Saturday, March 2, 2013


(Written on Sunday, February 24th)

The pace of life here in India is slower, but somehow that doesn’t translate into more free time for me to relax or keep up with my blog. Seems as though I am about a week behind on things. I’m going to try to do some catch up this week as I am not at CMC doing my typical routine. This morning I arrived in Trivandrum, Kerala, for the All India Occupational Therapy Association conference. More on this later, first I need to cover the events of last weekend and the past week.

Last weekend was the Spinal Cord Injury Mela (or festival) hosted by the CMC Rehabilitation Institute.  The SCI Mela is a three day event for previously rehabilitated (and current) spinal cord injury patients from around the area. I’m not exactly sure how far away people will travel from, but it is my understanding that nearly one hundred and seventy patients registered for the event.

Day one of the mela begins with an early breakfast on Friday followed by free reassessments for all patients. I was not present at the reassessments, but I believe each patient was seen by a team consisting of rehab doctors, therapists (physios and OTs), and social workers. The reassessment is designed to see how the patients are doing with community reintegration, to determine if there are any continuing health issues or comorbidities that need to be addressed, etc. After lunch there is a lecture or two given in Tamil regarding some specific topic on spinal cord injury. There is a much needed afternoon break to get out of the sun and heat while resting up for the cultural entertainment that evening. A patient talent show and cultural entertainment event kicks off around six in the evening followed by a healthy rice and sambar dinner. Every night at the mela ends with a cultural entertainment session and dinner, with Sunday’s event being the capstone moment where staff and students showcase their talents and have some fun. This would be where Charlie and I got ourselves in trouble. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Food for the masses.
A shot of the kitchen.
This was were the food was served. People then took their plates back out to the area where they watched the cultural performances (photo below).
How do you light up seven trees with one outlet? Easy! 
On Saturday morning, Charlie and I met the mela crowd at the end of our lane. They were all heading from the Mary Varghese Trust, or MTV, (the venue where the Mela was hosted) to the Oval Ground (CMC sport field) for a morning of athletics. If traffic in Vellore isn’t crazy enough, seeing hundreds of people in wheelchairs, trollies, hand-powered tricycles, and calipers with elbow crutches marching down the road next to buses, autos, motorcycles and cows was just shy of nerve-wracking. Much to my relief, the local police did lend a helping hand when the parade crossed traffic into the Oval Ground.

Mela participants mingling with the everyday road traffic.
Much needed signage.
The sign for the venue.  
Once at the Oval Ground the participants were split up into groups according to their level of abilities and the games began. There was the javelin toss, the shot put, a variety of races, relays, cricket, and pin-the-tail-on the-elephant. The sun was blistering hot, and for those of us fair-skinned people, seeking shelter in the shade was the best way to avoid sunburn. I was thankful for my zoom lens where I could sit in the shade and take photos of the events. After the games concluded, an awards ceremony was conducted before the participants started the trek back to the MVT for lunch. After lunch there was another lecture followed by a time of rest and relaxation. Cultural entertainment began again at six followed by another wonderful dinner.

Charlie, Mansi (rehab PT), and a rehab PT intern (whose name I have ashamedly forgotten) ready to start a morning of athletics!
Angeline looking sharp in her Rehab Mela visor . 
The shot put event
The prone trolley participants awaiting instructions for their next event. 
Pin-the-tail-on-the-elephant. This participant either had great aim, fantastic guiding instructions, good luck, or was cheating. :) 
The javelin toss for lower level paraplegics. 
Johan, PT student looking ever so calm as he oversees the javelin toss.
One of the many wheelchair race heats. 
This was part of a relay race for lower lever paraplegic participants. I believe there were lifesavers in the rice powder which they had to dig out.
Manoj, friend and rehab PT, overseeing the track and field events. 
One of the many paraplegic race heats. It was nearly a photo finish. 
Franklin, rehab  PT, at the games. 
One of the many tricycles heats. 
This was some sort of balloon competition. I didn't make it in time to catch the instructions. 
Sunil, friend and rehab PT, with one of the mela participants. 
Nobel, friend and rehab PT, working hard at the track and field events. 
Another relay activity. 
Taniya, fourth year OT student, taking a cool-off break in the shade after diligently fulfilling her duties at the track and field event.
Ashish and Peter (third year OT students) taking a cool-off break after goofing off in the sun all morning. ;)
JDshajkl hda
Agnes (third year OT student). I love her smile. 
The first of the prizes being awarded at the track and field event. 
Taniya, Neenu, and Angelene stopped their work long enough to flash me some beautiful smiles. 
Some of the extraordinary rehab OT staff.
This guava tender was selling his goods to the tired and heat-weary staff and participants of the mela. 
I tried his goods. It was... interesting. The students handed me a piece of guava, which was covered in chili powder, and told me to eat it. They didn't tell me HOW to eat it, which resulted in me taking a mouthful of chili and very little guava to cool the tang! I know better for next time. 
I cannot speak much about Sunday morning, as Charlie and I took the morning off from the Mela to attend church. We were summoned directly from church to MVT to practice our portion of the cultural entertainment for that evening. (More information on that to come.) After lunch, I headed back home to download photos for one of the rehab social workers. Apparently there is typically a Mela recap slide show shown on the last evening of the event, but the camera responsible for capturing the weekend prime moments went M.I.A. Me and my less-than-discreet  camera were targeted to provide the slide show photos as backup. Upon returning to MTV to deliver the photos, the rangoli and art competitions were in full swing. It was the perfect opportunity to capture more photos and enjoy the lazy hum of Sunday afternoon life around the MVT. Before I left to go get ready for the cultural events of the evening, the rehab team kicked off the Indian version of a piñata game. The object was to hit a pot of water with a stick until water spilled out. I’m still a little confused about the point of this game. See, in breaking a piñata the one who does the final damage is rewarded with a cascade of sweet treats. In this version, the one who hits the pot gets punished with a face full of water. Do you see my confusion? Anyhow, it was entertaining nonetheless.

