A Visit to Bubbi in Ramkrishnapur; 30 December 2009

This is Bubbi looking at me before I left in the evening.  She does not like to see me leave.  Sometimes she moos and moos when I leave.  It was a good day, a good visit, but I have to pay more attention to her care.  I’ve known that for a while. 

Thirty five of us descended on the village — a visit to Beau’s family who take care of Bubbi.  It’s a sign of improvement at Shishur Sevay that teachers wanted to go.  Soma Mukherjee, our new Program Director came, and so did our accountant.    The girls were very excited to dress up, which they like to do for a trip to the village.  But this time they also wore the running shoes that Andrei and Heather had brought for them.  They went in their finest salwar suits, sequined, and sporting their running shoes.  They could have been in NYC, a trendy mix of clothes….

Notice the shoes!

More sequins and shoes.

We arrived and parked the bus.  By the time I was able to take pictures the girls had headed off for the village, I was able to get photos of the stragglers — most of us..


This landscape is typical of the agricultural areas.  The fields are along the highways, and the villages set back in the trees, a long twisting path leading to the mostly mud huts.

My first stop was Bubbi, who was tied up outside when we arrived.


I had brought bananas, and the peels from the bananas we ate on the bus.  I learned she clearly knew the difference.  You can see how happy I am here, back feeding Bubbi.  They say that over time people and their pets look more and more alike.  Notice my hair color, and hers.  I have finally got it right.  We match.


It was always my intent to have Bubbi with the children, and for them to be close to her.  It hasn’t worked out that way so far, but the girls are more and more comfortable and more and more interested in her.


The girls think about animals and their welfare a lot.  They notice animals on the street, want to know about care, about “why” people aren’t good to animals.  On this trip the girls asked about the rope on Bubbi’s horns, and particularly how short she was tied.  Of course I’d noticed and I’d hoped they wouldn’t.  I said I wasn’t OK about it and would have to do something, which I did.  I’m so happy the girls notice such things.  One of our teachers couldn’t join us for the day because her cat was at the hospital on iv drip.  The girls are used to this.  People loving animals and caring for them are part of their every day lives.  But I don’t think anyone else’s hair matched their pets as well as mine matches Bubbi’s. 


Lunch!  Our hosts offered superb food for us.  The rest of us ate after the girls, and then we went off to the field to play.  The weather was warm but a bit crisp too, so it was really great for running and playing.  Three of the little ones had fallen asleep, but Ganga came to the field with us.  Next time I have to plan better so they all play out in the field.  Each trip is a learning; sometimes too it’s just hard getting everyone going.  I do get worn down and let things go at times. But then it goes on my list for next time — things I can’t just let go.

The girls at Shishur Sevay get little time to run and play outside. the fields are dry now; the rice has been picked; the field has been picked over for the straw which is used for burning, bedding, and feeding the cows.IMG_3138w

While we were playing in the field, a laborer came across the field carrying a huge bale of rice straw.


I really felt pretty stupid and embarrassed when no one seemed to notice him or try to get out of his way.  We were city invaders of rural life.  


Ganga played with Beau’s neice, who lives in the village.



This is the little girl whose mukhabhat we had attended.  We have watched her grow.  The girls really love having little ones around.


Then there was a tough game of “Kabadi” (sp?) which I’d call a mixture of tag and football.  I don’t like it.  The girls tried playing it in the house and soon we had two major accidents of water spickets being knocked off, a tree being downed, and resulting no water until the pipes could be fixed.  But this day, out on the field, that was the game of choice for some. 





And finally victory!!!!


While they were playing I took a picture of a snake skin laying among the brush at the edge of the field.  The girls are studying nature and I thought it would be good for them to have the picture.  I was clearly more involved and interested than they were.  But here is a picture of the snake skin.


There was a big snake hole right near the skin.  I’d thought of trying to get the skin, but I imagined some angry snake coming at me to get its skin back.  I do know better…. but I wasn’t taking chances.

Next we all went up to where the railroad tracks cut through the fields to see the afternoon train coming from Sunderbans to Kolkata.  


The Train!


A farmer and his cow on the other side of the railway tracks, looking… at me I think, as the train had already gone by.

