Sunday, February 24, 2013

Holy Crap, I'm in India....

So, I've been here two months and I've had no problems. I haven't been sick, robbed, or anything I feared prior to coming which is mostly due to my living conditions. I live on a beautiful campus with clean water and bathrooms and I have a native with me anytime I leave campus to work; so, I would have to make a real effort to get in any sort of trouble.

I went on this field trip the other day and I think I'm still in shock. It was a 12 hour trip through rural Tamil Nadu to help research out some new leprosy colonies and do shoe measurements for the patients. You can only imagine the anxiety I was feeling prior to going. The colonies we visit regularly have pretty bad ulcers that go untreated- remember the maggots? I could not even imagine what kind of wounds we were going to see when we got to these colonies who have ZERO medical treatment. To make things more stressful it was just me and the medical team who have very limited English.

The craziness of this trip began once we drove out of my familiar territory. I drive about 2 hours a day to and from colonies and I've started to memorize the area around campus, so I have felt very comfortable on the crazy roads and the landscape. I got really lost about 2 and a half hours into the trip. We were on the largest highways I have seen and I felt like I was in India for the first time all over again. I had NO idea where we were going because everyone I was with didn't speak English. It was a very quiet trip for me...  I must have had my mouth open for most of the trip in shock because the nurses kept asking me what was wrong (even though they couldn't even understand my answer). We drove through fields full of burning garbage, power plants that have been flooded and were still functioning? We got off of the highways and were on dirt road through sewage swamps and towns selling fish. You can only imagine the smells. That's the kind of India I was expecting to see but where I live is relatively clean and I didn't realize it.

Here's a video of the garbage fields. This is small in comparison to the mountains burning before it but I think it gives you an idea.

I think this explains why the power goes out 25 times a day.

The colonies were not as traumatizing. There were no maggots or any infections as far as I could see. I got to play soccer with the kids in the streets and some of the adults joined in. I was really worried because everyone kept asking the medical team why they brought a white person- and I thought I was getting so tan. I was happy to know that they said I was apart of the medical team and not a volunteer playing around. I'm not going to lie I was pretty uncomfortable the whole time I was there because the people were really tense and you could feel it. Due to the social oppression these people have become very calloused and a bit hostile. I was worried when they were all staring at me that some riot was going to happen- I have seen a few village feuds since I've been here.  Fortunately, they were okay with me being there. There was just a differently feeling because our other colonies are used to the volunteers and welcome the openly because they know they're just there to help. This colony still had their guards up.

I made it through the first 4 hours of driving and the first colony and then we stopped for lunch. I made my own lunch because I didn't know what the food situation was going to be so I was shocked when they pulled out this bucket of newspaper-lunches. I was kind of excited because Wednesday is my favorite type of curry so I was expecting that... when I got my exceptionally heavy lunch I opened it and was horrified. It was briyhani, my least favorite meal in India and I basically had to eat it. The nurses essentially shoved it in my face. The natives love it because it's pretty much the only dish that comes form this area. This is one of the moments I was happy to have been in India for awhile because I had to act like an Indian. There were no utensils so you have to eat with your hands which is a sport in itself. I survived eating about half of the rice and I couldn't bear it anymore. So I went to throw it out to the stray starving dogs when everyone in the car yelled at me. I was really confused but they just wanted to give me some rice dessert. I swear, I will never eat rice again after this trip.

Newspaper lunch also known as sack lunch. 

The Briyhani... Still warm after 6 hours. I think it was because it had been sitting in the hot car. 

Dessert. Not entirely sure what it is. 

The feast for the stray dogs. 

The most exciting part of this trip was the bathroom situation. I have been fortunate enough to have toilet paper on me at all times or a decent bathroom nearby, but there's a first time for everything right? Being without TP would happen when I am as far away from home as possible. I swear I had toilet paper in my backpack but I left it in the car. The nurses would just lead me to this hut and tell me to go to the bathroom randomly in mixed tamil-english, so I couldn't really go get my bag. The first place we stopped didn't have bathrooms which is normal for India apparently. So this one lady brought us to this stall that was used for showering or something, I still don't know. There was a crappy clogged drain in the corner, a faucet which only let out dirty sea water, and a whole lot of scary bugs. I think I can say that I can pee just about anywhere because you have to squat regardless of the bathroom so I didn't have too much of a problem. The second bathroom we went to was in the leprosy colony, it was a squatty-potty but once again no toilet paper. We wont get into the details but I feel like I'm really getting a real Indian experience now.

Yes, I took a picture of the bathroom. The nurses thought I was weird.
Well, the rest of the trip was fine because I had already been shocked to the point of no return. I think I'm prepared for just about anything at this point in my trip. I pee in fields, see dead bodies often, clean oozing ulcers every morning, and live with monstrous spiders and poisonous centipedes. I think I'm getting this down.

Speaking of spiders, look at the nice one that was hiding in my bucket right before I took a shower.
That's a super-plus tampon to help you judge the size... it was the only thing I could find in the bathroom worth sacrificing. I hope whoever it belongs to isn't upset. :) 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Immodesty is really funny, sometimes.

So, I'm not dead. I'm just past the honeymoon period, so everything isn't the-most-exciting-thing-that-has ever-happened-to-me-ever anymore. I've been here 7 weeks and I'm having nightmares about the culture shock of coming home. Walmart is a really big and scary place  in my dreams. The biggest grocery store I've been in is about the size of the Creamery on 9th in Provo (I can see all 4 walls at any point in the store).
I'm running around without shoes, eating without utensils, burping and wanting to pick my nose in public like everyone else but can't seem to get past that psychologically... maybe next week I'll do it. The kids are telling me that I look Indian because of my brown skin, thank you Indian sun for tanning me so nicely. I think it's really great that I get 8 months of summer, just saying.

