Monday, May 31, 2010

Mamallapuram Madness

So today we finally got our long ago promised and much needed day to ourselves to play. Our directors, Amy and Sarah, rode with us in our van to Mamallapuram, a city about an hour and a half away from wherever the heck I am. It's just got tons of shops and lots to see and do.
First stop...fabric store, of course
Soren's like our adopted little brother here and he and I had fun picking out funky fabric so this nice guy to our left could make us parachute pants. Yes, they are ridiculous, but they call them Alibaba pants here and we figured no matter how hideous they turned out it was ganna be worth the $7 memory!
Magic carpet anyone???
Amazingly, he got them both done on this little machine.
Then, lunch at Moonrakers...where I discovered that when you order a 'Slice' it is actually mango juice without any fiz. huh.

~~~Bay of Bengal~~~
Some people didn't want to get in because getting the sand off would be too hard.
Forget that! If I'm coming all the way to this part of the world and freakin' standing in front of the Bay of Bengal/Indian Ocean, I'm getting at least some part of me in it!
Ratha Ruins
We met this guy who said his name was 'Little Buddha' and even though he was super annoying, just trying to get us to buy his stuff, he did offer to take our photos. So...that was a plus. And the fact that his name was Little Buddha.

Krishna's Butter Ball
I guess scientifically there's no reason this huge rock should be sticking to this slanting slope like it does. So, it's famous.
Then, tonight after dinner and showers we had a little photo swap party.
Personally, I'm just a fan of Soren's face. Looks about right for a 17 yr old right?
Unfortunately, our kids were all asleep after we got home so we'll see them tomorrow.
Remember the man in the corner from my post entitled
"Fill in the Blanks?"
The one who was by himself and I walked over to him
and attended to his hands?
Someone surprised me during the photo swap and had
taken a photo without me knowing. Yeah!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

...and then there were 170

The children are here!!! Finally! We knew it was going to be a long day of head washing and lice checks, so we all put our hair in the tightest buns and braids we could, then went to school.
These are my wonderful roommates of the parakeet room.
Eliza, Audry, Me, and Tenney
The children stay in groups or 'families' of around 16, each family having their own three room apartment in a large hostel building. House mothers are assigned as 'away-from-home' mothers for these kids while they stay here the whole school year. We, as volunteers, are paired off and each pair is assigned to a home. This is Lauren and I beside one of the many murals in our home. "India is my Country."
Around 10:30 this morning, all of the families with their children began to arrive. They had little picnics in the mango grove beside the new school building. It was sad to see them say goodbye, especially the ones where they are the only children. But, they all carried in their suitcases or simple bags of three outfits or less and had their hair all done up in flowers and seemed generally really excited to be back. The RSO school is a safe, clean, and really loving environment for all the kids and workers. I have been so so impressed with everyone.
This is little K. Gracie. Some have the same names so yes, we call her by her fathers first initial (K) and her given name (Gracie). A-dorable. We could request being placed with girls or boys, and older or younger. Of course I chose girls, and thought younger would be fun. And that's what I lucked out with!
We spent some time just getting to know names as the kids trickled in all morning and afternoon long. Learning names is one thing. Learning names in a foreign tongue is insane. And it sounds so much prettier when they say them. I'm working on perfecting my Tamil accent.

Happy! ...
...and then time for lice checks.
Welcome back to Rising Star! Now dunk your head in this bucket, slap on some oily lice-egg- killing-shampoo, and let me comb through your hair to pick out dead bugs.
That's a rough welcoming party.
Some of my girls. I have 18 so far.
{Priya, Sagayam, her sister Rosemary, me, Vijaya, & Usha}
I had no idea who this little girl was, but there was something special about her. She is very unassuming but seems somehow confident in herself. I had the best job of the day. Remember the laundry from yesterday? Well, I got to sit down with each of my girls and go through their things, then take them to the room with all of the laundry and let them pick out panties, and one to three outfits depending on what they had or did not have. This little one, Priya, pulled out one outfit and nothing else. I kept asking her, "Where are your clothes? This everything?" She finally got out that her clothes "were washing." I wasn't so sure, so I had her walk with me and show me. She took my hand and we went round back to see one pink dress and one panty drying on the line. Ok, that was it for my heart. She had it. I loved taking her in that room full of clothes and getting her new pretty girly clothes. Very quiet and just calm. Then, at dinner I learned this about her...
(Amy is talking about Priya's father. The first sentence is difficult
to understand, but Amy is telling us that his face and profile is entirely
flat and that his wife left him. The last sentence
is difficult to hear too...but she say's "I think when God
decided to give this man Leprosy, He also decided to
give him Priya." Turn the sound up.)
