Alright, finally time to get myself caught up and that means you too!
As I mentioned before, we arrived yesterday morning and met our supervisor, H., and one of the organizer’s mothers, Sulo. She is the president of Handi-Care International (the organization that we are here through) and she is well respected and loved by the community. I’ll definitely do a little bit more digging. I met her originally in November when E. and I went to Brampton for a Handi-Care International fundraiser, and stayed with her son, who has been our main contact for the project.
(Side note, Im choosing to keep the names of the individuals who are attending as students and in a supervisor role as initials to protect their professional identities; the individuals at ASSA I may choose to change their names or also use initials depending on the circumstances).
After settling in and unpacking, we headed to breakfast. We started our tour of the grounds with Ram (who is the head physio here, and also in charge of daily operations), then were whisked into the Pongal celebrations; we met other physiotherapy students who were from a nearby university and ended up in SO MANY selfies. This poses an interesting challenge for us as foreigners; we are clearly not from the area and many people are curious about where we’re from, want a photo etc. We were told by Ram prior to our arrival to be mindful of the photos we take with clients, as it creates a snowball effect and everyone will want a photo, and if we say no to clients after already taking photos with some, it creates the illusion of favouritism and can hurt clients’ feelings, even if it is unintentional. So, best not to say yes in the first place.
Anyways, back to Pongal. There was chalk drawings, called Kolam, drawn using rice flour and different colours, prepared by the women. From there, a sweet rice (called Pongal), with coconut pieces, was prepared over a fire and shared with everyone gathered.
There was also a game, basically like a pinata, where people are blindfolded and swing at a clay pot filled with water and confetti. The pot is suspended from the roof of two buildings by a rope, held by two men. We each had a turn, and S. was the only one of us successful at breaking it! Many other people went up, and the men holding it provided some great laughs by moving the clay pot up and down when a person was going to swing; definitely added an extra challenge!
After the Pongal celebrations, and lunch with Solu, we continued our tour the grounds with Ram, and visited the various areas of ASSA. ASSA has 30 acres of land, not all of which is developed. Some of the grounds are dedicated to their 40 cows, which are used for milk which is then made into yogurt for meals. The other areas of ASSA include (but not limited to):
-vocational training areas
-special education/early intervention
-spinal cord injury unit
-Elementary school and distance learning courses
I’ll flush these areas out a bit more; there were some observations and things I noticed that I havent entirely figured out how to articulate. Stay tuned!
Moving on. Outside of our building, there is a shrine where prayers seemingly happen daily. Its so detailed and beautiful (as I feel many things in this area are!). Peacocks also live on the grounds, and we’ve seen a few running around. There were SO many things to see, and so many people to meet; its going to take me a while to get acquainted with everything and remember people’s names. Im trying to remind myself that it’s day 2 and there’s no way I will remember everyone, but I feel like it is important to make an effort.
After our tour, we all headed back for a power nap, and then finished the day with dinner. It was an early night for all of us; the jetlag was full force by this point.
Today we went through the OT closet (which is really a small room in the Physio building) and spoke with H. about various cognitive assessments. It was really interesting, and helpful, to hear about her experience as a supervisor and clinician, and how she assesses her clients’ cognitive abilities in various contexts, and when a formal assessment or screening may or may not be appropriate. These observation skills are so vital, especially in a place where we do not share the same language as our clients, and thus cannot use verbal communication as the only indicator of understanding and processing (which is still the case at home, but just adds an extra layer of complexity).
This afternoon we went to Tankasi by “auto”, which is a small motorized rickshaw. Typically there is room for 3, but we managed four (myself, E., S. and H!). It was a tight fit, but thankfully the ride to Tankasi was only 10-15 minutes. We passed by a lot of livestock on the road (cows and goats), and the road was busy with people on motorcycles, mopeds and other autos. Especially in the city, people use their horns often and the air is punctuated with people announcing their presence. The horns are used more often to signal to others that you’re “here!” and to be mindful of you and less so as a signal to other drivers that they are driving poorly, like they do at home. Often times the roads were so narrow that we were passing pedestrians and other autos with maybe 6″ of clearance between us. There are so many people living in the area, and the relative poverty, at least by North American standards is so humbling. I was in awe of the women dressed in beautiful saris and we got many curious looks from those passing by. After exchanging money at the Western Union, we headed to the temple. It was AMAZING. To enter, you need to remove your shoes (as in many Indian buildings) and then give them to a shoe minder; basically like coat check for your sandals. The temple itself was full of so many intricate details, and the size of it… just awe inspiring.
We were also approached by a few people asking for money; this is to be relatively expected as foreigners are assumed to have money. This part is hard for me, and its challenging to say “No”. But similarly, it could open a Pandora’s box, and have unintended consequences, despite my best intentions to help whomever is asking… There may be people who disagree with me, but at this point, this is the perspective and experiencing I am living.
Many shops were closed for Pongal, but our driver found us an open supermarket where we could buy snacks (chips, sweets, cookies etc) and I bought face wash and a razor, because my forgetful self didnt pack those things. We also bought fruit from a roadside vendor, I bought 6 oranges and 4 apples for 190 rupees, which is about $3 US. SO CHEAP. The cost difference in food here is incredible; it makes the food at home seem like highway robbery. The town itself seemed to be buzzing; it was fairly busy and crowded. I cant imagine what a larger city like Mumbai would be like. Im so grateful to be in a relatively remote area!
We’re off to dinner shortly, and then going to another temple tomorrow before kicking off our official duties on Monday. The temple tomorrow has 500 steps to the top… my legs are sore just thinking about it. More to follow!