November blog – The hygiene central

The birth of the hygiene central.

Two months in India. The appearant chaos is slowly making more sense. I think I understand why the traffic here is such a noisy experience. At home drivers honk their horns as if to say “get out of my way”, whereas in India they say “here I come!” . No wonder the honking is continuous. Everybody’s saying here I come here I come! The bigger the vehicle, the more magnificent and powerful is the horn. I got my share of traffic going from my house in Darjeeling to our project in Sonada In the mornings. It can take everything from 45 minutes to 2-3 hours, depending on the traffic jam. Who said the Himalayas was a quiet place?

Little Chimmy is the darling two year old greeting me in the mornings in the Tibetan family where I stay in Darjeeling. She loves to say how are you and thanks I’m fine in English. People in India also like to say hello. I was walking along the street one day when a man in his 40-s came up to me and asked if he please could shake my hand. We shook hands. Thank you! he proclaimed and gave me the biggest smile you can imagine. His joy knew no bounds. This could only happen in India, I thought. Somebody so overjoyed for a hello, for a connection. He didn’t even try to sell me anything.

The October work in the clinic has yielded good results. The dispensary is now much more functional and the nurses Ambika and Dolma are happy. Things are tidy, the medicine cabinet is  filled with needed medicines and dressings. There’s hot water in the doctor’s office, and Ganga Maya comes three  times a week to keep the clinic clean, under supervision of the nurses.  They in turn are having  supervision from nurse Helen visiting from Englang, sharing her skills at the clinic. She has wound healing as one of her specialities, and  is pleased with their nursing skills.

The hostel children come to the clinic after school and the whole place fills up with bubbly kids. They expose their wounds and skin problems that needs care from the nurses, who clean wounds, apply liniments and bandages.


The questionnaire to the doctor and nurses last month gave some very clear answers – the biggest problems are hygiene due to living conditions, stomach problems due to unclean water or food. And I get the creeps thinking about the children who have intestinal worms. Chance comes to my assistance. I learn about the “”worm-cycle” from a Dutch doctor I meet in a restaurant. The first thing to do is to teach the cooks about hand hygiene. If the cooks have worms, and don’t wash hands well after going to the toilet, the eggs can easily get into the food and the children get worms, and give them to each other. I wow to try to stop this, as I just can’t stand to think about it! We call the cooks for a meeting. They get their own soap and towels, and learn proper hand washing from Helen. The cheapest kind of medicine. We also have a meeting with the nurses, the hostel warden and the two hostel mothers (for the 49 smallest children) . We talk about boiling the drinking water for the children, as it comes straight from the river. A huge problem arises. No money for gas, just enough firewood to give the smallest children a bath once a week.  Under ever rock you turn, the no money-bug appears.  No money to by hygienic articles for the children. No money for socks and gloves. No money for cleaning detergent to wash the bathrooms in the girls and boys hostel… This no-money bug is really bugging.

I talk to the hostel warden, Lobsang, who gathers the new 20 children Shenpen will try to find sponsors for. When I come in the lunch break, the children all wait in line! I get close-ups of all of them, one more charming that the other.  Lobsang is a gentle man of slim build, who surprisingly tells me that he is a karate expert and was Dalai Lamas bodyguard for two years. Now he takes care of the children in the hostel. I become aware that most of the children really have nothing, and see many school uniforms and shoes that are full of holes.  I am sad to hear that he is forced to look for another job soon, since  he cannot feed his family on the 3000 rupies  he makes per month. The cooperative in Sonada doesn’t have the means to keep the staff…

The time has come to act on what I’ve heard. I take the hundred dollar donation for the children I got from my friend Corrine in Thailand in the summer, and go to the big bazaar in Darjeeling. I buy 70 tooth brushes, tooth paste, soap, shampoo and 30 colourful towels. The first ones to get the things are the teen age girls. I specially thought about how difficult it must be to have only cold water to wash with and no towel when you have your period… .We also invited them to come and wash with hot water in the clinic on their red days.  I talked with Shenpen on skype, and we made a very quick decision to use NOK 1000 to ensure that all the children get the most needed things. The next day I went back to the market. I have become good at bargaining by now. I get socks and gloves for 49 smaller children, as well as towels and tooth brushes.

The hostel mothers get the tooth paste. I ask one of them who speaks English to teach the children how to brush their teeth. But I can see in her eyes that she is probably not going to do it….. So I am very happy that my friends in Norway have sent the movie Karius and Baktus in English. We will show it in the big hall for all the children, and then have a tooth brushing session. I am really looking forward to that. Soon all the children will have the basic hygiene articles, and we hope to build up a fund that continually will ensure that when the soap is finished, there is more if you go to the nurses in the clinic. They will also give out cleaning things to the boys and girls hostel.  They have become the hygiene central, and will start having information meetings on hygiene in the school.

