Archive for the ‘Mother Teresa’ Category


Saying Goodbye: Part 3

April 11, 2007

Our final goodbye on that last day at Mother Teresa’s was with Auntie, who had been waiting by her sewing closet auntie-gifts.jpgin a pose that was somehow at once both formal and twitchy. When we broke free of the crowd and approached her, she hurriedly unlocked the small room and motioned us inside. There, she handed us several small wrapped parcels and tried to find bits and pieces of English to wish us both a long, happy marriage and all the blessings of God. The metallic paper later revealed a small marble jewelry box, with a little beaded necklace and a Mother Teresa medal for me, and a wooden flute for Damon; she had remembered from our pantomimed conversations that my “husband” liked to play musical instruments. Auntie didn’t have the money for the things she herself needed, and here she was, showering us with gifts. Still — she had one more thing up her sleeve.

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Saying Goodbye: Part 2

April 8, 2007

shanthisly.jpgWhen Damon visited Mother Teresa’s with me to say my last goodbyes, I couldn’t wait for him to meet Shanthi, the girl I’ve written so much about here. I had told him of her progress, of her laughter and of the way she tugged on my soul. She would be the hardest to leave.

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Chai with Auntie

April 7, 2007

We first met the stern “Auntie” on our second day as volunteers at Mother Teresa’s, when the ritual of a mid-morning break for chai and biscuits was established. We were in the middle of tending a gruesome amputation-worthy wound in ways that are too unlovely to even describe here, when we were anxiously summoned by a resident. We hurriedly passed along a half-Hindi-half-English explanation that we couldn’t possibly come now, but thank you so much. Our lack of attendance was not well-received that day and our subsequent tardiness the following was greeted with icy silence. The assertion that important medically-necessary work couldn’t be interrupted was ignored — even when we had it perfectly translated in Hindi. It took us several days to understand that Auntie had been given the task of extending this hospitality to us and our seeming indifference to the chai ritual was an overt insult.

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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.

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Random tales of working

March 9, 2007

Mornings at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying and Destitute begin with feedings and in-bed bathing of those who haven’t been able to get up and do so for themselves. I still haven’t mastered the art of scooping up grit-type breakfast with the fingertips of my right hand — it’s a wonder to see even the severely disabled artfully scrape food into perfect bite-sized balls and eat them with no mess. I feed Shanthi while she’s still lying on her back, and though I’m constantly panicked that she’ll choke on the softened bread or grits or hot chai, she does fine, yelling and grinning between each bite. (If you’ve been following her story, check back on the post called “Chumma” to see an updated photo.)

Once everyone has eaten and has been bathed, the housekeeping begins. After assisting clumsily for a week, I realized that I was finally doing things right when the girls in charge of individual tasks india-231.jpgstarted yelling at me in frustration to do this or move there just like they do to one another, and stopped treating me like a porcelain guest who might dirty her dupata. The mostly open-air facility is enormous, and made entirely of highly polished cement; we scrub it top to bottom three times every morning. First with soap, then with disinfectant, and finally with a rinse of water. Read the rest of this entry ?



March 2, 2007

Last week I wrote about a young girl at Mother Teresa’s I have been caring for, who spends her days on a cot or tied in a wheelchair. Some small changes we were making seemed to be bringing life back to her eyes and drawing the other women to her. Then, just a day after I wrote, I arrived to find she was back to being bent at the waist in her wheelchair, without the pillows and had had her head shaved for ease of care. One step forward, two steps back. Ugh.

This work is about repetition, small advances, and the blind hope that something little will break through, and carry on after you’ve gone. So, back went the pillows. Out came the oil for her razored skin. And back out of the dark dormitory and into the fray we went, leading a noisy, disorganized, ragtag parade of off-kilter ladies (myself, included) into the garden.

img_0373.jpgFast forward to a week later — the bedsores are healing, the pillows are faithfully arranged each morning, and sweet Shanthi giggles and yells happily through our messy breakfast feeding as I make chumma (kissing) noises and laugh at her silliness. She cries and shivers through her bathing and wound dressing, but does so with a newfound ferocity I adore. She is fast becoming the favoured, treasured child of many of the women, and they compete to coax smiles and shouts from her lips. They tell me that until last week, no one knew that Shanthi could smile.

Today, she grabbed hold of my hand, and struggled for a minute or more to pull it toward her face. Fearing a bite, I pulled back, but she was having none of it. She forced my hand to her mouth and held her it to her lips for ten seconds or so, before kissing it loudly. I cried like a fool. If nothing else this long month of mine, it is enough.


Small things

February 21, 2007

So, turns out that most of what I’m writing here is about my off-time, as opposed to my work here in India. If you didn’t know better, it might sound and like I’m just on vacation, flitting around Delhi looking for interesting people and lovely photos. The truth is, I’m up before the sun every morning and working the longest days of my flatmates. The work is hard; it’s physically and emotionally demanding and draining. And it’s the sort of steady, hour-by-hour-by-every-hour kind of work that is tough and necessary, and that doesn’t always lend itself to fun tales or inspirational stories. (For sure, there is the heartbreaking stuff, but I’m not wholly comfortable sharing the private pain of others when it really doesn’t seem to serve any purpose beyond my own travel narrative.)

That said, the work is my primary activity, my main responsibility and the reason I’m here, so it stands to reason that if you’re reading this site, you might be interested in the work itself. What can be done in the here and now… this month, this day, this instant to improve the circumstances of the person holding my hand? What can be achieved that might live beyond my time here, gradually improving things, even if at tiny intervals? When it comes to this stuff, I’ll try to do better at sharing bits and pieces of small things when I feel I can.

There’s a profoundly disabled teen girl at Mother Teresa’s who spends her days either curled up on her cot, or folded over at the waist, secured in a wheel chair. She can’t weigh more than 90 lbs. and seems to barely function at the level of a listless infant. In the time I’ve been working at the Home, her posture and immobilization were such that I never saw her face. Read the rest of this entry ?