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.
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.