Diary of a Complementary Therapist

What’s On in Bhopal 1
Sambhavna, November 17 2013, 07:30 – I have just arrived at the Sambhavna clinic in Bhopal, for my second visit. It is a warm morning by the standards of an Englishman but getting that autumnal chilliness for the local people. It was almost exactly two years ago to the day that I left and had noticed it slowly getting cooler.
Monday is back to work day here after the one day of rest each week. Yes, they still work a 6-day week. It will be an hour before the clinic opens to patients so it is fairly quiet as I say hello once again to Raj, the security guard, who was also the first to welcome me just over two years ago.
Observation Room, January 16 2014, 08:40 – it is almost two months since I arrived here since when it has got colder and we have even had a couple of downpours of rain. But “cold” is, of course, relative and your lawns and tomatoes would still be growing outside. As I wait for my 304th patient session since beginning treatments, what has happened here?



Just to clarify the last sentence, I am a complementary therapist in UK and am working here with the agreement and support of the doctors and Sathyu. In fact the doctors seem to be sending me all the difficult cases! Stroke, scoliosis, kyphosis, frozen shoulder etc but that gives me a challenge (sorry, opportunity) which I enjoy.

I should also say that there are two physical therapists here, working with the Ayurveda system of Panchakarma and doing great work for many years. They are the real heroes, working day after day, week after week, year after year, while I just flit in for a few months and, like a grandfather giving the grandchildren back to their parents, shall flit back home to the comforts of central heating and hot showers on demand.

There is a difference in the way we work and what we do though which makes my work valuable here. Panchakarma, as practised here, is mainly about getting an oil, impregnated with 23 herbs, into the tissues of a patient’s body by massage and steam. My work is about restoring balance to a body by releasing overtight tissue and then encouraging freer movement and realignment of the skeleton through whole body healing. So we can complement each other with our work.

In the two years since my previous visit, much has remained the same and there are changes too. Many old friends to meet again, many new ones to get to know, including a new washing machine! In the volunteer rooms there has been much activity in two months. On my arrival there were just two volunteers, both from India – something new to me, Devendra and Harshit. I was soon to learn that some mothers here teach their sons how to cook, since that evening Jayshree, who cooks each evening for the volunteers, announced she would not be back for four days. We enjoyed trying each others cooking and discussing spices but the ‘British’ dish they really liked was cauliflower cheese.
Thorsten, from Sweden, joined us the following week, another returning volunteer, he had come to help again in the garden. There is always a need there. Pradeep, another Indian, also arrived.
Shortly after we were overrun by 14 young American women with one lonely young man plus two teacher/facilitators. They were in India on a study tour in collaboration with a school in Bangalore and were visiting many projects around the country. They swept in for an exhausting four days and it was a good thing the female dormitory was empty at the time. Yes, we were all male volunteers.
Since then there has been a steady increase in volunteer arrivals, including a host (it seems) of researchers. Accommodation is fairly limited here so it is important that arrivals and departures are managed, which doesn’t always happen – so, if you are thinking of coming here ask if there is room, check what that means, and be prepared to be flexible on your dates.
Also take some lessons in communal living and putting the needs of others first – it would seem it does not come naturally to most people! If we cannot clean up the kitchen behind ourselves, how can we challenge Dow to clean up the factory site? Sometimes there is a disconnect.
Social life depends really on who is here. Sometimes it is very quiet and at others we are out on all kinds of trips. We had a group outing to Sanchi, a nearby Buddhist site and another to the caves at Bimbetka. I have been with various others to the Museum of Mankind and a recent 3-night festival of Khatack dance. Some of this I write about on my blog and for some you will have to wait for the book.

Incidentally, one volunteer discovered the book of my last visit and said she found it interesting and also helpful in her preparing to come here. (It’s called 3 Months in Bhopal and is available as a kindle from Amazon – all profit to the Bhopal Medical Appeal.)
So what about the actual work here for volunteers? After all this is the focus of your visit. This is another reason why you must arrange your visit dates as the staff here really cannot cope with too many simultaneous volunteers. It matters not whether you have special skills or not, there will almost certainly be something you can do. My case is a bit different as I am doing treatments and, before my first visit, I went through a process of e-discussion with Sathyu about what it is that I do and then with the doctors. They need to know I am an ‘OK’ guy and my work is effective.
The garden always seems to need help, and you don’t have to be a gardener either, though on my last visit, Linda was here and she is a gardener in UK. I tell Sathyu the walls could do with a lick of paint but the question we need to ask is whether it would be better to employ a local person so would a donation be better? My take is that the best work for volunteers is that for which there is no ready local skill and where there is a well-defined task. Support in the library can often be beneficial, especially if you have computer skills. There is about to be a digitisation project started which will take several years to complete and I am sure there will come along tasks associated with that which will be ideal for volunteers.
Helen, here at the moment has a well-defined job of re-painting some of the signs giving information about plants – these are for patient information and helping picking them. Such one-off tasks are also very helpful to the staff. Helen, and her husband Paul, are apparently the first volunteers here from New Zealand.

Check back here at the beginning of February for another update or keep in touch more frequently (if erratic) with my blog at http://abhopaldiary.blogspot.co.uk/ and ‘like’ my facebook page, Bhopal Today. Spreading the word about the long-term results of this disaster is the most important thing you can do – where it will go you do not know.

Girl with candle Bhopal

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