Thursday, June 12, 2008

Going and Boeing!

On Monday morning, I worked with Shannon on some of the details that are required here to ensure that the children's educational support for the current academic year in India goes well. At noon, Erin came to take me to her home. She had driven from the north eastern part of Washington state (300 kms) through the cold and snowy weather there, to take me to her home which is roughly about 45 kms from here. I traveled with her. On the way we spoke about her family and friends. On the way she showed me the Boeing Field which is used by the Boeing company to test its planes. The Boeing has two large production houses to produce its planes here. And Erin's father handles the Personnel Department.
There house is very beautiful and is on the Lake Tapps. We spent sometime padalling on a paddle boat and then had snacks when Steve, Scott and Andrea arrived. We had dinner together. Erin's brother Adam is an excellent Chef. He, in fact, works at an Italian restaurant. Assisted by his Mom he had prepared Salmans in fantastic taste: one with strawberrys and another with juicy garlic sauce. Spelendidly prepared barbeque and onion-corn cakes, aspharagus and what not! All mouth-watering items. We had excellent cuisine to go by. When dinner was over it was 8.30. And the sun was still shining after the windly and drizzling evening. Why not go for a boat ride? Oh! Since Erin's family also owns a speed boat, we all hopped into it... and in a couple of minutes.... yes, you guessed it right! I took the captain's chair with steering in hand, and my right arm on the throttle, the motor-boat speeded up, occasionally assisted by Erin's father. I drove five miles circling the entire Tapps Island. Waaw. The funniest part was this is the only time the Captain did not know to swim, and all the passengers did.

The Towering People

On Sunday, Scott and Andrea accompanied me to St. James' Cathedral for mass at 10.00 a.m. The church is well-established, with several groups actively involved in the liturgy and social life of the Church. Even the church has facility where one of its volunteers helps people to fill in the forms for Voter Enrollment! That's really marvelous. I was amazed to see that the Church was nearly full with men, women and lots of children, with good many youth as well. Yes, the church in United States is becoming more and more alive, active and strong. They are getting vocations too. The worship in the church was melodious, participatory and with lots of symbols used throughout the liturgy. Once the liturgy was over, we took some time off to go around a little and had our lunch, after which we drove to the home of Mr. J. Fleming.
The Flemings had arranged elaborately for discussions and dinner over the night. We arrived at 3.30 p.m. and the discussions on how to support the children in Raiganj began at 4.00 p.m. Everyone in the group participated, and everyone came up with an idea or voluntary service to support the program. Outcome: The number of children to be supported has been set at a modest target of one hundred children for the coming year.
I have come to like the Flemings so much. Everyone in the family is very active, dedicated and welcoming. Mr. J. Fleming, with trainings in U.S. army has a vast knowledge of things and people, and is sharp, focussed and questiones the basic so that everyone is on the right track. It is nice to meet many towering people like him.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Paradise, God Has Created

On Friday morning, I could get back to my desk and reply lot of E-mails pending. And then Scott and Andrea came to take me for my weekend! We traveled through the town, and had some fantastic food at a restaurant, after which we proceeded for Bellingham, to be with Scott's parents for the weekend. On the way, we detoured through thick forests, and along the peaceful Pacific coast, viewing the mountaineous islands in wonder... it was just like the paradise. We reached the Newman's Centre within Western Washington University, and were greeted by some volunteers who have either been to India or, are planning to go there. We had some presentations and lively discussions as the youngsters kept asking so many things about India. Outcome of the meeting: two students from Western Washington University will be in Raiganj as volunteers in mid July. It was time now for dinner. They took me to a Mexican restaurant on the marine shore of the Pacific. The place was quite spacious and in a sense weird with ancient Mexican articles spread around. Most importantly, the restaurant was so popular that lots of people visit it. (We stood for full one hour just to be seated!) Andrea made choices for my dinner. With ice laced Margarita and some excellent cuisine, it was one of the best dinners. For the night, I stayed with Scott at his home with his parents.

The Saturday morning was once again rainy, and we still decided to take a walk through the Whatcom Park, with creeks and dense forests all surrounding us. Our trekking through the forest gave me a creeping sensation of walking through the Jurassic Park! When we returned home, we found a deer with her little twins wandering the backyard of Scott's home! They took me also to see the Marine Life Center, where various forms of underwater marine life is preserved and we walked through the platforms into the Pacific. Oh, I was so happy to touch the waters of great Pacific, that spreads to 1/4 of the entire surface on earth! After a delicious lunch prepared by Scott's parents, we returned from God's own Paradise to Seattle.
The evening concert of the mediaeval religious songs, all in Latin, by the Tudor Choir at the Church of the Blessed Sacrement was quite interesting, and relaxing. Oh yes, for the dinner- we had some Hamburgers in one of the restaurants that provides best burgers.

