Thursday, January 23, 2014

"It is all God's grace"

"Look into the eyes of whatever arises."
 ~ Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche

I was walking in the halls of the old folk's home here in Anandwan, the leprosy and outcast community where I've been volunteering on this trip for six weeks today. I saw one of my favorite old guys, fluent in English but deaf-as-a-post and a real gentleman, soaking his uber-gnarly feet in buckets of mystery solution, presumably to some benefit. I was showing a few American nursing and pre-med students around and we stopped to investigate. My bucketed friend looked as relaxed as he always does as he turned his palms upward and exclaimed, "It is all God's grace. We cannot see what we did in previous lives, but here we are, and all happens through the grace of God."

This beautiful war zone is for me equal parts inspiring and traumatizing. Beautiful Jyoti, 25 and bedbound-for-life, can't stop smiling. Whenever there's not much of some treat to eat, she insists on me eating it, or her neighbors. But she's skipping meals so she won't go to the toilet so much, and begging me for "stomach medicine" so she'll only go to the toilet every three days, because going every day is too much work for the old woman who cares for her. The beautiful old grandma's can be gentle as bunnies one minute and fighting ferociously the next.

Inspiring and traumatizing. Can I love it all, or at least accept it all? Can I see it all as God's grace?

Love to all of you, (easy since you're at a distance!)

Lovely Jyoti, smiling as always. If anyone has a good reason not to smile around here...

We had a special guest one night in our room. Adorable little bugger.

These two visitors to Anandwan don't even realize how cool they are. They'll figure it out soon enough.

Shachar works her magic on this woman's hair. Impressive.

Two of the older guys in the place meet most days for a chat and a little business, unexplained to me. The guy on the left is bed-bound and in six weeks the nasty wounds on his foot show no signs of improvement. His friend comes by for a visit most days. I don't think there's one whole finger between them!

This seriously-tiny Grandma only has one arm, and here she's working her tea cup with the short fingers of her left hand. I saw her taking a bucket to dip in the hot water tank and was tempted to help her. She had that bucket scooped with her one arm and was halfway down the hall before I could even ask. She is fully capable and doesn't need my help.

After coming here for the first time I noticed that as I was sitting on a train I was absent-mindedly counting my friend's toes. "Yup - these feet have all their toes!" These lovelies appear to have all their toes, too.

A slow bike ride at the end of the day.

Sunset over the lagoon, just near where we stayed during the work retreat.

"Sleep all day, party all night, never grow old, never die. It's fun to be a REBEL!" This is my buddy from the photo a few before this. He's a super friendly, lovable old fart.

Some of the regulars from the women's wing of the old folk's home.

Nice one, Grams!

This young woman wasn't here last year. It turns out she has schizophrenia(?) or something like it. She's taking meds and is quite a character. She's really friendly when she's tracking but has a far-off look in her eyes frequently.

You thought I was exaggerating about her being seriously-tiny?

A light moment in our daily chai break during the morning work period. Shachar and Lily.

What a beauty.

Such cute kids, on their way to school.

This gentleman was going to town, whacking weeds with that metal tool that's all covered with cloth and rope to protect his hands.

Are you getting tired of people's faces? I'm not. I guess I'm really fascinated by faces.

This barn and old wooden carts are still used here.

This is Kelsabhai, who provides all the care for Jyoti: bathing, washing clothes, getting her food, taking her to the toilet. It's way too much work for a woman her age. We tried desperately both this year and last to hire someone to help her, with no luck. 

Oh, this poor guy was miserable at this point. He's the one who has an amputated foot, and though it's healing well, he was woken up one night by a mouse or rat chewing on his cheek near his eye. It swelled terribly and he was so frustrated he was gesturing towards the sky, like, I give up - take me! His eye is all better now and his foot is really healing quickly. He's usually very funny and smiling. He loves to see photos of his foot. You, on the other hand, would not. Trust me on that one.

Jyoti's universe. For 11 months a year, (except when we're here,) she lays on this bed, only getting out to go to the toilet and shower.

Last week everyone got new saris. That's a big day for these ladies who don't have much to look forward to.

A little celebration on the last night of the work retreat.

I don't remember what these two beautiful kids performed. But I remember how adorable they are. (Rosemary, Linda, and Walter in the background.)

The annual Henna Party, where the deaf girls draw these patterns on the retreatants arms. It leaves kind of a temporary tattoo that fades over a week or two - all drawn by hand without a pattern.

Four of us went on an overnight tiger safari near Anandwan. That's not a stinkin' tiger. Some kind of deer-whatever.

OK, now we're talking. The tiger was walking towards us as he spotted a much heavier species of deer-whatever, and we thought we might get to see him attack. But the deer perked his ears up, looked in the direction of the tiger and let out a loud honk, more or less. Then he fled. Exciting!

A south Indian tradition of painting these patterns on the pavement. (I took this photo with the illustration mode.)

This poor lady, Saidrabai, who I've known since I've been coming to Anandwan, has hardly been out of bed in the six weeks I've been here. I look in on her periodically and wonder how long she can keep going. This morning I looked into her window and saw her covered head-to-toe with her blanket and thought, how could you even tell if she was breathing? This afternoon Jyoti said people are saying someone died. I went to her room and found an empty bed. I'm sad for a lot of reasons, and also taken aback a bit that her passing appeared to be such a non-event in the women's courtyard. Partly I think it's too hard to allow yourself to care; it's easier to keep it all at an arm's reach. An old woman seemed to be consoling me and explaining something when she saw that I was sad, and I could only understand one word, Bhagawan: God.

One of my commute-to-work days. I walk down this road for about five minutes to get to the old folk's home.

Baby, the gangland boss of the women's quarters, and one of the other women. At one point Baby told Jyoti that I couldn't take her out for chai anymore unless I also brought something back for Baby. I was, let's say, displeased. Today Jyoti told me that Baby made her an omelette using eggs that I brought for the purpose, and Jyoti was saying how nice Baby is. Jyoti is a saint.

The HDR setting of this photo exaggerates the wrinkles and colors of her face, but I like it. She gets her hands bandaged everyday because she scoots around on a little cart using her hands for propulsion. The cart has small metal wheels and is only inches above the ground. At one point I saw her backing the cart up and smashing her fingers with the wheels, but not realizing that she was, since she has no feelings in her fingers. That's much of why so many leprosy patients need wound care.

Jyoti looking cooler than usual. The doctor prescribed these to keep the flies off of her eyes. Gross. The flies are sometimes thick, and all over her.

I love the mix of people here in Anandwan, the able-bodied and the differently-abled, all getting along with life and each other. It's beautiful.

(The End)