Saying Goodbye: Part 1

March 18, 2007

On my final official day of work at Mother Teresa’s, I said goodbye to everyone without too much thought or intention, as Iindia-055.jpg knew I’d be back. When Damon arrived in India, there was some crossover and the ladies insisted on meeting “Didi Pati,” or “big sister’s husband.” The very idea that there was a man in my life, and I’d soon be a wife sent them into fits of giggles. Arranged marriages are still going strong in India, so for even the older women, my situation filled them with anxious excitement and mystery. I had said my half-hearted goodbyes to everyone, with the understanding that I’d to return with Pati on the given day.

That morning, I dressed in a brightly colored kurta, applied considerable makeup, wore my best jewelry and added a bindi for good measure. Women in India seem to always look their absolute best, at whatever level that’s possible, and my early days of arriving simple, plain-faced, and with air-dried hair — intended as a sign of respect, humility and community — turned out to be a major let down to my new friends. When I finally caught on that my modest appearance said the opposite of my intentions, I got serious about how I looked. I arrived at the crack of dawn late in my first week in my finest embroidered salwar kameez, with my hair blown out and sprayed, and with more makeup than I would ever wear at home. The women literally applauded, taking me around to their less mobile friends to show off how I finally looked like a “real Indian lady.”

It was late morning when Damon & I finally arrived via a grumpy rickshaw driver who kept trying to up the price with every india-243.jpgmile. At the end of the long driveway, I wondered if the house was readying for lunch or some other activity, and that our long-forgotten promise of a visit would be confusing or disruptive. When the gates swung closed behind us, a quarter mile down the tree-lined drive, we heard a whoop, and residents poured onto the pavement cheering and running towards us. My friend Allyson, who was staying on at Mother Teresa’s for another week, informed me that the morning had been a roller coaster of excitement, anticipation, let down, bumming out, and back again, with the hope that we would come and then the fear that we wouldn’t. Breaks to the routine can be the worst thing or the best thing, depending on how they work out.

This one turned into a positive, as we were crushed by the mob of ladies, and eyed shyly by the curious men. Damon jumped right in, seemingly nonplussed by the crowd, the grabby greetings, and the behaviors of scores of residents with severe mental disabilities descending upon us. That sort of thing can be unnerving, even to professionals — even when facing it one-on-one, on your home turf, in your comfort zone, it can overwhelm. I pulled out of someone’s grasp to check on D and ask my friends to give him some space, but he was already gone… tugged away happily, hand-in-hand by some of our more insistent, vocal, (and physically strong) girls to see all there was to see of their home. Love that boy.

Sister recommended a tour the facility, so we caught up with Damon and complied, with his new girl-fans in tow. The tour eventually lead us to the back dorm where he was able to meet a lovely woman who I still think of every day. She has no use of her legs,india-244.jpg but moves around skillfully on a small square skateboard. She sits almost under her bed in a sunny corner with an ancient sewing machine making kurtas for the other women from donated fabrics. (In the beginning of my time here, I’d typically only enter and leave this room for wound dressing supplies, or nail polish, or the bowling game I’d made from empty water bottles, or ancient chalkboards & bits of chalk — we’d bounce from treating amputation-worthy wounds, to painting polka-dot pedicures to highly competitive co-ed gaming tournaments to encouraging an otherwise uncommunicative autistic boy’s quiet but insistent reading of English, all in a matter of two hours.)

This dear woman in the corner always seemed to be hiding, and so I’d avert my eyes and do what I came for quietly. Theindia-430.jpg second week, I dropped my bag, and the bottles rolled under her bed. She laughed and mock scolded me with little bits of English, and we became fast friends. I started looking for excuses to sneak into the dorm without followers to admire what she was stitching, try our hands at Hindi/English/pantomimed communication, or to simply hold hands as she prayed. On this last visit, she held onto Damon tightly, told us she was praying for us and the challenges we might face, and asked to have her picture taken with us. Such dignity and such grace. The woman on the floor in the corner. Whose legs don’t work. Would be praying for us. /shakes head. And this scene repeated itself with every goodbye. I could go on and on about what that’s like — to be fussed over, worried about, and prayed for by people who have lost more than we can begin to fathom, but the story tells itself. It doesn’t really need color. I’ll miss her so.

More on this last day at Mother Teresa’s soon…


One comment

  1. Kara,
    Had dinner with Maureen last night – Sunny Gardens, where else! She told me of your work at Mother Teresa’s promising to send your website. I’m back in New England now checking e-mails. Just read your superbly written journal / reflection feeling admiration what you and the others are doing and sadness that so little is being done to releave human suffering and so much is being done to increase it. – – – Be well – much happiness in your married life.
    Bill Braun

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