November 2009, VKI Industrial Area, Jaipur, Rajasthan
Waking this morning at seven a.m., I headed back out to the VKI Industrial Area to help everyone prepare the schoolyard for the Trucker’s Gala. Early mornings are chilly here and my open-air rickshaw offered little relief from the cold.
Arriving at the Kushi Clinic, I saw men emerging sleepy-eyed from their trucks. Vendors stirred steaming pots of chai and another day in India had begun.
I entered the clinic only to realize that everyone was already busy working down at the school where the Trucker’s Gala would be held. I walked the two blocks to the school and was instantly amazed by the transformation. The team had been very busy since I left the site 12 hours earlier. A beautiful archway had been constructed, green matting covered the dirt yard and a red carpet ran from the entrance to the main stage. A young girl drew beautiful colored powder designs called Rangolis at the entrance to welcome guests. There was excitement in the air. Pradeep was eager to show me what work had been done since I had left. Workers hung colored ribbons from the tents and promotional banners from the major sponsors were being displayed. Mukesh ran across the yard carrying the Dirty Wall Project’s (DWP) new banners and a cheeky grin. He had pulled some strings and had driven all over town to get the banners made in time and was excited to show them to me. The banners looked great and we hung them immediately. It was amazing to see the Dirty Wall Project logo alongside the large corporate sponsors.
Doctors began arriving and setting up their stations. All aspects of healthcare were covered today. The TCI (Transport Company of India) had sent two female doctors to counsel and to administer blood tests. Jaipur’s largest ENT hospital had sent Dr. Faruq who has worked with DWP on our previous IOC camps. Eye Specialists, General Physicians (Dr. Parihar) and STD Specialists were present. Dr. Rajesh Pasricha from Bhagwan Maheveer Cancer and Research Hospital had a booth providing information on cancer related illnesses.
We began setting up our tables where we would fill and distribute DWP’s free medicines. Outside the school gates a cycle rickshaw with attached microphone was promoting the day’s events to the surrounding areas while two members of Kavach (see Avahan) were handing out pamphlets to passers by.
I climbed up to the roof of the school and looked down as people zigzagged across the yard putting the finishing touches on their respective booths. Outside the gates buses were packed to the roof with morning commuters with numerous men hanging outside the doors as the buses rocked, squeaked and wheezed diesel into the air. The national highway overpass runs fifty metres from the school with a continuous stream of trucks carrying goods south.
Our first patients were now in the yard and it wasn’t long before we filled our first prescription.
To help promote the camp a young man with a pair of stilts was hired and I walked with him as he handed out pamphlets. The site of a ten-foot tall boy and a blond haired foreigner walking the street was hard for anyone to ignore.
Inside, the health portion of the camp was in full swing with all of our doctors seeing patients and plenty of people wandering the yard. Maasti, an Indian condom company had arrived and set up a booth. I assumed that condoms would be provided for free, but soon learned otherwise. I inquired as to how much each box of condoms was and ended up buying five boxes for a total of 5oo condoms, all for 540 INR or $12.50 CAD. I dropped the condom boxes off at each of the doctor’s stations. Condoms would now be free to whoever wanted them.
To bring some fun to the day several games and activities were planned including what proved to be the most popular…the “Trucker Arm Wrestle” competition.
All morning, groups of men gathered around a wooden table while a Kushi Clinic staff member gave a play by play via megaphone to the delight of all the men. Smiles, laughter and cheering could be heard across the yard. As I was taking pictures of the crowd the newest champion challenged me to the table. Fearing a loss, but too embarrassed to back down, I entered the circle amidst cheers and clapping as forty young truckers watched eagerly. The crowd was silent as the countdown began. After what I thought was a valiant struggle on my part, I lost to Balo. He was immediately immortalized for beating the foreigner and with a smile from ear to ear Balo rushed towards me with open arms. Beaten, hugged and hands shook, I left Balo to defend his title.
The team had gathered at the front of the yard as one of the distinguished guests, the CEO of TCI had arrived for the opening ceremony and ribbon cutting. After the ribbon was cut each member of the team including me had a red dot placed in the middle of our forehead. Pieces of rice were then pressed into the wet dot and with a flick of water the camp was official.
While Omprakesh showed him around I decided to help promote the camp. With a stack of pamphlets under my arm I headed towards the street. Cynthia, a biology major and pre-med student from San Diego who is in India working with Vatsalya on HIV related issues had arrived and was eager to help. Together with two Kushi Clinic staff members we set out on foot handing out fliers and telling the locals of the camp and the entertainment available. These are incredibly poor neighborhoods and I would wager a guess that we were the first foreigners to work in the area. Smiling children came up to us as curious adults stood around trying to figure us out. We wandered in and out of shops and stalls and through the truck yards speaking to anyone that would listen.
Back at the camp a local news channel had sent a video camera to the event and I followed him as he shot footage of the camp in action. By lunchtime our nurses had filled over 300 prescriptions with hundreds more examined by the camp’s Doctors.
Huge pots of potato curry and rotis were delivered and the team and I sat behind the main stage devouring our meal and sharing some laughs. Continuing where we left off, lineups of patients resumed and a hum of activity filled the schoolyard. Speakers and lighting equipment started to arrive and the electrician began gearing up for the night’s performances. By five p.m., our doctors and nurses tired and all the medicines gone, we tallied the final patient count as musicians and dancers set up on the main stage.
During the setup anyone and everyone was encouraged to dance or sing on stage. Several men and young children sang their favorite Rajasthani songs in varying scales of ability. Groups of men took turns gyrating to Hindi pop songs to the delight of friends and onlookers. A DJ played excessively loud Hindi techno and pop songs as the sun dropped behind Jaipur and over 1000 people filled the courtyard occupying every seat available.
Several prizes had been donated by JK Tyre, TCI and Vatsalya and were to be handed out to the day’s competition winners. My main responsibility for the evening was to capture the festivities from behind my camera. As I was taking photographs, I heard “Mr. Kane” being called to the stage. I was to hand out the prizes to the respective winners alongside the General Managers of the corporate sponsors. Everyone was in their Sunday best, wearing suits and formal wear. I was in jeans and flip-flops, making me stand out from the crowd even more.
Another ribbon cutting ceremony took place on stairs leading to the stage followed by speeches from the CEO’s including Dr. Hitesh Gupta of Vatsalya. Dr. Hitesh was kind enough to speak of the Dirty Wall Project’s involvement here in Jaipur.
Throughout the night dance groups strutted on stage in unison wearing outrageous Bollywood costumes entertaining the crowd. Local funny men, young singers and one particularly energetic 12-year-old boy danced his heart out on stage. After hours of speeches and entertainment, the night was drawing to a close.
Vatsalya and the Kushi Clinics entire team consisting of more than twenty people took the stage for one final thanks. After a round of applause for the team’s effort, the DJ blared a Hindi pop song and an impromptu dance involving everyone on stage took place. For several minutes the team bounced, spun and gyrated to raucous applause.
Once the crowd was gone, the team stood and a sense of relief was shared. That moment quickly passed as we realized that a massive cleanup was next on the agenda. We packed up hundreds of chairs, took down our banners and then hopped on motorbikes headed to a celebratory dinner. Twenty-five of us crowded into a local restaurant and ate a delicious vegetarian meal.
By the end the day the Dirty Wall Project supplied 526 people with free medications, bringing our total in the last month to 1400 people served.
With more projects planned in the coming week this number will rise and it is all thanks to the Dirty Wall Project supporters.
Thank you very much,
aids, hiv, India, travel, volunteer