1.28.2012

Happy Saraswati Puja!

Lots of sweet little updates, most of which happened yesterday!

Firstly, Happy Saraswati Puja! I am actually not sure if that is usually a well wishing but I sure did walk around saying it all day! Saraswati is the goddess of education/knowledge and yesterday it was all about her! As we started a mission yesterday, I didn't get a lot of time to learn about her in depth but the basics are that she always wore a beautiful white saree, seated on a lotus flower and holding an instrument. What this translates loosely to is that on Saraswati Puja the girls and women dress in their finest sarees and walk about town, going to schools for visits then performing puja. I remember arriving to Guwahati last year on this holiday, unaware of it being a holiday and being totally blown away by ALL of the women walking about in gorgeous dress! This year I participated as best I could. Half way through the surgery screening process I ducked out and put on the saree I bought in Jaipur then headed back to work! I have to admit, I love walking around in a saree and find it quite comfortable though different. I am not used to exposing my back and stomach but would wear shorts any given day! After screening, I went for coffee, walked to visit a friend and then walked to visit another friend! It was such a fun day! 


Yesterday was Saturday so as planned we went back to the slums to check in with the family of the girl (Hasima) who needed to see a doctor. This was also an opportunity to check in on Anjuna (who by the way actually has the name Asbanu, but I'll keep referring to her as Anjuna...) to see how she is feeling after what happened Thursday. I was greeted with this:



So I think that everything is okay. Doesn't she have the warmest smile and brightest eyes? I felt so much better after hanging out with her for a bit yesterday. She walked with us to meet the family and after a good bathing, the girl and her mother went to the hospital with us. Along with the two of them, four or five other kids trailed along to hang out. I took Hasima to our pediatrician to be evaluated. He didn't feel that she warranted a hospital admission, which was reassuring. He ordered some basic labs, liver labs, an abdominal ultrasound and TB test. Unfortunately, we couldn't take them to the testing center right away so we let them go eat lunch with the promise they would come back after. They didn't come back :( I am not surprised, nor am I discouraged. Tomorrow morning I will go back, retrieve them again if they like and have them in the center until testing time. I am just happy that the mother and father trusted us enough to even be seen. Next we will take another small step forward as they are comfortable. 

Meanwhile, outside the hospital the friends that trailed along were treated to a special/surprise lunch with Rosie! She took them to the bakery where they were allowed to pick out one lunch item and one sweet. They were hesitant to step in at first but became more than comfortable after stepping through the door. Rosie showed me the pictures, and I couldn't help but giggle! She said she expected them to want to take their food outside to eat but instead settled down right at the bar table along the window. They were lounging and totally enjoying themselves! What a sweet surprise for them!



Also! I made some new friends (that are actually my age) this week. On Wednesday night Kelly and I were at the market buying the supplies for the kids' meals when two soccer players from Africa started talking to us. We have all hung a out a few times and they are so fun! They are from Nigeria and travel all around India playing for a club team. It is always nice to meet people from new places!  



1.26.2012







As promised, on Tuesday myself and two coworkers headed to the tracks to find the little girl who needs medical attention. As we entered the slum I immediately felt that something was off. All over, shanty homes had been knocked down, burned and removed. Quickly it was explained that the people in that area were being evicted, my stomach dropped. I can't even get into how I feel about the government evicting the innumerable amount of homeless all over the country... but it made me worry of course for all of my friends, all of the children we have come to love. I worried that we wouldn't find the girl who needed help but luckily with the help of some of the other children, we did. When she walked towards me I realized she was probably about five, and she walked like she was completely out of balance. My coworker who speaks the local language helped me talk to the father. As we were talking, I smiled at the girl, and reached out my hand to "tickle" her belly. It was rock hard against my fingers. Lurch in my stomach again. After much talking the father explained that he couldn't leave to take her to the hospital with us. One reason was because the government is evicting people from the slums and if he leaves, surely their home will be knocked down. The second reason was because he didn't feel that anything was wrong with his little girl. Knots in my stomach. I don't 100% know what I expected, I knew we wouldn't just swoop in and skip off to the doctor but I hoped he would trust us. The conversation went well but he wouldn't come with us. The end compromise is that I will return on Saturday and they will tell us then if they will go with us to the doctor. So, please continue to pray friends. 

