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Blog // Thoughts
May 7, 2005

Stranger In A Strange Land

The two year anniversary of my time here in India is rapidly approaching. It has been a difficult, fraught and at times painful sojourn. There is no doubt that very little of this period has gone as expected. Whilst I have learnt a great many things, they are mostly the kind of lessons one draws […]

The two year anniversary of my time here in India is rapidly approaching. It has been a difficult, fraught and at times painful sojourn. There is no doubt that very little of this period has gone as expected. Whilst I have learnt a great many things, they are mostly the kind of lessons one draws from mistakes and mishaps.

Lately I have been reading Pablo Neruda’s collection of poems named after Isla Negra. These poems are about memory and recollection. One thing about living away from “home,” particulalry in a hostile enviroment is that it drives you to travel back through your life and the experiences. In many ways living here is like a form of exile, and hence I have found myself in Neruda’s own poetic reflection on the exile’s life.

“La noche llega: faltan tus estrellas (Night comes down, but your stars are missing)” writes Neruda to explain the cosmic displacement, the feeling of being without one’s “light” that comes from seeing nature askew. Walking the streets of Delhi, it is easy to feel like a “fantasma avergonzado (an embarrased ghost).” The pain of this displacement is felt as we “respiramos el aire por la herida (breathe air through a wound). In the end we realise that the true tragedy of being an “alma sin raices (spirit without roots), is that we inevitably reject “la belleza que se ofrecen (the beauty that is offered).”

Neruda’s words capture the essence of the frustration, anger and realisation that is the experience of many people who move from one country to another either by chance, choice or force. It is an experience that I feel is all too often not addressed by the mainstream of thinkers in either the realm of church ministry or social policy. It is one thing to talk about approaches to migration or “cross-cultural ministry” (or as I like to call it, cultural-containment ministry); it is another thing altogether to speak of it in the tones that Neruda uses.

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