the airport. Even checking and security check were really strict in every possible terms. But, once it was done, it's time to fly back to India by the Emirates Airliner at 3.15 p.m. German time!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fr. Blottcher and the Church of Arnsberg

I must allot the day of 8 - 9 Sept for Fr. Blottcher and to the Christian faithful of his parish in Arnsberg. The town has a large catholic and a good number of protestant population. Barbara and Rudolf trained me and Julia in the morning as to how and what I must speak in the church, and the translation will be done etc. In the afternoon, I spent some time in updating my blog. When I and Julia reached the presbytery at 6.00 p.m. Fr. Blottcher was sitting with a group of people discussing about marriage ceremony of a boy and girl. The people looked like Indians. And soon I realized that they are all Sri Lankan refugees who got spread into many European countries in mid-eighties and later during the Tamil - Sinhalese problem. They were happy to see me, a Tamil by birth talking to them in a language that they can understand. I was pleasantly surprised to know how they were still trying to integrate some of the cultural elements within and outside wedding mass to make it "closer to Tamil culture"!

Fr. Blottcher is a very warm person. He welcomed me with an embrace and enquired about my health, stay, etc. We began the mass at 6.30 p.m. I had carried my cassock from here. Well, at the mass he introduced me to the people. Instead of the normal homily I was asked to speak to the people, with Julia translating. My speech was heard with apt attention and pin-drop silence. At the end of it people clapped! By the time the mass was over I could understand that Fr. Blottcher mentioned my name several times and he was speaking to the people, or he was praying for me. After the mass, few people remained back to meet me and other family members of Julia. Julia told me that Fr. Blottcher had changed his mind! I found then that although Fr. Blottcher had told me that he would do a church collection for my work later on at another week, but after hearing my speech, told the people contribute at that time itself. He also invited me to speak at the first mass on 9 Sept. Sunday. Both the collections were kept aside for our work in India. (I gave it all to Sebastian so that they can send it to me later.)

On 9th, the Parish Feast (7 th Sept Nativity of Mary) was celebrated with much fanfare, a small fete and a large crowd filling the church. I had breakfast with Fr. Blottcher, Fr. George and others at the Parish. I must thank Fr. Blottcher for his wonderful gesture. (I did that on 10th morning.) The afternoon was spent in little marketing for my journey back home with Julia. We had planned to travel to Mohnesse lake for a boat ride. But due to other works and few other guests in the family, we could not leave.

The Indian Banquet

07 Sept 2007

The day ran past quite quickly. I had little time to rest since I left Raiganj on 28 Aug. I woke up at 9.30 a.m. and had a quick wash and breakfast. I and Sebastian then went to the market to get some things for an Indian dinner to some guests who had been invited. Julia, her Mom Barbara and Mrs. Monica, a friend of Barbara, were the cooks. We assisted the women by shedding some tears as we cut the onions. At 4.00 p.m. Mr. Rudolf Kuester, father of Julia returned from office and I and he left home immediately for a "guided" tour of Arnsberg (which literally means the Eagle's Hill). Known for my forgetfulness, I had failed to carry the camera. (Note : No demand for the photos of that day will be entertained.) Well, he guided me first to the Regional Office where he works as the Personnel Manager. The office was so neat and clean that even many of the hotel rooms in India would be put to shame. I just can't understand how did these Germans achieve this sense cleanliness. Surely, it requires stringent laws, merciless execution of the rules, severe punishment against violation, and finally sacrifice from the people to do something more for achieving greater things.

He walked me through the streets of Arnsberg, specially the Alter Arnsberg (Old Arnsberg) where emptied monasteries and churches, old schools, the Bell Tower, the oldest town hall and the resteraunt etc. At every point he explained to me the things that I must notice. By the time we returned the sun was falling down. We all joined together to prepare the tables. At 7.30 friends and well-wishers came into the house. We had 22 of them. The dinner began with some tea, chicken tikka and Naan, and continued with mutton kofta, rice, sambhar, vegetables, mango salad, coconut chutney etc. At the discussion we had wonderful sharing on life in India.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A.. Aah ! Aachen !

