Friday, 30 October 2015

Colourful and exciting India

If there is one thing to know about India, it’s that they love a good festival and celebrating in style. Luckily, we got to experience every first hand and on a quite a personal level. We started small and by the second day, it turned into one of the most intriguing events in my life so far…

We spent the first night (Saturday), at a small celebration in Janauri, there was some delicious free food, a makeshift temple near the bus stand, and some lovely traditional Punjabi music. It was a nice and low-key event to transition us into what was in store for us Sunday.

Earlier in the week, the councilor from a nearby (and much bigger) town came to invite us to his festival in Hariana. We happily accepted and went over in the afternoon for some more food and music. I think we underestimated our invitation but quite quickly it was brought to out attention we were “esteemed guests” and presented with a picture of some Hindu Gods, which we are planning to hang in the office. 

Aurelien, Amelie, Madeline and Breanne
Immediately after that, everyone around us was preparing for the parade-men in costumes, drum players, cars with stereo systems surrounded us. Much to our surprise, Amelie and myself were asked to ride camels in the parade and wave to the crowds. There were firecrackers and elephants in front of us and the whole experience was loud, colourful and incredibly and uniquely, India. Three hours later we were finally off on camels and own our way home to get back to work until the Kabaddi games on Friday.

Amelie and Breanne riding camels in the streets of Hariana
The Councilor invited us to come to Hariana again to see a Kabaddi Game with him on 23rd of this month. Once we reached, he got us seats on the stage next to the other counselors from where we had a good view on the Kabaddi field. For most of us it was the first Kabaddi game so it was really interesting to see it live and from a stage as VIP guests. But what was even more interesting was the show inbetween the Kabaddi games. Once, three men tried to fit in a ring that, to us, already seemed too small for two men, and another time they let five men aged over 60 try to catch a chicken. As interesting it was to see all these bizarre shows and talents unfold in front of us, you can’t help fell uncomfortable as you realize these old men are chasing a chicken for a money prize and are quite poor members of the community. To everyone on the stage with us, they roared with laughter as the men tried and failed to catch the bird, falling face first in the sand along the way. It was a good example of the cultural shocks we sometime face in India and how we have to learn to adapt to the situation without being offensive. While watching the game, the counselor introduced us multiple times to the crowd and we got served several snacks throughout the afternoon. And again, we got a painting and orange scarves as a gift for the guests of honour, which will keep reminding us of this interesting part of Indian culture we could experience that day.

Kabaddi game in Hariana

 Amelie and Breanne - Germany/Canada
Microfinance Project Managers, Paro (Punjab)

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

An amazing trek for my holidays

“I’m not going to make it, I’m not going to make it,” I kept thinking to myself as I focused on my feet while trekking uphill. I didn’t want to look up because I knew it would be hours of uphill until we reached the pass. In fact, there was so much uphill I couldn’t even see the top.  I was trekking through the most beautiful part of India, and I was dying.

On Day 1 of the trek from Zingchen
During the two weeks of holiday I took during my internship, I discovered my favorite place in India. I traveled to Ladakh in Northern India with fellow interns, Harmonie and Whitney, and for a lack of better words, it was freaking epic! Ladakh is a high altitude desert (over 3000 meters) and is surrounded by the most breathtaking landscapes. We traveled two days by bus to reach Ladakh and we passed Taglangla the second highest pass in the world (5,328 meters) on the way. Normally I would cringe with the thought of taking a two days bus ride, but the views made even the bus ride enjoyable.
Me on the second highest pass in the world
I went on a three day trek from Zingchen to Chilling and I couldn't even believe what I was seeing. Maybe it was the altitude putting me in a daze, but I never imagined mountains in a desert to be so beautiful. The beauty was definitely well earned too: at one point I had to count my steps in order to keep from collapsing... I was so out of breath. Five sets of 8 and then a break. Needless to say I was last in our trekking group.
We made it to the top of the pass (5.000m)
Ladakh is also home to countless Buddhist monasteries and we were able to visit a couple in Hemis and Thiksay. It seemed like a very peaceful place to practice Buddhism and it gave me the sense that they had all the time in the world to reach enlightenment.

Future Buddha at Thiksay monastery
As Educare plans to open a centre in Leh next summer, I think about all the lucky interns who will be able to work there. It was such a magical place, I will definitely be coming back again…maybe as an Educare intern!

Michelle Fujisaki - USA
HR Coordinator, Maiti (Himachal Pradesh)

Monday, 26 October 2015

Protesting in Harike

During the whole time I have spent in India or any country, I have never experienced anything like what recently occurred in a rural town of Punjab. It was the biggest and most extreme protest I had ever seen.

