"Picnic" time

A few months ago I was approached by one of the local nurses regarding setting up a nurses picnic. I said of course, it sounded fun and asked her how we should plan it. To me, a picnic is packing a lunch and taking it to a park to eat then leaving. Not here. Here a picnic is an all day event. You cook at the site, play music, games and hang out. I told her that maybe she should plan the picnic and I will just chip in financially as I had never had such a picnic experience before. Weeks went by and for one reason or another they ended up throwing it together at the last minute. So, on Saturday it happened. We got a late start but drove down to a remote area on the bank of the Brahmaputra and set up. By the time I had moseyed down to the river bank the local nurses were in action mode. Some were chopping up vegetables, others setting down collecting water, washing meat or setting up a make shift awning. I had never stepped foot in the Brahmaputra river before (or any body of water here for that matter) but for some reason it just seemed right. The river bed was really sinky, my foot got sucked into the guck within the first step. I ventured out further though and the girls showed me how to skim the less dirty water off the top of the tiny ripples. It was interesting to say the least. After we filled the bowls it was cooking time. They brought along a cook from the hospital's canteen and he cooked chicken masala, dal and a veg dish. We chopped up salad and the feistier ladies enjoyed a nice Fosters beer. The car was playing music, there was dancing, hair doing and game playing. Eventually the feast was ready and the food was fantastic! The most touching part of the day was that there were a lot of left overs which were donated to me to give to the kids the following day! It was a very unexpected and great day on the Brahmaputra with the nurses I have come to love like family!


On giving thanks

I can guarantee you that I did not know the thankfulness one year ago that I know now. How do you truly give thanks? You go down to train tracks; you go right to the slums. You hand out food to tiny outreached hands. To children without clothing. To babies with bellies rounded from a mixture of starvation and parasites. You hold girls from the slums on your lap, you grasp their hand and hug them with big hugs. You donate one dollar, ten dollars, one hundred dollars. And with that touch, that smile, that donation, that meal, you are telling them how much they are loved. You, from places all over the world, are showing them how much you care. So when the man from the shop across the way tells me that what I am doing has no point, that the whole of India is poor and starving I can hear you with me in response "We have to start somewhere, and right here in this slum, with with these kids is that place." I think of how much support I have received, especially in the last two weeks and I am broken with gratefulness. To those of you who helped me pass out food last Thursday, those on the mission team and those of you who have donated over the last week in response to Danielle, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. The relationship you are enabling me to build with these children and this community is real. The potential for this project is immense. Honestly, at times I feel intimidated or inadequate but your support pushes me forward. For some reason you have chosen to believe in this, to love these children as they deserve to be loved. There is nothing that I could be more thankful for than that. 


147 new smiles + 2 dance parties on a boat + 1 wedding

That pretty much sums up the last week and a half of my life. The mission went incredibly smooth, I have to say that the team came together really well and it was so apparent. We did 147 operations in 7 surgical days. Those 7 surgical days were sandwiched between CPR classes on either side, so now all of the medical staff at the center are trained and certified in CPR by the American Heart Association!! That is a HUGE deal and I am so proud of all of the staff for taking the class and completing it successfully. You'd be hard pressed to find a medical facility in India that could say the same.

On our one off day (last Thursday) we had the team lunch on a boat as it cruised up and down the Brhamaputra. These rides are always nice but for some reason this time around the team was extra dance-y. The music came and everyone ran to the open space on the floor and we all danced like crazy! There was western music, Bollywood music, traditional Assamese music and we danced to it all. It was soooo much fun, I think the International team that came for the mission wasn't quite prepared for that spectacle! Normally, mid mission week, the teams don't have to encounter such skillful and enthusiastic dance moves but for some reason it just happened.

