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Happy Holi!

March 9, 2007

Holi is celebrated by Northern India on in early March to mark the arrival of spring, the triumph of good over evil, and to express love to your family, friends and neighbors. (There are conflictingindia-308.jpg tales from Hindu mythology used to explain the rituals, but no one can seem to agree on the source.) It is the most festive and joyful of all Indian celebrations, and is everyone gets into the act. Bonfires are burned the night before the full moon, and the following day is spent raucously coloring those you love with vivid powders and tinted water. We celebrated Holi, as the locals would say, “aggressively” and Damon arrived in India just in time to join us. Looking forward to sharing the full, fun range of images as soon as we return to the states, with a giant gallery of all my photos from the month. In the mean time, I  give you: Holi — 2007.

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Nizamuddin

March 9, 2007

The most emotionally powerful experience I’ve had thus far in India, outside of my work placement, has been my visit to the Sufi shrines of Nizamuddin. Deep into an ancient Muslimindia-132.jpg quarter that, according to Lonely Planet, “hasn’t changed since the Middle Ages,” are the tombs of Hazrat Nizamuddin and his most faithful follower, poet Amir Khusrau. On Thursday nights, the sacred qawwalis are sung into these shrines, and after reading a snippet about them in some long-forgotten source, I decided I had to try witness this music. It was my good luck that Raja, a CCS staff member, has a personal connection with the man who oversees the shrines and is a descendant of caretakers past.

india-139.jpgAs this is not a place westerners typically venture, I lobbied for some company on the outing, and promised the takers that I’d figure out the details. Raja gave us strict, solemn, and vaguely intimidating instruction on directions, dress, behavior, and prohibitions, as well as the rumpled business card of the shrine’s overseer Asaf Ali. We had some nervous fun experimenting for an hour or two with different types of dress to assure we were appropriately covered and set out just before sunset. Read the rest of this entry »

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A word on photos

March 9, 2007

When I first arrived in India, there was some controversy over a volunteer taking photos they were expressly asked not to take. I understand the urge — I felt it the first time I volunteered in Jamaica. My brain couldn’t comprehend the poverty, the disease, and the conditions we were seeing. I knew I could never exaggerate enough to explain it to people at home and I wanted to capture the images to illustrate what I was experiencing. The second year, I shot a quarter of the photos, and what different photos they were. And after that? No camera.

For certain, we are seeing extreme poverty, horrific illness and injury, intense hunger, tragic circumstances, and things that keep us up at night. But the last thing I want to do in those times is start snapping pictures. (Gods help the person who tries to shove a camera in my face to record my personal pain, or even long-lens their way into my life without permission.) Read the rest of this entry »

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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 »

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Welcome to the Golden Temple

March 7, 2007

A bit ago, I mentioned that I was taking the weekend off to visit Amritsar… and several of you have asked about it since. I was holding off on posting, because my camera died partway through the weekend, and several of my favorite pictures are trapped on someone else’s (incompatible) camera, waiting for a way to share.

But in the interest of catch-up, I’ll say it was a wonderful, exhausting weekend. Crammed in aindia-147.jpg tiny hatchback meant for three with our 6’2 driver, Jasvinder, four volunteers and all of our luggage for a 10+ hour (each way!) drive was something to remember. On the outskirts of Delhi on Friday after work, we were still straining not to press too much against one another or intrude on personal space. By the trip back on Sunday, we were eating off each other’s plates and sleeping in the back seat wrapped around each other in the Pompeii mummies’ eternal embrace.

The Golden Temple is the primary reason to visit this pollution-choked city in the Punjab and india-155.jpgit doesn’t disappoint. It is the be-all, end-all for Sikhs and really, for just about anyone who walks through the giant gates. From Wikipedia: “The temple is surrounded by a pool of water, known as the Sarovar which consists of Amrit (Holy Water). There are four entrances to the temple, signifying the importance of acceptance and openness; ostensibly, this concept is reminiscent of the tent of Abraham in the Old Testament — his tent was open on all four sides in order to be able to welcome travelers from all directions. Read the rest of this entry »

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Things that are blue

March 7, 2007

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Chumma

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.