Week one

February 17, 2007

india-069.jpgLong time between posts, I know. The days have been so full and so tiring, that when I finally find a window to go down the street and get online, my brain can’t form thoughts that seem worthy of sharing. Will try to get something down tonight.

So, I’ve been in Delhi for one week now and I can’t tell if the time has flown or whether it’s crawling along. We met with the dean of poli sci from Neru University and he said the same thing, another way: Whatever you can say for sure about India, the opposite is always, also, true. He ain’t lyin’.

india-044.jpgOur program seems a bit overbooked with volunteers, so already meager accommodations are stretched to the limit — two guys finally got to join us in our flat after spending the week in the Taj Mahole: a tiny, frightening studio with a bare bulb and no shower. Overall, it’s been like living in a wildly over-crowded freshmen dorm without clean or hot water and a working toilet. Yet, this is a middle-class neighborhood and it is so much more than the people we’re serving can call their own, so it will do.

india-048.jpgHonestly, though, the group dynamic has been quite an, a-hem, adventure– some really young girls, some varying motives and standards of behavior, and even a couple of people who are just plain unfriendly. There are one or two (challenging) queen bees, and a few others that seem to hover and vibrate around them in their vulnerability. One or two are so earnest and serious about “changing the world” that they’re continuously shocked and appalled by everything, and convinced that only they can understand the significance of what we’re seeing and what needs to be done. The rest of us “just don’t get it.” /sigh

There are also volunteers who’ve been here for a while already, and seem smart, funny and interesting, but who are pretty down on the program, so it’s taking some time to get adjusted. Still — there are some lovely people who are nice to come home to at night, and a whole bunch of others I’m looking forward to getting to know.

The grounds of Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying and Destitute are not at all what I expected to see — it’s just outside of the city, and they have some acreage. The property is lovely, with a large plot of land where the sisters andindia-050.jpg inmates, as they’re called, grow their own food and flowers. The house itself is immaculate, and designed as open air dorms around a central courtyard just like the house in Mother Teresa house in Kingston, Jamaica, so it must be their standard.

There are approximately 160 resident inmates, with 2 sisters on duty throughout the day. (If that.) There is a much larger population with serious mental disabilities than I had originally expected, and most of the illness/injury is in the men’s ward. So, thus far, the work has consisted of helping daily with cleaning the facility from top to bottom, washing and feeding of residents, assisting a doctor we have with us with major wound care, and working one-on-one to nurture inmates who are having a tough time in this setting, or to play small learning games, (for us both, as they mostly speak Hindi, and I’m barely fluent in English), or to simply play. The work goes from festive to grim and back again in minutes.

india-106.jpgIt’s so interesting to see others visit Mother Teresa’s for the first time. So often, the word “institution” is invoked, and they’re straight-away expressing horror, and puffing themselves up with all the ways in which they demand things be immediately changed/fixed. I can understand the urge, but to get stuck on those ideas is to miss the beauty of the community there. With two or one or even no sisters around, this place still runs like clockwork. Everyone has a space, everyone has a role, and everyone contributes to the good of the larger group — organizing the arduous daily task of cleaning these open-air dorms, assuring that someone who didn’t queue still gets their medication, and covering another who is so is so low, she hasn’t thought to reach for a blanket. The system may be wired to provide for the group, potentially at the expense of the individual, but the other inmates fill the gaps. Eight adults with every advantage can’t manage to peacefully and sanely coexist in a Delhi flat, and here, 160 housemates with every disadvantage show us how it’s done. Dig. india-107.jpg

For sure, it is also a dark place; these are the abandoned and the destitute. Found wandering the streets. Kicked out of hospitals with ferocious wounds for being unable to pay. Left behind by family that couldn’t or wouldn’t feed and house them any longer. Cast aside after being too much of a burden.

But overall, it’s impossible to deny that there is a distinct joy about this place. There is so much kindness, hospitality, affection and generosity from the sisters and their charges, that it can threaten to overwhelm. Upon arriving very early each morning, I find myself crushed by hugs and outstretched hands attached to women shouting “Namaste, Didi!” or “Hello big sister!”

india-102.jpgNow that I’ve been on for a week, I’m trying to plan some more organized activities to make the most of my days when the cleaning and care is done. Working with a group of this size and type is sometimes like managing a daycare, but with almost no resources and much larger, stronger children. I’m happy to be here and ready for more.

More when I can… stay tuned.

  • Photo 1: The street on the way to Mother Teresa’s
  • Photo 2: A traditional Indian dance at the Habitat Centre
  • Photo 3: Hauz Khas apartments, where our flats are
  • Photo 4: A fruit vendor in a posh nearby market
  • Photo 5: A woman at the Red Fort. I couldn’t not take her picture (with permission, which is a funny sideways head nod here)… does it get more beautiful or dignified than that?
  • Photo 6: The hall where the Shah receive’d petitioners at the Red Fort
  • Photo 7: White girl, in front of white halls, at Red Fort


  1. K, loved this post and all of the accompanying pictures 🙂 Perhaps its true that words really can’t say what an amazing journey you are on, but you are doing an amazing job of getting things across (barely fluent in English my ass, you’re a natural story teller)! Loving every glimpse into your days far away.

  2. Dear Kara,

    We think of you each day and keep you in our prayers. It is wonderful to read your account of your days.

    We love you,

    Aunt Shelley, Uncle Sam and Bec

  3. Kara, I look forward to each of your posts. I miss you and think about you often — hoping your experience is meaningful and inspiring. Bring back lots of amazing stories for us!

  4. Wow. You excel at capturing the layers of your experience. Thank you so much for forcing several teardrops into my Saturday morning coffee as I sit in the comfort of my home and think of you there, serving the needy-est of the needy. I can’t remember a tear ever feeling so good!

    These lines were the tear-inducing culprits: “Eight adults with every advantage can’t manage to peacefully and sanely coexist in a Delhi flat, and here, 160 housemates with every disadvantage show us how it’s done.” So true, such a sublimely sad observation.
    and “Upon arriving very early each morning, I find myself crushed by hugs and outstretched hands attached to women shouting “Namaste, Didi!” or “Hello big sister!” It proves that joy exists regardless of circumstance, and is always possible.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

  5. Good reading. Keep it going. Why so many chicks going into your Clinton Street house? Just joking. What do you expect from me? Your experiences are so interesting.


  6. Thank you again for sharing your experiences with us. You are indeed a “born storyteller”. Your words paint a vivid picture. I too had tears in my eyes while reading your description of the ‘inmates’ and their circumstances.

    Know that our thoughts and love are with you. Take care.

  7. Hi Honey! Can’t seem to get anything “out” of the Florida Keys & into cyberspace, so I’ll simply try again, & say we love reading your daily activities. Satay safe we pray for you & all . Love you & miss you, Mom & Dad

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