Twenty four years of age and the furthest I had ever travelled from the motherland was to Spain when I was 10 and madly in love with Marti Pellow. Having never left Europe, time zones were not something I'd ever had to adjust to. This was about to change. My fascination with India came from seemingly nowhere. Perhaps it was the food, or the people I had worked with that I'd had an affinity with. There was an interest that I wanted to explore and this was my chance. My health had been through a rough patch and whilst off sick with Tuberculosis some soul-searching had been done and a bucket list written (sounds dramatic, I wasn't dying but I had been pretty crook). Travelling was near the top of that list and India was pulling me.
Serious excitement was bubbling inside me. Adventure was looming. There were experiences to be had, memories to make and a host of people to meet. Due to having a full-time job and a sheer lack of confidence in order to pack all that in, I opted for a two week mission trip with a charity called Tearfund. My list of essential paraphernalia was ticked off, bags were packed, we were good to go. The team was fifteen strong. Different backgrounds, ages, others like me, wanting to experience a new culture. To be challenged, stretched and pushed out of our comfort zones.
Everything about the trip excited me. The team building day, the youth hostel we crashed in the night before our flight, the airport, the long haul, my baggage, my brand new travel journal - seriously, nothing could quash my enthusiasm. Arriving in Delhi heightened the thrill. Smells, heat, skin colours, cattle, vibrancy. The feeling of being an intrepid, lusty traveller filling every one of my senses.
Our accommodation was in the YMCA on Jai Singh Road in New Delhi. I can still picture it and I can still hear the drone of the air conditioner in our room. I can remember having to lay statue still within my mosquito net hoping sleep would overtake my body instead of the stifling heat. 44 degrees celsius was new on me.
There was purpose in this trip. The team was to paint a health clinic in one of the slums. We visited a charity called Asha who provide healthcare, education, mentorship and other support to the urban poor in Delhi slums. On our first arrival to Tigri slum, we were welcomed with flower garlands, surrounded by beautiful children and again, a smell unlike any other. With no running water, no sanitation, pigs languishing around the rubbish heaps, the smell was pungent, eye watering. More overpowering though was the warmth of everyone we met. The culture shocks you expect to experience are short lived in some respects, partly due to the beauty and humble nature of the slum population. Yes we were there to paint their clinic and somehow serve them. The reality is we were humbled, they served us and demonstrated grace and kindness.
Asha promote empowerment, health, education. They teach women to believe in themselves. They promote the people of the slums and give them hope and a voice. They taught the population basic lessons in how to treat vomiting and diarrhoea, basic healthcare lesson that our western society take for granted.
Amidst our time in India we did some of the tourist trail, witnessing the staggering beauty of the Taj Mahal. The conflict between rich and poor is palpable. It felt peaceful, almost safer spending time in the slums. Everyone was in the same boat. The tourist areas where the 'rich' people frequented attracted the poor, begging children being used by someone more powerful - exploiting them for their own gains. For this reason, India was a culture shock, not because of it's sheer poverty but the exploitation that comes alongside it. Hence Asha becomes a haven, a place of hope for those exploited with no voice.
Memories of India remain to this day, 14 years later. Memories such as those already described. Memories of being so ill on Good Friday with vomiting and diarrhoea, thoughts that I'd not return home alive swirling through my confused head. Classic dehydration symptoms. The kindness of a team mate who sat with me whilst I was deliriously unwell for those brief hours. Memories that have served me in my career, as a starting point for a conversation amongst an Asian patient group. Memories of the kindness of strangers, giving all they had to bless us. Memories to last a lifetime. How wonderful.
What travels have you had? Where impacted you the most? Where would you like to visit?
This article was first published for www.nauticulture.com
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