Finding our way through this challenge of where we will live…

Yesterday people came to look at the house.  They liked it and they will bring the rest of the family tomorrow.  The ones who came to look were four Punjabi men, two generations — nice people I would want to have as neighbors.  They asked if there was any community disturbance.  At first I said no.  But later as we all sat, the agent, the Punjabis, our Associate Director, Bijoy, I interrupted the discussion.  I simply could not deceive them about the neighborhood.  So I stopped the discussion and told that there was community disturbance.  They were only upset that our good work was being received this way.  As we talked, it was clear that they did not see these people as a threat.  These neighbors would shut them up quickly.  These are people who could call police and the police would come, and not tell them they broke the law by taking pictures of the rioters.  (There wouldn't be rioters).  It becomes clearer and clearer that I am the problem, the foreign lady with the children.  This family who came, maybe they have daughters.  No one would expect their daughters to "mingle" with the neighbors.  But their children would not be orphans, who as I've written before, are seen as common property.

I was upset.  I was upset that these people could buy my house and live here peacefully, but I could not.  That's what I kept thinking last night… and woke up thinking about, and part of me wants to stay here and fight.

This morning I got news of an offer made by "House B" (seen on the chart in the last blog).  House B is apparently upset, told the guard that "Mummy shouldn't leave!  If she would just give me drinking money, I would protect her from everyone."  House B is getting worried as he knows that I've actually been a very good neighbor, and nicer to him than anyone else would be.  In one of the blogs I wrote about the night he was outside saying awful things about me, and the night staff got upset and the girls got upset.  So I went out and said hello, and then came back in and brought out a piece of cake for him… and then the girls got into it and we fed him cake… and the neighbor who used to throw garbage over our wall — we gave her cake too….

I howled with laughter this morning when I heard the offer.  Sure, I was tempted, but I won't pay another rupee.  It escalates.  It also makes me angry.  I'm more inclined now to ask, "What will you give Shishur Sevay to stay?"  I know the all refer to me as Mother Teresa — which also makes me shiver because I know more than I want to know about the reality of Missionaries of Charity.  But all that aside, if they don't want to be accused of driving Mother Teresa out of the neighborhood, what will THEY do to change the situation?  How will House A and House B ensure our safety?

This is terrible, what I am about to write.  I know of institutions, orphanages, and orphanage type places, where local men are allowed access to girls at night.  It becomes the condition of those places existing in their communities.  From the beginning, House A, who also did the renovations, wanted free access even after the children came.

To answer the question, why did we buy this house?  First of all, it is in walking distance to Gibi's flat, where I stayed when I was in Kolkata.  Therefore I was already known to the neighborhood.  I didn't want to go to someone else's neighborhood to start an orphanage.  The next-door neighbor — in the flat next door, was known to us, friendly as we came and went.  He is the one who told us of the house.  He also owns a small fan factor that operates out of the ground floor of House A.  So even as we walked to the house, the one which became Shishur Sevay, it all felt friendly.  Then when we bought the house, this neighbor told us that the man in House A was a contractor.  So we hired him, the same man who later extorted money.  Also living in the building with Gibi was another neighbor who used to talk with us about what we were doing, and he was considered a friend.  He had to have known, since he is a long time figure in this community. He didn't tell us.  His friend was the lawyer who managed the sale.  That lawyer later on tried to get me to pay for his daughter's education.  No one told us the truth.  We walked right into it. 

We bought the house in April 2006.  Closing was set for Monday.  On the Friday before, suddenly the owner demanded a cash advance, but with no escrow or guarantee I would get the money if she pulled out.  I was told she needed the money for a deposit on a flat.  Even MY lawyer wanted me to give her the money.  I refused.  Then her lawyer said he would hold the money until the closing.  So I asked how that would help her get a flat.  No answer.  My lawyer still insisted I should give the money.  Everyone was treating me like the mean white lady refusing to help the poor Indian widow (who was about to be a rich widow).  Finally, I said directly to the lawyer, "If you die over the weekend I will lose my money."

Monday morning I wanted to do a "walk through" but was told this is not done in India.  I was continually accused of offending cultural norms. Why wasn't I trusting the poor widow?  I backed off.  I figured at least I was getting the house and I'd deal with whatever I had to.  After the sale we got the keys.  The poor widow had stripped the doors of knobs, taken anything that could be taken, and had sold the gravel in the walkway.  But we had the house.  I had a place now to bring orphan children.  The rest didn't matter so much.

In fact, none of this matters in comparison to being able to have and raise these children.  I look around, all the time, and I love what we have here, the children, the staff, the happiness, the growth, joy, and reasons to celebrate each day.

Evening has arrived.  The girls are still doing homework, though the teachers have left.  I keep thinking about the other people who would be able to live here safely.  A family who could buy this house would not be allowing their daughter(s) to mingle outside.  They wouldn't be expected to.  I sound so classist, even to myself.  But here it really is about safety.  Girls "disappear" here.    It's not about economics or I wouldn't have moved here.  I am comfortable with the poor, but not with the drunken poor, and I didn't expect the response we had.  When we first came we had a girl here whom we had rescued, and she eventually returned to her family.  I started letting her play outside and talk to the neighbors, but immediately she was invited into someone's house and was grilled about her life and about us.  I think the good people were driven out, even from the rental shacks.  There used to be children in school uniforms, coming and going, but no longer.  I hadn't really noticed until now, when I've started to look at everything around me.

The goonda who wants money for drinking, and then he will protect me, can also be friendly at times.  He calls me "Mother"  He says he is my son.  I tell him he is a very naughty son.  He likes that.  But other times he paces outside using foul language that I don't understand, but I learn from the girls and the massis that he is saying terrible things about me.  I hate that they hear it.  I hate that he is outside.  I wish the Punjabis would buy some other house here and clean out the neighborhood and then we would be safe.  We wouldn't need a helicopter.




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March 2011
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