Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

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Location: Rome, Italy

25 July 2007

Instant karma

The brothers in India have a seminary near a small village in Andhra Pradesh. Because the river near the village often dries up during the summer months, the government installed a water well for the people. The well was soon taken over by the high caste villagers, who made it clear that the lower castes were not welcome to use it. If by chance one of the lower castes managed to get water from the well, the high caste people hired a Hindu holy man to purify the well.

One day not many years ago, a young, poor girl was walking to the river to get water for her family. Because it was summer, she would have had to walk several kilometers to find a place where the river still had water. Passing the well, and not seeing anyone around, she decided to fill her jug there. She was caught in the act by a man of high caste, who rushed over, slapped the girl and smashed her water pot on the ground. This incident was witnessed by one of the brothers.

Very shortly after that incident, the town well dried up. The seminary's well was deeper, however, and still had water so the brothers invited the villagers to use their well as long as necessary. One day, the above mentioned brother noticed that both the little girl and the man from the incident above were in queue to get water from the seminary well. He walked up to the man, told him that he had witnessed his treatment of the girl, and informed him that as a result he would not be allowed to have any water from the well that day. Not accustomed to being scolded, the man cursed, argued and hurled insults at the brother, but in the end, there was nothing he could do. He went home without water that day.

Today, the village well again has water, and all are welcome to use it.

21 July 2007

Indian update

As of today, I have completed the third of my four week excursion in India. So far, I have only experienced one mild case of Delhi belly (thanks to Pog for the precise medical term). My experiences to this point can be summarized as follows: first two weeks—hot; third week—rain.

I am experiencing a monsoon for the first time in my life. Earlier this week, the car in which I was traveling had to deviate several times due to flooded roads. When I reached the designated town, I had to transfer from the car to a bus because of another flooded road. Upon reaching the monastery, I had to wade through calf-deep water from the road to the building. The monastery, I learned, was built near the confluence of two rivers, both of which were currently over their banks. We entered the monastery through the chapel, where the water was only ankle deep. The residential part of the monastery was mostly dry when I arrived, but water slowly began rising in that part of the building as well. My job was to interview the two brothers living in that monastery, then move on to the next town. They were the shortest interviews I ever conducted. As we ate lunch in the only dry part of the house, I watched as the water rose ever higher. I began to wonder about snakes and other nasty creatures known to live in water.

When I finally left the monastery, the water outside had risen to knee depth. I kept checking my feet and legs for leeches. I was never so glad to see a Jeep in my life. The following day, I read in the paper that people returning to their homes after the flood were being warned about the snakes, scorpions and poisonous spiders that may have taken up residence there. When I recounted my experiences to a co-worker the following day, he told me that the last time he visited that monastery, the brothers had taken him to the river, where they had seen several crocodiles! Sometimes, it's better not to have all the facts.

01 July 2007

Curry and rice, anyone?

I leave early tomorrow morning for a month-long trip to India, where I am supposed to determine whether two of our fledgling jurisdictions are ready to become provinces. From India, I travel to Kuala Lumpur to visit the brothers there, then on to the Philippines for more visits. Finally, I am going back to Malaysia, this time to Kuching, where I am taking five days of vacation.

This will be only my second time in India, the last being over ten years ago. It will be interesting to see how much things have changed in the meantime. I must admit to being slightly apprehensive about the trip. Strange foods, customs, and languages were more exciting when I was younger. Now I am more concerned about diarrhea, malaria, Japanese encephalitis and the fluffiness of my pillow. To give you an idea, half of my twenty-five kilo allowance consists in various medicines. Luckily, the Indian brothers have shown themselves to be wonderful hosts in the past, and my Indian counterpart will be traveling with me for much of the time, which is comforting.

One leg of my travels in India involves going from Vijayawada to Hyderabad... alone. Although the two cities aren't far apart, the brothers mercifully decided not to expose me to the horrors of Indian trains, buying me a plane ticket instead. The flight is on Kingfisher Airlines, and it cost a grand total of $85. Now I like a bargain as much as the next person, but I also believe you get what you pay for. When I see an $85 plane fare, therefore, I'm thinking rusty wings, missing rivets and engine repairs done with hammers. Rather than panic, I decided to check the airline's safety record so I googled "Kingfisher disaster screams charred remains", but the only hit from that search was someone complaining about his meal. So I broadened the search to "Kingfisher Airlines safety". This netted a few more hits, and one of them precisely answered my concerns. It was a review of the airline that read, in part: "Kingfisher Airlines appears to be more interested in flashiness than in safety. They have a reputation for having the hottest flight attendants in definitely the shortest skirts."

This may be my best trip ever!