Final Log: My Unforgettable India

 Posted by jfernandez at 4:43 pm  Vietnam  Comments Off on Final Log: My Unforgettable India
May 242011

I stopped writing. As obvious as a fact this may be, I still need to point it out, because it’s the why I stopped that gives sense to this last post.

So, by the third week of my program I gave up the task of trying to keep both an online and my personal journal. You see, lots of things happen in India on a single day, the sole happenings at the program with the kids everyday sometimes were enough to write pages and then back at the volunteer house another huge bunch of events would take place, or it was time to go out on the street and experience crazy Jaipur for the whole afternoon, or the Indian friends would just drop by to take us away and go have coffee… In the end, I had no time to keep writing, it is until now, back at home that I finally had time to process and get ideas on how to describe my amazing, beautiful India experience.

The first of my conclusions is that if you are either a person eager to see and learn about the world and the people living in it or one of those idealists who believes the world can be changed for the better, then you should definitely consider volunteering in India.

And so you might ask: Why India?  Well this might just be my very own, tremendously biased opinion, but I can hardly think of a country in which you will find such impressive cultural vastness, mad/fun craziness, overwhelming contrasts, functional chaos and unbelievable diversity, cultural clash, all in the same place. “India is a land you learn to love as much as you hate sometimes” as my friend Tamara says, is the best way of defining it I heard, and it’s absolutely true, so why not experience such a country?

Secondly, and most important: WHY volunteering? Well…

Almost every morning I’d get up unusually early (sleeping seems like a waste when you know that so many things are waiting outside, every day) and go downstairs to the dinning room/studio to make use of the computerand the few moments in which our internet was actually functional and time difference was still the adequate to catch some of the friends back in Mexico still online and chat for a while. At some point, music would come from upstairs: it was Mira’s wake-up call after which some loud laughter would follow: Naïc laughing either at Susan’s complaint about how early it was or Mira’s daily report on the water shortage of the toilet… Our day was starting at the volunteer house, sooner or later Priya would come inside the house carrying a huge green bag that contained our mystery breakfast for the day (hidious non-sweetened porridge on the bad days, egg on the good ones and delicious crepes to put nutella on on the really good ones), get it served on the table and make the big announcement with her funny, high-pitched voice: “BREKFAAAST!”. So the ones who were up would sit at the table to eat while Hannah -my co’worker at the program- read us the news until we realized we were starting to run late so we chunked down our scalding hot chai and go get ready. Time to go to work, to the tiny classroom in Ambedkar Nagar, to meet the beautiful demons we taught (or tried to, at least) english every day.

First stage was being driven to J.P. Fatek by our daily tuc-tuc pickup whose driver’s name we never managed to learn, “ramramsa” or “namaste” we’d say for hello and he’d answer accordingly, any more conversation attempt would always turnt out into the same funny failure due to his unexistent knowledge of English and our less-than-elemental hindi understanding, but we appreciated him and he enjoyed driving us, respect does not need words.

 Next, we would walk the streets that led to the classroom, passing by the local park with the boys playing cricket, the local shops were we could buy water in case we’d forgotten to take some from home, the fly infested spot in the street that some family (families?) clearly used as their toilet, a house outside of which it lived the skinniest calf I’ve ever seen, then some smaller alleys filled with boys and girls that’d shout our names and say hello everyday and finally get to THE place in Jaipur: a small compound of four tiny rooms surrounding a common courtyard in wich the families living in three out of them would play or wash clothes. The fourth room was our Learning Center, the place where we worked daily and little by little we saw  the beautiful events of Manish, Bhavna, Deepak, Vaishali and Firoj learning to read in English; the classroom were Dinesh, Rohit and again Firoj would show their proficient skills for math by solving “very very long very difficult multiplications” while Prmod and Rahul struggled with them; where we laughed countless times with our translator Sonu, dance to the rhythm of  Bollywood’s hits or some hilarious thing the kids called ‘the chicken song’, played games on the hot days and more importantly, the magic place where the biggest exchange of every day took place: we taught english to those kids while they gave us important, life-lasting life lessons, cheesy as it may sound. We were blessed, and this alone is reason enough to wake up every day.

And just as if the latter wasn’t enough to go to sleep evey night a happy person, every afternoon would be filled with life too, whether it was waiting for Naïc to get home and go through the daily list of pending things to do, spending long, beautiful evenings at the house’s rooftop, laughing endlessly with Priya and our crazy games and pranks, going out in the city where the haggling with tuc-tuc drivers and shopkeepers is the every day bussiness, spend long afternoons at my friend Rais’ shop, laying down and laughing in the living room with Clara, Mira and Sabrina about silly things, having dinner at Salim’s with him and his beautiful family, buying a sweet Lassi at the BMB or cold coffee at LMB Hotel, even taking Chapati (our house cat) to the vet one day without any cage and onboard of an autorickshaw was quite an experience!

