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

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December 2009
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