Blog: Get the children warm – and other stories

November is always a busy month working for Shenpen in Sonada. The winter cold is creeping in, and there are always hostel children and monks who do not have warm clothes. It actually feels painful to see the little ones in their flipflops without socks or anything warm as I myself come in many layers of wool, long warm leather boots and thick winter jacket. Still it’s cold, as the dampness of the realm of the clouds is penetrating, and there is no heating inside. Or if you have a heater, you have to sit right in front of it, as the heat easily disappears out through all the holes in the walls.

Most people also live straight on the concrete floor without any carpet on it… Except now in the two big hostel rooms where around 40 of the smallest children live, where Shenpen made wooden floors last year. This is where I have been giving acupuncture to the hostel staff in the mornings, the warmest place around. In the clinic it is just too cold to even consider rolling up your pants to your knees… There are many health problems due to cold and damp and the other hazards of India, like bad sanitation and germs lurking everywhere.  We had good talks in the acupuncture sessions, with the patients lying in the hostel beds. Soon the school children started coming back for lunch, looking at the needles with big eyes.

I hadn’t really thought to get clothes this year for the bigger hostel children, as they looked as if they were ok.  Until I met 13 year old Tsomo one day on the road. She came with me a few rounds around the 8 stupas, where I often do kora in the afternoons. A very blessed place made by the old Kalu Rinpoche. We got talking, and I asked Tsomo – Where is your mother? She said – I don’t know. Oh. – And where is your father? – I don’t know. Oh oh. Both parents had left, got married into new families, and the child from the previous marriage was left behind with distant relatives who didn’t send her to school . I want to put her in my pocket.  Imagine how that must feel, to be a child abandoned by both parents. I was so sorry I had asked. And Tsomo’s hand was so cold. It turned out she didn’t have any warm clothes, so I took her home and put a hood jacket on her, much too big. The next day I went to Darjeeling and got her all she needed from Shenpen. What luck to work for a humanitarian organization.

That same afternoon Tsomo brought another girl, Choden, also 13 years old, to our door. Choden was wearing a big shawl, like she did every day. I never thought anything of it, since she also wears an umbrella in the sunshine, as none of the other children do, and a chopstick in her hair, so I just thought she had a special style. It turned out she had only t-shirts to wear under her shawl. I had to go to Darjeeling again, and then again and again, as 18 children from the big hostels didn’t have inner wear, jackets and sweaters. It’s a pleasure to find them good things, but in the middle of the piles you have to bargain, then get the receipt pad up, and get the merchants to sign. A few of them cannot write, so they have to get a friend or their child to sign it… And then getting all the things to the chaotic taxi stand and wait for the shared taxi to go back, squeezing in like sardines with all the packets stuffed on top. Indians have enormous patience. I, unfortunately, have much to learn in that respect.

Urgyen and I have been living in the Tibetan settlement for a year now, after we had to move last year.  A very safe place, really, with good neighbours all around, but a little bit vicious dogs. Except the white one always lying on our door step, our Guardian who follows me wherever I go. The elderly speak Tibetan to me, and I answer in funny sentences that are a mix of Tibetan and Nepali and English.

Ladies making pangden outside our door

Going down in the settlement to the clinic, offices, playroom and hostels, we always have to pass one old nun sitting in the alley on her toilet seat outside, where the suns never shines.  No toilet inside. 87 years old. Her struggling niece trying to take care of her. Meeting the old lady you don’t really know if she is smiling or crying, her expression is so moving. So full of something.  At least now she is more warm as Shenpen could help her with warm clothes and slippers, medical things and pillows for her bed, little things to make it more easy. And plastic for her floor. And home visits by our nurse. The family felt relieved. How difficult to be elderly in a country without benefits.

India is so full of situations and stories so different than home. One early morning, as I was finally getting to do my morning meditation and Urgyen was doing his offering bowls, someone called through the window. Could we come down to the Petrolpump and help an old man? It seemed to be urgent. We went down to find and old, thin, cold man who had slept outside and almost died from cold. He had come from Nepal to find his son in Darjeeling 3 days before. But he didn’t find his son, and had used up all his money, so he started walking back. An almost impossible task for that worn out man, so very far. Reaching Sonada, he fell asleep outside, and some good people found him ice cold in the morning,  gave him food and collected money for him, but it was not enough to get him to Nepal. So they came for us. We were happy to put him in a taxi and money in his pocket. A gift from my fathers wife for my birthday. The old man went home in a dignified way, he even had a white khatak around his neck that a nice passing lady blessed him with.  Poor people are often treated badly in India and Nepal, looked down upon, seen as more or less worthless, so that khatak looked very shining. I hope he wore it all the way!

Another special story came out of Chokey one Saturday night. She is about the only Tibetan woman in Sonada I can have a rum and coke with on a Saturday night, usually the women don’t drink. But the men certainly get enough! We had just done a deworming session with Shenpen’s health worker Rinzin for more than hundred children. Chokey got a little sentimental and remembered her dear belated father, how he more than 40 years ago had carried her on his back all the way to Darjeeling, when she was so sick with worms that she could hardly walk. They used to eat uncooked meat from Tibet… She recalled the biggest horror when worms came up through her throat, and she called out Pala! Pala! Help me!  In Darjeeling she immediately got medicine, and not long after, while she was sitting on her father’s back going towards Chowrasta, the main square in Darjeeling, she had to come down, and out came more than 20 worms. Her father had counted them. She mostly remembered the fantastic feeling of jumping along the road after that. What an experience for a little girl! I am so happy I learned about the easy medicine for intestinal worms, and how it has to be taken regularily since the risk of reinfection is high in areas of bad sanitation. Approx 1,2 billion people in the world suffer from intestinal worms, mostly in Asia and Afrika, and mostly children. In the 1850s it was still common ailment in London… Now it feels very good to be able to do something about it. Our little clinic is giving health talks on hygiene and sanitation, toothbrushing as well as hepatitis, diabetes, hiv/aids, hypertestion etc. 36 monks from Kalu Rinpoche’s monastery recently came down to learn about tooth brushing. It was amazing to hear that many of them never had such a lesson before. I was happy to see that they were wearing the socks they got from Shenpen. Hopefully the longjohns too, tenkte hønemor.

It was a good autumn with the children. On a bright sunny day Urgyen and I took  the smallest children on a long nature walk. 65 came along! Then we took the bigger children, 96 all together, in 11 rented shared taxis up to Tiger Hill, a viewpoint where you can see the Kunchenjunga mountain range with Everest sticking up in the north west, and Sikkim, Bhutan and the Silk Road going from Kalimpong to Tibet. The children danced. The hostel warden and Tibetan teacher rocked,  I captured Sangye’s wonderful smile:.

Leaving Sonada for winter season in Nepal, I feel very happy that my neighbours will have a new toilet to use, where there is hot water. Hardly anyone in the settlement have their own toilet.  This autumn we tiled our back yard bathing room in beautiful blue and installed a hot water tank. So nice to finally have a place to wash, even if it not really finished. The workers disappeared. Happens in India…  It is such a pleasure to give Kelsang, DJ’s wife, the key when we are in Nepal. Kelsangs hands are too cold when she does her washing. Just as I remember my mothers cold red hands when she was hanging the washing in the icy polar winds in Hammerfest in my childhood. Lucky me that I can finally do something about it.

Yeah, the little things we can do something about. That’s really something joyful. At least we can do something about something, as they say around here.