After two weeks of being in India, most of the transitional confusion has subsided and I have a good vision of what I’ll be doing with the rest of my time here with Karuna Trust. My goal is to assess the tribal community outreach programs that operate out of the BR Hills hospital. I’ll be shadowing Munju, a young health worker, and Ashwini, an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife, both of whom make daily home visits to nearby villagers. I’ve accompanied them in-field a handful of times and already observed aspects that serve the indigenous people remarkable well, and others that need rethinking. For instance, health workers perform in-field blood smears for patients showing symptoms of seasonal epidemiological diseases, and later follow up with the results, and if needed, further action to prevent a disease from spreading. But after performing the smears, they give the used needle and blood-stained cotton ball to the patient to dispose of! The health workers do tell them to put the items in a place where people will not walk, like a pit or uninhabited area. But the practice doesn’t seem like a safe or sustainable way to deal with biohazardous materials, especially when they do do it safely in the hospitals themselves.
On the non-work front, things are coming along just as well. That is, I’m normalizing to feeling comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. For example, I’ve embraced the fact that my bewilderment has great entertainment value to the Indians who help me navigate the chaotic bus routes. In fact, I think the station master at Yelundur takes some pride and humor in ensuring that the lost white girl (me) finds her way home; without fail, each time I show up he acknowledges me with an “I’ve got you, don’t worry”-head-bobble/hand-wave-combo, comes over and makes sure I have a seat, and entrusts me to a nearby female with the same destination, whether she likes it or not. I’ve also gotten used to the clumsy, vinyl-black beetles flying around in the bathroom while I shower. I’ve made testing the boundaries of misunderstanding between English and “Inglish” (English with an Indian accent too strong for me to comprehend) to be a pretty fun endeavor. And I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll smell a little bit like pee for the rest of the time I’m here.
But that reminds me of the elements of daily life that I wish I could share with all of you back home, but simply cannot. There’s no way to do justice to the sensational olfactory experience of India, unless I invented a virtual scratch-and-sniff device. I can’t capture the fragrance of jasmine flowers Indian women pin to their braids or the aroma of curried sambars wafting from kitchens. The deep-frying ragi balls sizzling on the street or the pungent co-mingling body odors of fellow busriders on the morning commute. The sloggy, humid post-monsoon freshness. The incense we burn to mask the smell of our Indianized western toilet. And a fixture of la vie quotidian: the poop. Especially the methane gas from the plethora of cow dumps, gaseous clouds that drift down the rolling BR Hills, into Karuna’s campus, throughout town, and sometimes serve as our morning greeting. Some smells are wonderful, others noxious, but I wouldn’t trade any* of them for anything else; they’re part and parcel to Being here fully.
Like Shrestha, I can’t sign off without mentioning how grateful for the opportunity to work and learn from this place and the people here. I’m thrilled for what the remaining 6 weeks hold. Next time, I promise less potty talk… but until then, take care!
*most. I could do without our bedroom smelling like a latrine sometimes.
[Attached is a picture of Shrestha and her new friend Biscuit]