27 August 2006


american accents. i heard one or two over the course of the summer but nothing to prepare me for the nasal, bullhorn-esque quality of the way
my countrymen project their vowels.
then i was astounded to find myself shocked at the bare flesh women of all ages rep; it had been a while since id seen babyboomer tits and flabby legs squeezed into last summer's JC PENNY short & tanktop combo.
And god, the frosted blonde cropped coifs framing such painted faces. perhaps the women of india have a better idea by leaving it up to the imagination.
was i staring with shock at a woman in a tube top?
fuck their tracksuits are so tight, the patterns are all wrong and we move so blockily.

but yes here the waves have crashed and the beach is now empty. these days of adventure, intrigue, and romance are over and im wrapped in a white blanket against the colorado chill, jetlagged and waking up with a start from bittersweet dreams of far of places & faces.
im typing this but my eye keeps strayng to my parents new &ridiculously fast post-children vehicle.
its almost dawn, the roads are empty and i cant resist, so now ill go;
standing still is killing me. ive made a pact with the devil-- i may travel to the end of the earth nearly effortlessly but i must always do it alone. i may only love my fellow passengers till the ship lands and then im off with one hand on my chest and the other clutching a ticket.

cowardly, maybe. but the hope is that if i fly fast enough ill finally defeat gravity and break away completely

24 August 2006

the comedy & the tragedy

I am fairly convinced that what makes this country so vivid is the way that heaven and hell meet so exquisitely on earth.
Correspondingly, I have had moments of the highest moral clarity and moments of absolute depravity.
I'm rolling with shock at the cross-continental itinerary looming ahead of me, at the fact that this is over--no more talking with the doctors, living alone with the insects, tearing through the abandoned late night streets on a motorcycle with the shanties and palaces glinting in the moonlight,
so now I cant do nothin but watch the last day go up in flames above the smog and incense, knowing that

the edge of the cliff

there is a sign on the door that says boldly TRAINING ROOM.
inside we are talking about revolution; they have been telling me that NGOs are slaves to the agenda. the chalkboard is always covered in furious scribbles; the last few days, the conversation has been as agitated as i feel--i commence the great journey west at one am.
but right now im sweating and i can smell the sewer and the flowers and the humid air through the open door.  
Outside there is a surprising mix of palm trees and buildings that were never completed with skeletal steel sticking out at strange angles. there are laborers draped over cinderblocks in the lazy afternoon heat, playing '92 era nintendo on bricklike gameboys.

22 August 2006

ride the white horse

title comes from this song that is ubiquitous in the bars at this time and has hence become a bit of the soundtrack to these fleeting weeks.
its been a while since the internet has been available; life has been busy.
last week my enthusiastic freshly minted doctor friend took me to the OT in the hospital one night, told a lie or two to the front desk, disguised me with scrubs and a mask, and stood next to me as they opened up this poor fucker's foot that had been crushed by a truck.
i should have known what i was getting myself into when they prepped him, and put a bucket under his foot to catch the blood. this was the first time id seen bones and flesh existing quite separately from eachother--small chunks of mangled toe being cut away and bright red living flesh and i finally broke out in vicious sweat and weak racing pulse (shock) and politely excused myself. 
then we departed for a few days via jeep to visit rural health projects way the fuck out in the boonies; it was my first time in such a place in india. we were with all of these children in a remedial school for bonded laborers and they took us for a walk and there were these old men crouched over piles of freshly caught fish. we were standing by them looking at the 'lake' (ie mudhole) and a conversation started. it came out that i was american and one of them looked up from his work and said he'd never seen a foreigner before. he appraised me for a moment quite calmly and went back to scaling his fish.
the children were absolutely delighted with my camera.
they were so excited to have visitors that they put on a talent show for us, out in the dusty yard in front of the school. there were children dressed as bushes (with living foliage), politicians, ninjas? etc and it was quite brilliant. there were choreographed dances. there was a moment where the girls were dancing to this song called 'I love my india' and i was sitting there watching them move beautifully together the dusk and the rain started falling on the parched earth 
and it was so real.  
we palavered with wizened midwives who have seen more than 3 of my lives combined. women here age so fast; the exhaustion in their walk and skin and bones is nearly palpable. i ate fruits which i have no name for or ability to describe. sunday night we stayed in an abandoned dispensary under an asbestos roof with no openable windows and boiled alive. i kicked off the soaking sheets and kept imagining things crawling all over me in my half sleep; but finally the sensation became strong enough to make me swat at my arm and a huge cockroach went flying.
they were all up in the bed, under the sheets and the blankets.
but that aside,
  we are finally witnessing the union of theoretical administration and action in the field and its awe-inducing. the complexity, the disparity, jesus i have enough to think about for an entire lifetime. 
mad world.

