Being Human

Givraj Sen is 19 and a good looking young man. And that’s important. The very first thing I

Givraj Sen

want you to know about Givraj is that he is handsome.

Because the second thing I’m going to tell you about him is that as a young boy he was severely burned.
It’s one thing to give statistics about our clinic; we served 154 people on Saturday and 144 people on Sunday, with these tests or those medications. But behind every number is a person. A real person who has a family, who is hungry sometimes and full sometimes. A person who laughs and cries. A person who celebrates and suffers. Givraj is one of those people and he has suffered a lot.
That night 16 years ago, when he was three years old, the cooking fire in the village of Kanai was larger than usual because of a celebration. Exactly what celebration doesn’t matter. It is overshadowed by what happened next. A woman aimed to enhance the fire with kerosene. Instead, she mistakenly poured a can of gasoline on the fire and it exploded. One small child was killed on the spot. Three were burned. Givraj is one of those children.
He was burned along the left side of his head, his ear was consumed, his neck, upper  torso and arm were all burned. The little boy spent a month and a half in the hospital enduring many painful procedures. His arm began to contract and the doctors forced extension so that he would retain the use of it. Although he was very young he remembers every bit of that.
Givraj is a handsome man, remember that. He has enormous thoughtful eyes and an intense manner about him. If it wasn’t pointed out to me I would not have noticed that he was severely burned. His face was spared and the scars are a similar tone as his beautiful brown skin. His black hair covers the missing ear.  Givraj comes from a caste of barbers. Barbers as far back as time. But Kinai is small and there is not so much barbering to be done and so Givraj also became a cook. Many people here have multiple jobs, trying to keep lentils in their family’s belly. An excellent cook, Givraj often works weddings and large events. The last couple days he has been working for us, cooking for the staff of our clinic and for us. Providing fresh hot food for visitors is an absolute cultural requirement. (Joan and I require separate meals because the local food is far too fiery for us.) Givraj has been cooking non-stop. I’m too busy eating and gawking to swallow the names of the dishes. The woman of the house, who’s been cooking for most of her 58 years has even learned a few tricks from the 19 year-old.
“Being Human,” reads Givraj’s shirt one day.
I love it.
“Does he know what the t-shirt says?” I ask.
“He knows it is English.”
Being Human is a brand started Salman Khan, one of the most successful actors of the Indian film industry. Being Human clothing items are sold in 15 countries and funds go to a charitable trust devoted to education and healthcare initiatives for the underprivileged in India.
Despite his injuries, Givraj has full functionality. Sort of. His hearing seems to be fine. His movements are okay. Thanks to good barbering his absent ear is not noticeable. But the skin on his neck has begun to tighten, impeding full and normal motion of his head. Mostly, Givraj is bothered by the absence his ear. I can’t help but think that he is approaching the age of marriage.
He would like plastic surgery to get a new ear.
How to go about that?
“If the government card won’t pay,” says Givraj, “I have money saved for this.”
Plastic surgery is far beyond the scope of our little clinic, but we can at least get him pointed in the right direction. We meet with the facilitator from the local NGO, who explains grafting and other possible treatments and gives Givraj the name of a plastic surgery center in Jaipur….about two-and-a-half hours away, depending upon how many cows are on the road. Mr. Rathore, who is coordinating logistics, agrees to take Givraj to Jaipur and accompany him to meetings. We try to make it very clear that this is not something that can happen quickly or at one time. (One man brought his blind son to our vision clinic and became quite angry that we couldn’t cure him, and NOW. “You call yourself a VISION CLINIC? Fix him. NOW.”)
Givraj seems to understand that. I hope he does. Like many people here who endure intense hardship, he never complains. The men in the line to see the general practitioner, suffer the intense pain of kidney stones move slowly but don’t protest. Every person, every pain is not a statistic, it represents an individual. And if we can do a little bit for a few people then that is a good thing.
I’m rooting through the box of glasses donated by Manhattan Beach vision, hoping to find another pair of sunglasses. Men get around by motorbike here and the sun and dust are brutal on even unscarred skin. I hold several pair up to the light. Darn. All have prescription lenses. Blessedly Givraj still has good vision. I’m sitting on the floor in front the battered box, looking at pair after pair and finally I find one.
The last pair of sunglasses goes to Givraj Sen.
Posted in Charity, current events, Life Experiences, travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Clinic Photos – Day 2

