After the emotional experience last week of going into the leprosy colony, and then being sick all this past week, the idea of another trip was not appealing. After stomach flu and tiredness, it was difficult to convince myself that traveling two hours to connect with those who have far little than myself was going to be uplifting at all. Boy, was I wrong.
If you think of the most joyful times in your life, often they are with those we have known for a long time and treasure. Laughter at the family dinner table, great times with friends, moments of pure joy. And yet the joy that I experienced this Friday in the Moot Colony, was that of long lost friends. Where they get such a stockpile of laughter and smiles, I am not sure, but it made me think that maybe us Americans should change our bank.
The Moot Colony is a tiny colony in the middle of nowhere, with seven residents. Only seven. The live in a tiny row of cement rooms out in the middle of pastures and rice fields. We bring them food and medical care and they take care of their small homes and each other. Krishnan has no hands and no legs and moves himself about on a cart. Jihanraj loves to laugh and dance and his wife, who has does not have leprosy, also lives here at the colony, which is very uncommon. Another beautiful lady is so crippled she cant walk but hobbles on all fours, with one half of her face paralyzed. The half that can smile does brilliantly as she explains through gestures that she always feeds the birds, and they are her friends. She looks like she never gets enough to eat, and yet she shows us how to feed the birds and we all wait silently for them to come. She is so beautiful even though this disease has ravaged her body.
Besides supplies and company, we bring music to this small group, which creates an instant party. I sat with Krishnan who is deaf in one ear. I turned our traditional Tamil songs all the way up and we sat right in front of the stereo together. When he could hear the music, he looked up at a me with a grin and begin to move his shoulders and arms to the rhythm. We clapped together, rocked back and forth, and to us it was dancing.
Jihanraj was the life of the party. He welcomed us with shouts and laughter, an immediate jolly disposition, and it was quickly apparent that he was the “super dancer.” As soon as we turned on the music and began to move, he laughed heartily and showed us his own Indian moves. Most of the afternoon I spent following him, learning from him and his rhythm based arm shakes, accompanied with faces galore. I can’t explain this man’s joy, but it was so robust, I spent the afternoon laughing as if we had been long time friends. His english was poor but enough, and he kept saying “Super super dancer!” Halfway through the afternoon our stereo ran out of batteries, much to all our sadness. We then started coming up with imaginary instruments we could play and pretending on our guitars and trumpets and pianos. We also sang a song written by my program’s founder, Shaun Parry, called “I’m a Rising Star.”
To say it was magical is not enough. This tiny colony, having become tiny only from members dying, finds more joy in a simple afternoon sitting around with friends, music, some mango, dancing, and the birds, than many of us find in our fancy food and nice apartments and big cities. Not to say that we don’t feel joy, but that this joy was truly unbridled, even toward strangers such as myself. I arrived a stranger, and I left an endeared long-time friend. To say I laughed more heartily and joyfully at a leprosy colony than I often do at home, says so much for these colonies. Yes, it is a very hard road. But they are not just walking it. They are dancing down it, hard or not.