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Published: December 13th 2017
"Sister!" This is what I hear a million times a day, and sometimes more! This is my new identity as I am settling into my new life in Gujarat, India. I am here for 3 months, volunteering for a truly amazing organization called Child Haven (please check their website, it is a fascinating story www.childhaven.ca). And with no language in common, or very, very limited English, "Sister" is not just a way to get my attention, it seems to start and end every sentence, is used alone, or in its longer versions "Sister come" or "Sister me come", or even just "Sister" with an intention to say something but no additional words coming out. Sister, Sister, Sister... Maybe they just like the sound of it...
So here I am again, in this country that I fell in love with a long time ago. It didn't fail me, India is still full of surprises and still makes me laugh or shake my head. Things you wouldn't think possible are common here, maybe this is why I am here: who would have thought that I would spend 3 months with 60 kids?
I arrived here about a week ago. I have my own
private bedroom in the girls building, complete with running water, a bathroom and a gecko. My tasks are not set: I just do what I can, and I am still struggling with figuring out how I can contribute. The language barrier is massive, and I am so happy that I spent my whole summer studying Hindi, even if it's not the language spoken here. Gujarati and Hindi are a little like English and French: lots of words in common, which in the end helps, but still different enough that I never have a clue about what people are talking about. And I am reluctant to learn Gujarati as I fear I will loose the little bit of Hindi that I know. Well, I think I will try but am afraid my brain is too old now. I am ashamed to say that I still don't know half the kids' names...
Even if it's somewhat not easy to adjust to this new life, I am enjoying being in India and this new experience. Where else can you say "Oh we should leave half an hour early to go to the airport in case there are camels on the road" (this was
only half a joke) or where else would it be considered normal if you came out of a shop and find that someone parked right behind you and you can't get out? Well, apparently, this is so normal that one guy told us it is an Indian specialty and that usually people leave their car in neutral so that you can push it away if need be!!!
But India has so much to teach us. Last Sunday, as everybody was making "rotlas", a kind of bread made with black millet flour, everybody, big and small, kids and staff were participating in this activity and I was thinking that no Facebook can replace this kind of community.
So here it is, the start of a new adventure. I am probably the most incompetent volunteer Child Haven ever had, but I am doing my best and with my best intentions. Many people told me I would come back transformed by this experience. Well, I am afraid this is going to be true but maybe not the way people meant it... If things continue the way they are now, I will be coming home very fat. The food is fabulous, and I feel
like we are always eating, and they always put extra on my plate.
But really the best part of my stay here so far is once again the people I meet. Of course the kids are sweet and loving, but the staff and people who are in charge at Child Haven are some of the most inspiring people I ever met. Starting with Bonniema, the now 84 year old Canadian woman who started this whole adventure with her husband Fred. The staff members here are going out of their way to make my stay interesting and comfortable, and other people I had the chance to meet here radiate kindness and devotion.
So this is it for now, so much more to say but I will keep some for another night. I hope I can upload some pictures on my blog, the internet here is extremely cheap but somewhat slow...
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