Julia and me had an early breakfast and rushed to the Arnsberg Railway Station by car. It was very cold for the morning. Must be around six degrees celsius. As we reached the Station, Julia took ticket for us from the Ticket Vendor and then consulted one of the touch-screen machines to get different combinations of our travel plan. That was important so we could plan our travel even from here. We have to change twice to reach Aachen. The train, a very short one reached in minutes. It was 9.05. We entered the train that was almost empty. The heater was running so that we do not freeze in cold. We got down at Hagen and took another train in minutes and then at Monchengladbach for our final destination for the day : Aachen. Well, I had a very interesting experience as well. As the door to the engine was open, I walked to the engine and was watching the driver. I was amazed by the way the semi-automatic engine was being handled by the driver, a middle aged, little fat man. He was quite friendly. He allowed to couple of photos of him. I can not imagine getting access to the engine in India. People are accessible!

At Aachen, since we had some time in hand, we walked through the streets to reach the Cathedral at Aachen. It was in this church the German Empire was first declared, and Charles the Great was crowned. Aachen had been bombed several times during the World War II, but the church had escaped. The Church still draws lots of crowds each day as a sign of German Unification and Leadership. But the city has lots of very old buildings interspersed with new, as a mark of bombs that had destroyed the old where the new buildings have come up.

At 2.00 p.m. we had the meeting with Ms. Lobo-Badr. She was very courteous, supportive and friendly. She also showed keen interest in knowing how Misereor had supported us in the past, and what changes those programs had brought about. She promised to support the programs of Raiganj within her capacity as much as possible. For lunch, we had some backwater fishes fried in oil with flavours and some flour. On our way back, we were informed about half an hour before we reached Hagen that someone had fallen sick in the train. The train stopped at the next station within minutes, and the ambulances arrived. The man had a heart attack. We were delayed by about 20 minutes. And so, we were late to get the connecting train to Arnsberg. We got some time to walk around Hagen station. Hagen is an old town with lots of industries around. We had some Chocolate Macchiato (Coffee) and took the next train at 7.13 and reached Arnsberg at 8.00 p.m. At home, we had a very long chat till almost 11.00 p.m. Julia has a very loving mother Barbara, and a real gentle man, Mr. Rudolf, as her father. They helped us plan for the next day's Indian Dinner and the Presentation of my projects to the people. The sixth day of September saw me for the most of part of the day in Aachen.

From Madrid to Arnsberg

On the morning of 5, Sept I woke up at 7.00 a.m., had a wash and switched on my laptop to find that the hotel was providing free internet facility. I checked on the mails, wrote some and closed by 8.30. Julia and Sebastian had got ready by then. We checked out of the hotel, walked for some distance to look for a place for the breakfast. Julia spotted one in which we could have some real good Spanish breakfast. We had Churros, Porras (pronounced as Porraaz) and few other things along with a very tasty coffee. As usual, Julia went for two glasses of fruit juice.

We then went towards the palace, the Basilica inaugurated by the Pope John Paul II in 1993, the Senate, the Plaza de Espanol and many other places on walk to enjoy their beauty once again in the morning sunlight. The palatial gardens were very good, though not as good as the Indian Moghul Gardens in the Presidential Palace (Rashtrapati Bhavan). Then we took the Metro back to Madrid Airport for our journey back to Germany. From Madrid we reached in the evening. We spotted our car in the fourth floor underground where thousands of cars are parked in each floor, and then left for Herscheid. After picking my luggage at Sebastian's place, we came to Arnsberg, where the Küsters live. It was almost 9.00 p.m. We had a quick wash, dinner, said good bye to eachother including the parents of Julia and went to bed early, as I and Julia were planning to leave early the next day for Aachen, in the border of Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany.

Don't Think of Roam!

