Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lovely grandmas, in various states of disrepair

"For you and for me the highest moment, the keenest joy, is not when our minds dominate but when we lose our minds, and you and I both lose it in the same way, through love."  ~ Anais Nin  

Who doesn't love a sweet little wrinkly grandma? Well, I don't even want to know the answer to that one. But if little and wrinkly are lovable characteristics, then these beauties may be more lovable than most.

I don't know all the people in the pics below well enough to label every photo. Plus the mosquitoes are molesting me as I type this and sorry, but I'm anything but manly around mosquitoes. I have a list of things I'm not manly around, but I'll hold that for another time.

Here's a little update of lovely Jyoti, who I wrote about last time. She seems to be responding, at least emotionally, really well to the love and attention from our group. She seems happier and brighter (or is it just me?) Xulia (pronounced Shulia) is spending two hours a day with her, mostly on physical movements and exercise. And the happy news, from my perspective, was that we got her out in a wheelchair twice. It seems it's the first time since we were here last year that she's been beyond her bed or bathroom. She loved getting out, and the second time we went to the chai shop and were joined by four other wheelchair-bound patients and their volunteers. Everyone was in good spirits and seemed to really enjoy it. (I did, at least!) No luck so far with getting her an attendant. Apparently very few people are willing to do the "dirty work" of cleaning and caring for hospital patients. We're still working on it.

For the photo geeks among you, I took all these photos today on my Sony RX100, my little camera. I've hardly used my big Canon 7D so far this trip. The two black-and-white photos were taken in color and converted to B&W afterwards using Adobe Lightroom, my new drug of choice. Please e-mail me a faster computer when you get a chance.

Love to you! Merry Christmas!

The entrance to one of the small houses here in Anandwan.

I just saw this kid, Akshey, on the street and through my interpreter friend told him he's about to be famous - he's on the internet! I just met him today and he's my new favorite kid. I have a whole busload of kids who are my new favorites. I find a few every day!

This is Lakshmi (did I remember that right?) who's kind of in charge of the room where Jyoti stays. You can just barely see Xulia in the background working with Jyoti.

Oogie-Moogie, as she's known. I was just told that means to "be quiet," but I don't know how she got the name.

This woman seems pretty quiet. She doesn't engage with others much that I've seen.

I like photos of leper's hands. There's something about the delicacy and vulnerability of that particular deformity.

It took me days to have the thought - hey, maybe I could get her glasses fixed. I'm quick that way.

This woman is new to me, and doesn't seem to be feeling well. She looked directly at me, but I couldn't tell what's happening.

This coy beauty has transformed just since last year, and Zohar said that six years ago she wouldn't even speak. Last year she had a nasty burn on her hand, and took a lot of verbal abuse from everyone. If I reached out to touch her she recoiled. This year she gets a big grin when she sees me but then quickly turns away, like a school girl, but she'll touch my hands when I greet her.

Waiting for a meal. This is the same woman as the first B&W photo above.

This is the same woman with one white eye above. For some reason she normally covers up when she's hanging out. Amazing colors on that sari.

(The End)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Love and Tragedy in the Forest of Bliss

"…there is a God, there always has been. I see him here, in the eyes of the people in this [hospital] corridor of desperation. This is the real house of God, this is where those who have lost God will find Him... I pray that He is as merciful, benevolent, and gracious as His book says He is."
 ~ Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner 

I arrived in the Anandwan leprosy community, the "Forest of Bliss," for three weeks of heart-wrenching and heart-opening volunteer work. (You can read an introduction to the place that I wrote on my first trip here. Anandwan's origins are an inspiring story.) As I wrote earlier, I had some apprehension about coming back, and it turns out that it was well-founded. Besides the 10 older women who passed away since we were here last year, my biggest fear was around what may be the saddest case in this Forest of Sad Cases: beautiful Jyoti, who is 24-ish and has acute arthritis of some sort. I first saw Jyoti this time on our introductory tour with the whole group of 21 of us. I gasped. She looks to have lost maybe 1/3 of her body weight, if that's possible. As I came around and looked at her face from the front I was glad I was wearing a hat, because I couldn't stop crying. She looks like she's dying, and maybe she is. I wrote last year that her arms were "stick thin," but looking at photos they were plump in comparison.

There are a lot of twists and turns in her story, including an ayurvedic diet that seems absurd, and her telling us that she doesn't eat more because when she does the old women next to her will just have to take her to the toilet more often. She's requested diapers so she won't bother her  caretaker, who is also just a patient in the old folks home. She can't really feed herself anymore, she can't hold a book, and most incredibly - she can't stop smiling. How can that be? Our latest plot, fingers crossed, is to fund a woman to take a more active role in her care - bathing, toilet, eating, etc. If we can work out the logistics (believe me, nothing is easy here) then I may ask for some small donation to help cover her costs for a year.

