A colorful travel report about sister Hatune’s visit in India
India has a thousand faces. You can capture some of them, take photographs but many of them should be simply experienced.
The people here are incredibly open and if a nun is driven through the area by a white European woman, many Indians take a look two times because they do not trust their eyes and you get scared that they might fall from their mopeds or cause an accident when they are coming past us. It is always exciting how long a short journey through chaos can take because the Indian himself absolutely obeys no rule at all. There are signs everywhere that one should stick to the rule … whatever that should be … but I could not recognize any rule in this chaos.
On Monday we did quite profane things, at least externally. The first thing in the morning every day Hatune always does is to go into the garden and pick some fruits. Since the garden is so large and there are so many ripe fruits, we always take fruits to the course of the day to give them away. And since we are not on a holiday here, we have to organize the household by ourselves. Shopping is always exciting here. The journey, returning, parking. All of it demands some good concentration from a European. This Monday we didn’t buy simply food, but also cloth, with which Hatune wants to seam hats for orthodox priests. And Hatune got a fishing rod. After all there is plenty of water in the garden with some big fish that you can eat. Because of the self-care everything is very simple, without luxury but it is also cheap. And you are sure that the fruits are not sprayed. This is of course an advantage if you have a variety of things you need in the garden.
After shopping and lunch we sat together at the table, cleaned some fruit, cut it into small pieces and started to make a syrup. The fruits are growing here in the garden of Tur-Abdin. Together with cardamom, carnations and sugar a syrup is produced, which is used as a medicine against high cholesterol. Hatune distributes this syrup to the poor who can not afford medicine.
On Tuesday we visited Ranny. On our way we briefly met Bishop Gregorius and left him some star fruits. Hatune also needs to maintain a lot of contacts on the ground because many Christian Indians are good donors and when she is in India these donors also expect to talk at least once with sister Hatune. In Ranny we picked up Jancy and I was allowed to continue driving his car. Exciting to see who entrusted me his car. But as Hatune praises my driving style, the Indians are always keen to see with their own eyes. So I drove a small Ford with 6 people through Ranny.
The meeting at the PJ Hall in Ranny was really nice. Each meeting begins with a common prayer. Also the girls who are of Hindu faith pray with the group. It is always a festival for the eye to see the colorful saris of the Indians. And just because the Indians have such a beautiful dark skin they can really wear all colors and it looks absolutely fantastic.
Hatune gave a courageous speech for the girls at the sewing and computer school. Not only that Hatune is proud of every woman who learns here to earn her own livelihood, but she also has the view of the Middle East in mind and what she has experienced and seen there. She also wants to sensitize the people of India to the combative nature and the lethal side of Islam. The young women themselves prepared songs and dances and were incredibly proud to be able to show them off. According to the official program, Hatune has once again distributed kilos of star fruit from the garden in Tur-Abdin. I would not have thought that we could get rid of them all because there were really many, but the girls were very happy for the fruit.
After the meeting in the event hall we were still with a group of girls at the sewing school who wanted to show their work. Here again Hatune took her time for the girls. Not only to marvel their work but also to ask the young women questions. Sister Hatune has also got a new sari (I imagine Sister Hatune in a sari. Might be very funny) since she is always wearing her nuns’ clothes. Someone who does not have any money will be happy about that sari, so Hatune will give it away. Below the sewing school there is also a computer school. We also looked briefly into it. Two of the computers needed to be urgently brought to a technician to get a checkup, but otherwise everything works very well there. By training on the computer the girls will be able to work in an office or at similar places. That’s a very good job for women here in India. On our way downstairs we had no choice but to eat together with the girls in the hall. Hatune once made very bad experiences with food here in India, because the hygienic condition of food in India has absolutely nothing to do with the hygienic standard of food that we Europeans are accustomed to. That’s why she’s always worried that she’ll hit her stomach again. But Jancy assured her that the food came from a very clean kitchen. So we ate together with the girls and we said goodbye because we had a long way ahead of us.
On the way back we visited 5 houses all of them built from donations. One or the other house was not yet finished, but the proud owners were always there and were very happy about the spontaneous visit of sister Hatune and the signs of the donors were always attached at the entrance area. Together with a large group of volunteers on the ground around Ranny Jancy organized the building of the sites and the donations that the Hatune Foundation collects and makes sure that everything is really in place and that people finally have a roof on top of their heads.
But not just that. Jancy is also spending a lot of time for everything else on the ground the Foundation does. Medical camps are running when Sister Hatune is not in India but traveling in the Middle East or to many other countries. Hatune always comes to India with a suitcase full of medicine. Here also Jancy is a wonderful help.
