BootsnAll Travel Network

Journal From Calcutta: Just Another Day, Keeping Calm and Carrying On

May 16th, 2009

 Look up Daya Dan, the orphanage run by Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity nuns in Calcutta, India,  in the media, and you will find a strange mix of reports, some negative .My experience being there was anything but negative.  If you want to really now what life is like there, read this entry.

Hello everyone. I’ve managed to swing getting the weekend off, so I’ve got some time for writing down  some of my journals here on this blog…

My general state of mind is good, but sometimes I am overwhelmed by either culture shock or reminders of what was a very painful return home.  

When I get overwhelmed by this, I know that the best thing to do is to read through my old journals..which have become my guidebook for how to live the life I now have.

At this point in my journals, I’ve crossed some sort bridge, probably a self imposed one, that took me from being a person that was worried and stressed and so caught in what other people thought of me that I couldn’t really give of myself totally. I did not have the capacity to be selfless for any thing more than an afternoon. And although I was capable of great generosity, I knew I had the capicity to give even more. Much more. In the past, I was always distracted before by my own needs and wants and fears.  At about this time in my journals, I see a real change, in that I’ve stopped complaining about things and worrying and so forth. I’ll use the words of a friend of mine from London, who said to me that day ” You just keep calm and carry on, that’s the brunt of it. Just get on with it, that’s what you do!”

Getting on with it. That’s a whole new skill set for me. It makes it so you can really give of yourself, and do so from reserves you didn’t even know you had.

This entry was written on the one day that I was actually able to keep a running journal through out a single day in live time…and it details what an entire day of volunteering at the Daya Dan orphanage was like for me. Reading back through those entries now, it blows my mind I had that much stamina! And it kind of helps me understand why I was so tired upon my return to the States.

 Here we go…..

I’m really tired. I’m so tired I feel like I can hardly write. I think the effect of being here, in the city, it’s come down to the wire for me. There is so much to look at and smell and taste and hear that I feel somewhat overloaded. Sometimes I feel like I have no more room in my brain for any more images or sounds or feelings.

I don’t really have much time to go online to blog, in fact the blog is somewhat dead in the water–I just can’t do it right now..journals will have to suffice. I worry about the people at home, but the problems I am dealing here are so much larger than anything that those at home might be facing. I feel very homesick. I also feel like since I will be home soon, I should focus on what is right in front of me.

Several weeks ago, my responsibilities at Daya Dan increased. I was already there a great deal and not taking much time off working full days and then leaving quite late in the evening and making it back to my hotel..then eating something, sleeeping and waking up to do it all over again. I love the work but it is very tiring. I do not think of myself at all and sometimes realize I have forgotten to take care of myself in small but important ways(drinking water, etc.).

 I feel like I am changing so much spiritually in this place. There is no other option but growth and self examination in a place like this. I could not function here unless I believed in something greater than myself. I could not make sense of it and I think I would not be able to see the beautiful moments as well as the difficult ones.

I have moved into the orphanage.

I do not think this has ever been done before by a volunteer-and it may not happen again-but the situation called for some creative thinking as the Sisters were are understaffed right now and the work is still there even when there are not bodies to do it.

Initially, I had only planned on spending a few nights on one weekend, but it was apparent that not only did they need me there but the children loved having me around, calling me, “their American mother.” Wow. The moment that the superior sister asked if I’d just go ahead and move in was such a lovely one, a real testament to how far I have come in my sense of responsibility and in my growing faith.  I had read about “personalism” before but now I had a chance to really put to to the test.

Living here has given me an even deeper understanding of what it means to be a sister here. Their lives are far from simple. I would describe their days as busy and hectic with much time devoted to the unexpected. They are called upon to problem solve the most varied of problems at every turn.

I had thought that the sister’s lives were devoted to prayer and contemplation, and although they spend a great deal of time doing that, they also spend a great deal of their time doing things from visiting the sick, running the clinic on the premises, running after children, feeding children, changing poopy pants and cleaning. And of course, running the place and all the day to day operations is an enormous task. There is no task beneath them and they are busy from 5 am until 10 pm at night, with only one “day off” a week. Even this day off is filled with activities, and of course the children are still there with all of their needs…so a day off is not really a day off around here.

Now that I am living here, the sisters have put me temporarily in charge downstairs of the boys. There is one other sister working with me, Sister Francis John, who is sweet and very young. The children love her but she is not much of a disiplinarian and so this falls to me.

The past few weeks I have often heard the Indian masseys say, “Do you want me to get Amy?” when a child is misbehaving. And most of time the child will improve at the idea that I will be called over to the situation. That’s a far cry from the aunt I was at home–not much for disipline or accountability and more of a “yes, you can have pancakes for dinner and stay up all night!” You know that kind of person…more of a friend to kids.

But being here has taught me that being a friend to a child is not a very good way to train them up nto being an adult–whether they have disabilities or not. Being here has made me appreciate the power of setting boundaries with children.

At home, I have often seen parents treat their children as friends, sharing with them as though they were adults or expecting them to decide things very independently. I have come to see that this way of raising kids is one of the cornerstones of the problems youth in the West are facing today.  (That is something I never , ever thought I would ever say. Just another example of how working in an environment that calls you to be so much more than who you were when you arrived affects one’s larger world view.)

The extent of my disipline is to simply be around. In other words, the kids behave better when I’m there and nvolved in what they are doing, taking an interest.

I spend alot of time putting kids in the corner. This is the time honored “timeout” method  we have at home, although here it is different, because you have to keep the kids in the corner and make sure they don’t run away. You also have to explain in very simple terms what they’ve done wrong. This requires great skill and patience and I like to use counting to ten over and over as a way to calm the child. These kids do well with consistency and once they have counted to ten in the corner a few times, they will actually sometimes put themselves in the corner on their own and begin counting!

Some children here do not understand right and wrong or complicated ideas. Some have severe mental disabilities and can not even count to 3. Yet, there is always a way to have a child understand not to do something wrong. The question is always how to find that way. With each child it is different. Some children get upset with even the idea of being put into the corner for a timeout and will change their behavior immediately. Other children need more than a timeout and need time and quiet space away from others to achieve understanding and tranquility.

I also bring many gifts for the children–particularly food, like samosas, noodles, fruit, and milk-sweets covered in silver foil or in a sweet syrup are some of their favorites. If a child is misbehaving, I often will tell them that they won’t get any of the special treats that day. You would be surprised how motivated kids are to be good when it comes to food!

The children are so excited that I am living here that they can hardly stand it. They are consumed with having me involved in every activity of their day and they do not like to have me leave for long amounts of time.

The sisters also do not like to have me leave very much. We are very understaffed right now–not many sisters and for some reason, many masseys are also out sick or something of that sort. Whenever I leave for more than 15 minutes I tell the sisters, and I have to return within a few hours. There are no tourist services in this neighborhood–I have to go all the way across town to get internet and so even email is impossible. Because I can’t send emails, I’ve been keeping special journals for the people closest to me in my life at home, and I’m going to give them to them as gifts. I think they will blow them away–the children have even been helping me with some of the special pages, doing the drawings and writing a little.

 The only time I leave these walls is to run across the street to the milk sweet shop to get sweets for the children or to the chai wallah I like down the street. Sometimes a cup of hot, milky chai gulped down on the street is just the jump start I need in the middle of a busy afternoon.

The response I get from everyone out on the street is amazing and has drastically changed since my arrival many months ago. The neighborhood is used to volunteers coming and going. The key word in that statement is “going”. People come and go, and most don’t stay too long. When they see a volunteer stay all day everyday, they are so appreciative, offering the “namaste” sign to me (hands folded together as if in prayer and a sight head bow) and often giving things for the children. I have a real sense of community not just inside these walls, but outside of them.

I spend alot of my time one on one with the children–especially in the afternoons, after naptime and lunch, when it’s quieter and less chaotic. Some of children can walk and I like to take them on walks in the neighborhood. There is a group of children that play cricket in the afternon near the alley by Daya Dan, and they will often put out chairs for me and a few of the boys I walk with to sit in and watch a few games. It’s very exciting for the kids, who are not used to so much action and the activities of normal children.

Everyone always wants to go on a walk, and often after naptime I am bombarded with requests to go outside.

But I try to be fair and take turns with all of them-including the blind children and the ones that cannot move and often seem as though they are not aware of anything around them. These ones have to be carried, as the wheelchairs we have are more like wooden chairs and are very heavy, not neccessarily made for the streets of this city.

Sometimes when I carry the ones that can’t move I feel like I cannot do it, but I always end up resolving that I can. Sometimes I only take them a short distance, but it’s still good to get them outside and exposed to more than what their everyday world is inside Daya  Dan.

There is one child in particular who is probably the most beautiful child I have ever seen, of unknown age but probably about 7 or 8 years old, who has enormous eyes framed by equally enormous eyelashes, who I must carry leaning his head over one of my shoulders. He never responds to anything at all, and the only movement he ever makes is a slight twitch of his mouth. Yet I notice on these walks that he shifts slightly and his eyes are watching what’s going o around him. Carrying him is like carrying a hundred pound sack of potatoes, and it’s tough. But I feel so good after I do it.

Sometimes I think that I can’t do this job, but I am constantly rewarded when I actually am doing it. This kind of work requires a kind of selflessness that I never experienced before. Even though home and the idea of home seems a long way off and far away, remote, to me right now..I know that I must find a way to incorporate this level of selflessness in my everyday life once I get back there. I wonder how difficult that will be.

My general day looks something like this:

4 am: wake up. There is no chance of sleeping in later, as my “bed” is actually in the exercise room which is directly above the boy’s sleeping room. Sleep comes fitfully as well, as my bed is actually just a thin mat on the floor and is often interrupted by the sounds of the children below. Some of the children call out or have bad dreams at night, others never seem to sleep, and sometimes it’s very noisy.

4;15 am: Binoy knows I am up and awake. (Binoy is the little autistic boy who I ahve been assigned to here for the last 5 months) This kid seems to have an automatic timer inside his brain! He is already downstairs in the big front room, with the lights on, spinning bits of paper and calling out, “Aaamy. Aaamy. Aaamy”, laughing as he does it.

