A Living Nightmare – Parallel Realities

I’m at a crossroad with this blog.  I intended to keep it apolitical, simply reflective, focus on the positive, on the incredible satisfaction and happiness I have, but kind of write as if I’m floating on a cloud.  That is political too, with the hidden agenda to make this look easy… to be able to say, "hey, come on down and open an orphanage in Kolkata!" 

Well, it is wonderful, and it is hard.  I do float on happiness, but at the same time I live a nightmare, one I try not to think about, or write about.  Whenever I’ve gone through bad situations, I’ve always tried to set aside time each day to do something totally unrelated, something to take me out of the pain and fear that go with tough times and situations.  For me, the children provide that.  When things get tough, I get on the floor and play with the kids.  Or, I dance to the video, sometimes Indian dance, sometimes Barney nursery songs.  "If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands…" and I clap and the choto bacchas try to clap, and they giggle because I look funny and they know it and so do I.

The government is threatening to close Shishur Sevay and take away the children.  Actually this has been going on for months.  it is a battle that is consuming.  I used to be afraid, afraid of knocks on the door, police coming to seize the children.  I lay next to the choto bacchas at night, thinking of the emptiness of their lives before us.  I want to cover them all with my body.  I told the government they would take my children, "over my dead body."

I won’t even try to explain the whole situation because it makes no sense.  The battle is over money, and over control of Shishur Sevay.  Because I am a foreigner I cannot be part of the structure of Shishur Sevay.  On paper I am invisible.   I also can’t move my money into Shishur Sevay until the Indian government gives me clearance to do that.  I can’t start that application until our tax exemptions are granted from the tax department.  In the meantime the government is demanding that I put money into the account, which is totally illegal.  And they want board representation to control my money.  Once they have the money they can kick me out.

But there is more, and this part is even more ugly.  I’ve been doing work here for seven years.  Much planning went into what kind of home Gibi and I would create, and who would be here for the children.  We chose love of children, experience, and commitment over "high" credentials. We chose people who would also put their bodies over the children and not let them be taken.  There is a racism, caste ism, and class-ism, at work, not against me, but against Indian people I’ve chosen to trust with my money and my children.

Today was a new round, an unexpected one on a Sunday morning.  We were suddenly called to a meeting, disrupting all our plans with the children  And now the kids know a bit of what is going on, and I feel terrible.   This morning I was in tears, the flesh and blood part to me, the part that bleeds when I am wounded.  I was told again they would take my children if I didn’t turn over my money.  The government had decided, "Mother Teresa gave her house.  You must do the same."  They want the property, Shishur Sevay — the house, the land.

Gibi and I have been knocking on every door we can find.  Our local support is total, which is critical.  The local officials can actually stop any move against us.  Our local police will not knock on our door at night to take the children.  What a terrible way to live… as I said, a nightmare.

But then there is the parallel reality… which is truly wonderful.  I wrote before about Poomina, who was hospitalized with a seizure disorder, and who has encephalopathy — the slow waves that tell us how ill she is…  Well, today her MOTHER came to visit!  This is the story.  Poomina came to us as an orphan through order of the court.  She came under a different name, with no medical history, simply a bottle of seizure medicine, and listed as five years.  She requires constant care and attention.  Her seizure here began when she put her hand in her throat and gagged herself, then couldn’t breathe well, and had the seizure. 

But here is the difficult part of life with Poomina, and why she was given up.  She loves playing with her potty, and eating it, and tossing it…  So she also requires constant soap and water… although we now have her partly potty trained.  Poomina grabs anything in reach, scoots across the floor quickly, and takes apart anything with nuts and bolts.  We have a padded chair for her because sometimes she bangs her head.  We have child-proofed the main room, with everything behind cabinet doors, and all wires high off the floor.  We love her, but she is truly a handful.

In April we took the choto bacchas to the Indian institute of Cerebral Palsy for evaluations and to begin treatments.  Poomina was immediately recognized by the physiotherapist!  In fact he was thrilled to see her.  He used to treat her at another facility were her mother took her for weekly treatments.  He said Poomina seemed well cared for, and he was surprised she had been abandoned.  Thus we started looking for her mother, on the assumption that a family member had probably abandoned Poomina, and that the mother would be relieved to know she is OK.  through the physiotherapist, we found her, and she came today, along with a younger child. 

The visit was beautiful, for everyone.  Poomina played with her mother’s hair, kissed her, but was also happy with the rest of us.  For the mother, it was some peace of mind because she never thought she would see her again.  Unable to care for her, after Poomina got out and spread her potty liberally around the neighborhood, she was sent to live with her grandmother.  The grandmother said she had put her in a good home (actually Poomina came through the police to the government home). 

Poomina’s mother is an educated woman.  Her husband beat her during pregnancy; then there was a difficult birth; then there was the chickenpox we thought was the source of the encephalopathy.  Poomina will be seven in November.  The grandmother said she had given all the medical records when she gave up Poomina, but none were given to us.

Poomina has a younger brother, who came too, and said to his mother, "OK, now let’s take her home."  She also has two older sisters who are studying in residential schools, in Class 7 and Class 4.  They will come to visit over Puja holidays.  Poomina’s mother is doing the best she can.

I wondered what it would be like for the other children to have a mother return.  It was good.  They wanted to keep the younger brother.  i think it was good because each one dreams of her mother finding her, or of finding siblings who they would want to also live with us, be fed, schooled.  So it was a visit that fed their dreams.  it also made clear that mothers are welcome, that children can still stay here, that nothing bad happens. 

By six pm I was exhausted, but didn’t want to nap.  So I took a long walk into Behala, to the narrow crowded sidewalks filled with Puja shoppers, buying gifts for the holidays.  It was mindless activity.  I bought peanuts and lollipops for the girls for their school tiffin.  I saw a knock-off of a Macy’s Bag and bought it for Rs. 25 (about 50 cents).  I stopped at a medical store to get pads for one of the girls.  I chatted with the owner about brands, as I’d been with Johnson & Johnson.  The owner of the shop is a Rotarian, and he talked about the Rotary Club having me talk to them one day.  I talked about the large NRI Rotarian group in New Jersey.  Then I just walked some more, small steps as I was caught in a procession of shoppers, just moving as a mass along the street and the sidewalk. 

I came home, and the children were in singing class.  All was well.  I hugged the little ones, told them about my shopping.  They don’t care that they don’t know English and I don’t care that they can’t talk.  We do body language, and expression, and I always make them laugh.

Monday morning i woke with a terrible headache.  I did not want to move my bones, or walk girls to school.  But i got myself going (with some encouragement of Ganga, whose waking smile makes us all feel happy)… and as soon as we were on the road I was hearing one of their dance songs in my head so we all started singing, and soon my headache was gone, and I was writing lists on my palm, lists of who I next had to call, what I had to write….  New strategies were forming in my mind.  We really need to put out a publication of Gibi’s and my work over the last seven years. 

I’m able to move back and forth… the parallel realities.  I had little time to write today… and now the day is over, the kids will go to sleep shortly.  I found some old National Geographic magazines at Gibi’s and we brought them over for the girls.  They love the pictures.  They ask lots of questions… Ganga is engrossed, and is turning pages.  Our girls are all turning pages. 

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October 2007
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