Making my way to Pashapati Elderly home – it’s busy, dusty, loud, beeep beeeep, we can barely cross the road. As we get closer, the architecture becomes more ornate; Hindu temples. Sitting on temples, basking in the sun are some elderly people. The further we go, the more we see, and more homeless, more beggars, more limbs missing…
Inside this red brick structure, resolute to their faith, the elderly residents are praying, sitting at the large gold bell in the courtyard, carrying trays of blessings – dye and petals, chanting, singing, bells ringing.
Yet all of their faith, all their hard work, all the buzz and chaos and colour leads you to this….
The back of the home. For invalids. Two dorms – one male, one female.
Some eye you suspiciously, curiously, jaded even – more white volunteers. Some are full of gummy smiles, waves and handshakes, delighted with the company.
The work is hard – change sheets, scrub floors, mop floors, dry floors, wash sheets, hang sheets, collect dishes, wash dishes, help them with toileting, help them to walk, sit the residents in the sun, mash their food and spoon feed them. Give them packets of biscuits or crackers, which they hide in their beds, then sweep the crumbs and take back the opened, uneaten packets.
In the blistering sun there are flies everywhere. I cover the old women’s heads with scarves, I play peekaboo or pretend to wear one, as I have seen other volunteers do, and they laugh. It breaks the ice. Other tasks are nicer – moisturising their skin, singing to them, just sitting with them and holding their hands. A lot of residents are lonely and confused, many are developing dementia or senility, some are going blind and completely dependent. Simple contact works wonders. One old lady is totally blind, when I sit with her she touches my bracelets, kisses the back of my hands and raises them to her forehead. They love that I have a tikka on my forehead or string around my neck from being blessed one morning and point delightedly.
They chat away and mumble in Nepali and we have great conversations without understanding anything the other is saying. Although, I learned “pani” means water, as I was regularly asked for this and scolded by more lucid residents for not understanding! I imagine time goes very slowly here and long to play them music or show them magazines or photos.
The home is sporadically visited by wealthy tourists, who technically aren’t supposed to come back through to this area. A woman and her son come by. She hands out 5 rupee notes and tells her son to do the same. These people are confined here, can barely sit, shaking, mumbling… money?
To clarify five rupees, well… 15 rupees gets us volunteers a delicious glass of Masala tea in a cafe around the corner from the home. I can’t imagine these habitants are going to club together and share a glass of Masala, even if they could walk to the café… It’s a stark reminder that the wealthy, though their intentions are good, think money can solve all and are seriously deluded. The gap between rich and poor is ever present and evident. Even in the heart of Kathmandu.
This money reminds these folks that it is worthless to them. The philanthropist hands money to the blind old lady, who doesn’t know what it is. Another gives hers to me. She knows it’s pointless. I give it to a beggar outside, maybe it can help him buy dinner.
This is a bleak entry as I found it incredibly difficult at the home. I felt pretty useless through my inexperience. I work with children. Though, some of these poor women are mentally like babies at this stage and even call us “amma” which means mother, and cry and get fussy when you leave or show attention to their neighbours. A lot of the people at this home are elderly orphans, abandoned by families and ex homeless who’ve had very difficult lives…
I have huge admiration for the volunteers from IDEX organisation and also the Sisters and volunteers who work here. It is tough work, there are girls here, about 14 years old, who give up their school holiday time to contribute and are so capable and confident in their duties, it is both intimidating and impressive.
It’s eye opening to see the harsh reality of aging and the vulnerability, and it will stay with me.