I don’t have much time for dressing, I just throw on yet another salwaar kameez outfit, wash my face, spen some time in prayer for the day, and off I go , back to work. When I come downstairs, I am met by a group of the boys who all squeeze me and hug me and tell me they love me. Some have long term memory problems and are surprised I am there every mornng, jumping up and down and excitedly talking. Some have been waiting at the foot of the stairs for more than an hour, waiting for me. A great way to start my day.

5am- 7am This time is spent with the kids downstairs, and then the biggest boys and I go upstairs to the chapel for mass. It’s really hard for me to be at mass so early. I am consistently nauseated so early in the morning and we don’t eat until afterwards. But it is important not to miss it. I usually sit next to Mongol, a boy with a severe type of muscular dystrophy, and we hold hands. His hands are very small and slight, just bones and skin almost. His eyes are bright and happy and he has been a big teacher in my life here, teaching me much about what compassion is and how to love.

Volunteers are not invited this mass–it is a private affair, for sisters and higher-functioning children only. But since I am living here, they expect me to come and it is a real honor to be included. I love it so much more than the mass at Motherhouse, which although beautiful doesn’t include the children in it. Starting the day with kids from Daya Dan singing has become a neccessary part of my day.

Mongol is very funny, often complaining that he can’t understand anything this particular priest says. We laugh, and I always say,”Oh, I thought it was just me!”.

My other job is to make sure Mongol goes to confession if he needs to. He (of course!) rarely thinks he should but then again, who amongst us does? If it’s the priest he can’t understand, he never understands any part of the preists responses to what he’s said, but he always says, “Well, I do feel better at least!”

My favorite priest is an Indian man who is quite ample in both his physical presence and in his manner. His enthusiasm is infectious and he really seesm to enjoy talking to the children. Somehow his homilies always involve stories about princes or elephants or kingdoms, and they always have a moral ending.

7am: Breakfast varies. Sometmes, sisters make me a special breakfast and I eat upstairs with the priest and the kitchen table. Sometimes  the cook makes me something special and I take it downstairs and eat it with the boys. It’s usually a breakfast of fresh, hot chapati, some sort of chickpeas in a tomato sauce, or fried bread or gruel. Gruel is made of rice and water and sounds awful but it’s pretty good.

Sometimes I eat with the boys. The big boys breakfast is white bread and bananas and chai. This breakfast of very little nutritive value is the breakfast of Indian children all over the country. Stacks of loaves of white bread are sold on evey corner. It is eaten plain, but I keep a secret stash of peanut butter for myself and the boys so we sometimes eat it with that.

7:30 am The other volunteers start coming in  about 45 minutes, so there’s alot of work to do to get ready. Volunteers are the main people that socialize the children, and they are the teachers of the children that cannot go to a proper school. They also handwash all the laundry, change the beds, clean the children…and in general provide diversions from daily life inside the orphanage.

The Indian masseys from the night shift are leaving and the morning shift is coming in. Before they leave they bring me a thermos of hot, boiled water for my instant coffee that I must gulp down several cups of before I can propery think! or do anything!

We all gather at the Mary downstairs and they sing a song in Bengali. This is always a serene moment in the mornings, and no matter whatt else is happening(remember there are alot of little boys there!) the song is sung. The men who guard the front door at night have rolled up their sleeping mats and have also joined in–the only staff person who never sings in the Muslim driver, who is getting the ambulance ready to take the big kids to school.

After this is done, the big boys must get ready for school. They have a “schoolroom” where all of their things are kept and they struggle with putting on their navy and bright blue unforms. Some of them need help with their socks and shoes. They comb each others hair, pack each other’s backpacks, and off they go, not to return until mid afternoon.

8am: Prince is going crazy this morning,as he does every morning. Prince is a 15 year old boy that has been with the sisters since he was a toddler. He was found in the street, sitting atop a pile of garbage, with a terrible infection. He survived, but those early days of his life, alone on the street, have damaged him forever. He cannot speak and uses simple sign language to talk.

This morning he’s very animated. He wants me to turn the music on. He likes to begn his day the same way every day, dancing around the front room to music. I put a cd on but he doesn’t like it and bobs his head vigorously, telling me to change it. I put on another one, this one a very energetic collection of nursery rhymes in Hindi.

Prince likes to tell stories, even though he can’t talk. Once you are around him for awhile, you can understand some of what he says. His stories are all untrue and very wild. He will talk of jumping off the roof of Daya Dan, landng on a motocycle, and then seeing  a dog, and then jumping onto a passing bus. I am not sure how I can understand him, but somehow, after spending so much time with him, I just do.

Meanwhile two of the children are misbehaving already, some sort of disagreement over an object. Luckily they are Binoy and Ankur, who are good friends. I have them help me bring in some plastic toys and rockers from the entry room and they get busy playing and forget all about it.

We are also getting every child bathed, dressed and out of bed. All of this happens before the volunteers even arrive. We have only three masseys this morning and myself so it’s slow going. The mosre ambulatory children are easy–it’s the ones who can’t move at all that take a long time. Some are very heavy and this is also a real issue in the morning, because you need very strong people to lift and carry them.

8:30 am Volunteers are arriving. Now that I’m a bit more than a part-time volunteer, I see things from another point of view. Volunteers come from all walks of life, with all kinds of experiences. Some have never volunteered at anything before. Some have never been around children before. Some have no experience with developmentally disabled children or adults. Some have a chip on their shoulders, and come thinking that they will be in charge because of skills they have–others come in the door and never really do much at all, just leaning against the wall and talking to friends. Some are there for only one day, a four hour shift, or to take photographs. Some are there to volunteer with school groups and are teenagers.

Whoever they are, they must all somehow work together as a team to accomplish many things today, some of which they have never done: such as change poopy pants, feed children who can’t move, do physical therapy exercises, sing songs, teach, and in general, provide a consistent living environment for children that are going to be institutionalized for life. Some come from countries where..there are no developmentally disabled people walking about, willy nilly. One doesn’t see them. Some volunteers are in shock the first time they see an autistic child  or a spastic child or are in shock at the prospect of what we need them to do. Maybe they’ve never changed a dirty diaper before, or fed another person.

Today a new volunteer stood open-mouthed, in shock, as she was asked to change poopy pants. “The volunteers do that here?”, she asked, standing behind her face mask (!) and weakly waving about a pair of rubber gloves. (!!!Well …they aren’t going to change themselves!)

My job is to coordinate new volunteers and match them to children who need a partner for learning or what have you. I soon discovered that this was too big of a job for me, and I asked other long termers to help me.

Sometimes when I communicate to the volunteers I don’t have much time, and so if they don’t like having me tell them/ask them what we need from them that day, they get upset. Today I spoke with one young woman, about 19, and she took it the wrong way. I have had to “make it right” this morning and it was not easy. But I have to let to go and move on, because I haven’t the energy or time not to do so.

Laundry is the biggest thing we do in the morning. It is done in aluminum tubs with water and a soap out on the back patio. After being soaked and scrubbed by a group of volunteers, the volunteers must carry the wet laundry up three flights of stairs to the roof to hang it on clothes lines. This is hard work and physically taxing, but the sisters do not believe in washing machines. It takes a crew of at least seven volunteers to do the morning washing. Today’s crew is very energetic. They have been working together for about a week and they are from around the world-Korea, Japan, French, Italian, Indonesian.

The other volunteers are changing the sheets and washing down the mattresses in the boys’ bedroom or playing with the kids in the front room.

My main job is just to organize things and keep everything on time.

9am: At 9, we have all the children and volunteers meet in front of the small wall alcove in the front room that holds a cross and a statue of Mary, and we have a time of prayer. The prayer is done by rote and the highest performing boys stand in the front, leading everyone else with a few prompts. Binoy is the star of the show.

It is interesting to see how volunteers respond to this “prayertime”. Some are obviously uncomfortable at the mere mention of Jesus or God and stand silently, while others sing along. Here at the orphanage, it’s just a microcsim of life in the real world. People come here trying to work out alot of issues they have and sometimes those issues are about faith. But they are in a Catholic orphanage!, so I am always surprised that the religious part of daily life there is something that they struggle with. It seems like they would be expecting it..

At the end of prayer time, a  child is chosen to “bless” everyone present. This is done by having the child place their palm on the head of everyone, one at a time. If it’s a child that can’t move too much, they are carried by a volunteer and the volunteer uses one hand to bless for the child. I love this part of the day and the kids love it too.

9:15-10am: After prayertime, I must coordinate with all of the volunteers. Some will go to the mediation room with the higher preforming, more ambulatory children. Others go to physical therapy, while others are assigned to individual children.

This last group of volunteers are the ones that are the long term volunteers. They have to be very committed because  they have to show up. It affects the children very adversely when they get assigned someone who stops coming. So my job is to pay attention to what the volunteer really wants to offer and see if they are a good match for a child. Some children have many behavioral issues and need a volunteer with a stronger personality. Others need someone who is very relaxed and easy going. Some children are very heavy and must be carried to the bathroom, etc, and this requires a very physically strong person.

I always have trouble figuring out what to do with people that are there for one day only. That is not to say that they aren’t useful, but it’s difficult to give them a task that is short term and requires no training. They end up doing alot of laundry!

Meanwhile, the volunteers doing physical therapy are gathering up their kids and either carrying them upstairs or taking the elevator. They will be in the large physical therapy room upstairs exercising and moving all of the children who have limited or no movement. They begin their therapy session with a music meditation sitting in a circle on mats, and then the physical therapy part takes until lunchtime.

The blind children meet in a room upstairs with the Indian Asssocation of teachers for the Blind. The kids who are blind need some help to get to their classroom.

The other children all go to either individual teachers or to meditation. This group also meets upstairs in  rectangular room painted pale pink with flowered cushions placed in circle. We listen to music and we try to help them focus and relax. This is not always easy, as some children might get up suddenly and walk or run around the room; or might have trouble concentrating. After music time we take turns singing to the children and talking with them, using a script. For many of these kids, it’s their favorite time of the day.

