“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” – Plutarch

My thought for the day.

Note to Self

Note to self #1:  It might be a good idea not to wait so long as to have to have all 7 vaccines done in one day (human pincushion anyone?).

Note to self #2:  It might be wise not to go to karate practice after getting said vaccines, especially if someone is optimistically aiming a kick for your head when their leg will only reach your upper arm exactly where some pincushioning occurred…

Note to self #3:  When did I get a penchant for visiting a country that continues to have diseases that most of the rest of the world (developed or not) seems to have eradicated?  I mean really, I look on map that shows the occurrences of polio in the world.  Except for India (which is blood red indicating “endemic conditions”), and bits of Africa, polio is gone.  Japanese encephalitis?  Nowhere in the world – except India.  Oy.

Note to self #4:  That feeling of gratitude I got yesterday when I heard that I had indeed managed to snag one of the only 6 air conditioned rooms at the hotel I will be staying at?  Keep that feeling, for the whole trip, the whole year, my whole life.

Note to self #5:  Be thankful for my family and friends who love and support me even though I am riddled with vaccines and needle holes.

In the beginning

In the beginning, there was inspiration, and this inspiration came initially from my reading of Nicholas Kristof’s NYT column about Assiya Rafiq.  Her harrowing story, her determination, her courage, and her will to stand up against overwhelming odds educated me to the fact that ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances often end up doing the extraordinary themselves (to read about Assiya, see below).

I find it interesting that almost a year ago to the day, I found myself getting ready to host a grilled cheese fundraising dinner (suggested by my most excellent friend, Sandy) to raise money for Assiya.  That little endeavor brought in over $600.

And then I read “Half the Sky,” and read Ruchira Gupta’s story and the founding of Apne Aap.  And I started thinking of the all the young ladies in the world who ever stood up to their tormentor, and are trying to fight injustice without any resources to speak of and at great personal risk, and I found myself thinking, “What phenomenal people.  What can I do to help?”

And then I saw this on Oprah’s website http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/How-to-Help-End-Sexual-Slavery:

Apne Aap skill training

Young girls, in India, learning how to kick butt – how cool is that?  I saw this picture, and knew this was something I could do.  And now, six months later, it is soon to be a reality.  I am getting psyched.

So that is where this whole trip idea came from.

Assiya’s Story

Assiya Rafiq

Assiya Rafiq of Pakistan was sold at 16 by a female family friend to two criminals who were related to prominent politicians. The men beat and raped her for the next year, until they handed Assiya along with $625 over to police as a bribe. Assiya’s kidnappers had earlier been implicated in a gold robbery and decided Assiya would be a good candidate to blame the crime on.

Assiya was then beaten and raped by the four police officers, including a police chief, over the next two weeks. Reportedly, a female constable would leave in order to give the men continue their abuse in private.

Assiya’s family learned of Assiya’s whereabouts and attempted to get her back by bribing the bailiff, who was also accepting bribes from the police. Despite the police hiding Assiya and locking up her young brother as a threat, her parents finally got her back and helped her receive a medical exam and investigation, which proved her hymen had been broken and confirmed the existence of physical damage such as abrasions covering her body.

And then Assiya summoned the type of strength I can’t even fathom. She proceeded to prosecute both the kidnappers and the police, ignoring the normal process of rape recovery in rural Pakistan: suicide. Not only is this a girl who is taking hugely progressive steps, but she is turning her own awful experience into a beacon of hope for other girls, even despite the major adversity she will inevitably face. The president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan, Dr. Shershah Syed even stated, “When I treat a rape victim, I always advise her not to go to the police, because if she does, the police might just rape her again.”

And while the police have not raped her again, they have threatened to. They have also threatened to arrest or kill her and her two younger sisters lest she withdraw her charges.