15 August 2006

que rica

'atlas shrugged' has been making me think a lot about the concept of 'humanitarianism' in the contrived manner it is usually delivered in. the hand out, the 'donation' the 'charity' wrapped in cultural genocide and all of that crap. 
but nonetheless my purpose has never seemed so clear as this moment when one of our teachers, a doctor, was finishing an afternoon session on village work.
he was carrying his many kilos with weightless grace as he paced and paced in the humble 'training room' in front of us.
'so why do you want to do this, hm? really. im curious. your choice is ridiculous and difficult. give me an answer.'
silence, followed by a few of us young pups offering things along the lines of..well uh id like to help people? its interesting?  
he pushed us harder. but our 'reasons' looked so hollow written on the chalkboard; not reasons but mere 'motivations'. he shook his head.
'well. if you find the reason, please inform me. I don't have the answer either; perhaps I never will.' he paused and leaned his hands on the table and looked at us. 'I think perhaps there is no reason. but I know this--I have merely felt it. I have FELT it in them and that is my sole reason.'

12 August 2006

after a satisfying afternoon nap safe from the monsoon.

im staying in a place whose squalor is reminiscent of gorakpur, only im so FREE to do as i please so its great. plus the cucarachas are a mere thumbnail size, instead of the Deluxe model ive previously had to share quarters with. 
my new cheeky classmate rohini--shes fantastic-- took me out again last night to a club where we were to meet her friends. when we arrived at the door, we were informed by large men with shaved heads (yes, some things ARE universal) that we had been booked into the VIP. we proceeded without paying cover. the place was mostly empty but we were introduced to this guy in an impeccable black shirt with a black tie (name? N something?) and we sat and cautiously ordered drinks, them being 300 rupees each.    
soon we were happily sipping rum and i was once again apologizing to my rapt companions for the acts of my country, while simultaneously damaging their cultured ears with my abrasive american accent. america!! fuck yeah! the place filled up with beautiful, lettuce-fed people and i tried not to think of the bill we were incurring. after an appropriate amount of time, lil john flooded the speakers and everyone started shakin it. our impeccable friend N tried to dance with me but oh honey, money cant buy slick hips. then the dreaded trance came on and i ran back to the vip den and he ordered us more drinks. coronas, and other things from mexico that i thought id never see again (at least for this summer). then, delectable king prawns and gourmet kebabs.    
eventually rohini and i were preparing to exit, possibly by running, when the equally well-dressed but still ugly owner came over, (N's cousin apparently) and with a preening nod dismissed the heart-attack-rendering bill. we and the whole crew walked out gleefully with him to a waiting black car, where we piled in and went to an astonishingly opulent new hotel. we were served pizza made with real cheese. holy shit..!pizza! something i also had thought i would part with for the summer. Once again, the bill should have been in the thousands but N just smiled and looked at the supervisor.
'Yeah, I own this place, plus the one across the street; the doctor thing is more of a side hobby'. but his willingness to share with us was striking. Jesus.
and all morning id been watching ragpickers joking with one another in the gutter. my brain cannot reconcile these facts and so i won't.
    only a few precious hours later and it was one of those moaning headache mornings and i was trying to will myself out of bed to get to class on time. i was laying there, peering thru the grime on the walls when i spotted a scooby do sticker, worn with age. i looked above the bed and there was daphanie, winking. i looked closer all over the room and theres at least half a dozen. i must admit this fact has filled me with an irrational delight.

08 August 2006

darkness and light

im in a dark internet cafe where someone has just started blasting Ace-of-Base and suddenly I'm back in 1994 or so. oh shit it switched back to hindi, nevermind.
ive started the health fellowship with the community health cell in bangalore (which, ironically, you have to cross a gaping river of sewage to get to);
besides the fantastic workshops and teaching sessions we have every day, i also am escaping the convent and the rumbling, hour-long-sweaty-hanging-frantically-out-the-door-with-a-dirty-man's-hand-on-my-butt bus commute that residing in such a far out local entails.
you heard it right, im moving to a hostel near the medical school campus.
i am surrounded by battle weathered doctors and activists eager to pass on their knowledge and what humble help it might offer in these fading days. 
I said bye to the patients last night, I said id never ever forget this (I fucking won't) and I cried when they touched me and whispered 'god bless you' and looked me deep in the eye for a moment before shuffling off down the silent corridors to their beds.    