I initially thought I wouldn't share what I am about to but I think I want people to realize that it is not all rainbows and butterflies on Sundays. That despite all of the good and how much those of us that do this every week believe in it, that sometimes it is hard to the point of me having to walk away. You see here is the thing about me, I am a person who wants nothing more than to give, I am a lover, I am a servant and I am a person who feels endlessly. I feel so many emotions and I allow myself to feel them fully. So maybe why that is why I am sitting here full of guilt when maybe I shouldn't be but anyways here it goes.

It is winter here, at night under my thick blanket I wake up cold. I can't even imagine how cold it gets sleeping on the earth under a tarp. My friend/coworker arrived back in Guwahati this week after being at home for a stretch. She brought with her warm clothes to give to the kids and today (after much discussion) we decided it would be okay to hand it out after we gave the food. We wanted to give the meals, then walk away from the crowd to gain a bit more privacy/control to give the clothing to the kids. We both knew it would cause some madness, which is why until this point I have not given out anything beyond food in the slum. So that is what we did. The day was crazy to begin with, the crowd was massive, there was pushing and shoving and it felt like we had never been there before. It was a strange day, however when the food was gone things calmed and we continued on with the plan. I held Anjuna in my arms, hugging her then we walked hand in hand towards her home. As we got further from the crowd my friend handed the bag of clothing down to Anjuna with the intention of letting the kids sort it out, having no idea what would happen next. In a split second my little girl was swarmed, attacked by the other kids and even adults. She was on the ground screaming and crying out. People were hitting her with sticks, being completely animalistic and I was just tearing through them trying to pick her up. All I remember is yelling a lot, and scooping her up from behind and getting hit myself. Her sobs and screams hurt me like I have never hurt before. I pulled her away but the crowd kept pushing, she still wanted clothing of course and so she continued to put up a fight to receive something. I can't even describe what I was feeling in that moment and afterwards. I had to walk away at a point and couldn't look back. A few minutes later I still heard the yelling but saw Anjuna and some of the other children again. She came to me and looked utterly defeated, my feelings of guilt compounded. I picked her up again, she lay her head on my shoulder, I said I was sorry and soon we had to part ways. 

Every week is such a positive and happy experience. The trust we have built, the joy that surrounds every meal there is real. Today I allowed the kids who trust me so much to be hurt (physically, emotionally) and I don't honestly know how to process this. I believe in giving, in serving and in acting on needs in your community. I whole heartedly believe in the purpose of Asha Guwahati and that is why I wanted to give out warm clothing when the opportunity came. What I didn't want was for the kids' survival instincts to kick in and cause them to harm one another. Even more than that, I did not want to put children who are so connected to us, who trust us to feel as though we were pitting them against one another. People will argue until they are blue in the face about their feelings on charity organizations, on giving assistance around the world and here in India specifically. The scene today might make a perfect argument of why people shouldn't just hand things out to those in need. I calmly listen to these opinions frequently and many time there are valid points made by either party but I stand by what we do here (both in the slums and at the surgical center) and anyone who visits and is a part of either of those stands by us too. The problem is that now I am stuck wondering how you forgive yourself for letting a child you love deeply be hurt by a situation you put them in...



