Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Buckets of Love

The driven, focused woman sitting across from me on the floor, in her bubblegum-and-lime-colored floral tunic, told us to put our yellow hats on. Silence. Suddenly jerked out of my polite, jaded attention, my mind flew to images of bright hard hats and my stomach dropped with the uncertainty of activities that could require said hard hats. Someone scraped up the courage to ask what she meant, bravely going against the Andover grain of looking in-the-know. A trained teacher, she tried to get us to answer our own questions.

"Does anyone know about yellow hats?"

Yeah, not so much.

"There are different kinds of hats, white hats, blue hats, yellow hats. Yellow hats are for positivity."

She beamed and offered to send us a write-up she had read using colored hats . Okay, a visualisation exercise. I feel that. A flutter of weird, yellow hats zipped through my imagination before I selected mine. A sunny leather cowboy hat. I would have to be in some good mood to wear a hat like that.

Her name was Mansi, and she was our friendly and fun Akanksha liaison for the past three days. She cheerfully explained that we would need our new imaginary hats to stay positive in the face of changed plans and expectations. It was a worrying statement, but I stayed hopeful.

Our first task was simple: clean the corridors. We fretted about sustainable service and cleaning supplies, standing up in the building's Akanksha centre. A cozy blue and yellow room with barred windows and seemingly mosaic flooring, covered in typical elementary school fare. ABC's, coloring, and sharing. What we wouldn't give...

Some of us dragged ourselves skeptically into the hallway, others were more optimistic. We followed the Hindi and Marathi speakers (the state language) among us and asked residents for buckets and brooms while a few went to a nearby store to pickup some soap.

After a generous and warm response from the families of the complex in Mankhurd which housed people displaced from slum communities, we armed ourselves with umbrellas, raincoats, and pails to collect water down the street. Running water indoors comes for just minutes, with a few days between.

We took advantage of the wet weather by collecting water from the rain gutters of adjacent buildings. Some visited the source down the road that provided drinking water. There was none.

A taste of life in a seven floor building with poor access to water and a non-functional elevator was had by all. The previous day we were told the elevator was shut down after a child lost his life in a fall down the shaft. When it did run, those living in building 21B were charged outside their means whether they used the lift or not. A rock and a hard place.

The cleaning began. Floors slicked with the foamy water, light and dark hands scoured the halls with modern scrub brushes and traditional brooms made from thin branches bound at one end with a strip of leather. Small children came from their homes to help their mothers wash away the grime. On the second floor, those who live there completely took over the effort. People living in a similar building across the way took notice and were observed starting to clean their halls as well.

Now the water was coming from the building's reserve (kept in two big, blue plastic drums) at the residents' request. A small spat broke out between two women, one unwilling to help, the other telling her she should take advantage of the extra help.

Smiles were all over once-apprehensive faces, both ours' and theirs'. We smiled and laughed and talked, together. Two hours later, the fruits of our labor manifested as mushy clumps of refuse on the lower floors, a result of a trickle down system of cleaning from the upper floors.

We returned to our starting point, the blue and yellow room. Sweaty, clothes soaked in rain and soap water. Grinning widely. Surely the high-traffic staircases and corridors would soon be dirty again, but perhaps we started something else. Perhaps we unexpectedly found the sustainable, successful impact for which we were aiming.

The people of 21B worshipped Allah and Ganesha, spoke Hindi and Marathi. Different backgrounds, different lives lead in different slums. They were civil to their neighbors, but yesterday they worked together. Community-building catalysts disguised as one-time volunteer housekeepers? I hope so.

---Dominic DeJesus

1 comment:

deborah said...

Dominic,MOM again,I am very impressed with the articles from all the students .I was especially the one by Mr.Mundra about wrote about how his life being changed forever,It might not be the exact quote.I know by reading the articles.They have made me to rethink my life.It made me think about the people who bitch about not being able to water their lawns.I know that the scope of seriousness in India doesn't compare.One small step at a time.Your father told me to tell you have proud of his is of you and has a lot admiration for your accomplishments.He really told me to say that.He really doesn't do emails that often,not as much as I do. Love,MOM and DAD