Day 1, Indira
“Avi and ……..? You will be staying with Dr. Pravda. There are three other volunteers there already.”
I turn to Avi and with a wink and smirk I feel grateful for her company. We sit in room with 21 distinct nationalities. Volunteers from Australia, England, Japan, the United States, New Zealand and even India fill the seats. We are arranged in rows so that Anata, the program director, can give us a complete orientation of India. “Welcome, namaste,” he begins. “I am here and our staff is here 24 hours of the day for you. No matter what, you give us a call. Do not even hesitate if you want to talk.” He bashly smiles and his eyes reveal a genuine promise. “No matter.” His insistence is reassuring. We are not alone.
The orientation begins with a brief history of India:
3000 Bc- the beginning Indian history as far remembered.
1500 BC- the beginning of the Hindu religion.
300 BC- The Golden Age: riches. Spirituality is abundant. Yoga and meditation is spreading and the discovery of zero is described. Here, as most cultures during their Golden age, poetry and dramas are not only relevant, but admired. The dynasty Morya and Asholca are taking place.
6th Centuary- The Dark Ages. Chinese and Mongolian influences invade.
9th Centuary- chawdala & Dualala
11th-17th Centuary- Muslim influence is introduced. Their skills and talents lead the infrastructure of many monuments. The current Taj Mahal itself is due to Muslim architects. Currently, 15% of the population is Muslim.
15th-16th Centuary- Goa
17th Centuary- the French begin colonizing.
17th-20th Centuary- the British Rule. Their presence created reformation both physically, socially, and mentally. A law called saidi parta was abolished. This was the tradition of killing all the wives of a husband lest he be killed or punished. Trail tracks and education becomes available to the larger population.
1947-1971: Indian Independance. This great Indian region is separated into three countries, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and present India. India, having the world’s second biggest population, is the world’s largest Democracy with an elected Prime Minister.
The short introduction reveals the influences India is penetrated with. All around, many peoples came, saw, and conquered. Ananta tells us of the importance of English rule. Their advanced technologies and way of thinking pushed India forward, towards self advancement.
My mind buzzes with information. He continues to tell us about culture, family values, economy, religion, marriages, the caste system and then finally, our project details.
She sits there, noticing the other volunteers. None of them are here without reason. Some, will be working in an orphanage. Most will be teaching English to slum children. And her, like the very few in the world, will be working in the healthcare system. They explain her project and she’s itching with excitement. Her home will be that of the doctor’s. The doctor? Yes, you will live with the Doctor. Giddy. This is simply the start of why she came here.
The lesson concludes and we’re herded to the roof patio where lunch is being served. Our plates are filled and the dopamine begins releasing.
Around her, forks and spoons are clattering against the tin plates. She looks around and thinks, stupid tourists. She knows them too well. Many volunteers come as a way of cheap traveling. Some come to claim their good karma for a week and then continue back to their beautiful lives. She sits there with her fingers deep in her chapti. A bread as thin as a tortilla which she uses as a spoon to cup her lentils and soya. Remember, just the right hand, she tells herself. “We do not eat with our left hand,”she remembers the voice of her sister.
The superficial Canadian across the table begins, “That was the worst bed ever. It was like a rock.” She sits there with highlighted, long, dark hair. Her lips are plump and full and her eyes are tinged with an Eastern ethnicity. She sits complaining, elbows on table, wrist boldly branding a silver bracelet and an expensive watch. “I just couldn’t sleep.” I sit and observe. We both slept in the same bed and to be fair, it was indeed very hard. But, I had a roof over my head and food in my stomach. “How long will you be here?”
“One week,” she tells me. “One week??” The audacity. To make things a bit clear, volunteering is not just showing up and being present. To make volunteering beneficial and actually make a difference, it takes a bit longer than one week. There is a process of not only getting adjusted and settled, but also the process of understanding the environment one will be working in. Day one, we are in orientation, we will begin our project tomorrow. That gives her 4 days. Okay. I tell myself to stop. Relax….we are all here for different reasons.
After my second plate and a lot of small, talk I get up. Heading downstairs, I grab my things, pack up and wait with Avi to be picked up and driven to our homestay.
Excited. My journey has begun.