Who will love you, my dear?

This is a story I was worried I might someday find myself writing. Another rainy morning in the slum meant Parvati wasn’t outside waiting for me to administer her daily medicine. I walked to her home, squatted down and when we were finished a grandmother living across the way called me over. I peeked inside the dark shanty house, soaked and disintegrating from the days of rain. Back in the far corner cowered a tiny little girl whom I had never seen before. My eyes filled with worry as this granny told me that she had found the girl ten days back abandoned in a foot bath in one of the busy markets. She tells me she looked for the mother or father but couldn’t find them. No one has showed up in the area looking for the girl. She said the girl was clearly sick and wouldn’t eat or drink. I asked if she had a name and was told the girl wouldn’t speak.

I called her over, the girl with no name, and right away she came. Her eyes were equally as huge with worry. I guessed her to be around three, arms and legs skinny with malnutrition, a huge round belly, scratches, cuts, bruises and a swollen lip. I asked her name, no response just eyes searching mine. It was all I could do to keep myself from scooping her up in that moment and taking her home with me forever. I took off my shoes and sat inside the home with her for some time, soggy cardboard underneath me, rain dripping through holes in the tarp over my head. The granny told me the story over and over. I called and arranged to take her to the doctor that afternoon. Walking away, my mind was reeling. She needs to go to an orphanage… she’s an orphan. Her parents left her. The family that found her has potentially abused her. Her lip was too swollen to have happened more than ten days back. My heart was so heavy. There was a time when I would have felt anger over the abandonment of a child, but honestly, there is no room for anger. I don’t fully understand, no, but now all that is left is what to do from here, not what happened leading up to this.

I got to work and with the help of our child life specialist called an emergency child protection group. They came to us an hour later, and off we went back to the slum. I wish I could say I knew 100% that this was the right choice, but in actuality it is a choice that may come with repercussions. The foundation of trust with the adults in this community took a long time to build and could crumble very easily. Without their trust and acceptance we are not welcome to help their children. Me bringing the two young women from this protection group could likely be viewed as a ‘policing’ maneuver but honestly, what other choice could there have been? The granny begged and pleaded to keep the child, she started to become angry as she swore she would feed the girl, clothe her and send her to school though her actual grandchildren are struggling to get by every single day. At that point, Parvati spoke up. She counseled the granny telling her to think of the life that will be offered to this little girl if she went to the orphanage; that releasing her was the right choice. That young woman has such a unique heart; she has stood by me from day one when none of the other parents trusted us. She gives me hope through all of the darkness, because with those words granny accepted that the little girl had to go.

We scooped her up and with granny trailing behind us, this little girl’s new life began.

I must admit, I do in a small way understand why the grandmother wanted to keep this child who was in no way hers. I, too, momentarily envisioned providing a life for her but sometimes what we want is not what is actually best, let alone right, for the person whom we are helping. It breaks me into pieces to know I have a heart for adoption and would in a second if the time was right, but that time is not now. Granny learned in that day that you can not just find and keep a child, that you must follow a legal process and that an amazing life could be ahead for a girl who was discarded by those who are supposed to love her most. A life has been provided, not what I selfishly desired in a fleeting moment, not what the grandmother wanted at that time but a life that perhaps Parvati saw the potential for before any of us. An opportunity to have a home, an education, protection from child trafficking, parents who love her so much, who have waited a lifetime for her to come home and complete them. Oh little girl, somewhere out there are parents desiring you, loving you without yet knowing you. Praying for your path to meet with theirs. Oh little girl, life is just beginning. You no longer need to be scared or hurt. Now is the moment, sweet child, to start healing. 


Eid Mubarak!

 Last week it was nearing the end of Ramadan and that means planning a big celebration with food, sweets and new clothing following a month of fasting for followers of Islam. I have noticed that the parents in the slum have been off working (picking recycling) more than usual and I gather that it was in order to be able to buy food and pieces of clothing for their children on Eid.

Friday evening I had finished work and headed down to Lakhtokia to visit when one of the older boys whom I wrote about a few months back came up to me. He was chattering excitedly about the upcoming Eid. I picked up that it was expected to start on Monday and then he kept repeating something I couldn't understand. Something about chicken and Monday and Eid. To be honest, I thought for a moment he wanted to know if I could move the Sunday meal to Monday and throw in some chicken in honor of Eid. It would be unusual of him to ask this though so I called a friend and had her clarify with him what he was saying. I was overwhelmed when I was handed back the phone and she explained that he was inviting me to come on Monday at 8am to celebrate Eid with them and that they had been saving money to buy chicken for the day. "Chicken! Chicken!" He kept saying, what  rare treat it is for these children to get to eat meat. I can not even imagine how hard and how much extra they have had to work in order to celebrate this very special day and that they would invite me to join as part of their family. I could see how much it meant to him, how he had been planning the invitation and so of course, I obliged. Saturday and Sunday when I saw him he kept re-confirming that I was going to attend... while I was still in awe of the fact that the invitation was even there.

