‘Twas two days after Christmas…

‘Twas two days after Christmas and I finally have a chance to write…. a short chance as we are leaving for the planetarium later today, but this is a start.

I am struck by the degree of relief I feel having the license.  I sleep better, am more relaxed, funnier, happier.  It was such a terrible way to live.

We had a wonderful Christmas.  The girls’ main education about Christmas came from Home Alone 2.  On Christmas Eve they asked Seema why Santa Claus would come to "girls like us."  She said that I had heard them call, and had come from America and I’d brought Santa.  Well, the next morning I really felt bad that there was no manifestation of a living Santa so I took cotton from a roll of bandage cotton and fashioned a very large beard, and a mustache and taped them on.  I was still in my nightgown, but I took our brass bell, put a bag with the books I’d gotten them over my shoulder and called out, "Merry Merry Christmas!"  They were hysterical with laughter.

People came to visit over the day.  Gibi’s kids and husband came. There was just a flow.  I’d gotten hit by Christmas spirit unexpectedly so I’d bought some music, and mostly played Harry Belafonte singing Christmas songs… We were Hindu, Muslim, Jew singing Christmas carols….  Our closest Christian friend was on duty and couldn’t join us.

I really missed my children in the US.  We talked on the phone.  We just all accept this is how it has to be right now… Mom needs to be here, and they have really come to understand that.

IT IS NOW FIVE DAYS AFTER CHRISTMAS and I have spent hours and hours trying to add pictures, and then a few hours ago lost a long post which I’m trying to reconstruct but will save into draft more often.  After two days, probably at least 12 hours, there are four pictures in an album, 29 December 2007.   My internet, and I already have two providers, is acting like the old dial up in terms of speed.  So I keep losing data because the upload times out and I go to "cannot find server" and I have to start all over again.  Then just when I think I have something right, I discover that the thumbnails have decided to square off again and someone’s head is missing from the picture, so i delete (10 min) and start again.  Last night I met with another broadband provider and he will install tomorrow.  He says his is much faster…. why do i still have doubts.  It’s frustrating because I feel I’m in the middle of high tech abilities and technology that is for "export only".

We went to the planetarium and the kids loved it even though we missed the Bengali show and had to listen in English.  But we have been studying the solar system in class here so they understood some.  The staff and teachers are pushing for a picnic in the country, just a quiet day… but I have Science City on my "next" list.  Science City here is wonderful for kids, with rides also, and huge picnic areas, as well as IMAX type theater and a lot of hands on activities.  The kids know so little of the world beyond their streets or rail lines, and what they have seen in movies.  And they are curious.

But, the picnic may still win out, because that would take us near to the village where Bubbi, my cow lives, and we would visit her again.  When I have better internet I’ll upload some of those pictures.

I’ve been re-thinking pictures, and i will put some up with the blog.  I’ve had conversations with people who seem not to understand what can be done for orphans, who hold negative stereotypes, or for whom orphans are just a statistic.  My girls left their friends behind in the institution they left.  I wish I could take them all.  But at least we can talk about the plight of orphans, and the potential for good lives if they are cared for. 

I don’t know how our girls will "end up."  But whatever their futures, their present is better with food, shelter, education, fun, discipline, and love.  And it shows, in their smiles and ours.

We are mourning Anjuli (Didi) Woodward

Didi means big sister.  Anjuli stayed with us for ten days in October.  She was born in Kolkata, adopted as an infant from International Mission of Hope (IMH), and loved returning to India to visit and to volunteer.  She loved being in India and she loved being home with her family.  On this trip she bought carefully chosen Christmas presents to bring home to her parents and each of her brothers and sisters.  Anjuli died two days ago, driving to work.  She hit ice, spun out of control, and went into an oncoming truck.  She died instantly.

Our girls and our staff are sad, tears are flowing.  Gibi is especially shaken as Anjuli, like she and others here, were part of the world of IMH.  We have become the unofficial stopping place for adoptees wanting contact with their pasts in Kolkata.  For Gibi, Anjuli was one of her children, as well as a young women she came to know well on this visit.

Our girls have had many losses in their lives.  Last night we talked about that, about holding in your heart the people you loved and who have left.  We have set up a pandal with Anjuli’s picture, flowers from our garden, prasad, candles… and on one side of her picture are Lakshmi and Ganesh.  On the other side is a small lighted picture of Mary and Jesus, a gift from one of our teachers.  We had prayers for her last night.  Tonight Seema will come and read two Bengali poems from a collection I found.  One is about the loss of a mother; the other about the loss of a Didi.  Tomorrow night we will have songs for Anjuli, and then begin our Christmas.

We have our license!!!!!!!!!

This is the big news….  We have been granted a license — for only three months, until the renewal process begins again, but now we are better prepared for the battle ahead.  We received the license because we were able to gain support from high places; some of the doors we knocked on were opened for us.  We are not alone.  And, most important, we do not have to live in fear that the Government will order removal of the children.  I slept very well last night.  For now we are safe.

