Activity Week: Day 1

What follows is from my handwritten journal chronicling Activity Week, where I, along with 17 fourteen-year-olds and two others adults, lived for a week in the impoverished Indian village of Gaird.

The ride was uneventful, though very windy and full of hair-breadth turns. I would normally find this kind of driving eventful, but India has trained me well. A few students succumbed to travel sickness, but luckily, I was okay. The one highlight was a ten-minute forced stop, where we waited while construction workers cut a layer of rock from the mountain in preparation for an improved bridge. In the US, we would use dynamite and blow the mountain to bits, but in India, it is cheaper to higher a bunch of men to climb to the top of the mountain and cut a large chunk out of it. We were stopped because the men were currently dropping the rocks they had cut from the mountain onto the road to be used for later construction purposes.

After we cleared the construction site, we made our way up the side of a mountain across the river from the mountain that holds Mussoorie. About a mile and a half from the village and in the middle of nowhere, the vans stopped and we were let out. There was no point to walking this mile and a half of road, as our vans drove to the village anyway to drop off our equipment, except that it apparently builds character. But there were lots of pretty views as we walked along the road twisting around the mountain, and the views of the step farms (small fields cut in steps into the mountain to maximize growing area) were interesting. We walked by the local intermediate school, which met on a cliff above us, and the children ran out and stood in a line, gawking at us as we wandered by. School had just let out so many of the students walked along with us, several trailing me, smiling sheepishly when I glanced back, others running away from me as quickly as possible, snickering.

We reached Gaird and carried our things down the small path to the village proper. The village houses about 100 families in maybe 20-25 buildings. Our campsite was immediately above the village and as we walked by the houses, the villagers were quite shy, especially the children. We got to the campground, set up our tents, and then the village leaders welcomed us, which gave a chance for the village children to come stare at us some more.

Eventually, about 20 children gathered around the campsite. And most of them were staring at me. Part was my red hair, but mostly it was for my weight. After I set up my tent, an adult from the village came up to me and asked “Wait? Wait?” It was a while before I figured out he meant “Weight?” So I told him. “300 pounds.” His face was stiff in amazement. He said “300 KG?” Kilograms. Damn, I never remember the conversion, but a student yelled over “2.2 KGs to the pound.” So I revised my weight to the adult “150 KG.” He nodded and the crowd of children said “ohhhhhh.” I am not sure he believed me.

At 5 pm, we were gestured down to the patio area which served as our “gathering” spot. The village children had lost their shyness and were following me around, asking questions in Hindi. Their favorite thing to do was to try to wrap their hands around my arms, analyzing how thick my arms are. A few went for the hair, feeling it for a second and then pulling away. When it became obvious I was not getting frustrated by the personal space intrusion, all hell broke loose. Dozens of kids (no hyperbole) followed me around, grabbing my arms. Not knowing what to do with the crowd, I told them my name and had everyone tell me theirs, letting them giggle at my terrible pronunciations. Then I asked if they could teach me how to count to ten in Hindi. They quickly made of game of it. Counting (chanting really) to ten and then throwing their hands up and yelling hurray! Then they upped the ante to 100, stopping at every multiple of ten to throw their arms in the air and yell hurray! I goofed off as well as I could, and they giggled nonstop. I started making faces coupled with silly noises and they quickly started in mimicing me. The mountain side echoed with the sounds of small children yelling “Ikky, Ikky, Ikky Betang, Zoo” at the top of their lungs.

Soon it became time to escort the students to various people’s houses so we could ask questions about the local culture. The first family was lovely. They cooked on a clay stove built in their house with three holes. Two on top for the pans and one on the side to slide the wood in to burn. They made us chai and it was amazing. While we sipped, the students asked questions about the village, the Indian students translating. They told us an family in the town makes about 2000 RS a month (I make 30,000 a month) and this comes from selling milk and the leftovers from the crops the family manages. The village has been here several hundred years and is 100% Hindu. The villagers especially worship the Sun God, and a new baby is held up to the sun to welcome the baby to earth.

I then did an apparent no-no because because when our talk was done, a man came into the house and said we were supposed to come to his house now. Not knowing how things worked, I agreed, and this was the no-no. He pulled us to his rooms and we could tell he was a “shady character.” (We found out later he had just been released from prison). He said he was getting married in a month and invited all of us to the party. He said he did not work, he just lived off of money left to him by his father. He then offered me a job, trading a room in the village and food if I came to teach the village English. They wanted me to stay “forever.” I tried to explain that my mother would never allow it, but the translation was off. The man was very interested in America and asked if I had any American money. I said no, but showed him a 5 pound note I had stuck in my wallet. (5 pounds would be equal to two weeks wages in the village). Then it was dinner time and I headed the children out of the room. I was later reminded to only take children to the villagers chosen for us, no matter what other people say.

The dinner was phenomenal. Roti, rice, amazing spicy yellow dal and spicy cauliflower. (the village is 100% Veg).

Then we headed to the campsite and went to an early bed to rest for tomorrow’s activities.

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About the Author

I moved to India. I mean, why the hell not, right?