When the Birth of a Child is not a Reason for Joy: the seventh Daughter – 18 Aug 16

Yesterday we got the news that a few of our school girls have got another small sister. Obviously, with 250 children, there are all the time new siblings being born. Normally when you talk about a new life coming to this earth, you feel happy and celebrate. In this case however, we cannot really feel happy with this family – the parents himself are not. The reason is the same but different: it is their seventh daughter!

Oh, we have known this family for so many years and see their development with sorrow: the father is a mason who has already worked on our Ashram building, school building and restaurant building. His eldest daughter was among the first children at our school – and the next three daughters started in the years after that as well. In 2013 I introduced this family to you in my blog. In that time, they had five daughters already and we knew exactly why: they kept on trying to have a son!

The father is hard-working and has managed to save some money to build his home – but obviously it is quite a task feeding six children – and now another belly wants to be filled! We will be here to support the girls with their primary education – but there are other expenses that have to be covered as well!

We actually confronted the father with our concern and were surprised: he started crying and told us that he himself as well as his parents had already told his wife after the second daughter that two children were enough. He complained that everyone suspected him to be the one wanting a boy at all costs – but that in fact it was his wife!

She had even gone as far as to threaten him: if he didn’t make her pregnant again, she would get help by someone else! For her, the reason for not being full of joy about this birth is clear: it is ‘only’ another girl! Another girl to feed, who will have to be married and finally will leave home. No son who will carry on the family name, who will stay at home and earn money for the parents when they are old or whose wife would care for them!

It is unfortunately still like this here in India and this mentality is something which will still take a long time to remove from people’s minds! Girl and boy are not equal here. Parents may love their daughters but daughters and sons are never equal in their eyes. They say it clearly in front of the girls, too: we wanted a son!

I feel for these girls, I feel for these families who increase their poverty only by this wish for a male child. Your daughter is precious and lovely – don’t think she is worth less and don’t make her feel she should be anything else than she is!

Why we do not want to take Monika to a State Hospital – 16 Dec 14

Yesterday I told you about Monika, her accident and how we are going to help her. Today I would like to tell you why exactly we chose the Artemis Hospital in Gurgaon, near Delhi for her.

For understanding this better, you may need to know that there are government hospitals in India that provide free treatment to patients. All you need to pay is the medicine – and even only some of that. It was in such a hospital in Delhi that Monika first got her treatment. So why are we not taking her to this government hospital when this could be much cheaper and they already know her case?

Firstly, government hospitals are overcrowded. Nobody is refused and for many it is the only possibility to receive medical treatment. This might obviously not be the reason for us not to go there if we knew that Monika would get the treatment she needed there. Big chances are however that she would not. Why? Because she did not when she was there before.

On 4th May, after the accident, Monika’s family was rejected at two hospitals in Vrindavan. They went to Mathura, where they stayed overnight. A horrible night for everyone – the doctors did not know what they should do and so Monika did not receive even painkillers. The next morning, the family continued to Agra, the next bigger city and after waiting for hours desperately for a doctor to attend them, Monika finally got some relief – ointments, bandage and a pain killer. It was clear already though, that they would have to go to Delhi – but how? Finally, Monika’s mother borrowed some money and called an ambulance to take them to Delhi! It was a journey of suffering through the different government hospitals and against their hopes, it was not over yet!

Monika’s uncle lives in Delhi, so they had some family support there but that is obviously only of little comfort when your daughter is lying in a general ward bed, her head swollen from the burnings, her skin open on many places and her eyes only showing her the difference of light and dark, nothing else. Instead of doing their work, the nurses scold the mother. A doctor comes by every day, the higher doctor every week. Every week the nurses get told off by the doctor – and they pass the cross words on to the desperate mother who is doing her best to clean the wounds of her daughter.

The burning question: how will it go on? They get sent home, stay with the uncle, come back to the hospital a week later and get admitted again because the wounds are too bad. On and off. They get medicine – some is being paid for by the hospital and other has to be paid by them. The mother’s brother helps again. He earns a bit more and knows they have nobody else to ask.

One day, the mother gets instructions to shave the thigh of her daughter and not feed her, in order to prepare her for surgery. They get hope that something is done for her. But nobody comes to get them. After hours of waiting a nurse tells them that they won’t have a surgery that day. Finally, the mother brings her daughter back home. She is told to come back after fourteen days but she cannot afford it.

Having heard all of this, we decided to take Monika to a hospital where we feel well. Where we know the service is good, the staff is always friendly and helpful and you are taken care of. The Artemis Hospital, the place where Apra was born and where we returned to in April, when I had to get my knee surgery done. We know several of the doctors there and have always had the best treatment we could imagine. The atmosphere is friendly, the place is clean and, most of all, you can trust.

