3.27.2012

Oh, what beauty comes from weeds

Remember how we learned growing up, that when you wish on a star or blow out your birthday candles that you shouldn't speak your wishes out loud because then they won't come true? Well, I treat many of my biggest hopes and dreams much like a wish I've made by blowing the seeds off a dandelion, a quiet prayer from my heart, words only God hears. If only one, God. If only one. Because I know the sacrifices God would make just for me. When the news channel asked to come and share what is happening in Lakhtokia I contemplated long and hard over the benefits and risks but decided, if only one. If just one person watches the story and says one prayer, does one positive act out of inspiration, or sees that loving these children is possible and necessary than it will have all been worth it.

Like a brick crushing my chest, I pain when the teenagers of the slum come to receive their meals and they are high. Sometimes causing fights, sometimes being overly physical with one of us, sometimes being too loud and drawing extra attention to the area where we set up shop. I pain so deep knowing that they started sniffing glue and petrol to suppress their hunger and like any drug they have found themselves addicted. I see the petrol soaked hankie in their hand and their eyes just can't focus to meet mine, if they did would the notice how I hurt for them? Would they see my eyes wander from theirs to the younger kids around them? I can't help but feel this weight of responsibility with the younger children, I so badly want to save them from that future. But the reality is that slum life is hard and learning to get high is easy so the odds are stacked. When I feel discouraged or lost in worry for each of their futures, I remind myself that if only one, just one of these children acts on the hope and love we have planted in them then every single effort will have been beyond worthwhile.

But you want to know what is amazing... sometimes one leads to another and even to another after that. There was a pediatrician nearby who saw the news story and wanted to help. he talked to other pediatricians, friends, officials and approached us. They are offering free medical care for every single child in Lakhtokia. Nor just a one off check up, but consistent medical care, a long term offer. Myself and a friend met with them last week, have another meeting tomorrow and will start the medical screenings from this Sunday. Lice treatment, deworming, wound care, and treatment of skin infections are the start. We talked for over an hour on where we can go from there, the thoroughness in their offered plan left me stunned. They thanked us (read: yourself included) for starting this project, for breaking down the barriers and stepping into a world that often remains untouched. For creating a footpath, a doorway, a foundation of trust in the community that can be safely built upon. Every single child will receive free medical care, I had to repeat it because it sounds so sweet. Every. Single. Child. Matters. 

The unspoken wishes, the quietest prayers, a dandelion seed delicately blown into the wind.

3.22.2012

A taste of village life


This past weekend I was invited out to a friends village for lunch with his family and to explore village life. Sadly, in all my time in Guwahati I have not ever gone to one of the villages though I have taken part in many traditional lunches. So on Sunday after feeding the kids, my friend and I headed out to our other friend's village! After a bit of a drive we all met up and I immediately hopped out of the car and onto the scooter so I could have a real experience. Mainly there was a lot of dust, crops, temples, cows, chickens and people on the road! We arrived at the family home and I was shown around the property. It was a modest sized bit of land but on it there were more varieties of fruits and vegetables than I can possibly recall right now. I was in awe at all of the different forms of fresh yumminess at my fingertips! I learned that most village homes keep their own small pond for fish and that 'local' chicken means chicken that wanders freely around town, like free-range chicken in the states! After being dragged around on a large fruit leaf, it was time for lunch.

Okay, vegans, vegetarians and generally queasy stomachs avert your eyes. Lunch was served on traditional copper Assamese plates and we ate on the floor. There was the staple dal, rice and vegetable. Additionally there was my new favorite, small fish. These are teensy tiny fish that are cooked up and eaten whole. They remind me of a few fish I kept in my tank back in the states. I have become quite obsessed with these little guys. You just pop them in your mouth, bones, eyes, heads, tails and all. The child in me wants to panic at the thought of this but the adult, adventurous eater is sooo satisfied. Then there is the small matter of the pigeon meat. I was told beforehand that we would be having pigeon and so I figured you know what, you only live once, why not try it? Let me tell you, it was the best bird I have ever tasted. I'll spare you all the details but I am so glad I tried it!!

After the wonderful traditional lunch we headed out on the scooter/motorbike for a ride through the village. I am kicking myself for not bringing my camera! The ride was gorgeous as the sun was setting over the vast rice fields. The temperature was perfect and the long ride was exactly what my soul needed right in that moment.

Along the way I saw two women working with yards and yards of string that looked strangely like the beginnings of a gamosa (a traditional Assamese cloth) so I asked if we could pull over. The thought never occurred to my Western mind that gamosas are hand weaved. I never even considered it! However these women were stooped on the ground arranging thousands of threads in preparation for the looming process. After being arranged they are moved into a loom and weaved together! So amazing! Bihu festival is coming up in a few weeks and gamosas are given out at that time so I am sure these ladies are keeping very busy!



After the ride we enjoyed some tea back at the village home and it was time to head to the city. I am hoping to make it there during Bihu as I think it would be the best place to celebrate!

3.20.2012


There was a time, not long ago, when I thought I was best as one. Slowly, so slowly in fact that I can not recall when it started to manifest, we buried ourselves within one another. You are so deep within me that I now realize it is not who is best as one but we who are best as one...








