Monday, June 4, 2012

I Just Met A Girl Named Maria

Hello everyone, Kirsten here. I apologize that this is my first time blogging and so late in the game! There has been so much going on here that it has been hard for me to think about blogging anything less than a novel (I promise this will be much shorter though)! Today we have officially been here for more than two weeks and time has certainly flown by. Over the past fifteen days we have been at Missionaries of Charity, Brother Xavier's orphanage, the Sabera Foundation, as well as Freeset and Sari Bari. All sites have been fascinating and have provided exposure to various approaches to helping those in need here in Kolkata. I had been feeling pretty good about adjusting to life in Kolkata and was chugging right along until I came down with something pretty bad last week and was out of the picture for about four days. It was amazing to be at the receiving end of so much help and love from those on our trip, so it was by no means a bad experience. Plus, all those long hours in bed gave me a lot of time to reflect! What struck out to me the most during this time was that, well, I am completely head over heels in love. It took me a few days to catch my affections, and it wasn't until I found myself attempting to serenade a girl named Maria to sleep with songs from the West Side Story that I realized that there most certainly has been a shift in my mindset and actions since arriving here. Everyday that we work with Missionaries of Charity, I go to Shanti Dan in the morning and Kalighat in the afternoon if I am not completely wiped out. At Shanti Dan I work with young women (although most of them are my age or older) who have physical or mental handicaps. My typical daily routine starts with wringing out laundry and bringing it to the roof to dry. From there I help teach various classes ranging from art, sensory and fine motor skills. After some chai and biscuits out in the courtyard, I am back ready to help with providing lunch, and then getting the girls ready for nap time, which involves a lot of changing and trips to the bathroom. It might sound pretty simple but it can be extremely challenging. I have been working a lot with two specific groups of girls- the "birds", who are higher functioning but often limited to wheelchairs, and the "rainbows", who are the most severely limited. Working with these girls has certainly made me realize just how precious and fragile life is, and at times it is overwhelming to see just how helpless some of these girls are. It has been so much more rewarding however, to be graced with the love and affection of so many. The second I walked into Shanti Dan I was greeted with a big hug and smile from a girl named Asha, who then spent the next ten minutes making Steph, a long term volunteer who was explaining our duties to us, Alicia, Meg, Ashley and I all hug one another. From here I went on to meet many other lovely girls who express so much love and compassion in the ways that they can despite their 'disabilities'. Telah, the woman I find everyday on the rooftop when I do laundry, will greet me every morning with a hug and bend to brush the tops of my feet, a deep sign of respect in India that I return. She then helps with putting up the laundry and will warm my heart with her constant laughter and her dance moves that could challenge any Bollywood star. Then there is Maria, who with Asha, will help with wringing laundry and bringing it to the rooftop. Maria likes to come up behind me and will look at me with her solemn eyes and give a quick nod with a jut of her chin. During class time she'll always pull a stool close to her and point at it (a direct command she must have picked up from the Massis) for me to sit with her. Maria can not talk, but she can put out a loud cackle if you do something funny, like when I discovered she can move at higher speeds and spent the next ten minutes chasing her around the compound. At nap time, Maria will look for me across the room and pat on her bed for me to come sit with her. Then, she'll pull my arm over her waist and we'll rest there together, watching the bustlings of the other volunteers and Massis around the room. Not all of the girls are as active as Maria but they nevertheless cease to amaze me with their tenderness. Poonam's bright eyes and smile will pull me in from across a room until I find myself in her embrace over her wheelchair. Once Radha gets ahold of your hand, there's no chance you're getting it back anytime soon. Sangita Mary and Nadira ar constantly grinning ear to ear and will laugh hysterically if you fall for one of their mischievous tricks. Although I struggle a lot with the lack of control of their bodies many of the Rainbows have, I still seem to find solace and so much connection when I am able to catch one of their eyes, like Nilima, even for a few seconds. I'm sure you must be finding it pretty easy now to understand why I am feeling so much infatuation. For me, it is pretty wild to think about because if you know me even a little bit, you know that I'm rather stoic and very rational. Touchy-feely is the last word you would use to describe me. It is thus very fascinating to see the transformation I have been going through. When I first found out I was going on the Kolkata service trip, I told myself that I wanted to come back with the capacity to love any and everyone, just like the many I had seen go on this trip before. I honestly don't think I truly understood what this meant though, for the words sounded idealistic and wispy washy to my ears. And so now, here I found myself, becoming that person I've always wanted to be and honestly, I'm scared. My bout of sickness lost me several days from Shanti Dan and with only three more days left in Kolkata, I'm a little terrified to think about leaving. In the past, goodbyes have never been a problem for me. People in my life have always come and gone, and I've always been okay with that. Now, things don't seem so simple. One day while I was sick, I remember coming to consciousness with Tennyson's "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," in my head. My first somewhat hilarious but groggy reaction was that I would rather knee Tennyson in the stomach for ever even thinking stupid things like that then to actually contemplate whether there was any truth to his statement (I think I then started dreaming about the best way to go about getting a time machine to do so...) Now of course, it is easy for me to see he is absolutely right. Although I may leave soon, others will soon come to Shanti Dan to fill my place. I also will go on and continue to have little, beautiful encounters with many people to come. That is the beauty of life and the beauty of service, and I am thankful for daily reminders of this. So for now, I think I will continue to sing love songs and will wait to see what next comes my way.


  1. beautiful, beautiful! I'm so jealous that I'm not there....I miss my Kolkata!!!!! I'm glad to hear that you're having an amazing time Kirsten!!! I'm sending my love from the US!

  2. PS Kirsten, can you give my love to all of the boys at Blue Sky cafe? Tell them Alicia says hi! please and dhonnobad!!! :) Love you, bondhu!