That’s how we also trust the statement of the plastic surgeons that Monika could have been helped earlier. That a surgery in the first weeks after her accident, a cut at the skin around her neck to release the tension, would have helped her. That she would not be in as bad a situation now if that had been done.

The worst seven months of her life lie behind Monika and we will make the next ones a journey of treatment and recovery. The setting will not be dark and crowded wards where nurses shout, scold and are cross with patients. It won’t be hours of waiting in doubt whether a doctor will come for surgery or not. It will be a time that will surely contain some pain but what will prevail will be a feeling that everything is done for her to get better!

So if you wonder whether we consciously go a way where it will cost more, the answer is yes, we do. But it is the better way – and that’s why we will carry the cost, so that Monika can move her body and be happy!

You can support us in helping Monika! Here are all the details about her further treatment.

A Doubt on our School Food: Does my Daughter eat it, too? – 24 Nov 14

Last week, I posted a picture in my blog which showed some of our school children at lunch. Seeing this picture on Facebook, a person asked whether our daughter ate with these children as well. While I obviously replied there as well, I thought this question deserved a more elaborate answer in my diary as well.

The basic answer is quite simple: yes, she does.

Apra actually waits for lunchtime eagerly because then all the children come running out of school and she can sit with them to eat. She chooses with whom she sits – usually one of the boys who also live at the Ashram and who are like brothers to her. She gets a plate like all other children and the same food like all others, too.

People obviously think our charity is a kind of a farce. They doubt that we would make the food that we feed these kids of poor families good enough for letting our daughter eat the same.

At first, you may believe it incredible that someone could have such a thought. Thinking a bit more about it however, you can understand where these suspicions come from: unfortunately many charities do exactly that! I know that here in India charity has become a kind of established business where people take a lot of money and then only provide poor quality food, clothing etc. to those whom they then show in their advertisement! They know what the food they provide to the poor is made of and that’s why they would never eat it themselves or give it to their kids.

I tell you something: we are not a huge organization, we are just a family having started a school and trying to help these kids. The food for the children is being made in our own kitchen, by the same cook who also prepares our food, with the same vegetables, rice and lentils that we eat as well and using the same spices that we get in our dishes. The only difference is that the pots are much bigger for 200 people than for 20.

And one more thing: if there is any food left after the kids ate in midday, we eat the rests in the evening. Not only because we don't want any food to be wasted and definitely not because we wouldn't find anybody else to eat it. No, because it really is delicious, tasty and healthy as well!

Choosing cheap or expensive? Tourists should take care of Food Quality in India – 27 Oct 11

Yesterday I told you about the problems that tourists have with water in India and I added that you do not have to worry about water if you stay at our Ashram because we provide bottled mineral water to all guests. It is not only the quality of the water that you need to take care of in India, it is also the quality of your food.

Just like with the water, you will get a lot of advice on eating in India whenever you make plans to travel there. Everybody who has informed himself even a bit about India gets to know that a lot of travellers start the first days of their stay with diarrhea and other digestion problems. Most of those problems can be avoided with some simple tips to follow.

Maybe the most popular – and most important – advice is not to eat food sold by street vendors. In India you will find little street vendors at every corner, frying, roasting and cooking different kinds of bread, snacks and sweets served with vegetables, chutneys and sauces. These vendors have their little carts and they stand wherever they believe is a good place for business. Those places are mostly busy roads with lots of traffic and thus a lot of pollution and ways where a lot of people walk by and whirl up a lot of dust. You probably already get the idea and why you should not eat what they prepare unless you want to take a risk or you are very sure that you have a very strong stomach.

Apart from the question where you eat however there is the question where this food came from and which quality it has. In my opinion this is a very important question. We at the Ashram take good care of what we eat and this quality of course also comes at a certain prize. Our kids, our staff, our guests and we ourselves all eat food of the same, good quality and when we ask someone to cover his expenses at the Ashram, it obviously includes the expenses for their food, too. We provide three complete meals of very good quality. Some people have told us that they would rather take a hotel room and then have cheaper food outside on the road. You are welcome to do so but I would like you to be aware of the risks that you take when you eat cheap food.

There are not only street vendors where you can get cheap food. Many small restaurants have a kitchen in the back and a front room where you can sit and eat. They sell inexpensive food but again there is the question of its quality. If you go and eat food somewhere in a restaurant, I would never suggest you to choose a cheap restaurant. In Vrindavan and in any other town you can usually also find some good restaurants that may be a bit more expensive but which give you really good food, prepared in a clean kitchen and using quality ingredients.

In India you can have a full meal in 20 Rupees but you can also spend 500 Rupees to fill your stomach. It is the quality of the vegetables, the flour, the oil and the spices used. It is the cleanliness of kitchen and cook, too. 20 Rupees are about 40 Cent while 500 Rupees are approximately 10 Dollars. You can imagine what the quality of the 20 Rupee food will be. You can definitely eat that food and it might not taste too bad for you when you eat it but your body may respond in a very unpleasant way. I use to say that I would rather spend 10 Dollar on my food first than paying 500 Dollar to my doctor later.

