Mangoes. Finally.

I finally got my hands on some mangoes, and I must admit that Indian mangoes are all that they’re made out to be. Despite the lack of traveling around the country that I’ve done, I feel like my experience here is complete now that I’ve tasted the sweet orange flesh. This past weekend, two of my friends went to Bangalore, and one of my friends went home a few hours from here, and both groups returned with bags full of mangoes for me. All told, I had between 15-20 mangoes, and only three days to consume them! I have three different varieties, but truthfully, I can’t distinguish between the degrees of deliciousness. I’ve been sharing the fruits, especially when the cooks are in the kitchen when I pull a mango out of the fridge, but I’ve made a pretty big dent myself, as well. There were times in the past few months when I was cursing the seasonal agriculture market here (can’t you bring me some Indian mangoes from Mexico or something?) but after taking the first bite of a perfectly ripe mango, it was all worth it.

As I told Josh on the phone, there are no words for this fruit, only tastes. I wish I could bring back suitcases full of them to share with all of you, but I’m thinking they probably wouldn’t make it past the dogs in American customs. If I wasn’t bringing home so many fun and colorful new clothes, I think I’d give it a try anyway.

As I write this I have only a few hours left here in Sittilingi, before a car comes to take me to Bangalore. I still have some packing to do, more pictures to take (of course), and lots of goodbyes, so I’ll leave it at that. Next update from Bangalore? London? Boston?

I am Going to my Country. America.

You’ll have to imagine the title of this post in Indian English, because the word is out here in Sittilingi, and a bunch of the staff have been coming up to me and asking/announcing this. So, consider this my official blog announcement: I’m going back to America, on Thursday, May 14. Soon! I’ll leave Sittilingi on Wednesday, hopefully do some last minute shopping at the mall in Bangalore (so make your requests now, people!), sleep for a few hours, and then head to the airport to go home. Home! I’m excited, in case you couldn’t tell.

I was originally planning on staying in India a bit longer, and traveling around with various family members who were planning on coming, but I decided I’d rather go home instead. Right now it’s either beastly hot or pouring rain (monsoons) all over India except in the Himalayas, and since none of us are big trekkers, it didn’t make sense for anyone to travel all the way here just to go to the mountains. Hopefully I will be back in Sittilingi at a more temperate time of year, when it makes more sense for others to visit me and to travel around the country.

Those of you who are reading this from Boston, I look forward to seeing you soon! And if you’re reading this from somewhere else, come visit me in Boston soon, because chances are Boston is a lot closer to where you are than is India.

Lunch with Gi and Tha

I went to Gi and Tha’s house for lunch today (Sunday), and had a nice, leisurely meal with the two of them and their 13-year-old son, Abai. I got to meet their puppies, which are half german shepherd, half lab, and 100% cute, as well as chat with them about my time here.

Something that came up in the course of conversation was that Gi and Tha would like to see other people starting up ventures that are comparable to THI. They feel that they have created a replicable model, and that a way to make a difference in many people’s lives would be to have similar projects throughout rural India. We spoke about the reasons that people haven’t started similar initiatives, and about what can be done to encourage others to adopt their successful model. They said that when they were in medical school, their whole group of friends talked about doing the kind of work that they’re doing now, but Gi and Tha are the only ones that made it a reality. I had a few ideas for them, many of which involved helping them get more exposure, so that more people know their story and about THI. They have had some positive press, but in general Gi and Tha are enormously modest, and do not like to attract attention to themselves. The two of them are so modest, in fact, that they blush in unison when I mention this as one of their qualities. Thus, they certainly do not go out and seek media attention, and when they are interviewed, they don’t like to boast about their accomplishments. Along these lines, when I mention how much of an impact they have had in this region, their response is that there is so much more to do.

I also suggested that they try to get more people here during their medical training, so that they can mentor the students and instill in them the importance of coming to work in places like Sittiling. While I have learned a lot here, if I had come in with more clinical knowledge, I could have learned so much more. The sheer variety of services that they offer here provide a wide range of opportunities for students to learn new skills in the outpatient clinic, hospital wards, labor room, operating theatre, and field clinic. Gi and Tha are seasoned and skilled instructors, as they basically run a nursing school in addition to everything else they do.

