Today I used a stethoscope for the first time in 3 1/2 months. I went to Keelalathur village to do medicals on the elderly people who are going to be attending our community centre. It sounds so simple, but being India of course it wasn't. Actually, today is the first day that I have been frustrated to the point of having my mood affected. Usually, a good old head wobble and a grin is enough remind me that I am a guest in this country and with a bit of luck, charm and persuasion anything is possible. However, today, the limits of possibility seemed to be visible.
I am the only person who seems to be in the least bit anxious about the project’s time scale. In one week and one day I am leaving RUHSA for Christmas. In 5 weeks, we have planned an inauguration of our community centre. Dr William Cutting, a retired paediatrician from Scotland, who was instrumental in the inception of RUHSA, is visiting for two days in January. Back when it seemed easily possible, we planned for the community centre’s "Grand Opening" to coincide with his visit, for him to cut a ribbon or two. The Grand Opening is gradually becoming less grand and there is less and less to open.
For the last month or so, I have been agitating and putting direct and indirect pressure on RUHSA’s engineer, Donald (about whom I can't say anything bad because he is responsible for the future installation) for him to get the kitchen built in time. Donald has a list of 26 jobs to do (the kitchen makes the 27th and my loo, which has snuck in through the mosquito flap, is number 28). Donald looks terrified of me and on principle says "No problem" to everything I ask, until I ask for specifics, in which case he just says "No". It is a small comfort to find builders and workmen are the same the world over. There is a fluidity of neck muscles amongst Indian workmen which is absent in their British counterparts, but the sharp intakes of breath accompanying the head movements, drawn in through clenched teeth, are identical.
On Monday, we had a frustrating but ultimately useful "site meeting". We now have a plan, which can be presented to the Committee which allows plans to become formalised and set down on paper, before the paper version can be submitted to the Committee which agrees whether this plan is ok and forwards it to the Committee which decides how much money is needed for the project before it goes on to the Committee which decides whether the amount decided is enough, blah, blah blah. As you might imagine, it is unlikely that Donald will be able to get through the 47 required Committees before the 11th January, let alone get the first brick laid. Despite this self-evident truth, always the answer is "No problem". On a side note about Committees, I am reliably informed that the CMC Hospital (of which RUHSA is a department) excels in Committeeship. It you want something done, you have to form a Committee. And if you want something not to be done, you have to form a sub Committee. To excel in Committeeship in India is an achievement indeed.
So now, we are thinking, perhaps, instead of a Grand Opening of an unbuilt kitchen, we can have an Open Day instead - an exhibition informing the community about the plans for the centre – and also start the food program. The Self Help Group women can make the food in their homes and bring it to the centre. Great idea, sounds possible even in the short time frame. Give the centre a bit of spit and polish (only 3 Committees needed to approve that) and get some furniture, benches, chairs, mats, eating utensils etc, with the money sent over from the Trustees in October. Then I discovered that the money, which is sitting in a bank account somewhere in Vellore, is not able to be spent because it needs approval from a Committee. There is a glimmer of hope. It is possible that a quick word from the Director (Dr John) to an Emergency Accounts Committee will allow some emergency funds to be released. Unfortunately, he is freezing in Denmark (without socks) for the next 2 weeks so nothing can be done until then. By the time he returns, I shall be freezing in England (with socks) eating crunchy vegetables and no curry (I hope).
Feeling a little bruised but by no means quashed (yet) after all of this, we began to plan how I would carry out the medicals. Mr Jebaraj, one of the team members, has been traipsing around the village conducting a quality of life questionnaire. The team had decided that my attendance might be detrimental so I couldn’t do the medicals at the same time. I had been promised that these would be finished two weeks ago but something has always come up. Never on first asking. No. On first asking it is always, "No problem". However, when I ask to see the finished QOL questionnaires or ask exactly how many have been completed, then the truth seeps out, reluctantly and ambiguously.
A plan was made at our Wednesday staff meeting, which is being attended by fewer people each week. Despite it being a regular weekly occurrance, people still manage to look astonished when I ask them if they are coming. I get the distinct impression people are starting to hide when they hear me coming. As I have a peepi-peepi on my bike, they get plenty of warning. Whilst sitting in the meeting, looking around at the sparse blue concrete walls and empty beige plastic chairs, I had a brainwave. Every week a mini-bus takes medical supplies and a few staff to Keelalathur where I was going the next morning to catch any of our target group who might attend the clinic. I felt a bit faint at the idea of trying to mesh my needs in with the clinic's and I thought it would be better if I could take everything I might need and not interfere with the other staff at all. So, my brilliant idea was, why don’t we take 3 chairs from the meeting room with us (knowing there are only enough to run the clinic).
You would think I had asked to borrow their own personal bedding for an orgy. For once I was told directly "No it’s not possible". Why? Well, firstly, you need to ask permission (of who?) and then get a receipt (from who?) and then ask permission of the transport department to allow them into the van and ask the clinic staff if they minded sharing the van with some renegade chairs. Feeling slightly stubborn, I said, fine, who do I ask. No direct answer. So I asked a few people who all gave me equally indirect answers and finally narrowed things down a tiny bit. Apparently the chairs in the meeting room were definitely taboo, but I could take some folding metal chairs (perfect) which were in the Community College next to the Transport Department, whose permission I still needed in order to take them to the village. Happily, I cycled off to find the various Important People to ask. I was feeling triumphant. I had Beaten the System. I was back in the world of No Problem. Every one I asked was more than happy to help. Just to be sure of my victory, I went again first thing in the morning to check that all systems were still go. They were. I waited excitedly for the clinic bus to arrive. Of course there were no chairs in it. Apparently I had got permission from everybody except the person who had the chairs (I still have no idea who that is) so all anyone was every agreeing to was the principle of transporting chairs to and from the village.
We ended up chairless at the village, the clinic started late and no-one turned up to see me. We wandered around the streets asking in all the houses trying to find our target clientele. Eventually we found 3 people. Even seeing and examining those three was a lesson in itself.