Baby showers are not for boys

Today is Republic Day in India so we had a day off! One of the dentists at the center is expecting her first child in about a month so the last few months have been full of conversations about the differences between American and Indian parenting experiences. She and I have talked about everything from pregnancy to birthing to newborn care and just about anything else you can imagine! It has been so informative and interesting to say the least. One major difference is that it is a criminal offense here to find out the gender of the baby in utero, therefore no gender specific planning happens before hand. There are not traditionally baby showers and the baby does not receive a name until it is one month old when a big reception is held. A few weeks ago Nisha extended an invitation and asked the ladies we work with to hold a baby shower! She has never attended one (and very sweetly exclaimed today that she's only seen them in movies) but she wanted to celebrate with us! We excitedly said yes and after feeding the kids today we all got together! As there aren't baby shower decorations around these parts she improvised and hand made a sign, hung balloons and got streamers. When we arrived we helped finish decorating, baked a cake and the games commenced....

...... Oh the games. A few of the men we work with wanted to come also so we said, hey why not? We're already breaking the norms by holding a baby shower so why not throw some guys into the mix? We learned quickly why! The games got a little intense right off the bat, accusations of cheating may have been flying around and by the end the boys sat separately from the girls with a few sour looks on their faces haha! Luckily it was all in good fun though the competitive factor was a new baby shower experience for me. All in all, it was really lovely and it was so fun that Nisha invited us to share this bit of culture with her! Next time I see her she will have had her little babe!











1.23.2012

 Through the thick crowd we easily spot familiar faces, huge smiles, bright eyes and open hands. Weekly it is like having a reunion with loved ones you have been long separated from. Anjuna found her way through the throng this week, placed herself aside Deb and asked to help pass out the meals to her fellow children. Her order and understanding of the process, her ability to explain to her friends our purpose makes me speechless. Her need and desire to help gives me hope. It is not about the attention or the chance to have her picture snapped, it is about the moment. At the end of the frenzy she gives a quick hug, a goodbye and we have to wait again for the next joyous reunion.

Again this week, my new friend Sima invited me to her home. She stood on the outskirts of the crowd, watched the food being passed then excitedly made her way to me. She led me up those dark steps, down the tiny hallway and into her home. It felt like she was holding something back but once we arrived she let it go. With a shaking excitement, she embraced me as tightly as her little arms allowed. We hugged, she jumped up and down, and her face lit up like a thousand lights. She couldn't control her happiness, her friend had returned! We must be kindred spirits because at one point she couldn't sit any longer from the excitement so she asked me to dance. Dance we did, right there in the small open part of the room. It was definitely a moment where I wondered to myself "Is this my life?" and told myself never to forget what I felt in that moment. Life has been full of a lot of those moments lately.

Something else has been weighing heavily on my mind this past week. As I shared, we walked down through the slums last week to hand out the last of the meals. The other group, led by my friend Deb, came across a young girl who appeared very sick. As it is with many of the kids, she had no clothes (in the winter here) and had to be coaxed out to receive a meal. Later on at home Deb showed me the pictures and my stomach dropped. The little girl needs to see a doctor, but her family can not pay. I can not stop thinking about her and I can't help but think that our paths were meant to cross. So, I decided that tomorrow I will have to go back and offer help to her family. Please, friends can you pray for the little girl with a belly so big and limbs so thin that she can barely stand? I plan on paying for the care she will need and I was hoping you all would be okay if some of the donations I have received lately also went to her? All I know is that I can not ignore her blatant need for medical attention. She can not be so close to me, so close to a hospital and be allowed to just suffer. My mind has been in a constant state of prayer that her family will accept the offer of a visit to the doctor and I hope that you all will support me as I approach them tomorrow.


 (sweet Anjuna helping me mark a hand)

 (Then handing out the meal)

(Hello from my new best friend's house :)

1.15.2012

This weekend as we set up at the train tracks, you could feel that it was a holiday. There was an air of calm, many shops were closed, there wasn't any traffic and fewer people. There ended up being an unusually large group of volunteers coming alongside Deb and me this week, which I ended up being thankful for. The children trickled by to receive a meal and as we got down to the last fifteen or so packages, there were no more children in sight! The group of us ended up splitting in two and going into the slums itself. My group had a little tour guide, he took us down and around, passing out food on the way. It is always so awakening to walk through the slums themselves, to see the children stooped down eating the food we made, the looks of wonderment from its residents. We finished and meandered back to the rickshaw stand to meet up with the rest of the group; we were just enjoying being present in the market area, all in different conversations with locals.

