Last night was our final evening at Riya’s home in Delhi. It also marked the end of our most productive and adventurous day so far in India. The past four days have all been spent basically within this little home, although I have managed to explore the neighborhood a little on the back of Riya’s father’s motorcycle (as we race through the streets on little errands).
Monday morning Jon, Raman, Riya, and I discussed for several hours plans for the new film project we are beginning this trip. It was very comforting to set a real vision for the film and to get on the same page with all of the most involved individuals. The basic idea is to profile Riya and Rahul, making known their eager, inspirational attitudes and showing others their struggles and aspirations.
The purpose of making a film at all is twofold. First, the new project, given Riya and Rahul’s examples, will more intentionally highlight the disabled community’s needs (material, emotional, social) and encourage advocacy to meet those needs. Second, the film will address the unfortunate reaction of pity that is often witnessed towards spinal cord injured persons here in India (but also in the United States). This attitude is detrimental to the courage and hard work embodied by many disabled people, and the film will promote instead an attitude of respect and friendship.
So in working on the film, we conducted interviews of Riya, her parents, and a friend from the neighborhood during the past three days. We also were able to film a bit of her daily life; studying, interacting with Raman, transferring, and lifting weights.
Raman was a great help during this work, specifically as a translator for the interviews (Riya speaks pretty good English but we wanted the film to be in Hindi so it will be more accessible here in India). Raman is also our connection between Riya and Rahul (as a social worker, he visits those two, as well as many other quads in Delhi, regularly to help them access various resources and supports) and will therefore play an important role in the new film.
In addition to conducting two interviews on Wednesday, we also had a wonderful trip to one of Delhi’s large parks. It was Riya’s first visit to the park since her injury (three years ago) and a great outing for us all. Riya and Jon’s friend Amit (a quad they know from wheelchair rugby practices at ISIC) met us as well. These three friends turned quite a few heads as they rolled through this green oasis in the hazy city. We even stopped to play a game of wheelchair rugby on an open court (with me and two other able bodied friends hopping on one foot to make teammates for Riya, Jon, and Amit). We all enjoyed the exercise and fresh air, and hopefully Riya’s family will be motivated to repeat this experience more often in the future.
However, the most important event was perhaps an impromptu interview Riya conducted with Jon. Being reasonably burnt out from being the one constantly put on the spot to tell her own story, Riya turned things around and began asking Jon the same questions during a time of rest on the terrace. Soon, without the pressure of the camera, Riya began to share with Jon her own concerns and worries. This honest, open conversation amazed me with the power of a true, deep friendship and reminded me that personal relationships such as this one are significantly more important than any film project. We only ask that God would use our efforts to initiate and develop more of these relationships according to his will.
All this time spent at Riya’s home, many meals, dozens of cups of chai, daily transfers between the ground and first floor, have brought us close to this family in such a short time. As a first experience in the country, I have been very fortunate to be a part of the real, day-to-day life of a particularly engaging, loving family. Although we will hopefully be able to visit Riya briefly when we return to Delhi (we will be staying on the opposite side of the city for our next stint), it will be hard to say goodbye.
So at this point, the purpose of our trip shifts to the bigger picture task of engaging Indian communities in disability advocacy. Tonight Jon and I will meet Vicky at the central train station and board an overnight train to Varanasi, where we will stay (with short excursions) for the next week. In this new city, we will show “More Than Walking” and Jon, Vicky, and some friends from Chicago (Joy and Karen, a better introduction to them later) will speak at hospitals and schools.
Thank you all for your comments and emails! Connections home to familiar faces are motivating for us on the other side of the world. We wish you the best and will speak again soon!
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
1. family portrait
2. filming Riya's interview
3. rugby at the park
4. sharing on the terrace