24 July 2006

oh yah, and

after the second censure from one of the priests, and nearly causing a motorcycle accident out on the road in the same day, i decided that maybe my clothes really ARE too tight for these rural folk.
so i buckled and purchased 3 sets of the salwar kameez; a modest tunic and leggings combination which is also worn with a breast covering scarf... now i look the fucking part.  

to bow and to bend we will not be ashamed

i called up some backpacker who'd left me a message on bootsnall (travel network), met for an excellent few beers during which he helpfully listened to the storms come pouring out of my head (thanks) in the swarming and yupped out centre of the metropolis and then i had a bitch of a time trying to navigate the 20 kms home with a radiotaxi driver and no common tongue. i was an hour late and the night crew were livid.   
i felt like a teenager again as the adults scolded me and had to suppress laughter (fortunately the dam held); my rebellious temperament is flaring up like my skin in this weather, so maybe i really AM 13 again--all the signs are there. in which case, god help us all.    
but anyway yesterday
the women came at me and stuck a bindi between my eyebrows and pronounced it beautiful; so last night i sang all of them, acapella, a hymn the 15-20 of us used to sing before dinner when i was a child, and was mildly surprised that it didnt come out half bad with only my voice carrying it.   
the twins have been swarming over me all day with maniacal giggles and i can lift one tiny body with each arm and stomp through the corridors of the wards, counting to 20 with a robot voice and matching walk which they find endlessly entertaining. then they presented me a pink Barbie pen that i used to draw them cartoons. theyve learned my name and holla my way, with the accent on the middle--naTALie! naTALie! every time i walk past their window or door. we play various versions of vollyball, and i was trying to teach them 4square but sign language alone was unfortunately insufficient and i know not a lick of tamil, so instead we broke it down and busted moves till it was time to go in for dinner.

20 July 2006


the indian government has blocked blogspot.com in some kind of political aftermath of the terror attacks on the 11th, so consequently i have no idea if these are getting through. if not, its a moot point then,isn't it?

it's a deadmans party

this morning
i had seated myself at the humble table, at the equally humble hour of 7:20 am, and regarded my bowl of potato?/onionish curry, unable to take the next step of lifting it to my lips. so i sat unmoving in silence. the others were happily babbling away in kanadaa, glancing at me and giggling. glancing then pointing. their goddamn language. i took a breath and squeezed my eyes closed, but it was too late. i slammed my black tea down on the table, opened my eyes to them and a week of pent up hostility came flowing out from between my clenched teeth, punctuated here and there with a snarled spanish curseword.
I ascertained their astonished faces and smiled slightly: ok, I don't know how much of that you understood, but I think my basic point is clear. Got it? Thanks!  
[my tshirts are too tight for these people
i cant jibe with their constant superior moral self glorification and prostration before the plastic saints;
essentially one could say im perceived like my Shockingly Garish undergarments hangin on the line next to the saris and habits.] 
i poured the curry out and departed to serve the patients without another word.
we are carrying dishes and again, like every day, with the gerund they are indicating the state of my hair and wardrobe thismorning: you are looking very nice today, you are combing your hair differently?
this constant use of the verb lends the surreal feeling that everything is in a constant and uninterrupted state of occurrence; nothing ever finishes or ends or can be stated in a truncated manner. after saying OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN and all that,  
i see that the tall, wide shouldered man (a desiccated echo of what he used to be) with striking features has a dark look in his eyes today. As he gets up he stumbles and finally moves forward with difficulty; the virus in his blood has finally kissed his brain and his limbs are beginning to phase in and out of existence.   
anyone who has known me for any period of time can attest that my heart burns, beats, bleeds at a rate i often feel is unsustainable. therefore when the work is done at last i must climb aboard the mango trees and drift on the branches in and out of the world here for a while, having tiny epiphanies that stem from the insects crawling all over me... like the way ants die: they are hurrying along on their pointless path and they suddenly just stop in their tracks.  
the people here are an exception to this generally universal experience. here its more protracted; they cant hurry no more down the path but must instead watch and do nothin as their bodies dissolve underneath them, knowing that they are going to trip and fall.
this four year old girl with legs like mothbitten matchsticks and bloated in all the wrong places walks down towards me like an old woman, patient and holding her hips painfully, eerily silent and slow moving. her mother pays her little attention and so she sits quietly dying in the road rubbing dust over her arms.     
i move towards the next group. in the middle of them this man is joking with me in a wheelchair he has only one usable eye. what is coming out of his catheter bag is beet red.
FUCK i close my eyes and  there are intravenous lines dangling in the wind like cheap jewelry,  legbones wrapped in nothing but veins, shoulderblades that come to a razor point.  
i go to the room after food and retreat frighteningly deeper and deeper into my own consciousness indeed the proximity between my waking and dreaming self is beginning to get too close for comfort. distraction is impossible: the town is dry for miles, and though the other night i attempted to quiet the situation with a few sleeping pills before dinner (hoping that starting on an empty stomach would work more effectively), it ended badly because they kicked in sooner than anticipated and i was not able to escape the refectory before i lost motor coordination and pirate stumbled back to my room, much to the confusion of the desk attendant.  
and even then, i was unable to sleep, i just laid there hazily till midnight; the stupor didnt wear off for hours and hours.
even though i know better, i blame the insomnia on thoughts that are screaming to be heard and swarming exponentially with each time i have to repress them but i cant articulate shit to these old women and pious men, and so they echo louder and louder throughout the course of the day and peace becomes completely out of the question by the time its time to lay down.

