Monday, January 11, 2010

India Blog 1

When I was a kid, I was a climber. Trees mostly. There wasn’t a tree I couldn’t climb in my youth and I was very proud of it. Proud enough and confident enough in my abilities that I would climb as high as I possibly could. If you are a tree climber, you know that the bottom limbs are the easiest. They’re usually nice and thick and evenly spaced which make climbing easy. It’s when you get to the top of the tree that it gets difficult. The limbs are thinner and more difficult to traverse and once you’ve reached the top, there is always the matter of getting down, which in my opinion is much more difficult. Often it was difficult enough that I found myself wishing I’d never climbed in the beginning.

Last night, as I reflected upon the events of the day and the events that lay ahead of us, I almost began to wish I had never started climbing.

The past 3 days have been nothing short of an adventure, an all out, Indiana Jones type adventure. It began with a 13-hour flight from Newark, NJ to Delhi, India. Our layover was about 10 hours long and was made all the more interesting in trying to meet up with a couple of the girls who were on a different flight. After a night of delays and sleeping on the marble terminal floors, we made our second flight to Hyderabad, India. This flight was simple as it lasted only 2 hours, but was followed by another 10-hour wait on marble airport floors. Finally it was time to go across town and get on our bus, and this is where the major adventure began.

Initially we were supposed to take taxis to the bus but once we loaded them up with our bags (they were strapped on top) there was only room for 8 people. Our Indian guide felt it important to stay with the girls and knowing it was only responsible of me, I volunteered to ride on the back of our other guide’s motorcycle so that one of the girls didn’t have to. The beginning of the trip was pretty enjoyable. The cool evening air of India was rushing through what’s left of my hair as we made our way down the open road. At this point I was thinking it was going to be a great ride. Then as we started getting into the traffic I realized the bus stop was all the way across the city.

As we rode, I found my mind rushing to many different thoughts. One was “I think the people of India must have a much better understanding and application of physics than people in the US” another was “any Indian motorcycle driver could easily put the cockiest US crotch rocket jock to shame.” All the while I was preparing myself for the taste of concrete.

To give you an idea of what my ride was like, picture New York or Chicago rush hour with no traffic signals or even traffic laws. Lanes that are designed to accommodate 2 cars wide are often jam packed with 3 wide or more and countless other bikes, motor bikes and pedestrians. Now imagine you’re buzzing through the thick of it on the back of a motorcycle with no helmet (sorry mom, it wasn’t an option). I’m glad I’m a calm person. If I were the least bit apprehensive I would have died from a heart attack or squeezed the life out of my driver. There were times when all I could see was a wall of stopped traffic yet we were still full throttle. Somehow he always found the crease and squeezed on through. Cars passed us within inches and we passed them just as closely. I felt their warm exhaust on my sandaled feet. We zagged and swerved and blasted our horn at pedestrians crossing in front of us. Every once in a while my driver would answer his cell phone. The one thing I knew was that if I survived the drive I would have an amazing story to tell that most could never match.

After about 30 or 40 minutes of this had passed, we were at our bus stop and after crossing the street (which I would liken to playing a game of frogger on the hardest level while dragging luggage) all we had left was to sit and wait for our truck. As we waited, our guide bought us some food from the street venders (some ice cream and fried egg and bread served on a piece of newspaper). Finally, our bus arrived an hour late and we piled on. After about 35 hours of constant traveling, all we had ahead of us was another 12-hour bus ride across the open country… with no scheduled bathroom stops.

As I write we’ve reached our first destination and are sitting in the home of our guide. Here we have plumbing and a sink and shower, a nice fan, a cool breeze and AMAZING food.

All the girls have been very strong. I’ve made plenty of cross country van rides and spent hours and hours in the air, but never have I had as intense an experience as our visit to India. Most girls would have thrown in the cards 24 hours ago but they’re still here. They’re still ready to help.

Most of the group is using vacation time for this trip though it is far more work than our 9 to 5 jobs. All have paid out of pocket to be here and all have sacrificed comfort for a cause, even though at our absolute best, we can only do very little.

Tomorrow we will be meeting a tribal village. Many of its inhabitants earn less in a year than the amount I spent to buy the word processing program I’m typing on, but we’re told to prepare ourselves for a people full of joy and charity. A couple days after that, we’ll be meeting girls who are at risk of being trafficked and after that we’ll meet girls who have actually been trafficked. Then it’s a 12-hour train ride and a 13-hour flight back home. I’m sure it will be difficult to put into words what we’ve experienced but we’ll do what we can, and many of us will come back in the future. Even when I was a kid and I scared myself half to death climbing to the top of the tree, I always seemed to make it back down and I always felt the need to climb up again.


vaitarni said...

i enjoyed your trip.

vaitarni said...

India is also a big country like yours and more in respect of different cultures and life traditions vested through centuries right from the mohan jodado as far as we could traced back. i think there is lot more to discover.
and Josh , what music do you like. try some from pt. ravishankar, on sitar and ustad zakir hussain on tabla to have a different taste , the taste of music india, just to begin with.

Josh said...

Unfortunately I didn't get the names on the music we listened to while we were there. There was one song in particular that we heard in several places and that people liked to dance to. I'll have to try and figure out what it was.