I sometimes join in on meditation. I have been going to mediation for the entire time I’ve been assigned here, but my newer job duties mean that I can’t always sit thru the whole thing. This is a struggle for Binoy, who likes things the same. But I have found my replacement and I want Binoy to bond with him, so this has freed me up to walk around and check on everything.

There are always things that come up: someone knocked over their milk; someone went to the bathroom in the wrong place; someone needs to be taken to the toilet; someone can’t stay in the meditation room and needs a timeout; someone is sick. I am very busy for this period of time!

10am-11:30/12 noon :This is classtime for those kids that are not in physical therapy(which continues on until lunch). Some kids are with individual teachers, some kids are in a group class. I’m always assigned to Binoy and we’ve got a system down for each day of the week. Today’s work is in two parts: Reading and Behavior.

I’ve been teaching Binoy to read. This is not easy and it takes a long time for him to understand what he’s saying/reading. We work on that until he’s about to bounce out of his seat! and then we work on behavior.

Today we are working on not touching objects that are not his. He has a problem taking objects that appeal to him and hoarding them, hiding them, or throwing them on the roof of the neighborhood buildings. Sometimes he likes an object for it’s shape and spinning ability(he likes to spin things) but generally it’s because he simply wants it at that moment. In particular, he like to walk thru the physical therapy room and steal the children’s toys.

Today we spend half an hour working on having him not touch toys.

This sounds boring, but it’s not. Binoy has fond some very creative approaches to getting around doing what is asked of him. He is a smart and sometimes sly little boy. But he responds well to rewards and I have plenty of those in the form of biscuits and stickers in my pockets!

11:30/12 noon-1:00pm: It’s time for lunch for all the little boys.

The boys wear “school clothes” and must change into “everyday” clothes before eating. Once they are out of their red and white uniforms, they are taken to the dining room for lunch.  The blind boys also have school uniforms on for the blind school and they must change also. Some children must be taken to the toilet before lunch as well.

Volunteers set up the dining room with chairs around large brown tables. Food is brought out and put on a sideboard, usually rice, dal, and a third thing, such as chicken or fish.

I run around tying bibs on everybody who needs one and getting out tin plates.

Sister Jonafa has asked for three volunteers to always be in the lunchroom. This doesn’t include volunteers helping kids to eat who cannot move. Volunteers serve food, clean tables and kids and bibs, encourage children to focus on eating, and take them to wash their dish/use the toilet afterwards.

Lunch can be chaotic or it can be peaceful, but it’s always a busy time. For one thing, we have more than 15 children who must be fed and cannot eat by themselves. Then we have other children who won’t eat without a little help, and we have other kids who don’t like to eat and must have someone with them, urging them quietly to finish lunch. For example, Joachim today kept staring off into space or playing with a piece of paper in his hand and not eating and needed his teacher next to him the whole time, giving him simple prompts to eat.

Today I’ve brought ketchup–a Daya Dan favorite– for the boys. It’s amazing how such a small thing as a bottle of ketchup can be so exciting, but the boys all want some and they all seem to enjoy eating alot more with it. Even those kids who can’t talk but are aware are looking at me and making slight movements, showing they want more ketchup.

It kind of makes you look at how small things can make a big difference–especially things we take for granted.

Some of the kids are quite labor intensive to feed and it takes a very long time to feed them slowly and properly. Often volunteers are there for over an hour feeding  a child, or still there feeding them when other volunteers have left.

Food here is simple but nourishing, but it’s heavy on the dal and rice ( a mainstay for Indians!) and I’m not big on dal myself after eating it/looking at it day in and day out!

Volunteers not helping feed have the famous “tea break”–hot chai and biscuits provided by the sisters. This is sort of a community time, a time for the volunteers to rest and talk. I never sit with them–or at least, only rarely. When I first came here I did, but then, there’s always something to do, isn’t there? I haven’t much time for tea and cookies these days. Today a volunteer brought over some tea for me to drink, but Binoy took it and drank it before I could get to it.

12noon:It’s naptime for the boys. Some don’t really nap, and are extremly energetic at all times. Others are asleep the moment their head hits the pillow.The volunteers have all left and gone back to their hotels or to lunch before heading to their next placement–Kalighat or what have you.

Today I am singing “Amazing Grace” to Binoy, Ankur, and the other boys in their beds. I can’t sing well at all, but they don’t care. It’s very calming for them, and each one gets a turn with me sitting on their beds, giving them a little massage. They love it and it sometimes helps them be calm enough to go to sleep.

12:30-2:30pm The sisters have been taking turns making me lunch. This is quite an honor, I think..but I never know what I will be eating! My first few months here I just ate what the masseys ate, but I have to say, I was not accustomed to the food and was ill alot.

When I moved in, I did not want to ask about the food situation, so I said nothing. Worry for nothing, right? But somehow Sister Paula Marie found out I was eating pretty irregularly and arranged for the meals to be made for me. I am very grateful for this as there is not street food I would feel comfortable eating nearby except milk-sweets, and I cannot live on milk-sweets alone! Although I would like to!

Today I have an unusual lunch of homemade chicken soup–kind of like a clear broth, jelly and butter sandwiches, and a tomato salad with onions on it. There are about 8 sandwiches. I am constantly surprised at how much they think I can eat. I eat a few and stuff the rest in a cloth for later consumption by the big boys downstairs.

I am supposed to take a nap and rest at this time, but when I get downstairs Mongol is waiting for me. He wants me to help him eat his lunch. I’ve brought him some chicken(his favorite) and he has the usual dal and rice, etc. During lunch we talk about very deep subjects. Mongol has normal intellegence although physically he is limited. The conversation ranges from some cards he wants to make for some volunteers who are leaving; to what muscles and bones do; to the “dinner party” we are planning for Valentine’s day.

After lunch I take Mngol up to the roof to see his sister who lives at the orphanage too. We all go up to the roof and blow bubbles.

God, I’m tired. I have not stopped moving since 9 am. And thats not walking. Thats running!

After lunch Mongol doesn’t want to take a nap by himself, so we get some of the big boys to go up to the physical therapy room with him and they all lie down on individual mats while I play some soothing relaxing music. I don’t sleep at all, I just make another cup of coffee and work on Binoy’s classwork for an hour.

2pm:At two o clock, the boys are all waking up- both upstairs and downstairs. The little boys are caling my name out as they know I’m upstairs and they want me to come down.

I can’t though–we’re having an art class today with the big boys, and we are going to draw to music. I’ve found some beautiful music in one of the meditation rooms and I put that on the cd player and get all the boys arranged around the big work table. I turn the music on, and somehow an hour passes, with the kids drawing to the music and total silence. It’s good for them to do this kind of free expression–here in India it seems like there is much encouragement for kids to ‘draw inside the lines” and not much focus on creativity.

Downstairs, the little boys and all eating a  snack and the masseys are getting ready for their rosary. They do this everyday in the front room, with all of the children.

A few random volunteers show up, and the masseys ask me to come and talk to them. They are a big group, only here for one day–really just a few hours this afternoon. They all have cameras and although you can take photos in DD I tell them not to go crazy with picture taking, but focus on sitting with, talking to, and playing with the kids. They decide just two of them will snap a few photos and this seems to work out well. Some of them are senior citizens and the work is difficult–much bending, squatting, sitting, kneeling…so I bring them up to the art class where they can sit at the table with the kids.

Some of the little boys sneak upstairs into the art class and I tell the they can stay if they are good and behave nicely. One little boy named Joy is quite intelligent but is very stubborn. I am worried he will be a distraction in the class, but he finds a seat and sits there, doodling away, happy to be included.

4pm-5:30pm: We don’t have many volunteers regularly come in the afternoon. The only set program we have is the tutoring program for those bigger children that go outside the home for school. At 4 o’clock, a small group of volunteers arrives, including Josef, a friend of mine from Austria who is helping a boy named Rahul with cerebal palsy pass his exams so he can go to the next grade. Rahul doesn’t have  much of an attention span, but Josef has really stuck with it and Rahul has improved dramatically. Even his confidence has improved. It’s seeing volunteers like Josef who come in and give everything that really make a difference.

I’m assigned to two older boys who have difficulty with..pretty much..everything. One of them can count to 20 but the other one cannot count at all. One understands groups and differences between objects, but the other one sees no difference at all. We spend alot of time on matching today.

One of the things I love about tutoring these boys is when they do something really well, and I say, ” Wow, What a good boy! What a smart boy!” , their smile beams from where they sit to the next room. They are very easy to please and alot of their issues with learning have more to do with confidence than with not being able to do it. One of them has a very short attention span, but just practicing helping him focus for a few moments before beginning makes a significant contribution to what he can process that day.

5:30 pm-7:00 pm: It’s time for dinner. Little boys eat before the bigger boys.

I’m the only volunteer and there is alot to do. The dining room must be set up and we have many children to feed. Today I feed a boy who cannot move and is blind, deaf, and  has a very small head and a very small brain. I forgotten the name of his condition temporarily–but DD has several orphans who have it.

After the little boys eat, the dining room is cleaned up and I sit with the big boys while they eat. I help Mongol with his food–he needs someone to help him although he can do some parts of it himself. He cannot hold a fork or spoon, so if the meal requires that he needs to be fed. 

Mongol is the prince of Daya Dan–he is the only boy there who has normal, high functioning intelligence and he’s the only child who commands much respect from all the other children. In spite of being in a wheelchair and being quite small, he issues commands and requests right and left and he has a little group of boys that he is always with. He cares for the other boys and he has a lot of responsibility to be a good leader with them. He is ordering chai for me even as I write this down!

Tonight I have promised Mongol some one on one time, just with me. He is very attached to me and I think it will be very diffcult for him when I leave here.

7pm: I go upstairs and tell the sisters I’m going out for a little while. My dinner sits waiting for me on the table..I wonder if it will be jelly sandwiches? Those were much better than rice and dal! Either way though, one thing I have learned here is to be content with what I am given.

I walk out into the street, just to get some space and some air. Of course, the air is thick and grey and not really air at all here, but let’s pretend that it is.

The street is full of people. There is an Indira Ghandi center near DD and there’s some sort of political thing happening there tonight. The homeless families that normally live on that stretch of sidewalk in front of the center has been cleared off for tonight, and their bundless sit in an alley on one side of the center.

