|Greeting patients in|
|Laurie with young beneficiary|
of Save One Life
Usha and I again pack up toys and factor to share, and Chittaranjan, the secretary for the Bhubaneswar chapter, picks us up at 8:30 am. We go to the medical college where Chitta is attending as a nursing student.
Chitta is an amazing young man. Only 24, but so unworldly mature. He has hemophilia, limited access to any factor, is going to college, doing well, and running a whole hemophilia chapter! He pulled together this entire event today. His demeanor is respectful, but he knows when to push to get an idea or suggestion across. I marvel at his diplomatic communication skills. This young man is a keeper.
|Greeting from the Dean of the Medical College|
The event was lovely. A large sign welcoming us personally was hung on the wall. A special plaque was given to us both thank us for our help. So many families had traveled from very far away, to see us. We got to meet them all, one by one, and ask some questions related to their lives. For example, one, Jitendra, is 14 years old. He receives money from Save One Life and spends it on education and treatment. He lives 150 kilometers away. His father works on a farm, and must travel far away daily. The father had an intense countenance, a combinaton of fear and desperation. When I asked him what one thing would make your life easier (expecting him to say free factor) he said emphatically and without hesitation: a vegetable selling business, to open a roadside vendorship, to be near his son. Awesome answer. He needs 50,000 rupees to start ($1,000). Through out chat we learned that a storm ruined his house and he now lives in a tent!! He only earns $100 a month. We stressed to our partners that they must inform us when disaster strikes our beneficiaries! We can help this man, and I promise him we will get this money for his business.
|Street in Cuttack|
|Bikram wants to be a doctor|
I tell Bikram we will get him the $1,000 he needs for coaching. Somehow. Believe in us. The mother has tears in her eyes when we explain to her we will help. She offers us some simple food, in the customs of Indians when you come to their home. It is always startling humbling when you are in the homes of the poor, sometimes the poorest of the poor, and they exhibit more graciousness than just about anyone you know.
On Friday morning, we head to Cuttack, a suburb of Bhubaneswar, about an hour away. It’s a very colorful ride, past temples, roadside vendors, and fruit stands. The streets are a mad scramble packed with cows, bicycles, motorbikes, autorickshaws, trucks and cars. The hospital is a public one, so it is exploding with people. Chitta, Usha and I have to shoulder by a crowd to get in to the hematology ward. Our goal was simply to say hello to the director of hematology. He has so many people waiting in line we feel guilty being ushered in. We chat a bit, snap some photos, and then head out to the wards. While at the wards, we come across a huge and shocking surprise. A 16 year old boy, Deepak Das, propped up in a sad bed, flanked by his worried parents. His right thigh is grotesquely swollen, causing his right foot to drop; the skin is stretched till it looks like it might explode. It’s a pseudotumor, Dr. Sudha explains, and he needs an amputation ASAP. This is a complicated case and we urge the staff to consider bringing him to an HTC. They have no factor to do the operation and the operation has been postponed but the boy is now critical. We pledge the factor and any money that can help. The mother starts to cry, and the father immediately sets to praying intensely. India’s culture does not include hugging in public, but this mother, so grateful leans into me and we hug.
Our last city is Pondicherry, in the south, a short drive from Chennai. We flew to Chennai for two days to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of the Chapter, where Usha is from. She is delighted to be home. But Sunday morning, back on the road with a two hour drive to Pondi. Pondicherry is a former French colony which still retains a French flair about it. It's pretty and quite different than the rest of India. It has temples, museums and a botanical garden (you know this if you watched Life of Pi). It seems to me there are however more stray dogs here than anywhere else. India is ravaged by stray dogs much as the dogs themselves are ravaged by fleas, ticks and skin disease —ubiquitous, yellow mutts with the mandatory curly tail, as though they were all sired at one time by a common set of parents. Half are lame; many are lactating. They are starved, wary and are everywhere. They set their eyes on me, Usha says, because they know I look different and they are hoping for better treatment from a foreigner. They do tend to approach me and follow me.
Exiting, I was surprised by an enormous pewter-colored elephant, ornamentally painted and sporting an ankle bracelet, just outside the temple door. When you offer it a coin, it snatches it then touches your head in blessing. Not having any rupees, I think I gave it a New York City transit coin.
We were tired after the day; the weather was steamy and humid. We drove back to Chennai, straight to the airport, after saying our good byes to Nalini. We stopped at a roadside place that was good, and ate some Northern Indian food and masala tea, summing up our to-do list for the week. I was kind of happy to be back in my traveling clothes—black pants, white sleeveless hiking top—but sad to leave. On this my fourth trip, I am used to India now, comfortable. I never get sick, and love the food and people. I do get mentally drained trying to sort out the languages, cadences and interruptions, but am ridiculously pleased overall with how Save One Life programs are functioning and are actually making a concrete measurable difference in patients' lives.
|A blessing from an elephant|
Back towards Chennai and the city was crazy bustling at night. Thousands of roadside vendors, shops, motorcycles, autorickshaws. It's a sensory overload. I am in awe at the amount of humanity in one city. And yet the airport was all but empty, giving Usha and me the time and space to say a bittersweet good bye. We are great partners, and compatible traveling mates. I guess it all seems easy when you have one mission, one goal. Much to think about on a 24-hour ride back to my world.
|Greeting from the beneficiaries in|