It all started because someone had ripped pages out of a holy book. People started protesting about that and while the police was trying to deal with the situation, one officer shot into the crowd and killed two people. The protest got bigger and then a local man went on a food fast for five days in protest and died. Which made the protesting bigger because he died on duty. The day I saw the protest that guy had just died and they were doing rituals and prayers for him. After that, they burnt his body. All roads in the area had been blocked by the protestors, which had caused a great upheaval to all the transportation throughout the state.

But what made the protest very intense was that 90% of the protestors were carrying weapons. Now the weapons weren’t guns or anything but they were swords, axes, huge sticks, spears, etc. I found this very extreme even though I have lived in India before and seen a lot of intense stuff. But later when I thought about it, I realised that if something similar had happened in Australia then maybe people would react in almost the same way. Maybe not with weapons, but if all that had happened in Australia you would have had a very similar response from the public. A holy object was defiled, two people were shot and killed by the police and someone died while doing a food fast in protest. Maybe a situation like that wouldn’t end up so extreme in Australia, but people would still be very angry and I think it would cause almost the same effect as it did in India. It made me think “are we really that different from each other?” and I came to the conclusion that yes we have different cultures, backgrounds, values, morals, religion, etc.; but at the end of the day we are all the same, we are all human, with human emotions and reactions.

I have been coming to India since 2010 and I have never really thought the similarities between all humans in this way until this incident. I think I always knew, but seeing this situation really made it clear to me. We may look different, speak different languages and have different life styles, but we are all humans and most people would react the same no matter where they are in the world if something like that had happened in their country.

Ethan Donovan - Australia
Harike Center Manager, Harike (Punjab)

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Camel Trekking in the Thar Desert

One of the nicest aspects of volunteering in EduCARE’s Gajner office is the seemingly unlimited options for travel on the weekends. Situated in a central location in Rajasthan, Gajner has access to more interesting places than imaginable. A short overnight train or bus can bring you to the blue city of Jodhpur, the white city of Udaipur, the pink city of Jaipur or, my personal favorite, the golden city of Jaisalmer:

View of Jaisalmer from the Fort
Jaisalmer Fort 
I decided to do a short weekend trip to Jaisalmer towards the end of my time with EduCARE with a fellow intern. The trip involved a 6hr overnight bus ride that dropped us off at 5am. We were quickly bombarded with tuktuk drivers trying to bring us to their sponsored hotel, but thankfully our previously booked guesthouse sent a man to fend them off long enough for us to get into his taxi. After a short rest and some breakfast, we were ready to grab a tuk-tuk and hit the city.

Tuk-tuks waiting for tourists near the bus stand
My favorite thing to do when visiting a new city is to go to the center square and proceed to get lost. This allows you to see a side of the city that the standard tourist misses. For example, scorching hot slides in the middle of a desert!

Playing with the slide, an uncommon tourist attraction
After a few hours of exploration, we somehow managed to find our way back to our guesthouse and proceeded to plan our next adventure: a camel trek in the desert. Having zero knowledge on how a camel trek is even organized, we opted to ask for help from the owner of the guesthouse we were staying at. Enter Abu, a widely eccentric man named who is constantly talking about how life is “mama mia.” We arranged to do an overnight trip that involved camping under the Rajasthani stars. But first, we had to learn how to get comfortable around these beasts:

Mamma Mia

After a few failed attempts of grappling on top of my camel unsurprisingly named “Mama Mia,” we set off into the deep desert. I found it interesting how much greenery there was in this desolate place. I also found it interesting how difficult it was to take a clear picture while riding a camel.

Slightly out of focus
After two uncomfortable hours on top of Mama Mia, we finally reached our destination. It was amazing seeing the drastic changes in the scenery during the ride. All the previous green rolling hills had turned to bright hues of yellow. We immediately hopped off the camels and stretched before racing to the tallest dune we could find.
Me on top of a dune while the sun sets behind
Sunset quickly came, and the stars soon followed. I had never seen stars as bright as they were that night. Unfortunately, my amateur photography skills failed to capture the moment. But it was an incredible evening. Even the giant beetles that seemed to constantly gravitate towards us contributed to what I would say was the best two days I experienced in India.

Amazing sunset in the desert
“No hurry no worry, no chicken no curry, no honey no money, no woman no cry, no hi, no bye, no chai, no chapatti, life is mama mia” – Abu desert safari man.

Alex Grainere - USA
Microfinance Project Manager, Gajner (Rajasthan)