This brings me to the final party. The end of the mission parties are something we in Guwahati look forward to for weeks. We talk about it constantly, we study, we practice in our rooms (okay maybe that's only me) and as the day comes nearer the levels of excitement are enough to make those of us with weak hearts pass out (okay, again, maybe that's only me.) Every final party I've been to here has been held at the Ginger Hotel on the outskirts of the city. At the end of the night you might hear me muttering "Classic Ginger party, classic" because they are always so much fun. This time around it didn't make sense to hold it there so we had we found ourselves on yet another boat. I think I danced for four hours straight. At one point I took a break to go down and eat my dinner but was dragged back up stairs mid-meal because a good song came on. Then I went down stairs to cool off and was dragged back up stairs while the sweat was still drying because another good song came on. I love dancing here because, unlike high school prom or any club in the U.S, the dudes and ladies here can dance with one another without it being sexual. In fact, the guys probably dance more with the guys and the girls with the girls, because everyone is having fun and not needing to rub up on each other which is really awkward and uncomfortable. Every single one of you knows exactly the situation I am describing. Now that we've made that clear, we can get back to the fact that we danced for hours upon hours and we did it in sarees! I'll spare you of tons of pictures but the night was funnnn!

Lastly, on Monday a few of us attended the wedding of one of our co-workers. It was quite a drive away in bad traffic but it meant a lot to him that we go so it was well worth it. We only attended that part with his family/village so it was different from the last one I attended. There was food, live music, a bit of dancing, and lots of pictures. I am happy for him and as always, am very honored to be allowed to be a part of these special days. 


Down to the tracks

I have been really wanting to share with you what happened last weekend when I went out to feed the children! This week has been insane and awesome. Monday was the best day as my niece was born back in the states AND the mission team heard about my feeding project (which I have been calling Asha Guwahati) and they decided to donate for the meals. There is so much to write about but I will save this week for later and talk about last Saturday. 

As you know, two weekends ago I couldn't find the kids whom I had been feeding regularly. So last weekend I got some people started with the cooking and then I went on a scouting trip to the corner. Much to my dismay, the kids were still missing. I decided to walk further in hopes of finding them and quickly found myself making a beeline for the train tracks. I walked and walked, and ended right at the rails. I walked parallel to them through the slums. I peered into the shanty homes and saw many faces smiling back at me. This was where I needed to go. No one approached me as I wandered through, so out of place. There were kids without clothes, dirty and wounded. Children bending over the the tracks, picking up trash that has been tossed out of passing trains and homes that looked as if the would collapse on themselves in the slightest of breezes. I walked and soon ended where I began all those weeks ago on my very first feeding adventure and I just knew. If I couldn't find the children on the corner I had to come here. So I walked back home and was a nervous wreck. The tracks are hard, the people of the slums they need so much help and I knew it would be yet another push forward to continue growing this project. 

We packed up the food, I hopped on the back of a coworkers bike, Louise and Kelly got in a tuk-tuk and we headed off to the tracks. The next 10 minutes were a blur. We just set up on a corner, right at the rail just at the entrance of the slum village. The people came in swarms! Thankfully my friend Kelly has way more of a backbone than me and she managed to make it an organized chaos. We were yelling out "Queue!!" "Children" and "babies" in Assamese and for the most part, the crowd got it. We placed the warm boxes of food in tiny dirty hands and even though it was madness, many managed to connect their eyes with mine in a thank you. As usual, it felt like it was over before it began and it was time to walk away. For me, walking away is the hardest part because I know what lies behind me. I know how much more I can do, I know how much more I want to do. The support I have been receiving in this adventure keeps me up at night in excitement. I can not wait to share with the week I have had, the weeks that will come as this project grows. Thank you all for your support thus far <3


Sweet girl

Yesterday was the start of (what is supposed to be) the last "mission" in Guwahati. We are doing such a steady amount of surgery every week that it is no longer necessary to bring in large teams every few months for a week at a time as we have been for the last few years. There is always someone on each mission that really grounds me, reminds why I am here and what life changing operations are taking place on the daily out of the center. For some reason it is usually an adult but today, it was a little girl.

She is a nine year old who I think everyone so far has felt a connection with. She was all smiles this morning before surgery, coming right up to the team members. She was so social and interactive despite the obvious language barrier. I just kept telling her how beautiful and sweet she was, and she easily had more pictures taken today than she has in her whole life. I recovered her (easy breezy recovery of course, she was totally A Saint) then wheeled her down stairs to the ward where she would spend the night.

