February 5, 2010
Due to the impersonal nature of the clinic setting, my inability to understand what is going on in Bengali, and my reluctance to bother the busy physicians with questions, I end up just sketching children and other patients to pass the time, when I am not busy making health education posters. In fact, art has become the ONLY way I can either contribute or communicate in this place. Whether it is the design of these posters about arsenic or HIV, or the portraits of these kids, or the organizing of art classes and an exhibition of child art, my drawing and painting background has proven beneficial both practically to allow a way to be constructive and personally as a way to express what I am experiencing when it is the only thing I CAN do besides watch passively. As soon as I bring out my sketch pad, I get a curious crowd that peeks and often thumbs roughly through the book, nosily trying to see every image I have created. They babble in Bengali about what each picture is, and soon request that I draw them once they realize my ability for doing portraits. I cannot even explain how amazing it is to have this talent; it breaks the barriers instantly, allowing connections I could never otherwise make, perhaps not even as a physician. Art even has sparked communication with the clinic staff who normally do not even make eye contact. I have befriended a health worker named Shila whom I plan to give drawing lessons. She does henna, but has always wanted to learn drawing. Our common interests led into a conversation about her unhappiness after 18 years with CR (she is one of the ones looking for another job) and then about homelessness in general. I found out that a common perception is that there are no homeless or street dwellers in the US. How could it be? We are so rich! Doesn't the government help them? I explained the nature of homelessness in Pittsburgh and America and dashed her perconceptions by telling of the inadequate shelter system, horrible unemployment, drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental illnesss that contribute to the problems forcing street-dwelling. She had believed that only in India did people have to live on the streets, and could not understand that I had had a job in the US helping the same type of people. It is these enlightening exchanges of culture and knowledge that truly drive my being here.