By Cindy Ryan (November 24, 2013)
Pool Party and the Green Chettai
The Pool Party:
The sing-a-long on the bus was deafening; at least to my ears. The camaraderie amongst the girls and the nuns made me smile for most of the two hour trip to the water park. Even getting stuck in traffic, in the midst of an early morning fish market with the stench of sun warmed, hours old, “fresh” fish piled in baskets on women’s heads just outside the open windows of the bus, in traffic that seemed to be snarled for miles, didn’t diminish the excitement in the confines of the 60 seat bus outfitted with jagged metal seats covered in grimy torn vinyl. We were heading for a day at a water park in the far northern reaches of Mumbai – so far from the city that there was countryside out the windows, the buildings and hutments replaced by a rural scene with waving palms, open fields, and fading resort signs that beckon travellers to stop and stay awhile.
I was along for the ride with four nuns, Ashwini, and forty-eight young girls from the Sisters Adorers home for girls. The day out, or “picnic” as outings are called in Mumbai, was arranged by Sister Freshina and paid for by DWP. The girls who live at the home range in age from 5 years old to 18 years old. After less than a stellar start to life (most of the girls are daughters of prostitutes from the red-light district or have been orphaned), Sister Annie and her team of fun-loving nuns give these girls a place to call home with all the guidance, encouragement and tough love they require to become confident young women who will one day have to leave the clean, orderly environment of Sisters Adorers to start a life on their own.
Ashwini, who lived in the Saki Naka pipeline community, was placed in the nun’s care a few years ago when her mother fled the hut they shared with two other women and numerous children because Ashwini, then 11 years old, was being abused by visiting men. She suffered from beatings, abuse, malnutrition, and illiteracy. (See DWP blog archive post: Ashwini and Boomi/March 23, 2011)The sisters have provided Ashwini with structure, clean, organized surroundings, care, love, and a chance to go to school for the first time. DWP pays for a tuitions teacher to aid her progress in school. She speaks English now, and when she isn’t giggling behind her hands, she corrects my horrendous Hindi.
The girls and the nuns (all fully clothed) spent hours frolicking in the pools, mastering the slides, and dancing under fountains of clean water while I snapped photos and tried to keep the camera from getting wet. The entry fee included breakfast, chai and dinner, keeping the girls energized for the entire day. Despite being exhausted from play in the pool and the hot sun beating on their heads all day, the girls had to be pulled one by one from the pool when it was time to leave. On the way back home, the bus groaned through heavy traffic while some of the girls sang softly in their seats and Sister Annie pointed out the full moon and the garish lights of wedding venues along the road way. When the bus pulled up to Sisters Adorers gate just after 7 pm, the girls were tired and happy to be home, but not too tired to yell a heartfelt thank-you.
Today I dropped off a photo album (over 200 photos) of pool-party memories to Sister Annie. She flipped through the pages in the album and smiled, and then quickly remembered she had duties to attend to. She quietly closed the album, cradled it in the crook of her arm and as she walked away, she took one more peek. She will share the album with the girls once their tasks are completed, just like I thought she would.
Admittance Fees to the Water Park/Bus/ lunch and dinner for 52:
Rupees 12,000 (CAD $200)
Photo Album with 200 colour photos:
Rupees 1620 (CAD $27)
The Green Chettai:
The kids in the community, faced with 20 days vacation from school to celebrate Diwali, asked us if we could help them arrange a games day. Brothers, Manish and Mohan, decided we should have an afternoon of playing Housie (a game similar to Bingo). We decided a games day needed prizes to amp up the excitement which resulted in a trip to the dusty streets of Saki Naka with Manish and Mohan as consultants. The bulging bag of hand-picked prizes was brought back to the community and stored in Ranjana’s home, building excitement and rumours as to what treasures would be won the next day.
We purchased a large green chettai (woven plastic mat) and laid it out in the garden area for the kids to sit on. The bag full of prizes was carted into the garden by Ranjana’s sons, Haardik and Sushil and placed on a bench. Suddenly the mat was full of kids who had come running, dust clinging to their limbs, from all points in the community. Then more kids joined us, but with no room left to sit on the chettai, they sat in the dirt, their skinny, mosquito bitten legs, tucked under them in a tangled web of limbs and neon clothing. The crowd swelled again and some kids found a place on our laps and wrapped themselves around our shoulders using our heads as a hard place to tick off the numbers on their chits. Housie is a popular, easy game to play, provided you can read numbers. The kids who are illiterate played with friends or we helped them to cross off the numbers. Everyone had the potential to win and everyone eyed the green and yellow striped bag of prizes, each prize individually wrapped to keep the process democratic. The last prize might be the best prize!?
When each game was over and the winner was declared after a flurry of fact-checking, I reached into the bag and pulled out a prize. Each winner paused for a few seconds with his prize in hand, and then bolted out of the area to rip off the paper, with friends in pursuit, never to be seen again……The Housie tournament was played over two days and twenty-five prizes were won.The following days, the kids who had won prizes could be seen sharing badminton rackets, board games, dolls, fluffy stuffed animals and coloured pens and paper with other kids in the lane ways. They decided after their excitement from the win had settled, that toys are more fun to play with when shared with others.
A few days later, we laid out the green chettai once again. Cardboard, scissors, glue sticks, bold coloured tissue paper, and extra-fancy shiny tape covered the surface. After a few hours of frantic cutting, tearing, taping, glueing, painting and using copious amounts of sparkle glue, the kids who participated each had a beautiful, home-made Diwali lantern and a few clay diyas to decorate their homes.
Diwali is officially over. The girls, with their oiled-in-place pigtails, looped and tied in ribbons to match their school uniforms, and the boys, their hair slick and tidy, wearing uniforms of shorts and pressed shirts, march down the lane ways heading to schools in the area, with a little glue under their fingernails and memories provided by the generosity of DWP donors.
Rupees 350 (CAD $5.80)
Housie Game and 25 Gifts/Craft Supplies for Lanterns and Diyas:
Rupees 3676 (CAD $61)