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Excerpts From India...Jan 13th-16th

Posted Nov 29 2008 12:19pm

Jan 13

Last Monday, we vaccinated a whole village. There was one village water pump, goats freely wander in and out of houses, the houses are mud and stone dwellings, with gates made of thorn branches lashed together by bits of fabric and old tires. We wrote on each door or wall with chalk outside..our group number, a "P) if we had vaccinated any kids there, the number of kids, and the date. If kids were not there, we wrote an "X". We drew arrows to indicate the paths we took for when the NGO that provided the vaccine showed up, they knew which way to head, and wrote the number of houses we had done, as well. It took four hours, in the hot sun, plodding through mustard fields.

Dried cow poop is used for fuel in our teaching village, natch, for most areas outside the cities here. Our village is a mere 45 minutes or so from Udaipur, but years and decades and centuries behind in terms of what anyone would consider modern. You will drive and see piles of smushed drying cow poo on roofs and propped against houses, and women carrying big bowls of the pats on their heads.

There is NO sanitation infrastructure present, in any cities.. Our garbage, and everyone elses, gets dumped in the lot next to our apartment. And cows really do freely roam to eat it. And stray dogs. And today, there was a monkey. This lot also has the pooing kids from the tribal community RIGHT next to our apartment complex, where many of them are goat herders. Every day and night the goats come past. Kids from our "well off" upper class apartment complex play cricket in the same lot. And today, there was a monkey foraging in the trash, until he went after a cow and then a dog chased him off. Cows are in the big cities, everywhere.They just randomly wander, steal from vegetable carts, go into stores, and nap wherever they want.

The cows here often have painted and garlanded horns. The trucks and tuk tuks are also often adorned with tinsel. The tuk tuks and bigger autorickshaws are all doorless, with cut out sides for windows, no seatbelts, sometimes no brakes to speak of. NO ONE here uses turn signals, even on the highways, they use a system of honking and hand gestures.

Every day on the way to school we pass a construction site, where almost all of a modern highway overpass is being built..by HAND. And by hand I mean women and men with big shallow bowls on their heads excavating rocks and dirt. And true to form, construction workers are the same the world over, and they ALWAYS seem to be taking their buckets when we are returning from school ( this all being done in the open)

Going to school takes us about a half hour by tuk tuk. Going into old town Udaipur takes the same. Going to school once we get out of ***** proper we are in a totally different land, the ones where the half clothed kids come running out and wave to us when we pass by. We actually do wrist warm ups on the ride, because we have to wave so much.

Our kids are members of the lowest castes, but not untouchables. Parents farm the land, usually for subsistence only. They have no electricity. They have nothing modern. Very few of them have shoes.Public school is free here, and there is a law that they should attend, but it is not enforced. Kids are passed based on attendance, so we have a 16 year old boy in the fifth grade. Many kids bring baby siblings to school, who either hang in the "day care center" we have, or attend class with big bro/sis. And yes, I have even had a very baby goat in class twice, because it's mum had died and the kids family needed to keep it safe while they were working the field. Again, there is no electricity, no provided school supplies, just kids, in torn uniforms, half uniforms, or whatever they want to wear, sitting on torn mats on the floor, or outside if it's cold. Teachers have a chalkboard. And chalk. THATS IT.

Italian food is my best friend here, when I happen to hit a big city restaraunt. And it's often CANNED spaghetti, and thats totally normal. And I eat it, and I love it, and I have sick twisted perverted dreams about it. I ate "lasagna" every day in Jaislamer, just because it had a huge wad o' cheese on it. And I licked the bowl. And I licked everyone elses bowls.

Clean bathrooms do not exist. A good facility here is what in the US you would back out of at a gas station, saying " I'll hold it..it's ok.."

Nice budget hotels, recommended by Lonely Planet and the like, are ones that again, you would back out of not slowly, but in leaps and bounds, and then probably torch to the ground to prevent anyone else from ever staying there.

I have found myself saying of late, and many times over, that what I now consider normal is not something I can even explain. And trying to explain what things are like here defy any words I have in my vocabulary. I feel I have to invent my own language for it, and I get frusterated because I still feel I cant even describe it. And it's NOT horrific..it's just..what it is! And that truly gets lost when I try and convey anything. Whatever we in the west would consider just..status quo...is not here. Normal is redefined. Boundaries are stretched and snapped and jerry rigged back together. Emotional reactions and disgust and shock are quelled and replaced by calmness. Your brain shifts. Your expectations vanish. And one day, you find yourself enjoying a well deserved holiday in Jaislamer, not having taken a bucket in 3 days, drinking fresh made sugarcane juice out of a dirty glass, barganing at tourist shops, with a huge wad of toilet paper shoved into your pockets because you still have food poisioning or worms, and not thinking for one second that you smell or thinking it isnt normal to have to climb the steps of a restaraunt on your hands and knees because the stones is crumbled and the steps are so steep. You just do it.

