In a throwback to biblical times or movies about India, the training took place on a Leprosy and TB rehabilitation community. The turn off of Ganta highway and down a dusty road passes a series of what appear to be one-room brick duplex homes. Where the doors are left slightly open I catch a glimpse of white mosquito net standing in contrast to the darkness inside. Children play out front, boys rolling big metal circles with sticks, girls climbing freesia trees that perfume the air.

Not everyone in this particular stretch of housing has leprosy, other family members move to the facility as caretakers. And so children with mottled skin and men with missing limbs play and sit amid flawless complexions and fully limbed companions.

Tom and Matthew, two nurses returning from dispensing medication, cleared away some of the mystery of the disease…for instance, there are different kinds and severity of leprosy and not all of them result in the obvious disfigurements. Also that it could take upwards of a year…sometimes longer…to treat. When I asked more question of some of the clinicians assembled for the workshop I’m evaluating they didn’t understand my curiosity, for them it is just another illness like malaria or TB.

Walking from my lodging, a short distance from the buildings where the workshop is housed, I greet curious faces that waved reluctantly the first day and more readily on subsequent mornings. The adults stare out form covered porches or where they have gathered in the shade of mango trees.

It is the children that are excited for my presence -or rather, the presence of the workshop. Workshop equals food. The first few days a few boys lingered at breakfast and lunch. They were summoned often, “my pekin, come throw this away” and eagerly complied as the plates they were taking had the remains of the meal on them. Each boy rushed to take a plate and shoveled food into his mouth quickly while eyeing workshop participants – other plates – for the next bite.

Each day the numbers grew. Now there are several kids vying for plates. What strikes me most is their tendency to share – sometimes by force but mostly by choice. After summoning Edith to come get my plate and disposable water bottle (they can sell those and so they search them out diligently) she wandered over to her girl friend by the pump. A swarm of boys descended. Everyone grabbed a handful and shoved in smiling mouths. Later, when someone handed Edith the remainder of his soda I watched as they examined the bottle – I wasn’t sure if they had had soda before. One of the bigger boys grabbed it from her and tipped it up. Disgust –or more likely surprise – sprang to his face and he shook his head back and forth while Edith looked on in laughter. She took a more tentative sip but still looked bewildered by the taste or fizz or something.

While good natured as they tussled for food the very tussle is telling; they aren’t looking for candy to ruin their appetites and teeth – they are eager for food. I am reminded of Mama Bright who has a swarm of 15 or so children that descend on her house each day (except Sunday) to do whatever odd jobs she has set aside for them. When they are finished, she cooks up a huge pot of rice and soup for them. For some, she suspects, this is their only meal.

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1 Comment on food in the time of leprosy

  1. Linda O'Dell says:

    Ooh Linnea, I thought leprosy was cured decades ago so why is it still happening there? My heart goes out to the kids/people there and I must tell you ignorance is not bliss afterall as it is breaking my heart to hear of the kids plight for food and can I assume shelter too? My prayers go out to them but I know prayers does not put food in their stomachs – what else can I do directly?

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