Monday, October 30, 2006

More about the Wheelchair Journey

Last week's visit to the doctor in Munich left me feeling optimistic. The bones are healing and even though the process is a bit slow it looks like it will turn out okay. So after we left the hospital Thomas and I had a nice lunch at an outdoor cafe, spaghetti and giant scampi and beer and caught up on each other's views on various subjects.

Meanwhile, I've been reading more of Andreas Pröve. The guy travelling through India in a wheelchair. In the second part of the book he arrives in Calcutta and decides to wheel himself to the source of the Ganges, which he was unable to reach on an earlier visit. Reading about how he competes with lorries and trucks as he travels in his motorized wheelchair makes one's hair stand on end. Often he ends up spattered with mud and covered with dust. He is familiar with dhaba food and loves samosas and dosas, which he seems to thrive on without a problem.

You get more than a glimpse of how handicapped people are treated in India. For example, Andreas writes about how he is not only constantly stared at by people wherever he goes, but often followed around by children. Mostly they are curious but on one occasion, somewhere near Kanpur, they started to tease him and to pinch him and throw stones at him, the way they would do at a monkey in a zoo. Luckily his motorized wheelchair allowed him to make a quick getaway and after this he always kept a thick club by his side to beat up kids who dared to provoke him physically.

As luck would have it, a young man called Nagender whom he had met on a previous visit, in Calcutta, agrees to accompany him so that although Andreas travels by road and in his wheelchair, and Nagender most often by train or bus, they decide where and when to catch up with each other. They also travel together part of the way by train, which Nagender insists on when they are moving through dacoit infested territory. A close bond develops between the two and I am now at the part where they are celebrating holi and being drowned in colours, and how at the end of the day his camera starts to spew red, blue and yellow powders which indicates that its end is near. Fortunately Andreas has two extra cameras so he can continue to take photographs, some of which are included in the book.

Group website:

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


The leaves on the trees are slowly changing colours. Various shades of green are turning brown, yellow, red and flaming orange. Autumn! One of the most colourful seasons in Europe and in the western countries. The other day when Petra took me for a stroll to the lake we passed bushes fencing houses, which were a startling pinkish red - like huge balls of fire glowing in the afternoon sun.

The sun is taking a rest today, the sky is grey and it has been drizzling since morning. The kids are back from school and the house resounds with their voices. Soon we will have lunch and I will read a bit more from the book by Andrea Pröve which I have had to lay aside for a while. I will do my exercises, maybe watch a movie and get back to some work on the computer. A perfectly normal day.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Another Birthday

Birthday presents in this household have to be really earned. You dont just get to unwrap presents as a matter of course. You have to sing and dance and solve puzzles and riddles and do all kinds of things. Yesterday Julia celebrated her fourteenth birthday and spent a lot of time rolling around the floor going "I cant believe it, I can't believe it, I'm fourteen years old!"

The presents were opened after a lot of hard work. Lulu had organised a marathon session of quizzes and questions and songs to be sung. The first task she set for her sister was to hop around the floor clucking like a chicken while keeping a straight face. This of course had the rest of us giggling and Julia eventually also laughing. Then she had to expound for three minutes on how it would benefit human being to dress like horses (I suppose she meant the ceremonial horses) - and I must say Julia was extremely inventive and came up with hundreds of reasons including how it would lead to a new industry and employment for masses of people etc.

One of the things Ariela asked her was to give five reasons as to why "Uma should stay with us at least until Christmas in Prien" - and again she gave excellent reasons like "it would give me a chance to experience German culture", I would get lots of presents from everyone and also get a chance to give presents (ha ha). By the end of it I think she had convinced herself that it was indeed a good thing to have me around till Xmas and even came to me for a kiss before going out with her friends - which she had never done before.

Felix has not been going to kindergarten these last few days since he was roughed up by a couple of his classmates. So have been spending a lot of time playing with him.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Temple of Rats

Am continuing with the book "My Dream of India" by Andreas Pröve at a leisurely pace. After Pakistan he lands in India in Amritsar and shortly thereafter - since the train to Delhi is overbooked, travels to Bikaner instead.

Here he decides to visit a famous temple dedicated to the goddess Karni Mata and when he reaches it, finds to his consternation that not only does he first have to contend with a flight of stairs but that the temple priest refuses to let in the wheel chair as that would desecrate the holy ground. He offers to wash the wheels, he bribes him twenty rupees (the priest has no problem taking the money) but he still refuses to let him enter. A couple of well dressed young men then offer to carry him inside. They huff and puff up and when they reach the top it is clear they have no intention of waiting to bring him down again. On top of that since there are no chairs or seats, they dump him on the floor.

