She’s Going Home To Her Family

I’ve just gotten off the phone with the eldest sister of our oldest girl.  My office door has been closed, Seema Gupta, our girl, and I on the phone.  I  walk out to talk with the staff while our girl goes to talk to the other girls.  This is not really a surprise to them, but it is to the staff.

I tell them, “She is going home to her village.”

“She is doing WHAT?”

“She is going to live with her Didi (elder sister),” I explain to some of the staff.  They know her mother had died when she was born and that painful traumatic events had taken her to the government institution and then to us.  In the past year we have learned her name, her real age, and we have visited her relatives in the village.

Teachers, massis, all are incredulous. “But what about her studies?”

“Her sister will put her in the local Girl’s High School, and after school she will help with their sewing work that brings income.”  Her sister had been looking into this since our visit as she couldn’t get her youngest sibling out of her mind.  It was as if she was waiting for our call.  I think their first choice would have been for her to stay here where she has a “better” life — the rational view.  But it seems that now, after many years, emotionally they want her to come home, and they needed for her to want to come home.

My staff protest.  “She won’t be able to live there.  She won’t have such good food, or clothes!  She won’t be able to live that way!”

“No,” I explain.  “She doesn’t care about that.  It means nothing compared to being with her family.”  It’s what I’ve been saying about all of them.  They don’t care about “stuff” or even food.  They would give it all up in a second to be with family.

I know this is true.  I know it in my being.  I know it because the girls and I have talked about it many times.  When I put myself in their places, imagine myself there, I’m not sure what I would do, but my decisions wouldn’t be based on comfort or things.  Abuse would keep me from family.   Things, and food, would never count in the equation.  And maybe this is the crux of what is wrong in the usual adoption model, that the child is “better off” in the home with more comforts.  Kids who have lost their families often don’t care as much.  Maybe some of them sense of the transience of “stuff.”

Staff  ask me, even suggest, that I must be upset — after all I’ve done.  They don’t get it though.  My mission is to care for orphans, and to figure out what they need.  I started this home with the question “what do they need?”   Then we build on ways to meet those defined needs.  My job is to lead them to where they need to be.

Like her Didi, our girl has been unsettled since the visit, her mind constantly going back to her family.  Last week we called her Didi and it happened to be when the sister’s daughter was in labor with her second child.  So our girls got on the phone with her, talked and distracted her from the pains.  In the morning we learned that a boy had been born.  In the Indian system of naming relationships, our girl is now a grandmother.  She wants to be there to take care of the baby.

This reunion could not have happened previously, as there were some very serious family problems that had to be resolved first.  She could not have gone back then.  She knew it and said it then, but things and people and circumstances sometimes change.    And we really don’t know how it will work out.  She is almost 18, almost out of government care.  We will petition the government to allow her to go to her family and we expect them to agree.   We will ask the government to note her real name and age in their records.  So this will be the next chapter in her life, and in a way another chapter  in the life of Shishur Sevay.  On paper and in her heart, she will be theirs, but she will also be ours, if she wants.  But she won’t be an “orphan” any more and that may be the most important part of this for her.    Remember, it was when Donkey Sir, the teacher was insulting her, that she thought to herself, “I’m not an orphan.  I have a family.  I don’t have to put up with this.”

To be an orphan in this culture is to live in shame.

I don’t expect it all to go smoothly.  I’ve dealt with village expectations.  But I know our girl is strong.  I believe she may be a leader.  I know that she cares about the poor, writeS about the poor, and wants to help the poor when she grows up.  I suggested she keep a journal.  She gave the “the look.”  Oh well, I tried.  Maybe one day she will want to.

I have walked this path before.

The other girls, how are they?  It’s mixed.  Some are upset.   They think about their families, want to find them if they can.  One girl was remembering her house by the water and a factory along the water, and we knew the town from which the police report came so we went on Google Earth looking for a factory and water.  One day we will go there and start with the police station, the police report.  Does she want to go back?  I don’t think so.  But she wants to know if her grandmother is alive.  They are losing their Didi, who I often thought of as Wendy and the lost boys of Peter Pan.  Wendy has a home to go back to.

There is yet another pull among the girls.  They are survivors of family betrayal.  They protect themselves and at some level trust no one.  So they worry, and ask me, “Who will take care of us if you die?”  They panic if I have a headache.  They know I had cancer.  So, each girl here is also trying to figure out her Plan B, “What if Mummy dies and no one will take care of us?”  So I go through the list of people who care about them, the plans we have in place, but they still worry.   I worry too  It’s what mothers do.

I’m walking along the railway tracks with her Didi at the end of our visit.

September 2012
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