Saturday, January 11, 2014

Day 11 - safe haven

A few days ago, we asked Jayshree and Illa for more information about resources that already exist for women.  They told us of a women’s shelter that has room for 10 women to stay as long as they would like.  They had never been there and didn’t have a connection to it but they thought they knew where it was. We were like….ummm…we need to go there! Today we got to do just that.  We piled into the van and eventually left the paved road. After we stopped to ask for directions several times we found a temple that was attached to the shelter.  The chala (food to be eaten after being blessed) was a sesame ball.  I waited until Dr. Greaves bit into his (W.W.G.E – what would Greaves eat? Is a survival technique I almost always use here except when it comes to dairy) and then chowed down.  The black hard ball was surprisingly tasty!
We put our shoes back on and headed to the shelter.  All we knew about the place was that it was owned by a woman who inherited the land from her father.  We wandered through the gate, hoping we had the right place. The car trip had been noisy, and it took me a moment to allow my senses to drink in the peaceful quiet sounds of wind blowing through the trees.  As we walked towards the house we were greeted by a woman with grey hair who brought us over to greet a very old looking woman.  Jayshree sat down next to her and held her hands, and told us that she was 100 years old.  Her face was amazing and looked like it had seen 100 Indian years.  She seemed to start crying when she saw us, but from happiness.  She wanted us to come in and have some lunch. She stood up with a little help, but then marched her 100 year old body to the house with no help at all.   It was amazing.
100 years old and counting
 When we got to the house we were greeted by the owner.  She had her hair cut short, wore what would be considered men’s clothing in India.  She was very different than any other Indian woman I have met so far.  Besides the fact that she dresses differently, she also carried herself differently, and enjoys the rare privilege of being a woman with property and no husband.  We had arrived unannounced for fear that she would turn down our visit.  But she was happy to show us around the house, and to tell us about its history.  It seems that informal is working way better than formal for us in India.
The house currently houses six women.  Rooms hold two women each. The house was lovey and decorated with posters about equality, Om symbols painted on the walls and other lovely decorations.  It was lovely and safe feeling.  We asked the owner about why she had started the shelter.  She told us that ever since she was nine she had wanted to help people.  She had started by giving away clothes and other small things.  When she inherited the property from her father, she knew she wanted to make a place for women who had nowhere to go.  She houses women who are survivors of domestic violence, old women who have no one to support them, and others who for whatever reason have nowhere to live.   She told us that the women do what work they can to support the house, and they also get donations from her family and other people.  They would like to expand to take in orphans in the future.

Decorations in the House

Front Gate of the House

The House from the front courtyard
We walked out to the barn to see the cows, and then sat on cots and some benches to talk.  There were two survivors there, and both agreed to be interviewed.  We felt that the first one was too mentally ill to record.  The second woman shared her story with us, why she sought help, and what resources she would like for the future.  The owner went and swung on a swing behind us while she talked. 
It was a strange place, and seemed to be out of a dream. 
We left with spirits lifted.  Next stop was a small village that specialized in special shawls and scarves.  We went crazy in there.  Everything was beautiful and very cheap by our standards.  We spent a long time there waiting for the owner of the shop to add up everything we were buying.  Even so, he got some of the addition wrong, and undercharged a few of us.  I’m guessing he’s not used to adding up such large numbers, and that he made enough money to go on vacation for a while. 
On the way back to Dhrangadhra, Carlie had the brilliant idea to stop at a big hospital in Surindhranagar where a doctor at the hospital in Dhrangadhra refers patients who have experienced domestic violence and need more help than he can give.  He most often deals with women whose hemoglobin has fallen to low because they are being starved by their families.  This is a common problem here because women traditionally eat last, after the men.  If there is no food left for them, they are out of luck – and hemoglobin eventually. But when their mental health or their medical problems are too complicated for him, he refers them to a psychiatrist or doctor at this hospital.
Jayshree charmed her way all the way to the psychiatrist and got an impromptu meeting with him.  I stayed outside with the car, but it proved to be a really effective meeting.  They actually screen all women who come to the hospital for domestic violence and he told us that around 1 in 6 patients of his experiences it.  The experience was a victory!

We headed home to the palace feeling somewhat successful for once.  

scarf drying at a person's home

Entering A Village 

Mad Balance

No comments: