My excitement for the 14-hour flight to India slowly deflated as I sat on the plane hour after hour waiting for the maintenance crew to fix a mechanical issue. Finally, after sitting on the plane for more than four hours, the pilot came over the loud speaker to announce that we would be taking off … tomorrow. Me, and three other ACE / CCS volunteers, would be spending the night in the airport.
Two more delays and 18 hours later, we were finally in the in the air on our way to India. I had done some research and taken a few classes on India, but I was still unsure of what to expect. Many people told me that there would be noises, smells, and heat that I had never experienced before. I was frequently warned that I would experience culture shock. As excited as I was to contribute and make an impact on my trip, I honestly didn’t know if I was ready to be thrown smack dab in the middle of the Indian culture and education system. I was unsure how the children would respond to a foreigner entering their school to teach and basically take over their classroom. Additionally, I was unsure how community members would respond to my presence because there are instances where volunteers are not accepted in a positive way.
Despite my many concerns, I couldn’t be happier with my time in India. The people were right about the noises, smells, and definitely the heat. The noises are largely due to the thousands of horns in the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Though the traffic is bumper-to-bumper, it doesn’t move slowly. The cars hover between two lanes, do not use turn signals, and frequently honk their horns. The horn does not mean, “Get out of the way!” but more, “Here I come!” Though it seems like chaotic traffic to us volunteers, it is very efficient and I have not yet witnessed an accident (granted, bumping the car beside you or in front of you here doesn’t count as an accident).
One thing I didn’t overestimate was how hot it is here. I can’t do much of anything outside without completely sweating through my shirt. The temperature today was 97 degrees and the real feel, according to the weather channel, was 112 degrees. Typically, I would be in a bathing suit and at the pool in that type of weather. However, out of respect for the culture and personal interest I bought many articles of Indian clothing to wear while volunteering. This clothing includes extremely comfortable pants and long shirts. Despite my clothes being soaked in sweat, many of the children have complimented it.
The teachers and students have showed great appreciation for all of our help in the school. The children are very respectful and always want us to teach their class or play sports with them. All the children call me Sir and stand up when I walk into the classroom. They are so eager to learn about us and from us. A funny question that I get at least once every day is if I know John Cena. I then have to explain that I am not in the WWE and that I wrestle a similar style to Olympic wrestling, which is typically comprehended as me being an Olympic wrestler. The joy I get in interacting with and teaching the children is difficult to put into words.
Additionally, many members of the community have been very accepting as well. Every morning around 6 a.m. we go to the gym. Many of the trainers and workers are intrigued by our style of training. Regardless of our training styles, a large number of trainers and gym members have expressed their appreciation for my volunteering efforts. Yesterday, I was offered a ride to and from the gym. It is rewarding to know that people are grateful to have us here.
The biggest thing I’ve learned since being here is that different is not synonymous with bad. Though things are different here, the people are still people. The difference in traffic, environment, wealth, and culture doesn’t mean the people here are of any lesser value. In this moment, a number of them just need a helping hand, and it is important that those of us that are not in need provide assistance. Throughout the world many people are in need of a helping hand, even in the most powerful countries. We are a global community and we can only be as strong as our weakest link.