From a Distance

Last week, I did my small part in ensuring the kids at school stay Malaria-free. The six monthly net dipping and indoor residual spraying was nearly two months overdue, so I nagged a bit (ok, maybe more than a bit) and it was agreed that everyone would wash their nets and have them ready for dipping on Sunday. Wednesday morning when I reached, the kids were all at assembly, and I was happy to see SM in the corridor busy dipping nets. He was all kitted out with gloves to protect his hands from the deltamethrine, plastic basin to dip the colourful nets, tarp on the floor to prevent drips and to keep the nets clean. And of course, his mobile phone with music to keep entertained (respectfully toned down for assembly!)

The dipping process is actually harder than it sounds. Or atleast much more time consuming than I had expected. This is because there is a tiny, albeit strong, amount of deltamethrine, and a little more water, to spread over a large area of mosquito net. So it’s not like dipping your clothes into a big bucket of water, where they come out soaking without much effort on your part. Which was what I had hoped it’d be like. Dipping mosquito nets takes a lot of effort. You have to rub and scrub and three-men-in-a-tub your way into ensuring the stuff spreads to every bit of the net. And if you’re not careful, the cotton loops used to hang the net absorb most of the liquid before you even get to the net itself. So long story short, it’s a labourious process and I was very pleased to see SM at it. Unfortunately, in my great joy, I forgot to give him A’s nets for dipping. I remembered much later in the evening, when it was time to sleep and I pulled out my neatly folded net from it’s basket. By which time gloves, tarpauline, tub and deltamethrine were long gone. And into six months hibernation no less. Still, I comforted myself with the fact that A is on holiday, and I still have a week to get her net dipped, and the one she gives me is a long lasting insecticide treated net (LLIN). So hopefully the long lasting will last a little longer. Next morning however, I heard SM shoo-ing all the boys out of their two hostels. He doesn’t usually visit the ‘upstairs’ so early in the day unless there’s a problem that needs fixing. I was just wondering what it could be when there was loud banging on my door. I crawled out of my net. He greeted me cheerily, a huge can slung on his back making him look like a backpacker on a trek. Except that backpackers usually don’t carry litres of deltamethrine solution. He vigourly pumped the handle on the side of the can and sprayed all the walls of A’s house. Except the kitchen and the bedroom. Kitchen because of the food and bedroom because he was too embarassed to come all the way in. Since I had already missed getting A’s nets dipped, I didn’t want to pass on the spraying as well. So we reached an agreeable compromise and he liberally doused A’s door curtains with spray. All in all, a good solution. I hope A will continue to stay malaria-free. Me too. As for the kids, it’s getting too hot to use the nets, especially since they sleep 5 or 6 kids to one big net. So it’s a really good thing that the spray has been done. I hope that the molecules of deltamethrine from the nets will also brownian motion their way around.

Students learn how to dip their mosquito nets

Students learn how to dip their mosquito nets

The reason for all this frenzied activity is that we’ve found that more kids have had malaria this school year, when compared to last. Not a good sign at all. The neem oil bell rings every evening but the kids are getting lazy about using the stuff I think. So yesterday, I added to my reportoire the talent of ‘sniffer’. I bet cleopatra had one, atleast the cleopatra from asterix comics. I usually leave school by 4pm, but yesterday, my ride was a jeep returning from Hirba in the remote Piskaponga panchayat of Chandrapur block. Since they were going to be rather late, it meant I could be a part of evening prayer and so on. At six, the neem oil bell went, and I joined the few conscientious kids in slathering my hands and feet in the goo. It’s only neem oil diluted with coconut oil, which in my expereince is pretty strong on its own. But it’s no competition for neem oil, and the combination is rather overpowering. I then proceeded to sit outside, between the two corridors, rather like a sentry, sending back to the neem oil corridor those who hadn’t had their daily fix. Those who were smelly were allowed through onto the other corridor! Soon I had kids zipping past me, sticking their hands out at my nose. Thus the sniffer job. Actually, the stuff smells from miles away, and the oil is clearly visible on the kids dry (and sometimes dusty, though they are supposed to wash up at the tubewell) skin. So the sniffing of hands isn’t really necessary. But the kids found it funny and were rolling over laughing, and even those who were clever about avoiding the neem oil were sneaking back towards it! So I quite enjoyed being sniffer for the day. JK (or head sir, as the kids call him) was in-charge of evening prayers. This is a mix of kuvi songs, government school prayers, oriya shlokas and more that I don’t understand, including one very strange request that all children will try to ensure their bowels are in good working condition (it sounds much less rude in Oriya, but the gist is the same). After the noise, JK gave them a little pep talk about not beating one another. There is always some amount of pounding, pummeling and general rolling on the ground, especially the boys, but I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary. Only what you’d see on a football field of 150 five to twelve years olds playing. But JK said something that struck me as being profound. “Don’t hit or beat another person,” he told the kids, “because inside each one of us is God. Maybe you cant see it with your eyes, but you don’t want to kick or hit God, do you?” I couldn’t agree more. God is inside you, inside me and around all us. What we do to each other, affects the us, the other as well as the whole. We would have a more peaceful world if more people could remember this. The kids at any rate, nodded in agreement. And temporarily dispensed with the pinching and punching. After all, in the words of Julie Gold, and of course Bette Midler, God is watching us, God is watching us from a distance.

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