Ten months, ten months ago this whole journey with these children started. I can't believe how much they have grown and changed so quickly. How everyday I am coming to know them better, each personality, each name, their difficulties, their strengths. We've seen some of the shyer children open up and interact. The wilder children are learning boundaries, order and discipline. But most of all, still we are seeing the living proof that if you exemplify kindness in front of kids, they will in turn act in kindness. Maybe not in every moment but more importantly in unexpected moments. Never, ten months ago or maybe even ten weeks ago would I have been invited to such a special day with them. I still feel like what we do with this community is so simple, it takes me by surprise when I realize how much they have been impacted. As he invited me and anxiously reaffirmed that I would come I just kept thinking about how lucky I was to be there in that moment.

Monday came and I was running a few minutes late, I arrived in at Lakhtokia just as the boys were leaving for prayer at the mosque. I got to see them in their new clothes that they and their parents have worked extra hard to earn. Clothes that may very well have to be sold for money in this coming week so they can continue to survive. He was so excited to see me and very apologetic that it was time for him to leave to pray. I told him I had to go to work and that I would come back in the evening, we were both pretty sad that we wouldn't be able to eat together. The day went by, I thought of them often and how though they seemingly have nothing, they wanted to give back to me what they could on that day that meant so much to them. I think this is a lesson each of us struggles to learn through out our lives, not just to give when the times are good. It is so easy then. But to give even when the times are hard, that is when we are truly tested...

Sumon in his new t-shirt and jeans. (the expression on the baby's face kills me)

Avina in her bangles and necklace. Momma couldn't afford a whole outfit but don't worry, Avina was ecstatic over this little jewelry set :) 


A day in Mumbai

On my way to D.C. I had a full afternoon layover in Mumbai (Bombay) and was very excited about it! I have not gotten to spend any time in this city so I was ready to maximize my time and explore! My plane landed early afternoon so I quickly made way to the metro station and took a train South, about 45 minutes to Colaba area and it only cost 7 rupees (12cents). The train, in true Indian fashion, was like nothing I've ever been on. I sat in the ladies carriage, there are no doors, just an open rectangle to jump in and out of. Women hawking goods hopped on and off at every station. It was a quick and interesting ride and soon I found myself at my destination!

I hopped in an extremely cheap cab and went to the Gateway of India, a commemorative arch on the ocean's edge. The architecture in Mumbai is very colonial and many of the buildings look like they were plucked straight out of Great Britain and plopped down in this city.

Next I excitedly headed to Colaba Market! I walked around for hours, meandering through street vendors, shops, antique stores and even grabbed an iced coffee! After wandering the market I took a cab to Marine Drive and walked the length of it... a longer walk than I anticipated. I wish I could have gotten a picture of it that did its beauty justice but my little point and shoot just can't handle cities at night so I am going to share this picture from Lonely Planet:

I think it was during that walk that I started to really realize just how different this city on the West coast of India is from any other place I have been in this country. There were men and women holding hands, cuddling, kissing and just generally performing PDA all up and down the drive. Nothing over the top or inappropriate but I can not adequately describe how strange it is to see that here. To put it in perspective, in Guwahati if a man and a women are sitting next to one another in the park by themselves (not even so much as holding hands) they will be asked by the police to separate. Yup, it's true. So anyways, between the les conservative dress,  PDA, coffee shops and architecture I was feeling like I was in a whole other world... then Leopold's happened and my mind was further blown!

If anyone has ever read Shantaram (featured in my lovely friend Danielle's recent Literate and Stylish series) then you know of this bar/restaurant! I could not leave this city without stopping here for dinner! The food was great, the atmosphere exactly what I expected it to be and yes, there are still bullett holes in the wall... you will have to read the book to find out what those are all about ;) I was able to order a beef dish, chosen at the suggestion of one of my friends and it was mouth watering good. There are very few cities in India where you can buy beef at restaurants (sometimes if you know the right shop you can get it in the market) so I took advantage. Usually when I travel I don't eat meat at all but I couldn't resist. Fun fact: there are whole cities in India that are vegetarian meaning you can not buy meat and often even eggs in the market or at a restaurant! Mumbai would be the exact opposite of this.

Soon enough it was time to head back to the airport, I decided to avoid the train at night and opted for a taxi instead. the drive was extremely talkative (using way more Hindi than I could understand) and ended the drive with asking for my phone number, appropriate. All in all, it was a very productive lay over in the city! I can't wait to go back sometime with more ability to explore! 