Portrait drawings. The gal being drawn is a social worker from Australia here doing an internship at the rehabilitation institute for a number of weeks.
Roger, a PT staff member conducting the "Indian piñata" activity.
Vegetables and carving knives, alone with paint and brushes were provided for the art competition.
A team of artists hard at work. 
Based upon the smiles on the faces of the participants, I'd say this event was a good one.
The rangoli art competition was beautiful. The designs are made by scattering colored rice powder (traditionally) on the ground. How these ladies manages to get everything so symmetrical is beyond me. They had forty five minutes to complete their designs. 
Stunning work!
Rangoli aftermath.
Onlookers at the art competitions. 
More of the art competition. 
Ramesh, one of the rehab PT staff, making sure things are running smoothly at MVT
A young mela participant. 
The last evening of entertainment is largely provided by the staff and students. It is an opportunity to demonstrate to the patients that as therapists, we do indeed have fun outside of work. Even the rehab doctors performed a routine together! The students do an amazing job and get very creative in their performance routines. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the MVT award is also presented on the last evening of the Mela. This year’s recipient was a lady who has fought the fight against polio, spinal cord injury and cancer and continues to selflessly serve others in a myriad of ways. Ah, to be more like her!

Neeraj translating a prelude to the MVT award presentation. 
The presentation of the award. 
The HOD (Head of Department) addressing the MVT award recipient. 
Back at home, Charlie and I began to prepare for the evening. I’m not sure if it was our enthusiasm to experience everything we possibly could while here, or if it was temporary insanity, but the two of us agreed to perform in and Indian dance routine with the rehab staff on the final night of the mela. To this day I have no clue what I was thinking. Seriously! I’m a white girl with very little rhythm to begin with. Put me in a saree and any rhythm I did have gets tangled in six plus meters of fancy material. A recipe for disaster, at best! To make matters worse, Mrs. George as out of town that evening so we had to tie our sarees ourselves. We did a good enough job to get us to the MVT, but then quickly found some of the rehab team ladies and had them at least re-pleat our pallus for us. As this was only our second time in public with sarees, we were still not entirely used to the stares and attention we drew. This didn’t do much to calm the nerves. I had comes to terms with my situation by the time my pallu was re-pleated and pinned. See, I was enlisted to entertain the masses. What is the worst that could happen? I fall out of step with the dance team and even trip onstage? Well, that would be entertaining, right? If looked at with the right perspective I was sort of in a win-win situation. I held tight to that perspective hoping it would carry me through the night.

Here’s a little side note about this routine we were participating in: We had only had three solid practices prior to performing which mean that I had been through the routine a good four times from beginning to end before having to perform. Seems like plenty of practice time for a complicated routine with twirls, wrist flips, hip shimmies and whatever else, right? Ha! The day of the performance I found out that this performance was actually part of a skit routine. Who knew? My first thought was, “Please tell me that I have nothing to do other than appear on stage and dance.” Thankfully that was the truth. Easy, peasy! Ha!

The skit storyline (from what I could tell) was this: A guy and his buddies see a good looking girl (Charlie) walk past, as the sip tea served to them by the local tea boy. Boy and friends get excited, dance, then exit stage left. Girl chats with her friends about the new love she has found. Girl’s friends assume it is one of the cute school boys. Girl and friends dance and exit stage left. Girl runs off with her new love which turns out to be the tea boy. The whole performance was narrated in Tamil, and it wasn’t ever really explained to me, but that is the summary of it. Nothing like performing in a show that you don’t exactly understand. The best part was being instructed to enter the stage when I heard a specific word in the song… ha! Umm… all the words in the song sounded pretty much the same to me. I requested a visual cue from the director as to when I needed to enter the stage.

So the time came for us to make our appearance. Despite the lack of practice, a few spatial awareness issues, and miscalculated timing blunders we made it through the dance without tripping over our sarees or one another. Nailed it! Or something like that… It was a fun experience and I’m glad I had the guts to participate. Charlie had a little larger part than I did and also did a wonderful job performing.

The mela crowd engaged in the cultural entertainment. 
A flute piece and song!
Another performance.
Cheering one another on... 
Singing before supper.
Rehab therapy staff performing a song piece. 
This was a group performance of (as I understand it) a traditional Kerala song.
Young and old alike participated. This young one was far braver than I ever could be!
I don't have a good photo of my performance, but I took a quick snap of me in my mela saree for those who are interested. 
It was a busy weekend. It was a weekend where I got to interact with, and form closer connections with rehab staff and students. My next posting at the rehab institute would begin on the following Monday, and the Mela provided a good introduction to the staff. It was also wonderful to see so many rehabilitated patients come back and reconnect with one another. There was a unique sort of camaraderie between staff, students, and participants that really made the event exceptional. I also appreciate the way the staff worked so tirelessly to make sure everyone was taken care of and having a good time. I feel blessed to have been a part of the event. 

No comments:

Post a Comment