We saw 142 patients today. Turnout complicated by harvest which is very much in effect. So we had a tractor visiting people in the filed and then a baby taxi would take them to our clinic so they could get back to work.


Banner for today

One time use dental instruments since we cannot clean in the field.

Every person has gum disease and poor hygiene. They gave many referrals to dentists for cleaning. They estimate from experience that only 20-30% will follow up.

Line to see GP. Many people have kidney stones.

We had a female dentist and a female gynecologist. All the doctors came from Jaipur.

No HIPPA regulations here!


Organizing made much easier by support of NGO which organized most of doctors and medications. Dentists we hired directly. Logistics always an issue in such a setting.

Van with doctors was an hour late because of cattle on the road!

Blood sugar testing

Click to Donate!!

Just a reminder… There is no cost of any kind to the individuals served.

Posted in Charity, Life Experiences | Leave a comment

Clinic Photos – Day 1

On day 1 we were able to serve more than 150 people for vision and cardiac services. There were twenty referrals for cataract surgery.

We had both female and male clinicians.

We held the clinic at the school and they had to double up on classrooms so we could use three classrooms as treatment rooms.

Thanks again to Manhattan Beach Vision and Napa Methodist Church for their donations!

Proud of his medication!

Frames with their prescriptions to be processed…


I got my eyes checked too but made sure I was last in line!

We have one more day for other medical services including gynecology, dentistry (we’ve got two dentists coming!), orthopedic, general practitioner, and physical therapy. Stay tuned for further updates!

Click to Donate!!

Just a reminder… There is no cost of any kind to the individuals served. I am not an NGO. There’s no paperwork or overhead. It’s me—and YOU—helping people who need it.

Posted in Charity, Life Experiences | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Getting the Word Out

Gearing up for the our clinic this weekend in India. Lots of logistics. We’re

“Farmer’s market” in Kanai at your doorstep every morning.

working in a cluster of five tiny villages close together, two of them named Kanai. Total population of 4,000.

We will be using the school building to provide vision, medical, and dental services on Saturday and Sunday.

This is an extremely rural area. We need to bring everything with us. The closest ATM is 18km away as is the nearest grocery. A man rides by every morning on his motorcycle selling fresh vegetables, a sort of mobile farmer’s market. He weighs produce on a balance scale. One of his weights is missing, replaced by rock. The produce man, however, does not sell hand-sanitizer, Betadine, scissors, or any of the many things we’ll need.

Electricity is a novelty to be gawked at from a distance. No running water of course, and what water there is has dangerously high levels of fluoride, causing serious health problems to bones and teeth. (We’re bringing lots of toothpaste and toothbrushes.) The government has locked some of the hand pumps and painted them red. A water tower is under construction to pipe in water from Bilaspur Reservoir, the primary water supply to Jaipur, a city of 5 million people. Although the monsoons have just finished, Bilaspur is only 26% full.

Running water is a novelty beyond imagining. “Is it really true that everyone in America has a pipe with water coming into their house?” one of the better educated men asked me.

“Yes, that’s true.”

“How many hours a day is the water available?”


“And you can DRINK that water?”

Literacy rate among women in the village is 20 percent.

Poster advertising our vision, dental and medical clinic.

How to get the word out?

Word of mouth is always the best advertising and that is true here in an absolutely literal way. Local helpers have created a poster.

Even more directly, on Thursday and Friday we are hiring tuk-tuks to drive through the villages with a megaphone and announcements.

Now that’s what I call social media.


