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Christmas in the Tropics

Posted by on Apr 14, 10:49 PM
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Visiting with Sister M.I. for the first time

Here I am in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on the first day of the Songkran Festival. This is the Thai New Year and instead of fireworks the Siamese use water to celebrate. Crowds of kids and adults stand by the roadside all over the city, armed with giant Simroon's report cardwater guns, cannons, hoses and buckets and everyone (indiscriminately) gets a good soaking, while innumerable pickup trucks with buckets of ice water and at least five people in the back parade around seeking out dry victims or making the wet ones even wetter. Nature has even lent a hand today with a tropical thunderstorm that swooped in over the mountains from Burma to wet those who had not already been doused with buckets.

…a state of tranquility hitherto only doled out in small samples to we weary pilgrims.

Ever since our visit to the polluted city of Lahore, and throughout the dusty, smoggy cities of India, I had been researching air filtration masks for cyclists. I finally found a company in Mukilteo, Washington, only a stone’s throw from our home of Whidbey Island, that produces just the product that we were in need of: the Filt-R Commuter Mask. After I contacted Filt-R they offered to Brightonsponsor the Orphan Ride with some masks for the Brothers! We, from the bottom of our lungs, thank them heartily!

Back to India. So, there we were, finally at our real destination,with the very people and at the very place that has given this trip it’s true purpose. It was a great relief to leave the roads of India, which, for a cyclist, are a constant assault to the senses. Knowing that we would be in one place for perhaps the longest single stay of the expedition, we allowed ourselves to settle into a state of tranquility hitherto only doled out in small samples to we weary pilgrims.

UptightWe finally met the great Father Brucciani, whom we had only known by reputation and through email correspondence. A Briton with some Italian roots, a great sense of humor and a lover scientific, political and metaphysical conversations (over a cup of good coffee), I knew we would all get on well. That afternoon we also were also introduced to the schoolboys and the veteran male volunteer, Joseph Carron, a young, French-speaking Swiss who had recently finished his time in the Swiss Army. Coconut huntingThe boys were in a rowdy state since they had just returned from school. Even after a quick round of introductions I could understand why the young volunteers keep on returning. The children are very endearing. “They’re a good group of boys,” as Father Brucciani has more than once observed.

As Randall has already elaborated upon in the previous blog post, we visited the orphanage the next morning. The sisters there, as well as the girls, are genuine sweethearts, and I was quickly confirmed in the notion that we had chosen the right cause to support!

…I spent the day visiting the site of the martyrdom of Saint Thomas the Apostle and his tomb.

MichaelisThe next two weeks were filled with preparations for Christmas. We cleaned the priory grounds with the boys for several days and I was privileged with the responsibility of cooking Christmas dinner, at which task, I’m afraid, I admit to have failed! The roasted veggies weren’t crisp and the turkey was more like jerky. We had a pleasant holiday all the same. Afterward, Father, the male volunteers and the boys took a trip to the village of Christarajapuram, a holiday getaway near the sea, and we spent three days Chistarajapuram girlsplaying in the equatorial waves of the Arabian Sea, as well as dining on succulent fish curries. Our driver lost his glasses in the water so I was obliged to take the wheel for our return trip—over some of worst roads in India! Driving here for the first time is probably one of the most stressful things a Westerner could conceive of. In the beginning there are no apparent rules, you just have to be 100% alert so that you don’t get run into the ditch by the bus drivers (buses have the highest precedence). I might add that I Christarajapuram Chapelsaw almost no buses whose corners, backside and front weren’t bashed and dented from all sorts of accidents. We made it back in one piece.

My next order of business was to meet my sisters in Delhi when they arrived at the airport. I took a cheap, Sleeper (4th) Class train to Chennai, where I spent the day visiting the site of the martyrdom of Saint Thomas the Apostle and his tomb. Then I hopped aboard a train to Delhi that would roll along for an additional 40 hours to Delhi.

Village girlsIndia is best seen by train! Even the Sleeper Class is good enough, albeit a bit grubby sometimes. I had to kill several cockroaches while lying in my bunk. But the ticket for an overnight journey is the equivalent of $6! To step up to third class with air conditioning, less noise and bunks with softer padding (and no roaches) the price triples, but it’s still dirt-cheap in comparison with train travel in other countries. Also, the train system in India, in contrast with the other operations and activity in this country, is surprisingly well organized.

FishermanOnce I had returned to the capital city I booked a room in the Tibetan refugee colony, Majnu ka Tilla, in the far north end of the metropolis. Wow, what a different world from India! Tranquility at last! It was a breath of fresh air to reside in a neighborhood where the residents were gentle, dignified, reserved and honest. This was the ideal place to stay for a couple of jet lagged young ladies coming off a 24-hour trip through skies and airports. I met my sisters, Katie and Maria, at 2am in the airport and we stopped for street-side paratha on the way back to the Tibetan colony.

beach bumsNorth India, even in the lowlands, is cold in January. After another day in Little Tibet we made our way by train up to Amritsar to see the Golden Temple again and to visit the Pakistani border for the immensely popular closing ceremony, then returned to Delhi and railed onward to tropical Goa. We stayed with a wonderful Goan family for a few days that is connected with our orphanage and visited the familiarly beautiful JohnPortuguese churches of Old Goa. One of these is the largest church in Asia, another is the home of the uncorrupted remains of St. Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary father of Asia. Goa appears to be generally more clean, organized and affluent than the other parts of India that I’ve visited. Also, like Portugal, it is more laid back in contrast to neighboring areas. I get the feeling that the Portuguese influence was overwhelmingly positive, even from my small encounter with this lovely state. The JosephGoan people, from my experience, share the same sentiments. The misguided author of the Lonely Planet India guidebook wrote that the Portuguese settlers had imposed a reign of terror upon the locals with the Portuguese Inquisition. However misinformed the author may be, he or she, as most ignorant moderns, fails to realize that these Inquisitions Sea-Angelsonly had jurisdiction over Catholics. The Inquisitions were not a means of forced conversion as the author so blatantly states.

From Goa, we visited another former Portuguese colony in Kerala, the town of Fort Cochin, and spent a couple of lazy days waiting for our night train to Palayamkottai, Joseph & Randallwhere we had a joyful, if incomplete, family reunion with Randall in the rain. During the days that followed I began to fill my free time with repairs and preventative on my Curtlo bicycle in anticipation of continuing the trip north to Nepal or Pakistan in order to return to China.

Photos compliments of Randall.

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Last Updated: Jun 26, 11:50 AM

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