Thursday, May 29, 2014

International Menstrual Hygiene Day at Durbar

Today we were invited by the DMSC community to their International Menstrual Hygiene Day program. It was sponsored by Durbar and put together by Amra Padatik, which translates (I believe) to "The Foot Soldiers" and is the organization of the children of sex workers. The reason for the Menstrual Hygiene Day was to decrease the stigma that menstruation has within the Sonagachi/Kolkata community, and stress the importance of using pads/tampons versus some of the other dangerous/potentially harmful practices.

The program was amazing, I loved it! There were over a hundred attendees, plus people meandering about watching as they walked through Sonagachi. When we first arrived to the event, the entire second row of women got up and were insistent that we take their seats, which was so sweet. We began to refuse, to be polite, but I think in the end the politer thing to do was to accept their offer, so we sat. The program began with a skit, which was in Bengali so I have no idea what it was about. But I did catch the word "tampon" in there, so I assume it was about menstrual hygiene.
Next Dr. Jana, the PI of the Sonagachi Research Institute, and some other doctors stood and spoke, presumably about the same topic though it was also in Bengali. Dr. Jana is sort of like our fieldwork advisor. He is the one who approves our research proposals (which are due tomorrow!)
And then the Amra Padatik dance group took the stage and we were treated to a beautiful performance. I couldn't understand the words in the song, so for me it was kind of like interpretive dance. I loved it.
After awhile it became dark, and the mens' program started. I believe the band was made up of Babus, which are fixed, regular clients of the sex workers who often live with them and act as second parent figures to their children. After awhile, Phillip, Beth and Anjali got up and began dancing in front of the whole crowd!
And before I knew it, Pintuda (our interpreter, an amazing individual!) was encouraging me to join them. I said no at first, and then I thought further...when would I ever have a chance to dance Indian style in front of 100 sex workers and their families on International Menstrual Hygiene Day in a red light district in India? So... in I went!
I am so thankful to be here and to be relishing in these experiences. At one point before I went in to dance, an older woman put her arms around me from behind and was holding onto me while I photographed Phillip, Beth and Anjali. Then when the next song began, she pushed me onto the dance floor to encourage me to dance! The women here welcome us with open arms and I'm in awe at their willingness to share their experiences with Durbar and as sex workers. Today I sat next to a woman who is one of the project directors, and even though she speaks little English she tried her best to hold conversations with me throughout the entire event. And even when we could not communicate, we would point and laugh and smile and nudge each other. When we went to leave tonight I waved to her and she put her hand out and held onto my for a long time, not letting go as I was walking away!

I cannot WAIT to dive in with our research proposals. I was originally planning to work with the LGBTKH project, but I changed my mind at the last minute and chose to work with the Targeted Intervention Projects. These TIPs are the research interventions that Durbar is seeking to implement among the DMSC community. They include HIV/STI education and tracking, monitoring all 49 red light districts across Kolkata, implementing a customer care center (yes! A clinic set up specifically for educating and disseminating information to the clients of the sex workers. They are finding that this keeps the HIV/STI rate down). The really cool thing is that these customer care clinics are run by the Babus! It's such a group effort, everything in the DMSC. It's amazing.

Tomorrow we meet with Dr. Jana to discuss our research proposals, and then we have class in the evening.

I've come down with some type of sickness. Luckily no vomiting or diarrhea ( doesn't exist here in India!) but I do have a fever and a very sore throat. The chemists (pharmacists) here are interesting - you don't need a prescription for most things. I was able to obtain a Z-pack (azithromycin), cough syrup with codeine, and some cough drops. I'm also drinking lots of honey-lemon tea, and resting as much as possible. Luckily we had yesterday off, so I rested on and off for pretty much the entire day and this morning before we went to the event.

Cross your fingers that I wake up tomorrow feeling better! Nomoshkar (Goodnight)!


Toni Lupro said...

It's so interesting to read hear and learn new things, like about the Babus! Thanks for sharing this experience with all of us.

Eva said...

This is so amazing!