The Red Light City

By this time I have traveled quite a bit within the Seattle city. It is a very beautiful town, they call it the "Evergreen State", because of the greenery that surrounds its rural and urbal areas. But I have also found it to the biggest "red-light" city (no pun intended). Almost after every fifty meeters you have traffic lights hanging over your heads, besides number of "CROSSWALK"s which allow free pedestrian movement. And since every traffic light also has facility for pedestrian crossing, the traffic is eternally slow at times, and moves at snail's pace on many occasions. It is really terrible to see after every fifty meter, the green light turning into red ! I call it the Red-Light City. Lord, teach me patience in this city, and save all the drivers from getting bored and fall asleep!

Some Serious Thoughts

It is Thursday, 5 June. In the morning after my prayers and breakfast I waited for Sean Bray, and we had the discussions on Assist a Child Project and the set up we will need in both ends. After that Sean took me to some shops to replace the coverter that Andrea had brought for me. It was so interesting to note that although we were in another shop, the shop owner freely replaced the old one with a new one, at no extra cost! I can not think of that in India. It was really a fair deal.
On return, we had simple lunch, and then Sean took me for a visit around the University Campus. It was very beautiful, extensive, with various facilities. The University Chapel was a beautiful one with simplicity and elegance spread all around. For the evening, a dinner had been planned with the parents of Sean and Shannon. We were at Augustine's on the Pacific Sea Coast, with a fantastic view of the downtown. My menu was chosen by Shannon. Shannon's parents are very active people, and her father is very sharp in thoughts, questioning the basics, and keeping the discussions alive. Her mother is a very affable woman. Sean's parents are little more aged. But I can never forget that Sean's mother was driving her car (81 years old), with a hip bone dislocation, with big metalic clips and belts inserted to keep her hip intact with her legs! What a power of self will these people have. Most of us would have just gone to bed, never to get up again!
The dinner was an wonderful opportunity to discuss about India and the children here. Shannon's mother offered to host a dinner on Sunday, so that we can have more discussions on that day. Sean and Shannon, dropped me at the Campion (the building where I stay within the University campus), and went to their homes.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Gathering Momentum

Scott, Erin, Andrea and Sean had carefully planned my visit, so that I am not too much occupied while at the same time ensuring that I am well taken care of with enough work and meetings to do. It was 4 June. I woke up too early (2.45 a.m) as I am yet to get adjusted to the time here. I spent my time lazily on the bed, and then I was ready by 6.00 a.m. I went for my prayers and breakfast. I spent some time in arranging some of my things and the gifts I had brought for all friends here. Erin came with her friend Pritta to take me for a sight seeing tour. We went through the sea-fronts, walked on the walk ways along the sea, saw the Sculpture park, had some Fish 'N Chips for lunch with sea gulls sitting next to us, visited the famous local City Market (which was almost like any other market in a town in India (with the difference being, little less noisy and cleaner), and also a visit to the Dominican Church. Pritta was an excellent driver with good knowledge of the roads and she smartly handled the trip. Thank you Erin ad Pritta! We reached back by 4.00 p.m. For the evening Scott and Andrea joined me and Sean. Oh, poor Scott! He left the key to his car inside and locked it from outside... in the excitement of coming to see me! Andrea was sharp enough (as usual) to call for Service and within 10 minutes we had a vehicle flashing with yellow lights on the parking lot, and they opened the door for him in no time. It was really fun to be together again. We went to an Italian restaurant for our dinner as we discussed our plans for the coming days. Andrea was so kind and sensitive enough to my needs. She brought a reverse converter (which would convert the 110 volt current into 220 volt electricity, and will enable me to use the different type of output plugs available here. We were quick with our dinner because we had a meeting scheduled with some members of "Calcutta Club" of the Seattle University at 8.00 p.m.
The meeting with the Calcutta Club which sends regularly volunteers from here to Calcutta went off very well, with the students showing lot of interest in working or learning the rural atmosphere of India, specially in West Bengal. Welcome Boys and Girls!

Friends Forever--First Experiences

Once I completed immigration, customs and baggage collection, I was received by Erin and Andrea at the Airport. Andrea was the driver, driving us through the Highway into the city. Once we were in, we went to a restaurant that offered "breakfast throughout the day" and had some soup, cool drinks and snacks for lunch. Then we reached Seattle University where we met Sean Bray, my very old friend, and all three of them reached me to a Guest Room of the University which will be my base for the rest of my days in U.S.A. I took some rest and then in the evening Sean took me for dinner to a family where all the Staff who do Campus Ministry were to have dinner with a small gathering, as this is the last week of working in the University before they close for the summer vacation. In the group one boy impressed me--named Sean (again). He has done business, and has traveled quite a bit and is very much interested in micro-finance, wants to study that and is interested in promoting it. He was clear in his thoughts, specific with his opinions and with lots of potency for leadership. I was deeply impressed by him.

