Chicken Pox

I don’t even know where to start; I have been up for two four nights now.  Crises come in bunches.  Thursday late morning we noticed tiny blisters on one of the girls.  This is the time of year here;  it’s going around the neighborhood.  We don’t have a sick room, just not enough room, and there’s no reason to try to prevent the others from getting it.  But the little ones, the handicapped children need to be protected.  For them it’s potentially dangerous.  We decided to move the classroom downstairs and move the little ones to the classroom where they could be totally isolated.  I hired a night nurse and a day nurse, because now I’d have children living on two floors, and because I needed people with some understanding of medical care-taking and isolation.  My plan was to have one nurse and one massi (caretaker) so one could leave the room without their being alone.  I really worry about the little ones… their wiring and their lungs are at risk.  And of course there are always voices in my head asking, "Am I doing all I can to protect them?"  I hold myself to a level of care as I know it in the US. That puts a great strain on me and those around me, but I can’t bring myself to say, "Nothing I can do, it’s Kolkata."

But trouble is in bunches, and now three days later, we have had a complete staff turnover. I’ve been sleeping on a mat at the bottom of the stairs so i can be close to the big girls and available to the nurse upstairs.  It’s hardest on the little ones who are used to being downstairs, and used to my sleeping on the mat with them.  The hardest part is that the big girls can’t help with the babies, although they are pitching in everywhere they can.  They are cooking and cleaning, and so far there is only one with the pox.

One of the girls has had a terrible stomach ache which had me worried about appendicitis, but that has come and gone, and right now she is outside playing ball.  Another girl, one I worry about a lot, screamed in her sleep this morning and stayed in a trembling terrified state for a long time after she was up.  I couldn’t figure out if she was having a seizure or hallucinating — policemen were beating her and beating her…. she kept seeing them all around her….  I called Seema to come quickly as it was an emergency.  Our nurse doesn’t know any English.  The girls were helping in trying to find out about the terror.  I needed someone here with me in case I was headed for the hospital.  I slept in my sari last night, ready to go wherever I had to…. Lots of floating tension.

Friday night I discovered that early that morning our security guard had locked the gate, taken the keys, and gone to have tea!  This was akin to announcing to the neighborhood that we had no security, and that our security company was worthless.  Security has been a major problem since the beginning.  During the renovation, while I was still in the US, the builder and his local buddies "moved in" and used this place as a club house.  I was unable to get them out until I actually had children here.  They claimed I had legally abandoned the building. Then they wanted me to hire them as security, which I refused.  Our very first security company turned out to be a fake company.  Now we are calling around to others.  Seema is doing this as my American accent makes my English useless even to the few English speaking people around.  One company has women guards, but it is more than double what we pay now.  it’s a morass.

The application for license renewal is due before the end of this month.  I’ve started working on the papers I need to submit.  The application calls for the audit, which is an impossibility since it takes about six weeks after the fiscal year ends, which is 31st March.  Instead I’ve been told to submit the un-audited accounts, up to day of filing application.  I started bringing everything up to date last week, but the papers stayed strewn on the couch since the chicken pox arrived.  Today the accountant arrived, as a total surprise as he has been MIA for about two months, which is to say he makes appointments and then doesn’t show.  This is a common practice here, that I’m still not used to.  He also dragged out the time.  So I offered him twice his price if he would finish the whole thing today.  He thought for a while… I told him I didn’t want to think about it anymore, that I’d hire him or just do it myself.  He did it, and much more quickly than he thought.  Part of what slowed me is that I computerized the financial system.  I got ripped off by the first company, who installed the software, as they charged me full price but gave me an "educational" version that has to be re-authenticated every three months or it doesn’t work.  But, the accounts are up to date and now I know how much money i have to raise in the next five days!  I’m under a lot of pressure.  I can’t use international funds — not even my own, until I get clearance from Delhi, and I couldn’t apply because our license was held up.

These are the obstacles, the hard parts.  But the hardest right now is the separation of the "normal" and handicapped children.  It so alters how it feels.  The downstairs feels empty.  The classroom, where the handicapped are, feels like a room for handicapped, like a separate institution.  Somehow in the big environment the girls seemed more normal, as their interactions were so much a part of the moment to moment life here.  Upstairs they don’t really "have a life" even though their teacher comes.  They aren’t privy to all the talking, playing, phone calls, workmen, cleaning, kids playing, learning, fighting….  I really hate the room, the feeling of isolation for them.  I think about some children who lived like this in a single room waiting for two years to be adopted.  the big girls miss the little ones.  they came up one by one to look in….