Fast forward about two hours, I am taking down yet another post-operative patient. This patient's bed was right next to my favorite little girl on the ward. I turned around to leave and smiled at my sweet girl when she reached out her hand. I took it in my own and she squeezed it tight. She gestured to me to come closer, scooched herself over on her bed (mommy laying next to her) and nodded her head down as if to say "sit down, stay a while." She still held my hand as I sat and we read each other's faces. It is astounding how much can be understood between the eyes of two people who don't speak the same language. Being the sensitive person that I am, I welled over with tears. Her mommy reached out and brushed that first tear off my nose. Then the little girl, using her only free hand as her other was still squeezing mine, grabbed her towel and wiped my face. Mommy patted my back, little girl wiped my face once more and told me in two Assamese phrases I know that it was okay, and gently said not to cry . She gave my hand a final squeeze and with that, I was free to go. I left that night with a heart so filled up that I worried it just might explode.

I arrived this morning a bit early so I decided to go in before the team meeting and see the post-operative patients one last time before they were discharged. I made my way around and stopped at my sweet girls bed last. She again gestured for me to sit down and I obliged. Her mother held out her hand and handed me a biscuit. They wanted me to enjoy the little breakfast they had with them, they offered me their own water and together we ate on the bed. At the end, the patient offered me her towel to clean my face and grabbed my hand to hold it one last time. I might argue that there is no better way to start my day, or week for that matter! What thoughtful hearts she and her mother have been given.


"Where are all the kids?!?!"

Sunday. Oh Sunday. Passing out food this weekend was a complete 180 from the previous three weekends. I am finally perfecting exactly how much of each food item to purchase/make for 50 servings and the cooking went extra smooth with the help of two co-workers. We had it all ready to go just in time for two others to come and help pass it out, so we headed to the street corner maybe around 1230. The usual time! We got in two tuk tuks and as we reached the corner, there was not a soul in sight! (Okay not a soul that was in need of the food) So I had the driver continue down the road to the second spot and much to my dismay, they were not there either. My heart sank!! Where had they gone? We (eventually) turned around to the train station because there are ALWAYS children there, but after searching for another hour we still were left in disappointment. At one point I walked with one friend back to the usual corner and we attracted attention from the police (who were patrolling the area) we were surrounded by six or seven of them all with their rifles and batons! This may have happened because I yelled "Where's the children?!?!?" up and down the street! They said they didn't know where the kids had gone, but I am sure it had something to do with the police presence.

Finally we decided to go to another part of the city by the river where many adults and some children live. As we piled in, a few street kids surfaced and ran up to us. They were not the ones I usually feed but of course we were ecstatic to feed them nonetheless! We passed out some meals then headed to the river.

Once there we walked up to a family and guess what?! The little boy and girl were two of the 17 kids who had attended the slum girls day a few weeks prior!! The sister came to me first, her face beaming. I immediately remembered her and she gave me the biggest hug then couldn't stop holding my hand. Both she and her brother just looked at me, smiling seeming to say "I can't believe it's you AGAIN!" It was so awesome! Their mom and dad live with them on the streets and so I saw their piece of cement which is their home. After we passed out all the food we got on the bus to go eat lunch ourselves. As I was sitting their my coworker looked at me and asked if I was thinking of the group of kids we normally feed. The answer, of course, was yes. I worried. Where were they? Where do 50 kids without homes go when the police tell them to move? Were they hungry? Will they eat today? I had to hold back the tears. I genuinely hope that they re-surface and that I find them again really soon. (Side note: The people we fed live near a temple that provides food, which is why I hadn't gone there previously.)

Then the thoughts moved on to the brother and sister and their family. They were there on the broken sidewalk, smiling and seemingly whole with nothing but the clothes strung over a banister, the meals we had just provided and each other. I keep looking at the picture of them sitting on the sidewalk, a candid photo, in which you can see them all smiling. So I ask you this today, what makes a home, a home?