Saturday, September 15, 2007

stories of loss

i don't know if it's true, and i probably will never undertake the research to prove or disprove it, but it feels like i've had more than my share of loss over my lifetime. and i'm not talking about keys, because i know i would probably win that contest for sure, but about things that are less tangible: friends. beliefs. convictions. loved ones.

last week, i sustained another huge loss. however, the background story is important in understanding this loss, and not many people know it. but when i wake up in the morning and think of this person and the people who are mourning her, i am always taken back to a time eight and a half years ago when we first met. so if you're able, come along for the ride.

late february, 1999: i am in delhi, india, with sweat running down the back of my legs, and tears running down my cheeks in dusty rivulets. i am living with an old anglo-indian woman in a tiny asbestos-tiled room off of her living room, which has been arranged for me by a kind woman at the centre for kids with autism, where i am volunteering. an excitable newscaster on tv is delivering the news in hindi, which sounds as though it is a made-up language. i can hardly believe that a language that sounds so little like english is understood by everyone but me.

i know that this is where i want to be, where i have chosen to come and volunteer, where i must be for at least six months (or else i will lose face in front of my family and friends! and what about the expensive indian visa and plane ticket and immunizations?) but i feel so isolated, so singular, so different and alone. each day i awaken, plug in the heating coil to place in my bucket of water for my bath, nod and smile at the young servant girl (who makes me very nervous with her toothy grin and quick, erratic movement in the kitchen) while i guiltily eat my breakfast of sliced bananas topped with curd and the big-crystalled sugar that i've come to like so much. when i am dressed and armed with my extra stick of deodorant (which i will need later in the day, when the temperature soars to 48 degrees), i negotiate my way through throngs of cows, street sweepers, vegetable vendors, begging children, and professionally-dressed indians to flag down an autorickshaw driver, who inevitably charges me triple the amount i should pay, laughs at me, or takes me the scenic route to the centre. often, he does all three.

i am the only non-indian in the place i volunteer, which is what attracted me in the first place. i didn't want a 'sanitized' experience...i wanted the real thing. i wanted it to be hard and challenging and different than anything i could experience in canada. i wanted to know what it felt like to be the only one who is something - foreign, white, not brown, canadian, etc. now that i am here, i am desperate to see another white face, to hear canadian english spoken, to have something in common. to not be so white and so different. the shame i feel as a result is thick, hot, and oppressive, much like the incessant heat.

everyone speaks english, so language is not at all a problem. further, the women with whom i work are really great - half of them are christian, and the other half hindus - and because the centre is small, they are quite close-knit. they welcome me, and in the beginning, defer to me as 'the expert' on kids with autism. i realize (more quickly than they do) that this is absolutely not true; that in fact they have more expertise on autism than i ever will.

sometimes, in between supervising the kids' playtimes, lunches, and completing observation reports as they are being tutored by the centre's staff, i excuse myself and go to a hot, dusty, empty room and cry. i haven't had a hug in what feels like weeks, and although everyone is kind, and inquisitive, and caring...there is still a division. i am 'other.' even though there is no language barrier, there is definitely a communication barrier. it is not entirely safe for us to tease and make jokes with each other, because we haven't sussed out who we're dealing with. i feel inadequate, like i'm a huge disappointment, because i don't have the knowledge and experience they expected of me. i am the furthest i can possibly be from all the people who love me, and my schedule is such that the 11.5 hour time difference makes it hard to connect by the phone, and the frequent electrical blackouts and the lack of internet cafes and their distance from 'home' means that my email use is limited. never mind the prohibitive expense of international communication, the fact that my landlord doesn't have outgoing long-distance (this is very common in india - in fact, you usually have to go to an 'STD/ISD' booth, and no, don't be funny, you don't need a condom to use them) or an internet connection, and the fact that i am so overwhelmed by the sheer number of human and animal bodies that i would rather sit in my sticky, hot room and hope that my parents and best friends have suddenly become able to read my mind from halfway across the world...

so i am laying under a mosquito net in my room, trying to cry as quietly as i can, with rivers of salt coursing down various parts of my body. it is not hard to feel those feelings again, today, as i write this...and i want to remember them, to honour them, to validate them. (i have a different perspective now on those first few weeks in india, both because i survived it, and because i think it was an instructive experience on what newcomers to our country must feel like. it was a lesson in compassion that i wanted, and needed, to learn, and i am grateful for that.)

* i will continue this post soon, starting from march of 1999. it's interesting how this is taking shape...i really didn't think i had so much to say. but i am going with it. so stay tuned!

