Friday, December 14, 2012

'Tis the Season... To Be Kind

As everyone knows, it is the holiday season. Time to shop, give gifts, be with family and friends, and listen to hundreds of Christmas commercials. You have heard this a million times, but more than anything, the holiday season is about giving. Not just giving in materialistic items, but giving love.

For the past couple of days, coincidence has given me the chance to share my love. First, the Operation Smile center is on top of the MMC Hospital. Under the hospital wheelchair ramp, you will find a family's home. When I came here for the first time in November last year, there were three children and one mom living there. Now, there are two moms and six children. I have no idea where the new people came from.

Some days, I just walk back under the wheelchair ramp and yell "Rupa, Samil," and out come running two of the kids who live there. If they're not in their tiny hut, I can easily find them riding their bicycle out in the parking lot. It is so much fun to play with them for five minutes after lunch.

So for Christmas, I decided to get them a present. I found a great coloring book called "The 365 Days of Coloring." It is a 365-page coloring book with one drawing for every day of the year. When I handed it to Samil, with the other kids by his side, he held the heavy book in his hand and said, "WOWWWWW." I also gave them a bunch of crayons. In my broken Assamese and with extravagant hand motions, I encouraged them to share the crayons and the heavy drawing book with the other children in their home.

And they knew what I meant. To show that they understood the book was for everyone, they started passing the book around. For these kids, sharing is not a word that is part of their vocabulary. They have to fight for everything they want. But these kids were all looking at the book together, getting ready to draw together. So, maybe sharing will become a word in their dictionary soon.

Samil holding the coloring book. 
A happy family of six.  
Photo shoot time begins!

Samil loving the coloring book. 
They wanted to sit in the chair, pose for the camera and pretend like they were reading a newspaper. 

Another story along this theme of giving took place last night, while I was walking in Fancy Bazar. As I have mentioned before, Fancy Bazar is the largest and most crowded market in Guwahati. I was walking out of a store there when I walked past a man begging for money. His arm was completely burned and contracted. His face was burned to the point that he could not shut his eyes or blink.

The Operation Smile center does a few burn cases, so I thought I would tell him that Operation Smile might be able help. To do this, I had to find someone who spoke English and could translate for me. At 5:45 P.M., the busiest time in Fancy Bazar, with barely any space to walk, I started shouting, "Does anyone speak English? Does anyone speak English? Does anyone speak English?" All of a sudden, I ran right into the family of the child life therapist who works at the Operation Smile center. The chances that I would run into someone that I knew in Fancy Bazar... very slim. It was like it was meant to be.

So, my friends helped me inform this hopeless man about how he could get help. With his shirt off to show shoppers and pedestrians his deformed arm (and thus be able to beg), and his eyes wide open with a look of despair, he quietly responded and said he would walk a couple blocks down to the center the next day.

That whole next morning, I was beside myself, wondering if when I got to work he would be there. Arriving at the hospital, I walked up the stairs, holding my breath, and sure enough, there he was, in the waiting room, fast asleep. I am sure his life is exhausting for him, and any time that he sits down with nothing pressing to do, he sleeps. Within a few hours the doctors looked at him and decided that they were going to try and do surgery on him. So now it is just a waiting game and we will have to see how things turn out.

I hope these two stories of simple acts of kindness inspire you to also do a simple act of kindness today. Good luck!

Sending smiles and a happy holidays from India,

Other photos from the week:

Remember this adorable little boy and his mom from the follow up camp I attended in November? Look below!
He got surgery! YAY!

Before and after and look below. 
2 weeks after his surgery! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

A couple of random thoughts on death... and recycling...

First, death. Although it is a depressing topic, I thought I would talk about the culture of death here. For some reason, several people from the center have been experiencing family deaths recently.

Whenever a death occurs, people always return to their remote villages. As an example, an intern in the child life department recently lost her mother. Her village is in northern India and is quite cold this time of year. When a family member dies in this village, the family must wear the same clothes for two weeks. This means that she must bathe in them and cannot dry them. I am constantly thinking of her because she is so skinny and she is wearing wet clothes in the cold.  

