(I’m typing this post on my own computer and then bringing it to the communal one, so it may be slightly more detailed than before!)
Today was supposed to be the first day of my orphanage placement. I went to bed at 9:30 or so and woke up at 5:30, nervous/excited/just full of anticipation. I heard that the nuns wouldn’t be receptive to me and that I wasn’t allowed to pick up or cuddle the kids, and that I may be expected to teach rather than take care of them. As Mary said, if I wanted to teach I would have worked at a school placement. I had to be ready by 8 and it was supposed to take an hour to get there.
I rode with Annica and Ray who were going to work at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying and Destitute. This would have been my last choice placement – I feel like I know what to do with kids but when it comes to ill and mentally challenged adults I’m very inexperienced and it’s not within my comfort zone. I admire them for being able to do this placement.
The car ride was quite scenic – we saw the Red Fort, the place where Ghandi’s ashes are, some stunning government buildings. Also slums, cows, and even an elephant wearing some kind of pink makeup. Delhi is exactly was it was described to me. It’s colorful, loud, the traffic follows no rules whatsoever. But I don’t find it irritating yet, I’m always watching wide-eyed.
During the car ride, Vicky, one of the CCS staff, got a call on his cell phone telling him that the nun who was supposed to meet me at the orphanage had to be at an adoption case. He asked whether I’d rather go back with him and spend the day at a mobile crèche (daycare for the children of migrant workers) or stay with Annica and Ray at the Destitute and Dying. I really mulled this over – one would be familiar, the other would stretch me. I’ve been trying lately to push my boundaries, so I tried to put away my fear and go with them.
It was a hard day and it’s not what I’d want to do everyday, but it was an interesting experience and I’m glad I did it. I started out making beds with a woman named Shandi (?). I didn’t understand any of her Hindi but she was good at showing me with gestures what she wanted me to do. She pulled one end of the sheet, I pulled the other and we went around the room doing each bed. The linens weren’t actually changed each day, judging by the array of bodily fluids on them, but simply repositioned. After I made the beds, Shandi took me outside and gestured up toward the roof of the building. There were three or four women standing on the makeshift concrete steps leading up to the roof, and I had to climb around them – one misstep and I would have fallen off to the concrete below! Scary. On the roof we hung up laundry to dry, which was easy and pleasant. A peacock flew up to the roof while we were hanging the laundry, which was totally exciting for me (that’s like a zoo animal in the US!!) but mundane for the women working there, I suppose.
After this one of the nuns called me out into the courtyard. I thought she was going to ask me to help cut up some apples for the patients but instead she handed me a nail clipper and asked me to clip their fingernails and toenails. I’ll spare you the aesthetic details of this task and say that it did have one upside, that the women were very happy to have someone smiling and taking care of them. After I put one older woman’s socks back on she grabbed my hands one by one and put them to her head and then her heart in what I assume was some kind of blessing. That was sweet and warmed my heart. A few of the women acted a bit like orphanage kids, actually, sitting close to me and playing with my scarf.
After the nail cutting, Annica and I reunited and decided to paint the women’s nails. We were like celebrities, a crowd gathered around us, everyone wanting their nails done. I enjoyed this part of the day. They were so excited to have glittering red nails and it made me happy to watch them admire their fingers and toes. I was not the best nail painter and some of them came back for me to fix my mistakes! We had to leave during the nail painting and everyone was clamoring for us to do just one more hand. The Hindi word for “tomorrow” will probably come in handy at the orphanage as well.
I’m glad to have experienced what would have been my “worst fear placement”, and to see that it’s not nearly as bad as I imagined. I feel like whatever comes my way with the kids, at least that’s an area I’m comfortable in.
In terms of general India life, I’m still adjusting and settling in. I feel more comfortable with my fellow volunteers but I think we’re all still a bit awkward. The last group of volunteers came back from their weekend trips and I don’t think they like us. A few are really warm and friendly (the two who are in my flat, luckily), but they’ve been sticking together and not talking to us. I think maybe this will change as we’re around them longer? Mary, did you find this to be true or do the different groups stay away from each other?
This is becoming a giant essay so I’ll go. I love and miss you all at home!
(PS: For the IPS folks, I had a dream last night that Cathleen was onstage in Hairspray!)
(PPS: Ming, they made the most amazing okra for lunch today! I thought of you. And Annie, you too! It was even better than Baluchi’s.)
(PPPS: How great to hear from my extended family! It makes me so happy to read your comments. Grandma, I’m so excited I had a relative who spent time in India!)