Landing home

Lucknow basti slum bathing
Shakeenah and Shadia

Our first day back to the slum I was days behind on sleep after too many plane and train legs. Thankfully there was an empty room waiting for us. After a frantic morning clearing out grime and cobwebs, we unpacked just enough to attempt a 2pm nap in 90-degree weather….when the power went out, and along with it our fan. Desperately groggy, sweat rolling, mosquitoes biting, the nap never happened. The rest of the day was more cleaning, more unpacking, Shakeenah itching with a UTI from travel, the night’s sleep interrupted by another (gratefully shorter) power outage. It wasn’t until Day 5 that cleaning and equipping the room slowed down from a daily burden.

Interactions with our community has been a welcome counterpoint. Good friends and distant acquaintances alike have been warm, gushing, glad to have us back in town. Our next-door neighbors are exceptionally helpful in settling us in. Our teachers too have been eager to have me back, and I’m looking forward to teaching again. The “team” is as large as ever, with one Indian and three foreign partners living in the same slum as us, employing eight people from the neighborhood to help us run various programs.

The troubles of the slum are here as well. One of the young girls I taught to read years ago came to our door with a baby on her hip, having been married off at 15 shortly after we left in 2020. Several other students we taught are working full-time now despite barely being in their teens. Fights in the alleyways are just as common as they always have been. I came upon one altercation that resulted in significant bleeding, though I don’t know if it was intentional or an accident. From the moment we arrived we’ve fielded conversations about an alleged “sex trafficking” conspiracy that in fact appears to be a revenge plot by a woman against her family and neighbors, but which has drawn in police investigations from two districts and stressed a lot of people. Many fear that burdensome bribes will be required before corrupt investigators close the case. Several of our teachers and other neighbors continue to deal with repeat sicknesses. And on our fourth day in town one of our nearby neighbors died after a long-term illness. He was at least five years younger than me. The next day his even younger wife died as well, of an unrelated long-term illness.

All of this combines to make it feel like….home. I’m a little shocked at how quickly we’ve slid back into life here and everything seems familiar again. Plus at least for now the the stress and anger that plagued 2020 is gone, and – despite it being too hot, too crowded, too dirty, with too many people – more often than not I feel relaxed. We are here, where we belong for now, doing what we are supposed to be doing.

For how much longer remains to be seen.

3 thoughts on “Landing home

  1. Teta

    I am so worried about Shakeena in this chaotic environment that you described. Is she going to be able to withstand all these awful circumstances surrounding her, or is she going to be scarred??? God be with you All.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s