The resultant hangover from New Year’s Eve led to a slow first day at the Clinic – luckily everything was closed, so we were free to get to know the place a little better.

The Sambhavna Clinic, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention and haven’t been to our justgiving website (which, incidentally, is here – http://www.justgiving.com/joshandlucieheadoverlandtobhopal), is the only place in Bhopal where the victims of the 1984 gas leak can receive free health care. On the 3rd December on that fateful year, 40 tonnes of toxic chemicals including mustard gas burst from its cracked concrete casing in Union Carbide’s pesticide factory. The official statistics of how many were killed within the first 72 hours is 1-2000, but the reality is somewhere between 15-20,000 people. One of the most common causes of death was drowning, as the irritation the gas caused in people’s lungs prompted them to produce sufficient fluids to drown them. In others’ bodies, the blood completely coagulated, causing death presumably by heart attack… The list of excruciating deaths goes on and on.

Yet, as Dr Gupta explained to us when we interviewed her for a documentary we are putting together, the ones who died had it easy, in a way. They don’t have to live with the ongoing pain and suffering that afflicts over 100,000 people in Bhopal.

A haven in the midst of the grim city pollution and the weight of ongoing suffering is the Sambhavna Clinic. Sambhavna can be read two ways – as a Sanskrit/Hindi world meaning possibility, or as Sama Bhavna which means similar feelings or compassion. The clinic offers a holistic approach to healthcare, providing allopathic (western), ayurvedic (traditional methods involving herbal remedies and massage) and yoga.

The way that we initially got involved in the workings of the clinic was through the garden. I think the gardeners were quite pleased to have people swing pickaxes at the ground as it meant they could dedicate themselves to more skillful jobs. Josh found this particularly satisfying as he has been complaining for months about how he is fading away…

We had arrived with several ideas as to what we wanted to do while we were at the clinic, but it seemed a bit arrogant and unrealistic to turn up with a fully fledged plan. So we spent our first few days trying to get to know some people (mainly other volunteers) and figure out a plan. Now we are decided – make a short documentary for the BMA website (www.bhopal.org) about the clinic, write at least one article for publication in the UK (2011 marks the 15th birthday of Sambhavna), continue to work in the garden several mornings a week, and head to the Chingari Trust where children born with physical and mental difficulties as a result of the gas leak spend their afternoons. We’ve also, on an unrelated note, been re-writing an article that Josh wrote (with a bit of my help) previously, for the Plane Stupid e-book to be published some time in the future. Here it is in its original form, for anyone interested – http://www.ctrlaltshift.co.uk/article/plane-stupid-blog-%E2%80%9C-where-would-all-workers-go%E2%80%9D

The body of volunteers here expands and contracts. When we arrived there were 8 of us, and this has now dwindled to 4, though 2 people did come for 3 nights (which doesn’t really count). The youngest, Erik,  was here for his winter break from 6th form college – I was quite impressed by this. Will, the oldest, is a lobbying liberal jargon-junkie. Through his organisation Beyond Bhopal, he has significantly helped in the pursuit of clearing up the Union Carbide site (which might happen in the future), but seems overly committed to working through the EU on almost all issues… Lorraine, the Scot we have already mentioned, previously worked as a nurse in a Glasgow prison. While here she has cleaned the kitchen top to bottom and wants to do community health work while she is here, but secretly wants to go and open an organic yoga/meditation retreat plus restaurant on the beach in Thailand. Ben, the four-layer-wearing-at-all-times (even at 25 degrees) Belgian, has dedicated himself to translating the BMA website into French – an epic task which confines him to a sunless interior (hence the layers). Brenna has just left, but lived here for 5 months helping in the panchakarma (massage) room and documenting plants from the garden. We have already mentioned Adriano, the Italian anarchist, who was only in our lives for a few intellectually combative hours.

We are only just getting to know the staff, other than Shahnaz, the librarian, whom we’ve gotten to know quite well. “Librarian” is, quite frankly, an understatement when you realise how much work she does. Plus, she often finds time to translate for us, which is brilliant.

The library itself is chock-full of fascinating stuff, from a chronology of the disaster up to 2005, through Where There Is No Doctor and community health work books, to multiple newspaper articles relating in one way or another to Bhopal. A whole mine of information.

On Wednesday we were introduced to the way the clinic organises. Friday meetings are generally where this happens, although we were invited to the Wednesday one – people share their ideas, bring up problems and make criticisms. And by “people” I mean everyone, from the managing trustee, to the physicians, cleaning staff and office workers. A different person chairs each meeting, though “chairing” seems far more like “crowd control” as everyone gets to voice their views!

After spending the last few months growing increasingly tired of sight-seeing, and frustrated at our lack of activism, we feel that the next few months (after this we’re headed to Orissa to do research into anti-GM campaigning) the opposite may be the case!

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