Indira: A Trench

Clean body, dirty clothes. She slips on her scrubs, a pair of long Black pants and a loose short sleeve shirt, given to her by her volunteer roommate. A nurse’s gown. Dirty. Dirty because it was given to her used by who knows what previous wearers. Dirty, because there is no laundry machine and she is too lazy to get on her knees and scrub away the filth. 

Outside of my room, I hear grandfather chanting. Jheeer Rama Rama Rama, jheeer Rama Rama Rama, jheeer Rama Rama Rama. His footsteps pounce throughout the small apartment floor. His voice fades as he goes in and out of rooms, jheeer Rama Rama Rama, jheeer Rama Rama Rama. I inch my ears closer to the door, curious. Is it to ward off evil? What exactly is this for? I make a mental note to ask Mama Shushma. 

With my stethoscope around my neck and my back pack right around my body, I step out to the livingroom to grab some breakfast and sip on some chai. Mama Shushma has prepared grilled potatoe sandwiches and they are delicious. I ask her if they have cheese and she replies, “No, we like to eat healthy here.” I smile inside, knowing full well the truth in that statement and the controversy of it back in the States. 

The chai on the stove begins to boil, announcing its ready. Em grabs the pot and pours five small cups for all of the volunteers. A sweet waft fills the air and the brown cream colored tea tastes of cardamon and ginger. Bliss. 

We finish our breakfast and the doorbell sounds, an alarm to tell us to get going. Our Tuk-Tuk carriage awaits us outside. 

The air is heavier today. What they call fog, I call pollution. Riding to the slums in our auto rickshaw, I see remeants of burned plastic and the flames of a lit fire melts more trash. Down the street we take a corner and to our left, lies an enormous plain. An earthly depression the size of three football fields is filled with garbage. A carpet made of plastic cups, wrappers, tires, broken materials and much more cover the entire trench. What’s more shocking is the amount of pigs and hogs sifting through the junk. Their snots are deep in. Families of pigs, dark and dirty. 

She sits there, watching these animals search for food. Beside them, are huts made of nailed wood and rags draped to cover the entrance. Homes. These are homes. Three walls shaped together as a fort with blankets on the floor and a fire pit outside is a home. No bed, no sink, no toilet, no food. The trench. She sees little children squatting and running about. Whatever cloth clings to their body is stained in must. Their bare feet are deep in. Their skin is dark and dirty. They run. They run and they can’t be more than 7 years old. Many children. They run and they smile. They run and they’re barefoot. They run and they’re ignorant.

Anger. This does not shock her. She does not feel remorse or sadness. Anger. She does not close her eyes and look away. Anger. She looks at her Tuk-Tuk driver and she looks back at the trench. Anger. She looks at the women lying beside the huts with empty eyes. Anger. She looks at the men who forever sit, walk, beg, work, gamble, sell, work, beg, and age. Anger. Anger because they were all once children playing in a trench full of trash and hogs who had to grow up. Anger because they grew up working for their parents, begging for money and missing school to be able to eat. Anger because despite their own miserable lives, they decided to have children and keep having them. Anger because they force their children to beg and work and education is void. Anger because all she sees is a cycle of misery and poverty. 

Anger, and she promises to never have children. 


Indira: Clean Perfection

She looks at her phone and it reads 6:31. Outside of her window lies darkness. She can hear the distant sound of dogs arguing and right outside of her room, she hears Mama Shushma frying. It’s early. Yet she’s been awake, lying in bed since 5, replaying the scenes of her dreams. Night after night, she wakes up feeling wry. Tonight, she dreamt of witches, monsters and death. Her hands dipped in guilt. She remembers breaking the neck of one such monster disguised as a pleasant human. Magic. And much of it, she still feels herself tingling with power as it subsides with early dawn. 

My day of volunteering will start soon. It’s 6:37 now and I will get up to shower in 30 min. Our clinic does not open until 10 but my internal clock has woken me up every morning at this time. 

My shower. I relish as the cold water makes me gasp for air. Our pipes do not bring hot water so we have to manually heat it up. A thick wire with a bulb on the end of it hangs around a nail in the wall. At the end of the wire is a plug. Plug the wire and put the bulb in the water. Just wait 20/30 min and the water will be heated. 

