February 28th - 11:50 PM

February 28th - 11:50 PM

A Chapter by Jim Parson

Aligarh - NID Part Two


February 28th - 11:50 PM - Aligarh (NID, part two)

I’m extremely sorry I missed the wedding last night - I’m told it was an amazing experience.  I guess it was continuous partying and dancing and food.  They said there had to be 1,000 people there in a huge hall completely covered in flowers.  There were at least 60 different food vendors there.  I got to see some of Anil’s pictures on his digital camera.  It looked amazing.  The group left there at midnight and the ceremony hadn’t even started yet.  Wish I’d gone.

I tried to call Zena tonight, but was unsuccessful.  It was just before 7:00 AM Monday morning her time, so I’m guessing she already left for work.  I’m missing her very much.  I started off to try to call at 6:30 her time and Jay and I walked down to the STD about a block from our hotel.  Jay went first to talk to his wife and by the time I got in there, Zena was gone.  But I did get to talk to Alex this morning, which was terrific.  The STD by our hotel wasn’t open yet so Arun took me to a place he knows on his scooter.  It was my first ride on the mopeds and quite the experience in Aligarh traffic.  I thought it would be frightening but it was fun.  Very liberating for some reason.


Guess what - the generator did not kick in this morning.  Instead, the hotel employees played cards ALL night long right outside our VERY thin-walled rooms.


Today was the second half of the NID, or at least our part in it.  We went back to the Muslim slums to walk door-to-door to immunize children…

carrying the vaccine with us…




The NID is actually a six day process.  On the NID, only about 50% of the families show up at the booths to get the drops.  For the next five days, volunteers go out into the communities and knock on every door, which is amazing when you stop to think about it.  Every single door in a country with a population of over a billion gets knocked on.  If there is no answer, they keep coming back until the door is opened and the children immunized.

They have a very simple but amazing tracking system.  The volunteers mark all the doors with chalk " “P” and the date for those where the drops have been given and “X” for the homes where they have not.  Our job was to visit the “X” homes to try and convince them to allow us to immunize their children.

This photo is a really good example of what you see there.  It shows that Team 1 (T-1) came to this home on January 11th (11-1/05) and attempted to administer the polio drops.  You can see they were refused from the “X” on the door (now smeared out).  They returned on January 12th and the drops were given, indicated by the “P”.  The “X” was then rubbed out by the volunteers.  I don’t know the significance of the “86”.  Usually, the return visits are attended by someone high up in the Muslim community or a local religious leader, which increases the chances of success.  I was a witness to that, which I will share in a little bit.


When I say every door was marked, I mean every door…

We were not very well received at the “X” homes, most refusing to open their doors.  We did immunize several children that we found on the street “unmarked”.

After giving the drops, each child’s left pinky is marked with a black marker that doesn’t fade for 10 to 15 days.  That way the volunteers will know who has and who hasn’t had the drops.  The mothers that have been influenced by the zealots will sometimes say their children have already received the drops whe
n they haven’t.

I do want to briefly mention my disappointment in the door-to-door.  Disappointment might be a little too strong a word.  Maybe regret would be better.  I was under the impression that we were actually going to be going door-to-door, knocking on every door and seeking out children that had not been immunized.  [I’m told it did work that way for several of the teams - Gayel Childress reportedly immunized 250 kids on the door-to-door in Lucknow.]  All we really did was walk the streets and talk to the volunteers.  We learned about the process and about the difficulties in delivering the vaccine in the Muslim slums.  We actually personally knocked on only about four doors.  The entire process was only about an hour, if that.  I think regret is probably a better word than disappointment because I could have done something about that and didn’t.  I could have told our hosts that I wanted to do more and I’m sure it would have happened.  Now I wish I had.  But I didn’t and now it is too late.  Yeah, regret’s the right word.

I did get to witness one interesting thing though.  There was one woman who refused to open her door.  There were a couple of local Muslim leaders there with us that pounded on the door and when she would not open it, they actually burst through it.  They were speaking in Urdu, so I don’t know what they were saying, but they were highly animated.  She agreed to allow us to give drops to her infant, she said out of respect to these Muslim leaders, but she refused to allow the drops to be given to at least two other children inside.