I had no idea. For some reason she's just who I connected with in the first few hours and it's like Amy said, there's something different and angelic about her. I think I was just drawn to her genuine calm, confident, and knowing spirit. Then when I learned more about her, she had my heart again. Every night at dinner we tell our highs and lows of the day. Priya was my high.

Their drinking water. They all share a communal cup at a faucet and the rule in India is that when sharing a cup, nobody is allowed to touch their lips to it. I also thought it was cute that they always took off their shoes before going into any of the houses. Culture.

After we were all finished checking people in, lice checking their hair and 'shopping' for outfits, it was prayer time for the kids.

Lights out at 9:00
Every night now after dinner we have two hours to go and read to them, sing, or help with homework. This will be tiring after long days of work, but special in its own way I'm sure.
They have 6 beds per house, yet none of them choose to use them. They prefer to sleep together on mats. Culture.

So glad the kids are here. It was feeling quite empty, now it's 170 fuller!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

French Toast and Music

Our day was originally planned as our first 'us' day where we could go shopping, etc. However, this morning we were asked to stay on campus and help with the final preparations. The kids come tomorrow!
So, we put on our mixture of half American clothes/half Indian clothes and walked to school. Everyday we pass the cows just chillin' in the yard grazing. I don't think I've ever been so close to cows except at like the fair and behind a fence. Strange.
This is where the workshop has been...the front entrance of the school. These men have been building shelves, tables, bookcases, painting, wiring, etc and of course leaving trash everywhere that we have been blessed to pick up...classic construction workers.
This is the American version of a welcome back to school sign on the black board...
...and this is the Indian version, with the artist herself.
A little more flowery, no?
Oh, and then the dreaded sorting of the laundry. There were boxes and boxes of donated dresses, shorts, shirts, underwear and just clothes everywhere. It was wonderful to see all that has been given, but there was a point (I think this might have been it) where I was like, "no, just no. I am so done with this work." And we had piles to go. But...the kids come tomorrow and they each get a few new outfits, so it had to be done. Soren brought in his ipod and turned on the music and that seriously saved us all. It was so fun.

Ok, so the movie. We were in the kitchen cooking dinner for Eliza's birthday when we heard thunder. We all got excited and were like, "ok, nobody get excited cus rain would just be too good to be true. No way." But a few minutes later I went outside and saw little drops on the concrete. Oh my word, I have never been so excited. I was like, "Guys! There are drops!"
So, they all ran outside and we decided it was appropriate to do a little rain dance in the middle of the courtyard. Oh, and we're in the most random tub like thing. It has a faucet but no drain's not quite a pool but not quite a pond. It's just random.
Soren, the boy in the movie, was like "Do you think it'll fill up?" I just looked at him and said, "Let's not get carried away." And it's good we didn't. Didn't get past the first tiny drops, but it was still fun.
And then there was french toast. Whenever daddy makes it I can never handle more then one piece. But seeing as how we hadn't had American food in over a week, we took all we could get. Plus, there was fresh fruit salad, with mango! And... homemade syrup. Everything is homemade here I swear. And this is Kristin, one of our session directors. Sweetest most awesome girl. Told me and Heather all about her life while we were driving home on our 5 hr. drive. She's been a nanny in Australia, a flight attendant, a director for RSO, etc. Inspiration~
Then, we all crowded around Lauren's computer to look at her bridal photos and cast our votes.
Today was just a day full of little American touches, the best being french toast, music, and straight hair, since normally I braid it.

{Random photos I've taken that might be entertaining}
Our view from our two star hotel this past weekend. The fact that I was impressed they had AC and a sitting toilet, yet not surprised they didn't supply toilet paper, says something about my current mindset.
Dosa. A rice and wheat creation they eat for any meal. Always served with spicy dipping sauces, eaten with your hands and just ripped like a tortilla to eat. Here you have to specifically ask for silverware, otherwise it's just expected you'll eat with your hands. And many of the restaurants are vegetarian, for religious reasons. So, when we were eating at one of the restaurants on our trip, one of the volunteers took out some chicken from the previous nights meal to eat and put the bones on the plate. Dr. Kumar leaned over and told her she should take them off the plate because people were looking. They don't even like any part of an animal to come in contact with their serving ware, ever.
When we went in this store to get some ice cream they asked us to remove our shoes. You'll see piles of shoes on the doorstep of homes and shops, even hotel rooms.
Today was a good day, but I definitely definitely needed the American food, music, gym time, straight hair, etc. to bring back some familiarity and routine, even if my new routine has become easier with each day.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Why do I feel that since coming to India I have lost my ability to speak? This weekend was, again, something I don't feel I'll adequately put into words, or for that matter, even fully understand the impact it has had on me for some time.
We were so blessed by a slight breeze in the first colony we visited. Thank you thank you to all of you who prayed for us. I genuinely attribute the weather to the prayers sent our way. Unfortunately, I did still get pretty sick, but somehow after being with the people of India this weekend, I would be humiliated to complain.
