I know the rate in which I’ve been blogging has not quite been able to convey the sense I’m in a remote poverty stricken country, to which all I can say.. at least the internet is really slow here. But today, i’m excused. Its my day off, so called “sleeping day”, where the volunteers arrive off the plane and come back to the lodgings to pass out. I’ve already done my fair share of passing out, apparently I slept through lunch despite two attempts to revive me… so now I’m on the internet… and on a very slow connection with a 13” CRT. Can’t get skype to work either.
I got back to Delhi this morning after another 12 hr bus ride. This time I was prepared with woolies (no, not woolworths) and covered myself with blankies, socks, and beanies which I had stocked up over there. I met my programme co-ordinator Rajan in the wee hours this morning. He seems like a nice guy and also laughed at how I got ripped off by the taxi drivers for charging me 1200 rupies to his place this morning (they were damn convincing I swear it). It seems my project plans have changed. Delhi projects are understaffed as Jaipur was the popular destination, so he recommended I go there instead (apparently some of the girls wanted to go to Jaipur for the shopping experience and volunteering provided a means of cheap accommodation – talk about aspirations!). It’s a rural project on the outskirts of Delhi in Faribad to teach at a school for underpriveledged children. After about 8 weeks I will also do other community development work such as womens groups and health. I was happy to help on whatever needed the most support. I met some other volunteers here aswell from Iceland and Denmark and everyone seemed really cool.
Yesterday after visiting lower Dharamshala (there wasnt much to do there except use their very slow internet), I went for a hike up in the mountains. Dharamshala isnt the best place to be getting a lesson in stranger danger as people are so nice here and you can strike up a conversation with anyone. I already lost count of the numbe of “Konichi wahs”, and “From Japan?” I get as a greeting. Though conversation with some New Zealand and Spanish nationals who have been travelling around India, it seems Dharamshala is the place where they all end up and then stay for months on end, as it is so serene. A an old good-humoured Buddhist monk showed me his Gompa, a small and dimly lit room filled from wall to wall with statues of Buddhas, Boddhisattvas and fearsome dharma protectors. While being distracted by playful cats, I made out through his broken english he was a Tibetan refugee who came here 18 years ago.
After being asked by some kids whether Ive seen their lost cow, I kept hiking and encountered a fork in the road where a girl sat cross legged. “Which way to the top?”, I asked. She pointed to the right, and I followed it up. It led me to a private lodging which I was reluctant to trespass and on the way back down I encountered her again. “Did you find what you were looking for?”, she asked. Despite the whole sagely demenour, she was actually as lost as I was. I told her where the path actually went and we both went exploring for the best way. Her name was Clara, and she was working as an artist in California had come to Dharamshala to volunteer on the photography project for Tibetan children for two months. She kept asking me about what it was like back home in New Zealand despite correcting her and her apologising profusely each time (at least it wasnt Japan). We came to a clearing of with aboandoned house and an old Tibetan nun sat huddled over a fire over a tin roof. “Which way to Dhamakot?” (a place near the top), Clara asked. Smiling, she pointed up, despite not seemly comprehending what we meant. “To-de-cheh!” (Thank you) I said, the only Tibetan words I knew (been using that one alot). After we trampled through “The path less travelled”, through barbed wires, cow dung and encountering monkeys on the way, I told her I needed to get back to make my bus. On the way, we came back to the fork she and I were at before, and it turned out we shouldve taken the other turn. A young tibetan man was strolling back and after asking him, he told us it went to the top, but he had started walking at 4am (it was 5.30pm). I wasnt too keen on it making it all the way there.
Clara taking pictures of monkeys
Next to the road there was a white building with Tibetan inscriptions. Adventurously we pushed through the gate and noticing the geometry marks on the blackboard, I observed it was a school for kids. In green painted against the white columns next to the doorway stood the only english words: “Come to Learn” and “Go to Serve”. “Isn’t that what we are here for?”, Clara remarked. I thought the same.