She stands naked in a bathroom that has no tub or shower platform. A 6×6 room containing a toilet, a sink and a shower head in the corner is her cleansing station. She opens the faucet and begins filling a bucket with cold water. The clear liquid feels refreshing against her warm skin. She takes a small pale and takes water bit by bit, pouring first on her lower body. 

Ice. My feet and legs can take the temperature but as the water is poured high and higher, tense prickles are formed. Water. I pour more water, and I can breathe. My skin clogged with dust and pollution is washed away to feel like silk. I rub my body to generate heat and as pour I think, pure, clean, water, healthy, alive. 

She is alive. She takes one bucket of water and pours it on her chest. Her body tenses up and her lungs  squeeze inside. She gasps for air as her body adjusts to the cold. Clean she repeats to herself. Clean

10 minutes later she stands in front of the mirror. Naked. She looks at her body, nothing short of perfection. Her face looks refreshed, clean and clear. The skin blemishes on her neck appear to be subsiding and she will continue with the cold showers to help contribute. Her gaze analyzes lower to where her body still radiates an Artic temperature. Her hands graze her chest and cup her breasts. She has never had particularly large breasts and in fact, some may even consider them below average size. But she has breasts. And so she stands firm, gently caressing her chest with gratitude for having some at all. Her hands continue to slide lower. She can feel her skin for what it is. A layer of tissue holding everything together. She feels the curve of her sides and the slight line cutting her front, middle abdomen. Her body is strong. It stands with deceit not showing muscles etched in stone but simply layers of strength. Her hands slide further down, making mental checks of everything that should be there. Her plump bottom. She feels it’s smoothness but sees the thin lines that marked her as evidence of becoming a women. Normal, keep going. Unabashedly, she cups her vagina. It fits perfectly within her hand, easily consealable. The hairs are beginning to grow untamely and she ponders the importance of shaving. Fuck the man is her only thought. Her hands slide to her thighs, those strong pieces of muscles. A battle between strength and image. She remembers her high school days of starving to attain that perfect thigh gap. An almost rite of passage for girls at that age. Now she stands strong, feeling the firmness in both legs she gratefully thanks society for being so fucked. Her hands circle her calfs, and feel her ankles. Scars are randomly interspersed amongst her legs and feet, keeping track of the adventures that proved she was human. Toe check, five on each foot, five fingers on each hand. Done. No abnormalities, no deformities, no rashes, no illnesses. Perfect. She has two arms and two legs and she is alive. Perfect. She is nothing short of perfect. 

Indira: Not Yet Defeat

The sun continued to beam hot and strong against her face despite the day ticking away. She sits on marble steps, dirty with decay. Two lions lie resting beside her. Dressed with flower rings, they guard the entrance. A man with a crooked back has a rag in his hand. He comes up and begins swatting away the dust around her. She looks about and realizes she’s sitting by the foot of a temple, with shoes on and a heavy face, she gets up to avoid disrespect. Tired. Defeat seems like a closer word. It’s 4pm and she left her home at 1:30. What begun as a food errand, soon turned out to be a very long search for money. 

India. A god damn third world country. 6 months in Morroco and the farthest I’ve felt from my western life was not having toilet paper. India has changed everything. I’ve crossed the street, playing leap frog with my life. Dodging Tuk-Tuks and squeezing past cars. City market. The only location I see that will accept cards. My debit card. The only life line I have to money right now. My bag full of Anerican cash means shit in a place where I can not exchange any of it for Rupes. 

Defeat. She had walked around sector 1 for an hour only to come to ATM to ATM all empty of cash. There!  After an hour she spotted two very long queues. Two lines with a separation not to reduce time and increase efficiency. A separation that amplifies the segregation between men and women. Two very long lines respresenting very old social customs. Old? Not old. The words of Ananta come back to her. “In this culture, men are still seen a little superior than women.” She stood in that line for 30 min. Swatting away the flies and observing, always observing. 

My eyes circled the area and I caught six eyes staring back. As I continued to scan the area, I found that more eyes begun to look my way. Look away. A mantra I had been telling myself since I first arrived in India. This is not a place for the staring game. 