To his horror Andreas sees that the black carpet on the floor is actually made up of thousands of rats swarming around. Luckily they have just been fed by the temple authorities (milk and various other goodies) so they are not particularly interested in sampling his flesh. Nonetheless there a few of them torment him, nibble at his camera cases and at his trousers and threaten to disappear up his legs when Andreas decides he has had enough and is lucky enough to find a couple of guys to transport him down again. Now he starts to worry about his wheel chair, and sure enough it is not where he left it. But he finds out that the guard has taken it with him into his shed and when he reaches it, finds the guard sitting in his wheelchair and laughing hysterically.

Andreas describes the tendency of Indians to stare open mouthed at him, their frequent lack of tact and views which he finds hard to digest. Imagine, he says, his wheel chair is considered desecrating but rats are not only tolerated in the temple precincts but actually fed and looked after! Still he loves the country and his inability to understand it only makes it more fascinating for him.

Bad weather compels him to abandon his goal of reaching the source of the Ganges. But that is the first part. The second part of the book is about his next journey to India, which he does almost exclusively on a custom built wheel chair which is also like a motorbike.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

India on Wheels

A couple of days back while browsing through the books at the kiosk at the railway station, Ariela chanced upon one by a German photographer who was confined to a wheel chair after a motor bike accident at the age of 23. (He is now 49). That is about the extent of the confinement because Andreas Pröve in his book on India writes about the route he took to the country. He didn't opt to just sit in a plane and fly over (which is most certainly what I would have done). He took the train to Istanbul first and from then on it was a real adventure, getting onto trains, onto buses, seeing his wheel chair strapped on top of a jerky bus bumping along potholed roads in Pakistan and wondering if it would still be there when he arrived at his destination.

In one of the early scenes he describes how he got onto the train to Turkey, which he caught from Belgrade. People rushed past him to clamber into already crowded compartments. He sat around waiting to be helped up but nobody did. So at the last minute just as the conductor was getting ready to flag off the train he wheeled himself over and asked the conductor to help him but he didn't. So Andreas actually pulls the whistle from out of his mouth to prevent him from blowing it and in that very second a late passenger comes huffing down the platform, asks him if he wants to board, barks at the passengers blocking the way and heaves him up onto the train. It turns out he is a Turk and visiting his family in Izmir for a few days. They spend a lot of time talking with each other and the Turk shares his sandwiches with him and even invites him to spend some time with him and his family in Izmir, an invitation which Andreas declines this time since he is eager to make his way to India. Well this seems to be the first of many such mindboggling events which helped Andreas along the way.

I have not yet come to the part where he lands in India but his adventures in Pakistan are quite something. The cheap hotel where he is staying in Karachi for example, has a bathroom which is too narrow for him to get into with his wheel chair. But fortunately, writes Andreas, there was a Hilton hotel round the corner, with plush bathrooms designed for disabled people and for those in wheel chairs and he just goes over. When the guard asks him a bit suspiciously if he is a guest at the hotel and for his room number he shrugs and coolly mentions a number around 150 and the guard lets him in.

There is a lot of humour in the book and I am quite enjoying it except that I have to read it in German. But then I guess my German is going to improve by leaps and bounds within the next weeks!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Entertaining Felix

Yesterday Felix and I spent the morning in Potato Land, with the Knight who lives in the Potato Castle and his friend, a fire breathing dragon with a tendency to lose his footing and fall out of the castle windows and constantly injure himself. At first we thought the dragon was just dumb and clumsy but then Felix pointed out that it had an eye problem and we realised that it kept falling down because it couldn't see properly.

In addition there was a wizard, Peterselius Zwickenmull who kept losing his wand and special powers and a doctor Krishnamurti who happened to be a dragon specialist. When we had been through about a hundred falls and visits to the hospital with Dr. K. fixing the dragon's wings/liver/stomach /legs, Felix went down with Marlis to the garden to rake the leaves and clean up the courtyard a bit, accompanied by Sammy the cat who ate grass and threw up after that, much to Felix's consternation.

Felix had been left in our charge, mine and Marlis's for the day. The girls were spending the weekend with a friend and both Ariela and Thomas were out as well, she in Hamburg, for a screening of her movie "Maria's Last Journey" and he in Munich, working in his studio. Surprisingly it turned out to be a pretty calm and happy day with no tantrums and no problems (Felix is normally a well behaved kid).