On Wednesday we had to go to Kottayam for some errands and everyone knowing the Indian traffic knows that a few kilometers always take a lot of time. As a driver of Sister Hatune I don’t have any problems with the aggressive driving of the Indians because I can adapt very well, but I am happy every day when nothing has happened and we get back safely. We were invited for lunch and the day passed meeting many people and spending lots of time in the car. In the evening Hatune was invited by a Christian leader at Father Rijo Hospital to talk about her experience the Middle East. The room was packed to the last seat with students of the hospital. Hatune differentiated in her reports very precisely about what she said about “Islam”. Nevertheless, there was a discussion about Islam at the end and whether Hatune has done something wrong in her description. Sister Hatune was pleased to answer these questions. 15 Muslims were quite moved and felt compelled to defend Islam. This discussion went on for quite some time, because Hatune naturally also took the time to ask questions to the young Muslims. Afterwards, we were invited by the Padres, the heads of the different wards at the hospital, to eat in the basement of the hospital.There were very interesting conversations coming up, because a Padre could speak German very well. And I could remember even their names, maybe because John and Joseph are very common names for us. Most of the other Indian names were unfortunately spoken too fast. For Sister Hatune it was not that hard.
On January 12th we were back in Ranny. In addition to his house, Vergies Mattey built a small meeting room and a “free medical camp” took place there. According to Matthew 25: 35ff. “For I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I thirsted, and you watered me; I was a stranger, and ye received me; I was naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me … ” there are regularly medical camps in different places so the people from the surrounding area have the chance to see a doctor once and maybe also get medicine if they need.
This means that also people from areas who cannot afford a doctor come to this camp and are treated. And no one looks what faith they are. As many as possible get medicine and advice from the doctors who are working on the site. Hatune has measured blood pressure and blood glucose for approximately 270 people. Afterwards the people went to the two volunteer doctors, who invited some of the patients into hospital very soon for further treatment which they do not have to pay. This will be done by the foundation also the hospital will not bill them, because also one or the other hospital sometimes helps patients free of charge. Not everything can be treated in a room and sometimes it is necessary to take some blood to determine certain blood parameters. There was also a mother with a disabled child asking for financial help to make proceedings easier. The child was severely handicapped and needed 24 hour care. She has been told that she should go into the office, because Aleyas and his team will be coordinating some help for her.
One man had crooked legs so that he could only walk on his knees. He also came to the medical camp somehow. This is not always self-evident, because disabled people lead a particularly hard life in India. Everyone knowing what’s happening on the streets knows that getting a wheelchair is almost an impossible task. You would not get far with it anyway. And despite Christianity in the minds of the people the old caste system still often remains. That means someone suffering today has caused this suffering by himself, since he must have done something bad in his previous life. Even if Christians do not believe in rebirth this is not going out of their heads.
The foundation itself makes no difference between whom they help. In these camps all help is provided to everyone. Muslims as well as Hindus. Christians as well as people of nature religions. God’s Word to help people. Nowhere is written that one should help only certain people. The Sister Hatune Foundation is never doing missionary work here. This is even officially forbidden in India. With their love and the deeds Hatune and her team are giving help to every human being regardless of their origin.
The overwhelming number of patients who came to the camp were women. Also Indian men do not want to admit that they may be sick. Their ego is too big for that. One or the other man was brought by his wife. But there were scarcely ten men present although diabetes or hypertension is very likely to affect many men. Diabetes has become a national disease in India. There are actually lots of products containing white flour and even bread containing an extra portion of sugar. A country where so many good things are growing and people are eating unhealthy food.
On Friday the teacher from Tur-Abdin, who taught the girls how to sew in the school took us to a new school in Pandalam near Aleppy. We would not have found it on our own because the streets were so narrow that two small cars could hardly pass each other on the driveways. In addition, there was no bridge across the river but a ship with an extension platform which is used to cross the river. I do consciously not say ferry because a ferry looks different. It was more like a passenger ship with two additional fishing boats which carried a platform for cars and mopeds. Exciting. But as you can see we managed to get to and fro without a bathe in the river.
Again the girls had prepared a nice program with dancing, singing and much more. Hatune held another speech on courage, self-discipline, help for self-help and some little information about the Middle East. At the end of these events the girls always want to take pictures with the white woman from the west, who makes this education possible. The joy about a selfie with Hatune is always very great. In addition, even Hindus can be blessed by Sister Hatune. I think although they have a different faith it will move a lot in their hearts. After praying some prayers, some of the girls came and asked to be blessed by Hatune. Wow, it also moved my heart to see these young women who can build their own future and hopefully help to change India.
