(I had written this post as a draft almost one year ago and stumbled upon it today. Even though it's incredibly long overdue, it's still a wonderful reminder for me of my volunteer trip abroad.)
It's been almost two months since I got back from my surreal month in India. I was in a charming city named Lunglei for around three weeks of my month and spent the last couple days in Kolkata - the other unaccounted for days were spent mostly in airports. I can't even begin to describe what my journey was like in a way that would do it justice, so I'll just recount the highlights.
After our three day journey (Toronto-Brussels-Delhi-Kolkata-Imphal-Aizwal-7 hour car ride to Lunglei) we were all beat. Our feet were swollen from sitting for practically three days straight; once we got to our home at 2AM we passed out in a hurry!
|My team at the airport in Kolkata. L-R: Ben, Casey, Mo, Mae, Rachel, Jess, Beth and Rashan|
Our digs were a lot nicer than I was expecting (with a kitchen, bathrooms, showers, and a big room with nine beds and bug nets) and in a beautiful mountainous region. Since the ride there was all in the dark we had no idea what sort of place we would wake up to, but it was gorgeous! We were all in awe. We began to meet all of the people that would become our friends over the three weeks, most of all CJ, RF and LJ. These were three really cool guys that I still keep in touch with and hope to visit again some day! It's crazy how no matter where you are in the world, people are so similar in the best of ways. We Canadians lived in almost different worlds as these boys, but we all knew the lyrics to John Mayer's Continuum album.
My favourite days were spent at the orphanage, which was a short walk from our home. There were eight children staying there, and they all stole our hearts. We were all shy at the beginning, but we eventually earned their trust and the trust of the "mothers" that worked there; we spent most of our free evenings playing with the kids. They all had their own personalities; we quickly learned who had endless energy and could tire us out, and who liked to be left to their own imagination more than anything. The stories of these children varied, but according to the mothers there, they were often left in the orphanage because of rough family circumstances and they were hoping that the children would be taken back by their family within a few months. It was still heartbreaking, but better than some childrens situations.
One of my favourite nights was Jessica, a team member's, birthday. We all gathered in the table tennis room that night for cake, fruit and pop while listening to blaring music. LJ (generally the mischievous one) grabbed some of the cake and started a full blown food fight! We all had cake and icing in our hair and on our clothes, but it was a really fun night nonetheless.
The most I-can't-believe-I'm-actually-here moments happened while sitting in the back of the pick up trucks; the trucks that we drove around in were often too small for the number of people crammed in there, and our destinations were often a few hours away. (Even if the villages weren't "far", it would still take a long time to get anywhere. For instance, the ride from the airport to Lunglei was only about 150km but took us upwards of 7 hours because of the conditions of the roads.) I have so many vivid memories of riding down these twisting roads, with my iPod in my ears and the sun on my face, and looking out at the lush green mountains surrounding me. To this day, when I listen to Boy & Bear's album Southern Sun (the soundtrack of my month), I can still picture those mountains and getting tossed around the back of the pick-up truck thanks to all the hairpin curves in the road.
The story that I tell most often of my time in India took place in Kolkata - another I-can't-believe-I'm-here moment. We were doing some sightseeing for our last few days in India, and decided to take the subway to the Kalighat Kali Temple. Our directions there were a little screwy and we ended up taking alleyways riddled with stray dogs and beggars that wouldn't stop trailing us. We were unsure as to whether we were even going the right way, because this was supposed to be one of Kolkata's major attractions. We eventually got to the back entrance of the temple, and immediately were surrounded by men telling us that they were priests and could give us the best tour for the best price (something that guidebooks had warned us about). In the distance we saw a goat being lead into a little hut just beside the temple, and out the other side of the hut there were trails of blood. We deduced that this was where they made sacrifices, something we weren't expecting! It was just a bombardment of sights, smells of insense, noises of bells and people clamoring to talk to us - it was incredible! I've never been so overwhelmed, it was incredible!
There are so many more stories that I would love to recount, but it's so difficult to do them any justice. Crossing a terrifying, rickety wire and 2x4 "bridge" after spending 4 hours in a 35 degree car; having a group of middle schoolers sing to us in thanks for doing our health and safety presentation; riding on the back of Henry's motorcycle after doing a photoshoot at a helipad; sitting in the audience with the women while my white friends play volleyball against the men residents of the rehab centre we visited; learning to crochet with these women (I was the worst, and I figured out later it's because I'm left handed); waking up on a bamboo deck in the jungle; going fishing for our breakfast; eating our meals in the jungle off of banana leaves; teaching kids in the school the "Banana song"; watching terrible movies in our very private and very cheap cinema; and, of course, being taller than every single person I met.
I'm sure I'll be back in Asia soon, there's just so much more to explore!