My roommate's friend's father died also. My roomate's friend is the oldest son, so as a result, he and his mom had to sleep and cook and eat in the same room for two weeks. He could not leave the house at all and could only eat fruit, milk, eggs, curd and a select group of vegetables. For the next couple of months, he cannot drink alcohol or hang out with friends late into the night. 

The traditions here go on and on and each village reacts differently to a death. India loves to celebrate. Death is a celebration of a person, honoring them using rituals that date far back in history.

On another note, this past weekend we visited the slum on Sundays as always. While we were driving to the slum, I saw three girls from the slum picking up trash along the road. As we were unloading, I went to find them so that they knew the food had arrived. They immediately stopped picking up trash, hoisted their bags on their backs, and happily walked with me to eat a delicious meal. When they went to set their bags down before eating, I walked with them to see exactly where they store the materials they collect. Of course, they were keeping the trash in their homes. And on the way to their homes I saw the community material drop off, which is where they ultimately take their trash for money.


I immediately e-mailed one of my environmental friends to say that while India has no formal recycling program, the Lakhtokia slum sure knows how to reuse. They will sell the bottles pictured below so that people can reuse them for water bottles. 

One of the girls who comes to the Sunday meals really wanted Kristin and me to come to her home. She lives on the train tracks but in a house, which is one room, above her dad's chai tea stand. Including Sima, her two parents, and two siblings, they live and cook and eat in this one room, which is the size of a closet. While I was there, I saw three rats and numerous cockroaches. Despite all of this, I think she will be Prime Minister of India one day. She loves to go to school and loves to show off her English. She is working so hard at English and it is so fun letting her practice. 

Sima... the future Prime Minister of India. 

Sima and her mom! 

A bed for all five of the family. 
I realized that she is one of the lucky ones. Yes, their house is not much, but compared to her friends who live right outside with nothing above their heads, it is a lot. You can tell she is so thankful and that she knows that her dad works so hard to support her family. 

Sending smiles from India,

A yummy Sunday meal. 
Passing out the chicken, which was also added to the menu. 
When passing out the chocolate, you gotta hide it behind your back. 
Chocolate was added to the menu this past Sunday! 

Yummy yummy chocolate. 
So happy about the chocolate! 
Wearing their new shoes that we gave them!  

Thursday, December 6, 2012


An administrator of Operation Smile India recently told me if you are living in India, you must do three things: 1. Learn a language (I am learning Hindi); 2. Take yoga classes (I just started); 3. Meditate (I think I will stick with the yoga right now).

There is a cultural community center down the street from my flat called Vivekananda Kendra. Inspired by a spiritual and active leader, the center has a library, yoga classes and other nice amenities. I heard that they have beginner yoga classes the first ten days of every month.

If you know me at all, I laugh a lot. So, the first class was a struggle as I had to hold in the laughter. I had no idea what to expect and before I knew it, I was saying "UUUUUUUUUUUmmmmmmm" and making other chants. Besides the chanting, we put ourselves in various yoga positions and inhale and exhale deeply.

The class lasts from 6:00-7:30 in the morning. Because it is a beginner class, the last 30 minutes we learn about yoga and what it has to offer. We also discuss how our “homework” went. Yes, we have homework to help guide us into creating yoga as a lifestyle. The first day, our assignment was to go around and say “Namaskar” to everyone instead of hello. The second day, we were supposed to say “yes” to any work that people asked us to do. The third day, we were asked to call a friend. And, the homework assignments continue in similar fashion.

At first, I was unsure about the class. I did not think it was physically challenging enough because the focus appeared to be more on yoga as a lifestyle then on a physical act like stretching. (However, this morning I woke up and my body was so sore I could barely get out of bed.) And although this is a problem for me, the lifestyle part is what most yoga-practicers focus on here. The teacher again and again has said, “Yoga is a lifestyle.” I am having a hard time believing that. I have completed my sixth class and have four more to go. After this, I can join the class upstairs, which I assume is a more intense yoga practice.