I think that answers about half the questions I've been emailed. Keep em coming and I'll try and find the words for answers.


Jan 14th

Sunday was Lodi, a celebration of harvest here in Udaipur. Today and tomorrow are the Kite Festival, where..everyone flies kites.

Kids are usually absent during festivals and holidays, and today was not much different. We're down several teachers until the new volunteers arrive next week, so JK has the day care center as usual, NA taught 1st through third grade, and F and I taught fourth and fifth. We had classes outside, under a tamarind tree. For some reason I think the teachers were off flying kites as well, so the school was locked when we arrived, and morning prayers were skipped.

F introduced me to the class and explained that from now on I would be with the fourth graders, so they all decided that they were now in fifth grade. My old second graders were very suprised to see me again, having been thinking I'd gone back to America without saying goodbye. NA said I was now teaching the fourth grade, and I'd left them because they were naughty and wouldn't be quiet.

NA had the worlds quietest kids today.

Two second graders decided they were now in fourth grade and kept coming to sit near me, saying " I Chup, Didi, I Chup!" ( I quiet, big sister, I quiet!)

I got slapped in the face at the end of the day, used my tattoos to teach english (the kids like to read the pastry ingredients list on my arms, hold their hands against my hand of fatima and count the fingers.."hand, Didi, hand!") and used my earrings and bangles and watch and pashmina to bond with my new girls and teach a bit.

The kids were pretty much out of control due to absent Hindi teachers ( the ones who slap the kids..I coulda used one today..I jest, but not really..)and we cut short structured teaching around noon, sang the Crocodile song, which all the kids had been doing half assed since my absence, and played catch and cricket and steal Didis shoes and hide them in a thorn bush...

On the tuk tuk ride home a camel ran into the road, and we almost hit it, and it galloped all zig zagigng across the road in front of us for a few minutes until it decided it had had enough, stopped completely, and started farting. Yes, farting. Camels are the most flatulent creatures I have ever come across, friends and family included. Dear lord. KJ ( our driver) kept the tuk tuk going ( because when he stops it, it doesnt start again) and we kinda gently rammed the camel out of the way, finally.

I have a pretty epic headache, am taking a break from making worksheets with carbon paper. MJ came into my room today after lunch and massaged coconut oil into my hair and scalp for a half hour, then manhandled my neck and shoulders. I wonder what the words in Hindi for " Be careful, no skull" are. And then I took a two hour nap, woke up, and ate jacked up Indian cheese slices on chapati, because my stomach is being all funkified again. But it was nice..she wanted to help alleviate my headache, and I am now slicker than a greased garbage boar, and smell all nice and coconutty. It did take three buckets to try and get some of the slick off of me after dinner, though.

So, that was my day, or at least the exciting parts of it. I'm off to make more worksheets. We're going to try and teach fruits and veggies tomorrow. I hafta figure out how to draw a picture of carrots and onions. And then I'm going to eat some Advil with my fried egg midnight sandwich and faux cheese.

Miss you all.


Jan 15th

It's been a bit less than a stellar day here in *****. I've been coping with a slightly less than unbearable headache, and some pretty raw emotions anticipating my return to the world of flushing toilets and cured meats. I've been here one month, and it seems like so much longer, yet at the halfway point I also feel like time will fly by until I come back, and I don't really want it to. There will be a return to western pressures and expectations, and the starting point for a different kind of life, and I'll have to figure out how it all balances out. I know it will, but man..adjustments suck. I'm good at seemingly going with the flow, because that's probably been my biggest survival skill..the ability to uproot myself, change jobs, change appearances, and change attitudes, because I've had to do that when you're never sure what comes next. You can't really act like you have any expectations or plan for a future when you never know what kind of creeping crud and massive lifestyle change is going to come down the pike. I'm still trying to figure out how to define myself as healthy-ish, and let some of that guard down, so I can secure the best future possible for myself.

Not easy. Not fun. I do better running away than running towards. And those of you on this email list know that, some of you all to well.