Tuk-Tuk, the town crier will go with a megaphone with a more modest tuk-tuk than this.

Posted in Charity, current events, Life Experiences, travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Is it is Jet Lag? Or is it the Senate hearings?

Here I am newly arrived in India enjoying my favorite things about travel. Yesterday I did some learning at a grocery store in Jodhpur. Cake mixes give directions for baking in a pressure cooker, since Indian kitchens do not include a traditional oven. The local term for the ubiquitous mustache is “mooch”. And if you ask the produce man to taste the grapes, he will pluck one himself and hand it to you.

I passed on the grapes.

And the grape.

Had extra toast the other morning and so fed it to the meandering cows on my morning walk. I admired the ingenuity of the man at a roadside tea shop, doing minor repairs, sans electrical tape, he used a bit of plastic bag to keep the wire ends together. And note to self, if I order a cappuccino, I should request it WITHOUT sugar, as it may well contain as much sugar as a bag of Halloween candy.

Plus, I met with the doctor who is coordinating most services for our clinic–called a “camp” –that will be held in the village of Kinai next weekend. We will have male and female eye professionals on Saturday. Village women are extremely uncomfortable if asked to remove their veil around men–I suppose the rough equivalent of asking me to remove my shirt–and we want to have as good a result as possible. On Sunday we will have dentists–again male and female, in separate rooms–and a general practitioner and gynecologist, and physical therapist both days. Typically 10-20% of villagers will appear for an event like this–that would be 400-800 here. “More should come,” said the doctor, “but they are afraid.”

“What is your biggest concern about planning?” I asked Goldie, my primary helper in all of this.

“Queue management,” he said. “Village people don’t know about lines. Or waiting turns. They will be very very curious, ‘You have electricity in there? I want to see now.’ No one will push or be impolite, but there will be a lot of people. A lot many. And we cannot control them.”

I’m learning a great deal here. “And what’s your second biggest worry?”


“You are worried about lunch?!” At first I thought Goldie meant that we’d have to feed 800 people! Fortunately not, but we must provide breakfast and lunch to all of the staff including volunteers and drivers. (Most are driving from Jaipur, two-and-a-half hours away.) That will come in at 40-50 people. (I’ve asked for two volunteers just to help clean and organize the 300 glasses frames.)

It’s not like we can order up a few dozen sandwiches from Panera Bread. Local custom requires a hot fresh meal. Pop-up lunch for 50 in a village with no safe water, no electricity, no restaurants or food services of any kind is a challenge, the last major organizational piece. We’re getting bids from wedding caterers, although this is a tiny job for people who do weddings.

Loving every bit of this, and yet…. a good part of me is still at home, rapt and horrified by what’s happening in Washington. Thursday I tried to watched watch the hearings with Brett Kavanaugh and and  Christine Blasey Ford. And I do mean “tried.” There was endless buffering in fits and starts as I tested different sites and locations in the house and beyond. We drove around, looking for a good cell signal–$10/day from ATT to use international plan–and finally drove 20 minutes to get a better “dongle”, for WiFi. Things were more stable after that, except for what was happening on the screen. I stayed up past 4 a.m. hoping for….for what exactly?

Setting aside for one paragraph the possibility of sexual assault, I saw a man who knew he was being judged before the entire world, his entire world anyway, and yet refused to answer the most basic questions, lashed out at every turn, repeated rote phrases and tried to ask sarcastic questions to the senators. (That he apologized to one does not undo his behavior.) He is all too aware his every move is being evaluated and yet could not, for even a little while, maintain the reason and thoughtfulness I’d hope for from someone who will help decide the most important issues of our time.

And of course we can’t set aside the possibility of sexual assault, for even one paragraph.

All of this makes me happy, at least for now, that one of the issues on my plate is lunch for 50 people who are doing good in the world.

The man on the left is giving a boost to the man on the left, who probably ran out gas.

Posted in Charity, current events, law, Life Experiences, Technology, travel | Tagged , , | 1 Comment