India Adventure #5

Mon Dec 24 

We woke up at 6:45 so that we could participate in the “optional” yoga class – as if yoga is ever optional for me. I was a little concerned about my foot, but I did much better than expected. It seems I am still creeping towards a full recovery. After the class was over, I stayed behind to do a bit more yoga and meditate. I cannot adequately describe how it felt to do “sun salutations” while basking in the sunlight as it came over the crest of the hills. I also did my Sa Ta Na Ma Meditation bathed in sunshine. Life is Good.

After a delicious breakfast, we had a short Hindi lesson and then headed into Kalinjar to meet the community. Today was the ribbon cutting ceremony for their brand new classrooms. Usually, there are 214 students who are crammed into 4 small rooms plus the small volleyball court, all on the floor. They are gradually planning on building enough classrooms to house the students comfortably, thirty to a classroom, at desks. It was less than an hour drive from Araveli to the school. The car journey took us through bumpy roads in the countryside, passing small homesteads with livestock, haystacks, young wheat crops and precious little children who waved at the car as we passed. We also cut through narrow streets in tiny towns, where we could barely fit between low-rise buildings, donkeys, cows, monkeys, motorbikes and people carrying supplies on their heads. The journey was fascinating and sometimes nausea-inducing.

At the school, we were again greeted by drumming and singing. More necklaces made of marigolds and another red dot between our eyebrows. The kids were adorable, as expected. They performed a special Hindu ritual of thanksgiving to signify the opening of the school, and some of the kids, dressed up in their finest dresses and jewellery performed traditional dances in celebration of the event. It was a wonderful day, but the highlight for me was the moment after we did the ribbon cutting ceremony when the students flooded the classrooms. I could feel the sheer joy and excitement they had to sit in the desks. 

Another moment that really struck me was when talking to some of the kids, I learned that one of the girls who was dancing for us, eight years old, is already married. The dress she was wearing for the dance was her wedding dress. Her husband is sixteen. Thankfully, she will still Iive with her parents until she reaches the age of maturity at eighteen. She doesn’t know him at all yet, as they are more literally bound by the formal contract of marriage and life together for the future. Child marriage is frowned upon now in India, but in the tribal areas, this century old tradition continues to exist.

We headed back to Araveli for lunch and a short rest, and then headed back at the end of the day to start our first session at the build site. This second drive really forced the use of some ginger for nausea. We had four jobs at the school job site: digging down a foot all along the front of the school for the foundation of the stairs with a pickaxe, then removing the dirt with an Indian shovel; mixing cement; carrying dirt or rocks or mixed cement; and plastering the back wall of the foundation of the classroom. None of us in our group of 12 was particularly great at any of the jobs, but we all worked very hard. In an hour and a half, I felt like we hadn’t really accomplished much, but it was something. We will go back two more times during the trip.

When we returned back to Araveli, there was a surprise waiting for us: two men had brought material and samples, to measure us for custom made Kurtha for the men, and Sarees for the women, for which we each needed to choose a pattern or colour. Of course, they also had other things for sale for very reasonable prices. This is bad news for me as I have such a weakness for textiles. I somehow managed to get away with only spending about $35 and will be going home with some beautiful things.

Reflecting on the day, I feel so very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit the Kalinjar community and share in their milestone. It made me feel so hopeful and happy connecting with these amazing children. Even though we had not yet done anything to deserve any recognition in the opening of the school, we are a part of the team that has built and will build in the future. Even if no formal goals are accomplished in our three build days, we are contributing to a larger project and goal.

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