|Durgapur Chapter has its own|
Boarding the train in Kolkata is always stressful. It's a huge station, with thousands of people. We have porters to help us, and the railway system in India is fabulously on time and orderly. In such a sea of Indian humanity, I am stared at like something that fell from the sky. Mostly, when I smile or wave, my gazers beam back at me.
|Usha thanking the families|
|Laurie Kelley accepting gift|
|Usha conducts interveiws with our scolarship winners|
|Sukdev is learning|
One of the most interesting young men we met is Sukdev. He’s taking a two-year computer course at the ITI (Industrial Training Institute). His father is a cook in a small town; they are very poor. He’s a great singer, according to everyone present, and Sukdev bows his head, sheepishly smiling. He had a CNS bleed en route to camp when he was younger. Camp was his first exposure to life outside his little village, population 400. He learned about head bleed symptoms from chapter, so when he got a bleed, he knew what was happening. Subhajit and Ajoy are proud of this outcome. It took him over four hours to get to this meeting. I feel guilty; we give him some money for transportation.
|Laurie and Usha with Durgapur families|
After a break at the hotel and some quick food, we head out to two homes. These are about a 45 minute ride from the city, into the villages. The roads are made of dirt and are very bumby. We have to constantly dodge oncoming traffic, which includes trucks, motobikes, horse drawn carts, cars, bicycles and occasionally a massive water buffalo. The streets are fringed with vendor shops, which sell everything from vegetables to tires. The sun sets until it is pretty much dark when we reach the thatched home of Sheikh Rajiv. We have to trek behind some other village homes in the dark, through went grass, to arrive at his home. Subhajit has a flashlight and shines the way, warning me not to fall off the path and into the adjoining field. I wonder if there are snakes slithering around.
Sheikh lives in a one room home made of mud, with a hay roof; the one room is only 12x12 for four people. There is electricity, but no refrigerator or any convenience of any type. Living here is primitive. The father works in a rice shop. His office closes at 10 pm and he bikes back from Durgapur over the very rough, dangerous roads, about 10 miles, which takes over one hour. Every day he does this. And he has a child with hemophilia to consider. We sit on the bed, which takes up half the room, and the family is excited and nervous. We ask questions, present gifts to the two children, and their mother brings in a tray with drinks and wonderful Indian desserts. I could write a blog just on Indian desserts. They are indescribably delicious. Despite having already eaten, we taste some of the desserts. First, because they are great! Second, this is a huge deal to this family. To have international guests come to their home, and to serve them. It would be the height of rudeness not to accept something. Despite their poverty, Sheikh is doing well and looks great. He is well cared for by the society. When we leave, the village turns out to gawk and then wave us on with good wishes. They love having their photo taken.
He sells vegetables by pulling cart around town. The mother stays at home, with the two children, who attend school. A child with a bleed means the father has to take time off from work, and loses money. He is a day laborer, and his income depends on hustling vegetables. He earns about $1 a day. He does have a fridge, which the first father eyes lustily. We discuss what would help each family further, and the Sheikh’s father would really like a fridge. Imagine if that were the number one item on your wish list? We told him we can get that for him and in fact, I give Usha the money and tell her to get him one tomorrow. The mother can use the fridge to store factor, but also to “rent” out some shelves and earn a little extra money.
The mosquitoes are also glad we came and I seem to be the only one being gnawed on. We finally pack up and say our good byes, and head back on the bumpy road, out of the rural village, back through
|Lesson in civility from the poor|
frantic Durgapur, back to our quiet and elegant hotel, one room of which is twice the size of either home.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo [Kindle]
Boo spent several years embedded in a Mumbai, India slum to record the true stories of life as a slumdweller in India. Trash sorters, street vendors, teachers, prostitutes... the slum has a delicate economic and social balance that is easily tipped when disaster stikes, as when one of the inhabitants sets herself on fire, and another family is accused. The book centers on this dramatic and true case, which serves to hihglight the daily struggle of indiviudal families, how they deal with the corrupt police, sway politicians and try to survive. A masterpiece in international development literature. Four/five stars.