"Akka, crutches Irika?"
...and I just shook my head and said, “I’m so sorry, we don’t have any this time. But, I “promise” you, I’ll get you a pair soon okay?” (Note that this was said in a muddle of Sinhala, Tamil and English.) To which she broke into a wide smile, and nodded her head in return. Time stood absolutely still for that one moment. For that one moment... I couldn’t think. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even speak.
Reeling back 2 minutes in time, I find myself being beckoned to the corner of the Hospital Ward by a 12 year old little girl seated on a chair. As I squat down to speak to her, she asks me softly “Akka, crutches irika?” (Do you have crutches?) It’s at this point that I look down and see that she does not have one leg from just above her knee. It was also at this very point that my heart broke into a million pieces. To think she plucked up enough courage to call me over...trust me enough to ask me for some help...and then, when I said I couldn’t help her, she was good enough to at least “seem” to believe in my promise.
A six year old baby boy seated on the bed, eating his lunch just as normal as can be. A mother of two, reminisces on her days as a dancing teacher in Jaffna. A young mother, possibly just into her 20’s, sits on a bed feeding her baby. As “normal” as all these 3 scenarios might seem, I find something terribly abnormal about discovering that each of them have had their legs blown off. It’s only then that reality hits you straight in the face, leaving you with one of just two choices. Face up to that reality, or run away. I’m glad I chose to do the former.
23rd of May, 2009, turned out to be a day I’ll never forget. Until that day, I’ve never known that it was possible to be so sad and disgusted with life, and so amazed by how surreal it can be sometimes. One thing I will say though about this day. It broke down a lot of our “collective realities” like nothing has ever done before.
Driving into the hospital premises and seeing a freshly painted, spick and span hospital was the first reality to get shot down. From outside, the hospital looked nothing like what I’d envisioned. Although there was some military presence outside the hospital, there was nothing particularly aggressive or nerve wracking about them. Yes, they watched our every move and yes, they seemed quizzical and possibly suspicious of us at first, but, I think in time, we seemed to grow on each other. However, any form of military presence at a place where civilians are slowly but surely trying to see a future for themselves that doesn’t include war, death and disappointment, is far from ideal, so if the military can be eased out of hospitals and camps all together, would of course be far better.
Walking into the wards and seeing the almost calm setting before us, was reality number 2 shot down. This is not to imply that there was no suffering or pain but, not in the manner I envisioned. Some of the staff (who were majority Sinhalese by the way,) knew how to speak Tamil. Some weren’t very fluent but, could stumble their way through. In my opinion, the real point worth mentioning was that after all this time, some real effort had gone into trying to understand one another. This almost “normal” manner in which all the nurses, doctors and other staffers seem to have taken these patients “under their wings,” was yet another reality biting the dust.
And it wasn’t possibly just our realities but, all the patients’ realities too. The supposed “enemy” of 26 years is now dressing their wounds, calling them Seeya and Amma, feeding them, tending to their needs and living peacefully alongside them. How can your enemy become your friend overnight? Their entire world has quite literally been turned upside down!
Another such example that stopped me in my tracks was, when I was sorting out the clothes into male, female and kids etc., the nurse helping me out, kept hand picking this, that or the other, saying that it was for one particular female patient who had a bad arm injury and so was unable to wear normal tops. Curious to see who this mysterious girl was, I wound up at the foot of a bed watching that same nurse speak to her special patient regarding the tops she’d chosen for her and if she was able to wear any of them. She picked one from the bunch and said she would wear it. Now here’s where yet another reality was quite blatantly broken down.
After finishing her conversation with this patient, she asked her to try and sit up for some reason. Having been on the opposite side of the bed to the side she needed help, the nurse motioned to a lady standing nearby to give her a hand. This lady, as if not hearing the instructions been meted out to her, just stared ahead and didn’t budge. At which point, the exasperated nurse virtually gesticulated the need to help the other patient stand up. Finally when this lady did move towards the bed to help out, she did so reluctantly and almost grudgingly.
It’s at this point that that same nurse opted to shed some light on the situation. Apparently the patient in question was a 23 year old, LTTE Colonel who had led the Child Recruitment drive in their area. So quite understandably, most of the women in that ward hated her and wanted nothing to do with her. It was amazing how the staff was able to look past her cadre status but, how the community still found it almost impossible to forgive. What’s more, it was quite clear that now as the power had shifted, and that everyone was more or less on the same level, the people didn’t feel the compulsion to adhere to the LTTE anymore. It was a crazy reality to have broken down, literally right before my eyes, but, it was also amazing!
Last weekend I witnessed first-hand how no matter how battered your body might get, no one can ever kill your spirit. And that’s the first thing I realised as I walked into that hospital. Whether it was the little kid running around in the only set of clothes he had, with this huge smile on his face, or the man whose leg was heavily splintered and bandaged who, when distributing baby soap told me with a twinkle in his eye, “Mam, why aren’t you giving me any baby soap, I’m also a baby no,” followed by a cheeky grin, or the hope snugly nestled in the beautiful song sung by the blind child who was sent to hospital with her sister, leaving their parents behind and still not knowing where they are, or the empathy of a man (along with his 2 kids,) who’s current abode is a 1ft x 1ft piece of canvas along the hospital corridor (as they wait out a family member’s injury,) who recounts the death of the mother of 2 kids living on the canvas sheet next door .
Coming from a place where most people in this situation (or even in general for that matter) would accept even a “cold” if it came free, it was almost strange to see how very differently these people behaved. Even though they have so very little now, and they could in all probability roll up their entire family’s belongings into one little bag, when asked if they needed tooth paste for instance, and if they already had a tube, they very politely shook their heads and said so.
So, never even for a second think these people are beggars! Far from it actually. What we must always keep in mind is that this could just as easily have been you or me, and our families. Much like you and I, they have worked, studied, had children, laughed, cried....and just plain LIVED! So, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. They don’t need our charity - all they need is “that crutch” to help them get back on their feet again. That’s not too much to ask for now, is it?
Our next delivery should be on the first weekend of June and here’s a list of stuff we’ll be focusing on this time around. The list will be updated and circulated once we’ve got a detailed list from the hospital.
- Dust Bin (Large) - 20
- Rubber slippers (Size 4 - 10) (Size 5 - 10)
- Combs (large) - 100
- Lactogen 1 (dark blue packs) - 10
- Anchor Full Cream Milk Powder - 50 packets
- Shampoo packets (Sassy) - 150
- Hair oil - 50 bottles
- Ordinary colongue - 10 bottles
- Sanitary pads - 50 packets
- Coconut oil - 2 bottles
- Bed Jackets (large) - 10
- Skirts and blouses - 50
- Baby dresses (under 12) - 25
- Sarongs - 100
- Shirts - 100
- Bed sheets - 290
- Underwear (S,M & L) - as much as possible (it's not in the list but, we were asked by the patients on our first delivery)
- Tooth paste - 200
- Tooth brushes - 270
- Lifebouy Soap - 300
- Baby Soap - 40
- Nestomalt 400g - 12
* If anyone can offer or knows of someone who can help us with transport for the deliveries, that would be great. We should be able to get a driver, it’s just a van or something to take up the stuff that’s quite an urgent need for us, so please do let us know if you can help. Contact - email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you all so, so much for supporting our first project. It was nothing short of a miracle! Hope you continue to support us and help make at least a little change for now...!