Tuesday January 13th

Today I had many misadventures getting my internet hardware. Kiran, the IT guy, is super unreliable. He said he’d be back in an hour (3 hours later I called) and then another hour. And then ten minutes (an hour after that), 10 minutes more. But I got it. I finally got it. My little TATA cellular modem. And it will be activated by Thursday at 4’oclock. And then I will have my own internet! Yessss!

We have a patient right now who is pulling at my heart. She is an HIV/TB widow, age 30, and she is really sick. Her CD4 is 30 this week, and she seems to be struggling more each day. The state of HIV in Andrah is really terrible. The major mode of transmission is hetero-sexual, through commercial sex workers. I’m hearing the same story over and over again. Man goes to prostitute, and contracts HIV (according to 2007 data, one in five men over the age of 18 in A.P. has been with a commercial sex worker at least once in the last 12 months). This man then brings HIV home and his wife contracts it (monogamous married women make up over 30% of HIV cases in Andrah) . Unaware of the virus, the wife may become pregnant, and without seeking treatment can give birth an HIV positive child (6% of A.P. HIV cases are children). The husband dies, leaving an HIV positive widow who must now bear the social stigma (when your husband dies of AIDS, everyone around you knows/assumes you have it too). She is oftentimes shunned from her family, work and community, and must find a way to feed her children. And sometimes these women turn to prostitution.

Is your heart broken yet? Because mine is feeling the strain.

So the patient that I have been seeing is facing this right now. She has no job, she has been abandoned by her family and is really struggling financially. She is very beautiful, and has a wise, proud face that has been ravaged with struggle. The really hard part is that she has three children, and the youngest one (age 6) is staying with her at our ward. He is just the cutest thing, and I am very worried about him. Rubina is our HIV counselor (and has been a very good friend to me). She educations patients about their conditions, helps them find jobs and is currently looking for some kind of program for this woman’s youngest child, or at the very least to find a job for the oldest child (age 11) who can to support the younger siblings. If this woman dies on us, the boy has to go somewhere, and we don’t have a “where” yet. The woman’s three children have not been tested for HIV, she won’t allow it. She is holding onto the hope that after she dies, someone in her family will take in the children. If it is confirmed that the children are HIV positive, it is even more unlikely that anyone will. Not only is the social strain a huge burden, but so is the medical condition.

So this little boy has become my buddy. I brought him a ring pop today that was red. Red is his favorite color. I am worried about him spending so much time in the ward alone, while his mother is sleeping, I think he’s starting to realize what is going on. During my lunch we go outside and play hopscotch, and today we flew a yellow kite. I told Rubina that if his mother dies, and we don’t have somewhere for him to go, I want him to stay with me in Guest House 1 until we do. (Which I’m sure would not go over too well with Mrs. Rao and Dr. Hrishikesh.) Rubina said she’ll keep on it.

Rubina and I have little talks about this stuff. Apparently sex education in public schools is a hot political issue. Currently, there is no formal education system in place for students in India relating to STI’s, HIV/AIDS or sex until the graduate level (M.A. equivalent). Sex, and diseases that are related to sex, are a cultural taboo. According to what I’ve been reading, in the last five years its gotten much better, and people are starting to be more aware. However, we still have patient after patient claim they got HIV from drinking bad water, or eating food prepared by an “unclean” person. I know lots of people in India are working very hard to combat AIDS, but this ignorance makes me crazy. Millions of people are dying in this country of an uncurable, but preventable disease, however, we can’t talk about it at school because it threatens the culture? I think AIDS is already threatening the culture.

So at dinner tonight the little boy and I took a survey of everyone’s favorite colors. His, as I mentioned, is red. His mother’s favorite color is maroon. Mary’s is orange. Marta’s is pink. Uncle’s is white. The older patient who wears a big dot chose purple. Larshmi’s is blue. Shobba likes pink. Marheswarie couldn’t decide between light green and yellow.

After dinner the girls busted out the henna cone and had at my left palm. Everyone took a finger. Shobba wrote my name in Telegu on my middle finger, Larshmi drew flowers on my palm. Maheswari is a henna-star and drew some beautiful designs up my ring and pinky finger. The little group of Indian women that I hang out with are so funny. They gossip and nurture and take care of me just like my friends back home (well, maybe not just like back home, but it sure is great to have friends). My henna art is all part of development into a fashionable Indian woman. Next lesson: the sari. In the meantime, henna smells like cinnamon dissolved in vinegar.

Tomorrow is Pongal, so I don’t have to work. Pongal is the Telegu celebration of New year. I don’t know much about it, except to wish people “happy Pongal” and that there will be a lot of kites. Which should be cool.

Henna

Henna

Lonely

I was having a bad day today. There’s no work on Sunday, and mostly everyone is gone from the campus. I was feeling mopey and lonely. Not to mention, there is a very loud gunshot noise that I keep hearing outside my window. Since it doesn’t make sense that someone would be continuously firing a gun on a Sunday afternoon on a major highway, I went outside to investigate. Turns out its an engine backfiring on the road. That seems more reasonable, but it sure sounds like a gunshot.

