Sunday, 23 November 2008

At the orphanage, DIDI is my new name

I love my little apartment Bandhu has rented out for me. I ring the doorbell and someone opens the big gate for me. I have one of those big keys, the medieval kind, which opens to one small room, with a bathroom and a "kitchen." There's no shower, so I use a bucket to dump water from the faucet over my head; there's also no toilet, only a hole in the ground, but it's actually OK :) I like my little room to myself.
Thursday, June 5th
I have a new name: Didi. In Hindi it means "big sister," and it's what every little girl calls an older girl, even if it's not her sister. So, I am not Julia anymore, I am "Didi! Didi! Didi! Come herrrrrre chaya chaya chaya Didi!"
Me and Nicole head to the girls' orphanage today. We sit on the carpet as all the girls wander in and crowd around us, so excited for a new person. I tell them my name and they all want to touch me! For real! Nicole is already so comfortable with them...She chats with them while they just sit around and adore her. We all talk and gossip for a while...Well, they gossip in Hindi and I just smile like an idiot. Soon we go upstairs to a barren room, with other rooms nearby. The children were coming out the freakin' woodwork! Everywhere I turn around, a new child showed up. But they have BIG white smiles and love to laugh laugh laugh.
Chavla (Lisa) is the big sister ("Didi") of the house. I believe she's about twenty or twenty-one, and grew up in the orphanage but studies outside of it now. She comes up to me and asks me politely to teach her French. "French?" I ask her! She looks at me with such determination on her face. I have never seen anyone so excited and eager to LEARN. We go through her exercise book; I pronounce the words for her, she repeats them and writes the sounds in Hindi into her notebook. Sometimes I'll get her to repeat a word three or four times, and she still doesn't get it quite right but I encourage her anyways, like "Good! You got it! Great job!" ...And she smiles at me, does that little Indian head nod to the side and says "Ok, one more?" She is positively radiant and I love her hunger for knowledge. This is the kind of girl who deserves a scholarship to a university; I wish I could provide more opportunities for her.
When Lisa has to leave to go teach the young girls downstairs, the others grab my hand and we all make paper airplanes outside and eat crackers. There is one little girl (who I thought was a little boy for the longest time! Then I realize that's it's a girl, I mean duh it's a girl orphanage, but they shave everyone's hair for lice) who is so so cute and makes me laugh. We run around the rooftop together, flying our paper airplanes and laughing laughing. Everyone is so so excited I'm there that it keeps me upbeat the whole day. We run to every corner of the rooftop where they show me the houses and temples nearby. There is a beautiful tree that hangs a bit over the big rooftop that is dripping with bright red fruit. Yum!
Later Lisa comes back and we do more French lessons together. She has big round glasses that kind of make her look like an old lady! We kind of give up on the French and just talk and talk and talk on the floor with the other 13 and 14 year old girls. I ask them their favorite Bollywood actors and actresses, their favorite Bollywood movies, what they want to be when they grow up, their fav. American actresses....The little girls all crowd around my lap and we all read a vocabulary picture book.

I tell them I like dancing and we all run over to another room to blast the music! At first I thought they would all be dancinggg and show me some moves and show off, but no! They were all too shy!! Some of the little ones dance with me and the other slowly ease into it- the big girls refuse. I am surprised how shy they are here, in front of each other and in front of me. Soon I was just making up my own moves and we are all laughing, laughing, laughing.
It's lunchtime now and about 8 of them grab my hand and pull me down to the first floor. It is amazing how well I get by with them off just hand gestures. Only a few of them speak English, but somehow we all manage to communicate by facial expressions, body language and hand gestures. It's amazing how well humans can communicate without sharing a common language.
For lunch we all sit on mats and they slide out big buckets of rice, lentils and yogurt. Adi is the boy who lives across the street but comes here regularly to hang out with the girls. He has a flashy white smile and is quite the ladies' man, despite being only like ten years old. He's wearing an American Eagle polo and has quite the attitude with the ladies. He slides the bucket around the room and slops the food on to every plate.

I can tell all eyes are on me as we eat our meal. Every time I look up, I make eye contact with someone. I have trouble maintaining my appetite and not focus on what I'm eating. Plus, I haven't gone to the toilet since I got here! That's like 5 days, ouch. And am now feeling so constipated from the rice and chapatti and naan for like a week straight. After lunch we sit downstairs on the carpet and watch terribly bad, dramatic (but amazing at the same time) Indian soap opera and gossip some more. Soon after a rickshaw comes to pick up me and Nicole and take us to the Sector 10 market for MEHANDI! We both get beautiful henna designs on both sides of our left hand. We walk up and down through the outdoor market, alllllll eyes are on us. We wait in a bakery, away from the stares, for an hour waiting for the mehandi to dry and waiting for Annie. We both talk about being summer nannies and Nicole gives me some great advice on how to deal with Sam at age 12. She tells me about the magic of Costa Rica and how she plans on volunteering in Africa next summer, either Ghana or Kenya.

When we returned by motor rickshaw back to Bandhu's, the streetchildren are already here with their notebooks out. I work with the most adorable little boy; we sing our ABC's together and write our letters; I teach another little one how to write the alphabet. This is the only schooling they'll receive.
At night, me and Annie head to the market with Reena (Bandhu's sister-in-law) and Vidit (her 2-yr-old son) to pick out some fabric for my suit. I go to two fabrics shops in the market and look at alllll different colors and patterns, and choose one that has a white top with flowers and blue bottom. Actually, now that I think about it, I really hate it :( I got so overwhelmed by the storeclerk who was pulling out so many for me to choose from- I freak out and just choose one. Next stop, we buy some Frooooti juice for Vidit, my little monster. He is not even 2 and a half, and is SO smart. He understand English and does things like turn off the TV and lights for his mother when she asks him. He runs and teeters all the way to the market, like a little spinning top. He loves : dirt, motorcycles and tractors. Whenever one passes by, he points and jumps up and down. He always comes right up to my face and says very quietly "Apka naam kia hai?!" (What is your name?) and "Where's Emmy?" - Emmy is a volunteer who just left who's he's obsesssed with !
On the way home from the market, we stop at the tailor and he takes my measurements for my suit- Indian style. He takes his little tap and measures my waist, my leg, my hip, my bosom, my shoulders. His little shop is in an alleyway guarded by stray dogs, this tiny little hole in the wall. But apparently he's popular in the marketplace because there are always women in there.
We stop at Reena's friend's house where we sit around and crack open litches and eat the white fruit inside. So good :) We eat freshly sliced mango and peaches....and play, always, with Vidit. At night, me and Bandhu make vodka and Limca drinks and stay up talking (about GC, again.)

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