A young girl who is always present at the tracks but refuses the meals drew me in, asked me to sit on a pile of collapsed cardboard with her so I did. She was around 11 or 12 years old and I had never really had the opportunity to talk with her. We exchanged the usual questions; I came to find that her uncle ran the little chai stand near by and she pointed to the building next to us, up to the third floor, and told me that was where she lived. Her eyes lit up as she asked me to come see her home. (Mind you the whole conversation was in my broken Assamese and her broken English.) I couldn't say no to those big bright eyes so hand in hand, off we went up to her home as I explained to my friends that I would walk home in a bit.

She led me up the stairs, down a dark hallway with rats scurrying by and finally through a tattered cloth hanging in a doorframe. Inside I was greeted with the smiles of her mother, father and two younger brothers. Mom had just gotten done bathing, the children were eating and quickly the girl asked me to sit down on their shared bed. They had no issues with me showing up out of nowhere and the girl was so happy to have me there, to show her parents one of the people who comes to their area every Sunday. They offered me food and water and I obliged. As I sat there and ate, she brought by every family member available explaining carefully how each person was related to her. As I finished my bowl of food she helped me clean up and then sat down and held my hand while we giggled at her playful brothers. My mind tried to take in the whole moment,  my eyes, the environment. The bed her whole family shared was smaller than the one I sleep in by myself, her whole home smaller than my room. There was an alter in the corner with the candles burning low, a television and a small shelf on which they stored and made food. It clicked. I wondered, week in and week out, why she would not take the meals we brought. As I partook in the bit of food in their home I realized that she was honest. She knew she had food available to her, she didn't want or need to take a meal herself. I felt honored to have been invited to her humble home and then to have her family feed me!  Eventually I explained I needed to go but we couldn't walk outside without stopping and meeting her auntie. Finally on the street corner as she released my hand to part ways she told me "Every Sunday, to my home you will come."

1.10.2012

Welcome to the jungle

We are pulling six day work weeks at the center for the next while in order for us all to compensate for closing the week between Christmas and New Years. I am only telling you this so that you, along with me, can be thankful that I wasn't wandering the streets of Guwahati on Saturday as I might normally on any given weekend afternoon. You see, on Saturday I found myself elbow deep in inventory when it was casually mentioned that there was a leopard on the streets. Seeing that I live in a jungle area, I am actually quite surprised that this is the first time I have heard of this. I used to live in the foothills in college and mountain lions used to hang out on campus a few times a year. That's something that happens when humans cause deforestation but I digress...

Hours later, I leave to walk home when I saw the center director and I jokingly inquired as to wether the leopard had been caught because I didn't want to get munched. The reply was yes, it was caught, and I went on walking home. Fast forward to the next afternoon when I am perusing HuffPost and see this headline : "Leopard Mauls Three People." Naturally I gasped and clicked on the link and read the article which you can read here (do not click if you don't like graphic photos). Spoiler: The leopard totally scalped a guy. A leopard scalped a guy down the street from me and I'm just joking about it being loose like I didn't know it was a wild animal and that it might actually hurt someone?? Also, the next day one of the men it attacked ended up passing away but I guess the doctors and the police think there was some foul play involved. As in, the leopard started mauling him and the family tried to "beat the leopard away" but "accidently" took the opportunity to beat the man to death? I'm not really sure. The article on HuffPost was written before he passed away.

It is terrible that the man passed away and two others were attacked, I of course would never want such a traumatizing event to happen to anyone so I don't at all what I am about to say to be misinterpreted. Now that that's clear, I want you to know that the leopard was caught because a tuk tuk driver was able to corner it into a home and shut the door until it could be tranquilized. It was planned that today it would be released back into the jungle. I am really proud that as a culture, the people here respect wild animals and though the leopard freaked out and attacked, it wasn't killed. It was treated humanely and with the understanding that when you encroach on a wild environment that sometimes the consequences are felt. It definitely opened my eyes to a whole different side of existence here....

