Hanging at Aashray, Indian women don’t like to smile in photos!
And just like that, my month in India has come to an end. I am now here in Nepal embarking on a different journey, though with a similar flavor. It has been a few weeks since my last post. There were a few things going on in my world. When you create your own project such as this, all the initiative has to come from you, too. So when I wasn’t working directly doing acupuncture, I was busy planning the next clinic or getting supplies or what have you. When the time came to sit and write, I was wiped out. And now in Nepal, you seem to have either the internet working OR the power. Not to mention the cord to my tablet went bad and what a fiasco to try to find another!!! Then I got super sick from who-knows-what and was in bed for three days just trying to keep water down. But now that all is well, I have some time, a smidgen of internet, and an unpredictable power supply. So here goes…
There is so much to say about my time in India. I thought that writing a blog each week would avoid this overwhelm but I think this is just it: India is intense and there is so much to reflect on that only time will allow. For now I will give you some of my reflections on this last month…and like most things in life, the stories and experiences while there will ultimately unfold over time.
In my month in Delhi, I was able to treat almost every girl or young woman at Aashray at least once, if not 2 or 3 times each! The girls who had the most difficult medical problems I was able to focus on and really take time with their cases. I noticed a lot of similarities in challenges among the girls and so decided to do a “workshop” where I was able to address them all at once about my concerns. We played a game of Jeopardy (of which no one had heard of before) and the categories were Food, Drink, Exercise, and Healthy Mind. You can see where I was going with this! Some of the questions I had asked were: What shall I do if my friend tells me she wants to hurt herself? And: True or False? Frooty is a good substitute for water. (Frooty is a boxed juice full of high fructose corn syrup that you can find everywhere in India.) They had lots of fun and the older girls got quite competitive! In the end, all teams won and I bought a bouquet of 50 red roses to hand out to 50 VERY excitable young women!
Me and Shankhamala, my fabulous translator!
The girls were all working in teams to come up with the answers.
I had asked them to take notes on what they were learning to post in their rooms.
After the workshop, I had the girls help me make their Five Flower, flower essences that Rebecca’s Apothecary in Boulder had donated. So they helped me fill the glass bottles, write all the names of the girls on stickers and then put them on the bottles. We put drops of the mother tincture in, sealed up the bottle and then shook them up together while they laughed and cracked jokes with one another. They had never heard of flower essences before and so it was a bit perplexing translating the purpose of this “medicine”. I didn’t want to speak of “strengthening the spirit” if anyone were to be thinking of ghosts…but in the end they understood what I was alluding to. We called it Medicine for the Heart and they were to take it every day and several times a day when they were feeling particularly “emotional”. They were so extremely delighted to each have a bottle; the staff received bottles as well. This was something just for them…that they could be in charge of and it made them so happy. They all wanted me to take pictures of them holding the bottles!
Just before the chaos ensued when it was time to pass them out!
And working in the slum communities was particularly potent. Women were having amazing responses to NADA protocol (ear acupuncture). One woman exclaimed with the help of a translator, “I have had this headache for many years now and no one has been able to help but I got one treatment and it went away!” Another woman said, “I want to come every week. I have body pains and especially in my knees and after the first treatment I walked home and my knees were not painful anymore. Now after my second treatment I am feeling even less pain.” These women were noticing changes right away. Even when it was time for me to come around and remove needles, many people would wave me away because they were so relaxed and they just wanted to stay that way. It made me wonder when the last time was that they were able to relax in community like this, if ever.
Me and Gerlinde, giant-hearted soul.
I met a wonderful German Doctor in India named Gerlinde and she and I teamed up for a day of teaching and doing acupuncture in the slum communities. There were groups of children in the morning and again in the afternoon and a large group of women in the middle of the day. Gerlinde was teaching the little ones how to brush their teeth and wash their hands properly. Each child had the opportunity to practice with guidance and then were gifted toothbrushes, toothpaste, and bars of soap at the end of the day. The oldest child was 11and the youngest was 3 or 4.
The children could not wait to get up in front of the room!
Everyone received a snack and a photo before heading home with their new skills.
Such a happy and attentive group of kids! They stole my heart!
Gerlinde was also talking to the women about gynecological health. One of the biggest reasons for infection in these women is the reuse of unclean rags. These women have simply had no education around these kinds of things. The very first question asked in the group was, “can you tell me why I bleed every month?” Just to give you an idea of their level of education around their bodies. But now they were given the opportunity to ask any questions they had and there were some great ones! They laughed a lot since these topics were extremely taboo to speak of. I have many photos of the women holding their shawls over their faces laughing hysterically while talking about sex and symptoms of menopause. Their laughter reached an entirely new volume with the mentioning of the importance of keeping their husbands genitals clean, too as a means of self-care. So even though there was lightness and laughter in the conversations, the information they were able to receive was invaluable. …
Laughter ensues… the children sleep sweetly.
I cannot describe to you what it is like to be surrounded not only in such poverty but also extreme oppression. Many of the places I went in India I would think to myself, ” wow, these women have no idea they have the right to exist” and would get corrected, “these women DO NOT have that right…they have no rights here”. That’s because they exist only in relationship to their fathers, husbands, and children. And while the women, men, and little ones loved the acupuncture treatments and were insistent that I return, I think the majority of the healing for them came from someone just showing up (in this case, me), being willing to walk through their neighborhoods, look them in the eyes, give them a smile and be kind to them. And while I have many ideas about returning, following up, teaching classes and doing trainings, etc., I keep being reminded of how simple a healing exchange can actually be.
My one wish for all the women and children I worked with in India is that they could somehow learn to love themselves, just as they are, even with all the limitations imposed on them.
When we have self-esteem, we feel hopeful if not a sense of possibility in ourselves. Some may say, “well that seems dangerous to instill in these women and children because their situations ARE impossible.” I would beg to differ. The situations and the oppression may not change on the outside during their lifetime, but their internal worlds are private. And they are often the one thing that is truly their own.
When we have confidence in ourselves, we more easily set good boundaries because suddenly we care about what we let in. And without the power to create physical boundaries around their bodies or their children or their homes, they could learn to set energetic boundaries around their emotions and their beautiful, resilient spirits. And hopefully one day they will have the opportunity to see that what has happened to them and the suffering they have had to bear, it isn’t personal, they didn’t do anything wrong and they didn’t deserve that. I hope one day they will see that they are carrying the collective burden of MILLIONS of women in that country and around the world. And I can’t tell you how beautiful it is to witness them getting a taste of this while sitting in community, sipping clean water, and discussing their health concerns (some for the very first time).
Self-love is not something we can teach, unfortunately. But it is something we can practice and live by example. So as with most things in life, our work starts at home, in our own hearts and in our capacity to love ourselves. When we do this, we, too open to possibility. After a mere month in India, I feel that is what the world needs most right now. And my hope for all of us back home, is that we can use our self-love to keep reaching out and serving something greater – even if it’s as simple as a smile. It is greatly impactful, I promise.