So I was a pouty, headachey mess on the way to school. I wanted to stay in bed and sleep, but it's a headache in India, and that's not unexpected. We came in to a locked school yet again, because it's day two of the Kite Festival. A few kids showed up, including Mohanlal, my stinky, ADHD overdrive kidlet from second grade. I waved him over and he actually came, and held both of my hands..I would have gotten weepy over that but one of his hands was damp, and here in India, well, that's not such a good thing.

There was one teacher there today..she had tried yesterday to sell me one of her bangles for 400 rupees, one she claimed was diamonds and white gold. She gets a kick out of me in my indian dress and bangles and a pair of earrings I got for christmas with a tibetan/indian design on them. She calls me Indian Didi..anyway, today she gave the girls at school small packs of bindis and bangles because on festivals yopu give kids gifts. One of my girls stuck a bindi on my forehead and the teacher called me into the school and presented me with a set of orange bangles and my own pack of bindis. I was touched, but suspicious. I'm worried she may have a brother or cousin she wants to introduce me to. The bangles were impossibly small and she forced them painfully over my right wrist using a plastic bag to reduce friction..I find for the most part Indians to be gracious and kind, but you really CANNOT say no to them.

Back outside we were trying to decide what to do with the various kidlets when a cow wandered into the schoolyard. The teacher ordered the kids to get the cow out ( why I don't know..we have our own pack of lame, emaciated dogs that hang around and wait for lunch scraps, random chickens, and for gods sake, I've taught english to a baby goat) but in any case, it was something to see a few fifth graders chasing a cown to and fro across the schoolyard, behind the building, around the thorn bushes..

Teaching was relatively pointless..after making worksheets by hand last thing you want to do is use them on a lesson you'll have to reteach anyway and make more. I do have my priorities..so we did conversational english and played cricket and hopscotch. I was avoiding the sun and hanging under the tamarind tree, listening to my Ipod and letting the kids take turns listening to it as well. They want to know, in english, each singers name and what country they are from, and if they have brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers, and if they are fine.

One of the boys offered me ten rupees for my Ipod ( about 30 cents). I tried to tell him it cost at least 800, and when I turned around, he was gone. he came back panting a half hour later, saying " No Didi" and showing me his empty hands. He'd run to the fields and asked his father for 800 rupees for the Ipod. Then he tried to bargain me down to 20.

The tuk tuk ride back plus spending the morning in the heat had intensified my headache to a proper roar, and I was sniffling and teary the whole way home, missing even the daily laugh of the bucketing construction workers. MJ attacked me with the coconut oil once again when I came home, covering me from head to chest, pounding it into my scalp, using the heel of her hand to mash it into my neck..did I mention it's impossible to say no in this country? I gritted my teeth and endured as long as I could. She's promised to do it again tomorrow before school. I may be dead by tomorrow afternoon.

Everyone went into town after lunch, except me, who napped in the rec room and made more worksheets. MJ bought a washing machine today and is thrilled about it and wants me to come to her house tomorrow and see. I'm wondering what kind it is, in a land without utility hookups and daily power cuts. We are sans electricity for several hours every afternoon because they cut power to the rural areas because the system simply cant handle the load, and cities get priority.

So it was a mellow afternoon. NA just finished hennaing my hands, so I'm pretty excited to see how it turns out. The design is vey intricate and extends to my elbows on both arms. If I go to school tomorrow in one of my salwar kameez, plus my bindi, plus my tibetan earrings with these hands, I think that one teacher might adopt me.

All in all not a very comical day. But ok. Kind of.


Jan 16th

So, I'm mostly deaf in my left ear this time. My cough and boogery nose will maybe go away for a day or two, or at least quiet down, and then it's back, and when I swallow I want to stick something sharp in my ear to alleviate the pain and pressure.

Grumble mutter grr.

Which reminds me, the Hindi word for peas is mutter, so when I walk around class saying " Mutter mutter mutter" the kids look at me like I've gone a bit nutty. But I digress.

I stayed in bed until the last possible second today to avoid MJ and her coconut oil massage of doom. She waited until I came back for lunch. I really don't know how many more days I can do this. I did have a small bottle of actual shampoo I purchased one weekend away, and it's been taking three applications every night to even get half of the grease out of my hair. I know I'm destined to be at least mildly feral while here, but it's my SHAMPOO. On my list of things I would sell my soul for, in no particular order, are Robitussin, cheese, clean pillowcases, and my SHAMPOO. And it takes at least two buckets of water for three hair washings and removing coconut oil from my shoulders, and man, that's a lot of effort and time.

Wait.

Please add a pedicure to the above list. Actually, just make it a double foot amputation.

Digressing again...