I had got roaming facility for my Cellone telephone. The officers at Raiganj had told me that they have activated it. But it just would not work. I tried several times in the past days. No way. I even put my SIM (Subscriber Identification Modue) in other people's mobile phones. No. It just would not take it. As soon as I return back to Raiganj, I must ask them for a list of countries in which Cellone has a Network, and which is the provider who gives them the service. This is essential because I had clearly told them that I am going to Madrid in Spain and Germany. If you are planning for a visit to other countries, and if you are planning to carry your cellphone, ask your provider to give you the list of the countries in which they have a contract with a local network provider, and get the company's name. Otherwise, you will have the same experience. You can see all the providers' names in your Network search, but all of them will tell that you are FORBIDDEN to use their network.

Madrid Welcomes You!

I, Julia and Sebastian rushed in the morning as we had to leave for Frankfürt to catch a plane at noon, leaving for Madrid. The ride was quite smooth. Julia had thoughtfully packed some chocolate biscuits for us. At Frankfürt we had some very good coffee and got ourselves lost in the sea of people. With three terminals and tens of gates, I just kept wondering how these airport people manage this massive "enterprise"! It is enormous by any means. At every minute a plane was leaving... that means, at every minute a plane was arriving as well! I could see through the window that at most of the times two planes were landing at the same time in two different runways, and planes were taking off simultaneously. It is credible. It was also very easy to take photographs as we had got ourselves security checked well in advance. The Security Check was very thorough... but once. So, no hassles after that. That was better. We should learn from them--not to disturb people too many times in the name of checking the samething again and again.

We landed at 3.40 p.m. Madrid was warm and welcoming. We rushed out. And we had to walk too long to catch to a Metro rail to the Office of Manos Unidas. Madrid has one of the best Metro networks in the world. It practically covers the entire city. And at each station you never wait more than 4.59 minutes- because at every fifth minute a train passes. That I would call it fantastic, user friendly. This avoids rush on the road, and people don't mind waiting for such a short-time. We changed the trains three times to reach the Office of Manos Unidas. At two occasions, we did not even have to wait for a minute. It is all well synchronised. When you get down from one platform and move to the other platform, another one comes! Our city planners must come to study how they function. (And not take holiday on Government money in exotic hotels).

At Manos Unidas, the visit was very fruitful. We spent some time with the women who were waiting for us. They were so happy to see that I had traveled all the way from India, and that Julia and Sebastian had brought me from Germany. Once we left the place, we took the Metro again and got down at Sol. Sol is an important place in Madrid, because it is from Sol that every house in Madrid is numbered, and every milestone to Madrid is marked. Julia had picked a cheap but decent hotel for our stay for the night, just a stone's throw-away from Sol. We went there and had a wash. Then we were out on a walk. We went to see the palatial gardens and the palace of the King. (In case you do not know, Spain still has the King, like the Britain having Queen.) Then we took a "Madrid Vision" Bus. The bus is a double-decker with an open roof. We chose the upper floor so that we can have a good view from the top. It was fantastic because the ride we took was a "Historic Places Vision" Ride. (They also have a Modern Madrid Vision Ride.) In this we were taken along all the historic places. Anyone can get in at any point and get down at any point. The ticket was for a whole day. To see them all in the bright lit night... you can just say, Superb! I must mention here one more thing. As we got into the bus, the conductor, a woman, gave us each a small booklet on the ride and an earphone. It is important. All that we had to do was just plug in the earphone into a socket next to the seat and choose any of the eight languages that simultaneously give you commentary on what you are viewing. It also guides you to notice at some particular details and explains historical facts. They have almost done away with guides who charge you too much, even blackmail in our historical places, and more so, they give you a choice of language. You can also hear the commentary digitally with very light music at the background. Something to learn more for us. Madrid's night life is really exciting. We could see thousands of people on the street, taking a fine walk in the evening sun (Sun was still shining at 8.45 p.m. Spanish time.) People were having plenty to eat, lots of beer to gulp down and enjoying with their friends. (If you are looking for some real good hot evening... or night... destination is Madrid.) We returned to the hotel by 11.15, and went to bed immediately.

The Herscheid Experience

Sebastian and Julia brought me to the house of Sebastian. His parents had gone on holidays to Spain. We had a brief walk around the place, and then went for a dinner to the grandparents of Sebastian. The gentleman and lady were very welcoming and they knew little English. That made me quite at home. They were very much interested in my work, in knowing more about me and the people, about my life etc. Something seemed to have touched them much. They gave me a small gift to take back as well. I just can not forget the generosity of people like them. I sent them through Sebastian the next day, a small gift that I had carried with me.

