Hollie, Rainbow, and I visited an orphanage and a nursing home last night. It was an awesome opportunity to correct my assumptions and allay some of my concerns.
One of my great fears in coming to India was that I’d be exposed to things I couldn’t emotionally process. And to be honest, to some degree I have been. There is poverty everywhere. The American version of poverty is nothing like the Indian version. They are less visible to us because they seem to be sequestered away from view. Out of sight, out of mind (mostly, anyway). In India, the poor are right next to the rich. I’ve seen a few elegant homes next to shanties. There will be a woman in a gorgeous silk sari standing in the street next to someone with ragged clothes, no shoes, and few teeth. It can be overwhelming. And of course the stray dogs rip out my heart. Far too many of the female dogs are producing milk, and the males aren’t neutered. That means more stray dogs in a place where fresh water is not readily available. I’ve watched dogs drinking from mud-filled puddles and hunting through the large garbage heaps for food. They don’t come close to us; they sit by the side of the road or under a car. There are far too many of them and I want to save them all but can’t. These things have been hard.
So here’s the light: the children and senior citizens we met were joyful. None of them carried a burden of poverty or lack of family. They all showed hope and happiness. The orphanage is a multi-care facility: they provide housing and schooling for children without families, and job skills and occupational therapy for the physically disabled. No “please sir, I want some more” here. I’m sure these children are all too aware of their circumstances, but they were happy. They took us on a tour of the facility and most children shook our hands and asked our name before telling us theirs. Many of the staff members are physically disabled; the operations director was a child there receiving therapy to learn to walk. The kids kept asking us to take photos with them. So much joy and hope. It was awesome.
At the nursing home, again I was happily surprised. Both of my grandmothers were in nursing homes in the last years of their lives, and I’m haunted by some of what I saw with vacant expressions, emotional outbursts, and major illnesses. The home we visited was terrific. It was very small, with approximately 15 inhabitants. They were in pretty good shape. We met 8 of them and they were very alert and interested to learn about our home countries. They talked about the jobs they’d held before they retired, but when we tried to ask more, they wanted instead to talk about us. They all kissed us on each cheek and offered us blessings.
Funny side note of the day: while visiting the nursing home, a group of 20 or so people came to the door. They were campaigning for the upcoming Tamil Nadu elections. Well, they spotted Hollie and asked her to come outside. Then they asked me and Rainbow to come out too. Turns out they thought it was so neat to see white people, they wanted pictures of us. Pretty sure Hollie is going to end up on a campaign sign. She has a fair complexion that draws a lot of attention. Apparently with Rainbow being Chinese and me being a bit darker complected (I’ve been asked several times here if I am half Indian, and once if I’m Persian – huh??), we were less intriguing. But they kept pushing us forward in the pics too, maybe to show that they have the support of Caucasians, Asians, and whatever they think I am. One lady handed me a pamphlet but wouldn’t let go. I finally realized she was waiting for them to take the pic of her campaigning to me. It was pretty funny!! I’m finally kinda, sorta exotic!