17 July 2006

the goddess of plenty

today is attempt number two to discern the crowded mystery of the local bus system. the buses are pitiless and move with high velocity violence and the eternal sound of metal dents being made and remade; the timings and stops are known only to great scholars who spend years contemplating the (government-issued) texts. 
traffic was, as usual, in a horrific snarl and the dust and pollution burned my eyes. hence, i was beginning to get bored when, to my delight, a matron burst up the creaking steps propelled by the sweaty exertion of her children and grandchildren. She stood in the aisle for a second with her tree trunk limbs tapering to delicate hands holding provisions wrapped with care in plastic bags, surveying us lesser beings, smiling at a joke we missed, with her heaving breasts and stomach and buttocks cascading out of the pitifully inadequate bondage of the sari's thin material; she was carved like the fucking Buddha and as she took the empty seat to the left of me i imagined being crushed beneath one of those billowing cheeks while she laughed uproariously.  

14 July 2006

love in a time of

CHOLERA. which is what a man died of on sunday while the nurses were in church.
then another went in the night. what is strange is that people here seldom die alone, always in twos or threes on the same day..im convinced its because the hand of death is heavy. and after wandering the abandoned corridors at night, i can also attest that this place is swarming with ghosts. i also sense them in 
the place i go for escape from the penguin. the roof. where i can look at the moon and the toxic afterburn of the city on the horizon. its not even the normal skyglow associated with cities i know--there are often elements of green and yellow and sometimes even blue that make me vaguely sick. these of course are the sorts of skies that match the rivers that run grey with shit and runoff. as they do here.
lots of dreams now about dark beaches and being swallowed in black churning water. sleep, needless to say, has not been forthcoming. but i do fund solace from my dark thoughts in the mango trees, which i have taken to climbing with the helpful accompaniment of young John, the nine yr old son of a widow who works here. he has these huge melancholy eyes and his english is great. we collect huge bags of looted fruit and refuse to share with anyone. 
they deploy cruel attack hounds at night to roam the expansive grounds...but im convinced its more to prevent us from fraternizing with..well.. the fraters across the way.  
we get locked in at the gate, again at the door to the womens quarters, and then she locks our room from the inside and comes at me with bottles of hair oil and reproaches about my lifestyle. i sigh quietly to myself and turn to the wall with all of the books i have. im learning so much its staggering, really. by the end of the summer ill have lost my social skills but ill be a fucking encyclopedia on this disease and this population.
lots of bloody things happening in the news. this country is so impossible in so many ways. ill elaborate further sometime when the letters arent blurring in front of me with fatigue.
the patients have taken it upon themselves to teach me cricket, which i have certainly eliminated from future career options. i must confess that i was nearly outbatted by a child a third of my age, much to the amusement of the locals. among the participants was a a whole family of new admissions, including a set of 5 year old twins with 30 year old eyes in 3 year old bodies. one is significantly sicker than the other. they are both ashen and delicate, but occasionally they commit acts of chaos and shout and scream and i find it most refreshing.
