As I awoke from a more than questionable night’s rest on the night train from Hyderabad to Bhimavaram to begin my guard duties with Slater (i.e. make sure we all got off the train at the right stop to reunite with our instructors), I felt weary and almost dreading the long day ahead. This was not the way I wanted to start my stay at the Byrraju Foundation. A shower to wash the train off of me and some coffee rejuvenated me to a manageable level of exhaustion and the day began…
The agenda for the day: scavenger hunt around the town in the morning and our first visit to a rural village in the afternoon. The scavenger hunt required Slater, Katie and me to locate 5 social problems and solutions, conduct 4 interviews with locals and partake in several random activities around the town. The village visit required that same team to conduct 4 more interviews and develop a map of the village. Does this all seem a little random and loosely related to you? Ok good, it did to me too… but not for long.
Lesson 1: Rejuvenation and the ability to make the most of the day when you least feel like it comes from your “accountabilibuddies”.
As part of a program that only lasts for two weeks in a country that has so many things to teach me, I can’t afford to not bring my best self to each and every day and activity. And this is where we rely on our fellow travelers and friends. I must credit Slater with the term and for being my official “accountabilibuddy”, but we all take on that role when someone needs it. Afterall, we’re all in this together. And I was lucky to have the teammates I needed to make the most of the experience. And experience Bhimavaram we did!
We set out to first get our bearings and familiarize ourselves with the town by tackling the extra-curricular activities. We convinced a rickshaw driver to let Slater drive with me as a passenger only for Slater to find out that the brakes didn’t work well. A fruit stand almost paid the price for this realization, but, luckily, we made it unscathed and without causing a major scene! Slater also got a little too close to the wildlife that we were supposed to locate…
Having a little fun at the beginning set the stage for group bonding and for me to mentally prepare myself for the day ahead. As we progressed through our interviews and sought out our social problems, we began to sense something completely foreign.
Lesson 2: Give a little of yourself to India and its people. India will give so much more back to you.
We did something that would be a rare feat in America: we approached random people on the street and proceeded to ask them 15 seemingly random questions with nothing to offer them in return. And we were thanked for it. Repeatedly. The hospitality that has been felt in India is beyond words. I was blown away after our interview with the head nurse at a local hospital. Not only was she gracious with her time and information, but she also offered any assistance we might need during our stay. We’d only known her 8 minutes… Amazing.
I realize now that I could spend days writing about the events that took place during my first day in Bhimavaram and my reactions to each individual one. I will close with this instead:
Lesson 3: Embrace each moment. Put your agenda aside and focus on the moments that find you. Let yourself get caught up in a rally of children and end up in the newspaper the next day (yeah, that happened!) Grab hold and take it all in.
The time in India will come and go. The memories will last forever.
A big thank you to Katie and Slater for making this day the eye-opening experience that it was.