I never walked around Vijayawada with the enthusiasm that I usually have when I travel the world, I always go when I am in a hurry and generally do not feel like leaving Daddy’s Home, where I always have something to look after or spend time in Babies home.
Going to Vijayawada means trying to buy a couple of things and failing at doing so in the timing that I give myself because, instead of the two hours I target myself with, I end up needing at least two more hours. This makes the city even less pleasant.
I was lucky enough to visit many countries and walk around all sorts of cities till exhaustion. Ugo doesn’t appreciate how I create contact with different worlds. He literally goes mad if he doesn’t study the map, choosing directions and destinations. Ugo is a man that needs bookings and I am the opposite. I do not enjoy having destinations and I do not particularly like maps. To be honest I’m afraid I’m not clever enough to be able to read them, since I get lost even when I try to. However, I always end up returning to the starting point, even after I let myself be carried away by people and traffic, to wonder with no destination entering and exiting randomly little shops full of dust that I encounter. I always suspected that even this city had a corner where I could loose myself.
Sruthi meets me in the very caotic centre of the city. I ask her if we can leave that place immediately because I do want to understand the city and Sruthi suddenly understands what I am looking for.
Sruthi is 20 years old, like Angelica, two sweet dark eyes and an English good enough for us to be able to communicate for hours and hours without being interrupted. I met her when Daddy’s home had already become an annual trip in my life and i was confident enough with the little village to the point of jumping on a tuc tuc alone and going to Gannavaram daily to buy first necessity things: fruit. The centre of the village is full of little houses and little shops selling everything but still, you can never find what you’re looking for.
Here is where I ran to buy a hammer and nails the day that I wanted to put up all the mosquitos nets in the main kitchen to protect the fuits and the vegetables from the attack of diabolical flies.
Here is where I came looking for mirrors with Dina, to give them to the houses that were missing them.
Here is where Sruthi came to save me that day that I simply wanted to do the shopping but I was literally paralised. I could not decide whether to throw myself on the street to cross it. I could never find the right hole to try the challenge and I could already feel the wheel of the tuc tuc that could have run me over on my back. She took my hand and made me walk like an old lady that just found a nice sould. She helped me in the negotiation for buying bananas, oranges, a watermelon and all I could have needed. Generally I spend 3-4 euros in a negotiation that ends up making me save a couple of cents. But this is the show which works here and if you don’t do it their way they make you feel stupid.
I ask Sruthi what her name is, where she lives and how come she can speak English. And so I find out she lives in Daddy’s Home, precisely in Angel Home, the one for older girls, and she is a student ready to graduate. Every morning she takes the bus from Gannavaran to Vijayawada and comes back late in the afternoon. She has an older sister doing the same thing. They have a mum in a city and she’s looking after the grandma in a miserable way. For this reason the two sisters were welcomed from a young age in the building, where thanks to some sponsors they can eat and study with a roof over their heads.
I organise a meeting with Sruthi that same night, in Padova Home, to learn more about her. She already conquered me with her sweetness and the humility of her being.
We meet only few times as I am very busy, that year I worked more than ever, running around all of Care&Share’s orphanages, obeying to Carol’s orders. I came back home full of back pain which meant not being able to go back to India for quite a long time and a good back operation: the back pain for me means the love I have for the children.
The day of my return home Sruthi is grey and I have that usual feeling that I get before crying, which makes even my ears and teeth ache. But a friend of mine taught me that when you feel like that, the trick is breathing at open mouth. By doing so you relax your muscles, contracted in those times. So I hug her. She is beautiful with those sweet eyes of hers.
I find her when I come back and she is always the same.
Then I can’t find her anymore! She left with her sister forever. I manage to contact her thanks to the office. She comes to see me in Daddy’s Home and she is so sad it leaves me breathless. When we meet I hug her so tight I’m afraid of suffacating her.
She starts telling me the same boring story, almost impossible to believe since it’s so similar to the stories of many other girls: the grandma helping mum at home got sick, mum cannot work anymore, she is also sick and so the daughters must go back home and take care of both grandma and mum. How old is the grandma? And how old is the mum?
The grandma is maybe 60 and the mum less than 40. How many rooms can the house have for two girls to have to leave a safe place like Daddy’s Home? One room! I am right in front of one of the many indian misteries! What goes through the mind of a woman whose daughters were well brought up, healthy and good students that could continue their career, helped by Care&Share, instead of going back to the city, in a situation of misery having to pay for school. No one ever told me.
If I knew I would find peace.
Sruthi doesn’t look very healthy, she is pale and gained a bit of weight, dark circles under eyes that seem asking for help. Sruthi never asked me for money and every single time I try to give her a present she never wants to accept it. She has an incredible dignity and she knows indian people are very famous for asking money all the time. Not her situation.
