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?"

A “Normal” Week’s Schedule

I made a table of class and activity schedules for the two groups of children, the little ones, with disabilities, and the older girls…. (After almost three years with the girls I still don't have language that flows comfortably from my mouth or through my fingers to distinguish the groups.)  I've been away from the blog as I've put most of my time and energy into the teaching part of our program.  I'm working on new ways of assessing our children, especially our younger ones.  I want to know what they understand, how they feel, and what they want to tell us.

I like making tables and charts as a way of understanding what I'm doing.  So here is the product of my efforts:



All of the above happens inside a plot of land 2160 square feet, and a house of about 1000 sq. ft. of living space.  I've redrawn the old diagram, adding colors where we have painted room, replacing the "garden grass" with the sand because after four attempts at grass I gave up.  I refresh the sand at times. The area is good for play.  When we started, the plan was to eventually put on a second floor.  But only the front room is new enough for that, and we would have to tear down the rest to rebuild.  For that we would have to move elsewhere.  That would interfere in the education, aside from cost and other such realities.  But basically, the very best thing we can do for the children is to have a steady predictable life of nurturance and study.  From where I sit (the yellow X) I see everything going on, and the kids see me.  Usually I can write and be in the midst of all this with no trouble.  The sound, voices, moving around somehow soothe me… I can relax because I know what is generally going on.  Anyway, it works.



It's really a cottage.  For now it is fine.  It is crowded though.  When the girls first came they filled up about half the floor of the big room.  Now they almost stretch across.  I look at them sleeping and wonder where my little girls went and how these big girls now take up the floor.  The little ones sleep among the big ones, and sometimes it is even hard to tell which is which.


Three years ago, before we had the children, I saw some small pajamas in a store.  I told Gibi I wanted to get four pair… and she laughed because we didn't know ages or how many.  I said I'd get one of each size, 2 to 5. The pajamas somehow disappeared into all the stuff, but this year we found them.  At night I see the four little ones in the four pair of pajamas I'd bought.  Yeah, it is mystical.  And I have the eight girls I heard calling to me in the US.  It is all mystical.  I live in a life that seems to unfold in some familiar way.


Souls sang to her heart,

Wild winds taking them afar,

Her nest-lings flourished.

I feel now that the souls carried by the winds, the ones I never forgot, have come home to me now.  And my nest-lings still flourish.

December 2009
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