So far, I have learned that yoga is about leading a simple life. And I think living in Guwahati has taught me that. So maybe after more of yoga, I will learn about leading an even MORE simple life. My only challenge: to believe that there is more to it than just the physical.

At this point I certainly plan to continue going to the classes every morning. It is starting to get cold in Guwahati, so walking to the yoga with no one on the streets (which is weird) in the foggy, chilly atmosphere is nice. On top of that, you feel all limber and awake and relaxed after the hour of chanting and streching.

How about that downward dog? 

Sending smiles and "namastes" from India,

Below are some pictures and explanations from my week:

I went to the Northeast India model contest, which was held in Guwahati. The girl who won then goes to the all of India beauty contest. A girl working at the center was the MC and had some passes. Who would have thought that my first beauty pageant would be in Guwahati?
This little boy's name is Happy!  
Kisui Jeme (the twenty year old girl in the middle) was a volunteer/interpreter for the Silchar Medical Mission in September. After a bad burn ten years ago, her left hand became deformed and not usuable. She had no idea that Operation Smile treated such cases until she volunteered for us back in September. She came all the way to Guwahati for a surgery that will allow her to use her hand! What a great story. 
What a cutie. She is on the Cleft Care Center's nutrition program and has to gain 4 more kilograms until she can get surgery. Eat up!
Some of us went to guy buy Christmas decorations for the center. We were taken back to this tiny stores "warehouse." It was such a sight. The warehouse (which was a three minute walk up and down tiny alleys) was six times as big as the shop.  
It's Christmas time in Guwahati! Guwahati is so religiously diverse because it has a lot of immigrants from everywhere. Christianity is more common here than most other places, so Christmas decorations are easier to find. 
These workers sit back here all day making the shop's products, packaging them and taking inventory.

Christmas tree in my apartment... A beautiful Charlie Brown Christmas. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Catching up with celebrating

So it’s been a long time. Missions keep you quite busy and left me no time for writing on the blog.   

The last time I wrote, I was in the middle of my Mumbai trip. My last two days there, I saw the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Palace, ate in the famous Leopold Café, and made certain to see the beautiful architecture. Walking around I felt as if you could plop some of the buildings in Mumbai down in London and things would look eerily similar if not the same. The reason? The British built most of downtown Mumbai back in the day. Now, of course, Mumbai is BOOMING. Next to a historical building will be a massive skyscraper. What most surprised me about Mumbai, besides the number of slums, was the number of skyscrapers. Mumbai = tall buildings everywhere.
Taj Mahal Palace
Taj Mahal Palace
Taj Mahal Palace

Gateway of India
Gateway of India

A tourist hotspot: Leopold's Cafe
Leopold's Cafe

Leopold's Cafe... one of the many gun shots

Some Western food at Leopold's Cafe.
Woah! A starbucks?!
3 of the thousands of skysrapers in Mumbai. 

A Library founded in 1847.
Older architecture.

Notice the skyscrapers next to the old British building. 
Classic Mumbai street food

One very special treat in Mumbai was to get to see some friends from Nashville. It just so happened that at the same time I was to be in Mumbai, Charlie and Mary Cook, two friends from Nashville, would also be in Mumbai. It was such a fun night to reconnect with Nashvillians and eat delicious food. I brought along my friend, Olivia, from Sweden, whom I was traveling with, and we ate in their very nice hotel restaurant. They encouraged us to order whatever I wanted. It was the first Western food I had eaten in months and so I splurged and ate a salmon appetizer and then I had delicious cheese and tomato ravioli for my entree. Absolutely delicious! Mumbai was the last leg of the Cooks' trip and I loved hearing about their adventures as they had been travelling through India. The adventurous couple had journeyed from Delhi to Rajahsthan to Agra to Varanasi to South India and finally to Mumbai. Whew! Their trip sounded so amazing and I must visit these cities. I am so grateful for their generosity that night. It was so fun to talk and talk and I could not ask for a better visit from such special people. 
Me and Olivia at dinner with the Cooks. 
Thank you to the Cooks for a fabulous evening! 
After a great trip to Mumbai, I flew to Bhubenswar for an international mission. Bhubenswar is known as the city of temples, which makes sense because temples there are like Starbucks in the USA… every corner, every shape, every size. The team on the mission represented nine countries and performed 118 surgeries!