06 August 2006


im losing touch with my born nationality:
1. my perspiration now smells like garlic and indian spices
2. im beginning to speak with a strange indian accent; at first it was to be understood and last night when i was talking with a fluent english speaker i realized that my intonation is getting more unpredictable every day and furthermore my grammar has fallen to shambles.
3. i drink the water from the cup in restaurants and dont get sick. so far. im sure in 3 months when im swollen with tapeworms ill rue the day i decided it would be an effective cost-cutting measure. but pshhhh that's then; this is now.
4. ive begun to find scrubbing my clothing on the stone satisfying, and now i know why they dont trust washing machines.

last night was an adventure that began with the mounting a of roaring and chrome plated motorcycle to only the Hippest of clubs containing nouveau riche in halter tops dancing jerkily while drinking only the most expensive of vodkas, and ended with my hair's strength being severely tested.
yes, indeed, im pleased to report that i am alive and well. 

03 August 2006


so this week i have been doing 'exposure training'; and though this is generally less obscene than it sounds, it involves going with community health and social workers into the 'field' ie, the slums to visit high-risk groups.
Hijras, for those unaware, are sort of the Third Gender of indian society; they are a group that consists of those born as hermaphrodites, those who were castrated, some who are female identifying men, and some who are simply homosexual. since of course none of these people fit into india's stringent gender and social categories, they live together on the fringes of society, begging on the trains, 'entertaining' at weddings and births, and doing sex work.
due to the nature of their work, they have a staggeringly high rate of HIV infection, and concurrently high rates of other STIs; with little to no access to treatment.   
After telling me about this, one of the gay peer workers I met at the organization led me across the train tracks and into a slum, where we entered a squalid apartment building. I was immediately greeted flamboyantly by many large people in saris; some looked like women, some were men with makeup on, and the whole spectrum in between. One giggled and took me diminutively by the hand, only to burst open a door and lead me into a room where one of them was, er, with a client. shocked, i burst out in laughter, and she joined in, as if it were all a big joke. i apologized, backed out and closed the door. then i was led upstairs where a group of them were gathered around a blanket on the floor of a tiny bedroom, chewing paan and playing cards.    
i was invited to join them, and graciously served warm pepsi in a beer mug and a mint lifesaver.
i sat with them a while and they told me of their troubles and daily lives through an interpreter. one keep erupting into fits of frustrated rage as she described the way the neighbors and the clients treated them- she said, 'at first they only thought we were regular women prostitutes, but then they found out we are eunuchs, and now they want to force us out! this is the fucking story that i have lived with for the last 40 years! and this one! you see her? (pointing to a young ..woman.. with faint stubble and fake breasts, who was staring catatonically at the floor and drooling slightly thru open mouth and rotting teeth) her kidneys have failed! doctor will not treat her, she gave 3 lakhs of rupees and they would only refer her away, she doesnt have the money for dialysis! what are we supposed to do?' she scratched herself and sipped her pepsi. 'and me, i have the sugar habit! SUGAR HABIT (pretending to jab a syringe into her forearm, tone of voice getting louder and louder)! we are hopeless, what is this life!'   
some of the others nodded commiseratively or smiled weakly at me. when our conversation finished, i stood up to leave and they surrounded me and proffered dainty handshakes followed by VERY personal hugs, then dry humping, and much laughter, and wished me a good afternoon. 
holy shit.
then the last few days, i have been going with female peer workers into the homes and meeting places of local sex workers, where i have been allowed to interview them about how the program administered by the NGO is going, and what their lives and stories are like (again, with the help of an interpreter). we visited a slum that sprung on the peripheries of a stinking plastic factory; while winding through the muddy footpaths and peering into shacks, i think i saw the highest per capita number of drop-dead gorgeous people ive ever seen, anywhere. 
i sat in houses the width of twin beds and had endless cups of chai with all sorts of people.
the organization is starting these fascinating grass-roots based self-help collectives for the sex workers, and it is amazing to see the whole process in action. this concept also can apply to health and hiv work, and the concept of reaching those who are unreachable by appealing to their peers is brilliant and it is working amazingly. i spoke to so many people who are so much more empowered, with the dignity granted to them along with the title of 'peer educator', and they are doing amazing things.  
then i have to commute back to snehadaan on 3 busses during rush hour, which i imagine puts even LA to shame; the last bus was so packed that i literally had room for only one foot on the floor and so i was groovin flamingo-style on the unpaved road when i felt something suspiciously firm touching my ass, and then a hand on my thigh. the cheeky fellow was getting bolder; i tried shoving but there was no place to shove him to, my elbows were entrapped uselessly in the tangle of limbs, so i finally hit him in the face and he desisted. i smiled at him and hopped off.  
this week ive seen so much.every day in the dusty dusk light i walk home from the bus stop blissfully lost in the possibilities.  