3.11.2012


I can't hear the sound of a train whistle without thinking of our many children in Lakhtokia. With each blast I find my thoughts drifting to them... where are they? What are they doing? Are they okay? As I lay in bed at night and hear the long, loud noise I wonder if they are able to sleep soundly. I wish I could provide a soft place to lay, removed from the chaos found at all times in Lakhtokia. I don't even know how they ever find rest, but at night I always hope they are safely at home, surrounded by family. During the day when I hear the trains passing through, I picture them with bags slung over them picking trash along the tracks. I see them racing from one side to the other, narrowly escaping the oncoming train. I wonder if they are in the slum or maybe even at school. I hope that their parents are not fighting and that they have had something to eat. I see each of their faces and my heart beats for them.

Most days of the month, most hours in the day I am left to wonder. But on Sundays as they trains race by at lunch time, I know exactly where they are. They are by our side, giving us hugs and doing their best to stay in a line to receive food. Seventy five children, running across the tracks to gather round. Today Rosie and I made the meals and headed out on our own as everyone else was out of town. I worried as we drove there that two people was not enough to keep control of the crowd but as always, I was shown that everything would be taken care of. We piled out of the rickshaw and a man who sees us every week helped us carry down the food. As we started stacking the meals to be passed out, two of our regular girls found their way to the front. Before I knew it, they were stacking, marking hands and handing out the food on their own with just a little guidance from me and Rosie. I looked down at Asbanu and noticed that she had two little clips in her hair that she received last Tuesday at the street girls day. The clips were a Christmas gift from my niece that she wanted passed along to the children here. Seeing them in her hair at that moment reminded me that in the midst of all this chaos the children here remain connected to people all over the world. Just as my thoughts wandered to my niece, I heard a cautionary blast from an approaching train that brought me back to the ground under my feet and the little girl my niece's age who was giving me a goodbye hug. Another blast from the whistle and she was off, across the tracks just in time to disappear behind the passing train.



3.09.2012

December 2012 + Father + Son + New Smiles

Here's the truth friends, I was only supposed to come to Guwahati for one week last February. That one week turned into moving here for six months, somehow those six months became one year. At some point, I realized that being here for one year is unthinkable so this week one year has extended into one and a half years. I was asked to stay on in Guwahati and continue my work at the cleft care center. This was everything I had been hoping for for quite some time! My current visa expires the last week of April, so I will find myself stateside the month of May and back out here from June for another six months. This decision comes after a week that was nothing short of magical at the center. Last Monday I had my first day back after being in Nepal, which is always a little hard. I was dragging my feet a bit when I asked Rosie if she'd like to walk down the road to a street food walla for some lunch.


As we were eating we noticed a young boy and what appeared to be his father sitting on the curb. They both had cleft lips and of course we knew they must be waiting for our team to do surgery on them. The little boy immediately pulled on my heart strings with his sweet smile and bright eyes. Later in the day I saw them in the center being screened, I found out that yes, they were father and son and both had cleft lips (the young boy also has a cleft palate.) They had travelled together from their district in the hopes of having their lives changed. I showed the boy our special hand shake and he coyly smiled at me. The deal was sealed, they were the only patients I had eyes for that week. Two days later after some testing the son received his surgery. I sat with him in the recovery room, he woke up perfectly, his surgery result was amzing, quickly I brought in the father. His dad was so hard to read and had a very usual reaction, he seemed slightly shocked but remained stoic. He sat with his son, encouraged him to drink and held a mirror for his son to check out his new lip. My heart did flips inside my chest as my head swam with questions, wondering how the father was feeling in that moment. 


Downstairs they went for the boy to recover. Two days later, I excitedly noticed that the father was on the surgical list! I worried though, I knew they had come by themselves and wondered what the young boy would do as the father was in surgery. I had one of the local nurses explain that he could come upstairs while his dad was waiting, play in child life and then spend time with me until the surgery was complete. Soon it was time, his father was headed back to have his operation. I treated the son to a slice of cake, he sat in the conference room with me coloring, playing games and watching the people outside on the busy street. 



Two hours later, an OR nurse came in to tell me the father was finished and to prepare the son. I quickly learned long ago that there are never huge, emotional reactions in this country. Families do not swoop up their children here and cry tears of joy at the sight of a post-operative patient. They tend to quietly take everything in, and remain very reserved. So despite the movie like scene that I wanted  from their first sight of each other, I had a feeling I wouldn't get it. I held the boys hand as we walked into the recovery room. There was a moment of uncertainty from the boy as he saw his father in a new way. They shyly greeted one another, the father placed his arm around his son and they took each other in. The closest experience I have to relate to this is a time when my own mother changed her hairstyle from a shoulder length cut to a shorter pixie style. My little sister was only four or five at the time and when she saw my mother for the first time, she had no idea who she was! My sister was so overwhelmed at seeing our mother's physical change that she burst out in tears and wouldn't allow my mother to hold her. Can you even begin to comprehend seeing your father with a changed face, knowing that you too have undergone the same transformation?  