If you ignore that Anandwan is kind of a miracle in some ways - it's not so different from the rest of life. It's just a super-distilled version. More heartbreak, more love, more tragedy, more life, more end-of-life, and most importantly: more of what we don't want to acknowledge and recognize in our temporary existence. Part of the challenge of the old folks home isn't such a mystery: they're old, and before too long they're going to die. Who else might that be true of?

Here's to an open heart and the willingness to keep it open, in spite of it all...

Too much love,

Except for the very first photo, the early pics are from Delhi, followed by photos of Anandwan.

I had to tone down the colors on this photo, because the natural colors looked to bright to be realistic.

Scarves hanging in a shop.

The Delhi Metro - unanimously voted by my friends as "so not India."

This guy is building electric boxes with hand-smashed copper pieces to conduct the electricity. (Sorry to get all technical on you!)

A Hare Krishna convention came blowing through our little Delhi neighborhood. Men in the front, women in back. Of course.

Wandering around old Delhi at night.

This guy worked at a sweet shop.

This gentleman was friendly enough, not that you'd know it from his expression.

Just near Pahar Ganj, where I was staying, are these neon-lit hotels.


A sweet kid I met on the street.

The sweet-looking security guard at a clothes shop.

Need a lock for your train ride? Who ya gonna call?

The Dutch contingent leaves for their overnight train ride to Varanasi. That's Ivet on the left, who I spent time with in France this summer, Eev who I just met, and Nanda, who I met around 10 years ago in India.

I joked that this guy didn't smile in the last photo, which made him smile. Sort of.

It almost never rains in Delhi in December, but it came down pretty good this day.

Anandwan! It's very much a strong work-ethic culture here, and everyone that's able contributes. This woman, who looks to be a leprosy patient, has the trademark gauze bandages on one foot. She's sweeping the street.

I was helping Dvora from Australia film a documentary about Anandwan. Chaos reigns when you set up a camera when people are around!

Such a beauty.

I love this! These patients (woman on one side and men on the other) are coming in for a check-up after cataract surgery 10 days earlier.

The big white guy at the front of the auditorium gets his fair share of attention when there's nothing else to look at.

The woman's side is so colorful.

She's not sure about me. On second thought - she IS sure about me.

That's a Shiva moon, or someone told me. There are a few lakes in Anandwan.

The boyz were whistling and greeting me from way down the road.

"Hang on, I have to put my shoes on." It's very sweet to see so many people with various states of ability. You see kids with vision walking arm-in-arm with blind kids, leading the way, and I saw a deaf kid pushing a woman in a wheelchair up a hill when she was having a hard time. Beautiful!

What? Children photos?!

The nursery school kids are especially adorable.

Yup. That would be you.

They look to all be able-bodied. I think they're children of workers or other community members but don't have any afflictions themselves.

These school girls were on a field trip to visit Anandwan. Roughly 100 of them said hello and shook hands with me and another volunteer.

A woman walks down the road with her floral-matched outfit.

I had a photo of this guy from last year. He should be leading a cult or something. I know I'd join.

This is Baby, which I'm sure isn't spelled that way. She's the sole caretaker for the old women's wing, and she's a real character. Her standard greetings, in English, are "Good morning!" regardless of time of day, "Ta ta!" and "I love you!"

Lovely Jyoti. The link will take you to a photo of her last year.

Our afternoon work period includes giving rides in wheelchairs to the old folks. That's Karsten, who I've known for 10 years, Asaf, who was on the yatra in France this year, and Elizabeth and Richard, who I just met.

Part of my Big White Bird series, these guys show up whenever the farmers turn over the soil and uncover some yummy bugs.

This is an HDR photo of one of the men's dorms in the old folks home.

This old guy was digging the music that Asaf was playing on his guitar. They were a little indifferent until he played an Indian "bhajan" or spiritual song that they all knew. Everyone joined in - very fun.

Maybe not the photo for his wall, but it has an intensity that I like. This is an HDR photo.

I have photos from her last year. She usually has kind of a dreamy expression.

Asaf is singing some songs to Jyoti, with Elizabeth and Richard looking on.

This is the hand of the tailor as he was gesturing when he spoke. The nerves gradually die, and fingers frequently curl up into a claw. Sometimes, like here, the hand gets very flat and loses muscularity. That's his fingernail on his little finger that sticks out so far.

Dear Jyoti, smiling, implausibly.

An HDR photo from the top of a tall water tower inside Anandwan.

HDR sunset, from the water tower.

An amazing set of hands from someone who has lost almost all their fingers. Notice that the fingernails remain. I don't understand the mechanics of how fingers shrivel in this way.

I love this kid.

The barber does his thing. Notice how deformed his fingers are.

This is the right hand of a man holding on to his walking stick.

An HDR photo of the men at meal time.

One of the leprosy patients who is now in charge of dressing the wounds of others. Here he's making gauze bandages on an old machine that rolls the fabric in a long, tight roll. He then uses an electric saw of some sort to cut them into shorter pieces.

(The End)