On the third of Sept. we spent our time in the morning planning our travels, booking place in Madrid for our stay, and designing the presentation for the evening. After a simple lunch, I and Julia left for the home of Aline, (pronounced as Aleena) an aunt of Sebastian, where the dinner had been planned for some neighbours and us. We walked a long way through a small hill that is used to cultivate grass for the cows. A beautiful landscape with pines surrounding it. That was an excellent view of Herscheid. Sebastian came and joined us after doing some marketing. Aline and Julia were the chief cooks. They were really smart in preparing Indian dinner with a German touch. I, Sebastian and a Son of Aline helped them. Soon, we had prepared, Tikka, Kofta, fried rice, sambhaar, coconut chutney, Naan, mango salad, and many others, including our own Samosa! The guests came in from 7.00 p.m. onwards. Very friendly people. The dinner and discussions went on till 11.00 p.m. By the time we helped Aline to put back the dishes and we returned, it was almost mid-night, and we rushed to catch with some sleep.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

At the Speed of Superfast

Michael and Anja Kunkel, after showing parts of Stuttgart on 2nd Sept, they put me in an Intercity Express (ICE) of Deutsch Bahn, the railway company of German Goverment. They had informed me that the train is a superfast. But I did not think of an experience of this sort. They had carefully booked a ticket for me on the window side so that I can have a view of the cities the train will be passing by. As I got in, I could see the seat No. 85 on Wagon 32. It was digitally written above my seat with the Words : Stuttgart - Dortmund. I looked around; above every passenger traveling to various places, their boarding station and their destination was written. The Ticket Examiner came with a small machine which digitally verified my ticked and put a mark on it. The travel from Stuttgart to Dortmund, a distance of 475 kilometers was covered in 3 hours 15 minutes. At every station, people were alerted about the next station, about other useful information, they were welcomed, thanked, and even we could see the speed at which the train was traveling at a particular time. We had hit 300 km/hour on several occasions. When I landed in Dortmund at 5.20, Julia Küster and Sebastian Pieper were waiting for me... I could not recognize Julia. She had gone thin since I met her five years ago.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Gengenbach Story

First of September saw me spending little extra time on the bed, after seeing off Bettina & her family on a trip to northern Italy. We had a good lunch and little talk in the morning. And then went off to take some rest. I was watching a detective movie on the T.V. while resting on a beautiful bed prepared by Anja. At 1.40 p.m. we left Geslingen and traveled to Gengenbach through the dense Black Forest. The forest seem to have got its name “black” due to the number of tall long needle-leaved deep green pine trees that fill the hills in southern Germany. These pines, due to their color, do not allow the light to pass down to the ground, giving the name “black forest”. Since we rode through slowly, enjoying the nature, we took about an hour and a half to cover the 80 kilometers. At Gengenbach, me, Anja and Michael were welcomed by Evelyn and Peter. It was Peter’s birthday. Soon, more and more friends and family members joined in. Matze, Marcus, Gabi and so many others! Well, Matze, the great “cook” and brother of Michael & Evelyn began preparing the food. At 4.00 p.m. I accompanied Michael to Offenburg to bring Dr. Joachim Schmerbeck. He too joined us in the Birthday party. We had some good meal, and lots of discussion on Natural Resource Management programs in West Bengal, and also about what could be done in Raiganj.

At 8.00 p.m. we reached Joachim back to Offenburg so that he can leave for Freiburg. On return from Offenburg, the party continued. We three of us, left at 10.30 p.m. to the house of Gabi where she and her husband had prepared two well furnished rooms for us. I fell on the bed immediately, as I was feeling sleepy.

One important thing I must mention here. While working with Dr. Joachim, I realized that since the previous day, I have been noticing that there are two three-pin plugs in Germany! Oh, no! I just can’t charge my lap-top. Peter and Michael worked on a wire with a double pin to temporarily connect it to the laptop’s power cord, so that I can charge it for the day. Attention Everyone: If you are traveling to Germany or other European countries with your laptops, beware of your power cord!