The patients were not as shy on this mission. They smiled a lot more and were more curious about playing with me. One memorable incident involved a 14-year-old boy who had a complete cleft lip. Before he got his surgery, he would not even lift his head to look me in the eye. After his surgery he confidently approached me to shake my hand and said thank you, looking directly in my eyes and everything. Even though missions are 15-hour days, they are filled with such moments as these. You are surrounded by energetic people who have traveled so far to care for others and witness transformations like these. Missions are so much fun! 

Bhubenswar mission
On Thanksgiving day (HAPPY LATE THANKSGIVING!), our team visited the Konark Sun Temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We ate a delicious lunch of freshly caught fish from the Indian Ocean. (Yes, I did put my feet in the Indian Ocean.) The temple was fascinating. It was built in the 13th century by the Lord Krishna’s son. It is called the Sun Temple because it has detailed sun clocks everywhere so that the people could tell time. Every centimeter on the temple is a piece of art, carefully crafted to depict a story. 

The Konark Sun Temple
One of the many clocks.
See the details? This art was on every square inch of the temple. 
With my favorite animal.
The team in front of the temple. 

Fisherman on the Indian Ocean.
A peek at my Indian Thanksgiving meal! 
Happy Late Thanksgiving from the Indian Ocean! 
At the Konark Sun Temple, a member of our team found a baby with a cleft lip. We convinced the family to come to the hospital in Bhubenswar as part of their visit to the Sun Temple. The next day, they showed up. I will never forget the look in the mom’s eyes when she walked in. She obviously loved her baby with all her heart, but in her eyes you could tell she worries every second about how her baby will live a normal life. For some reason, I kept running into the family throughout surgery week. Every time I saw them, I gave them a huge welcome with a smile and hug. Like all families they were nervous about the operation and had no idea what to expect.

When the beautiful mother saw her baby after the operation she just started crying. I saw them in post op and the mother was so grateful as she pointed to the lip, giving me a hug (which is rare for strangers to do in India) and smiling like I have never seen. I kept thinking about what would have happened to the baby if we had not seen the family at the Konark Sun Temple, but thank gosh that we did.  
The family we found at the Konark Sun Temple. 
I also got the chance to go to Puri, which is an hour and a half away from Bhubenswar. While there, I got to see the spot where Hindus believe the universe was created. Only Hindus are allowed inside the temple that has been built over the spot, and people were waiting 4-5 hours to get a one-second view inside it.
The Jagganath Temple in Puri. 
Some street food in Puri. It was delicious! 
The most well-known and celebrated festival in Orissa (which is the state surrounding Bhubenswar) is the Puri beach festival. It happened to be going on while I was there! Concerts and dances were held, the most famous sand artist in India came and built sand art, and the beach in general looked like Panama City spring break. Families in beautiful saris were taking family photos on the beach, men and boys were trying to jump the massive waves, camels were being walked on the beach in case you wanted a camel ride, and the place was just jam-packed with people dancing and screaming and being silly.

Camel's everywhere.

A glimpse of incredible sand art. 
If you cannot tell yet, India is a celebration 24/7. 
My last day in Bhubenswar, I took a walk on the beach by myself for around three miles and I found myself getting homesick. (Note: home being my home in Guwahati.) I love the beach: the sounds, the smells, the sights are all stunningly gorgeous. At the same time, the ocean can be so vast and daunting. I was surrounded by hundreds of people crowding around watching the sunset, with my feet in deep waters that holds millions of creatures. I was putting my feet in something that touches every continent. India can be overwhelming sometimes. 
Well, I am not quite sure what it was, but at that time I just wanted to be in MY bed so badly. I wanted to be back in a city that I knew, back with the familiar and comfortable.
 Sending smiles from India,
Hannah Dobie

 Other pictures from my trip:

The mission's final party.
The mission's final party. 
Some of the nurses from the mission team.