The day started at school with F and myself locking our kids in the classroom. The little shits were not any better behaved with actual teachers present, in fact, they viewed us today as giant pale funny sounding playthings. SH, a previous volunteer, had taught the fourth and fifth grade boys to say " I am a naughty boy" and when we asked them to line up and come outside for our morning songs, they sat firmly, saying " No Didi! I am a naughty boy!" Then one pointed to each of his friends and said with glee " Saitaani YES, saitaani YES, saitaani YES" ( naughty yes).

I was not amused.

So F and I stepped outside, asked them one more time to line up, and when they refused, I said we would lock them in until they saitaani nahi.

And we bolted the door.

Two of the skinny ones escaped through the window. I corraled them and made each one hold a hand..such punishment for a 10-12 year old boy to hold Didis hand, I could see they were trying not to vomit, which made me hold on even tighter and bat my eyelashes at them, and ask them if they were married, and if I could be their wife. And then our kids refused to sing the Good morning song, and wanted to sing the Crocodile song, and I said they couldn't because they were being naughty and not listening. Then the 1st through 3rd graders wanted to know why I wouldnt sing the song with them, and I explained that the 4th and 5th graders had ruined it for them, so a melee of little kids sucker punching the bigger ones ensued.

Outside was no better..F and I instantly decided that we couldnt seperate the classes today because there was safety in numbers. Two of the girls ran off to the water pump without asking and just giggled and ran faster when I told them to come back. So when they did return to the tamarind tree, I had to forcibly remove them from the class and drag them over to the school steps to have a time out for 5 minutes.

They were not amused, and mass crocodile tears followed. And then, of course, they wouldnt come back to the tree when time was up. We tried to teach vegetables and colors today, but just got through about 15 minutes until the boys started punching each other and playing with balls they had in their bags. I confiscated all the balls, shoved them in my pockets, and did my damndest to keep my pants up. Then a few of them threatened to go home unless I gave them back their balls, so I happily waved bye bye and told them to go for it.

They were not amused. Again. I was getting into the groove of it by now. We passed out worksheets, the kidlets stole pencil sharpeners and then kept asking us for them while they hid them down their pants..same with erasers, etc..one stole the scissors and started to cut his nails, and when I asked for it back he held it out of my reach and said " Scissors PLEASE, Didi", because we make them say please and thank you, which are actually not often used in the Hindi vernacular at all. I tried to maintain a straight face, said please, and was returned the scissors. But when he did it again when it was time to check his worksheet, and held it away from me, I scooped up his bookbag, held it over my head, and imitated him. he cracked up and begrudgingly gave me his worksheet, and was behaving for a good 10 minutes. Of course the girls I had punished were sulking and refused to take their worksheets, until everyone else got to color in theirs, and then they wanted them. I woudln't let them have them, and a full on temper tantrum ensued, so I just moved the rest of class to the other side of the tree and kept teaching while they screamed and flailed.

We did a treasure hunt later with colored slips of paper in water bottles, to foster teamwork, learn the english names of colors, etc...that was just..a bad idea. The kids wouldnt return the bottles, they are so poor a freaking plastic water bottle is like Christmas. We let them have one each, the boys were trying to make off with 3 each, the girls would hide the one they had and then come to us whimpering " Ek bottle, Didi?" (one bottle, Didi?)

F was pretty frusterated, as was I, and one of the boys asked us " Didi sad?" I said "No, Didi ANGRY" and pointed to each one that wouldnt give up their loot.."saitaani, saitaani, saitaani.." and for some reason this got through..one boy who had about 6 water bottles started to have a trembling lip, scrunched up his forehead, and flung all the bottles at us. We explained he could have one, but he jammed his hands under his armpits and refused, until I grabbed him, threw him over my back hanging onto his ankles, and said " EK BOTTLE, NAUGHTY MONKEY BOY!!!" and asked him again if I could be his wife.

One of the others had cut his toe at some point in the thorn bushes, so after taking him to the pump so he could wash it off ( that in and of itself was a challenge..we've managed to get them to wash hands and sometimes face with soap at the end of our day, but trying to explain he should use soap on his feet..eek), and then I gave him a small bit of my hand sanitizer to put onto his still bleeding toe..it was pretty gnarly, and at least I was smart enough to not touch it. Of course, then every kid ran over with a real or imagined scrape, limping, crying, holding arms as if broken, insisting I examine teeny scrapes, healed over scabs, as each one was insisting it was a very serious injury indeed..so I gave up and gave them all a squirt of hand sanitizer, which they instantly rubbed in, and then started self inflicting injuries to get more.

I'm really, really, really, really tired today.

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