India. How do you even begin to describe a place that is indescribable? It is as beautiful as it is horrifying, as complex as it is simple. It is a place that exists by itself, in itself; leaving the rest of the world behind. On the 2nd of October 2014 I left the world behind and entered into a new, different and exciting world. A world that would shape me and change the way I think. After I’d experienced University I thought my way of thinking had made its final change. I would even say that I don’t think my mind can be opened up any more than it has been. I was wrong.
As I woke up in my bed on that Thursday morning I didn't feel nervous or anxious. It strangely felt quite natural; that my day would end in India. I suppose part of the reason for absent nerves was because it was all too surreal. I’m not really travelling to India am I?
Soon enough it arrived and forced us to part ways. Goodbye’s weren't as sad as I was expecting, maybe my selfish excitement was getting in the way or again maybe I didn't truly realise I wouldn't see these faces for another 10 weeks.
We slowly approached a decent sized group of youngsters that were sitting among their 65L bags and roll mats. After a few awkward introductions I realised I recognised a few faces from the training weekend all those weeks ago. Our flight was called and we said farewell to English shores.
After 9 hours of huge discomfort for Emily (friend from home) and minor discomfort for me; we arrived in Mumbai.
I remember walking quite a way through Mumbai airport once we’d stepped off of the plane. We’d arrived in India but it felt and looked like any airport from the eighties. Airports are strange places, they are neither here nor there. You aren't really in that place at all, you are still comfortable and safe. We made it through security and headed for our next flight to Bengaluru (Bangalore). In order to get to the next smaller plane we had to get a bus that takes you across the runway's. I remember stepping foot into the Mumbai atmosphere. Of course it wasn't in the depths of Mumbai so I’m sure the heat was only minor. But for my fair and weak English skin the heat made me take a step back. I remember asking myself how I would deal with this for nearly three months. Gregory Roberts described it best when he wrote in Shantaram, ‘ the choking humidity makes amphibians of us all.’ We all crammed onto the bus and sweated for a few minutes in what now wasn't a bus, but a sauna. It was in those short moments on the bus that I got my first insight into the double edged sword that is India.
Piled high against the boundaries of the airport were the slums; the ‘famous’ slums of Mumbai that we’d seen many a time on our televisions in the comfort of our western homes. It wasn't the fact they were slums that made me feel sad, it was the fact that two polar opposites were existing next to each other and it was just accepted. You might argue that of course it’s not accepted, but the case still remains that it exists and it has done for years. Regardless, I think in this moment the walls in my mind were starting to break yet again.
As my brain was ripped from the third world back to the first world we took to our seats on the next plane. After about an hour and a half we touched down in Bengaluru; also known as Bangalore. By this time it was Friday 3rd October at around 3pm. Once out of the airport we stood huddled together like lost but excited ducklings. This was the start of it all, as dramatic as that sounds.
|Arriving at the Raleigh Base in Jayapura|
The months that followed were full of friendship, culture, learning, compassion and building. Our main mission was to make a lasting and significant impact on the village. The village is a tribal village located in Nagapura (Nagapurahadi) near Hunsur. They resettled from the forest (via the forestry department) about 14 years ago. They have no toilets and open defecate early in the morning and late at night. This is dangerous and unsanitary, it can greatly effect the health and hygiene of the village. As well as building close friendships with many of the people in the community we educated them on the importance of awareness and wash. I've decided to keep this post as short as I can (as I can feel myself rambling). I'll bullet point a few points from my experience.
- The Team, Yankee Two: We were made up of a lot of difference and weirdness. Among the problems and team meetings I think in our own ways we really made good friendships.
- Food/Drink: Samba, Rice, Chapattis, Monocco's, Parle G, Mazza, Chai, Tang, pomegranates, SUGAR! Gobi Manchuri, Aloo Gobi, Eggs, Maggi Noodles.
- Drainage cleaning, Tippy Tap building, 6 toilet's provided by Raleigh International and MYKAPS (Project partner).
- Home Stays/Day in the life with the community - (They work incredibly hard all day everyday, and put me to shame.)
- Diwali - They may not have much in the way of money but they still know how to celebrate an important festival with food. I've never eaten so much in all my life!
|Enjoying Chai in Asha's home|
- Singing (all the time) and playing guitar - listening to music on the dodgy speakers that one of the team members purchased. Including at 7am in the morning; full blast.
- We had electricity when the gods decided we could have it. There was no running water or toilets. Introducing the long drop, bucket wash system and collecting water everyday.
- Monsoon season was finishing when we arrived but we still got soaked occasionally. 'Rain is comingggg!'
- Reading books took up a lot of our free time, we were a good bunch of book worms. Including me reading 'The Grand Design' by Stephen Hawking in about 5 hours (total) which to this day I'm quite proud of.
- Directed Personal Fart Service and General Flatulence
- Movie nights - all huddled around a laptop in order to watch a film, Lord of the Rings marathon and failed Harry Potter marathon.
- Flip flops, flip flops, flip flops.
- Seeing wild elephants, the beauty of the forest and the beauty of India in general!
- Holding Awareness days in the village, we brought in doctors and other medical professionals.
- Working with all ages of the community creating youth groups, helping adapt and grow the self help groups and teaching the younger generation.
- By the end of the trip we'd managed to build 6 toilets and have Tippy Taps at most houses. We'd put the village in direct contact with the Tribal Clinic and local THO so they would have monthly visits from the hospital. They are also in contact with the local information centre and government (water sanitation). I feel we have really empowered the community to make their village grow and develop like many have done before them. They have the knowledge and now they can get the experience they really needed. I cannot wait to return one day and see what has changed.
Which brings me onto the time when we had to leave. Get ready for honesty. You almost enjoy the pain and sadness, because it's still you living just a slice of what you lived before. I know it sounds rather dramatic but for me that's probably how it is.
When I'm busy with friends and family I feel more or less normal, I'm distracted so it's fine. It's the hours that I'm spent alone that drive me insane. Going from being around people literally 24/7 to being in your own company for hours on end is not something I welcome back.
|Building the toilets|
Of course there were times living in such close proximity that we all got annoyed with each other, that's only normal. But now I'd welcome back those annoying moments, arguments and 2 hours team meetings. The worst part is knowing that I'm never going to get that back. It's certain that I'll never live that life I lived for nearly 3 months ever again. I'll never have to collect countless pots of water in the morning, or deal with the flatulence of certain team members!
Even if I visit India again, it will never be the same.
When I think about the community we left it honestly breaks my heart that I might never get to see them again. There world was opened when we arrived in their village, but our world was opened up just as much.
I miss the simplicity and the small complications that filled my day. I didn't have to worry about my future, because 'me' wasn't important. I was worried about a different future, for someone else. I saw and experienced so many wonderful and complex things when I was in India. I have regrets, but I also have beautiful memories that I'll have to learn to remember over the regrets and mistakes.
I hope with all my heart that I can return. If you are struggling with life after University, then I would really recommend doing something like ICS. It will change you and your outlook on life, forever I'm sure. Just be ready for a little pain when you get back.
Life is made up of experiences and if you don't go out there and experience things your life will quite simply be empty. Don't feel like you should have to fill it with a 9/5 job. Get out there and experience what you want to experience, and if you can help people along the way then that truly is a remarkable thing.
If you have any questions feel free to email me: email@example.com
What am I doing now? Firstly a HUGE thank you to those who donated to Raleigh! I am looking for temporary work and looking into returning to India. I also have well and truly caught the travelling bug, so the next places on my list are: Scandinavia, Vietnam, Canada, Greece, Italy + more!
'The Road goes ever on and onDown from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.' - JRR Tolkien
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