The kids then played on the tracks (under our careful watch)


And one of the girls lost herself in thought as she walked along the track.  Maybe she was thinking about God, as she often does, or homework which she often doesn’t, or maybe she was hoping I’d take a picture.  


Back at the house, Bubbi was brought into her new stall I’d had built. I requested the rope be taken off her, and they had to cut it free.  




Bubbi didn’t pose well at this point.  She was too busy enjoying the freedom of her head movement.  One of the girls was with me, just standing and watching Bubbi, and I asked her to take a picture.


Bubbi was more interested in scratching or licking her hoof, enjoying the freedom of movement.  I was happy to watch her.  Yes, it is complicated.  Clearly there is another chapter coming in Bubbi’s life.  I once imagined writing a children’s book of Bubbi’s sayings.  I still do.  In the photo section of this blog there are some Bubbi pictures, and some words that go with/from her.  In the next chapter of her life, we will hear more of what she has to say.

End of the day and we headed back to Shishur Sevay, the girls tired but happy.  We talked about Bubbi over dinner, her history, what I must do, what I must look for.  In this visit, maybe because of the girls’ upset at how she was tied, she became more a part of our family, not just Mummy’s cow.  That’s also how I wanted it, from the beginning…. 

Happy New Year.  May all our wishes come true; may all those we love be well and happy!



The Spirit of Performance


21 December 2009

Diamond Jubilee of Sahapur Sabitri Balika Vidyalaya.  Girls of Shishur Sevay perform.  They are outstanding.  They have grace and intensity.  They are dancing to celebrate 60 years of this school, now their school.  They dance to celebrate their journeys that have brought them here. They have a home; they have a school; they have a community.  They know they are different, but still, they have a place where they are known, accepted, appreciated.  They love their school.


23 December 2009.  The festivities continue at Madhusudan Mancha auditorium at Dakshinapan Center.  

Performance 3_2935w 







Here is the whole cast.  It was a beautiful performance.  I have it on video.  We all love watching over and over.  Personally, I was "blown away" by their performances. To my eyes, they have a determination and spirit on stage that differentiates them.  I am so moved, so proud.  My cup runneth over.




Christmas ’09 at Shishur Sevay

This was our FIRST Christmas at Shishur Sevay, 25 December 2007.  



This was Ganga's first Santa exposure and she was NOT happy.


Our SECOND Christmas at Shishur Sevay, 25 December 2008




This Christmas — 25 December 2009





Rani is the star of this Christmas.  She is with us, and NOT to be left out of anything going on.  She used to live mostly in Rani's Crib (now a storage place for blankets and pillows) but now she lives in "Rani's House, a.k.a. Shishur Sevay, with HER very own Santa.

 Christmas 2009 was a lovely day at Shishur Sevay.  The day before we all made a menu, what the girls wanted, what they wanted to help cook, and we invited people close to us to our informal gathering.  It was styled on the "Open House" form of entertaining in the US.  There was no set time, food was available all day.  The TV was on all day with Christmas and other movies.  Our new special educator, who started work just the day before, also joined us and it was a great chance for her to just be part of our life here, and to get to know the children. 

After everyone had gone a couple of the girls sat down with me to look at what they had received.  Something was on their minds.  Their friends at school had none of the things they have.  For the first time I got confirmation as to where all the pencils and erasers and sharpeners go.  The girls give them away.  So, at their suggestion we started a bag of things to give away.  They understand the problem of giving to just a few kids, and they also said all the children are poor, so we will give things to each girl in their class.  They want to give away more of their clothes.  It is really extraordinary.  I think that children living on the street do try to take care of each other.  They form a group, a clan, separate from their families, and they take care of each other. 

This is not to negate their periodic childish behavior of fighting over a pencil or an eraser among each other.  But then it's about territory and boundaries and whether life is fair and who is loved most….. But in the real world of need of food or pencils, they will give away whatever they have.

