Let’s see…where to start. The first week has already come and gone. For everyone out there this last week may not have gone so fast, but for me it certainly has. The good news is, it has been a fantastic week and I think there is a lot in process. Big things are coming for the dance program, for Promethean Spark International, and Rising Star Outreach. It has been amazing to be here and absorb the energy of such an exciting time. Last night we said goodbye to Sally Read, Rising Star’s President. I was so happy to have crossed paths with her. She is so charismatic, has a heart of gold, and a true ambassador for change. It was a great learning experience to simply be in her presence and it is no wonder the organization is making such great strides towards providing support for people in the leprosy colonies here as well as helping change the stigma surrounding the disease.
The summer is a very vibrant time to be at RSO. There are all types of volunteers coming in and out for the summer session and it has been very exciting. A few days ago we had 2 guys arrive from People Water, another affiliate organization working with Rising Star. Their website can probably explain better, but essentially they try to make sure people in the areas they are serving have adequate wells and water supply. It has been really neat to hear about where they are going and how they approach achieving the goals of providing water to the colonies. I had no idea until this weekend that the water is often regulated by the government to 2 hours a day and if the wells are dried up or not clean, then that is all the colony gets for the day. Even though our life style is simple here, I just think of how much water the volunteers use to rehydrate in the scorching heat and to rinse off more than once a day – it adds up to a lot! And we only have to do that for a short time. I can’t imagine having someone tell me you only get so much water, it is possibly not drinkable, and you have to be out in 100 degrees everyday all day. So I really hope that Cody and Jeremy are able to make some headway in providing some better wells for the colonies here. And major kudos to them for taking that mission on.
We also have a large group of BYU nursing students here helping in the colonies, and also with all of the new school year medical routines such as: health talks, vaccinations, anemia testing, check ups, etc. I’ve seen them all daily, but until yesterday we did not really get to hang out at all. All the volunteers headed out to Pondicherry (it has several spellings). It is amazing what 2.5 -3 hours driving one way can do in the way of getting to know each other. Even if we didn’t learn all the details of each other’s lives, we laughed and joked and shared stories for hours. It was a real treat for me to get to know them a little better and also actually made me really excited for school. Even though I am not going for nursing, there were a lot of little health field schooling stories that made me realize I am still really stoked for Duke even though I love it so much here and it will be painful to leave.
Yesterday was a really fun day because everyone’s stress or tasks of the week got to relax for a moment and we were all in the same place doing the same thing….going to Pondicherry. We must be quite a sight, 2 giant vans unloading all these white people in traditional Indian clothing on the side of the road. We get a lot of stares off campus anyways, but as a group it was extra hilarious. I have been a few places now where you really stick out and people stare, but in India, they stare and will not stop. It is such a difference in culture, because other places they stare but kind of know they shouldn’t and look away or try to be less obvious. Not in India haha. We also make for a good place to make a sales pitch, so as soon as we alighted, the vendors came for us. As we move on with our plans they usually fade away, but this one drum salesman kept finding us all around town (even in split up groups) and was trying to make us buy a drum all the way until our van was packed and on the move home. It was actually quite entertaining at that point and you just had to laugh at his persistence. It was seriously about 5 hours later.
But back to the rest of the day. Pondicherry is a French town in India. I can kind of see it and the coastline is pretty, but to be honest, I don’t necessarily see it as a special place to go that is much different from other parts of Southern India. I love India, and I loved being out yesterday as I have not left the complex of RSO for a week, but it is still crazy and dirty and same same but different 😉 By the time we got money exchanged/withdrawn and a quick refreshment, we only really had 3 hours to explore, get lunch, and see Lakshmi the elephant. Doesn’t seem like a lot, but there is soooo much to take in India. Eventually you can see through the chaos a bit, but it still is so different from home. There are so many shops and everything is piled high so you have to learn to ask what you are looking for. Fabric, color, style, price range are all good indicators to narrow it down so you don’t have vendors pulling everything from the shelves, but if you have never been, you do not know what you are looking for. So for a newbie and even for someone out of practice it can get overwhelming. Eventually, most of us found ourselves in the Grand Bazaar and deep in the middle of it all was a clothing section I had not discovered last time. I am happy I made it there because there were some beautiful things, and even if I didn’t buy something, it was really interesting to see. A lot of volunteers were there, but Sara and I had not eaten yet. This being her first excursion in India, and me just needing to breath after seeing every scarf and sari pulled out in front of me, we finally weaved our way out of the bizarre and tried to find lunch. Even though I feel that many restaurants in India do not necessarily do other cuisines well, we were told that there was a great Italian place run by an Italian. While I wasn’t totally sure I could eat there, we thought we would check it out. We did find it in all the hustle and bustle on the streets without getting run over, but it was sadly closed. We knew where the “French Bakery” was we decided to go eat there as time was running low and we just needed some fuel. Luckily, they had eggs and pasta and sandwiches on the menu so we were able to get something. I wouldn’t call any of it French cuisine but it was something. And I managed to get a makeshift cappuccino. Sara has been living in Hawaii for school, but is originally from Finland with German and Swedish parents. She and I were able to agree that the dairy products had nothing on Europe so everything kind of tasted funny. I guess that is ok though. I don’t need to overkill on dairy. For me, I miss good tap water the most. I knew I would miss Norwegian water going home, but I sort of forgot about coming to India in between. It tastes like I am drinking bad breath here. As I mentioned at the beginning, I am grateful to have enough water to stay hydrated at all, but that doesn’t mean I will not be so excited to have that first sip from the tap back in Stavanger.
At the end of the day, we all stopped by to see and get blessed by Lakshmi the elephant. I should, but I really try not to think about how some of these animals are treated. But at least I know she gets lots of treats in order to give blessings. It was a bit congested though, so since I already have my blessing pictures I did not fight my way through the crowd for a bonk on the head. I just took some pictures with Lakshmi and gave her a pat on the trunk. I love elephants. They are beautiful.
The ride home seemed much longer than the way there, but it was enjoyable and full of conversation nonetheless. I think we were unanimously happy to get back to the school at the end of it all. I know I sure was. There is just something so different and calm about the villages and the school and being back with the kids. It always feels like coming home.