 Every single day was an adventure because we let ourselves enjoy and work with every moment as it came, even the ugly ones. It’s a good reminder of how we can improve our regular, daily lives.

The truth is I could write for ages about everything that happened and lose the point of what I’m trying to say in my not-so-good English writing skills, but it’s not the intention behind this final entry on my online journal.

So: Why volunteering? That’s the question that brought the past babbling. My most definite answer would be a very indian “Why not?”. Why not go on about a trip aimed to cultivating our minds and hearts in ways different to what the regular, tourist trips do? Why not help people anywhere in the world? After all, we are all human beings, trying to achieve the hapiness and peace we’re all entitled to have. I know for me this is what India taught me and I can’t be any more grateful for finding a home in Jai Jawan Colony 129, a family in my fellow volunteers and a bunch of great, wise teachers in the people I got to come across during my 12 revealing weeks in wich, in exchange for a piece of my heart left at Jaipur, I took so much more that will define me and my future.

So… Why not?

Fourth log: Being a Volunteer

 Posted by jfernandez at 9:55 pm  India  Comments Off on Fourth log: Being a Volunteer
Mar 072011

It’s not good, but it makes sense. As a volunteer, you face situations that fit perfectly into this description, every day. Getting to understand this has proven to be the most difficult struggle since I arrived to this place.

It’s not good that we’re not able to take our kids to the park or museum once a week anymore because our organization wishes to avoid hazards that could generate potentially dangerous situations, beacuse if any event of this nature was to occur, the communities in which we work would immediately go hostile against the organization refusing to collaborate with them anymore and our programs would be lost, along with the little hope that they mean for those who benefit from them. So it makes sense that we can’t give our kids a recreational day anymore. It’s not good to feel amazingly happy one moment moment and inexplicably depressed and unmotivated the next one when you’re supposed to be living a lifetime experience, but it makes sense when you realize  that you get the first from a well done job at your classroom with your kids, from the amazing friends that you find in co-volunteers and locals and the latter from the devastating and omnipresent misery that populates this country in any place you go, so both sadness and joy have their space during a regular day, reminding you that you still have a lively, cheerful heart and a compassionate soul.

During my last week -wich flew by- and in the middle of my personal crisis, every day I learned a new thing about the real definition and purpose of being a volunteer.

Very much like many others, I came to this place with the big idea in my head that as a member of a volunteering program I would become some kind of superhero, able to come to this distant country and have everything change for the better in no time and then  go back home announcing that I just had helped change the world… This is not true, at least not entirely. Around here, ten necessities arise for every resource we get and trying to aid every single one of them will get you into a spiral that leads to no positive outcome.

Such a big and insatiable poverty is definitely not a good thing, but it makes sense that it exists when one realizes that it is us, the human race, that have made it possible. In the case of India one reason for this is the now legally vanished cast system which froze their society in time for centuries, making it harder for them to keep up the pace with the nowadays world, always on the look for progress and innovation, leaving this country a most difficult uphill way towards achieving modernization, but examples of injustice exist in every region of this planet.

It’s not a good thing that we can’t change the world as fast as we can and it actually is worse realizing that our planet is in such a big need of a change, but it makes sense to live in a house with 15 other persons that are trying to understand how to make it happen, even if they may not live to see it… It reminds me that we are still human, capable of  aiding those who need us, no matter how little our help might be.

Third log: Time.

 Posted by jfernandez at 9:34 pm  India  Comments Off on Third log: Time.
Feb 272011

How can I write about everything that happens here?  Life in Jaipur is chaotic, full of dozens of changing plans, even on the days that are supposed to be used for resting you get a full day schedule of different things to do all of a sudden.

It hasn’t been a week since I’ve been here and I already took hindi classes, hindu class, revealing chats about the situation of women in India and the caste system, met several Indians and their families who are always welcoming, candid and pleasing people, got invited to a wedding –a massive colorful, food-stuffed event with fireworks and dancing that materializes a perfect allegory as to what it is like to live in India–, been to the beautiful oasis of peace and silence immersed in the noise and chaos of the Pink City that is the Wind Palace, a beautiful place from which the king’s women used to watch the city without being spotted by the other persons, had a drink with my great dutch friend Mira at the most elegant palace hotel Jai Mahal, bought traditional Khurtas -shirts- at the old market and then got harassed by a drum seller, had a taste of dozen of not-so-good tasting sweets and amazingly flavored Masala…