We stood around clicking our cameras away but soon the excitement dwindled and people went back to usual business. I remained in the room with Kelly just gazing at them. As we watched, the young boy walked to the table where the nurse had put down the mirror, picked it up and held it for his father just as was done for him two days prior. The look of awe in his eye, the way he studied his father in that moment has forever marked itself in my heart. They stood this way, shared their new found selves as Kelly and I silently cried. It was perhaps the single most tender hearted exchange I have had the honor of witnessing in my time here. Reflecting on it now, almost one week later still gives me goosebumps, I can't wait to see them in their post-operative visit and to see them again for the son's second surgery. 


3.08.2012

Happy Holi!

Today was the first day of the big and crazy Holi!! Holi is a Hindu holiday that celebrates then end of 'winter' and the start of spring but doesn't seem to celebrate any God or Goddess specifically (someone please correct if I'm wrong.) It is a celebration of colors and in an already colorful country, it is SO much fun to make things even brighter! Typically a person would wear white and place color on one another but mainly its an excuse for people to let loose and assault one another with powder. We started the morning off by getting an omelet and chai then headed to buy some powder color. The four of us ladies decided to drive the scooties down to the main celebration area, Fancy Bazar, and meet up with some other friends there. Within two minutes of color shopping, Kelly and I were swarmed by men putting color on us so much so that the police asked us to leave. Yes, the police made us leave because being present was causing too much of a scene. That was when I realized that the day might be a little rough. Never the less, we drove around town, went down to Lakhtokia, spent time with Sima and her family, took a long drive to a friend of a friends house all the while having endless amounts of color attacks. It was crazy seeing all the people (over 90% men) on the streets just going crazy!! The little time we spent in Fancy Bazar was INSANE, I have never experienced anything like it in my life. There were machines shooting out powder, people dancing all over, and every person in sight runs up to put color on you. We all had it in our eyes, ears, mouths, up our noses and seeping through our clothes. It was awesome! 

The day was almost all fun except the men who completely know no boundaries. By the end of the afternoon Kelly and I found ourselves in tears and the most scared I have been in India since my adventure in Cherrapunjee. I was driving us home when we got separated from the group and subsequently lost. Men on motorcycles and in cars were trying to pull Kelly off the back while we were driving, throwing powder in my eyes, running us off the road and trapping us anytime we stopped to ask for directions. By the end, I was just blaring my little horn and yelling for everyone to stop. I can't even put into words how overwhelmed I was. One of the biggest downfalls about being a woman and a foreign woman at that is the inability to truly be allowed to take part in celebrations like these. As you can see in the pictures this is an amazing and unique holiday, but unfortunately for me this year it was overshadowed by the countless men who crossed the line. I will never forget this holiday but as a lesson learned, I think next time I'll travel in a car and only to celebrations at houses, not on the street. You live and you learn, my skin is stained from the color and the good times couldn't have been more good today !!

Oh did I forget to mention that we made it on the news AGAIN this week at the Holi celebration?? I think this place needs some new news!














3.04.2012

Asha Guwahati on the News!



What an exciting week and long week it has been! Last week we purchased the big cooking equipment so that mean that this week we increased the meals we pass out from 50 to 75! I also found out last week that a local news channel wanted to come and film us passing out the food and perhaps even invite us into the studio to talk more about this project. I have to be honest, I was very nervous about allowing the news cameras to come into the slum as I wasn't sure how the community in Lakhtokia would react. Each week has been so smooth and joyful, I didn't want to create chaos or cause anyone to feel as if we were invading their privacy. However, we all decided it was an incredible opportunity to spread the word locally so we went forward with it!

I excitedly woke up yesterday morning and started prepping the kitchen for cooking when the power went out... my stomach dropped a bit. We cook everything by electricity and have not had a problem in the five months we have been feeding the kids. During the summer the power goes out frequently so I knew I should have a back up plan but we won't receive our gas stove until today and therefore couldn't make the dal or rice on our own stove. I thought surely it would be a quick outage as they usually are but time stretched on and on without power... Rosie and Kelly came out to help and we decided to ask our coworkers if we could go upstairs to use their gas so on went the dal. The problem was the 10 pounds of rice that needed cooking and needed cooking quickly. A friend came up with the plan to take it to the hospital so while some of us stayed back two people went to the surgical center to plug in the rice! Eventually everything cooked, but I was sweating there for a minute! The news people arrived, filmed a bit at the house and off we went to Lakhtokia.

Passing out the food felt as if there wasn't anything different. Many of our regular kids arrived back from picking trash just in time to receive a meal and to hang out. There were lots of hugs, excited chatter and seventy five or so (we ran out of rice) meals were passed out to seventy five outreached hands. As usual, it never feels like its time to go so we all hung out for awhile, I enjoyed some chai with my friend Sima since I couldn't go to her house and we told the children that on Tuesday they would be picked up for a street kids day. The two men from the news asked if they could help on a weekly basis to pass out the food because they enjoyed it so much. How incredible!! Seventy five meals went so quickly I think we will have to make one hundred from here on out!