The children of those families still loiter about although their parents seem to have disapeared. One child is wearing a faded and torn t-shirt that says, ” Daddy’s Princess” although she is bedraggled beyond belief. She carries her little brother, who is entirely naked except for a battered knit cap of bright green that is tied under his chin and a tiny string tied around his waist.

I always struggle with giving people on the street anything–especially outside of DD. I don’t want the people living outside the orphanage to begin expecting volunteers to be giving out handouts(although it happens) . For example, one day I was followed for almost half an hour by a woman, reasonably well dressed and groomed, begging for money ust outside of DD. The thing is, if they are truly in need they can go to the sisters and they will help them –not with money but with food or medicine, yes.

Chuldren are exceptions of course–although they are often paid to beg.  I decide to give these two some food anyway.

I walk three blocks down to my favorite milk sweet shop. It’s the best one in the area, with a lovely array of milk sweets, some dusted with pistachios, some covered in real silver foil, some pink, yellow, green. I buy a box for myself, one for the masseys(who work so hard!), one for the boys at DD and one small one for the two street children.

The sweet shop is hot, thick with sweet in the air, filled with flies and sweating men rolling out sweets on the floor in the backroom. A large vat of hot oil bubbles and a small boy, no more than 7 or 8, looking faded and tired with large grey circles under his eyes, drops hot circles of dough into the oil and takes them out again. These donuts are one of the most popular things the shop sells and the boy can’t make them fast enough for those who are buying tonight–women dripping in costume jewelry and bright polyester saris, men wearing pastel button front dress shirts and grey or dunn colored slacks with flip flops, children still in their school uniforms.

I want a few , but I’ve already been gone too long.

Going back to the orphanage, I step over  a dead dog. It was alive this afternoon, I remember seeing it then. It’s a hard and fast life for dogs here, these pariah dogs of the streets. Someone’s covered it with some newspaper at least.

The streets are a mess, full of half hand dug ditches and valleys, as they are continually working on the roads around here. It’s as if the city must fix things by the most archiac means neccessary. Actually, this is true. The city has to find employment for thousands and thousands of people every year, and how they do this is to do public works projects in such a way that they take a long time and make a big mess. It is not unusual to see women, very tiny and slight, lugging wet cement on towels on their heads, slowly filling a road in; or men, wearing only their pants and some flip flops taking a pickaxe to a new section of the streets outside DD in the wee hours of the morning.

Watching carefully where I am stepping, avoiding everything from holes to gulleys to human excrement to mysterious green bubbling substances in the gutters in the street, I make my way back to DD.

I’m almost back to the door when suddenly a parade (or a protest ?) comes down the alley, heading my way–it’s the Communist party! They do these odd protest/marches all over the place, and it seems like around here in this neighborhood its at least once a week. I have to wait to get into the alley and as I wait, I watch the men walking by.

They are all tired looking, wearing clothes lacking the normal colors one sees on Indian men (hot pink ,bright white, bright orange!). Instead they seem to be representing every shade of gray. They carry big flags with the Communist emblems in red and white, and they sport red armbands on their right upper arms.

They sing out some sort of mantra….

 and in the silent part this is punctuated by the sounds of

 flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop of their cheap sandals flapping in unison on the pavement.

They do not seem to be phased by the traffic that they are holding up or the big yellow ambassador taxis honking at them or the open truckloads of people waving at them. They focus their sight straight ahead and do not even glance my direction (a rarity for me on the streets of this city!).

I find the street kids, give them the sweets, and they greedily tear open the box, breaking the red string tying it closed, eating the sweets by putting the entire thing in their mouths at once. They are very hungry.

7:30 pm: I’m back at DD again, having slipped out of my street shoes and put on a clean salwaar kamez, I go to find Mongol and he and I head upstairs for my dinner.

I’ve been trying to share these meals with at least one child, and this is sort of ends up being Mongol alot of the time because we do like each other so very much. He enjoys and needs alot of special attention.

Dinner is an actual green salad. Am I dreaming? My dreams here are often of lettuce and raw crunchy vegetables, I am not kidding you. Do I eat it? One isn’t supposed to eat salad here in India. And even if it was cleaned with clean water, it’s doubtful it was soaked in iodine. eat or not to eat? It is too tempting to turn down. I dive in. Ah, raw lettuce! Fantastic! I haven’t had raw lettuce in five months. I’m probably going to get sick from this–but not only is it very good, I don’t think I could turn down anything the sisters made for me.

We have potatoes and chapati and okra, too. Mongol, inspite of having eaten a dinner already, seems to be a bottomless pit and eats two plates of food.

We chat about the days events and talk about our dinner party that we are planning for Valentine’s day.

You see, the children love Kentucky Fried Chicken . It is extremely popular in India, maybe becasue the portions of meat are so large and also the place is very clean and sparkly, kind of unusual here in this environment. KFC’s are very crowded and busy here, and the kids love to go out to the local KFC.

But it’s very difficult. We have to get permission; then we have to dress them all; then we have to take them out onto the street; then we have to catch a cab that will fit us and wheelchairs (and not suddenly decide, once we have all the kids loaded up, that it will cost more money than it should); then we have to get there, all crammed into the cab and hanging onto dear life thru Calcutta traffic; then we have to unload them; then we are finally at the restaraunt! And then we have to help them eat, and take them to the bathroom, and so forth…

Mongol’s idea is to bring KFC here, in his own words, “to have a Daya Dan restarant!” We are literally going to turn one of the small classrooms upstairs into a restarant, complete with waiters and everything and real silverware and glasses (no plastic, Mongol says!) and so on.

So I’ve enlisted the help of several wonderul volunteeers and we are going to make it a Valentine’s day theme. The sisters cannot attend (they aren’t allowed to eat with others), but they have offered up Sister Paula Marie’s famous salad.

So Mongol and I spend the rest of our meal planning for this special night–he wants to have formal invitations and make it so everyone comng has to dress up. I have to wear a sari, he says…

9pm We are downstairs, sitting on Mongol’s bed in the big sleeping room. I’ve bought him a chessboard and I’m teaching him how to play. We are surrounded be all the other boys, some of whom (ie, Binoy) are eyeing those chess pieces as possible diversions or play things and contemplating how to steal one of the board.

By ten, all of the little boys are in their beds and it’s lights out. I change Mongol into his bed clothes and I sit on his bed, stroking his hair and telling him a story.

I told him a story, quietly, speaking softly, about a dog, whose tail would not wag. I’m making it up as I go along and he loves it, constantly asking me questions about the dog’s life, so that just a few paragraphs into the story it’s become quite a complex tale that may take several nights to finsh.

I am telling him the story when he fell asleep.

I sit there for a long time afterwards. I just sat there, in the half darkness, listening, thinking.

I thought I was alone in this when Rahul piped up (from several beds over), “I love you, Amy.” , and giggled his happy giggle. He’s been awake the whole time, quietly listening to the dog story.

“I love you , too.” I said, walking over to touch his face before going to the office.

10 pm: I need to tidy up the office alot before I leave here. It’s the repository of everything imaginable as all offices worldwide are, of course. But I saw a mouse in it yesterday and so I think it needs  a good cleaning.

I’m vigorously cleaning it when one the masseys comes in and tells me to go to bed! But first, eat a plate of food she’s brought in. God, could I eat any more food? I don’t have any room and I’m not feeling so great…but the masseys don’t have much and they’ve given me the best bits of chicken from their pot and the best rice.

I sigh and settle in to eat it, crowded in by three masseys watching me approprovingly and making apropriate clucking noises like hens over their brood..

11:30 pm: I’m going upstairs to lie on my mat and get some sleep. After a quick bucket shower (and I have to say..the bathroom here is much nicer than the one at my hotel was!) I’m going to make my to do list for tomorrow. We’ve got the party happening plus I somehow have to figure out how to get away long enough to send out an email for Valentines day.

Sometimes at the end of the day, I stop and pause and ask myself, “Is it really you doing this, being this person, doing this work?” This volunteer job, this work, it has carried me to a whole new place in myself. Yes, I’m tired. Yes, my body aches. Yes, I’ve still got alot to do. But it is the experience of a lifetime.

going to bed. finally.



Daya Dan Video

May 16th, 2009

Someone asked me the other day where are all the India photos? Well, I haven’t quite finished organizing all of them yet. I’m working on it. I’ve got about 5,000 and I’m going thru them to decide what to keep or not.

Until then, here’s a video I found on flickr–a recent one–of the kids at Daya Dan.

If you watch it, you’ll get a sense of what drives me these days, what motivates me, and what has inspired me into a whole new life. Everytime I look at photos or videos of those kids and that place, I just feel transported into a whole new way of being.

This video shows volunteers doing physical therapy.

If the link doesn’t work(sometimes they don’t) I would love it if you too the time to look it up on youtube…it’s called DayaDan2.

Work is love made visible.–Khahil Gibran



Coming Home Has It’s Moments of Grief

May 15th, 2009

I was driving home from work was early afternoon and I was

Listening to public radio

Looking out at the flat landscape that surrounds the area of California where I live

Admiring green fields and the blue hills in the distance

When I was overtaken by an overwhelming sense of grief.

Somehow coming home wasn’t what I thought was. I mean to say, I know I’m home, but sometimes I feel this sadness because even though I grew alot on my travels I lost pieces of myself, too.

Or maybe I just changed so much that whoever I used to be I only get occassional glimpses of. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by just how much my travels changed me and how I will never be able to look at things the same way again, like the way I did two years ago.

It’s difficult for several reasons: one, it’s more difficult to relate to people-at least, the same people I was relating to before. I have seen so many things and my world view is so drastically altered from my previous experiences that sometimes I feel like I’m an imposter inside my own skin. Sometimes the problem is that other people still just see the same old skin, and they don’t look any deeper.

I do struggle-daily- with the fact that being in India and all my other destinations where I lived with very poor people changed me. It changed me so much that I don’t relate to the values of the culture I belong to anymore. I don’t think the things that people here find important are of much value to me-or to the world in general. People are consumed with status and stuff and looking good, looking important. People have so much pride and ego and that seems to be what motivates them many times. Sometimes I listen to people talking and I wonder if they understand what they are saying or doing. It’s almost painful for me.