She stood in that line for 30 minutes. Finally the banker inside looked at her and said, sorry, we do not exchange money. “An ATM??” No. 

Defeat. She awaits now across the street from the temple, outside of City market. With not one note of Rupees in her wallet she analyzes her options. Walk home…can’t remember the way home. Uber… Not an option. Tuk-tuk.. Only takes cash. Ugh. With a sigh she reaches into her pocket and begins to dial Anata’s number. Anytime you need us, just call. She hates implicating other people into her stupid situations. She hates sitting here, waiting to be rescued. Most of all, she hates feeling defeated simply because she has no money. America. A land which runs on money has taught her nothing about surviving without it. 

15 minutes, Anata promises. He will come and his rescue carriage will be disguised as yet another crazy car racing down the street. Promises. And here I vow to learn to survive without the ties of society. I will survive without which I have learned to be dependent on. Money? I do not need such a paper but to wipe my ass with. 

India, is where I will learn to survive. 

Indira: Small Talk

Day 1, Indira

“Avi and ……..? You will be staying with Dr. Pravda. There are three other volunteers there already.” 

I turn to Avi and with a wink and smirk I feel grateful for her company. We sit in room with 21 distinct nationalities. Volunteers from Australia, England, Japan, the United States, New Zealand and even India fill the seats. We are arranged in rows so that Anata, the program director, can give us a complete orientation of India. “Welcome, namaste,” he begins. “I am here and our staff is here 24 hours of the day for you. No matter what, you give us a call. Do not even hesitate if you want to talk.” He bashly smiles and his eyes reveal a genuine promise. “No matter.” His insistence is reassuring. We are not alone. 

The orientation begins with a brief history of India:

3000 Bc- the beginning Indian history as far remembered. 

1500 BC- the beginning of the Hindu religion. 

300 BC- The Golden Age: riches. Spirituality is abundant. Yoga and meditation is spreading and the discovery of zero is described. Here, as most cultures during their Golden age, poetry and dramas are not only relevant, but admired. The dynasty Morya and Asholca are taking place. 

6th Centuary- The Dark Ages. Chinese and Mongolian influences invade. 

9th Centuary- chawdala & Dualala

11th-17th Centuary- Muslim influence is introduced. Their skills and talents lead the infrastructure of many monuments. The current Taj Mahal itself is due to Muslim architects. Currently, 15% of the population is Muslim. 

15th-16th Centuary- Goa

17th Centuary- the French begin colonizing. 

17th-20th Centuary- the British Rule. Their presence created reformation both physically, socially, and mentally. A law called saidi parta was abolished. This was the tradition of killing all the wives of a husband lest he be killed or punished. Trail tracks and education becomes available to the larger population. 

1947-1971: Indian Independance. This great Indian region is separated into three countries, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and present India. India, having the world’s second biggest population, is the world’s largest Democracy with an elected Prime Minister. 

The short introduction reveals the influences India is penetrated with. All around, many peoples came, saw, and conquered. Ananta tells us of the importance of English rule. Their advanced technologies and way of thinking pushed India forward, towards self advancement. 

My mind buzzes with information. He continues to tell us about culture, family values, economy, religion, marriages, the caste system and then finally, our project details. 

She sits there, noticing the other volunteers. None of them are here without reason. Some, will be working in an orphanage. Most will be teaching English to slum children. And her, like the very few in the world, will be working in the healthcare system. They explain her project and she’s itching with excitement. Her home will be that of the doctor’s. The doctor? Yes, you will live with the Doctor. Giddy. This is simply the start of why she came here. 

The lesson concludes and we’re herded to the roof patio where lunch is being served. Our plates are filled and the dopamine begins releasing. 

Around her, forks and spoons are clattering against the tin plates. She looks around and thinks, stupid tourists. She knows them too well. Many volunteers come as a way of cheap traveling. Some come to claim their good karma for a week and then continue back to their beautiful lives. She sits there with her fingers deep in her chapti. A bread as thin as a tortilla which she uses as a spoon to cup her lentils and soya. Remember, just the right hand, she tells herself. “We do not eat with our left hand,”she remembers the voice of her sister. 

