In the Basti Nizamuddin, a primarily Muslim community filled with many smaller “villages,” or areas of the most poor, The Storydancer Project collaborates with The Hope Project Charitable Trust. The Hope Project is located around the tombs of very well-known Sufi mystics. The area is named for the revered saint and servant of the poor, Nizamuddin Auliya. Here, we partner with the Hope Project to bring TSP Everyday Self-Care Exercise Programs to women and girls who otherwise have had no experience of how good it feels to move in a healthy way.
This marginalized community is now seeing the fruits of our yearly ongoing programs: more than 50 women have been trained, bringing Self-Care to every part of the Basti. From one-on-one sessions in the Health Clinic, to on-site visits with women of the area’s inner villages, the trained facilitators join with Zuleikha to share stress relief and offer a new kind of experiential health education to this community. In the Girls Non-Formal School of the Hope Project, the TSP exercises now comprise the morning exercise program for the students, serving as a model of joy and self-care that can help prevent chronic problems from developing.
TSP Everyday Self-Care is ‘medicine’ for fragmented times—helping to recharge the body, energize the mind, and make space for the heart.
I am in Delhi, working away. It is pretty amazing, and this year, I can tell that some kind of groundwork is present; I don’t have to introduce the whole thing again and again. The poor who are rich, and enriched, the colors of the cloth, the light in the eyes—all these things happen when we step into the body, and find our way home to the heart.
The different branches on the tree of self-care grow out of the need in the moment. When I go into the tiny home of a woman in the Basti who has several children and no time, then we do exercises like the “Opposite Push and Stretch.” She gets more energy, and smiles and laughter arise.
These are ancient ideas, in a new package. The need is greater than ever. How to tune in, in the midst of the clamor of everyday life? And it is getting louder.
Friday, March 10, 2017 – A Kind of Communion
Parveen, a Hope Project social worker who works in the Health Clinic, has been taking me inside of homes in the Basti community to work directly with the women. My esteemed mentor said it was good to “selflessly serve the poor.” Somehow, it has come to pass that I find myself here working here with these amazing women.
When I write that, it seems sad, to think of “poor women.” It is anything but sad! Actually these visits are highlights among many of my days here in Nizamuddin Basti. Often when I write, I am overwhelmed at the honor it is to serve in such a way.
We go into a home where nine people sleep on pads rolled out on cement during the night, and rolled up for free space during the day. Sometimes there is running water, sometimes not. Parveen and I share the exercises with the women. During our session, the women become bright-eyed. We laugh, and they say that they feel some relief from the everyday back pain and shoulder/neck pain. It’s a kind of communion. For that moment in that house with these people, there is a connection that supersedes everything.
I have been engaged in this process for some time. It takes time. Now, when I walk around this area, women often look at me, and say “…exercise?” By now I know that when a woman in the greater community says this to me, it means she has some problem and has come to understand that exercise may help. This is a sign of progress.
Saturday, March 18, 2017 – Women Caring for Women
Yesterday I was standing in the room where the Micro-finance women’s Self-Help Groups meet at the entrance to the Hope Project. A woman walks into the room. She looks at me and asks, “Zuleikha?” I nod. In India there are different kinds of nodding for different kinds of answers. In the west we nod up and down. In India, they nod side to side one time, two times, many times fast, half a nod; all of these things have different meanings when used in conversations, a kind of unspoken shorthand. I nod yes.
She then asks, “exercise?” So I ask her in Hindi, “What is the problem?” She makes a face of pain and points to the area at the top of the shoulder, connecting to the neck, “cer-veye-acle.” (Here it is pronounced with an “eye” sound, and in four syllables). “Ah,” I say, which implies that I understand. Then she shows the pathway from the shoulders, down the arms.
I recognize the pathway of this pain, and show her right on the spot something she can do. In less than a minute, she is smiling. I explain that she can do this anytime and daily and that it doesn’t matter if your stomach is empty or full.