In the morning, I woke up by 6.00 am and had a very good bath at a “beautiful” toilet at Gabi’s. Then I had a short walk around the house. That is when I realized that the family of Gabi deals in Minerals. Soon, I was treated to one of the best views of my travel. I was taken to the cellar where they have several rooms, entirely selling and researching in minerals. Hundreds of types of minerals, all in various shapes and sizes! Waw! I spent some time in the midst of minerals brought from various caves, mountains, seas and mines all over the world. Simply the passion of these two persons for the nature has entirely changed their life. I could see the garden all around their house, again filled with the grandeur of nature. The Gabis gave me a small medallion made of a rare mineral! We had breakfast at the house of Evelyn & Peter, bid farewell to everyone there. (I was informed that the party went on till 5.00 a.m, as Matez continued to play Piano till then!)

Well, Michael and Anja have been so generous to me. I do not know, how will I be able to repay them. They brought me to Stuttgart. The distance of about 200 kilometers was covered in an hour and a half, with Michael, sitting on the driver’s seat, hitting 175 km/h at most of the time. The high way close to Stuttgart was having lot of rush, and the roads were crowded with cars. Since the time I landed in Frankfurt on 30th, I had not seen a police man. But today, I could see some of them. We had a look around the telephone tower of Stuttgart, the soccer stadiums and then the large marketing plazas around the Stuttgart railway station. Where there are no spaces, people have made large spaces by creating lot of underground structures for marketing, railway stations and for almost every human need. I learnt another very important thing. The people and government have worked together to create a clean, litter-free country. We must do it. Yes, Indians can do it.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Castle of Hohenzollern

The travel from Dubai took over 6.45 minutes on 30 August. When the Emirates aeroplane landed at Frankfürt it was 7.50 p.m and the sun was still shining on the West. With the formalities completed, I came out picking my luggage from Belt 12, and my friends Michael Kunkel and his wife Anja were waiting for me. We went down four floors into the underground, walked more than half a kilometer and took our car to drive to Geislingen, through Stuttgart and Tübingen. It was 9.00 p.m., and the sun had just set. With a short halt for about 10 minutes on the way at a highway motel (they call it Raststätte, literally meaning, Resting Place), the travel from Frankfurt to Geislingen (280 kilometers) took about three hours. We were at the Kunkel's at 12.00 mid-night. In India, it is 3.30 a.m. We went to bed immediately.

The morning of 31 August saw me waking up at 8.00 a.m. and went for a wash, followed by a wonderful welcome breakfast. Mrs. Leonie Kunkel, mother of Michael, joined us with some delicious bread, sausages, butter, coffee etc. Then, we went on a long walk through the streets of Geislingen, a very beautiful little village with a population of 4,000 people... but there were almost 3,000 buildings! The streets were wide, long and with lots of cars zipping past us. We visited the Church, swimming pool, number of shops, the beautiful cemetery ( I call it beautiful, because, I have never seen a cemetery filled with flowers and every grave with flower plants and each of them filled with colourful flowers!), the Physiotherapy centre of Anja and the woods next to Geislingen. It was 1.00 p.m. We had some quickly made noodles with soup for lunch, and coffee & cakes at the house of Bettina Kohle, sister of Michael. By three in the evening we left to see the castle of Hohenzollern, (passing through Balingen, the district headquarters) roughly 20 kilometers from Geislingen. The Hohenzollern castle, like one of the castles of the 18th century, was built by the Bavarian and Prussian emperors. It was a wonderful experience to walk through the castle with a guide and a good number of people. The building is well maintained and clean. In comparison to most of our national monuments in India that are least cared for, and the people dirtying them all around, the cleanliness everywhere marked a sign of people's attention to maintain quality. It is not enough to say, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness". We must practice it. More photos are downloadable at : The Fortress, The Emperors, and the Facade

In the evening, the family of Bettina, and Matze and Sandra Müller joined us for a grand dinner. We had lots of talk about India, about the Bishop, and about the next day's plans.