I find this difficult to relate to. I did alot of things many people would find disgusting or humiliating on my trip in the various volunteer jobs I had, and it chased my pride and ego away pretty quickly. There’s not much space for self in that scenario.

But more than that, I struggle with what has turned out to a loss of myself, my old self. I feel sometimes sentimental about her simplicity and her lack of knowing, truly knowing, what world is like for many.

When I was driving home, I was thinking of my past life and my past troubles and joys and mistakes and I missed her. I missed my old self, the person I used to be. I found myself crying and had to pull my car over to the side of the road. It was just overwhelming.

It’s strange to grieve for yourself–but maybe when you’ve been through so much intensity and seen so many things that many people never will, you have to go through the process of letting go of your attachment not just to way you used to see things, but who you were back then.

But this grieving , well, it’s a lonely business. In the middle of trying to figure out so many things for my future goals, I’m also trying to process all the changes I’ve been through and trying to figure who I am now. I can’t really discuss this with people, because they don’t really get it. People, I think, want things to stay the same–change is scary.

But I’m not the same at all. Not at all. Which can be very isolating.

I think my experiences traveling RTW and especially working with very poor and needy people in Central America and India really altered me so that I desire, want, need totally different things than I ever did before.

In fact, sometimes I feel like even the very insides of my body have changed, that some chemical process has occured.

It’s that drastic.

Being home it’s a very surreal experience. And In the middle of it all, I miss her sometimes. I miss her not knowing, not feeling. I feel like the goals I have for my life now are so big that who she was, well, it wouldn’t work. My new life wouldn’t work with her.

But I miss her terribly, even though I know I can’t go back to being her.

I’m not sure if there is a particular order all of these feelings generally happen in upon coming home–I know that my life was so messed up when I arrived home that it took two months before it finally hit me where I was–back in the USA, driving a car! speaking English! etc.– at all. I have the sense that people that do extreme things and have the desire to change themselves, as I did when I began the journey, often have no idea of just how successful they really have been at changing themselves until they are home for awhile.

I would never want to go back to who I was–even though she was sweet and wonderful. I would prefer to sift through all these trials and thoughts and plans and come out shining, being  a better human being for it.



Get Happy. Really.

May 8th, 2009

A ton of friends and readers from around the globe sent me links to this song after yesterday’s entry. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s “Oh Happy Day” from the movie, Sister Act Two.

Yeah, the movie was corny..but I’ll tell you the truth: I loved it. I loved Whopi Goldberg as a nun (who wouldn’t?) and most of all, I loved this song.

Click on the link and play it all the way thru. You’ll feel immediately better and I promise you all the burdens you are carrying around will get alot lighter.

When I think of the kids of Daya Dan in Calcutta–and in fact, all of the people I met working around the world, this song comes to mind.

Get happy, really.



Oh Happy Day: The Return of Mitune

May 6th, 2009

The last time I blogged, it was about calling Daya Dan and learning that Mitune, the little boy  would like to adopt..had run away from his boarding school and was missing.

Here’s the happy update…

Mitune somehow ended up with some folks from Childline, an organization that helps children around the world. They have a three digit telephone number that any child can call at anytime to report abuse, ask for help, or whatever they need.

The sisters had already contacted Childline in the Calcutta area, but the organization is set up regionally, so since he was in another city there was no exchange of information.

He’d been with them for about a week, when they were looking at books and someone pulled a book off the bookshelf with pictures of Mother Theresa. Mitune got so excited that they finally figured out that he was one of the Missionaries of Charity kids.

He was returned on Tuesday night to Daya Dan in Calcutta.

It is being determined whether or not he will return to the school. He does not seem to like it there and he does seem very happy at Daya Dan. The sister superior will decide which place he ends up at, but from our phone conversation tonight I think he will stay at Daya Dan.

Ah, breathe. A sigh of relief. I’ve hardly slept this week, I’ve been so worried. I love that boy. The thought of him lost in the big city is..frightening. India is much different than any other place on Earth…people are desperate to make money, to live, and sometimes use children to that end(Of course, that is true all over the world..but I’ve got some pretty distinct visual memories from the streets of India and the kids being used to make money…and i don’t think I can ever forget those kids faces. )

 Thank God he is safe.

Here’s more good news: he’s got a wonderful hearing aid now and he can actually hear quite well. He can’t speak, but he can hear.

Life couldn’t get any better.

As I face all of the challenges I’ve got at home to make this happen, the world suddenly seems very intimate and small. It really could happen that he comes to live here.

When he was lost, I thought to myself, what if he never returns or is found? Then what? And I decided that if I couldn’t adopt him, I would adopt another child. And I thanked him and blessed him for allowing me to meet him and for giving me the chance to love him,.

Then to have him found…well, it’s a very, very good day today.

Thankyou for all of your prayers and good thoughts.

Tonight, celebrate with me, wherever you are in the world.


PS. Look up Childline..they are all over the world. I read about them in a book about social entrepreneurship several months ago…they are designed around the model that youth have the biggest part in their organization. They began doing all of their work by using streetkids to get the word out, and now they’ve grown to billboards all over India.

In India:

In the UK:


Taking A Break From Calcutta Journals: Mitune Runs Away

April 29th, 2009

I’ve just gotten off the phone with the Sisters at Daya Dan in Calcutta…I had called tonight with the intention of wishing a certain little boy, Mongol, Happy Birthday.

But before Mongol got on the phone, I spoke to one of the sisters and found out that the little boy I would like to adopt has run away. Not from the Sisters, but to them.

You see , he’s at a special school run by brothers and he’s several hours from Calcutta. There was apparently a problem with another boy, who is also deaf/mute, who is about to be adopted. He is Mitune’s age, or a bit older. He was taunting Mitune with this information and Mitune got upset.

He apparently ran away last week, but returned the same day. Now he’s done it a second time, and he’s been missing for several days.

Mitune is a smart boy, and I think he has some street smarts–or can gain them pretty quickly. Still, If he decides to stay out on the street, he’s in for a very difficult life.

The sisters think he is lost, afraid , alone.

We hope he can find his way back to his school. We hope he is safe.

Please light a candle for this boy, please say a prayer for him.

After hearing the news about Mitune, I had to switch to singing “Happy birthday to you” to Mongol, who giggled and laughed and was happy. Mongol has a form of degenerative muscular dystrophy (as does his sister) and when I left the orphanage several  months ago he was quite ill with a respiratory infection. He sounded so much better and I felt really blessed to talk with him. You never know how long these kids have.

He asked Binoy, the mischevious austistic boy I worked with to come over to the phone and Binoy did! And he giggled and said, “Amy, I love you. I miss you. ” Binoy doesn’t say stuff like that. It was a really nice moment.

I promised them I’d call back in a month. And I swore up and down that yes, I really will be there in December. Of course I will. These boys have my heart.

I would do anything for them.

Please light a candle for Mitune or send him some positive encouragement. He is a lost boy in a big world.



Journal From Calcutta, Part Two: Can You Save A Man On the Street?

April 25th, 2009

Part two of a series, from my journals during my time in India..

It’s midnight. I’ve just come back, by taxi, to my hotel room.

I went to work this mornng, then returned to the hospital afterwards, and just spent 7 hours there.

Seven hours that absolutely nothing was accomplished in.

I am beyond frustrated. I am beyond understanding what kind of system is in place here, where a man can not get even simple care or tests.

I am wanting to leave this place. I hate it here. It makes no sense.

But I’ll start at the beginning:

I was supposed to meet a few of the Indian men that took our sick man to the hospital with me last night at the hospital.

They never showed up.

One man, the clothing designer, sent one of his workers in his place. So it was just this one guy, who spoke terrible English and excellent Hindi..and me, who spoke excellent English and little Hindi..trying to make sense of it all.

Our patient, when we arrived, was still in his spot on the floor. He looked about the same, except his hand and arm that were attached to his IV drip were extremely swollen and no one seemed to care. His bedpan was full to the brim, and some one had placed the remains of their lunch in it as well. Cockroaches ran across his legs and he had defecated in his pants.

There were still no beds. Maybe one has to wait for another person to die around here to get a bed.

It’s late afternoon when we arrive. I’ve brought gloves and masks, but the Indian man I’m with refuses them. He says it will make the other patients–and ours–feel like they are sick. They are! You can hear the tuberculosis cough here…I’m here to help, but I really feel the mask is important for me and my health(as are the gloves) so I put them on.

There are two nurses walking around with a rusty cart wth plastic cups and IV bags, wearing white just past the knee uniforms and little caps. They look out of place next to all of the women wearing saris and veils and headscarfs. They aren’t wearing gloves. I offer up mine, since it looks like they need them.

They shake their heads. They don’t want them. Suddenly, a burly fat man shows up, and says in perfect English, “I’ll take them.” Thinking he is an orderly, I hand them over. He looks like he needs them, as his gloves are worn out and full of holes.

A few minutes later, he shows up (without the gloves I’ve just given him..perhaps he has to save them? Or maybe he has sold them?) and a ladder, a can of paint, and a request..he’s apparently a painter and they are painting the hospital. Actually, they are painting the area exactly where our patient is lying on the ground in the hallway.

I protest, but it’s not heard and they dragour guy a little away from the wall, sloshing nto his bedpan and spilling it on his bloated arm. They slap some paint on the wall, white paint, getting drips and flecks onto not only our patient and his meager bedding , but on to us.

I guess they are painting the walls because they don’t clean them–the walls are covered with stains and grease marks and brownish red flecks and bodily fluids.

We try to find a bed, but there isn’t one.

We are desperate for a bed because not only is he on the floor, by our patient is either having seizures or fighting any treatment–and they have him tightly tied with bits of rag to whatever they can tie him to. It’s all above him, so his hands and legs are tied up into the air. He’s so tightly tied that it’s caused severe edema in his legs and arms. They are bloated up like little water balloons. He must be in so much pain.

We manage to pay someone to empty the bedpan. I don’t even know where to empty it, anyway. Someone comes with hot water and I give him another sponge bath. He seems to delight in the simple task and he attempts to communicate with me but it’s all a jumble of words.