Well, story of the week involves some very inappropriate skin exposure. I was out playing for, seriously, 6 minutes on Friday with the kids. I had a few minutes to spare so I ran out to play with them and I got attacked. I was laying on the mats out on the pokiest grass in the world and then I got dog piled by 6 kindergardeners. We ran around and giggled, really great. And then the bell rang for them to do their duties and one of the tiny kids who seriously weighs 25 lbs was just hanging on my chuididar (shirt) and I heard it rip. I wasn't very concerned because it just showed a little bit of my side and I figured that no one would freak out because they wear saris anyway. Then he grabbed my shirt as I was scolding him and the other side ripped and it was a big rip... like, up to my arm-pit rip. I yell at him and he runs away in hysterical laughter as do the 5 kids watching this go down. Musha is 3 and has a terrible record for ripping clothes because he just hangs on them but he's so freaking cute you can't get mad at him.

I start to walk back as I'm holding what's left of my shirt together and I just happen to walk by the 150 kids walking back to their hostel after school. They're all asking for high-fives and I politely giggled and said no. Then this one girl caught on and asked me to put my arms to the side like a bird. I laughed and said okay, not thinking anything would really happen and they would just see the rips. Of course this DIDN'T happen. The second I let go the wind just happen to blow at just the right angle and my shirt just blew with it. It stayed on my shoulders but a whole lot of kids saw way more than they wanted to and probably more than they will ever see in public due to the strict modestly rules here in this country. Everyone was laughing hysterically, including myself. I have learned to not wear crappy chuididars to play time with Musha because he will rip them.

Here are some pictures of the lovely event. I put on a t-shirt under so you aren't as traumatized as the children.


 My Sweet Henna

 Tiny Rip

More to come eventually. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Maggots, Bathrooms, Tigers (Disclaimer: Gross Details)

It has been a Big Week for nasty events which is what you all want to hear about! So, I'll just write about it in great detail so we can all share the same nightmares. I will write a brief description so you can choose if you are mentally prepared to read the story or not. This is your disclaimer.

Event one: Maggots in Leprosy Ulcers

 I went to the colony like any other day with my fellow long term volunteers Erin and Caroline. We don't have any short-term volunteers to manage so we just kind of worked where we wanted that day. This particular colony is pretty large so we stay busy. For some reason that day everyone was cranky. The nurses were on edge, the patients were really demanding and I was just getting frustrated with the whole situation because I was hot/hungry. To make things worse I was stressing out because I was convinced I was going to come home with TB. I was washing out buckets out back and this woman walked out of the clinic and starting coughing/throwing up blood. I had been taking my mask off a lot because it was just pooling with sweat. It's hot and we clean in these old church buildings which may or may not have fans. Yeah, it was kind of disturbing mentally and just watching it was hard. At this point I went up to Erin and asked if she was having the same feelings. And of course, she was, so we were already ready to leave at this point. It also smelled so badly and we both couldn't put our finger on it.

 About one minute later I turn around and go back to my station and I hear Caroline gasp and I watch the social worker's face drop. He starts yelling Tamil to the nurses and I was, of course, confused  like always. I look over and I saw the most disgusting sight I have ever seen in my life; Wiggling maggots falling out of this hole where a toe should have been in this man's foot. And it smelled as bad as it looked, rotting infected flesh. This man had not been to the clinic in over two months and his family doesn't take care of him. He has little control over his hands so changing bandages is difficult and to make it worse he has some form of dementia. He was completely incoherent. I think a neighbor dragged him to the clinic because he seriously smelled like death. The nurse is tough. She scrapes oozing ulcers all day, so if she makes a face and thinks something is gross; it's gross. We just dumped alcohol over his foot to kill as many maggots as she could and then she scraped it, bandaged it, and made him sit outside.

Everyone was a little traumatized from the experience. I had everyone go take a breath outside because the whole room smelled and that was just so disgusting. We didn't go to colony for two days after that. I was at least prepared mentally (a little). During my training I was warned that I would be seeing maggots in ulcers, fingers falling off, etc. I needed to be prepared for the worst so I could help someone who may freak out. Luckily we all survived the situation with little damage. I just feel bad for Caroline because that poor girl did not want anything to do with ulcers when this started and she got the worst bandage possible. Oh well.

Story Two: Chennai Bathroom

For those of you who have been or have lived in India, this probably wont be that disgusting. But I was really disgusted. I went to a public restroom in the city which is the worst idea in the world. I purposely dehydrate myself so I wont use the bathrooms in certain places. Unfortunately, I really had to use the bathroom and we were in a nice mall so I figured it wouldn't be so bad. I walk into a "dry stall" which means it has toilet paper instead of the hose to wash yourself off after you have finished your business. I looked in and it really was a nice bathroom and a nice stall. I get in, lock the door, and then there's something on my hand. It's really wet... before I even look at my hand I look around the stall to see if there was a hose and I had just misread the sign on the door. No hose, and it was out of toilet paper. It then dawns on my that the water must have come from the toilet or from somewhere else. I look at my hand and there's clear water with brown specks dripping off of my hand. I run out of the stall and washed my hands for like 5 minutes. Yes, poopy water, all over my hands. AHhghalgladjlkasdjflaksdfjalsdk. I used another stall and I did NOT pee my pants on the spot but it was a horrible moment.

I'll leave you with something good so you're not throwing up. Here's some cute videos of the kids from the past few weeks. ENJOY!

 I brought out a parachute to play with and this is what I found alone in the grass. Gotta love their accent. 
Another Tiger Video
More to come soon :)