I’d love to help Gi and Tha with this goal of getting more people to do what they are doing, but I’m not sure how to approach this task. Loyal blog readers, what ideas do you have for helping Gi and Tha inspire others to do as they have done?

A Splinter

I used the hospital for the first time today, and was quite impressed with the service and care I received there.

Late this afternoon, I got a splinter in my left middle finger. Once I discovered it, I pulled out my handy-dandy first-aid kit from REI, which contained a set of blunt tweezers. I tried to remove the splinter on my own for a few minutes, and then I remembered that I was at a hospital, where they do this kind of stuff all the time. I took my tweezers to the ward in case I had trouble communicating the problem, and showed one of them my finger. She promptly stood up, took me into a room with more light, and removed the splinter with her fingers. It was quick, easy, and painless.

I tell this story not because I think it’s important for all of you to hear about my splinter, but because I think the way it was removed is indicative of the way patients are generally treated here. First, although you can find hundreds if not thousands of medical tools and devices in most hospitals, very few of such tools are used here. They certainly have tweezers, but the nurse wasn’t going to use them if she didn’t need them. Second, she didn’t bother with anything extra – no extensive medical history, no unnecessary band-aid, and nothing else you can think of that might accompany a splinter removal. Perhaps most importantly, I was treated quickly, and cheerfully, by a smiling nurse who seemed eager to help.

This last point is especially relevant to some of the reading I’ve been doing recently about the importance of quality nursing care. Just yesterday, I finished Norman Cousins’ Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by a Patient. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it, as he tells compelling stories. One of the points Cousins makes is about the role quality nursing care played in his recovery from a serious illness, and how poor nursing care made it that much more difficult to be in a hospital. Similarly, I read recently about a study which demonstrated that patients were more likely to recover when they experienced good nursing care. (I can’t remember where I read this, but if you happen to know what study I’m talking about, feel free to chime in so that I can give credit to my sources.) Fortunately, I haven’t had to receive much nursing care in my time here, but my impression from spending time in the hospital is that the nurses here – all of whom have been trained by Gi and Tha – are excellent at performing their professional duties. Further, they are warm and kind and often smiling, helping to make the hospital a better place.

I thought about ending there, but instead I’m going to tell another short finger story. We had dosas for dinner tonight (which are the big pancake/crepe things made out of fermented rice flour) and I was particularly excited to eat mine because I had managed to communicate to the cook that I preferred the larger ones rather than the smaller ones, so she made one for me that was nearly as big as the pan. As I was enjoying my first few bites of the thin, crunchy dosa, I accidentally took a bit of my finger as well. Oops! I didn’t break the skin, and I don’t think I’ll have a bruise or anything, but I did feel awfully ridiculous. I don’t think anybody saw me do it, so I decided I’d write about it on my blog for the whole world to know. After all, if I’m going to keep a blog, I might as well write about the embarrassing stuff, too.

Ants on a Log

Ever had the snack “ants on a log?” It generally consists of celery filled with peanut butter and neatly topped with raisins, so that it looks like, not surprisingly, ants crawling on a log. I like celery, I like peanut butter, and I like celery with peanut butter, but I was never a big fan of adding the “ants” or raisins, to this treat. Now I know why.

When I was on Israel, I bought some peanut butter to take back with me to India, as protein is a little bit hard to come by here. I opened it one night when we were having adai (sp?) which are kind of like thin, flat, pancakes made of wheat and various pulses (I think). I wasn’t so crazy about the sambar option that night, so I put some peanut butter on an adai, and added a few pieces of chocolate as well. It was delicious. I offered some to Geetha who was sitting and eating with me at the time, but she refused, on the grounds that she doesn’t like to mix her American and Indian foods. All I can say is: she’s missing out.

Okay, so the point of that story was that I opened up my jar of peanut butter. I thought about adding it to my castle of stainless steel containers that is surrounded by a moat of water in a larger stainless steel plate, but I figured Skippy must be pretty well sealed. Well, I figured wrong. When I screwed open my peanut butter today, ants were crawling all over the lid and at least ten had gotten stuck in the peanut butter. With a couple of pieces of celery, I could have served up some delicious ants on a log. Maybe I should have taken a real log and given it a try?

