Thursday, January 03, 2008

Chennai, Days 5 & 6

In which the blogger loses a piece of his heart, twice, and then celebrates a travel success

So, the last couple days, I've been spending a lot of time at The Banyan's various facilities. Yesterday, I got to go to all three facilities in one day, which you really don't want to do, because it involves about five hours in the car, all told.


Renu's regular routine is Monday and Wednesday at The Banyan Centre in Kilpauk and Tuesday and Thursday at The Banyan facility in Adaikalam. Yesterday being Thursday, it was off to Adaikalam first thing in the morning. Renu plopped me on a bench in the lobby and went off to do her thing -- but first, she introduced me to long-time Banyan resident Sylvia, who came to The Banyan six years ago after suffering a mental break when her husband left her and who now is on staff as a dorm mother keeping track of other high-functioning Banyan residents.

Sylvia is a Christian who married a Hindu doctor. When they married, her Christian family disowned her, and when she and her husband didn't have any children, he left her. Sylvia literally has no one. We talked about her Christian faith and I prayed that Sylvia would find a place in her heart for forgiveness -- forgiving herself, forgiving her family, forgiving God -- for all the stuff that had happened to her. Later, as I was about to leave, Sylvia asked me what time it was. I don't wear a watch and so she told me she would give me one that she has -- "It just needs a battery," she said -- and my heart broke a little as I realized that she who had so little was willing to give me what she did have to improve my own condition.

Later on, I got a tour of the Adaikalam facility with Gaetri, the staff psychologist. I got to see the whole building, which was built in 2001 with assistance from a variety of funders and supporters, most notably the former chief minister of India. As we toured the various dorms and met many of The Banyan's 239 residents, I took a picture of one of them and all of a sudden, EVERYONE wanted her picture taken. After ten or twelve pics, an older, shorter woman motioned to me to bend down, as if to whisper something in my ear. I bent down and she put her hands around my neck and pulled me to her and gave me a great big kiss on the cheek! My heart melted a second time as I realized what a dear blessing this was to me. What great joy to be baptised with the love of a friend from halfway around the world.

After my tour, Gaetri and I watched a performance by some of Adaikalam's health aides. They were doing skits and other entertainment for former Banyan residents and their families, kind of a celebration of their wellness and recovery. The performance was completely in Tamil (or Hindi -- not sure which), so I didn't understand a word, but Gaetri explained to me what was going on all along, and it was hilarious. It was kind of like Sabado Gigante, but it made even less sense and was therefore even more funny. When I get back to the US, I'll post a couple videos -- uploading them here takes way too long, so be sure to check back late next week.

After the performance, Renu and I came to The Banyan Centre in the Kilpauk area of Chennai to have lunch and to visit with Vandana, one of The Banyan's founders. We talked a bit more about fundraising, and then I asked how I could be most helpful when I returned to the US. I had heard about a group of Americans that were forming The Friends of the Banyan, so I asked if I could connect with them and help to start some organizing around that effort. And it looks like that will be one of my main missions on my return -- helping to establish an American fundraising arm for The Banyan. There are 8 or 10 core individuals who have visited The Banyan, as well as around 200 existing donors that we can do a good job of connecting with, so it looks like I'll be helping with that effort when I get back to the US.

In the afternoon, we headed about 50 km east to the seaside town of Kovalam, the third Banyan site. (In this case "we" is me and four Brits who were also visiting The Banyan -- Dinah, David, Yemi, and Roland. Roland will be sticking around to teach a course called "Mental Health in the Margins" at the Banyan's Kovalam facility.) We toured the facility out there (currently vacant because of recent flooding) and visited their gift shop (which was spared the flooding). We also visited the Community Mental Health Clinic in Kovalam, the site of The Banyan's vocational training efforts. Then we headed out to the beach, just to see, and headed home.

This morning, I'm not quite sure what's going on. I'm back at The Banyan Centre in Kilpauk, and working on the blog. I know (or at least I think I know) that I'm going to be touring the local Institute for Mental Health this afternoon -- why, I'm not exactly sure, but there it is. But beyond that, I think I may be sticking pretty close to the computer for the next few hours, so if you're awake in the middle of the night, zap me an e-mail!

It's all good. We're back on schedule and confirmed on all flights: Chennai - Doha, Doha - Dulles, Dulles - Indianapolis. I should be back in Indy around 11:30 p.m. on Sunday (Indy time) and will plan to be asleep most of the day on Monday before heading back to work at Broadway on Tuesday.

Pretty severe thunderstorms are rolling across Chennai right now, so I'm going to sign off, just in case. I'll be in touch soon -- probably not again from Chennai (unless I think of something this morning while here at The Banyan) but definitely from Doha, as I have a long layover on the way back. Peace out, homies!

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