I am confused, our meeting is just outise Padova Home in a bench, it is incredibly hot. I sweat sitting down and my eyes are almost closing from how humid it is. I can’t get anything out of her a part from the feeling that things are not going so well for her. She tells me about her university project, she is studying pharmacy. America is her dream. I ask her if she has any idea how expensive university is in the United States, destroying a whole dream. She is too naive, but with her I have to be extremely honest and I realise I am hurting her. The reason is one: I do not speak to her like I speak to my daughters and I do not listen to her like I listen to my daughters; I speak to Sruthi as if I was speaking to an adult and I treat her words like those of a big girl. Maybe it’s a way to defend myself because just the thought that she is my daughter’s age makes my stomach contract.
Poor Sruthi, stuck in this huge country where money is really the only way of going any further in life and the only way to dream of a different life.
I leave her with the promise that we will stay in touch through Facebook.
Facebook is a bad thing between us volunteers and the guys in Daddy’s Home. Carol used to remind us a lot: they look at our photos where our houses and cars are like those of rich indian people for them. In reality when an Indian is really rich, rich, rich, he has palaces and planes, and my house could be compared to the dog’s house. Anyways they see us too rich and lucky to ask us money all the time. Again, Sruthi never does that. She never asks me for money.
Finally this year I allow myself to spend a whole day alone with Sruthi asking her to walk me around her city and show me the real corners, far from the big shopping centres and the economic development. Vijayawada became capital some years ago already and it is consequently growing dramatically with no rules.
Sruthi goes in very narrow streets, full of people and shops selling everything for a couple of cents. Homeless people are everywhere and they’re pulling my arms from left and right, every once in a while a motorcycle appears playing the horn and making me suddendly jump.
Sruthi is holding my shoulders guiding me through the crowd. Finally I am seeing the city I wanted to see, the one not yet attacked by the bright lights and the huge window shops. This is the part I knew I had to find to feel like I want to come back as soon as possible. The food stands earn a great deal of money, but not thanks to me, too afraid to get sick from eating that food. I would actually need to drink water, but I do not want to risk it. In the shops the air conditioning hits your face, the employees make you seat and immediately offer you a glass of water. I would drink just by looking at it from how thirsty I am, but I have to resist.
Even here I am assailed by my obsession: everything for my home. Pots with all kind of manuals, to make butter, to cook chapati, to cut vegetables. And then there are all the fabric of wonderful colours, and jewwellery of all kinds. The fish and meat market smells like a dead body and for us europeans that is unbearable. My pest control business would definitely fail here! There are also some small cafes but I do not trust them. I am more afraid of the stomach infection than of dehydration.
It is so nice to simply walk, not necessarily entering the tiny shops.
I like Vijayawada, even if it is incredibly ugly. Tipycal Indian contradictions. I like it but I hate it, I cannot wait to come back but when I am here I only want to go back home, I like the people but I hate them at the thought of what they do to the abandoned and tortured children.
Sruthi wants to show me her house and I can already imagine it. It’s quite far so we take a tuc tuc. I learn that every ride is about 30 rupees each, not 100, like they usually ask me, white, non-expert person! And then I think about it and feel so stupid. 30 rupees are a few italian cents, 100 rupees are just a bit more than 1 euro. What’s the difference? But anyway I will negotiate even the price of the tuc tuc from now on.
Sruthi’s home is in the second floor of a three floors building. It’s got one bedroom with one bed only, a kitchen corner and a bathroom corner. The only place where I can seat is the bed, the bed where every night three people are sleeping: Sruthi, the mum and the sister. The brother (there is also a brother 18 years old) sleeps in a cot now standing next to the wall. They have a small white dog that tries to bite my ankle; it’s a hurt puppy saved from the street. And so I melt completely.
The house is just it but it is clean. They do not own a television or a fridge. Luckily a mosquito enters my throat and I start coughing with no control. Sruthi’s sister doesn’t even try to pour me a glass of water, she runs directly to buy me a closed bottle of water. The two sisters know well the terror that the volunteers have when they come to India: the stomach ache! I feel guilty for making her spend money when I could have drink from the sink.
The conversation is very poor, us mothers do not really understand each other, her mother tongue keeps us at distance but I will never forget her warmth and the hospitality in her home. They live out of nothing, only Sruthi’s brother works and they have to pay both the rent and universities fees. Three years are left until Sruthi can become a pharmacist like she wishes. I am not going to say anything else, but I know that she will graduate.
I cannot forget this day, Sruthi’s eyes are happy and sweet again and Vijayawada is not a mistery to me anymore, however I have a weight in my stomach that aches my heart and I cannot wait to go back to Padova Home and use the wifi to send a message to Carolina and Angelica.
I allow myself a beer tonight, a nice and fresh King Fisher after days and days of lukewarm water.
Sruthi the pharmacist, I can already picture her with the white gown in a medicine shop in Vijayawada.
Life in India is tough, especially if you’re a woman and you are part of a poor family. Life is hard for Sruthi, imploring me not to forget about her when I’ll be home again.