Christmas Day 2009 became eventful late in the day.  Only one massi was scheduled to be on duty that night and she called to say she would be late.  She said she'd had trouble with her home and had to go to the police to file a complaint.  She lives far away and I knew there was a chance she would not be able to come at all, so we convinced on of the day massis to stay and try the night — and if she was tired she could go home in the morning.  (Usually the night massis sleep about 5-6 hours.)  I also told her since she was alone on duty not to worry about any of the laundry or cleaning, just to stay with the kids, especially Rani who is hard to get to sleep.

Around ten pm the night massi came, in tears, and showing me her scratch marks.  The girls were still awake so we all sat with her as she told her story.  She is a widow with two small children and her husband's family has told her she must take her children and leave their house since her husband has died.  This the the family of her husband.  This is the common fate of widows.  They locked the door and wouldn't let her in and she fought with them.  She had called the police but they would not respond.  She later filed the case but they said they would wait until the next day to look into it.  She has family but doesn't get along with them.  (She has a bad temper!)

I knew what the girls wanted and I appreciated their waiting for my cue.  I said that for the next two nights to bring the children here with her, and after that, on Monday we could contact people who could help.  She had brought the children before and the girls love having them here.  She had once asked me to take her children, but I wouldn't, and won't. They have a mother.  But this is the major problem for women, what to do with the children, how to raise them while working long hours…  But at least she has a job… and maybe we can get the kids into one of the "orphanages" that really serve as boarding schools for the poor.  

The girls said she had not eaten all day so they fixed a plate of food for her, including the shrimp we had saved for her.  We also packed food for her to take to her children in the morning.  She told us she had locked them in the house for the night — a common custom here when a mother has to work.  It just felt fitting, this last part of Christmas day thinking about children who have little, taking care of one of our staff, feeding her, telling her to bring her children….

Shared values, across religions, across class, age, across the world –  How do we get our values?  Where do they come from?  To be honest, I haven't a clue!

But, I do know how to make a nice Christmas Day at Shishur Sevay:



As Christmas Day began at Shishur Sevay, my children in the US were enjoying Christmas eve.  Heather, Andrei, Cici, and Tanya (Andrei's Mother) were having dinner, and after dinner we called them.  Each of the girls  talked with them, thanked them for their gifts, asked when they would visit.. what you would ask sisters and brothers far away.  The next morning here, I called them to ask how their day had been… We talk, we google chat, we email, we send pictures — we work on bridging. 

Here is a picture of Heather and Andrei's tree:


Here is a picture of the teapot that Heather and Andrei gave to Cici.  Cici sent it yesterday as part of showing me her new apt.  She just moved two weeks ago.


And here is ORCA, her new fish.  After Christmas she went home to Williamsburg to check on Orca and make sure he was fine.  


We have a family tradition (my kids and me) of names that "aren't".  We had a dog, a mixed puppy that looked more like Tramp than Lady so we named her "Lady."  We had a cat we named Oscar, a girl cat… because Heather had been in film and figured this was the only Oscar she would have.  Oscar loves her name.  Now, we have a little fish named Orca, because he is not an Orca, but Cici loves Orcas.  These are the ties that bind… silly traditions of no meaning to anyone except those whom they bind.

I miss my kids; they miss me.  I am always torn.  When I started Shishur Sevay I imagined a life of living here but with many visits to the US.  For a long time I simply could not leave for more than a day or two.  I think that situation has changed, or at least it is in the process of changing.  I have more support, infrastructure, and girls who will rise to any occasion, including my being away.  But there are the emotional ties and worries.  How will Ganga manage.  She used to run high fevers if I was away for a day.  She will be sad, very sad, and yet she has to become stronger and be without me.  I know that in my head, but it is not so easy to do.  And Rani?  Rani has just found me.    I have a new teacher who I think will be able to be in her world too.  It takes listening and being "with her" in what she is trying to communicate.  She taps and I tap back… We dance; we are silly; we play the dholak (Nicha says Rani is better than I am).  I really believe with these children, so locked away, it is all about letting them know they are heard.  it's not about teaching them to drum or to dance, but of hearing the drumming in them, and letting them know they are heard.

