Friday, September 14, 2007

Maybe it's the Mefloquine...

or maybe it's the rats.

Whatever the culprit, my sleep and the sleep of my dear roommate has been quite fragmented lately. It all began a few days ago when Aunty came into our room shortly before bedtime. "You no keep food in here. There is rat." Oh no. I froze. One of my India nightmares was coming true before my very eyes. We emptied out of stash of American comfort food, which after a month, we'd mostly whittled down to a few granola bars and an assortment of candy. But apparently even a little goodness attracts our rodent friends. Aunty whisked our food away to a safe place, and Sheila and I went to bed safe. Or so it seemed. A few hours later, in that place where the lines between waking and sleeping blur, I sat straight up.

"Sheila! I know it's the rats! I know it!" I screeched.

She bolted upright. We made a smooth and simultaneous move to the middle of the bed. "I heard them scratching. And squeaking. I know it." Sheila looked at me skeptically. Okay, so the room was still very dark at this point, but I know skepticism was written all over her face. "What should we do?" she asked. "Are you sure you aren't just dreaming?"

"NO." And then the sound came again. And this time, we both heard it. Unmistakable squeaking and scratching. Decidedly of the most vicious rat variety. After a little frantic whispering, the plan formed: Sheila would reach the lightswitch without leaving the bed, and I would reach the door with the help of the blue plastic chair.

That's when we saw him, folks. Mr. Rat, in flesh. Who promptly ran out the door. By now, we'd woken Aunty and Uncle. I try to view the situation from their perspective, and well, it becomes incredibly funny. Because when they came to the door with puzzled faces, there we were, two American girls, one cowered on a bed and one shivering on a flimsy chair. It must have been pretty funny from their perspective, since all they could do was laugh.

Back in bed with the lights out, my grand missionary notions rapidly crumbling as I realized that I really, really, really don't like sharing a room with a rat, I tried to fall back asleep. It took a while. Since that night, Sheila and I have shared a series of dramatic wake-ups, always attached to vivid dreams. It could be the rats. But we're also both taking an anti-malaria prescription, and in the tiny print of the directions/warnings for this medicine, we discovered one of the unhappy side-effects of Mefloquine is that it could cause nightmares or hallucinations. So then again, it could be the Mefloquine.

We're making it through. We will win this battle. :) Although my toothbrush was not so fortunate. Alas, I found suspicious chewing marks on it this morning just as I was about to put it in my mouth. Oh rats.

But this whole post is not about rats. There's many other good things going on in Kolkata. Actually, we are currently in Darjeeling, a town north of Kolkata high in the mountains. Our team is here for the weekend for a small retreat. It is beautiful here, and so good for the heart and body to breathe fresh air, see green woods, drink tea, and laugh, pray, cry, be with the six people who are becoming so dear to me.

Had an intense encounter on Wednesday. A real-life replay of the Good Samaritan story.
There was a man lying on the sidewalk who Sheila and I passed at different times. He was there on Tuesday, and he was in the exact same spot on Wednesday. He was lying in the fetal position in his waste. Flies covered him. I smelled him before I saw him. I walked by, stunned, stupored, sad. A familiar feeling. Then I forgot.

Until Sheila mentioned him Wednesady night. A sudden start in my heart. Oh yes. Him. What to do? We sat on the bed in silence. One life. But a life that matters intensely. What if it were my life? I've been asking that question a lot lately. We called a good friend Jesse, who came and met us to see if the man could be taken to Mother Teresa's. It turned out that we couldn't take him that night, because the center was closed, but Jesse said he would come back for him in the morning. So we bought some biscuits and water and anti-diarrhea meds, and we knelt to pray the power of Jesus' Name over him. I think I understood for the first time, in a heart knowledge, what it means to see Jesus' face in the least. Jesus was there, in the stench and the shame!

What happened on Wednesday showed me that I sometimes read the Gospels more as nice stories than as reality that should rearrange me. Because all my life, from my little girl days of Sunday school flannel boards to more recent scholarly discourses, I have viewed that story with a smug heart: "Glad I'm the hero. Glad I'm the Good Samaritan." But now, I see that when the roles are divied up, I am actually clamoring for the part of the priest or Levite. My first reaction was to walk on by. To change sides of the street. When we got back to our house after feeding the man, I flipped to Luke 10. I read the parable and, oh man. It was real life! That had just happened!

Jesus won't ask me if I kept my skirt clean at the end of time. Or if I had a good time at home, safe and comfortable.

Jesus became flesh to dwell among us, and now we are His flesh.
Far from being a burden, what a beautiful voc ation...
to be Christ to people...
His hands...
clearing away the dirt...
bringing life...


  1. I have enjoyed reading your posts (after finding a link to your blog on facebook). This particular post was really cute! I'm sorry for the scare, it sure isn't fun. I know!!
    Thanks for the encouragement. Your words are challenging. I look forward to reading more about your time in India. (BTW- have you ever read A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot?)
    Marcia Truitt

  2. that post definitely made me chuckle and also feel conviction. i've always dreamed of rescuing some poor damsel afflicted by a monster rat. for some reason, the thought of attacking a rat with a blunt object just makes me excited. wish i could've been there:)

    i'm not sure how to comment quite yet about your good Samaritan experience. it's making me rethink my approach to life here in Mexico.