Heather didi and Andrei dada came to visit us in June.  Now it is mid August.  They came at a time of major crisis.  I have far less pictures than usual.  We had far less time together than we had anticipated.  This is a post that has been waiting to be blogged, and now I have a chance to reflect back on the visit, re-enjoy the pictures, and write.  Heather is my older daughter, and Andrei her husband.  We are a very small family, Heather, her husband, and my younger daughter Cici.  The four of us are close.  The three of them are close.  I miss them.

Heather and Andrei first came to Kolkata in August 2007 to visit me.  Heather explained that she was ONLY coming to see me as she didn't really expect to enjoy any other part of the trip. However, I know my daughter well, and I know her warmth and big heart, and comfort with  children.  She has always loved being with children, and she has always been amazingly funny, energetic, and reassuring with them.  She was/is always a great big sister.  As for Andrei, I knew he would have a great time here.  So these are some pictures from their first visit, in August 2007:

At Home





At School


 At Pizza Hut


And then the next year, Summer 2008, they brought Cici didi too!  Here we are in a rare photo of us all. (That's me in the sari.)





So this year was their third trip and by now we had all sorts of "family rituals" with the girls. We went to Aquatica again.



An exhausting day for all


This year we went to MacDonald's instead of Pizza Hut


But the best is always hanging out at Shishur Sevay, time of just being together.



This year Andrei and Heather celebrated 11 years of marriage — flowers, superb chocolate cake, and an evening out in Kolkata.  Two places were closed, and the other was about to have a private party, but we had fun.




Eleven years and as much in love with each other as the day they married.  I am also a very fortunate mother-in-law, which holds a lot of sway in India! It is one thing to have my daughters visit, but quite another, and admirable, to have my son-in-law come.  In the last two days we have decided that he will come and help me with some matters here.  We are a small family, my two daughters and son-in-law, and we have our conflicts, but we are family.  Cici calls us a "Funny Family" on Facebook.  Heather used to be the older of two, and now I have twelve more children.  Cici used to be the baby of the family and now she is second of the 14.  These are not easy adjustments.  In fact, having a mother go off to another continent to become mother to 12 orphans may be admirable, but not easy for those who are far away.   My children are very proud of me, but they wish I were closer, and they wish most of all that I was not faced with crisis after crisis in trying to care for the children here.

Here are my kids in Vancouver last year.  They will be going again soon.  I wish I could go with them one year.  I wish things would settle down here and be easier.  I love my life here, but I miss my kids in America and wish I could be more a part of their lives too.  I am under siege here and it wears on me.

My kids in Vancouver last year

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I miss them.




Ganga Goes Digital

Our Ordinary Miracle continues.


OMG, It works!!!!


Anjali has been my unofficial but essential long distance consultant in communication with our girls with disabilities.  She has sent articles about swallowing problems, and taken my concerns to her professors.  She just couldn’t get here sooner.  Almost a year ago I determined to have computer communication training for Ganga, Bornali, Rani, and Sonali — first in line because their communication abilities are so limited by their disabilities.  My main goal is to be able to understand what they are trying to tell us, to break the barriers between us and them regarding how they feel, what they think, what they most want us to know.  So in the last year I gathered adaptive switches and software, and we even played with it a bit.  A big obstacle was the lack of a computer lab and I had originally planned for two desktops and specially built tables.  But one day I tried out the software with the kids using my laptop, and realized this was even better.  I now have four laptops to use for teaching (I’m grabbing up entry level laptops because they come with Windows XP, not Vista).

In these pictures Ganga is actually STANDING in her standing box!  She has wraps around her legs and pillows around her to help hold her up, but the time standing strengthens her legs, and is energizing. 

The large round red switch is made so touching it anywhere acts like a mouse click.  She can use it with her hands (Anjali is demonstrating), 


or her elbow,



or even with her head.


They are making up a story together and later Ganga will tell the story to her Didis.  It must be a funny story.


That’s Bornali behind them in her standing box, sometimes watching, sometimes turning around.  She will have her time later. 

Uh Oh!  Someone has just made the mistake of thinking Ganga will share her computer time, But Ganga, whose eyes speak as loudly and clearly as anyone’s voice establishes the computer as hers! 


But, Didi’s are different.  They are always welcome (well as long as they look but don’t touch the computer).  0348_1w

Ganga is working hard at the computer to show her story to her didis.


Clearly Didi is impressed and proud. Ganga is very happy.  Ganga’s joy, and our joy is all the more miraculous when we remember her two and a half years ago, February 2007.  She was 4-5 years old and could not hold her head up or move her arms or legs.  I keep wondering how she survived mentally/emotionally, given how expressive she is and how much she is so totally with us.

Here is a picture from the day we first saw them in the institution, the day we could not say no to any child who was given to us:

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From left to right: Ganga, Rani, Sonalil, and Bornali

Photos of Shishur Sevay, Ganga and Anjali et al by Benjamin Melancon, with gratitude.



