Monday, June 27, 2011

appreciating the small moments

It is Saturday morning; I am visiting Mandiram for the first time since leaving. Manna is as precious as ever, and, I am happy to say, remembers my name. She asks in her sweet little Manna voice, "Maggie chechi evide a?" (Where is Maggie chechi?). "Innu free alla," I tell her. "Program unde." (She's not free today, she has a program). I tickle her and then put her on the ground, off to search for Mathew Uncle.

I find him in his room, as expected. He is cradling his paralyzed right arm in his lap, as he always does. His face lights up--"I thought you had gone back to America already," Mathew Uncle says. "No, not for another three weeks." I remind him that I've been back at Buchanan for the past month, and tell him what I've been doing there. Our topic of conversation then begins to meander every which way, and Mathew Uncle honors his reputation of being able to philosophize about any subject, and at length. I ask him about his opinion on women in the ministry, not because I am expecting or wanting a certain answer but because I genuinely like to know what people think, why they think the way they think, and how their experiences have shaped their unique opinions--not just about that subject, but any subject in general.

"That's an interesting question," Mathew Uncle says. "I might have to consult George." "Who is George?" I ask, puzzled. He smiles and his face shows that he is searching for an explanation. "George is my alter other personality, you could say. Sometimes I don't know what I think about something, so I have to ask George." I am thoroughly amused by this information and the conversation continues on; after about thirty minutes, I take my leave of Mathew Uncle. And George, too, of course.

I visit more of the appachens and amachees, lastly going to see Babu Kochamma, one of the paying residents. She laughs more than she speaks, as usual, and I find myself remembering the last time I visited with her like this. It was both Maggie's and my last day at Mandiram, and we gave a photo of the two of us to several of the appachens and amachees with whom we had become especially close, each one with a personal message on the back. Sitting in Babu Kochamma's room now, I notice that photo displayed above her TV. Eventually I tell her that I must go; she follows me out to her porch and, tightly gripping my arm and looking up into my face, exhorts me to "please remember me; I am a widow and have no children of my own." I promise her that I will, always.

It is Saturday afternoon; I am standing with Jim in front of Jaimol Kochamma's front door. We have just come from partaking in one of our favorite treats, after having departed from Mandiram: coffee and a donut at Ann's Bakery. Before leaving the bakery, which is near Kochamma's house, I thought, you know, this might be the last time I can visit Jaimol Kochamma. Why don't I stop by and bring her and her family some donuts? Now that we are standing in front of her door, however, I wonder if this is a good idea. "Jim, what if they are sleeping??" It is around 3pm, not an unlikely nap time, and the house is quiet.

Getting no encouragement or helpful advice from Jim (thanks a lot, Jim!), I take my chances and ring the doorbell. I breathe a sigh of relief as it is promptly answered by Jaimol Kochamma's husband, M.P. Joseph Achen. "Hi, Achen!" I say. "We came to visit." He graciously shows us in, and we find Jaimol Kochamma there, too. I hand her the box of donuts, accidentally with my left hand. Achen gently points out my error, but not in a reproachful way--they lived in the US for several years and know that differentiating between which hand you use to give someone something is not a practice there. I laugh at myself, thinking that after ten months I would remember not to do that. Like Earth Kitt, "I am learning all the time--the tombstone will be my diploma."

We spend a few minutes chatting with Achen and Kochamma; Kochamma and I discuss next Saturday's farewell meeting. It will be a chance for the three volunteers, our supervisors, and the YAV India Program Coordinator, Thomas John Achen, to come together and have a formal 'sendoff' meeting, during which time we reflect on the positives of the year and talk about how to move forward and pave the way for the next volunteers. Sitting in Jaimol Kochamma's living room, however, we decide that there is no need for her and I to attend the meeting, as I am not leaving. Thomas John Achen, you have hereby been informed ;-)

It is Saturday evening; the power is out. I am sitting on the front steps of my hostel, taking advantage of what little daylight remains in the company of several of the TTC and Buchanan boarding students. There is the excited talk and laughter of which only teenage girls are capable, and I feel complete contentment as I enjoy the uncommonly cool breeze, a downpour on the horizon. I listen to the chatter and with astonishment realize, I actually know what they're saying.

Eighth grade Shanu runs up to us, a piece of twine wrapped around her head, adorned with a hibiscus flower. She dramatically stops in front of the group and in her most bellowing, theatrical voice, proclaims, "I AM QUEEN SHANU. MADI CHECHI, YOU COME WITH ME!"

I decide to defy Her Majesty. "Venda!" (no!), I yell back. Queen Shanu jumps up and down, stomps her feet, and shakes her head in rage, the hibiscus flower flying out of her crown in the process.

Anu, Athira, and Vava decide I need a new hairstyle and set to work without delay. Joshmi takes the earrings out of her ears and puts them in mine. Shiva Renjini sticks a pottu on my forehead; with this finishing touch, I am pronounced sunthari (beautiful). A princess in Queen Shanu's court.  

"Love builds up the broken wall
and straightens the crooked path.
Love keeps the stars in the firmament
and imposes rhythm on the ocean tides.
Each of us is created of it
and I suspect
each of us was created for it."
-Maya Angelou

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