one patient ive been caring for (breakfast thru the nosetube every day) is in the very final stage of HIV infection, its attacked her brain, resulting in paralysis of half her body, among other unpleasant symptoms. not SO long ago, when she was young and vulnerable she was plied into the sex trade. she collected a number of tattoos (strange hindu symbols all over her body, a faded green dot between her eyebrows), and finally HIV. she succumbed rather quickly, so ive been told, and was barely functioning, homeless and being raped all the time before someone dragged her here. she had a beautiful face once and still has the longest eyelashes ive ever seen. her hair comes out when you touch it, she gasps and gurgles painfully for breath, and there are infected bedsores all over her. extensive thrush of the mouth and throat. she cannot swallow or speak but sometimes regards me deeply. she cant see my face through the surgical mask i must wear (to protect her from my germs). i will feel a small sense of relief when death comes to her. it probably wont be so much longer.    

08 July 2006

shiva luna

settling into a sort of routine here.. visited the umbrella community health/clinic in bangalore that initially referred me to the centre & checked out many more books to compliment what i am seeing with my eyes.
large burn on leg from careless dismount of boss's motorcycle.
the Penguin (thanks Jake, Elwood) accidentally opened the bathroom door while i was immersed in a bloody and epic pre-bucket bath battle with a small legion of cockroaches (i think?) i discovered crawling out of the drain. i was wearing only what god gave me, plus..well.needless to say, the Penguin looked quite faint.
fortunately i did not burst out laughing, but put on a most Serious face instead....
i think i have now seen everything possible that can be derived from rice and eaten. not brewed, though. perhaps i should start a petition; eating is often characterized by me staring at the table, or pretending to concentrate more than is necessary on the formation of balls of rice and curry with the 3 fingers and delivery to the mouth, while everyone around me continues to speak a variety of dialects, often gesturing in my direction. Dear sirs: i feel that rice brew would legitimately facilitate a greater level of crosscultural interaction. 
the urge to climb to the roof, strip naked, and scream every forbidden word in the english language at the top of my lungs seems to be
rising at a worrying rate.
disregarding the constant warnings i recieve about cobras, ive been going on exploratory missions to the edges of the compound.
this place has gardens and gardens full of mango trees and many other things, but mangos are difficult to obtain at the proper time; they rot and get infested with maggots very easily. nonetheless, the patients insist on this small show of Independence by pulling them down still green and bitter and eating  them crouched in the field. however, the key is to pick them and wait.  
sometimes the nurses grab me and whisper conspiratorially: you want a mango?
they grin broadly and take me to a room where many mangos have been left to ripen in old medical equipment boxes, rummage through the layers of Times India and pull out mangoes of every shape and size, often dripping and slightly overripe, yielding like butter to my swiss army knife. the juice runs down my chin and leaves telltale stains on my clothes.  