Dandelion wishes: A video

I thought I would take a quick moment to share with you the video I put together for the ISLC conference. I spoke with the students about how I have come to treat so many things in my life like making a wish on a dandelion. You blow the seeds, not knowing where they will land or what beauty will come of it, but every tiny seed (act of service) has so much potential. It is a concept I wrote about first here back in March and have kind of come to fully live by since then. Watch, enjoy, wish!

Dandelion Time lapse filmed by Neil Bromhall rightplants4me.co.uk  (Retrieved here)

Music 'For You' by Coldplay


Transformative love

I roll out of bed, rub the sleep out of my eyes, throw on leggings and a shirt and maybe make a pit stop at the bathroom. I open the fridge, mix up a protein drink, break off a packet of medicine and head out the door. Onto the scooter I go, a few right turns, a couple of lefts and there I am. She's not waiting for me on the sidewalk so I know. I prepare myself for what waits me and most of the time, I am right. Down the market and to the tracks. A train passes so close that it nearly knocks me over. When it ends, I see her. She is crouched down and my stomach twists as our eyes meet. The hankie drops from her mouth, she cringes with shame. She is getting high. I don't know what pains me deeper the fact that she is addicted to huffing or the look in her eyes when I see her doing it.

I can recall the first morning I saw her huffing, the tears streamed down my face the whole way home. I questioned why I bothered to treat her physical illness when there is so much more beyond that to combat. But I already know the answer. The reason I do it, I continue to meet her every day, goes far beyond the medical aspects of treating a highly communicable and deadly disease. Its because I love her so much, and I don't know any other way of showing that love except this. I would meet her every morning from now until eternity if it helped her see the value in her existence.

She needs to survive this. The world, the slum in all of its madness, completely fades away when we sit in front of each other. Sometimes it feels like it is just the two of us as we read each others eyes and I can feel how much she cares, how much she is grateful. Some mornings, how much she can be ashamed. I need her to beat this illness in her lungs so we can move onto other things.  I need her to know she is loved despite imperfections, despite circumstance, despite downfalls, mistakes, addictions and anything else. Day by day, through consistency, reliability, smiles, hugs, medicine, food, water, laughter, she is loved.

 I guess that what I have learned, what I hope you can know, is that love transcends any word you can speak out loud. It is nice, yes, to tell someone 'you are loved' but it has even greater power when you show them. Love is transformative. It has the power to change the course of a life, a community, a world. When you live your love through action, it seems to me, that its power multiplies. I am hoping that it multiplies so much that it takes away the shame in this woman's eyes and instead lights a path that ends in freedom from the illness of addiction. I believe in a Love that is that strong. I challenge you to recognize a moment today in which you can serve someone who didn't ask it of you. Love someone who does not expect to be loved by you. Open yourself up quietly through service today, even if in just one small moment because that, even that, has great value.


"Why not be utterly changed into fire?"

I had the honor this past week to attend and speak at Operation Smile's International Student Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. I was really nervous going into it, as it has been a long time since I have done any sort of public speaking, but my nerves started to fade away as the conference began! My friend and coworker Deb (who took most of the amazing pictures this past year) just moved back to D.C. area after having finished a year out here in Guwahati. I was so happy to get to spend the week with her, to share all of our India/USA comparisons and to have someone supporting me who has helped with the kids since just after this projects inception.

I headed to Georgetown University for the conference on Sunday evening, full of nerves but was met with an excitement and energy that floored me! There were students I had never met that have fundraised for Asha Guwahati/Pratyasha Foundation over the last year, who love these kids despite never having met them. I was so humbled to meet person after person that has heard of the project already and wanted to hear more. Though I knew it is an amazing group of students from all over the world that attend the conference, I just wasn't prepared for how specifically passionate some of them would be for the children of Lakhtokia. The whole week felt a little like being in a dream. It was an out of body experience, stepping out of the day to day service and being able to see how much this idea of one meal to one child, one day per week has really impacted people around the world. My hope is that from this conference at least one student feels empowered to start something in their community, to realize that change can originate from seemingly tiny acts.

Add onto all of that their excitement for Operation Smile, listening to students share their mission stories, watching fundraising activities and team building exercises and I don't know how anyone could have walked away without being ignited! It was such an amazing week filled with old and new friends, many of which will meet again around the world through Operation Smile! As usual, time passed too quickly and already I am back in Guwahati. I was reunited with the children yesterday morning; their shrieks of excitement, endless hugs and ear to ear smiles made for quite a great start back here!

 Photo by Marc Ascher for Operation Smile

Photo by Marc Ascher for Operation Smile