In my last note to the BMA, I concluded with the thought that spreading the word is the most important thing you can do to help. That is another reason for your visit. By coming here you will learn much more about the current state and problems as well as what the local people are doing about it. Coming here will give you an experience that will help to make it more genuine every time you speak about it and that will transmit itself to others.
So there is a balance to be had between what you can do and what you will learn. After my previous trip, in 2011, I wrote a book called 3 Months in Bhopal which is still available as a kindle from Amazon and all profit goes to the BMA. I gave talks about Bhopal, the disaster and the then current position, mainly to business groups and used the book to raise money. By this very simple means I raised about £2,500 – not to boast but merely to point out what is possible with this new awareness that you will have. Before I went I could not have given a convincing talk about it.
Another thing that is important to remember is that Indian society, norms and ways of doing things are different to yours. Wherever you come from. They are not worse, they are not better – just different. And, in the main, just like your ways, they work for the society in which they exist.
I mention this because I often hear volunteers saying that something is poor or inefficient, and maybe in some cases that is justified and just maybe there are some not so obvious reasons why.
If you are a regular reader here, you will realise that I failed in my promise to update you at the beginning of February as it is now the end of February! I will be leaving tomorrow (1st March) to spend two weeks in Vietnam on a bodywork workshop. I will be returning after that though, and plan to work at Chingari. I have been over there a few times, just to visit, and chatted with Sanjay, the head physiotherapist and he has said he will welcome my support again. In fact on one occasion he tried to give me a little boy to treat!
When I get started there I will send another . . . no, I won’t promise this time! It will probably be the end of my stay there, when Colin reminds me.
So what has been happening here in the last two months?
For myself, I have done about 600 sessions as I prepare to leave. I have been working very much with the routine of daily sessions of half-hour duration as it is easier to fit in and the patients are used to that system. It has been interesting to see how it works and for some types of case it has been really good while for others I would like a gap between sessions and sometimes I would really like longer ones. But it has been a positive experience working here.
I have been chatting to the doctors as people are, apparently, asking when I shall return! I actually have no plans for that but would like there to be some legacy. I can keep doing treatments and helping a few people at a particular time in their life but it ends when I leave. I think I have done enough to show that there may be another level of service that Sambhavna could provide as a more remedial style of bodywork. They will have to consider that, though, and whether or how it might be achieved.
A couple of days ago, Aziza, the nurse on duty, said “you have a patient waiting, an old man.” That ‘old man’, I said is a year younger than I am! That set me to thinking about the appearance of people here because this is not the first time for this sort of remark.
What is it that makes some people ‘older’ than others? Often not just in appearance but also in attitude and behaviour? I would guess that poverty has much to do with it, especially here. Then how about expectation? Lifestyle, family and work, nutrition, opportunity and the way s/he is treated?
Maybe there is an entire book in those thoughts.
Most of the volunteers and researchers have now gone. There are just myself and Katrina plus Deven who is a long-term volunteer and should really be an employee. Harshit leaves today but will be living in Bhopal as do both his sister and girlfriend. Also today we are joined for a brief visit by Fideli, a friend of Thorsten’s from Sweden.
It was nice and quiet at first when they went, fairly closely together. One week we were some 10 and the next three! But now it IS a little quiet sometimes and the repartee and learning about the habits of people from other countries is missing. And, of course, sharing communal international cooking evenings on days when Jayshree, the evening cook, cannot come.
Heidi left first to attend a film festival of ‘environmental’ films in Goa where she was also helping to organise. She will be back at her university in Salzburg now.
Thorsten was next, the big Swede, finished in the garden and planning a return trip for the 30th anniversary remembrance. He lives in Gothenberg in a community living environment so is doubtless regaling them with stories of life in Bhopal and the strange volunteers he has been living with.
Fran and Lorenza returned to the UK where Fran will continue the work of compiling and designing her book. Just before they left we all went around to the home of Sanjay Verma where they cooked a pasta dish (Italian roots!) and Sanjay added some Indian food so it was a bit of a mixed food event. Sanjay does much translating work here and lost his entire family in the disaster – his brother died fairly recently of illness inflicted by gas and water. He is surprisingly cheerful and getting on with life. He had acted as translator with Fran and Lorenza which is how they knew him so well.
Bruno was last of them to leave in this batch. He was staying for some days in Mumbai (Bombay) to attend a conference. He has been here doing social research as he teaches in a university in Portugal. He has interviewed many survivors whilst here and will compile a report or book to use on the course and maybe publish.
As you see, we have been an eclectic mix of people, personality, nations and interests. So it is quite likely that you would fit in with a random group. I often feel that random groups are the best for learning about yourself as well as the rest of the world!
Finally, a note if you plan to come here from mid-December to late February. It IS cold. It may not rank with UK or northern Europe winter temperatures but the thing that makes the difference is that there is no heating anywhere. So do bring some warm clothes to wear.
In addition this year it has been wetter than ever before. We have had about 6 major storms in the last few weeks and one of my patients walked in today and said, “It is like the monsoon!” Hopefully that will not be the case next winter.
And, don’t forget, there are volunteer opportunities in your own home, just contact the BMA and talk.