I’ve got the problem of taking off his pants, to clean him. Women–even foriegners, visiting a sick patient, in the hospital, well… they don’t do that here.

I’ve got an audience as well–this time, more than 25 people surround me as I try to delicately bathe him and talk to him, trying to sooth him. He’s very agitated at times and is upset to be tied up, so we untie him. Poor man.

It’s finally decided that the Indian man with me will change his pants. People continueto stare at this process, like it’s a circus sideshow, until my friend gets so upset that they scurry away. They still peer over to survey the scene, but they do manage to give the man enough time to change his pants before returning to their old spots, only a fe wfeet away from us.

It seems everything we are doing is fascinating. People have left the bedsides of their family memebers to come over and gawk, although mostly they are pretty nice. Alot of the “namaste” greeting is going back and forth  between me and all of them. As soon as one person leaves the crowd, they return with another at their side, pointing, looking, whispering. But most are smiling, the women in particular.

We are waiting for the doctor. They say he will be here in a few more hours. We’ve got three hours to go. Meanwhile, all our patient has had are two aspirin and a drip IV.

We try to pay for a bed–a little bakeesh, but no one’s buying it. He may be stuck on the floor for another night.

There’s hardly any room to even sit and crouch, Indian-style, on the floor. Someone finds a dirty white plastic chair for me and I sit in that, waiting.

A man comes out of one of the large rooms, speaking perfect English, walking with a tank of oxygen. He knows me, he says. From Sudder street. (That’s where I live.)

He sells bamboo flutes on the street to the tourists.

I remember him , now..he walks around with a tall tree like tower of flutes, playing different ones.

“Why are you here? ” , I ask him, pointing to the oxygen tank.

It’s the pollution, he says. Plus he has TB, he says, coughing.

Note to self: Do not buy bamboo flutes from street vendors as souvenirs.

But he’s got something else to tell me. “Your friend needs a bed.”, he says, gesturing at the sick man on the floor next to me. And he proceeds to tell me a strange solution to our problem…

First, I find someone who is doing badly, in a bed, maybe with family.

I offer money to them. To help pay for expenses, I should say.

Then, when the patient dies, our man gets the bed. The family will come over and tell us and we quickly switch the patients. The other family is happy, because funerals are very expensive, he says. You are happy because your man is in a bed and he’s comfortable.

The man leaves, and with an interpreter I talk it over with my Indian friend. We agree to do it. His boss has given him plenty of money for bakeesh paying–why not give it to a family instead of a bunch of corrupt doctors, orderlies, and officials? Makes sense.

He comes back, smiling. Errand accomplished. It’s only a matter of time, he says.

I feel strange, waiting for one man to die so we can take his bed. But India is like that, it’s always strange. Whatever ethical code I have at home doesn’t really apply here. It doesn’t work.

About a half hour or hour goes by…we’re just sitting there, with our man. He stares at us, we put a cool rag on his forehead. He’s still delirious.

I’m struggling with this when a young girl comes out. She talks to my friend. Apparently, it’s her father in that other bed. (Her father? How can that be? She looks to be no more than 10 years old, and that man in the bad looks 80.) He’s gone, she says.

We do a quick switch, placing the dead man on the floor and putting our man in his bed. There’s no sheet changing here.

The bed is dirty and the rickety side table has little brown roaches all over it. A cat is under the bed, eating something brownish.

Our man seems happier, lying on a bed.

We sit and wait for the doctor. And wait. And wait. One never comes.

Meanwhile, I survey the scene around us.

Directly to the right is a young man with a lump on his head and very thin. Someone says he’s had a head injury. He never speaks and hardly moves. His father lies on the bed with him, lying the opposite direction, occasionally trying to get the man to sit up and use the bedpan.

On the other side is a very old man. He looks greyish yellow. They say he’s got malaria andgoodness knows what else. He looks at least 70 but I discover that he is 31. His pregnant wife and small children sit on the bed for hours, doing nothing, just sitting there. The smallest boy has  a bloated stomach and plays with scraps of a potato chip package and bits of other trash on the floor. They look hungry and all the kids have enormous head for their bodies. The tiniest one, a young baby..has baby fat but it’s not the good kind, it’s the kind very poor people’s children have from a bad diet. The mother looks absolutely exhausted.

Across from us, a woman lies on a bed, staring dully towards us but seeing nothing. I’ve no idea what’s wrong with her, except that occasionally she shrieks and yells, and they’ve tied her to the bed. I think she’s gone mad. I don’t blame her.

There’s another man, he’s the worst off of any person in the room. He’s near the top half of his bed, small, dark brown, his skin stretched over his bones..You can see every bone. It’s like he’s been dried or something and he’s in the fetal position. Every once in awhile he makes a small cry. No one is with him –he is alone, brought in here to die. He has no IV, it’s gone past that. It is difficult for me to see him as a human being, because he doesn’t look like any human being I have ever seen. Yet he is.

I feel my humanity so much right now. I feel overwhelmed by it. I feel the effect of what our actions have on one another. My God. It is almost too much to feel, to see, to know this.

I consider what responsibility I have in the situation all these people find themselves in. Are we not all connected? Are we not all brothers?

I want to help every single person in this room. There are hundreds of them. Every single person looks at me with dull eyes and I feel for all of them. I feel broken into a million pieces.

But there is little I can do. ..if I walk around, holding hands or showing care, they will think I am a doctor or a nurse. And I am not. And they will not understand. They will think since I am from America that I have special skills, special knowledge. Besides, if I leave my patient, and the doctor comes, we miss our chance for him to get help.

I end up helping a few patients near our man’s bed. They have edema so badly and they are in terrible pain, so I suggest they elevate their limbs. Their families know nothing of basic medical care, and are surprised when awhile later,  their patients edema improves.

A food cart comes around, with two big pots and some tin plates. They look like pie tins, they are the kind of plates that the orphanage uses and people on the street. A dirty, unkempt man with hennaed reddish hair and a greasy beard slops some rice and dal onto a plate, hands to the person sitting next to the patient…the family members don’t use spoons, they just feed them with their hands.

Our man isn’t hungry. In fact, he’s worse than he was awhile ago.

There’s a woman who is on a bed alone, and the man serving the food has set it down next to her. Her plate sits untouched.

She’s so weak, she can’t move. She plaintively asks for help. She uses her eyes. No one helps her. She seems to have TB.

Finally, after about 15 minutes go by, a woman feeding a man near her reaches over and gives her a few handfuls of food. The woman alternates between the man shes feeding and the woman, using the same hand, pushing the food into their mouths with her fingers. She takes a few bits  for herself, stuffing them intoher mouth in between feeding the other two. She’s not wearing gloves.

It’s 11 pm. The doctor isn’t coming. They say try tomorrow. Meanwhile, they won’t order a test or give us anything to help him–not even aspirin.

I go home by taxi, having to argue with the taxi man because he won’t use a meter.

What’s wrong with people here? If everyone is only thinking about themselves, no one gets anything.

But I guess it’s no different than at home. There is just alot more on the line here. At home every one is only thinking of themselves, too. It’s unusual to meet someone who isn’t.

I’m so tired. I feel so bleak.

I’ve got to get some sleep. If I can sleep that is. The images of that place are all that is in my mind.



Journal From Calcutta: Part One: Can You Save A Man On The Street?

April 24th, 2009

Journal entry from India. This one about trying to save a life. PART ONE

This entry, and the ones that will directly follow it may not be appropriate for kids.

I’ve been walking by this guy now for everyday over a week. I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel drawn to him. I find myself looking for him everyday, going out of my way to walk down the street that he’s always lying on, searching for him on whatever piece of sidewalk he’s decided to be on that day.

In Calcutta, things  aren’t normal. My normal. Meaning, if there’s a person on the sidewalk, you don’t ask them how they are. You don’t buy them a bottle of water or hand them a wad of wrinkled dollar bills from the bottom of your purse. You don’t hand them gift certificates to Mac Donald’s. That’s the kind of stuff we do at home.

Sometimes at home we even stop and offer to share a cup of coffee. I do, anyway.

Maybe though most of the time at home–we just drive by. We just turn our car radio on louder, we just avert our eyes, we just think about how hard our life is so we avoid seeing some else as a human being.

I think here, in Calcutta, it’s a lot like that last scenario. People are keeping busy, just surviving themselves–and sometimes even when they’re doing  really well, they don’t help either.

There are so many people on the street here–sick, dying, coughing, drunk, high, half naked, lying on a piece of cardboard, a torn blanket or bit of sari pulled over their face–that you almost have to tune it out. You’d never  get down the sidewalk, you’d never leave the street you were walking on, you’d never eat. Maybe thats the point, that all of us should stop all ths moving and scurrying and so on . But we don’t.

It feels impossible.

The sisters have advised us to not help anyone that is on the street, because it’s very complicated to do that. I’m about to find out just how complicated it is.

So I’ve been walking down this street everyday, twice a day, for a week, and I find myself searching for this one man everytime. Looking at him makes me so sad that I don’t think I can put the image of him out of my mind.

He’s small. He looks like a tiny boy, but he’s a man, with greying hair at his temples and a grizzled beard. His face is completely sunken and his eyes are wide, open, windows to something I don’t know anything about and I’m scared to death of. He’s got the expression of a child but the eyes of something else.

His clothes–what there are of them–are worn out. Just rags really, A very threadbare pair of trousers, like dress pants, tied with a bit of rope. A plaid shirt, at one time it had buttons. No shoes, and gnarled feet and hands.

He’s very dark, almost black, and this makes his eyes stand out even more.

He’s on the sidewalk everyday. Every time I walk by him and I see him curled up in the fetal position, dying.

People tell me that there is nothing I can do. I don’t know if that is true, but I do that he is one of thousands in this city. I do know that it’s getting cold at night soon here, and that the people like him are going to start dying like flies. I walk by at least a dozen people like him a day. Sometimes a hundred. Sometimes even children, little starving babies, skinny limbed and big headed, giving me blank glassy stares from their cardboard beds on the sidewalk.

Every person I see in need, oh my God. How it bothers me, overwhelms me, dismays me, challenges me, softens me….