Photoshoot

For reasons I don’t fully understand, the people who work here often don’t like to be photographed.  So, when Geetha told me that the students wanted to be photographed by the nearby river (well, it’s more of a stream), I jumped at the chance to go with them.

 

All of the nursing students, plus Geetha, standing by a tree across the stream.  It's awfully hard to get these people to smile!

All of the nursing students, plus Geetha, standing by a tree across the stream. It's awfully hard to get these people to smile!

 

The students, plus Murugan, in the woods next to the THI campus.  Check out the bamboo trees in the background.

The students, plus Murugan, in the woods next to the THI campus. Check out the bamboo trees in the background.

I also took a bunch of solo shots, but once again, the internet is being too slow to upload them all.  And I should have some more fun pictures for you next time I post, because I brought my camera into the operating theatre this morning.

Afternoon at Thulir

Generally, I’m not a big fan of cloudy days, but I appreciate them here in Sittilingi for two reasons. First, cloudy days tend to be a little bit cooler and are often accompanied by a breeze; in these summer months, I welcome any relief from the often suffocating heat. Second, the sunsets tend to be more interesting when there are some clouds in the sky. Plus, it is often cloudy here without it raining, which is good for me, but not so good for the crops. On Tuesday, there was cloud cover for most of the day, making it a bit cooler, and leading to a beautiful sunset. The sky was lit up in a beautiful pink after the sun went down – this picture doesn’t do justice to the breathtaking landscape, but I’ll post it if I can anyway.

Sittilingi sunset on a cloudy day.  May 5, 2009.

Sittilingi sunset on a cloudy day. May 5, 2009.

 

 

It is possible that I especially appreciated the sunset after spending the afternoon at Thulir. I last wrote about Thulir awhile ago, and I didn’t write much about it at the time, so I’ll do my best to explain it now. Thulir, which is Tamil for “sprout,” started as THI’s education initiative, and is now its own trust. It is run by a husband and wife team, Anu and Krishna, who became friends with Gi and Tha when both couples were in previous jobs. Thulir has two main programs: one is an after-school, supplementary education program, and the other is a kind of rehabilitation program for students who drop out of school.

Thulir is particularly unique in this area in its educational philosophy. Most schools in India emphasize rote memorization, repetition, and obedience. For instance, my first or second weekend here, I was sitting with the staff kids who are in elementary school, and they pulled out one of their school books. The book contained pictures of various fruits and vegetables, and had the English words written under the pictures. With the book in their laps, the students pointed to a picture, spelled out a word such as P-I-N-E-A-P-P-L-E, and then pronounced the word in Indian English, such that I could barely understand what they were saying. This went on for about twenty or thirty foods, which at first I found impressive. But then I remembered that the only communication they are capable of in English is hello, good morning, and what is your name. It certainly seems to be that teaching kids how to think is not a priority in the school system.

At Thulir, however, creative thinking and expression is the norm. The younger kids attempt complicated word problems with pebbles as props, and the older ones learn about wiring and electricity, so that they can design torches (flashlights) and light fixtures. There is also open space for the kids to run around and play sports, as well as a plethora of games and art supplies. Every day at Thulir, many new project ideas are born, and Anu and Krishna do their best to enable the kids to make the ideas a reality. Perhaps most importantly, the students really like to go there, and thus develop a love for learning.

When I went to Thulir yesterday, Krishna was holding down the fort, while his wife and kids were on vacation for a few days. The school-age children were already in their summer holiday, so the afternoon program was on break, but the older students were still on the campus, in the midst of cataloguing the Thulir library. Many of them were planning to go home the next day, and they wanted to finish the task before they left. I was really impressed by the dedication and motivation these students were displaying, and when I remembered that these students had dropped out of school, I realized how much Thulir has changed their lives. In Israel, I had purchased some wooden brain-teaser puzzles for Thulir, and when I presented them to the students, they all started working together on them, allowing the collaborative atmosphere at Thulir to shine through.

Yesterday, I spent most of my time at Thulir hanging out with Krishna, and talking with him about his philosophy of education, and of life. I’m still digesting a lot of what he said, and I’m sure I’ll hear more tonight when Lalit, Geetha, and I head over there for dinner. I think I’ll stop here for now, and encourage you to get up from your computer and do something fun, in honor of the kids at Thulir.

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