05 July 2006

garlic & saffron

The medical staff uses a curious mix of antiretroviral drugs and home remedies, which I am also learning about.
Garlic and saffron for infections of every type, especially of the gastrointestinal tract; lemon to dissolve fungus on the tongue (an opportunistic infection in later stage HIV); massage as an expectorant.
interestingly, the sensory deprivation this place affords me has resulted in the most fantastic dreams of my life, even better than the fever dreams, and consequently, while the days are this intense, the nights are amazing. i have glorious adventures and beautiful views, and i visit all of the friends who i miss here. last night I woke up laughing about something that I cannot remember now.
letters, physically are probably not possible; they might not arrive for months. i meant more like emails.  
The days: i tread on eggshells and blood, i have learned to feed through throat tubes and swiftly dodge body fluids being ejected (that could actually kill me.? crazy).
1. 40 yr old. I was there for her bath, and i lifted her into the bed (not more that 50 or 60 pounds), but her pulse was becoming unstable and the nurses came in. She was breathing like horses on the racetrack and the whites of her eyes gazed heavenward, aware of precisely what was going on but powerless, while the rest of her body destroyed itself  
she died an hour later.
2. I was playing vollyball with human/skeletons, while those too weak sat around and watched. the wind picked up and the women started to head inside, clutching their sweaters around their heads. All afternoon they were teaching me words of their language, which is EXCEEDINGLY difficult, worse than hindi, and I had just learned the words for thunder and lighting. I walked them in & came back to look for stragglers. There were two wizened men, age unidentifiable, and they were sitting close together in the middle of the bare field. They waved dismissively in my direction,
but i came up to them anyway and indicated the approaching thunder. GARUNGADUM, i said, and gestured at the sky. Go inside?  
Both looked at me, and the one with eyes so sunken into his head you cant see them from the side regarded me. those big eyes narrowed and then i saw all of the contempt possible that one at the rapidly approaching and very visible end of life can have for the healthy young maiden. CHALO (go), he said softly. He turned to his friend and nodded; they said nothing more.
(oh, shit) I backed up and left them sitting in the dust as the storm blew up around us

01 July 2006

'in the event of blood spilling on yourself, do not panic'

well i am at the center and it is much larger and more complicated than i had imagined.
i thought it was going to be mostly outreach and education stuff, and while there is a fledgling department devoted to that, the main aspect of the facility is essentially a hospital, with about 45 patients right now and perhaps 2 dozen staff. Most of those who stay here are in the terminal stages of AIDS and there is a certain quiet that is reminiscent of a hospice.
the campus, as it is called, is actually about 12 km down a rutted road from bangalore proper, which (fortunately or unfortunately depending on one's perspective) means no sneaking off to nightclubs or anything of the sort.
living conditions are disciplined and barrack like; rise at 0630, breakfast by 0730, sexes strictly partitioned. many of the nurses are nuns. food is thin curries over rice. thin curries over rice. and then, just when i was losing hope, additional thin curries over dosas.  
i scrub my clothes on a rough washing rock, something i admit ive never done before.. i achieve varied results but i imagine ill be ace at it by the end. i get lost a lot, as the whole thing feels a bit like a maze. my cot has mosquito netting and my roommate is an old nun.the place is quite beautiful and serene, except for the bloodstains and evidence of medical struggle when you look closely.
i am the only white person for miles and i feel very, very foreign. but since everyone lives in very close quarters i don't think the language barrier will keep me isolated for too long. at least i hope. im nervous about being an offensive westerner, but hey, i guess i can't help who i am. anyway.. the patients are always excited for new faces though i havent spent much time with them yet. today an old man in a wheel chair with a ragged sweater that made me want to cry for some reason wheezed out the whole story of how he met and married his wife in some long gone era. 
but as for the patients, there is always lot of work to do and i am spending the first few weeks working with them, and then after that helping the community education center work on prevention and education programs, visiting other NGOs in the area, writing critiques and doing research.  
all of this, coupled with the fact that all of their computers were destroyed in a power surge a month ago and hence internet is difficult to access, means, i think, that i am going to be spending a LOT of time in my own company. letters are encouraged, please. 
and then alone time always makes me think about everyone who isnt here with me or who im out of contact with. ive realized the majority of my hampshire friends either were in new orleans, are there now, or will be soon, so say hi to the city for me. ill git back down someday...
but right now. here i am literally on the other side of the world, and as for the snehadaan center, there's not much to conclude yet, so ill leave you with that.