Our last day started with a party in the infant room. We were having a pre-Diwali tea-party for the Housemothers to thank them for all they do for our children every day. Each Housemother has 10 children to look after and, needless to say, they deserved a treat. We brought typical Indian sweets from Rourkela and had homemade chai delivered to them on trays. After a small speech, we presented a small gift of nail polish. Suffice it to say, if you put women together in a room anywhere in the world with new cosmetics, the scene is the same. Everyone was trying different colors, getting opinions on the shade, and helping each other with their toenails. It swelled my heart to see our women being so openly expressive and so individual, which you can miss when you watch them handle 3 to 4 babies at a time. Asha was laughing out loud with Amy as she tried changing Ajit’s Indian diaper (very different than an American diaper). Umakanti was teasing her colleague about the purple sparkling color she has chosen. Eventually we were reminded that there were over twenty hungry infants who have just woken from their nap and were ready for some attention. Fifteen Housemothers snapped right back to work and a whirlwind of action told us they are back to the serious and busy work that is the life of a Housemother.
By this time, the toddlers had woken up from a morning nap and wanted to know where the “chocolate” was hiding. The routine was set, the children lined up neatly and got one Jolly Rancher each, saying a tiny “thank you Aunty” when Susan let them choose their favorite color. Amy did a few rounds of “ringa ringa rosy” and they all fall down. Then both Aunties created a London Bridge with a parade of kids ducking under until it falls down and wrapped up Sumi, who squealed with delight.
After lunch, its shopping time once again, but this time we were preparing the Home for the Diwali festival. This is a very special holiday, consuming the country much like Christmas does in the US. We took five of the housemothers, who helped us pick out the small clay pots, oils and wicks that the festival is named after. On October 17th, the whole country will celebrate the “Festival of Lights” by lighting these small clay pots of oil and giving gifts and sweets. Needless to say, we wanted to be part of the action. Kevin decided to use some of the donations for the preparations and electric lights we also bought to string on the house. The housemothers all provided their opinion and helped haul our decorations home.
Next we set off for a Hindu temple, after a few of the older children arrived back from school. Kalpana, Paolina, Ranjeet, and others accompanied us on an excursion. First we stopped at a house under construction to show how an entire two-story structure can be built by a dozen men and women and no mechanical tools. I tried my hand at the women’s job, balancing bowls of concrete on my head and walked to the foundation where a man was filling the formwork. After just one trip, and many giggles from the women, I decided to go back to my day job. Then we were off to the local temple, which also has an accommodation I am considering for our student trip in March. We were greeted by the local priest of the temple and given a traditional blessing by him. Or at least Kevin and the boys were blessed as he was not allowed to administer a blessing to the women. So, I took over and ensured we were all in good standing with the 300+ gods of India. The silver alter was ornate and impressive and the gardens were immaculate. We checked out the rooms and then we were on our way again.
By the time we arrived back at the Children’s Home, the small pots of oil were being set up throughout the porch and the lights were being strung by Bhushan, Laxmi, and Kevin. The kids oooohhed and ahhhhed and knew that Diwali was right around the corner.
The decorations set the stage for the big show that the kids were preparing yesterday. All of the children, big and small, were seated on mats in front of the porch and gave us the royal seats in the back. Sumitra, Sudha, Sourab, and more crawled into our laps and the show started. In perfect, clear English, Absalom announced each dance and song, then announced the break for the ice cream party that has been donated by Dawn from Florida. Orderly and without incident, 110 children were served ice cream in 20 minutes and the show then resumed. Sameer, the athlete and dancer, was in fine form, showing off his Bollywood moves “with bones like snake.” Paolina was graceful and beautiful in her traditional makeup and dress and Laxmi, the youngest in the dance troop, was adorable in her new costume. She beamed whenever she caught my eye and I waved like she was my own child in the school play. Absalom announced the last dance and we ALL had to get up and show off our moves. The whole porch was alive and I can see that leaving was going to be a challenge.
But it was now that time, and while I organized our things, Kevin, Amy, and Susan mustered up the strength to begin the goodbyes. The children already knew we are off to Sooch Village and we would not see them tomorrow. As much as we tried not to have favorite kids, this was the time they became evident to each of us, intentional or not. I will leave this next scene for the travelers to describe in their own words, knowing how emotional and personal the next minutes were. For me, hugs are stronger, “to their bones” as we say at The Miracle Foundation, my goodbyes are softer and personal, whispered in small ears. We piled in the car and took a last look back as we drove away and saw smiling, even cheerful faces. On the way to the hotel we are dumbfounded to realize that we have another Home and 150 more kids to go and we are just over halfway through the trip. Kingfisher anyone?