Monday, March 25, 2013

Renuka's love keeps growing

Yesterday, Menakshi (the child life assistant) and I traveled by bus and train to Nagaon, an area three hours east of Guwahati. The purpose of our trip was to visit Renuka. Remember Renuka? She is Guwahati Comprehensive Cleft Care Centre patient whose story is one of abuse and determination. (Click here to read the first story I wrote about her.) 
Menakshi, Menakshi's cousin and me holding Renuka in the nearby tea plantation.
Menakshi and I both got very close to Renuka before and after she came in for surgery, so we decided to go visit her again in her village. I have written many times about the brutal simplicity of village life. You grow the food you eat, you own two t-shirts and two pairs of pants, and you have a roof over your head if you're lucky. At that point, you are living the life. Renuka falls in this category.
The view from Renuka's house

Renuka's house
Menakshi, Renuka, and Menakshi's cousin
Renuka's house sits in a jumble of six to seven other houses. A five-minute walk away is another cluster of six to seven other houses. And the pattern continues. Prior to our visit, Menakshi called Renuka's neighbor to get the word to Renuka that we would be arriving between 2 P.M. and 3 P.M. Renuka had communicated back that she would DEFINITELY be there. In fact, when we arrived, she was waiting outside ready to greet us. After we hugged her and looked at her repaired lip, I noticed that a crowd had gathered. Everybody from the tiny neighborhood was in front of Renuka’s house: Menakshi and the foreigner had arrived!

Best friends forever. 
Renuka's neighbor
The crowd quickly showed up. 
Renuka's neighbor
Renuka’s uncle helped her by taking Renuka away from her abusive father. But her uncle could not fix Renuka’s relationships with other kids her age. The uncle could only do so much to make her life as normal as possible while living with a cleft lip. When Renuka’s Uncle took her in, everyone in the neighborhood thought of her as “the girl with the weird lip.” Kids tried to play with her but they always stared at her lip.
Renuka's village friends
Renuka’s life has totally changed since the surgery. It is evident that the neighborhood children play with her because they love her energy, spunk, and playful nature. They do not just play with her
because they feel sorry that she has a deformity. When they do play, they do not pay attention to her face. It's just not a big deal.

Renuka is now going to school and that is such a big deal. When I asked what she has learned, she said, “ABCs are my favorite but math, singing, and reading skills.” Wow, go Renuka! Her friend status at school? “I have a lot.”

Renuka and friends
Unfortunately, we were unable to visit with Renuka’s uncle because he had to work. However, her aunt was there with her baby boy. Renuka’s uncle and aunt are now her dad and mom. Her “real” mom or dad have not visited her since she had surgery and they do not plan on seeing her in the near future.
Renuka’s uncle and aunt support her in everything she does. Her aunt’s loving nature towards Renuka clearly shows that the aunt and uncle do not regret taking her in one bit.

Renuka, her aunt, and her baby cousin.
Renuka in her new dress
We brought a couple of gifts for Renuka, including two new dresses. She can be a girly girl when she's allowed to be one. She changed into them for the photos that we took. It was really special to see someone whose life in her natural habitat has totally changed because of the cleft lip surgery. She has
so many things to look forward to now. She is sharing love like it is nobody’s business.

The visit was such a positive one. And while we were in the area, Menakshi and I decided to go visit Menakshi's aunt and uncle and their family who live in a village near Renuka's. We stopped by their house and quickly decided we would just stay the night and not rush our visit. We walked around their
chicken farm, their sugar can farm, and the village itself. In this family, the everyone lives together (Indian tradition). There's the grandmother and grandfather, their one daughter and three sons, two of the sons' wives, and two grandchildren. The third son will have an arranged marriage by the end of this year. (This new wife will also move into the house). As for the daughter, she will get married in the next year or two and will move out.

Chicken hut (they had three of these)
Sugar cane
Sugar cane anyone? 
Menakshi's incredibly nice and welcoming family.
Girl photo!  
While on our visit, we journeyed into the “city” and bought some ice cream for a treat. When I returned to her relatives' home, people began to flood the house to see the foreigner. Saying it is rare for a foreigner to come to this area is an understatement. After two hours of people streaming in and out to
meet me, I was asked to go to houses to meet peoples' families and have tea and snacks. So off I went for three hours to five houses to have five cups of tea, five cakes and so on. Boy did my stomach feel disgusting after it was all over.

Menakashi's relatives' house only gets power from 6 P.M. to 10 P.M. And sleeping that night was so easy. It was so quiet that it was almost creepy. And with everything so dark and clear, you could clearly see the beautiful stars. When we were walking from house to house on our “people want the foreigner to come to their house tour,” I thought to myself that this life seemed so lonely. The creepy quiet, the constant working on the farm, your life so tightly bound by the ways of the small village. But the truth is that everyone's priorities seem so much more perfectly in place. Everyone spends way more time with family instead of watching television. Everyone spends way more time taking care of their fundamental needs instead of running around constantly stressed by things that really don't matter.

Getting water from the well to wash the dishes. 
Eating dinner by candle light, no power after 10 P.M.
Cleaned my plate :)
 When Menankshi and I were on the train the next morning going back to Guwahati, she said to me, “You and I going to visit Renuka means more than you can even imagine. It means the absolute world to her that we care that much.” Then she said, “And having five teas and five cakes is exhausting, but those people now feel so special inside. Just for us to visit this village excites them so much that they probably could not sleep last night.”

Love man. It matters more than you can ever imagine.

Sending smiles from India,

P.S. Our parting gift was a chicken from the chicken hut. They tried to give me an alive chicken but I polilitely declined as I told them I would not know what to do with this. Instead, they gave me a cut up chicken. Menakshi traveled on the train with a living chicken (talking and moving and everything).

The living chicken is about to get on the train.

More photos from the short visit: 
Can I move here please? 
Menakshi and the neighborhood
Train ticket booth
Riding the train home! 

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