Water crisis, which isn’t a crisis, just another scam to get money from me —  There is a general shortage of water in this area.  We use a lot.  About six months ago we set up a system to get water.  The local construction/ club leaders had suggested it.  Then we were fine.  About a month ago, some fake government officials (we didn’t know that then) came with the plumber who had put in the system, and threatened to close it down, and shut off water, and send us to jail.  So I paid the Rs. 4000 plus more under the table to have the pipe made larger, which they did, only it made no difference because the pipe was in the wrong place (naughty pipes here) and anyway there is a general shortage.  I figured all this out Sunday as I was having the kitchen faucet fixed and asked about the water supply.  And then all the pieces fell together — including that I had to give the money to a plumber I’d thrown out of here previously for putting water valves backwards so the water stopped instead of coming out.  I had a confrontation with some of the club men about it Sunday also — said no one was getting one more rupee from me, and if they slit my throat they still wouldn’t get any money so not to bother.  (Yes, I am tense!)  You see, in order to carry this off, all of them had to know, because they pretended their houses were inspected and they weren’t.  It was all lies.  No one else paid one rupee for water work.

I remain exhausted.  Everyone tells me to relax or I’ll get upset.  So I try to remind them that when things are good I’m very relaxed.  I don’t know how to be relaxed with chicken pox, vulnerable kids, staff changes, scams, needing to raise money this week, and most of all how hard it is for the little ones.  Rani misses her didis; she bangs her head.  Bornali cries when she sees the others.  Ganga cried when she heard prayer time downstairs, so I grabbed two gods and we had parthana upstairs.  Sonali is doing well.  In fact she is making great strides in eating solid foods.  So, as long as she is held, she doesn’t cry. 

The little ones haven’t gone potty in two days — too much change.  This morning we put them in their potty chairs and i sang to them, and we sat around talking to them… It was fun but nothing happened.  Now I sit here writing, which makes it easier for me… I feel the isolation too, of spending time in that room.

Last night I called another doctor, Rani’s doctor at the hospital and talked to her about chicken pox.  She thought it worthwhile to immunize the handicapped children even though they might still get it.  I liked that idea because it will allow us to take them out of isolation in a day.  So this morning we took all four to the hospital to get their shots.  The girls loved being out of the room, among people, riding in the car… back to "having a life!"  Then this afternoon I went to the bank to deposit checks and get an updated statement.  I came back exhausted, ready to cry because my body was so tired… I napped and then the accountant came.  This is the current pace.  Sometimes I just want to cry with exhaustion.

Six days have passed since I started this post.  The other girls didn’t get sick.  Today we will move the handicapped children back downstairs.  They will be together.  Rani will sing for us again.  She sings and sings and sometimes it’s irritating… but now I miss it, and I feel her silence.  It’s much too quiet downstairs. 

This morning in google chat my younger daughter asked me how I manage all this.  I told her that when it gets bad I sit down with the kids, and I act silly, and we sing, and make faces, and I see their joy in being, and I’m renewed.  Yes, it’s hard sometimes, but it is also wonderful.  We are an oasis in a difficult world and there is no where else I would want to be.

I do forget to write these things.  I have been doing parthana (the prayers) with the kids upstairs.  Yesterday Rani was on my lap waving her hands.  When we were done she eyed the electrical wires from the TV, and I said "NO!" and she looked away.  Then she looked again and I repeated myself.  So then she got mad and started spinning, so I started spinning with her and she was shocked, but grinned, and then she hit the floor with her hands and started drumming and I drummed with her.  Sometimes I followed her; sometimes she followed me.  Bornali squealed with laughter and kicked and kicked her feet.  Ganga just grinned.  Staff was laughing and laughing and Rani noticed and played for the audience.  We connected.  Rani connected.  I know how damaged she is, but sometimes I look at her and  I think she will just "snap out of it" and come and join us fully.

There is no place else I want to be.

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March 2008
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