I think I’ve said it before, but the Muslim slums were by far the most poverty stricken of any areas we’ve seen.  The poverty level is beyond anything I have ever witnessed.  I recall when I was a kid and Bangladesh was so much in the news with the starvation that was happening there.  When I think of poverty, I picture the photo of the child with the distended stomach on George Harrison’s “Concert for Bangladesh” album.  That is the only reference my mind has.  And although we have not witnessed starvation here, the poverty is beyond any previous perception I may have had.  The only way to understand is to be there.

The children were still fun.  They still flocked around wanting to see their picture on my digital camera.  The poverty and the filth were the worst, but the children were still a joy.

Just a couple of words on the living conditions, although there is no way I can accurately describe what I saw.  Most of the homes we saw were in alleys of long concrete buildings.  There would be a wooden door about every 10 feet [just like the doors with the chalk markings above].  A couple of the doors were open as we passed by and all I saw were concrete walls and concrete floors with a few piles of straw thrown on them, presumably for bedding.  I saw no possessions of any kind in any of the homes - not a piece of furniture, article of clothing, anything on the walls, nothing.  In a couple of the homes, I saw small wood fires burning in the middle of the concrete floor.  I’m guessing this is where they do their cooking?

The things I’ve seen today make me appreciate what I have waiting for me at home.

By the way, Jay did not come with us today.  He woke up this morning with his constitution a mess.  It gave us the opportunity to see Rotary in action though.  When Atul and Arun showed up to take us on the door-to-door and found out Jay wasn’t feeling well, Atul had a doctor at the hotel inside of 20 minutes.  The doctor was another local Rotarian.  He talked with Jay, found out the problem and wrote a prescription.  Atul then ran out and filled the prescription.  Within an hour of Atul finding out Jay was sick, he had him medicated and on the road to recovery.  I’d like to say that we would give them the same service if they visit our country, but would we?  We would give them the same attention, but delivering on the service would probably be a different story.


Another interesting thing happened today, actually last night at the wedding.  Anil’s grandfather lived in Aligarh and Anil would visit him as a child and young adult.  Until this trip, he had not been back here since the ‘60s.  Last night at the wedding, Anil ran into a friend of his from those days that he has not seen since then.  The man (I don’t remember his name) did not recognize him until he said his name, but then knew exactly who he was, even after 40+ years.  Small world, huh?


This afternoon, after the door-to-door, we went to visit him.  We had stopped back at the hotel to check on Jay first and he was feeling better but not quite well enough to join us.  Anil’s friend and his son and his son’s wife are all doctors and practice out of a pretty nice hospital that they just built.  We met them there first and took the tour.  It is nothing compared to what we have in the States, but it is by far the nicest medical facility we have seen so far.  From the hospital, we went back to his home and had tea and some really great desserts.  This Indian food is starting to grow on me.

They were very pleasant people and I really enjoyed spending time with them.  Actually, every person I've met here has been pleasant and I've enjoyed spending time with each and every one of them.  They really are a lovely race of people.

© 2011 Jim Parson

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It really does make one more appreciative of exactly how good we have it in the western world. Living conditions like that....you are right, how can one describe it? It's something that people have to be able to see first hand in order to fully understand.
Glad to hear that you are finally beginning to develop a taste for Indian food!

Posted 10 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


It really does make one more appreciative of exactly how good we have it in the western world. Living conditions like that....you are right, how can one describe it? It's something that people have to be able to see first hand in order to fully understand.
Glad to hear that you are finally beginning to develop a taste for Indian food!

Posted 10 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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Added on April 10, 2011
Last Updated on April 11, 2011
Tags: India, Rotary, polio, travel, immunizations


Jim Parson
Jim Parson

Los Angeles, CA

I have been a banker for the past 28 years, but my dream has always been to write. I thought maybe it was time to give it a try. I don't think I'm the greatest writer, but I think I can tell a prett.. more..

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