Marlis left for Berlin today and I kind of miss her. But I was quite disciplined and did my exercises in the afternoon.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Thoughts from Prien

Marlis landed here on Monday evening and has been subjecting me to a strict routine for my legs, arms and stomach. She is extremely discouraging about me eating sweets or drinking an extra glass of wine and has told me in no uncertain terms that I CANNOT afford to put on any more weight. We have our workout either mornings or afternoons for about 40 minutes. Hope I'll have the discipline to carry on with it after she has left! (She returns to Berlin on Monday).

The last week saw two birthdays being celebrated. 3rd Oct was Felix's and 4th was Lulu's. Both were celebrated differently but had the same excitement level. Felix was showered with presents and Lulu got just one major present - a horse! - to find out which she had to go through a regular treasure hunt with forfeits and singing and dancing for us all, really earning her gift.

When the kids have retired to bed in the evening Marlis, Ariela and I often sit around the dining table and probe into our own and each other's lives. We have touched on various subjects such as how to come out of the closed circle of thought in which we normally live, or recently Marlis and I had a long discussion on the nature of gratitude. When is gratitude natural and good and when does it imprison us in the expectations of the person who has helped us or done us a favour, so that we are no longer able to honestly say what we feel to that person?

One of the things definitely happening with me is that I am being forced to let go of the thought process and to live in the moment. Forced to let go because I see that there is so much I dont understand at all. Eg. why I fell and broke my foot and having done that, the way in which things miraculously came together so that I could be cared for very concretely, and be initiated into a field of loving energy? The way people have mysteriously turned up in the moment when they were needed. For example, Ruth who happens to be a qualified nurse and turned up exactly at the time in my life, when I needed my bandages to be changed every three or four days. Or the fact that Marlis is a physiotherapist and can help me to figure out how to try and keep my muscles in shape during the time that I can't walk. It is like being in a constant state of wonder, of not really knowing how life shapes events and fits us into the general scheme of things. All I sense is that a very different way of looking at things is underway, not only with me but generally with human beings all over the world and that the beings who come long after us are going to be very different.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Life goes on

The real problem, Ariela and I have come to the conclusion, is not the problem in itself. Like with me, it is not so much sitting around with a broken foot but rather how to deal with other people’s reactions. It is as if people expect me to feel and to behave in a certain way: depressed. They sigh and they moan on the phone. “Ooooooh. But you must be so boooored.” and I really wonder what they expect me to say. (“Oh yes, I am so desperate, I am so miserable, how nice of you to commiserate with me”) If I am feeling irritable enough I indicate to them that their reaction bores me more than anything else.

Ariela feels that it is simply the fact that people project their own feelings on to you. Or again, she says, maybe secretly they enjoy catastrophes because it spices up their own miserable lives a bit and gives them something to talk about. Hmmm. That isn’t such a foreign thought is it!

Meanwhile, there is a lot of excitement here today because it is Felix’s fourth birthday so since morning he’s been unwrapping presents and whooping with glee and trying to saw my head and various other people’s arms and legs off, with a toy chain saw. In the afternoon both the grandmothers will land up for tea. Lulu has decorated the place with balloons and streamers and to top it all it is a warm and sunny day. I cant help feeling a bit apprehensive about the winter though, which is going to soon set in.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sister Ida

Sister Ida is this buxom bright looking nurse at the orthopaedic hospital where I spent a few days this week. The moment she bounced in to take me to the loo and to help me have a wash, I felt regenerated. I realised that some people "have" it - they have a warm and generous presence which is instantly healing. The way she looked at me and patted me on the shoulder - it was not condescending as it might sound, but rather compassionate and open. I found out that Ida comes from Bosnia and has lived ten years in Germany. In fact quite a few of the nurses and the workers seem to be from former east Europe, from Bosnia and other countries. They are among the friendlier people in the hospital.

The trouble is that there are half a dozen nurses for the whole area and every time you ring for help a different nurse turns up so it is hard to form any kind of personal connection. Yet I did manage with one or two of them like with Ida and with Catherina who I think is also from the east. Catharina was into things like Reiki and different forms of healing and was interested to know that Reiki was also popular in India. I spoke to her about techniques like the Cranio Sacral method which is popular in Germany and one or two other methods after which she refused to leave me (I was in the loo and dying to have a crap) and she kept on chatting about yoga and god knows what else. But these were among the friendlier touches I experienced. But yes on the whole there is something a bit soulless about modern hospitals where you are generally well looked after but there is so little personal contact. I can imagine how one would slowly wither away if one were to spend a long time in such a place.