Posted by: lilyhamburger | December 28, 2009

a day in my life…2 weeks ago

In lieu of writing about every one of the millions of incredible moments I wish I could post to the internet in all forms of interactive media, I will tell you about one great day in my life recently. I think it was last Friday.

I had been up late the night before (late = 10:30pm) discussing my ideas on improving communication strategies for a community health awareness program to preventing common primary diseases, so I slept in (until 7:15) rather than getting up earlier for yoga or a walk around my village. I had tea and heated up some leftover chapatti for breakfast, and got in the jeep around 8:30am. Saeed bhai drove Jaya ben and I into Dharampur town where we filled up with petrol and picked up Paresh bhai at his house. Paresh hadn’t had his chai yet – probably because he was taking extra time to look super fresh in a bright purple button down and pressed slacks for the day’s activities – so we stopped right outside the town gate to have the usual sugary milk with a tiny bit of tea in it (we drink this concoction out of the saucer, not the cup, just in case you were presuming otherwise). We were on our way to Mamabhacha, one of ARCH’s project villages, for the monthly mobile clinic.

We arrived about an hour or so later at the home of one of the village health workers. Before setting up shop in her front yard, the health worker’s husband showed us the main attraction in their neighborhood: inside a shack made of cow dung, woven strips of wood, and sheets of re-used plastic there was a giant loom, and about 16 people were behind it working on a carpet. Jaya ben, a nurse at ARCH, jumped right in with a little scythe and listened to the dude calling out color-by-number codes to direct the creation of the intricate patterns of this woolen masterpiece. It will take 10 months to finish that rug.

At the healthworker’s house Paresh bhai, who is not a doctor, set up a little desk and carefully placed his stethoscope on it. That marked the examining room. On a bed, Saeed bhai and Ramesh – the coordinator in Mamabhacha – spread out their mobile drug store. Not a single patient walked away without drugs. Finally, Jaya ben was in charge of registering the patients as they showed up, and she greeted people through a window in the front porch and entered their names, ages, and village names into a notebook in Gujarati. Throughout this process Jaya ben and the two female health workers present translated for people who spoke only Kognii, the local tribal dialect. Patients of all ages showed up, but many complaints were the same: a lot of people suffer from malnurishment, so there are a lot of old people going blind, adults with body aches, and women who feel weak and tired. It’s not malaria season, but a lot of kids have respiratory problems this time of year, and dystentary is a chronic problem for patients of all ages. People were examined and told what to do, sent to the “drug store”, and asked to pay an extremely nominal fee (basically just on the principle of not providing services or medicines for free).

The whole scene was quite a hoot. As the day wore on we had more tea, and peacocks strolled in and out. Clouds moved over the fruit trees and drying piles of rice and grains surrounding this little hamlet, and the sounds of babies, cows, and birds dotted the peace of the hilly countryside. Most striking about the whole situation is that there was not anyone with a medical degree for about a hundred kilometers.

On the way home Saeed wanted to give the jeep a wash, so we drove straight into the river. I got out and played around on the rocks as men worked on a dam nearby, and other trucks came and went through our little stream. My three co-workers were so much fun, making fun of each other and playing around with our language barriers and the task of cleaning the jeep. As we were getting ready to leave, a big diesel truck pulled through next to us. As if he had timed it with my pondering, just then Paresh bhai said, “this water very clean.”

We got back to ARCH just in time for my 5:00 English class. But first I had to wade through a gaggle of health workers in extreme-pink sarees, who fondly “remember you!” from our meeting in their village about 10 days prior. At that meeting they had told me amid giggles that I was the first American they ever met, and they were psyched to take a rickshaw ride around the bumpy roads of their village with me. Today there were about 50 of them – men and women – gathered for a training, and whoa how the energy of our quiet little campus changed! I could barely break away to teach my class and join in the subsequent volleyball game, which has become the most consistent event in my life. The male health workers joined that night (I am used to being the only female out there – a lone burst of colorful dress among button-downs and slacks), and it was fun to have a full court for our nightly double-header.

After sitting with the health workers (on the floor) for dinner (rice, dal, vegetable stew, and chapatti), a broke away to keep an appointment with some friends. At the girls’ school next door to ARCH, all 85 teenage students wanted to adorn me and the two German volunteers there with henna (known here as mehndi). So I escaped the health workers’ cultural programs of the evening and snuck down the path to KD School, where Suzie, Sabrina and I sat for hours while the girls – and one teacher – covered our arms and legs in endless henna. As it was drying, the teacher ordered someone to mix lemon juice with sugar and apply it to the designs. I have no idea why, but what a sticky mess! The girls at KD are incredibly sweet; I always leave them with my face aching from smiling J

I came back to my room and climbed into my mosquito-netted bed, which is hard as rock. Somehow, at the end of every day here, I am so exhausted that it doesn’t seem to matter. Even if there are 50 singing middle school children practicing for their science drama comptetion in the room next door…



  1. Hey Lil,
    Thanks for the post. It’s like being there…almost. 🙂
    Send a pic of the henna painting on your limbs. We all miss your shining presence and just bust to see that you are learning so much. Have a healthy and happy. Love and hugs.
    Mama Cass

  2. It’s really incredible reading about your experiences. You really have a knack for imagery. I’m currently reading ‘Three Cups of Tea’, and your writing reminds me of the vivid descriptions of far off lands in Southern Asia. I hope you are well and I love and miss you!

  3. Happy New Year Lily! I would like to see the henna as well! Thank you so much for sharing. I am tucking the colorful stories and descriptions of your many new friends into my mind to help brighten up the grey Oregon-ness.

  4. HAPPY NEW YEAR BEANIE!!! i love you

  5. also, peacocks do make the strangest sound

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