Day 11 – Part 1 – Today I skipped meditation and yoga. Bad yogi. There are days that I fight going and go anyway, rewarded by the feeling of openness and peace. Then there are days like today when I don’t fight and I don’t go, I just give in. It seemed the best decision. It’s a little past the halfway point of our travel time together and a morning alone seemed the best medicine.
We were afforded a nice chunk of free time today – from breakfast to 2 pm. What to do, what to do? Why, shopping of course. There is something about shopping in India. The prices are unbelievably low for many desireable things, the colors are magnetic and the designs exotic. No matter how much you buy for yourself or for gifts there always seems to be an urgency to purchase more. You just never know when you’ll be back this way again.
A few of us head out together. We are guided by one of our local friends, Param, who points us in the direction of some shops his daughter likes. Once he’s sure we’re in a good place he leaves to go about his day. We search four floors of clothes and a small jewelry store he recommended, then we venture out on our own. We ultimately end up at FabIndia – a glorious chain in this beautiful country. Clothes, linens, soaps, scents, fun jewelry, purses – all representative of India herself. So it comes as no surprise that we run into about 7 more people from our group. Everyone is furiously trying on kurtis, pants, shirts and skirts. Piles are being created. Frenzied hands paw through potential wardrobe additions and then finally, and only because we have to, we make our way to the purchase counter. Forgetting that scanning the tag and rushing us out the door is NOT the way things are done here, we begin to become impatient, but we’re hiding it by shopping at the cleverly placed point-of-purchase area. There is so much paperwork in this country. Everything is done by hand at least twice. We’re biting our tongues and gnashing our teeth as we add perfume and earrings to our piles. Well played, India.
We are rushed. Time has slipped away from us. We’re to be on the bus by 2 pm for the rest of the day and we have not had (or more honestly, taken) the time to eat lunch. It just never came up. Between Karin and I we brought enough Kind bars to feed our group several times over so we grab a handful each and share as needed.
Our first stop today is an orphanage, Families for Children. We’re told this particular place is run by an elderly woman in Canada. She can no longer travel here so she oversees everything from her home in North America. This home/school was created for those with special needs. The facility itself is a series of buildings from small to large; a house in the front serving an office. We deposit our gifts; pencils, crayons, paper and make our cash donations here. Behind the office a couple of apartment looking buildings that serve as dormitories, surround a dirt courtyard. We are guided to another small house-like structure that is used as a classroom for the children. There are probably 40 kids, all in uniform, all with short hair – it helps to manage the lice – sitting mindfully waiting for us. They have prepared a dance recital.
As I look around the room I see very little evidence of disability. There are one or two with obvious physical impairments, a young girl in a wheelchair with what seems to be Cerebral Palsy and a little boy who has been burned, but otherwise the handicaps are hidden or perhaps developmental. The dance recitals are upbeat and current, done to Bollywood music. These kids have got rhythm! We learn that the teachers have been working with the kids for the past week. This was a complicated dance routine that was at least 5 minutes long. I’m beginning to question the developmentally disabled theory now. Whatever the teachers are doing, is working. We are treated first to the girls, then the boys. There are more groups ready to perform but Swamiji cuts it short in the interest of time and heartache.
While the children are smiling and obviously well cared for, they are still parentless. We’re still acutely aware of this. It is still an orphanage. As I look around the room I see only children. Not orphans, not disabilities, but children being children. They poke at each other, roll their eyes and chatter when they’re supposed to be quiet. Maybe they don’t know there’s anything wrong. Hopefully they’ll never know.
We are led through the grounds to a little tin roof hut. As the door is opened a few people step into this dark, unlit space. I choose to learn about whatever it is from the outside. From the doorway I see punching bag sized growing pods hanging from the ceiling. They are growing mushrooms. Outside, we pass a dusty garden, thirsty for rain. They are doing the best they can to be self-sustaining and it is admirable.
Back on the bus we’re all a little quiet. It’s overwhelming how much help is needed. I’m struck by the pendulum swing of the day. Just a few hours earlier we were throwing thousands of rupees at a store clerk for clothes and non-essential items. And now we are parting with not much more than 100 rupees each for those who have so little. Silently we seem to be on the same page. Collectively we’ve done a little, and for today that will have to be enough.