of lice and love
the subject for one’s first attempt at training a survivor girl beautician class on how to remove lice with a lice comb should not be the worst lice case on campus. the photo doesn’t do the case justice.
this was one for the history books. lice and learn!!
on the other hand. i was given the opportunity to show love and kindness and give gentle touch to a young woman at the shelter home whom everyone laughs at and calls dirty.
but i’m getting ahead of myself.
survivor girl ukulele band project 2015 — kolkata!! was my first experience living in a shelter home for survivors of human trafficking. there are nearly one hundred girls living at the shelter home, and they all have lice. not one to be left out of the action, i went ahead and got lice too!
the morning when i pointed to my head and said, “ookun!” (lice!) — instead of being shocked, the girls were quite pleased that i had joined their ranks, and within moments, latika* and reeti* pounced on my head, looking for lice and nits.
everyt time reeti pulled a nit from my hair, she crushed it between her thumbnails and said, “dead!”
i get a lot of hugs from my students, so there was no point in trying to get rid of the lice while i was here, but i did order a nice lice comb and other lice products to be waiting for me when i got back to the states. and when i got home i went after the lice in earnest and soon they were gone.
why not get some lice combs to bring back to the shelter home?
but the whole experience gave me an idea. why not get some lice combs to bring back to the shelter home? so i contacted a fairy tails hair care company and asked them to donate some lice combs to survivor girl ukulele band project. and they said yes!! and sent me some fabulous combs and product!! thank you, fairy tales hair care!!
my plan was to train the girls how to use the combs and lice products — and even though it’s not possible to completely eliminate lice from the shelter home, at least the girls could keep the lice counts way down and be much more comfortable.
the ngo that conducts the beautician class invited me to spend an hour or so with those girls and train them on how to use the lice combs. the shelter home staff suggested that my first subject should be kohana*.
i don’t know kohana’s story, but there a number of things that set her apart from the rest of the residents here. she’s older; she’s thirty-one. she’s a bit rough around the edges and sometimes she’s the butt of jokes. she’s also big and strong. in the morning she’s out early, hunting for coconuts that have fallen from the palm trees. she cracks them open and rips the outer husks off with her bare hands.
one of kohana’s duties is to take care of the dogs. she brings them their food, and wherever they make a mess, it’s her job to clean it up. if there is heavy lifting to be done, kohana is often the one to do it. she clomps around in dirty salwar kameez (pants and top), and though kohana does have some friends, certainly no one had been nit-picking her hair.
the task was daunting
when the training began, the beautician class girls all scooted away. some jeered.
i sat in a chair and she sat on the floor in front of me. i gently put my hand on kohana’s head and said, “kaemon acho?” (how are you?”)
“bhalo,” she said. (fine.)
the task was daunting. much of the length of her shoulder-length hair was awash with old nit casings stuck to the hair shaft. even with the fairy tales lice good-bye treatment, it was slow going. as the comb clogged with nits and lice, i wiped it off on a disposable towel on my lap.
the beautician class girls got bored with the slow progress and went off and painted their toenails.
i felt like quitting
the live lice crawled around on the towel that was piling up with brown mounds of nits. this was more than i had bargained for. i was getting tired, and i knew that with all the lice being flung around and wiped onto the towel, i was going to have lice all over me.
“kamon aacho?” i said from time to time, checking in on kohana.
“bhalo!” she always said.
a few of the girls came back to watch, but they stayed far away.
another section of hair. more lice product. more and more combing. this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. this wasn’t training. it was a marathon. i felt like quitting.
but i kept at it, and slowly slowly kohana’s locks were getting clean all the way to her scalp.
the class was over, and though there wasn’t time to get all the lice removed from her scalp, kohana’s hair was free from nits and so clean and shiny looking! wow.
i told kohana to take a shower and put on clean clothes.
later that evening, in fresh clean clothes, kohana came up to me and touched my arm and then stepped back. she smiled a thank you.
and later than night when i washed my own hair, i combed out dozens of big red juicy lice. it was worth it, i thought.
“i want to bring love to these girls,” i said to myself. “and today, maybe it was through a lice comb.”
this was more than i had bargained for
the next day while i was teaching ukulele, kohana brought three chunks of fresh coconut to me! but what happened next really caught me off guard.
i was in my room and there came a knock at my door. i opened it and there was kohana — all dressed up in a red and black sari!!! wowowow!!
she asked me to take her picture. her hair was shining and so was her smile as she posed this way and that in front of the camera. “dekhao!” she said. (show me!)
she looked at the photos, so pleased with herself and how she looked. this was very likely the first time in years kohana felt feminine and beautiful. and when someone called to her, she ran off lightly, and it was as if her feet didn’t touch the ground.
i went back to my room and sat down and cried for a few minutes. this was more than i had bargained for.
two days later it was time to go through kohana’s hair again. now that her hair was free of nits, it was time to really give her scalp a good going over with the lice comb. this time however i set up a chair on the block just outside the shelter home dormitory.
“let’s have an ‘ookun jao!’ (lice go away!) party,” i said. i brought out my bose bluetooth speaker and played music from my ipod and made it fun. we laughed and grooved to the music and got to work.
and now as the girls looked on from the dormitory, kohana became the subject of envy!!
soon there were many calls from the girls at the dormitory windows. they tugged at their hair and said, “laurie aunty! ookun!! ookun!! ami!! ami!!” (lice!! lice!! me!! me!!)
after kohana, the ookun jao party continued with a mentally handicapped girl, who also had a thousands of lice on her head. usha*, one of my students, came up and laughed at her. but soon usha was assisting me with the various combs, anticipating which comb i would use next and handing it to me and then cleaning the comb that i had just used. after a while i asked usha if she would like to do the combing. she jumped at the chance and was soon combing out lice like a pro!!!
usha was so engrossed in the task she skipped her lunch. another girl joined in to assist, and together we worked on the worst cases until sundown.
the next evening kohana called to me from the dorm. when i came to the window she loped over to me and showed me her new sparkling earrings and diamond studded bindi!! she looked like an indian princess!!!
and two days later, when i was hugging one of my students, kohana awkwardly leaned in — and got a hug, too. i had never seen her hug anyone before.
the woman whom no one would touch and everyone called dirty is now able to sleep at night without thousands of lice crawling on her scalp and biting her. she feels pretty and feminine. she’s fixing her hair, paying more attention to her clothing, and getting hugs. wow. this is way more than i bargained for.
we’ve had a number of ookun jao parties and more are planned. how can i thank all of you who support me in this project called survivor girl ukulele band?! i get to do this wild job because of you. thank you thank you thank you for joining the band.
*names changed to protect privacy.