I went to the kitchen to find Sunita and ask her if that happens alot, but she was gone—only Marta was there. Marta also didn’t have any food and she seemed scared that she was ill prepared for my arrival. She went and fetched one of the nurses (the very pretty, kind one–Maheswari) who got me some food. I ate in silence while they watched me because whenever I tried to talk to them, they got nervous. Then, sadly, I wandered back to my room. Outside my door there were two people, a young boy (11 maybe?) and woman. I didn’t catch the woman’s name—but the boy is named Ganesh. I said hello to them, and they said hello. Then I went into my house to wallow in my bad attitude.

About ten minutes later my doorbell buzzed, and it was the girl. She asked me what time it was, so I told her 1:30. Then I asked her if she would want to watch a movie with me, and waved to Ganesh to ask him also. I brought my laptop outside and put on the “Presto” cartoon that proceeds Wall-E (it has no words). The girl sat down next to me and we watched the little 6 minute film.

Then a young family approached us. The father’s name was Siva, and he introduced himself in good English. He also introduced his wife and 10 months baby. He explained to me that he lived in Detroit and was going to Germany tomorrow for 6 months to work as a mechanical engineer. The family was very kind. The wife asked me if I had eaten, and I told her that I had. Then she told me about the festival of Pongal which is in two days or so. She wished me a happy Pongal. Siva gave me his email address and asked me to stay in touch. Additionally, he wanted to snap a photo on his cell phone, so I grabbed my camera and we took pictures as well. I promised to email them to him. They even let me hold the baby for a picture. I gave them all candy (which they looked at funnily, and thanked me graciously). They live in the house nearby. I feel so much better having interacted with them, and making a new friend. I’m sad that Siva is leaving because he is so kind, but grateful that his wife and baby will be here for me to talk to. I feel so much better.

*****

I just went and saw Sunita in the kitchen. She’s leaving tonight to go see her son, Bittu in Northern Andhra. She is so cute. She told me to call her tomorrow morning at breakfast and to put Larshmi on the phone so she can make sure I’m okay, and that I’ve eaten. Also, she promised that when she gets home in 5 days we can go shopping! (I need another anklet. ) They think its weird that I only wear one. I think its probably like wearing one earring here—they come in pairs.

Ironically, Sunita and Larshmi invited me to go shopping with them yesterday but I couldn’t go because Barneto from the leprosy ward said he would take me to get internet yesterday at 5. I was so excited, and it just seemed so typical that the one time I’d have an opportunity to leave campus with Sunita and Larshmi, I’d have something going on. So I turned down Sunita and Larshmi. I waited for the guy until 5:15, and when he didn’t show I headed down to the offices to find him. On the way I ran into Theresa and told her the story. She too was going shopping and offered to let me come along if I couldn’t find Barneto. Well, I went to the offices and apparently Barneto had left because he got bad news or something, so I ran back to find Theresa only to hear from an old guy on a bicycle that I had missed her by 5 minutes. Three opportunities to go somewhere, all at the exact same time, and I didn’t get to any of them. Totally lame.

This morning Theresa took me to church (I woke up at 5am, we left at 6) with her. We walked in the darkness to Fr. Dan’s house, where Theresa works, and were picked up by a SRH car. Then we drove to the back of the complex and picked up four little nuns in full habits that were (wait for it) pink! They climbed in, and I rode in the car full of little pink Indian nuns to the church of Immaculate Conception.

Immaculate Conception makes Holy Family look like St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome. There are colorful streamers of tinsel draped across the ceiling and glitter gold letters hang from the ceiling reading, “Jesus is the living bread.” The music is provided by an electric keyboard circa de 1980 complete with fully synthesized hymns. The choir is completely off-key, but sings enthusiastically into the microphone, and the congregation sings back. The best part (wait for it) was the light up plastic Jesus behind the alter complete with red-neon crucifix. You may think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Here’s the thing though, these people worship God with more joy in their hearts than 90% of Christians back in American, and don’t have one tenth as many things to be joyful for. So honestly, who am I to criticize? They welcomed me with open arms, and I joined in the joyful singing—tone deaf and all.

I saw Sunita off for her journey to northern Andrah. I will miss her, but hopefully I’ll be well-adjusted when she gets back. Sunita told me this afternoon that there would be no chapate for me at dinner, since Marta doesn’t know how to make it. When I came to dinner tonight, Mara was there making chapati especially for me. I felt bad that she was going to the trouble, and I was really moved by her kindness. I ate dinner with Marta and Mary, and as I was leaving Mary came over and brought me a present!! It was a whole booklet of bindi stickers and a henna cone! I couldn’t believe it. I was so touched that she would bring me this gift which was to help me feel included.

I started the day off feeling bad for myself and by the end of the day I am feeling so blessed.

india4