On the way back to Tur-Abdin we had to refuel because we were driving a lot on the way and the tank was empty. At the gas station one of the former students from the Hatune Foundation worked. The girls who leave school and get their certificate get a job not only in sewing factories all over India but they also get different jobs easier because the Indians appreciate the certificate. The girls also learn about cleanliness and good manners. And this girl at the gas station has a good income with her job and sews in her free time to earn even more.
Later, we wanted to visit a family in Thiruvalla but again we needed 3 hours for 4 km, because there are construction sites and the Indian driver is not waiting patiently in a queue as it would be the case in Germany but it always ends up in a traffic jam so the cars often do not go any further. Until this chaos (big buses and trucks inclusive) has dissolved, it is often millimeter work until things are moving again. We also try to avoid driving at night. Not because we are afraid of the Indians but because every Indian is driving with high beam and there is no street lighting partly also no road markings and the people just walk on the road … Everything here is very unclear, especially at night.
On Saturday we got up from our beds at 5.15 am because we had to accompany Father Severios to his monastery. There Hatune helped to perform the Eucharist mass. This monastery is in the middle of the forest on a mountain far away from the cities. But there are also enough poor people in the region who have just built their house there. Severios and his spiritual companion Kurjakus teach these people reading and writing and are sharing their water with them, even if it is often scarce and in return they get something to eat from the things people are cultivating. This morning there was also a common breakfast planned. They did not even have bread, so it was a simple Indian dish and I ate some bananas. The simple one is enough when the community is nice.
Then we visited Professor Dr. Dr. Thomas Kunamakl. He is considered a living mystic in the Syrian Catholic Church. Unfortunately, he has fallen ill with Parkinson’s disease in the meantime which does not prevent him from engraving beautiful Aramaic writings into stones and thinking about the design of their small site. They have even built sleeping rooms which are not yet finished but you can already see how beautiful it will be. Also they built a beautiful small chapel with a view from the Altar to a stone cross in the garden. You can enter this chapel only through very low doors so you have to enter the chapel with a bow.
We could not stay with him for long because Severios had a date. He was invited to a Christian event and had to give a lecture there. Sister Hatune, too, was spontaneously invited to say a few words about her work. There she met K. Roy Paul, the former chairman of Air India. A deeply believing person who talked about many practices in India in very plain words. Sadly, everyone did not have much time to talk about all on their minds, but Sister Hatune made a promise that he would still have to visit her in Tur-Abdin before she left. The contact is established and I think that it will last.
Sunday was spent visiting some people. First, we went to a very poor family living right next to large houses in an accommodation that looks like it would fall apart every minute. Sister Hatune has known this family for a long time and the Foundation is trying to get their own land for them so they can build a house there. We only met the grandparents with their grandchild because their mother recently became a widow and as a day-laborer now tries to feed the family. It is a very sad picture but nevertheless there is incredibly much love and friendly people there. But it is true that they built their home from garbage. It is unbelievable to see. But in India there is no social security not even for a woman who has lost her husband and now has to take care of her children. If the foundation did not help such people it would be even worse. Once the monsoon comes the water will run through their house and the danger of diseases will be very very high. Hopefully, the Foundation will have a chance to get land for this family so that they can finally have a house which is situated a little higher, so it will stay dry at least during the monsoon.
After that we went to see good friends of the foundation. Everyone wanted to entertain us but we only accepted a trifle to drink because we visited some families. We also arrived in time to the evening prayer meeting to Tur-Abin. Every week there is a prayer on Fridays and Sundays. Usually with our good own preachers sometimes with guest preachers. And in the evening we had to take care of the household, like normal people do.
So far I have collected a lot of impressions here and I see the appreciation of the people on the ground. They are indescribable when you talk to them for a moment. In the course of an event a couple of guys asked me if they could hold my camera briefly to take a picture of themselves pretending they were taking pictures. I did not know these guys and I knew if my cameras had fallen on the ground, they could not have replaced them, let alone their lack of a liability insurance. But I have done them the favor and they have been happy as a child looking forward to Christmas to mountains of gifts. It is simply the little things that make people happy here. And even talking to white people for a short moment means so much fun for them that they do not even realize how great my pleasure is that you can talk so freely with them and easily get into the conversation. I love this country with its pretty, loving and often deeply believing people. A Bible right in the entrance is not uncommon here. If only the book of books were to occupy a similar place in our industrialized West.
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