Renu's Week

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Report of 30 Nov '09

Hello from the Banyan -

This is when it's nice to work for an organisation such as this. I walked to work this morning from the train station, through the giant non-Tamil speaking slum. The weather is cooler, and the residents have brought out bedspreads and such to cover themselves. I walk through and get to Spur Tank Road. Huts and temporary shelters on the other side, and on the river bank, have recently been cleared; residents have had to find other accommodation. I see a tent and a young lady near it getting thrashed by some people; a man is beating her with a stick, a woman is slapping her on the face with her bare hand, people are crowding around, passing comments, one man takes the young woman aside to try and keep the beatings at bay. I am riveted; I can't leave, and can't really plunge right in to this issue, either. Oh, can't I - I stop and stare, and manage to catch the attention of the male beater. I gesture to him in a classic Indian manner to ask, "What?" We meet in the center of the very busy road, and the man says that the girl is refusing to go to school and has torn up her uniform so that she can't go. I ask him why and he says, "Obstinacy." I suggest there might be other reasons, that he should investigate them at the school to which he says "No problem at the school," and I implore him not to hit her. I ask what he would do if she committed suicide, a not-uncommon phenomenon among young people here. And then I go on to the office.

I sms a few people frantically, and Vandana suggests Swapna. Swapna comes to The Banyan Centre (TBC), and we walk over to the tent. The girl is sitting there, eating, and the man is asleep inside. The girl is actually much younger than she had earlier seemed to be, and might be 9 or 10. Tent? It is a piece of tarp, slung over a tree branch and weighted down on each side with boxes. Swapna is magnificent: she asks the man why the girl won't go to school, and he suggests we ask her ourselves. So we do, and the girl hesitates. We then offer to take her to TBC to talk, explain to the man and to some neighbors what we are to do, and Swapna suggests that someone come along if they'd like. A little boy is sent with us. His name is KR, and he is 14 years old; he looks 8. He states he has been made to stop school by his father, that he actually enjoyed school. Both kids attended a missionary institution near TBC, and no fees were paid, the kids got food and drink.

Swapna talks extensively to the child, S, and manages to extract that S is actually quite a good student, but does not want to study any more, she wants to play all day. Her inspiration appears to be KR, who is an extremely happy kid, conveying every impression that his school-less status has led to this jolly state. Swapna manages to convince S to try to return to school for a week, in which time Swapna will monitor progress. We then bring the father, P, over for an update, the kids eat breakfast at TBC and fill their bellies, and a kind colleague gives them some chocolate; they are elated and want some more. We tell them regular school-going will result in more chocolate and they go on their way.

Have we saved the world? No. Have we made P's world just a bit better? I think so. It is nice to work with like-minded people who will save individual worlds.

The Banyan is doing well. Ms. S, our HIV+ patient with the broken arm, has been given a trial of rest to heal the arm. It is in a sling. Ms. S cannot be contained; she takes the arm out of the sling at regular intervals to wag it about and gesture to sympathetic fellow residents; she describes some process to all, using both arms exuberantly. As I've said before, she speaks a language none of us understands, and feels the need to gesture to get her point across; she also cannot be made to comprehend the need to keep the arm still and in the sling. I discuss this with the team, and we say surgery has to be the option, "rest" is not realistic with Ms. S.

I continue my training for the health care workers and last week, we adopted the case discussion methodology. We divided the group into 4 teams and talked about what they'd do if they found a Banyan patient down on the floor and unresponsive. The discussions were magnificent! A lot of thought, insight, medical curiosity and avid discussion - these young ladies so want to learn.

Oh, some fabulous interactions last week. My sister, Anu, returned from Boston, bearing gifts from our friends, Nina and Benoy Zachariah, whose daughter, Roshni, just graduated from MIT. Lindt chocolate - mmm, mmm. And a nasal steroid for Scott, which he greatly appreciates. The Zachariahs are close friends of many years, and Nina's mother, Leila Kurien, is also a very beloved friend, whom we try to see every time we go to Madurai. A very dear friend of 30 years, Monica Cooley, came into town and we met yesterday. Monica used to teach us ballet at Lady Doak College, went on to learn Bharatha Natyam (a classical Indian dance), married Mahadevan and now lives in Nashville, teaching Bharatha Natyam to all interested parties. She also came bearing chocolate, and dried apricots; while I have waxed eloquent about chocolate, my true favorites (mine and Navin's mostly, the others tilting the preference scale towards candy) are fruit, trail mix and microwave popcorn. Thus, we knew who'd eat the apricots and who'd eat the chocolate. Monica and we sat talking for a long time, and it was fabulous: she is a delightful, gentle, funny, sweet sort who can totally relate to both cultures and laugh out loud about the idiosyncrasies of each.

We managed to see my father briefly as he blew through town en route to an International conference in Delhi. Such glimpses are a treat. My brother, Vinu, met up with us then, too, and that was fun. Anu and family came in at a different time, and found a flat for my nephew, Aditya, in our building. All are happy at this turn of events.

The boys are fine, and are prone to occasional whining about academics. I have gently pointed out their good fortune in various areas. Ha ha - not really; not gently; I have pretty much ripped their thoughts out, pointing out that there are children on the street who would grab the chance to study but whose parents do not have the means, there are children who have to go to work from the age of 8, there are those who have sacrificed beloved academics to educate a younger sibling or get him/her married. Whining about academics? Look elsewhere for sympathy and a gentle viewpoint. :)

Unw -



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