But for some reason, this particular man, his situation, it just really bothers me.

I can’t stop thinking about him, and I have trouble eating meals of late because my mind is on him.

I keep thinking to myself, “How come I was born where I was, with the advantages I have had, and he got this life?” It just seems so strange, impossible really. I can’t think of any particular aspect of myself or my character that allows me to have deserved more than someone else. I think in alot of ways, I’m pretty average. Why is it I’ve got the life I’ve got and he’s got the life he’s got? I can’t make sense of it.

I wonder  what his life would have been like, if he’d had a chance.

Two days later….

The man I’ve been looking a everyday was suddenly on the other side of the street this morning. His shirt is gone, and someone’s put a ratty blanket on him.

My friend Serena and I walk by the guy on the sidewalk tonight. He’s still there, but he looks worse. Alot worse. I wonder if he’s dead or if he’s breathing. I’m afraid to get too close, so we’re sort of leaning in towards him and he is breathing, but  one can’t hear it–you have to look really close at his body to see it gently rise up and down with his breaths.

We wonder if he’s alright, and we talk about it aloud, when an Indian man walks by and says, “He’s fine. Don’t concern yourself with him.” So we keep walking.

I come back down the street on my own. It’s hours later, it’s very late and its quite dark. it’s about 10 pm, and see a crowd of people near the man on the sidewalk.

I venture closer.

The man has lost all of his clothes at this point, and he’s feverish, he’s stiff, like in a ball.

His eyes are wide, frightened, and the white part stares out at us but he doesn’t seem to see anything at all. He seems glazed over.

Everyone seems to be of the opinion that he is about to die. No one knows what to do about it.

Everyone is wondering how long he’s been there. I offer up that I’ve been walking by him for over a week. This upsets some of the crowd, who ask me why I have not done anything to help him.

“What could I do? “, I ask. They’ve all been walking by him everyday, too. Why didn’t they do anything?

They are all Indian. I am the only tourist, the only white person.

“You have money. You can travel. You should have taken him to the hospital.”, says one man, standing next to his wife who is dripping in gold and diamonds and an expensive sari. (It turns out the sick man on the sidewalk is laying in their driveway so they cannot open the gate to back out their car.)

Eventually the crowd disappears, leaving 4 men and myself. It’s about midnight now.

It’s two hours for them all to decide what to do. The whole time they are arguing and trying to decide, the man lays dying. I’m standing there, wondering if I should leave, but they keep insisting I should stay. So I do. I don’t know how I can help. I don’t know if I should go anywhere with four men I don’t know in the middle of the night. But all of these fears seems ridiculous and insane and I set them aside.

When they finally decide to take the man to a hospital, they then have the problem of finding a taxi that will agree to take the man there. The sick man is very ill, covered in feces and crawling with vermin.

We finally find a taxi, put him inside the back seat with 3 of the men who want to help–while I get in the front with the driver and another 4th man, who speaks some English.

3 hours later, we haven’t been able to find a place for him. No one will take him.

This is the opposite of what I had been told–that all healthcare is public and free and available to those who are in need. (West Bengal is Communist, after all–isn’t that supposed to mean everybody gets a share of the pot? Guess what..It doesn’t. Far from it.). Yet every place we go to has some excuse why they can’t take him.

I’d like to stop for a moment and explain that there are fine private hospitals in the city. It is only the public ones that are horrific balls of red tape and inefficiency.

We end up taking him to the police station. They tell us that they will take him, but that as soon as we leave, they’ll just put him back out on the street. They literally will just take him and dump him somewhere.

We get back into the taxi. We’ve got the taxi guy on own side now. He doesn’t even want to charge us for the fare at this point, he just wants to help us find a place for this guy so he can go home to his wife and kids and go to sleep.

The sick man stinks-of feces, of vomit, of dirtiness, of general ill health. That smell death has before it actually happens. The man has a fever, he’s delirious, he’s mumbling but none of it can be understood. He has no idea where he is or what’s going on. He’s pooped all over  the dirty blanket, his’s run down his legs into the cab floor onto the other guy’s shoes.

I feel like all of me is crying out that no one should be treated this way. He is a human being.

And then I remember where I am. There are so many people living here that some people don’t get treated like human beings. Actually, alot of people don’t get treated like human beings.

Or maybe, this is how human beings treat each other..just here, it’s more apparent, because it’s life and death every moment, while back in the States we kill each other off little by little by only thinking about ourselves.

We don’t know what to do. The guy that speaks some English is talking to me, he’s sitting in the front seat and he’s almost crying. He’s saying that he doesn’t know what to do. He’s never tried to help anyone off the street before. Everyone says not to do it. It’s just not done, he says.

I’m trying to understand that. I guess it’s all relative. If there are that many people dying on your front door, and you go out and feed them all, clothe them all, clean them all, house them won’t have anything for your own family.

I see the logic, but it’s different when you’re sitting next to a dying person, who you ust want to give a little dignity to.

We all end up praying. There’s nothing else we can do on our own. Everyone’s a different faith, so everyone takes a turn..the Muslim taxi driver, the Jainist lawyer, the Hindu shopkeeper, the Christian clothes designer..and me.

What a weird moment. But it was good, just different.

We decide to try one more hospital. It’s not the worst public hospital in the city, but it’s second worst.

We go in and explain the situation. After much bakeesh-paying, they agree to take him.

We go out and find the taxi. We’ve brought a rotting rusty metal gurney that looks like it came out a trash heap (it probably did) and we load our patient on to it. In India, if you go to a public hospital, you have to put your patient on a gurney. There’s no staff standing around waiting to help you  do anything.

The gurney is missing a wheel, so one of the guys carries that side, while the rest of us wheel it into the admitting room.

There’s no paperwork on the guy, we don’t know his name or his history or what’s wrong with him. For everything we don’t know, we pay money to them. Getting him to be seen costs money, getting him a space to lie costs money, getting anything costs money.

They don’t have  bed. They are all full.

They tell us to take him to another building. He can lie on the floor in the hallway, they say.

On our way out, we walk by a young man on a makeshift pallet, his arm dangling and blood all over him and he’s screaming and then he just goes limp, like a dishrag, suddenly. He’s dead.

Am I breathing?

I’m reeling from that when a woman is carried in by her family. She’s not alive but maybe her baby is–she’s died during childbirth. It’s a gory, messy scene and the child she was carrying is not alive. They figure all this out right in the hallway, it’s done right there, right in front of us, there is no time, the family has gotten her here after a long time through Calcutta traffic, the staff… they have only the most basic of equipment…there’s no one to save.

Her family is all there and they look dark, ashen, confused. No one makes a sound, no one cries, it’s just nothing. Nothing.

This is not real, I tell myself. Not real.

A man is brought in with a huge wound a gash on his side, and he stares at us glassy eyed and bleak.

All of this happens in ten  or fifteen minutes, while we are making our way down the hallway. But it’s in slow motion, like a movie.

I’m white as a sheet says one of the men I’m with. I feel like I’m floating, like I’m going to faint. But then I remember why I am here and what needs to get done, and tell myself, pull it together. This moment is not about me, it’s about everyone else.

I’m fine, I say. Let’s do this.

We take him there, on the unwieldy gurney, dodging huge groups of people in all of the walkways outside. It seems like people are permanently camped out here. Whole families are sleeping, eating, and even cooking. (It turns out that they basically are living there. The entire family comes with the patient, lives there on the grounds or in the same area as the patients hospital bed.)

We go into the building they tell us to. Every one is staring at me as I am white and a giantess. And I am in a totally Indian hospital. There are no tourists here. Tourists do not bring patients here. It isn’t done.

The only space for him is in a hallway. Every single scrap of space has a person in it. there is not a single bed empty, some even have two patients in them.

We find a space for him in the hall. He’s next to a man who suddenly dies, with a final rasping sound, a death rattle from hs throat, and who lies there, dead, until one of the guys I’m with takes off his scarf and places it over the man’s face. The man who died is the skinniest man I have ever seen.

A woman comes in to the hall, wailing over the man. She’s equally skinny. It seems impossible to me that such a skinny woman could make so much noise…I don’t know how she has the energy for all of her sadness. She looks like she will just slip away any moment. She’s taken away by an equally skinny daughter, who consoles her as they take away the dead man’s body.

As soon as his body is gone, another patient is brought in to fill that spot. They don’t clean it or mop it or anything, just place the man on his bedsheet and place his meager bundle next to him and his family settles in, setting up housekeeping.

It’s filthy. Cockroaches are everywhere, already crawling on us, up my legs , under my pants. I try not to think about it. I don’t really think of anything actually. The whole scene is so shocking that I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s kind of what I imagine hell to be like.

I am on automatic.

There are four people in each part of the hallway, each one alloted about 5.5 feet by less than 2 feet. There’s no room to stretch out, as they use the  hallway to bring patients in and out of the actual rooms with the beds, and sometimes even dead people are brought down the hall, on a gurney if there is one, or dragged on a blanket, wrapped in a sheet if there isn’t one.

There are rats, brownish big ones, with long tails, not even trying to hide or scurry but, instead, slowing eating their way thru the piles of garbage that are on the floors, around the patients, the beds. The bedpans serve as both urninals and places for food leftovers, and a few cats are eating from them.

I go into the room with the beds and it’s pretty horrible, too. It’s the dirtiest place I’ve ever seen. All of the patients stare at me. Some think I am a doctor, and motion me to their beds, others turn away from me if they can. I am followed by a large crowd.

The smell is overwhelming, horrifying.

Men and women are all mixed together in the room, there are no dividing curtains. It’s just a big room, packed with beds not more than a few feet apart, IV drip stands everywhere, litter on the floor, cockraches runing across the sheets. People with every ailment are thrown together..TB …broken legs … old age ..head injuries.. those who need kidney transplants.. new amputees … HIV ..typhoid…malaria…with you name it. All in one room. Room after room, hallway after hallway, all filled over with needy people and dirtiness and such squalidness that I can’t believe this is happening on the same planet that I inhabit.

It is a reality check of the most extreme.

I think of all the people at home, wondering if I will tell them about this place. I decide not to–at least for awhile, I’ll wait until it’s not so fresh, so real, so startling.