It is Friday morning, today a school holiday for EID, then school tomorrow morning, and then ten days of vacation.  It is cold this morning and the children are in dresses, sweaters, and leggings.  Last night we sat up watching movies and celebrating.  The children were more aware of the threats than I knew, as one of the staff had told them some time ago.  So last night we celebrated our win, and our safety.  The celebration is still going on this morning, as we slept in late. My older daughter happened to call from the US, and all the girls got to talk to their "Didi."  Classes here will start at 9:30 this morning. (The vacation is only from  their outside school.  We rarely cancel our classes.)  They will have their usual three hours of Bengali, math, and history, then lunch, then two hours of English, and then another two hours of Bengali reading.  In the evening they will have dance.  They will not have homework because of dance class.  There is no time to do it.  But this is their complaint, as the LOVE homework, and ask for it each evening.  Some of our massis have good education, and they help the kids.  I think they really enjoy that.

As for me, I have a big day planned — things that have fallen behind because of the consuming aspect of the fight for a license.

1. I want to hire a full time physiotherapist — I have to start the process.

2. We need speech therapy for two of the children.  I have to start that search too.

3. I have to get air tickets to Chennai as I’m going to an ASHA Trust conference in January for two days.  I’m very excited about this as I’ve worked with ASHA since 2002, and it remains an exciting organization dedicated to education in India.  I’ve tried online but the sites keep timing out.

4. SHOPPING — I love to shop.  That’s a confession. Well, actually it’s the daydreaming I do when shopping more than anything I buy. My list for today: socks/slippers for the kids for use in the house; an exercise DVD for me to do with the kids;  (The little ones especially will have a good laugh watching me.) slippers for me; 2 new bookbags as two need repair; a new hairclip because the one I wear all the time just broke; a CD newly released, Christmas in Kolkata — done with Indian instruments; and then, Christmas presents.  Christmas is secular as well as religious here.  Yesterday we were invited to a Christmas party at Imrose’s school and the kids had a great time. They were on the shy side, and incredibly well-behaved.  Anyway, I’ve decided to give each girl a book of her own.  They will love this, as they are forever taking books and putting them in their lockers, or hiding them under mattresses.  That’s where I look when I can’t find a book….  So, this will be nice.

It is 9 am now.  The Special Ed teacher has arrived to start classes with the four little ones.  They have four hours in the morning with this teacher, and then four in the evening with a mother of a CP child, who also teaches them, and works with them, and sings to them. 

The big girls are still watching the DVD, Sound of Music.  I bought it for them when they started learning scales in singing class.  But of course it has special meaning to me, as I lived with the fear of losing the children, and ongoing fantasies as to how we could run, hide, escape those who threatened to put them back into institutions.  The misuse of power knows no national borders.  But then, that is also true of those who protect.

We have our license!  I am smiling.  I am very very smiling.

p.s. a haiku I wrote some years ago:

To defeat evil,

Pretend it is not there,

Act because it is.

I am very very smiling…….

If You’re Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands…

So we clap our hands and stomp our feet and yell Hooray!

That’s the song that is often in my head, and then I found it on one of the Barney VCDs that Poomina loves, and sometimes we play it over and over again.  The big girls are learning it now in one of their classes, so sometimes we sing it on our way to school.  Other days they sing Bengali songs from their dance class and I hum along as I try to put the words in my head.  In voice class they are learning scales but with Bengali words.  I got a copy of The Sound of Music, so they heard the scales there too — as I try to teach them about universality… different parts of the world, same and different at the same time.  A popular song in the nursery school set here is We Shall Overcome, in Bengali.  Our mime teacher took us through the song in English, Bengali and then Hindi.  Same and different everywhere.

Yesterday i went to my favorite bookstore, Crosswords, a smaller version of Borders or B&N.  I found a collection of 500 Bengali poems for children.  I know enough to see if words are simple or not, and this looked like something our children could read now or soon, and others can read to them.  I want them to know poetry, in Bengali, and then one day in English.  I want them to be able to write poetry in Bengali, to say what their hearts say about their pasts, and their lives altogether.  I brought the book back and the Bengali staff loved it, they were thrilled.

Last evening we were filling out their applications for dance examinations, and talking about names.  They all understand about need at school to say, "My mother’s name is Dr. Michelle Harrison" because I have to sign for everything, and that’s what their papers now say.  But for dance, they only wanted fathers listed so we practiced, "My father’s name is Dr. Michelle Harrison."  But these occasions always start discussions about their families, siblings, parents, violence, who has died, who was murdered, who was taken away by police, who went hungry.  Two days ago all the kids got MMR injections.  So last evening one the girls informed me that living on trains you didn’t get injections.  She still isn’t sure she wants to be here — is constantly assessing her situation.  She makes me laugh a lot.

Anyway, I want them to keep alive their memories through poetry, words in their mother tongue — just an image in my mind — trying to find a way for them to express themselves and make themselves known.  They think a lot.

I also picked up a really nice illustrated encyclopedia of history for children.  They love looking at pictures, asking questions… they are interested in everything they see.  They have a history class for a half hour six days a week.  It’s not in their school curriculum, but in ours here.  And i bought a small book about railways of the world, since they love trains… (the place you don’t get injections) and several of them grew up on tracks and in stations.

It’s Sunday morning at ten.  The mime teacher didn’t show.  Some of the girls are watching Lagaan, some are helping in the kitchen, laundry has already been done, and it hanging on the lines on the roof.  One of the massis and I just cleaned out one of the storage closets… just a Happy Day at Shishur Sevay.  So I clap my hands, stomp my feet and yell, Hooray!

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