Michaela Johnson's India Blog - Michaela Johnson
Even after countless hours of traveling to the opposite side of the world, it's still hard to comprehend that I am in Chamba, India. This developing country is so different on so many levels. Although I came here with the intention of teaching and service, these girls have truly performed the service of teaching me many things.
Walking out of the airport and into hot, humid Delhi, I quickly realized how different this place really was. Men in army suits were standing around with AK-47 rifles and stray dogs were freely walking the streets. There is no garbage system in India, so garbage is everywhere, along with urine and feces. With 21 million people in Dehli, the streets are packed and pick-pocketing was a huge concern. Children trained to pick-pocket for their pimp come begging for money, and you can't make eye contact or they will swarm you and pick your pockets. It is so difficult for me to turn a blind eye to these children.
Chamba, a 9 hour train ride and 5 hour jeep ride up into the Himalayas, is much smaller and feels safer. The town is also very dirty, but not as packed. We are staying on a government compound called the NHPC. It is ironic that we are living at a electrical/power facility and our electricity goes out several times during the day. I am sharing a room with a sweetheart named Brooke, and we've had many adventures battling the armies of HUGE roaches that come out of the hole in the ground in our bathroom. This hole is used for a toilet. At least it flushes. The mountains surrounding us are amazingly gorgeous. The peaks often hide behind beautiful clouds and mist, and the sunrise and sunset aren't visible.
As a student nurse, I have been working with these girls with a medical emphasis. Josh and I have given all of these girls complete physical assessments and have been teaching first aid. Many of the girls have signs of ear infections and experience a lot of indigestion and stomach aches. The girls refer to us as Dr. Josh and Dr. Michaela. It is crazy, because to them that is what we are. We have also had several other people ask us questions that seems so basic to us. For example, the guard had hunted us down the other night to inquire about the sounds his stomach was making. When you have access to professors, textbooks, or even simply Google, you forget that these people can't just look up anything like we can. These people also don't have the access to healthcare like we do. Many of the girls I worked with said they had never done some of the simple procedures like having their temperature taken with a thermometer. Josh and I also had the opportunity to watch Dr. Sing repair an ulcer in the stomach of a 44-year-old man. The operating room is in the basement of another one of Chamba's dirty buildings. Everything used in the surgery is sterilized and then reused. Everything. This keeps the cost down for the people here in Chamba. These experiences are making me realize how blessed I am to live in the United States with all of the luxuries I often overlook.
It has truly been an incredible experience working with the girls from Temple Ashram. The girls range in age from about 6 to 19 years old. The girls usually do workshops with us here at the NHPC from about 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. One day we did go to Temple Ashram and saw where these girls lived. It was truly heartbreaking to see the two rooms with low ceilings and an uneven floor where all of the girls live. At times, you want to break down and cry because you realize how little these girls have. Compared to us in the United States, these girls have poor hygiene, inadequate nutrition, and most wear the same clothes everyday. You want to cry, but the tears are stopped by the smiles and laughter of these girls. As we were standing in the Ashram, these girls didn't timidly sit in silence. They embraced us with hugs, were full of energy and so happy to see us as they always are, every single day. Their attitudes make all of the physically and emotionally draining work worth every second. These girls in Chamba are the perfect example of cultivating joy from within.
On Sunday we will be leaving these girls, and I already know the tears will finally surface. I know this amazing group of people I have been privileged to work with has left a lasting impression on the lives of these girls. I wonder if these girls will ever really know the lasting impression they have left on mine.