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A glance at India - Our days in Raxaul, part 6

People-Cultures-Cities

Photo: © Pál Teravágimov - Sewing circle

The shootings

In the previous issues of the Nature Photo Magazine I presented Raxaul and I told the story how we got to this faraway part of the world. Let’s see now how were our days of shooting in the Duncan hospital and around Raxaul. After the first few days of acclimatization I spent every day with making photos and videos. I took about five or six hundred photos and thirty or forty minutes of video on an average day., or sometimes more. Mostly I got up at six in the morning, struggled out of the mosquito net and sneaked out of the bedroom silently and few minutes later I was already walking towards my daily destination. In the mornings the weather is definitely pleasant even in Raxaul, the day is breaking at six but the sun does shine yet and life begins in the nearby villages, so you always find something to photograph. I kept changing the numerous scenes every day: the hospital and its environment, the rice field a bit farther, a nearby Nepalese village, the road to the leprosy colony, Sunderpur and the village itself, the nearness of the hospital’s backdoor, the main road of Raxaul and so on. Even the farthest could be reached in a half an hour walk. Usually I decided on my morning destination the evening before.
When I spotted something interesting I walked there and I tried to guess who is the head of the family or the most respected man. I walked straight to him with a big smile, I greeted him with raising my hand to my forehead (even if I had to do it hundred times a day) and asked for permission to photograph. The answer was always a shake of the head with slowly closed eyes.
After the first couple of occasion I learned that it was the sign of approval. The first photo was always taken of “the local chief” and I showed him the result immediately.
Usually he smiled and the atmosphere became more relaxed and I could start to photograph those whom I actually picked out. I asked everybody before shooting whether I could go on (except of the children) but it was only a formality since after the approval of the head of the family everybody said yes.
Women were a bit more shy but after I showed them the first pictures they usually started to like it and pulled each other in front of the camera. If I wanted to get inside a house I asked for a permission again and I was never refused.
Photo: © Pál Teravágimov - Cutting the forage in the lepers’ village

You have to know that Raxaul is not a place where foreign photographers can be seen frequently (even those who work in the hospital do not go out those places I have been to) so for the locals my appearance was at least as exciting and interesting as for me. I took my time if the atmosphere was good I sat with the people and showed the pictures to them, we were chatting and laughing. I had time for everything which was a great advantage compared to that when one only has one or two days in a place so he wants to take good pictures in every case. For instance, I returned to the leprosy colony, Sunderpur six times. Naturally, there are plenty of children in Raxaul too, they were very nice but they also made my work harder as sometimes it was just not possible to photography because of them. One time I wanted to take some picture near the hospital but after a half an hour being followed by a noisy, pushy group of about 30 children who always jump in front of me any time I raised the camera, I gave up. I had a similar incident in the leprosy village too. I was taking photos sitting on the ground when a smaller group of raging children literally fall upon me. The camera hit my nose so hard that it hurt for days.
No secret that I made some little tricks too. For example, I was in the leper’s village in an afternoon when I noticed someone crossing the little, shallow river which is the border between India and Nepal by bicycle. The biker in the river is quite an interesting subject so I wanted to video him. I ran to the river bank but by the time I got there he had already been out of the water. So I had to ask him to go back.
He did not really understand at first but he finally he did it and returned to the river and came out again. But I think that’s fit in. I usually returned from my morning shooting at about 9 or 10. During the day mostly I photographed in the hospital, if I had the mood and energy, then I set off for a short outdoor shooting again in the afternoon. At about 3 o’clock the light became acceptable again but by 5 it got almost totally dark so the afternoons were very short.

Sundarpur

I mentioned Sunderpur, the village of the lepers several times, it is about 15 minutes walk from Raxaul. Actually it is a very nice and tidy little village, much nicer than Raxaul so we visited it quite frequently. Sometimes I just went there for an evening walk, sometimes I definitely wanted to take photos. People were very kind to us there too. Hundreds of families live with leprosy in the village, although not everybody infected. They have their own little hospital, school, dairy and chicken farms and a weaving plant as well, these provide a livelihood for them. The local leprosy hospital is the biggest one of its kind in Bihar state. Only patients with ulcers are treated there, the rest only visit the hospital once in a month for medication. All the treatments and medicines are free, the hospital is largely run by private donations. Leprosy is a disease caused by bacteria, so it can be treated quite well with long antibiotic therapy. As a result of the nerve destruction and disruption of sensation caused by the bacteria ulcerative lesions of the extremities is a common complication of leprosy. Contrary to popular belief, leprosy is not very contagious, but close co-existence of several months may lead to infection. Thus chances are good that we are not infected during the few visits.
Photo: © Pál Teravágimov - Baby in Raxaul

Community projects

In the Duncan Hospital a separate department works on the support of the so-called community development projects. This means that the hospital supports different community initiatives in about 250 nearby villages. These are primarily related to the support of education, small enterprises and healthcare developments. The educational projects do not replace but supplement traditional schools. Adult learning programmes are especially prioritized. There are villages in the region of Raxaul where almost every woman is illiterate.
The most important initiative of the hospital is to eliminate illiteracy which prevents any progress. The Duncan Hospital also operates rural prenatal clinics. I had the chance to visit one of them. Treatments were conducted in two little huts and in the courtyard. Nurses from the hospital, supplemented by local volunteers once a week conduct the most necessary control tests for pregnant women of the village, as well as provide them with vitamins and painkillers. About 40-50 women attend these medical examinations daily. Qualified nurses make external examination by palpation such as Leopold’s Maneuvers to determine the size of the uterus or any deformities, the location and vitality of the fetus. Fetal heart sound monitoring is an important part of the examination which is performed by an auditory tube. Due to unhygienic conditions still millions of newborns die around the world as a result of neonatal tetanus. The maternal and neonatal tetanus can be prevented by a vaccine administered during pregnancy, so this is part of the Duncan Hospital prenatal programme too.
Photo: © Pál Teravágimov - Weaving workshop in Sundarpur

Farewell to Raxaul

The three weeks we spent in Raxaul almost seemed like a moment. The last afternoon passed in the spirit of the farewell. First they said goodbye to us in the delivery room, and then the doctors said goodbye one by one separately. We were sitting in a small room and everyone came and told us why they loved to be with us and how grateful they were and said thank you. We were totally confused, we had never heard so many nice words in our lives and most of them, of course, we did not even deserve. But we were sure that everything was said from the bottom of their heart. So we try to manage this quantity of love as well as possible. The next morning our train set off to Delhi with an amazing punctuality. Lots of experiences and ideas were swirling in our heads along the way. As a summary let me quote Emese’s lines from her travel blog:
“May it be a strange way to spend a three-weeks holiday working almost continuously, but did not regret it at all. I’ve seen, experienced and learned a lot during the three weeks. It broadened my horizon, increased my level of tolerance, and these things are more important to me than to rest. I’m coming back with good feelings. “
Text, images, video: Pál Teravágimov
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