I originally wrote this short piece, 500 words, for the ABC Open website. A producer from ABC then contacted me to record it as a spoken word piece. The ABC Open website is closing down, so I thought I would share this here.
I walk the streets of Delhi. Only nine years old. A blond western girl. My hair cut short to make me look more like a boy. Eyes watch me. I am worried about my mother dying in this foreign home I love so much.
I buy food to take to my mother as she lies in a dirty hospital, almost dead from dysentery. I pull my two younger brothers along with my spare hand. We enter the hospital and I gently feed my mother. She is pale, her skin translucent, too weak to talk.
We stay a while, but then my brothers get restless. One is sickly too. His skin yellow from the assault on his liver. I guide us back along the bustling streets. I buy rice and samosas to eat. We make it back to the hotel and wearily climb two flights of stairs to our small room.
I feed the boys and while they eat, I stare out the window. Down to the street below. Watching the people enter the Mosque next door. Soon the prayers start. I enjoy the sound. It comforts me.
I decide to call my grandmother in Australia to ask for help. I’m a child, trying to be an adult. I’m anxious about my brother and mother. What if they both die? And me, covered from head to toe in boils, am also in pain.
I feel defeated as I dial the number. My grandmother answers. I cry when I hear her kind voice. I talk and she listens. She will arrange flights for us. I am to call back later.
I remember when we first arrived. Our flight landed in the middle of the night. Bombay airport. Now Mumbai. My beautiful young mother, one of the first to follow Tibetan Buddhism in the west, boldly taking her three young children to live in India.
What a life we had. Living in the foothills of the Himalayas. Going to school while my mother studied at the Tibetan Library. Renting half house shared with Mr, Mrs and Vinnie Gupta. One hour of water a day. A squat toilet and a bucket for a bath.
After school, roaming the mountains and river close by. Never failing to be shocked by the amount of human excrement we found. Later returning for a home cooked meal or going down to the market to eat spinach and cheese curry as monkeys played cheekily outside.
It broke my heart to leave my home of nearly two years. But the imprint upon my soul and character has continued so many decades later. The experience defined me in so many ways. I reclaimed my birth name, which is common in India, and I felt like I found a part of myself that had been missing growing up in Australia.
Seeing such poverty and suffering, as well as the strength of the human spirit, gave me a profound appreciation of how blessed we are in our lucky country.
I don’t know if my memory as a young girl provides the most accurate details of what happened at the time. But this is my memory.
[Image Credit: Rhiannon, Pixabay]