1.08.2012

Every week I feel like my heart shatters and is rebuilt in a way that I never knew was possible. Each time it gets pieced back together it seems it is made bigger and one of these days, I am quite certain that it will be too big for my chest. Some days, today being one, I come home from feeding the kids and I weep as I clean up the dishes. I promise you, it is not because I am hurting. I cry because of the grace we are shown every day here. I cry because I am allowed to have my heart shattered to a thousand pieces by a place that knows perfectly well how to break you down and put you back together so that you are better than when you started.

Today one of the slum girls, Anjuna, sat down next to me as I was passing out the last few meals. She had her baby 'sister' on her lap and after a break to take a picture she picked up one of the meals and started passing out the food with me. A girl whom weeks ago begged from us on the streets now sat beside me and gave with a smile on her face to her fellow children. A girl who, when we started passing out meals in this particular slum, tried (and was successful on some occasions) to take multiple meals for herself, now helped explain to the coming kids and families that everyone receives one meal. The happiness in her giving was apparent. Can you see now how the change in her is so real that it brings me to my knees?

These emotions were only compounded as I thought about Anjuna being around ten or eleven years old and I re-read an email I received from a fourth grade teacher this morning. In the email she explained that she had stumbled across my blog through Sometimes Sweet and that her class decided to collect change in the month of December to donate to the kids here. She went on to tell me that  though the socioeconomic demographics of her school are rough, the children of her class were able to "look beyond themselves and see the needs of others," they stuck by their decision to collect change and today, their donation made it's way to Guwahati. Children of ten or eleven years old saw a need far from the reaches of their reality and gave their nickels, dimes and pennies to help children of the same age out here. Once it reached here that love continued and the kids of the slums embraced the act of handing food out to one another. Can you see now, why my heart just breaks only to get put back together beautifully?

We have a huge responsibility in this life. The compassion that we show, the way that we open ourselves up in front of children affects them tremendously. Like light refracted through a drop of water, our tiniest of acts is magnified and multiplied and sent right back to us, or more importantly, to the world as a whole. Can you see now why it is so important to nurture a child's heart, to treat it as your own?




1.07.2012

Rajasthan: In Pictures

After spending the day in Agra, Annie and I boarded an overnight train and headed for Pushkar in the desert state of Rajasthan. It was beautiful! Annie spent her 18th birthday here... sick in bed. We ate some bad food and she had a one day illness. So glad it didn't turn into anything more. I quite enjoyed Pushkar! 


 Annie's first mahendi

 What a fancy camel!


Pushkar Lake


 Monkeys up to no good!

After a few days In Pushkar we headed by train to the very popular city of Jaipur. Jaipur was a crazy big city. Annie and I walked tons all over and spent Christmas Eve dancing on the roof top of our hotel. What a unique night it was! Jaipur was full of bazaars with beautiful fabrics; so beautiful that I purchased a saree, a lahenga style saree and a dupatta! I was in love with the colors and vibrancy of the city as a whole. It was packed with people though and lots of travelers means lots of touts which gets tiring by the end of the journey! Coming back to relatively quiet Guwahati was a huge relief.


Hawa Mahal




 Amber Palace/fort



My dupatta :)

1.06.2012

Agra: In Pictures

Annie's whirlwind visit to India started with seeing the never forgettable and always awe inspiring Taj Mahal in the City of Agra!

 Annie's first bicycle rickshaw ride (at 545am!)

 Dressing like a ninja warms you up in the unexpected cold

 Le Taj



 The beauty is in the detail

 Fancy Banana Lassi
 Agra Fort took me surprise


 Annie's first overnight train. Not quite the Hogwart's Express. I think she actually said that.

Perspective from the upper birth. Snuggling in, praying to not be attacked by bed bugs