The trip went well, thanks to the pudja our driver performed. (It's a blessing, or a prayer offered at little road side temples along the way, like this one.)
Since our van was new, he sliced lemons and rubbed them on all the tires, then lit incense and said a prayer.That was new. Then we got caught in a traffic jam where we all got out and wandered around because there was a festival and we knew we weren't going anywhere for a while! It was a festival for the Gods, where they take the statues out of the temple and carry them through the streets.
Everyone eats, buys trinkets and just shuts down the main roads. As we piled out of the van, Dr. Kumar warned us to not make light of the festival because people take their religion very seriously.
It was so amazingly crowded.

The first colony we went to we had amazing success. All 45 patients who were to be seen showed up. We got quite a system down of washing, photos, wrapping, and medications. I feel very satisfied and a sense of accomplishment that help was begun with these people and will continue for years. We were the first people to visit them. I was asked to be the photographer.

{Note: some of the photos are graphic}

This was my first patient, so I had to remember his face.
This man wheeled himself around on a skateboard type thing. Everyone had gathered, then here he came down the path dragging himself along in the dirt. So many images I can't forget.
Often times, Leprosy affects their eyes as well.
Wish I could remember her name but they are so long and different.
All I remember was she was chart #17 because I had to track her down and make sure she was photographed. At times it felt like chaos because none of the patients spoke English and none of us spoke Tamil. Somehow, it all sorts out.
The sores on these bodies are hard to see. But there's some sort of strength that comes from physically holding or touching these hands and feet; you don't seem to care how ugly or gross they are, how many flies are crawling on you because you are cleaning the wounds because all you want to do is show them they are still worth touching and loving. And even if their country deems them as untouchable, they are worth touching.
Whether or not it was the lack of humidity, this morning (second day of our trip) I woke up and finally felt prepared for what I was going to see and experience. Going out into the streets and seeing everything around me, I felt that the first word I would describe this experience as would no longer be a forceful 'hard.' It was refreshing to look at the busy streets and notice all the foreign things and people and feel excited about it again.
As we drove up to the second colony today, it seemed the whole colony was out to greet us. I thought it was a bus stop and that they were flagging us down for a ride because almost all transportation in India seems to be public. Often times when we drive to and from the junction we pick up random people along the way and take them a mile or two. But, it turned out to be the people from the colony waiting for us.
Today I did diabetes testing. 100 people! We could cruise the majority of the time until we would have someone whose hands no longer had fingers. Then they would be so callused from just being stumps it was difficult to pierce the skin and coax out any blood. Sometimes we just moved up to the palm or the arm depending on how much of their limbs they had left. Everyone would smile and watch as we cleaned and pricked their hands and they would always put their hands together in a prayer sign and say 'nandri' (thank you). They may not have hands, but they all still have gratitude.
This lady cracked me up cus she made the biggest deal out of getting her finger pricked for the diabetes testing I did. Out of all the hardships in life, I guess needles are a universal fear.
Their faces and bodies tell stories of having lived 100 years in only 40. I see the little children running around or hear them crying from inside the shelters and just think, "how? How are you going to live? How are you going to learn? How will you find the stamina to live this life of a hundred years?"
Before we left I had the chance to work deep in the colony. Three others and I took our supplies and went to two people who couldn't make it out to us. The first little man. No words. We found him sitting on the cement floor with a cloth wrapped around him, no hands, swollen 'feet', and bones of knees and elbows practically visible beneath the paper thin leather skin of his failing body. Miserable. Just miserable living conditions. I just wonder who he used to be and what it has been like to see his body, his life, and his dignity as a human being just slowly crumble away from him. Sitting there. Just sitting there on a cement floor, in the depths of a maze like community as the flies come and feed on his sores. He doesn't even move. I don't know what to make of some of the trials people of this world are made to
suffer through in this life.
The second person we visited was a lady. She didn't need washing or bandaging, so just Matthew and I went since I knew how to do the testing. Ducking beneath the low hanging thatched roof, we found her lying on sheets making a bed that took up most of the 8x12 concrete room. I sat down on the floor by her and Matthew left me alone to spend a few minutes holding her hand and listening to her explain in Tamil all her pains. We're told the people just want someone to listen to them, even if we can't understand. But it's such a helpless feeling to feel someone is hurting and know I'm not there helping. She rolled over and kept touching her back so I lifted up her shirt and there was a long scar running down her spine. I can only imagine. I rubbed her back and felt bad I couldn't do more. I held her hands, then did the little test, explaining the doctor would be back to see her, even though I knew she didn't understand a single word except doctor, which she repeated after me. I kissed her hands and as I stood she pulled me to my knees to give me a hug. As I ducked back out of her room I turned to wave and saw a hand raise from the sheets to wave in return and could feel her eyes on me as I turned and walked away.