I am currently in India working with PINCC (Prevention International, no cervical cancer). We provide clinics to train local practitioners with the intent to sustain cervical cancer screening and treatment.
Our PINCC team of 6 is offering a cervical cancer screening clinic this week at the Dagapur Tea Plantation. It is located in the city of Siliguri, West Bengal, India. People live and work on the plantation, often for generations. Their work consists of tending, harvesting and processing Darjeeling Tea which is sold around the planet. We are told they make approximately $1.50 per day. The plants are over 85 years old. To sustain the health and productivity of the tea bushes, the workers pick only ‘two leaves and a bud’.
Our clinic is being held at the Dagapur Tea Estate Hospital, a health care building that offers good space for us to work in. But before we arrived the ‘hospital’ was empty of anyone to offer services. I am not sure for how long but “the doctor went away”. Our ‘administrative office’ for this clinic is on the front porch and front yard. It is where we and our Sumita Cancer Society volunteers register, offer pre-exam education and post exam teaching. As our table is on the porch I have a beautiful view of the tea plantation and can watch the comings and goings of both the women attending clinic and all the people of the plantation community as they move about their day.
These people live in an interestingly sheltered and beautiful world compared to many of the poor and urban residents of Siliguri. The tea plantation is beautiful and due to the sheer size expansively empty compared to the crowded conditions in the city.
I notice the people of this community intently watching us. I imagine we must look like alien space visitors. I place myself in their eyes. The empty ‘hospital’ building is cleaned up and full of life (it is quite apparent it looked different before our arrival, the ditch in front of it is the only clean one in the area and the grounds have been racked and weeded). And although we wear the clothes of India to ‘fit in’ we are well fed, white people. The iPhone I take photos with represents what would take years for them to pay for and for these illiterate people, unimaginable technology. We pull out ‘snacks’ from our bags and drink water from bottles that to them represent a wealth of nourishment. As intently as they examine me, I wonder of life in their world.
I meditate every morning and set an intention for the day. My intent is connection. Today is the third day of clinic. The first day I was distracted by establishing ‘the process’. At one point (too) late in the day, I slowed myself down to look into eyes. Yesterday was better… Today will be even better. Today I also am bringing them some snacks. We are treated like special guests. Tea is served to us on a regular basis, I want to serve them.
We arrive with our western time tables and expectations. We arrive with goals and expected outcomes. They are teaching me… Two leaves and a bud. Pinch off just a bit. That allows the plant to continue to grow and even thrive. For many of them I will be the first western woman's eyes they have ever looked into. I will be the first white woman who they ever touched as I offer my hands to them in namaste. My intent is simple. We only speak through interpreters so eye to eye... Heart to Heart... Connection. Two leaves and a bud.