Shenpen has a skype conference, Lama Changchub in Siliguri, me in Darjeeling and Elisabeth and Ina in Oslo.  There they have found 14 new sponsors for the children the last month. We hope to find more. Lama Changchub and I report back from Sonada, the meetings we had with the new committee, the health needs found after meetings with the doctor and nurses. Shenpen renews the contracts of the medical staff and decide to sponsor the clinic with free medicines  for the hostel children, and send money for cleaner and cleaning materials every month.  We have a long discussion about the roof. Excactly how much slant does a roof need for the rain to flow off ? We decide to donate donate 75.000 rupies to fix the roof and thus save the building from drowning in rainwater and fungus.  DJ is in charge. They have done their research. I trust it will go well.

The water problem, the lack of dental check-ups, the unknown vaccination status of the hostel children, the lack of vitamins in the food leading to vitamin deficiencies are all long term problems to be solved, but the hygiene is very easy to do something with.  I remember a joke from one of my study books at the acupuncture college many years back. Question: “What is the secret of patient care?”. Answer: “The secret of patient care is caring for the patient”. You just have to do the needed thing. The deeper problems need some intelligence and long term planning. Cleaning the water is a huge challenge, cleaning the hands is very simple. And complicated enough under the circumstances, 150 children lining up to wash with cold water from one tap….

Nurse Ambika gets married. We are all invited to the wedding in Darjeeling. She is Christian and therefore follows the Western tradition of the white bride. She looks beautiful in her white dress behind her veil, marrying her young pastor. The ceremony is long and spirited. Then, when the couple have given each other the rings, and it is time for the kiss, the priest says that the tradition with the kissing hasn’t come to Darjeeling yet. So no kiss! I had to laugh, in my new and stylish salwar kamaaz, specially bought for the occation. Just to make the East-West balance complete.

The other nurse has to go to her yearly medical course in Dharamsala, so the clinic will close for a week or so. The roof work starts soon, and since I am not a roof expert, I see the time is right for a little retreat. I go down to Siliguri and spend some time with Lama Changchub and his cousin nun Jinpa. We have a good time.  And I wonder why I so often seem to end up together with monks and nuns. “You are kind of monastic yourself, says Lama Changchub”. Yes, kind of, but not completely!  With  ticket to Goa  in hand, I board the train to Calcutta, arriving many hours late, getting really ripped off by a taxi driver who could take a sky high prize for the crazy ride to the airport, reaching the plane  by one second.

I find it very interesting to read a selection of the local and national newspapers on airplanes in India. The topics are quite different than at home. High rate of crib death in babies due to malnutrition among mothers, lack of medicines in the hospitals, the question of ultrasound and uneven ratio between men and women due to killing of female fetuses. The wise voices say  the all too obvious “we cannot have a society without women”.  And what about this: policemen at a police-station say there are  lots of rats underneath the station building, and lots of cobras that come to eat the rats. “We leave the station as often as we can, but we are worried for the inmates who cannot leave”, says the police officer. They have filed a complaint to the authorities, who answer that it will take 6-12 months to look into the matter…

Arriving In Goa is always a pleasure. The skin becomes soft, the hair curls, and the beaches look like heaven until the eyes get used to them.  Everybody seems to remember you from the last visit. I am continually impressed by the capacity Indians have to remember faces.  I  just hope I don’t meet the guy who jump right at you and sticks a q-tip into your ear before you know what happened. He claims to be a professional ear cleaner, with a diploma.

I walk around with my little pocket Rumi and pocket Tagore, and get nourished by their winged words in the dashing sunshine.

Chance meetings on the beach. Life  is full of surprises. Sometimes only love is, no matter what has been or what is to come.

The rose is a great deal more than a blushing apology for the thorn, says Tagore.

Music sessions at sunset in Arambol, lots of people come.  I bring a little rhythm egg stuck away in my suitcase. How enjoyable is that for a sociable being like myself.  And I rush to the best Italian restaurant around. If you want good food, find out where the Italians go! It is great to feel safe to eat some fresh salads with the fish and spaghetti ala vongole.

In the nights I dream about the project work, like my mind is working on it even in sleep. How can we find money for winter clothes, shoes and vitamins? I start planning my return to the mountains. Having a quiet siesta on the balcony, I write myself a little poem:

Do not try to get to heaven in this life

Seek to bring heaven down to the lowly places


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