The former is a tiny fraction of everything that has happened since I got to this place, it makes me smile just to think of it. The truth is I am blessed every day, with new sights and dashing red sunsets,  the common flavor of our daily made delicious chai (hindi word for ‘tea’) and the new ones that come every day, the smell of the cow-inhabited slums of Jaipur and every imaginable sort sensory experience, but as I learned today the most amazing and soul-nurturing experience I get after playing sounds with my kids is realizing that they actually started learning to read in English, which no one had taught them before, so maybe now the might just get a better chance for their futures. It is true that volunteering is not like I expected, that I had to let go my dreamy idea of coming here to change the world and acknowledge that you come here to do your best against the ferocious and striking monster that is poverty in this country, but the bigger truth underneath is that for every little things you teach to these boys, you get taught ten times more, and one can only be grateful to have found such immense source of wisdom in a poor blue classroom set in the middle of this lovely city…

Second log: My first glance at India

 Posted by jfernandez at 5:25 am  India  Comments Off on Second log: My first glance at India
Feb 232011


I arrived at 9:30 Delhi time on frebruary 21st. Moments after getting out of immigration at the airport, cultural shock made it’s onset.

Getting a taxi to get me to my hotel for the night -I booked one night at one called Eurostar Hotel, since my plane to Jaipur was’t off until 6a.m. next day- proved to be quite a challenge. Many people will tell you not to worry about the language issues when you come to India because actually many  indians do speak english and that is true, what’s also true is that many of them don’t, and even among those that do, getting to understand the accent is quite difficult. It was nearly impossible to communicate with the pre-taxi contractors at the terminal -wich is the safe ride you should take when you et here-, I had to get help form a salesman at a cellphone store to transcibe the address of my hotel to hindustani instructions so that they know where to drive me. So, an hour after I was finally ready to go outside the terminal to catch my cab.

The smell outside could only be described as perfectly adequate in the midst of a foggy, crispy night,  a mix of incense and herbs that instantly fill the nostrils and get to your head, stating that you are -clearly- in a different side of the world.

The taxi driver completely ignored the address I gave him and instead -they get payed on comission for doing so, as I learned afterwards- took me to a cheap budget hotel, saying it’d be better and less expensive than the one I booked, it’s only necessary to refuse the service to get the driver to take to to your actual hotel and so I got there to sleep for some few hours (or at least I tried to, failing at every attempt), filled with excitement before my departure to Jaipur on the next day.


40 minute flight, 20 minute wait at terminal for my pick-up car, 10 minute drive and that was it, I arrived Idex’s volunteer Jaipur camp, the house is actually very nice compared to what I expected, we got beds, shower, hot water tap, dinning room, kitchen and a very nice lady called Rinku who cooks for us so it’s a very comfortable homestay. I arrived at 7 30 and some od the volunteers working here were already up and having breakfast, on a hurry to get ready  to go to their own program locations, I was welcomed to sit at the table and eat with them while the house came to full activity and different people sat and stood up from the table, exchanging brief chats about what they do here, their places of origin, general tips about the city and the life in here, etc. After 20 minutes or so everyone was out to their programs and since newly arrived volunteers don’t get to do any planned activities for their arrival day I was suddenly alone in the house. It thought I’d spend the whole afternoon just wandering around the house, until two volunteers, a girl from Medellin, Colombia and another from Geneva, Switzerland who were about to leave to their women empowerment program and said I could come along and so I did, off to my first volunteer experience…

Women empowerment is a program with the aim of helping Indian women discover their own abilities aside from being housekeepers so that they realize about their own possibilities to progress in life. It was a really nice thing seeing women 30 to 40 years old learning, specially when Naïc -my friend from Geneva- asked the translator to congratulate her for completing a whole repetition of the alphabet, you could see the big, proud smile in her face and immediately understand as to the whys of teaching these people…

The day at the program was great in the overall, playing games, dancing and watching the Indian girls give lots of gifts to Laura (Colombia) because it was her last day, even when they have little or no money at all, it’s the kind of things that get to you. I am now anxious to start working in my own program and see how it goes for me.

Tomorrow it’s my last orientation day and on Friday is finally off to work finally, I can’t wait…

Primera entrada: Cansancio

 Posted by jfernandez at 7:14 pm  Uganda  Comments Off on Primera entrada: Cansancio
Feb 192011

Quería escribir una primera entrada larga y profunda. La realidad es que estoy muerto después de los días pasados; pero no podía irme de mi querido México sin haber inaugurado -aunque sea con una mala entrada- mi diario en línea, es una de las tantas cosas que me llenan de emoción en este viaje.

A todos los que leen, les agradezco infinitamente, pronto escribiré aquí algo que valga la pena.

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