2003

ESSAY CONTEST
for HSLDA members
Second HSLDA Essay Contest
Category 2 Third Place

LESSONS

By Anna Heckmann

"Here. Put these on." The doctor handed me a pair of yellowed surgical gloves. "What happened to your hair?" he added, staring at my head.

"Oh--" I said, touching the ragged mop. "The girls were playing with it."

"I see," he chuckled. "Put those gloves on, now.'

Forcing the gloves onto my hands, I glanced at the hospital bed. An ancient man lay there, wrinkled brown skin sagging from his skeleton. Across his left foot ran an ugly laceration, its jagged edges dripping blood.

"What happened?" I asked.

Doctor rummaged in a cardboard box. "Cutting wood," he said, pulling out a curved needle. "Sliced his foot. --Mamya! Bring me the thread."

A beautiful woman wearing a green sari hurried over, her hands full of white floss. Taking some, the doctor ran it through the eye of the needle.

"Now watch," said he, quickly and expertly making a tight stitch in the villager's foot. "Your turn."

Hand trembling, I took the needle. Piercing the foot, I winced as more blood gushed out. Sweat ran in rivers down my back, but I ignored it, painfully remembering that air conditioning is nonexistent in the back woods of India.

'Good," Doctor complimented me as I finished the first stitch. "Now another one."

I started the next knot, carefully moving my needle in a circle like I'd been shown. Mamya looked on in approval. "Chicken Masala tonight!" she chirped. My mouth watered at the thought of the delicious curry chicken, drowning in its own juice, on a bed of hot rice-- better far than any American grub, in my opinion.

"Pay attention!" chided the doctor. "See? That one's too loose."

A group of teenage girls appeared at the door, panting, crowding around to watch. Like me, they were all training for a medical career, under the best doctor this side of Bhubaneswar.

"Anna!" cried the oldest. "You're doing stitches!"

Nodding and smiling, I went back to work. These girls were my best friends, my sisters. Encouraging and teaching me daily, they helped me adjust to a new culture, one I loved as though it were mine by birth. Everything about India had instantly taken me captive, its sights, smells, sounds. I could think of no place I would rather be for two weeks.

Even making a fool of myself wasn't so bad here. My mind flew back to dinner a few days ago:

"Anna. Eat." Using her fingers, Vandana scooped some rice into my mouth.

This was new! I glanced around. The whole room was watching to see what I'd do next.

Carefully, I gathered some rice in my own fingers and lifted them to Vandana's lips.

Almost immediately, the expression on her face changed from amusement to disgust. "OH!" she screamed, and the room burst into hysterical laughter as Vandana snatched the grain out of my hand, dumping it on the floor. "Oh, oh, oh!"

I stared at her, astonished. "Why did you do that?"

Ignoring me, Vandana turned to the other girls and made a babbling speech in Hindi. More laughter ensued.

"Why did you do that?" I asked again, more curious than ever.

"Because," she giggled. "Never use left hand!"

A light switched on in my brain. My father had told me once: "In third-world cultures, there is no toilet paper Instead, the left hand is used."

I had used my left hand to give Vandana rice.

Oops.

Joining in the laughter, I explained that, in America, both hands are used for eating.

"Watch what you're doing!" Doctor's sharp reproval brought me quickly back to earth. Taking a deep breath, I grounded my mind in the present and set back to work. After all, this was why I was here: to learn, so that one day I, too, might be a doctor.

"Good," breathed my teacher, "good... now tie it tightly... excellent!" A cheer went up as I snipped the end of the floss.

"Chicken Masala tonight!" exclaimed Mamya, setting off towards the kitchen.

"Good work," Vandana said, clapping me on the back. "Now we finish your hair?"