Yesterday (Monday, Day 8), I got to go with the medical team to one of the leprosy colonies. The name of the colony is Chettipuniyam. It was my first time going to one of the colonies, and thus my first time actually seeing those affected with the disease. It was a medium-sized colony nestled in the jungle.
I don't know what I was expecting, but whatever it was, it was not what I experienced. Because there were only a couple of us, I didn't have the opportunity to dance with the people there. Instead I helped to clean wounds and replace bandages. I think it would have been just as difficult to dance with them, because my heart would still have broken for them. Here are a few things that I learned about the disease:
- It looks completely different than I expected. Yes, the skin turns white, but it's like a really, really bad callous. But instead of stopping at a normal point, as the disease progresses, the "callous" goes deeper. Pretty soon, there is no more real skin and bone
- There is no feeling in the leprous skin; however, as you get close to the healthy skin, it can still be very painful to be treated
- So many people still struggle with the disease even after being treated, and I think that often it is because of the living conditions
- Hansen's disease also eats away at the bone
- To treat it, you wash it out, and then you cut off all of the dead skin and bone. Sometimes, this is impossible, because there is too much dead skin and bone. There is medicine we also use.
- There are visuals in my mind that I will never forget
There were other unexpected things that I experienced travelling to and being in that village:
- Because it is the school break, I got to see some of our dancers in their homes with their parents. It broke my heart to see them living in these tiny, dirty places. It doesn't feel like they belong there.
- One of the students took me to her house so she could show me the picture of her father. He passed away on March 13th. Her grandfather is also dead. She is living with her grandmother. Her mother is away working very hard.
- As I looked at the women in the colony, I suddenly wondered at how beautiful they must have been when they were younger. I know they were beautiful, because their children are beautiful. It made me wonder how I would feel if disease and living circumstances altered my looks so completely.
- There is great apathy. I left feeling like leprosy is just part of life here in India. That is the feeling here. It is a disturbing feeling to be immersed in, because leprosy doesn't have to be a part of life anywhere in the world.
- We drove by some other Indian schools. They are completely different than our little school, and they look like run down old factories. The law and medical schools in Chengalputta also look like awful places. Even the most "ghetto" colleges in the US look at least ten times nicer than these places.
- We burn all our trash after we finish working at the colony. This is to destroy any diseased skin, etc that we have been working with.
Last night, after going to the colonies, I had an interesting experience. I was frustrated because I am trying to buy a plane ticket to Delhi for this weekend. However, my personal card is not working. I emailed the bank, and they sent an auto-reply, blah blah blah. Anyway, I was very frustrated. I sat down and turned on a talk from this last General Conference (a worldwide conference broadcast by the LDS church. All the talks are available online). It was about gratitude. The speaker, President Thomas S. Monson, cited the story of the Ten Lepers. Only one turned to thank the Lord for healing him. I realized how selfish and ungrateful I was being by dwelling on my frustration. I realized that I am so blessed to even consider going to a place where these people could 1) never afford to go, and 2) never consider going because they are complete social outcasts who are thought to have committed some great crime in another life. Who am I to be angry? Who am I to be frustrated by something so unimportant? Who cares if I never see the Taj Mahal? These people are more important and beautiful. They would give anything to be one of those ten lepers that were healed. And I think they would all turn with the one and thank the Lord. Who am I to act like one of the other nine?