if it dont bend it breaks

this note shouldve appeared last week.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: <deleted@gmail.com >
Date: Jul 27, 2006 5:17 PM

so the proverbial mental  house, i think, has been torn down; that strangled cry last week was the sound of the roof finally falling through the foundation. now i have freedom.. the rebuilding has begun & the new version already features many more windows and a larger library.
i read the newspaper every day. From such a distance (but with palpable horror) i am watching my country move its puppet strings, which are of course becoming increasingly soaked in blood; furthermore, these small strings are starting to shake all the rocks on the hill and sometimes i fear that this time the avalanche will finally come to bury all of us. muslims, christians, and jews alike.  
i often apologise to anyone within earshot for the things those shockingly soulless, lying bastards are doing in the name of my country. furthermore, invoking the name of 'free democracy' (which we do not nor ever have actually practiced) is spitting an oath on people who are already on their knees with our hands around their necks.  
seeing and reading about the state of healthcare here, and furthermore WHY it is this way, comes back to the neoliberal policies of the west. you already know, im sure, that their greed is literally killing people.. i wont delve now into the details. but anyway at this point sometimes i feel like i can do nothing but throw my hands up in the air (i know others feel the same way); but then again, yesterday sunil took me to a community health action centre/thinktank and i listened to them discussing their upcoming plans to send a group of doctors and medical staff to Lebanon to be in solidarity with the civilians, and i remembered that there is nothing more we can hope to do but stand up and fight until the very last breath. they handed me pamphlets discussing the wto & the medicine patent wars going on here, with pictures of massive demonstrations and i was heartened because at least the people are not going quietly. 
democracy/government here is something raging and astounding; its almost impossible for me to piece together what is happening politically because its like a soap opera with hundreds of characters whose backgrounds i know nothing about. but political coverage is much more extensive and the people clearly havent been properly and completely subdued into nonparticipation, as they have in my country.. india reminds me of a giant ship speeding through the ocean-- chaotic with too many people on board, not enough rations to go around & the conductors appear to be mostly inept, etc
but somehow it keeps going forward and not sinking, and furthermore the passengers are singing and dancing.      

01 August 2006

bring the motherfuckin ruckus

saturday night was not all it had cracked up to be, so i was forced to bust out the monster under the bed; i downed approx 400ml of it and made my to the roof to chainsmoke shitty indian cigarettes under the moon.
soon after i was seated, a mosquito alighted on my arm. i shouted: your insatiable bloodlust, sir, will be your undoing! 
..and i killed it. a curious washerwoman, upon hearing the commotion, came over to investigate and found a young woman in a salwar SMOKING, which is basically the same as if i was naked and dancing, burning the bible, etc. she conveyed this to me in handspeak and i shrugged and tried to tell her 'different strokes for different folks', but it turns out this particular saying doesnt translate so well into sign language and i think she left even more offended and i was unable to supress my laughter any longer.
then, today it is my great joy to announce that the Penguin has been replaced, happily, with a young italian woman who will be in india for 3 months. she is great and refreshingly unweathered by tribulations. her suitcase contained, perplexedly, approximately five towels, a disney english workbook, and a litre of disinfectant. almost nothing else.   
i also find myself the instigator of small rebellions. during dinner every night, we serve the patients according to the direction of the Boss, a priest in training with whom i often have what you could call 'polite disagreements', ie, i observed one day that women should have equal rights, and he called me a feminist with a curl of his lip.
anyway, he recently decreed that Pickel (a spicy condiment of green mango, chili sauce, and oil) was not to be served with dinner any longer, as it could interfere with digestion. i told him that they eat spicy food all day, and half a teaspoon of pickel wouldnt kill anyone. but he persisted. now, everyone loves pickel; it is the small variety in the otherwise very similar meals they are served every day.
so two of the female patients and i hatched a plan (i should add, using only sign language). they summoned him and ordered 2 Ragi porridges (something they are given when they are too nauseous to eat regular dinner) to be brought from the kitchen. we knew he would be occupied for several minutes with the order, so i appointed a lookout and dashed about with the jar, serving pickel to everyone who wanted it. my moves were Secret Agent in nature (hugging the wall, leaping from behind furniture); my impetuousness was infectious. and they were all laughing and laughing. when the big Boss returned, he asked what all of the commotion was about but i smiled sweetly and said they were merely basking in the glorious opportunity of being alive. his grasp of english being tenuous, he didn't get the joke and while he was busy restoring order in the dining hall, i winked conspiratorially to the patients and departed into the night