The other women staff members in the room go on explaining the finer details to her, and it is just great—they understand and can carry on. Soon everyone is talking at the same time at a highly-pitched volume, very excited to explain everything to this woman, and she is talking back, asking questions, and they are all going back and forth and everyone is quite happy. This is sustainability in action, this is women caring for women. This is the Storydancer Project at work.
Circumstances have been teaching me to adapt myself to “what is,” right in the moment. This makes the impossible not only possible, but more fun! I have been taken in, and fed and served many cups of chai and have had so much kindness shown to me—I feel like sharing what I am able to is the least I can do!
Some days I ask myself, is love enough? I mean to say, is it enough to share love with human beings? I have not the means to give everyone food or running water or shoes or clothes. Yet after the stress diminishes somewhat through moving, it is this Loving feeling that gets communicated and, in sharing it, we all feel much better.
This Love connection happens again and again, and I learn that this is what connects the dots in my life, this makes the doorway of the heart open. It is through the dance, then the dance being taken away due to physical illness, and the dance being given back, over a long period of time, that I found within myself these precious and easy-to-do self-care exercises and movement practices that are now helping others feel a sense of freedom and relief. I have been telling the people we work with, “exercise is medicine,” and “these exercises are not a cure for the problem, but if you do them every day for a moment now and then, it will help.”
Through the kindnesses of my mentors who have pushed me to practice my art, and cultivate heart awareness, and to become a better person, I hope these gems can help others to feel better in the midst of whatever circumstances we may find ourselves. The sunshine in the Art of The Dance is a great Love in my life, and this work is one of the ways that can reach out, bring some relief from the stress of being human, and touch the wonder of life.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 – Joining Hands—International Women’s Day in Delhi.
Well, Women’s Day over here was outrageous! Four of us, women’s micro-finance group leaders from the SHG (Self-Help Groups at Hope Project), took two bicycle rickshaws to another part of the area I work with women—another slum area. It was terrifyingly hilarious: the driver was going so fast down the hill so he wouldn’t have to work as hard to go up again, and we were yelling at him and laughing at the same time. It took about 15 minutes to get there, yet it is still within the SHG area. So big, and so many people.
When we got to the celebration, it turned out I was one of the guests of honor, and had to give a talk. Everything here is quite formal in the way things flow. Poor or rich, there are ways things should be done, and everyone knows them; the proper manner of greeting, serving water immediately, welcoming, talking, serving food, a ‘vote of thanks,’ giving a talk when asked. Everyone can do this; it is just how they do it—off-the-top, kind of, of life, with mobile selfies and recordings all along the way. A roomful of about 50-75 women, all dressed in saris and pants and tops. Since it was a celebration, they were in vibrant color—just beautiful.
I gave a talk about women taking care of ourselves, and how it works: women-families-communities-world. The organizers and president supervisors of this group were nodding yes, and thanked me for bringing this noble work to them. This is the group that is running the early childhood schools in all of these places. It is a government organization, which has its pros and cons, but the women who run it are just powerful and amazing. The current supervisor/president turned to me and said that she is overseeing over 200 centers. Can you imagine?! So much energy. Then we all did exercises and laughed a lot. One of the other organizers talked about how women are coming together to fight for our rights. Then, surprisingly, another of the organizers sang
“We Shall Overcome” in Hindi—all the verses—with English in between. Everyone sang! So moving.
Then they asked me to sing, so I sang a call-and-response song I have made that the women really like, and they sang with gusto. It has no words, just “la la la”, and a good melody, and then I added a set of words in Urdu, which says, “we shall see each other again, god willing.” Everyone loved it. Then one of the women sang ghazal poetry, and all the women sang in response to each line. It was basically off-the-charts amazing, funny, huge talking all the time, and laughing…
We ate, took photos of each other, and ate more, and took more photos. It was just grand. Poor women, who are wealthy of spirit, eyes shining, and heads nodding. So uplifting.
On the way back, we took a new battery-run cart, which ran out of charge. The guy called his cousin and swapped carts, all the midst of huge traffic—really!
Love and Happy Women’s Day. May we be joining hands around the world to support and protect the vulnerability that is beautiful, and the strength that is natural.
March 2017 © Zuleikha