The superficial Canadian across the table begins, “That was the worst bed ever. It was like a rock.” She sits there with highlighted, long, dark hair. Her lips are plump and full and her eyes are tinged with an Eastern ethnicity. She sits complaining, elbows on table, wrist boldly branding a silver bracelet and an expensive watch. “I just couldn’t sleep.”  I sit and observe. We both slept in the same bed and to be fair, it was indeed very hard. But, I had a roof over my head and food in my stomach. “How long will you be here?” 

“One week,” she tells me. “One week??”  The audacity. To make things a bit clear, volunteering is not just showing up and being present. To make volunteering beneficial and actually make a difference, it takes a bit longer than one week. There is a process of not only getting adjusted and settled, but also the process of understanding the environment one will be working in. Day one, we are in orientation, we will begin our project tomorrow. That gives her 4 days. Okay. I tell myself to stop. Relax….we are all here for different reasons. 

After my second plate and a lot of small, talk I get up. Heading downstairs, I grab my things, pack up and wait with Avi to be picked up and driven to our homestay. 

Excited. My journey has begun. 

Indira: Arriving 

Take a deep breath, but not too deep. The city of Delhi is coated with a smog of toxins. The sky, a pale, unison layer absent of color. “It’s worse during winter,” Pawani’s voice filters through. The buildings and trees disappear after 50 yards, so we warp through the land in our SUV, heading to our homestay. 

To her right, her eyebrows furrow, how does that dog–….monkey. Those are all monkeys! A cluster of monkeys and grazing cows crowd the side of the road. The small creatures sit, play and push each other. They’re climbing on walls and scurrying about the dry dirt. 

Home sickness. I’m staring into the rich poverty surrounding me. Red, cracked land. Deep greens grow untamely with a thin layer of dust lying on top. Streets full of strangers, the roads sing songs of horns- one after the other, honk over boom. Bikes modeled after motorcycles are glued with engines, men and boys. Women are randomly scattered, one dark haired female stands alone on the road. Rags drape her body and her dirty face is stained with sadness. Is she begging? Is she alone? 

Homesickness. Morocco is calling her name. She sits inside this vehicle looking out onto the land and she aches for Morocco. Homesickness. Not for the land she left which claims to be free. Not for the land stripped in blood and water polluted with stars. She aches for the land that woke her up.  Where the people shook her constitution and forced her to question everything. Morocco, a land where women walk protected behind a shield, their strength projected in their very diliberate movements. 

India. Are the women here just as strong? Where men suffocate the population, where are my women?

She sits in the vehicle anticipating the home she will live in and the family that will adopt her.

Flying to Indira 

3 hours & 33 minutes. The clock counts down and jolts of jitters pulsate through her body. Wires connected, she is listening to the drumming of Raggae, waiting for the arrival to India. Waiting for a sign  to read her name, held by the hands of a native stranger. She awaits the, “Welcome to my home, here is your family.” This is my family?

This is my mother, my father, my sisters, a brother, your room. 

Nerves pulsate through my body and I only hope there will be a sign with my name on it. 

“Namaste” is all I think.

“Namaste” is all I hear. 
3 hours and 23 minutes. The clock counts down and Tarzan replays in my mind. The unprecedented, vast safari, the blazing Sun, the beautiful dark, ebony skinned beings. So filled with culture, life, with humanity. What an African portrayal…. Do you believe that shit? I’m not sure things still exist that way, but honestly I don’t know. 

So she sits, reminiscing on the adventures she’s destined for. Much like Tarzan, they will take her to a land strangely familiar, yet not ever explored. Nothing stops her. This life does exist, she is alive. There is more on this Earth than the average American Dream. There is her reality, the one I am creating. 

So I fly, into unknown territory, a majestic land called India. 

Just Ride 

I am alone but I’m not alone. I sit on this 8 hour flight surronded by people just like me. Alone but not alone. Each with their own destination but all of us here flying together. One plane, one crew, many people. He will arrive when I arrive, the mother and crying baby will arrive when I arrive and the pilot will arrive as we all arrive. 

I am not alone nor am I scared to be.