When Ramona, Yashendu and Purnendu came back yesterday after distributing the food packages in the flood area, Ramona described to me what happened and I asked her to write that down for the diary.
“Many of you who are reading this now have been to Vrindavan yourselves. You have seen the main temples and you probably walked the Parikrama Marg, the pilgrimage way around Vrindavan. If you come today, you will not be able to walk around the town. You will even have difficulties to walk around in the middle of the town. Everywhere is water or mud. The streets are not anymore dusty, they are full of puddles and muddy holes in which you would vanish if you fell into them.
Through all this mud and over the puddles Pankaj, our driver, steered the fully packed car, carefully avoiding holes. While the boys were having fun looking out of the window showing each other until where the water has reached and guessing how deep the holes in the street ahead would be, I was seriously wondering if we would reach our destination this time.
The water levels have increased so much that water is filling lower gardens and from there flowing onto the street. It makes it look like a small lake that you have to cross. We bumped over invisible stones and holes in the street, stopped to let walking people pass and listened to their advice ‘You won’t get through here!’, ‘The road is flooded, broken, no way for cars!’ and ‘Take care, the water is everywhere!’
I was about to suggest that we get off and leave the car before we really get stuck but held back – I did not know how to transport several hundred boxes of food another kilometer if not by car! And Pankaj kept on driving, steadily and concentrated, until we reached the Parikrama from where a street normally leads to the colony.
The colony now looks like a half-sunken village with houses half in the water. A bridge that people had built to cross the flooded street is now flooded itself and only a few posts show out of the water. We parked our car and got out, thinking to walk the Parikrama a bit to the place where the boat was – but the Parikrama was not visible anymore! The water had spread up to the walls and houses on the other side of the Parikrama and we had to wave for the boat to come over and pick us up at the last dry spot of the way. One of the boys decided to stay at the car – he doesn’t know swimming and was afraid of moving on.
The whole time that it took to cross the ‘river’ to get to the colony’s houses, we were just sitting in the boat and were astonished how much everything had changed with the force of the water. Already some houses had fallen, a wall on which I always had counted how high the water has risen was fully gone – eight rows of stones left, then five, then one, now nothing. We reached the colony but the place to get out of the boat still was just full of water. I would not have got out of the boat had I not been there before and seen that there was actually stable ground. We got out of the boat and were standing until the knees in water.
We shouldered the boxes with the food and took the smaller children on the arms. With Chhotu, our youngest, on my arm and my shoes in my hand, I started walking, carefully feeling the ground before setting my feet down. In front of my eyes I saw how the street which we had walked several times in the last weeks had turned into a canal and I thought of Venice – but obviously with very dirty water and the houses deep in it. It was good that I had been there before because in my mind I kept on recalling where there had been piles of stones before and where the ground had been soft and even. Looking down did not help at all. You could hardly see a centimeter of your legs when they were in the water.
We reached some higher and dryer cross-street and stopped there to start distributing the first boxes. As it had been each time that we have been there, people started coming from all directions and it took a while until they understood that they were supposed to stand in a queue for the distribution. I looked around and was surprised to see how also here the water had risen higher and how some streets which had been dry before were now in water.
Following the suggestions of people around, we went to several different places in the colony from which people had difficulties to come to the front. Of course this meant that we had difficulties getting to them, too. I was shocked to see this. How do these people live there? Whenever they get out of the house they get wet. If it is raining they get wet because they live on their roofs. Some of them, especially women, do not even know how to swim, so they are literally stuck in their houses! And nobody knows how long this situation will be like this!
Sometimes a few of us would go with one bag of food packages and the rest would stay at one place with the remaining packages to wait for them to make the distribution easier. On one of these trips Yashendu and Purnendu had to throw up boxes of food to the roofs of houses in which people were stuck, the water all around their house. I had stayed back that time with the boys who now live at the Ashram but whose homes are in that area. The mother of two of them was also with us. I have met her each time that we have been there and every time she carries around her small daughter. Whenever the small one wants to, she sets her down – and the girl walks a few steps, playing in the dirty water with her brothers.
Whenever we walked in water I took off my shoes with the funny idea to save them from getting wet or too dirty. We slowly went on over bricks and through mud and more than once I thought there must have been a pile of leaves that fell apart when I walked through.
When we had distributed all the food packages dusk had started and we went back on the boat, the mother of the boys with us, carefully looking out for me if I was fine and had not fallen in the water – which was an embarrassing situation that I was trying very hard to avoid. And thankfully I succeeded and we reached the boat and the other side of the lake without me or anybody else falling into the muddy water.
When we reached the Parikrama again, it was already dark with lamps and lights of the houses throwing some light onto the way. However the boat did not drop us there where we had got in! We had to walk back over the flooded part of the Parikrama Marg to get to the car. I, my shoes still in my hand, grabbed Yashendu’s shoulder for support: the floor was covered with stones and what seemed like small rocks! I said to Yashendu: ‘I don’t know how the pilgrims walk the Parikrama Marg without shoes! But I think we have the hardcore experience now: without shoes, in the dark and in dirty water!’ And at this point I had the enlightening idea to put my shoes back on! We laughed about ourselves who had come to help and had carried our shoes in our hands the whole time.
When we came back to the Ashram, my husband greeted us with a laugh saying ‘You all stink horribly!’ We did not even notice that anymore but it was obvious why! After a shower and dinner we sat together, looking at pictures, and Yashendu said ‘Oh, you remember that place? You said it felt like you were walking through leaves?’ Yes, I remembered. ‘Yeah, you remember last time when we were there, there was a big bull and some cows standing there?’ I also remembered that! ‘Well, they moved the bull and the cows but that place where you walked is where they left all the holy cow shit!’ We all laughed heartily and I could not help saying ‘Good you did not tell me this in that time! I might have freaked out!’
It was an adventure for us but we don’t forget that it is different for those who live there. We are aware of it each time we look at one of the boys in the Ashram. Their homes are falling apart, their families are stuck there or live in Ashrams in the surrounding. Many more are there and need our help. We want to help and we will. Day after tomorrow again, with another car full of food, another boat ride and this time with shoes on our feet.”
We are preparing for the next distribution, so please keep up your support.