WW III is coming

...or at least it sounds like it from below us. although we no longer have to put up with the antics of the slug, we have new housemates who are gamers. and not just gamers, but avid gamers. like gaming-in-any-spare-moment gamers, which roughly translates to about eight hours a day, usually from about 3 pm to midnight. and they often play different games, too (in the same room). one on the computer, one on the xbox 360, both with their volume cranked to levels that make our floors shake and sends our cat to hide in the drawer that houses our skivvies. yup, it's that bad.

of course, their games of choice are RP (role-play) games where they, inevitably, have to blow things up, fly airplanes, and use most of their vast arsenal of weapons (which we guess ranges from handguns to uzis to cannons) to save the world. typically, their virtual survival is punctuated by screaming, yelling, howling, cheering, and sometimes, top-volume expletives that would make ozzy osborne blush.

we can't figure out which is worse - the slug, or the gamers. the slug is definitely winning in grossness, but general annoyance? it's a toss-up.

i'm too old for this shit.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Childhood Cancer Awareness

as some of you may know, over the past year, i have connected with a number of families with an unsettling common denominator: their kids have cancer. from neuroblastoma to leukemia, from hepatoblastoma to wilm's tumours...their families call their sons and daughters 'warriors,' and i have to agree. these kids are stronger than i think i ever could be.

lots of people think i'm a total nut for reading through these blogs; for developing relationships with families i may never meet in person, for caring about kids who are really, really sick (some of whom are terminal), and for 'subjecting' myself to 'unnecessary' sadness. but i can't explain it - that it's not just about grief and loss and hopelessness. that stories of beauty, strength, and resilience; of community, belonging, grace, joy, and simple pleasures abound. there are lessons to be learned, and i feel compelled to soak them in.

mine wasn't an intentional foray into pediatric connections to and losses from cancers have been related to adults in my life. i don't remember exactly how it happened, but i stumbled onto one blog, which linked me to another, and to another. i am showing this video this month because it is pediatric cancer month, and because some of the kids i follow are featured in this video. is just one of the little ways i can help to raise awareness of cancer - which affects people of all ages, all socioeconomic brackets, all races, religions, and ethnicities, and all abilities. i can assure you, however, that regardless of whether i 'know' them or not, all of the kids in this video have lessons in acceptance, in faith, in playfulness and bravery, to share with each of us. take a few minutes to school yerselves!

Friday, September 07, 2007

so i'm irregular

not in that way, mind you. i'm all good on that front (or should it be 'behind'?)

so, i've been MIA for a couple months now, and let's just say i've been processing. lots has gone on. you know, like the fact that i've gotten married (in nova scotia), eaten copious amounts of seafood, made all kinds of beautiful and artistic temperature charts, gone on a group honeymoon with some of our single friends (in cape breton & PEI), seen my first six moose (all on one day, off the cabot trail!!), flipped through bazillions of sperm donor profiles (yay canam cryo!), started on fertility drugs (serophene - which, as the drug companies predicted, does make me headachy, clumsy, sweaty, psycho and bloated), started singing in the choir again, and most recently, began year 2 of 4 years of school for midwifery. yesterday, i attended my first pharmacology class, headed by the creepy prof who hits incessantly on midwifery students (we had him last year for anatomy, too). he even has a facebook group dedicated to his lech-like ways. if i figure out how not to get arrested, i'll try to find a way to link all of you to his site.

but really, this summer has seemed a blur. there have been gowns, feuds, make-ups (and make-up - i actually wore make-up!!), there have been hairdos and rainstorms and lobster-gorging, there have been copious amounts of tears shed - some happy, but many borne of frustration, anger, hurt, and grief - and i'm just talking about the wedding here!! - but i can't forget the moments of bliss, as there have been those, too. it has all felt a little...busy. i'll get back to you once i've processed how i'm feeling. it's coming.

i feel like now, it's time for reflection, only there IS no time for's time, instead, for cleaning my disastrous house. and doing laundry, cuddling the cat, freezing batches of soups and stews for the stressful winter months, scrimping together the cash to buy $2000 of textbooks (seriously.) and of course, memorizing drug cards for the 'midwifery pharmacopoeia' (that's fancy for 'drugs that midwives can prescribe,' but our prof says the former and therefore i shall, too), paired with figuring out how i can appeal canada student loans' decision to give me $148 for the whole year...yay for the canadian government. they allow us to get married, now, but then they make it as difficult as possible for us to create a life together.

i have to say, though, i think her cuteness will get us through it. :)
so, yeah. i will be back. but as aforementioned...irregularly.