I have 3 blisters in my right palm. They formed while using a shovel.
As a child I acquired similar blisters from swinging on the monkey bars at school. The fun always outweighed the pain I knew would result as blisters. They burn when my skin stretches and are tender to the touch. I remember the raw ache and counting the days until the sting would go away.
The need of the shovel was to dig a foundation for a latrine being built in a small leprosy colony in India.
My soft, and pale hands are accustomed to house work, not day labor. I was advised to wear gloves that sat piled in a bucket resting on a make shift bench (a slab of wood lying across two wood stumps.)
There were plenty of gloves to choose from but I decided against them when I looked at my options. Most of them looked crusty, obviously once wet, and sun dried forming unnatural shapes. I also didn’t want to take the chances of putting my hand inside a glove that shared occupancy with a spider, so I went without.
This small leprosy village housed half a dozen people, most of them suffering with leprosy but I only see three outside. All residents dwell in single floor structure. Each resident is alloted a two room space sharing adjoining walls with a neighbor. A door is placed at each end allowing me to see right through their home.
The three people are outside to watch us. One was a shirtless jolly man, in his 50’s. with a large middle, and a contagious smile.
He has leprosy that effects his feet. They are large and awkwardly shaped but that doesn’t keep him from showing off his passion for dancing,
He shakes and wiggles as he sings his own tune waving his hands in the air with an occasional burst of laughter.
His wife sits nearby bearing a grin of her own. Passion toward her husband can be seen in her eyes. It’s obvious she loves him. She doesn’t have leprosy but she suffers the same stigma as those with leprosy by association.
The next door down a small body frame is hunched over. At first glance she might be mistaken for a child. She scoots along the floor, her frail skinny arms moving her body like an ape because one leg is a stump from the shin down and the other drags a foot to the likeness of a sledge hammer.
Her hands are deformed and missing fingers but that doesn’t compare to her face. Her right eye ball appears to be missing, but it’s open none the less, exposing scar tissue. Her left eye is squinted but offers life to her face along with a lopsided mouth. It’s questionable if she is smiling or if her mouth is set the way it is. The left part of her mouth is tugged upward in a manner that looks like it’s being pulled by a string. Her lips are tight her eye wandering.
The skin on her arms sag over her bones like a sock too large for the foot, It tightens at her hands where leprosy has attacked the nerves in the fingers causing them retract into her knuckles giving nothing but hard tight stubs.
She looks old but her small body and jet black hair suggest otherwise.
Her large skirt covers her lower deformities but her upper torso is fitted with a tiny shirt, tailored made, I assume. She reminds me of a doll. To touch her is touching her bones. There isn’t much to her.
I don’t see anyone else in the village but music is heard behind a closed door infested with cracks.
I work along side other volunteers and a few Indian day laborers digging 4 ft. trenches for a little over an hour, The sun is hot and water not plentiful. The shovel I use is not an american shovel. It requires bending over to scoop instead of using your foot to penetrate the ground. I wonder if my back is going to regret this.
By end of the week the ground work for the latrine was complete. This little colony is on it’s way to healthier living!
The leprosy affected are ostracized from a communal life. They are judged by their disease. Leprosy only destroys their outer shell. To many, they are treated as untouchables. In the small amount of time I worked and thirsted in their village they smiled at me, laughed with me and thanked me for being there. I felt part of the life, happiness and love that existed there.
Pain in my back never surfaced instead blisters formed on my palm. Days following, I absentmindedly ran my fingers over the soft bubbled skin anticipating the burn and tenderness that normally accompanies them... but it never comes.
On a plane to the United States I mull over my moments in India. My fingers met the 3 blisters again. They are healed now. Only a slight pigment change is seen.
I’m sad they are gone.
Those blisters were evidence of my time spent in that leprosy colony.
I was reminded of that each time I touched them. The healing process put time between that experience, removed me from it, and turned it to a memory.