Land of Snows

I traveled from Vienna to Frankfurt as scheduled and then I was to take the LH 490 flying directly from FRA to Seattle. I could understand the increased security system that is in place since the last month, about which I had read in newspapers in India. There were officials of the U.S. Customs and Border Control officers at the Frankfurt Airport, taking down all our details, including the place of visit of all the passengers. All these details are to be sent to the U.S. before the plane takes off... or else, the plane was not to leave the port of origin. It was very nice to notice that one of them was a Sinhalese Tamil working in the U.S. Customs and Border Control. To their credit, they were all very strict with the procedures.
Our plane was allotted the route : to fly over Dusseldorf, cross into the North Sea, fly beyond the north of England, over Iceland, and then Greenland, fly over the north of Canana, cross the Cascade ranges closer to Vancouver and reach Seattle. Once we crossed Dusseldorf, I dosed off. The entertainment system was repeatedly failing on the plane. By the time we reached Iceland I woke up to enjoy the ice clad lands, practically deserted, but for ice and the melting glaciers till we reached the Cascade ranges. It was very clear sky all along to enjoy the beauty of nature. I did not see any human inhabitation for over six and a half hours of our journey. Meanwhile, the entertainment system had been restored and I enjoyed watching "Jumper" and "The Golden Compass". The food was good, though not as savoury as the Emirates. It was raining as the plane touched down the Seattle International Airport at 12.30 noon local time, after 10.00 hours of travel.

Vienna - Land of Cultural Integration!

Vienna has a very ancient culture and is a home to multi-ethnic, multi-religious and very divergent community. On 1 June, we took lot of rest... just by sleeping as I needed it the most. We also found that the Missionaries of Charity Sisters' convent was not very far from where we were staying. And so we discovered them on the third floor of an old house. It is so nice to see a German, an Indian and two African nuns working together. The house of the M.Cs at Frankfurt really needs some change as the house there has hardly any room even for the sisters. The sisters in these big towns are seen as great examples of Christ's compassion and love. They work with drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and immigrant populations besides taking care of unwed mothers and abandoned children! May God Bless you Sisters! Sr. Mary Clare at Vienna and Sr Tarsilla at Frankfurt, and all the sisters at these two communities were very welcoming and supportive to us. We also got a chance to celebrate mass with them in the days we were in these cities.
Well, I must come back to Vienna. At Vienna, I could see people of every race, culture and language walking and living together. We were hosted in the house of a Tamil family on 2nd June. Oh, the chicken curry, rice, rasam-- all cooked in South Indian flavour! That was fantastic. I could also see how positively the enterprising South Indian families view the laws and systems of the German and Austrian Governments. They do not mind paying more taxes in these countries, a lot more than other E.U. countries, because they feel that there are a lot of good things that are done with the people's money, besides a very good social security system in place. Thank you Mr. Joy and his family for taking care of us and arranging for my travel back from your home to the airport on 3 June, so early so that I am well on time to be on my way to the United States!

How to Run an Airport

Everytime I have visited Frankfurt Airport it has amazed me. I begin to wonder how they manage to run things so smoothly in a place where tens of thousands of people are working in such a vast area, with every minute at least four planes landing and equal number of flights taking off at peak hours. The Five Bays spread into the two terminals, with over 250 gates.... it is enormous by any size. On 31st morning after a short visit to the mother and parents-in-law of Dr. Erich, we met the Missionaries of Charity sisters at Frankfurt. With a brief lunch we reached the airport at 2.30 p.m, well ahead of our departure to Vienna.

Once we were in the plane, all ready to depart, the captain suddenly announced that he found that the hydraulic system in the plane was malfunctioning! So, we disembarked from the plane and we were arranged to fly by another plane with a different crew, and we were just late by one hour only. That is fantastic! Even in normal circumstances many of our planes fly late and arrive late. We reached our destination by 8.00 p.m. on the last day of May.

Changing Communities...

One thing I must say about the German society. In the three days I spent in Frankfurt, I began to think seriously about the changing values and priorities of the people here. Most families lived in isolation. The parents living away from children and children living away from parents, care of one another was limited to some financial support and occasional visits, (is that because in the name of social security the Government has taken too much responsibility on itself?). The second thing that struck me most was the growing impatience all over Germany against the illegitimate migrant community, mostly from Turkey and many other Eastern European communities and the break-away nations of the former U.S.S.R. Most genuine Germans feel that they are "paying a lot of taxes for people who do not contribute to the society". In the same vein many also feel that the laxity on borders due to the formation of E.U. has led to movement of criminals without restrictions across the borders. This has put pressure on the villages and towns situated on various national borders. The third important thing I could sense was that other than for very dedicated Christians, Christianity is undergoing severe crisis. It is in need of great help from other churches all over the world. It is time that Asian and American churches pay back to the European communities for what they have given us over the centuries. The young people have practically deserted religion and religious houses are more run like "offices" with less "human" touch.