But back to the problem of our sick man and getting his immendiate needs met..

The only helpers are ones the sick and dying have brought with them–you bring  a family member to take care of you in the hospital! (Even the private hospitals do this!)

We don’t have  a helper, we don’t know what to do. There’s only one choice: we hire one of the “unofficial” helper guys that loiter around the hospital to help us, make sure our guy is taken care of. These guys are corrupt beyond belief, and I don’t know we are going to bother as he’ll just disappear the moment we are gone. But we have no choice.

It’s 4:30 am now. I sit on the floor next to out patient. There’s no where else to sit. I touch our patient, stroking his forehead. Whatever part of me that was repulsed by his dirtiness and the smell has melted away, and I almost feel like I am out of my body, really.

I ask for a clean bed pan and give him a sponge bath.  I’ve tied my scarf over my face, but I haven’t any gloves. It’s probably the first bath he’s had in a long time. He’s still glassy looking and feverish and we fight to get him a few pills to bring his fever down. It takes one hour to have those pills brought over to us. One hour.

I spend the hour hand picking lice out of his hair, with a crowd watching me in amazement and smiling at me. I’m smiling, too, but I have no idea why.

Somewhere in the middle of all this I stop thinking about my reaction to everything and just start being who I need to be for this moment. It’s moment by moment.

Someone finds a clean shirt and we put it on him. He gets an IV drip and already seems to have improved slightly. But maybe I just want him to improve.

We make arrangements to all meet back there in the afternoon and check on him and see if we can help him further.

I’m so tired, I can’t think. But I need to go home and take a cold water bucket shower, change out of these clothes…before heading to the orphanage in a few hours…

What a long night. I’ve had a whole glimpse of a reality that I’ve heard about, seen at a distance, but never was really inside. I feel turned inside out and upside down and my whole world just changed, in one night, forever.

I don’t know what will happen next.


end of PART ONE


3 Days Later

April 24th, 2009

It’s been three days since I finally set some boundaries with the ex, and I’m proud and happy to say, I’ve still got them.

It’s  not my style to get angry. But, I can see that is something that I needed to change.

A new friend of mine said the other day, “There is how the we want the situation to be. And then, there’s how it actually is.” He made a good point, and I took it to heart.

There is how I wish things could be, and then there’s how things are–and they are opposite of one another.

A good lesson for me to learn.

So three days later, I’m sleeping well for the first time since I returned home. I’m eating healthy meals. I’m feeling more cheerful and in high spirits.

It’s amazing to me how my saying, “That is enough.” has made such a tremendous impact on my day to day life.

When I find myself worrying or fretting about the other person, I just say a prayer for them and move on.

Meanwhile, I realized that during my trip I became a very goal-oriented person. I do well with BIG goals and I love trying to meet my own expectations. So I’ve spent some time thinking about some big goals I can accomplish.

One thing abut coming home is that I gained 10 pounds in the last month. I think I was pretty sedentary, lying around, resting, recovering from travel -related illnesses..and let’s face it, eating every kind of food I had missed on my trip..they don’t have Ruffles potato chips in India!

So I decided to sign up for a walking marathon. When I was walking the Camino de Santiago, I met alot of people who had done these to preare for the Camino. (I, on the other hand, had done nothing!). There are walking marathons all over the country, and they are generally about 26.2 miles.

In order to prepare for one, you have to train.

So that’s what I’ll be spending alot of time doing!

One thing I really missed in India, was that, as a woman, I couldn’t really walk anywhere. Women didn’t do that. (The one time I did, I got a dose of air pollution that was so bad that I lost my voice.)

So something I’ve been missing is the level of strength I had after finishing the Camino. My goal will be to regain that strength.

The training schedule for waling a marathon is pretty grueling..especialy if you haven’t done any exercise for awhile. But I’m starting out at the “beginner” level, so I’ll take it slow.

There are a few walking marathons near where I live in California this year-there are also a few in other places I’d like to go to, like Hawaii and international locations. There are so many that I can choose something which won’t be too hard. I hope!

I’ve also begun a few paintings, and decided to build a silkscreening table to see if I can make some silksceens that are inspired by my travels to decorate my house.

I’ve got to refresh my Spanish, and I’ve promised the boys at the orphanage that I will speak basic Hindi by the time I return in December. !!!!!! (I’d better get started!)

I started working on my resume…how do I describe the last few years? I think it will take me some time to describe the skills I have learned!

I started going through the photos of Panama, to see if there really was enough material for a book, and if I was inspired enough to do the project. And I decided that there are eough photos, and that I am inspired enough, too.

An friend of mine told me the other day that although he was inspired by all the things I had done on my trip, but that he thought he would end up being more surprised by what I would end up accomplishing in the next five years. He thought the trip was just a stepping stone. I think he was right.

Here’s hoping that everything that has come to pass in the last month and a half motivates me further and further..towards all of my goals.

I know that if I could make the trip a reality, I can make other big things..that seem impossible sometimes!..a reality, too!

I feel soooo much better. And it’s only been three days!

love to all, gigi


When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Alot of Lemonade. Gallons, If Neccessary!

April 22nd, 2009

A lemon revolution……… 

Oh boy. Where to begin.

Well, I’ll tell you all something. Of late, my life has had alot of lemons.

There were so many that I was trying to put on a happy face, be industrious, and make as much lemonade as possible.

Suddenly I found myself in a scene similiar to that famous ” I Love Lucy” show where Ethel and Lucy are in a candy factory on the assembly line…the candy keeps coming, faster and faster. They can’t pack the boxes anymore, it’s coming so fast, so they are stuffing it wherever they can. It ends in disaster, of course.

Life is kind of like that too. Sometimes so much is coming at you that you can’t do much and you end up buried under what ever is coming your direction.

Of course, Lucy and Ethel got buried under a pile of chocolates. I got buried under alot of other things.

I have been doing well, trying to deal with each day one day at a time. That’s the best way to manage everything right now. And life’s been good. …I’ve got great friends, a wonderful place to live, and wonderful projects to work on, as well as a strong spiritual life.

Then suddenly, I lost it all. A downpour of lemons, in form of love gone wrong.

Such grief, such sadness. There are no words to describe that feeling.

Even though I have moved on in alot of places in my life, it’s still fresh, and I kept getting pulled back into that pit. Not often, mind you, but often enough.   I knew it was in the way –almost a physical roadblock–to the rest of my life and goals coming into fruition.

I was sitting there, overwhelmed by gloom and sadness, when I thought to myself, “Why do this yourself?”

I had no answer. No really good one anyway.

And it occurred to me that compassion begins with yourself.And I fully realized, probably for the very first time in my entire life, that I need to come first.And I need to be compassionate to myself before I give that compassion away to anyone else.

And I realized just what I’d been giving away, to the wrong person, and I thought of all the people in world that could have benefited from that love and care and compassion and they didn’t.

And here’s an obvious epiphany: one actually gets to choose how to deal with all those lemons coming one’s direction.

This is obvious to the rest of you wasn’t to me. I actually was letting other people decide that for me, under the general umbrella that I was less important. I did not think I deserved to express how angry I was. I was so busy being caught up in trying to be compassionate for others that I was not compassionate towards myself.

I know. It’s incredible to me that I thought that. I really believed that, that I did that.

And the thought of what I had been doing and not doing so moved me that I leapt up out of my chair, ended my gloom, and got, for the first time, angry.

I mean the kind of anger that comes on like a tsunami. The kind of anger that causes revolutions.

And I thought, “Well, it’s time to become a revolutionary.”

Because if the things that I say are important to me are really that important, then I’m not going to give them up for anyone else. I’m going to need every ounce of compassion and energy that I have for those goals and ideas and people. I’ve got many people through out the world counting on me to make a real difference int heir lives and in my own, and I’m not about to let them or myself down.

So I went off and had a bit of a revolution…said what I needed to say…

And it felt really good actually. It felt FABULOUS. I was surprised how right it felt. I was motivated by the fact that I had neglected my own self care, and my care for others, because I was putting all this energy into wrong things and people. When you do that, it keeps you in the past, which is perhaps where some might like you to be. But I prefer the future, which is vast, unknown, exciting.

That anger, it was overwhelming. It was powerful. It was cathartic.

And when I finished expressing that anger, I resolved to be free of that old hurt and love, to completely free of it…to allow it to disappear. And I’m sure this will take time, but I’ll be ready.

Somewhere along the line..I’m not sure where..when this relationship ended, I “bought into” the idea that it was my responsibility to be there for him,  to help him.  It sounds crazy, I know! I bought it hook, line, and sinker..and I sank pretty low. Not every day, but every time I had to interact, it was exhausting, draining, terrible. It was over, yet I felt pressure to be friends, or pressure to be in contact. Well, I realized, that’s all it was.. –pressure– that was not coming from me..and it didn’t have to be honored or accepted.

And when I saw, really saw, what was true–that it wasn’t my responsibility…it was like the light in the room turned on and I could see everything much more clearly.

And now, it’s finished. The book is closed, put away in some dusty corner of my mind, and I don’t think I will take it out again for a long time. I can finally breathe. I can enjoy life again.

It takes courage to begin something: but sometimes, we must summon the courage to finish something before we can really begin to live the life we are capable of living. 

 The only person who can help someone is themselves. Me included.

And life..just suddenly got bigger, and brighter, and alot more JOYFUL. It has become..dare I say…Pleasant and calm.

I relaxed. I made of a list of the next places to travel (Morocco! Columbia! Peru!) and took out a pile of guidebooks and read them.

 I planned the trip to India in December.

I called my friends in a little village in India, and talked to most of the village!

I bought myself two bouquets of flowers.

I made cupcakes, and ate them all.

I agreed to speak at a series of talks on World Peace and Social Justice.

I joined a gym (this new perspective requires much cupcake making and therefore cupcake eating and therefore gym!)

I decided to buy a bicycle.

I decided to docent at an art museum and signed up.

I unpacked my cookbooks and planned out some beautiful meals.

I looked at photos from my trip and worked on putting together a slide show and presentation for my friends.

And since there are loads of lemon trees near my little house…I made several gallons of lemonade.

Life goes on. And life is good.