Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Price to pay

Some people who are concerned for me think that I run after trouble. One fine very early morning, I was going for a walk around Bayavii hill in Kohima. I saw nice cars parked outside the homes of the residents. This thought came to me as I admired a fine one, ‘who wouldn’t want to have this car? Yet, I’m running away from it!’ It was in early June 2010 when there was much pressure on me and frustration in the family because of my decision to go to a remote area to work. It was not that I didn’t know what I’d be missing. It was not that I didn’t count the cost. I’m aware of the money I can earn as a Public Health personnel in some other places. I’m aware that I blew up a golden opportunity by brushing aside the good political connections. People envied my chances. I don’t need to be reminded that my marriage prospects are not as good after my decision. I knew my family needed me to be near after being away for so long. Just to clear the air that I’m not reckless and running after trouble trying to be a hero. I have counted the cost. I knew there was a price to pay.

Clicking pictures with dirty children

Among others, Some celebrities and church groups go to ‘backward’ areas and click pictures with dirty children. They go there as ambassadors of some relief program or on a short mission exposure. Moved by the situation there, they come back, challenged, and I suspect, feeling good about themselves, pleased with what they have done. Those pictures become prized possessions to show off to friends, used in sermons/lectures or uploaded in facebook. I admit I also enjoy such experiences, when I come back exhausted but feeling proud of what I have done. But I don’t feel good to have such photo sessions and I’m here to tell why.

I chose to work in a less privileged area where people are poor and help seem far away. This decision brought me ridicule and honour, some call me a ‘fool’ some a ‘hero’. Every day, I have the privilege to come across poor people; not only in their poverty, but also in their time of sickness. As I take their hands and examine their palms, I get a glimpse of the lives that they live. If I have to prescribe a certain medicine which has to be taken thrice a day after food, I’m now aware that many people cannot manage to have three meals a day. Climbing steep hills with heavy loads every day, backaches and joint pain are very common. How do I advise them not to do so anymore; to change their lifestyle or choose another profession? There are many complexities in the field for which medical textbook procedures offer no help. Policy makers, students, celebrities and richer urban dwellers will do well to go and see, and understand their less privileged folks in the villages. If we want to truly help them, we have to understand them. We have to go beyond seeing them as ‘objects of pity’ who need aids.

However, even as I stay at Pungro town and try to understand and help the people in the region, I’m acutely aware of my ‘otherness’. When I go to the villages, there is someone to carry my bag. When there are so many malnourished children surviving on beans and corn, I’m served pork or chicken, sometimes both. When people live in insanitary conditions, there are marks that they cleaned up the best house just before my arrival for me. I’m ‘Doctor’, I am ‘Sir’. When celebrities, missionaries or people like me go to the villages, it is to show that we identify ourselves with them. It is to show our solidarity, compassion and help. But when I think I have understood them, no, I don’t even come close. This power imbalance! That we can’t meet in equal terms as fellow human beings disturbs me. I don’t want to see myself in a photo with dirty children because it makes me feel so bad.

I end here by quoting a mantra that I formulated for myself:

The villagers may be illiterate

But they are not ignorant or stupid

They may not be modernized

But they are not uncivilized

When we go to the villages

The learning has to be mutual.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Saramati Apple pics from Thanamir village

Clicked on 16th July 2010
The first tree, since 1981
Fruits from the first tree, smaller yet sweeter

J. Yungbokhiung at Pungro CHC MO quarter
Thanamir Village
Fruits in 2009 clicked by Tangit Longkumer
Apple Saplings at Thanamir