We have made this experience with people who stayed at the Ashram and were fully fine with the food here. They went out for a trip of a few days, ate outside and did not take too much care about where they ate and they came back with diarrhea. The digestive system of a western tourist is just not used to all the bacteria that are normal for those Indian people who eat that food.

We have had very few cases of diarrhea at the Ashram. Of course I cannot say that it doesn’t happen. Even with the most care of the food quality, your system has to change from your usual nutrition to Indian food. There are different spices and different ingredients used which your body often does not know yet or is not used to digest. So even with fully clean and good quality food, it happens to some people that they experience diarrhea, especially in the first two days of their stay in India. We call this situation India’s welcome disease. But as soon as your body adjusts to the different cooking style and the spices, you will not have any difficulty with the food at the Ashram because we take care of its quality.

There have recently been several food scandals in India which I want to write about tomorrow. Another reason to take care of what you eat.

Is good food not worth paying for when you stay at our Ashram?

Pizza Restaurant Review – Quality beats Service – 26 Aug 11

We are here in Bocholt with our friends Annick and HC. I want to especially mention this city here because in my opinion it has without doubt the best places for eating pizza and ice-cream. I have lived in the western world for the last ten years and if once in a while I don’t eat Indian food, I eat pizza. There is no other western food that I really like. And here in Bocholt I know I can eat the best pizza that I have ever had in the past ten years!

Do you think I started writing restaurant reviews in my blog now? Well, I might for this one but I am not allowed to!

We always go to this pizza place once on each of our trips to Bocholt. It is not a big restaurant. They have tables for all in all maybe 30 to 40 people in one room. In the same room, separated by a screen, is the pizza oven. There is a kitchen in the back and the bathrooms. That’s it. I never saw more than three people working there. One is the cook and I was told he is the owner of the restaurant, one is the cook’s assistant and one man is responsible for taking orders and serving, the waiter.

If I was allowed to write a review for this restaurant I would first of all mention that their service is horrible. It is just bad, I have never seen worse. When you go there, you need to bring a lot of time. Once we were sitting and waiting for longer than one hour and when we asked when our pizza would be ready, they told us that they would start preparing it at that moment!

You might think that they want you to drink a lot until they bring the food. Everybody knows that restaurants make most of their money by selling beverages. This is not the case though! Nobody comes to ask you whether you want to drink something else when your glass is empty! When my friend HC asked the waiter for another beverage, the waiter nodded but after ten minutes HC had to get up, go to the counter and literally get it himself. No, they don’t try to make money with their beverages, either!

In terms of decoration, there are candles on the tables. The waiter just never has the idea to actually light any of them. When Annick once asked him to do that, he took a while to find a lighter and in the end gave it to her to do it herself.

While waiting we once witnessed another scene. A man came in with his son and asked the waiter to put up one of the tables and two of the chairs which were outside on the terrace. It was a beautiful day and they wanted to enjoy the summer evening outside. The waiter told him however that this was too much work and he wouldn’t do that on that day.

Why then would I say that this is the best pizza place I have ever been to? Because the moment when the pizza actually arrives at your table and you take the first bite, everything else is forgotten. You are in pizza-heaven! It is really great pizza, thin dough, just enough vegetables on it, not too much cheese but enough for those who like it. It is just wonderful!

On the way out, we went by the owner who was busy baking pizza and I told him that this was the best pizza I have ever eaten anywhere in the world. He leaned over and quietly said ‘Thank you, but please don’t tell anybody!’

You can imagine my surprise. Any other business man would say the opposite, please recommend us! But he obviously doesn’t want any more people there! Maybe he is afraid that he won’t manage if there were even more customers.

We had our experience with their bad service several times but nevertheless we go there again and again. We do our best to get food earlier, for example by ordering on phone before we even start from home but we still get it late sometimes. I am sure we are also not the only ones who made this experience but the restaurant is always nicely full. People come, eat, and go. Even the man who wanted to sit outside changed his mind and came inside although the waiter refused to do a bit extra work for him. And the owner keeps on telling people not to recommend him.

I believe they have simply the best marketing idea they can have: good quality.

Whatever you do, give your best to give good quality. It will work out! I don’t recommend forgetting about good service. A marketing expert might say that service is everything and that you can sell any product you want if you have good service. I agree, you will have more success if you don’t compromise with your service but whatever you do, the best quality will show. Let quality be out of question. It always has to be great. Then your product will market itself, no matter what it is.

I will stick to my promise and will not tell you the address or even name of this pizza place! If you really want to know, though, write me personally and I will whisper it into your ear!