Friday, December 23, 2005

A trickle in the flood

December 5th, 2005 (contd.)
Once all the day's plans were made, Balaji began assigning us 'outsiders' to different teams. Other than Chandrika, none of us speak Tamil. In her case, she had accompanied some volunteers to Koturpuram the previous day where they had found many more people than they could possibly help. Chandrika had taken photographs but beyond that, could not do much. With a tiny bit of worry about what exactly I was getting into, I accompanied Gnanaprakasam, Sumati and Suresh to Saidapet. Sumati and I took about 150 packets of buns with us in an auto while Gnanam and Suresh were on a motorcycle.

In Saidapet, almost an hour of confusion followed. We waited at one gate without a mobile while the guys waited at another gate. We went through a teacher's training college where a temporary camp was set up, but could not find anyone from the group there. Finally, we met up with Suresh and Gnanam and went into a community near the relief camp. Here, people had moved back into their homes a day after the waters had receded. Recovery activities within each house were in full force – mats and household items were being laid out to dry, kerosene stoves and other appliances were being repaired and clothes were being washed. Almost all of the women were hard at work.
We met a few local people whom Gnanam had met earlier – from here on, I could only understand part of the discussion because of my limited knowledge of Tamil. But the upshot seemed to be that a few members of the community would take up the job of distributing buns and that one packet would be provided per household. A number of us had turned up, and there was no work for us at the present. Most of us chose to follow the people who were distributing the buns. It was interesting to see the reaction of families who were receiving the buns. Some were completely disinterested, mechanically receiving them. Others, with children, asked for more than one packet. One lady, on hearing the one packet-per-household rule, returned the packet and an argument ensued. Children eagerly came to the distributors and in some cases, the packets were opened and individual buns were handed out.
One of the group members went to get lunch and we sat down to eat on the street itself – later in the afternoon, a medical camp would be set up and we would have to help out with that. Meanwhile, I had been noticing a young woman washing her clothes a few yards away from where we sat. She ignored her toddler daughter who was making a fuss nearby (and who was eventually taken up by a neighbor) and methodically scrubbed and rinsed clothes, undergarments, bedsheets and more. She was representative of the women in this neighborhood – everywhere they were hard at work. I felt that our buns were of little use here. What would have really helped this woman was a full meal so that she would not have to cook or go hungry. And that was beyond our capacity...
After lunch, we moved to a parallel street where two tables had been lined up for the medical camp. Now started another long waiting period. The doctors were supposed to arrive at 2:30 pm, but that time passed without them in sight. Luckily for me, Smitha joined the group and talked to me about her work in Sulagiri and the activities in AID Bangalore. Finally, at 4:30 pm the doctors arrived. After a short discussion, it was decided that two doctors would stay here and one doctor would be escorted to Koturpuram to run a medical camp there. I chose to join them.
In Koturpuram, a government camp had been set up in a school – as before, this area was covered with drying clothes. Ravishankar met us at the entrance and escorted us to an area in the center of the school. Here, a table and chair was set up for the doctor and a couple of benches for dispensing medicines. The group got to work, opening boxes and setting out medicines while people lined up. As the doctor examined, Grace dressed wounds and some of the others handed out medicines based on the doctor's prescription. At first, just a few people were in line, but as word spread of the doctor's arrival, more began trickling in. A few had flood and water-related problems such as diarrhea, but there were other day-to-day problems. A few boys came in with play-related injuries.
Another doctor was being expected and finally arrived at about 6 pm. All this while, I hadn't been able to help in any way – expected, but frustrating. So when some full-timers left, I joined them. It seems that quite a few AID Tamilnadu full-timers live in Arakkonam, at least 2 hours away by bus and train. Thankfully, I did not have to travel all that far... after returning to the AID Chennai office, Dwiji and I headed to Chandra's house nearby for dosas and a good night's sleep.

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