You have to look closely into the swing seat to see a decorated Gopal.  He is Krishna as a little boy, known for being naughty. In our Pooja for Janmashtami, I told him that if he were too naughty he would have to go in Rani's crib.  My humor was appreciated. 



Seriously though, this is the first Jamnashtami we have celebrated at Shishur Sevay.  At least where we are, Indian celebrations occur within the family, within the homes.  So, sometimes we are really alone, and this year I happened to hear what actually goes on and decided we would do what we could.  One of the teachers gave Bijoy a list of what to buy, and then late in the morning she and he started decorating the wooden swing in which Gopal would sit.  We had special clothes for him, and a crown, all of which was easliy bought as a package.








Meanwhile, as work went on, Ian struck up some conversations with Ganga and Sonali:








But Sonali was more interested in thumb-rest time.  Ian was far more successful with Ganga.






In fact she was very interested:





But work continued for Gopal's swing and Ganga made sure the camera caught her too.









And finally





Now for the bare outline of the meaning, a quote from an unidentified web site (oops):


"Janmashtami legends relates to the different interesting stories of Shri Krishna. Beginning from his birth till the days of his later years, people know Shri Krishna as a Protector of human beings. They still remember and commemorate his birth to honor Him for what He did for humankind. On the day of Janmashtami, people pray to Him to destroy all the evil from this earth and make it the best place to live in. they ask forgiveness for their misdeeds and also thank him for His benevolence. They know that he will always be there for their help.

The different Janmashtami legends that gave rise to the celebration of the Janmashtami is very interesting to know. The most famous legendary episode of Janmashtami is the killing of King Kansa who was the maternal uncle of Lord Krishna. According to Hindu mythology, there was a prophecy that declared that the child of Devaki would kill Kansa. And Lord Krishna was that child who was born to Devaki but was brought up by Yashoda and Nand at Gokul"


So, in this year of 2009, we finally learned about the meaning and procedures, the making of the swing, which they loved to make go back and forth with the string of marigolds.  None of the girls knew of Janmashtami, nor had they seen Gopal in the swing.  At prayer time, Gopal was with us, and that's when I issued the warning to him about Rani's crib. 




Just a note about Rani's Crib… Rani used to be unmanageable at times so she was kept in a crib — a crib I had built just for her.  Now she is rarely in it, but it's become the symbolic "time out" place if a big girl's behavior is out of control or like Rani used to be.  When Ian hurt his sister's feelings and she put it on Facebook, I threatened to put Ian in Rani's crib, but I think it was mostly a misunderstanding so he didn't have to go in Rani's crib.


We didn't have to buy Gopal because some time ago I bought each girl a Gopal for her locker.  The girls have slowly collected Gods to put in their lockers, except with Gopal they decided to keep them all together on the Pandal.  So one went on the swing, and another went home with Ian, as a little gift from Shishur Sevay.




A Happening Place

 This has been a rough few months as I try to focus on the program and hum a happy tune while making my way over the obstacles.  Back in December someone said to me, "You are in conflict with your environment."  These words were helpful.  They put a name to my experience with words that could dance around or bounce around in my head.  And since I am not likely to change and my environment is not likely to change, this is what it will always be, but hopefully with periods of respite.

The volunteers from Spain are group who come every August to Kolkata to volunteer at various places including Mother Teresa's many Homes.  This year they asked to volunteer also at Shishur Sevay.  Some wanted to scrape and paint walls; some offered to help computerize many of the functions here; and some said they would work on the educational programs for our four with disabilities.   When they came back the next day they were stunned to see how wired we are.


I have a principle that keeps me going… that the work must go on, that Shishur Sevay must never get bogged down by the obstacles – parallel paths with the most important one being what we give to the children, and the most bothersome being what it takes to do that.

Shishur Sevay is and has been a "happening place" for a while now.

The volunteers from Spain… They come every August to Kolkata to volunteer at various places including Mother Teresa's many Homes.  This year they asked to volunteer also at Shishur Sevay.  Some wanted to scrape and paint walls; some offered to help computerize many of the functions here; and some said they would work on the educational programs for our four with disabilities.   When they came back the next day they were stunned to see how wired we are.


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Anjali and I are meeting with the volunteers

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 Wire brushes even!!!!

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Ben and Anjali — and one of the volunteers – we are all wired.



 Unwired teaching about Spain. Javier addressed differences in social services and medical care, as well as talking and showing pictures (downloaded from the web and printed on our laser printer) of ordinary life in Spain.

O.K. now wired again!



The student interns from China stayed a week.   The group had not been prepared well for another culture, and they were asked to leave the residence where they were staying. I think they went back to China.  Below, they are helping make Rakhis.  This is a custom in which decorated bracelets are put on the wrists of brothers (a loosely used term for this occasion by sisters.  Here the big and small kids are making rakhis.  This year the school added another interpretation to the ceremony.  Rakhi was framed as an occasion in which the freedom fighters used it to say we are all one and so girls received rakhis at the school too.   





Rakhis were saved for Ian Dada's visit.



Oops!, no one remembered to clean up!!!!


Moments of respite…You can see it was fun!

August 2009
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