Many  years ago I was in a workshop where we paired off and had to "communicate" for 15 minutes without talking.  It had to be by facial and body language that we heard the other person and that we spoke to the other person.  I think of that here… I think of that with Rani especially.  How do I let her know I am listening?  First I repeat what she is "saying" usually with the drum.  We do this for a bit.  Then I try something different and she repeats what I am doing.  And then there is more back and forth, drumming together, talking together.  And then sometimes she just suddenly stops, looks at me, and laughs at me!!!!!  That's when I know for sure there is a very smart little girl inside her.

Season's Greetings from Shishur Sevay

I Hear the Girls Calling

20 September 2005 at 11:11 am (I know the time from the camera)

New York City


I was standing before this window.  You can see a faint reflection of me, and of my dog, Rupee.  Suddenly, standing there, I could see and hear six girls calling to me from a dumpster… I looked around and saw no one — but still I could see them, crouched in fear in the corner of the dumpster, garbage all around them.  I heard, "Help, Help!"  Their voices were soft, as if calling in the wilderness, in case anyone was listening.

Ten Days Later,30 September 2005, I wrote:

Last night I started wondering about my six girls, where they come from… I feel like they exist.  I feel I will find them.  But I don't feel that rush of pain that I must get there right now.  It feels more like pregnancy, more like adoption, waiting, preparing, and their being prepared… things that will happen in their lives to bring us to the same place.  And yet none of it will probably be as I imagine.  I know that too.  A week later the girls let me know there were two more girls with them.  Now there were eight. 


Twenty-Two Days Later, 12 October 2005, (New York)  I wrote this in my diary but  I do not recall if it was a dream in deep sleep or a waking reverie: …so then I mucked about in the dumpster.  I actually have this image of the dumpster, one of those long trailer-type ones — and stepping through the garbage, falling, pulling myself up, getting hurt, crying, mind crazed with pain.  But somehow out of all that came an understanding of who I am not, who I am, and I found six girls waiting to meet me, and God shipping me out as if I'm headed to war.  I could go AWOL, but that's not me — so I go where I am sent.  After some years of struggling for meaning, it coalesced instead of being scattered about, now with me as I climbed out of the dumpster.


May 2006 Kolkata: I listened to the cries of my girls, now louder and louder.  I wrote:

Amader meye're (My daughters)

Floating in the darkened night

Wailing to come home.


2 October 2006 Kolkata; One Year and Twelve Days Later

I have moments of thinking I am crazy… like maybe there aren't any orphans, but I saw them.  I feel them… I looked back through picture files, which are dated from the camera — the day I stood before that stationary store window, the reflection of Rupee and me… that was the day I saw the children in the dumpster.  I still see the, hear them, feel them…  It is hard, very hard.  I feel now like they are locked in one of those underground rooms that perpetrators build to keep kids…  I could have a hundred houses ready and that will not find them.  But all the meetings, all the places I go, lawyers, ashrams… they are the only way I know.  I have to just keep walking and talking and listening.  It's been a year but I have achieved a lot.  There is a home waiting, and legal papers… all this had to be done.


Ten Days in February 2007: One Year and Five Months Later.

Twelve orphan girls arrive at Shishur Sevay over the course of ten days.  First there were four, then one more, and then when we went the last time for three, we were asked if we would take two of the handicapped.  But when Gibi and I looked at them we both thought, "How do we say no to any of them?"  I said I'd take any child they gave us that day.  We came home with seven.  Even today, I tell the girls, "I heard you calling all the way in America, so I came."  Now we are family.  Sometimes I look at them and wonder who were the original six… it doesn't matter really, but I still wonder.

I just did a calculation online.  Including today, four years and three months have passed since I heard them calling to me from the dumpster.  I have no idea what significance, if any, that has… It's been a long time and it's been like the snap of a finger, gone so quickly.  I think most important is that when I first heard them they were invisible to most of the world.  They were nameless, not living among us.  Now you are getting to know them too.  Wednesday five of them will be dancing as part of their school's Diamond Jubilee Celebration.  They will be five among about 20 girls performing, indistinguishable  from the rest of their peers.  They live among us.  I am no longer the only one to hear, see, and feel their presence.  Our girls who are not performing will be watching and cheering for their sisters.  In their red and white school uniforms they will also be visible.


I've been wondering lately, "Why should orphans be poor?"

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December 2009
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