Friday, March 13, 2009

First Day of Volunteering (Ron)

Some of you know we have been delayed in our efforts by a pernicious fever on my part and a nasty head cold for Trina to boot. Anyway, we are finally getting started...

This is pulled from an email to my parents...so, it's kind of a free write:

Today was our first day volunteering. By all accounts, it went well. I'm probably about 100% recovered from my infirmities. Trina less so, but hers is manageable. We got up at six, went to our restaurant at 6:30 (it opens then) and they failed to have our breakfast ready in time for us to make it to the mother house. So we had to walk out, which was awkward, but we bought a couple snikers (mmm). We knew we could get some food at the mother house, so this was going to have to do. So much for my mocha shake I was going to treat myself to (for my first early morning, you know?).

Anyway, so we walked to the Mother House (about twenty minutes) and got our food (mini bananas and white bread, and tea (didn't like the tea)). We gathered, prayed, sang a song and went (probably 30 or 40 volunteers were there, I have no idea how many total are volunteering at the many houses on a given day). There was only one volunteer there that was going to our house, (Nrimal Hiday, I think) in Kalighat. People just call it Khalighat (whatever the case, it is the home for the dying and destitute). As it turns out, the other volunteers skip the breakfast and just commute directly (which we now know how to do). There are probably ten or so at our house.

We hopped on a bus with our guide (the buses here are another chaotic experience). There is a guy that hangs out the side and you ask him if it goes where you want to, and you pay when you get off. They can get very, very crowded (there are ladies only seats, lucky for them, so the guys can leer at them). Anyway, we finally got there (it took a while) and then had to walk a few blocks.

We were there about 5 minutes late (although we had left when dismissed from the mother house, so we weren't late in the delinquent sense). The volunteers were washing dishes from breakfast. I dove in. Got pretty wet (not from diving, from washing). Then it was on to laundry. My job was to wring. Who knew that could be so taxing? I actually wrung the skin off my hands (don't worry, gloves after that). Then was our time with the patients. This was the most interesting, of course. There are a number of things you could do, but since I don't have any expertise or care to learn which patient takes the red pills, I figured I'd do what I could do to alleviate suffering (they recommend this). I gave massages. I think that went for about an hour or a bit more, and I of course got a lot of patient interaction then. Communicating is difficult, of course.

Then on to tea time (those Brits and their worldwide influence). Just a quick snack for the volunteers. Then lunch. Carrying the food vats downstairs (heavy lifting, for sure), serving it on to the plates, and delivering it. This is when the no-solid-food people get fed too. I might do some of that if they let me, but I haven't yet.

Then cleaning up after lunch. They recommend you end after the morning shift, and if you are considering the afternoon shift (shorter! can you believe it? as if four hours isn't short enough!) that you wait until you've been working mornings for a while. The work is pretty physical and pretty psychologically draining if you aren't used to that level of sickness. Indeed, I saw more wounds and such things than I have ever seen in my life, all at once today.

Trina had a different story. She ended up seeking out a medical role, and was trained by a nurse who leaves tomorrow. Her job is to undress, clean, and redress wounds for a set of patients. Pretty vivid stuff..massive wounds, down to the bones, lots and lots of infection. Crazy.

Anyway, there are gloves (although we bring extra just in case) and masks. Most people don't use them (the masks) unless they are really working on patients; I think I will use them when I do massage from now on, just to avoid anything airborne, colds and such (or TB, but that's treatable). They pay a lot of attention to sanitation (more than I thought they would, for sure), and I appreciate that.

The patients are divided into two large rooms (the house is actually a now defunct part of a large Hindu temple, which Mother Theresa thought was a pretty great setup), men and women. I do work with women when cleaning, etc., but not Trina, as her job takes most of the time. But we are in the same location, a room or two away, which is nice. It feels like a very good place.

I don't quite know what to make of the whole experience yet (granted, I have 21 more volunteering days). It feels like really important work. It also feels kinda pedestrian (cleaning, massage). Still, I'm really glad we are doing it. It's been hard to find a way to humanize the suffering around here without getting drawn in to scams. It feels like a chance to really get in touch with the least of these, and to alleviate some suffering.

They don't all die either. Some do convalesce there and get better. That's kinda cool.

Anyway, so that's that. We came home and Trina napped and I read some Plato. We are going to go get dessert to celebrate our reemergence back into the world. We are on a pretty early schedule now (getting up at 6:30 from now on, commuting directly). Since Trina wants lots of sleep (sick, and hey, she's Trina, she always wants lots of sleep) and the time to fall asleep, she's making me go to bed at 8:00-8:30. So, that's an adjustment. I actually don't mind that much.

We are about halfway through season six of seven of The West Wing anyway. Don't know what we'll do when that is over. Maybe have a conversation? I dunno.

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