Tofay iI’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Interview Chain. I’m sharing an extract with thanks to Zoe O’Farrell for inviting me on the tour and to the author for the copy of the extract.
Everyone has something interesting to say if you take the time to listen. The Interview Chain is a series of conversations-each interviewee was asked to nominate someone they admire as the next link. Starting from a casual conversation on a boat on the Thames, the chain wended its way for over 23,000 miles, alighting on three continents and gathering up personal perspectives on issues that really matter in the world today. The interviewees include a theatre director, a rabbi, a philanthropist, a sculptor, a New York Mayoral candidate, a pioneering documentary maker, and a man who rescues giant trees. Some have worked in challenging places-Kabul in the time of the Taliban, a Romanian orphanage, immigration detention centres, remote Indian villages-while others have found themselves caught up in extraordinary situations such as the Rwandan genocide, the Ferguson uprising, and the UN Climate Change Negotiations. This is the most lovely approach to tell social change stories that I have read about ever, and it is an overwhelming honor to be part of this book. Ruth Messinger, Global Ambassador to the American Jewish World Service and former New York City political leader.
Gareth, #9 in The Interview Chain. Church of England vicar.
I got involved in the local church youth group and then went off to university to study politics. I wasn’t altogether sure what to do after that—I considered ordination but was told that it’s good to get some experience of life first. So after I graduated in 1981 I decided to take a year out. It was shortly after Mother Theresa had won the Nobel Peace Prize and rather naively I thought that it would be interesting to go and work with her and her organisation. I discovered that there’s a male order called the Missionary Brothers of Charity that works with her Sisters, and that you can go and be a volunteer. So I went off to join them. It seems very naïve now but I just booked a one-way ticket to Calcutta. I was twenty-one and arrived at the airport with a few travellers’ cheques and an address. When I got to the Brothers’ house it turned out that they hadn’t received my letter but they were incredibly welcoming and I ended up staying with them for about a year. I didn’t stay in Calcutta all that time as they thought it would be interesting for me to see some other places. So for a number of months I worked with their mobile leprosy clinic in the state of Bihar in Northern India. I had no medical skills or anything really, but they were very gracious.
I’d obviously read about leprosy in the Bible but although it has been almost eradicated in most of the world it does still exist in some parts. I remember seeing people whose noses had disappeared and whose hands were reduced to stumps. They often had terrible sores because Hansen’s Disease (its proper name) kills the nerve endings. People have no sense of pain and cause themselves terrible injuries by doing things like picking up boiling pots. I also heard stories about people having the stump ends of their feet chewed at night by rats but not waking up because they couldn’t feel it. I worked in the pharmacy part of the clinic and would count the tablets and give them out in little screws of paper. One of the biggest challenges was getting people to take the full course of treatment. Their symptoms would partially improve and so they’d stop taking the medicine. From talking to the Brothers I began to understand some of the challenges faced by people in that part of the world. They would have to walk for two or three days to get to the clinic, and then another two or three days back to their village. It was difficult for them to take that time away from tending their land.
There was one incident that I particularly remember. We were on our way to set up the clinic for the day when a child ran out from the side of the road. There was nothing the driver could do and we hit it with our jeep. My first thought was “OK, we’re in a jeep ambulance that’s marked with a red cross, so we’ll stop and take the child to hospital.” But I was staggered when the Brothers started locking the doors and the jeep sped off. I remonstrated with the driver and said that we should stop. But the Brothers said, “If we do that, there’ll be a mob reaction—the villagers will force us out of the jeep and they might set light to it in revenge. Instead we must go straight to the next village, turn ourselves in to the police and explain what has happened.” So that’s what we did—it was about five miles away. We hid the jeep round the back and a policeman stood guard over it while we went into the police station and there was lots of explanation in Hindi. I asked, “What happens now?” and they said, “The villagers will come to the police station.” Sure enough a bit later on, various family members arrived with the child, having flagged down the next vehicle that came along. There was lots of shouting and then a process of negotiation. The child had some injuries but they weren’t life threatening so it was agreed that we would take the family and the child to the local hospital and would pay for any treatment that was needed. It made me reflect on the fact that as a twenty-one year old white person, I was saying, “We need to do the right thing.” But as a foreigner I knew nothing about how these things work.
The Interview Chain is available from Amazon.
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