The family is in hiding, but still in a lot of danger, and has accumulated thousands of dollars in debts. Assiya’s siblings have dropped out of school and will have trouble marrying because they are “dishonored.” Though Assiya stated she was inspired by Mukhtar Mai, a young woman who was gang raped in 2002, prosecuted her attackers and used the compensation money to start a school, women’s shelter, ambulance service, and legal aid program (which is now helping Assiya with her case), Mukhtar was very lucky in the results of her fight. Assiya has a long road ahead, and is still in constant danger.

She is luck, however, in the sense that she has an amazing family behind her. Her mother, Iqbal, said that she once thought God should never give daughters to poor families, but then, “changed my mind. God should give poor people daughters like Assiya who will fight.”

I’m so amazed by Assiya. There really aren’t adequate words. Whoever says women aren’t strong and resilient should take a look at Assiya, and Mukhtar for that matter.

I found this story through Nicholas Kristof’s column, and he gives an update on the situation here. Also, to help Assiya and Mukhtar, please consider giving to the Mukhtar Mai fund, set up through MercyCorps. Money is being used to help hide Assiya and her family and hire lawyers for her.

T minus 9 days

My departure date is nine days away.  Spent yesterday trying to find the right shoes to deal with heat, humidity, and rain.  Found them online – hope they get delivered on time.  I also got a video cam/still camera that will allow me to start posting photos and video to this blog, so stay tuned.

I have to go now to keep in shape for this trip.  Have been trying to get my cardio strong – can’t find the elevation for Forbesgunge.  If it is high altitude, I’m screwed ; p.  Higher elevations will really tax me for a bit; I know this from Pakistan and Mexico – but nothing that 3 days of acclimating can’t take care of.  It’ll all be good.

Visa Delayed

I had been assured last week that I would have my Indian visa in hand by yesterday.  Today’s call revealed that it will be sent out today, or maybe Monday.  I asked the very nice lady at Travisa if I should start biting my nails yet, and she assured me no…not yet.

UPDATE:  7/27/10 – Oh Happy Day!!!! FedEx just delivered my visa and passport…relief.

Green Tara

I took the name for my project from the buddhist deity, Tara or तारा (sanskrit), who is the mother of liberation. There are different colors for Tara. In her green form, she is known as the Buddha of Enlightened Activity. This is what I aspire to, that through my activity (enlightened or not), others may be empowered, liberated. That is the dream that has set me on my journey of one thousand miles. Actually, I don’t know how far it is to India from my little place here in Oakwood Hills, Illinois, but my guess is it is probably over a thousand miles. Dream big or stay home, and I have chosen to dream big.

I leave August 3rd to head to Forbesgunge, Bihar, in a remote northeastern corner of India. Bihar is one of, if not THE, poorest area in India. People there earn just 50 cents a day. Crime is rampant. And Forbesgunge is on a trafficking route that transports kidnapped girls and young women from Nepal to cities such as Mumbai for sex work. An organization was started in the 1990s by Ruchira Gupta called Apne Aap (www.apneaap.org) whose mission it is to rescue victims of human trafficking and rehabilitate them. It is at their center that I will be spending roughly a month, teaching self defense and karate.

The thought of this journey for me at this moment is stressful. I am trying to get my shots, my anti-malarial pills, get my visa and passport back from processing, get a list of things that will prepare me for the monsoons which will be going on during my stay, decide how best to teach a group of 50 young ladies who may or may not speak English, decide how best to teach on mud floors, decide how best to teach in 90 degree un-airconditioned spaces, decide how best to deal with creepy crawly things at night when I’m sleeping in an un-airconditioned room with temperatures in the 80s, decide how best to protect my personal safety in an area where a murder happens every two hours, and plan for roads to be out and travel generally delayed because of rain, rain, and more rain. It’s a good thing I like a challenge.

And when I start thinking like this, I like to remind myself of the young ladies I will be encountering, remind myself that while for me, my living conditions there might be poor but temporary, but for them, it is an every day occurrence. And then some. And now I am back to sanity.

File:18th century Eastern Tibeten Thanka, with the Green Tara (Samaya Tara Yogini) in the center and the Blue, Red, White and Yellow taras in the corners, Rubin Museum of Art.jpg