When you think of a "guru", you might picture the mystic on the mountain or the expert on TV. But in your wildest imaginings, you probably wouldn't picture a man like Kaliti...
He's a skinny old man, with only a couple of teeth left in his head, looks more monkey than man...and unwittingly became one of our greatest teachers.
He is the brother of my husband's mother.
Kaliti is one of those people. You know the ones who constantly seem to screw everything up, who constantly test other people’s capacity for forgiveness?
When he was young, he married a woman, and they had two children. He was charming, loved to play pranks and tell jokes, but when he drank alcohol, he became nasty and violent. His wife eventually left, and took the children with her.
He moved on to another woman. She was young and beautiful – he still talks about her sometimes. They had a daughter, but his old habits eventually tore apart that marriage too.
A few years ago, he married a third time, to a young girl who was only 18 at the time. They now have two little boys. The family lived in abject poverty. They had nowhere to live, so my husband’s family allowed them to stay in a tiny little shack on the family allotment, made of crudely-fashioned bits of tin and plywood. It had a dirt floor, and no electricity or running water.
He used to work driving taxis. He would make a bit of money, then squander it...and then ask his family (ie: us) for money or food to feed his two boys. One day he got drunk and fuelled up his taxi with diesel instead of petrol, and that was the end of the taxi and his job.
After that, he sometimes went collecting coconuts or Tahitian chestnuts in the bush, to sell, but mostly he would just turn up at our house, and wait for others (ie: us) to feed his family.
We began to dread them coming. The boys were so naughty!! SO, so naughty!!The naughtiest little boys in the world, I'm sure. When they turned up, we took to hanging out in our room, so we didn't have to put up with the noise and the chaos and the annoyance.
Earlier this year, Kaliti's young wife was allowed a working visa to New Zealand for three months of fruit-picking on farms, leaving him to stay with their young sons. I secretly hoped that this might cause him to "pull up his socks" and take his responsibilities seriously. Alas and alack...they turned up more often than ever. He began bringing his two sons over, and when they weren't watching, he would sneak away without telling anyone. Sometimes he would be gone for hours.
I was nearly beside myself with indignation (even though it wasn't my house, nor was I the one who had to look after them. My mother-in-law and sisters-in-law were the ones who got the brunt of it..)What kind of rotten, low-down scoundrel would do these kinds of things...??!?!?!?
After another one of these episodes, I was complaining loudly and heatedly to my husband, who placidly said: "He's not going to change. You can either keep getting angry about it, or just learn to deal with it."
Well, it's not much fun to complain to someone who responds in this manner, so I went away more indignant than ever.
But after I'd calmed down, I began to realise that this infuriating man - this rotten, low-down scoundrel had come to be my teacher. If you don't like something, then change it. And if you can't change it, then it's there for a reason!
Here I was, being challenged to become better than I was, to love unconditionally and without judgement no matter how many times he "stuffed up".
When he turned up, I stopped groaning on the inside. Instead, I said to myself: "Here's another chance for me to practice patience and unconditional love. This is making me a better person than what I was, and I'm thankful for this opportunity."
Not long after this...disaster struck. It was only a matter of time, really..
One Friday night, Kaliti put the boys to bed in their little tin shack in the bush, and then rode to the little village shop to buy some credit for his phone. At least, that's the story he told us...He came back sometime later to a hut that was engulfed in flames, and his two little boys screaming and beating on the walls. He pulled them out and ripped their clothes off them as they howled in agony. Then he put them both on his bike and set off in search of help. My husband's brother saw him, and drove them to the hospital.
Our first reaction, along with everyone else in the village, was: "Stupid man! This is all his fault...!"
But then we went to visit them in hospital. It was the first time ever that we had seen the two little boys sit quiet and still. Their limbs were swollen and blistered, in some places, pus oozed from their burns.
My husband vowed then, that we would build them a new house. But how? We had no money. Nobody else had any money.
But in the backyard of the home we're living in, is the building supplies that we shipped from Australia to build our own home - which we haven't done yet, because we are still waiting to get land.
So we gave our own building supplies. We reasoned that we could always make our own house smaller.
The rest of the family heard of our plan, and one by one they turned up to help. Nobody was paid, it was simply a labour of love.
And so, after about 6 weeks, both the little boys were home from hospital and their new home was almost finished. I know it doesn't look like much, by Western standards, but it's roughly 4x bigger than the little shack they once lived in, with a cement floor, and windows that open and close, and a roof that doesn't leak...
The house that love built
Kaliti's wife will arrive back from New Zealand this week. No doubt, they will continue to test our patience and our ability to forgive for a long time to come. But I feel like they have taught us so much more than we have ever given them...and for that I'll always be grateful.