Yes I am Still Here!
04/01/2014 55 °F
After leaving Varanasi, I travelled 17 hours on yet another train to West Bengal to begin Part 3 of my Indian Soul Travel. India and I were back together and stronger than ever after a beautiful visit in Varanasi. So strong in fact, that she was able to convince me to travel Sleeper Class (as in 2nd class, as in not First Class) on this trip.
The first 10 hours were a breeze. I boarded @6am and it wasn't until nightfall when the roaches decided to wallpaper the train and seats that I had to use every Yogic bone in my body to not jump off the moving train.
"Roaches are really interesting creatures" I lied to myself. "They must be important to the ecological function of this world because they've been on Earth for so long. Without roaches something would be amis."
Thoughts like this were my mantra for the remaining hours of my ride. I did have some comic relief to take my mind off the roaches whenever the trannies passed through the train car. Every 2 hours or so, at least 5-6 transgendered Indians, dressed like they were on their way to Tuesday Night Drag Queen Bingo, stormed through the aisle of the train with antics straight off an episode of Ru Paul's Drag Race. They used their feminine charm on all the single men to ask for money....Maybe the down payment for that final sex change surgery????
No, in all seriousness, at the time of writing this, transgendered Indians won a Supreme Court battle which makes India the first country to recognize transgenders as a "third gender!" The win grants them eligibility for government assistance with jobs, education and social services. text to link here...
I really wanted to "kiki" with them; get a pic, have a Chai and a mind's eye but I was too afraid to ask (they aren't as friendly to women and in their defense the vice versa is true) so you'll have to use your imaginations as to what that scenario looked like. Anyway, with the help of the trannies and my Roach Mantras I made it to the other side of my train journey.
I arrived late in the evening, so I waited till morning to ride 5 hours North into the mountains with at least 17 people in a 10 passenger Jeep towards Darjeeling, my new home for the next month. We passed this sign on the way and I had to laugh out loud as I looked to the back of the Jeep to see 16 other bodies squashed atop each other.
I am happy to report that in this part of India the trash has been reduced in half and there is still littering in the the streets but in nicer, neater piles.
The rickshaws have been replaced by Jeeps to better face to mountainous terrain.
The mountain air is so much cleaner! Although India doesn't believe in Smog Checks so when riding in the Jeeps you still suffer from the toxic smell of car exhaust. The faces have changed from brown in color with sharp noses and brow bones to fairer, flatter Mongolian features.
Buddhist prayer flag color the hill stations.
Bamboo trees are everywhere and every view is spectacular!
Unfortunately, it is FREEZING! Okay, maybe not freezing, but I live in LA now and Las Vegas before that, so anything below 65 degrees is pushing it. I suppose this is my Karma for sending all those beach and palm tree Snapchats to my friends and family suffering through Chicago winters. By Day 2 in Sukhia Pokhri I was sick and borrowing winter clothes of my host family.
But I was taken care of! Mothers in every country know exactly what you need!
All in all, relative to any other city I've visited in India, there is a much calmer, cleaner and more serene pace to life... and the boys are cuter! The men unfortunately, not so much. Somehow after 30, many age into haggered versions of their younger selves complete with bellies anywhere from 4-9 months pregnant.
SO WHY AM I HERE? Since I am now a teacher we will break it down into the 5 Ws:
WHERE: A small, mountainside village called Sukhia Pokhri.
40 min outside Darjeeling city in the state of West Bengal.
Next to Nepal's Eastern border.
WHEN: I am here until the beginning of May for a total of 5 weeks.
WHO: I am staying in the home of the school's headmaster called by the children, Sir Devin. Sir Devin started the school with only 2 classes in his home over 10 years ago. It has since become a staple for the town of Sukhia Pokhri serving around 200 children from Nursery age up to Class X (age 16). Below is a picture of the school which is undergoing construction of an additional level, a new roof and western toilets for both children and staff.
As you know, it is tradition that Indian families all live together generation upon generation, which means I am living in a full house! There is Devin's mother, the spicy Grandmother who basically runs the show, his wife Vatsala, his sister Deepa, the wife's brother Ananga and the heir to it all, Devin and Vatsala's son. He's a 5 year old, adorable, spoiled only child who makes me give him Yoga privates every night before bed.
But wait! There's more. On the first floor lives 10 boys ages 6-16 who board at the house year round because the school is too far for them to commute everyday. The family feeds, tutors and cares for them everyday. And there is a cat who just gave birth to 2 kittens. There is never a dull moment in this house.
WHAT: I am a volunteer teacher for grades 5-10 ages 9-16. I teach 6 classes a day 9am-3pm. And what am i teaching? I ask myself that everyday! We all know that I am nobody's school teacher but I can teach Yoga, I've taught dance to kids, I did my time at a University and I've lived a pretty interesting life thus far that has taught me many a lesson. So I figured I could wrap all of that up nicely and my new students might buy.
There was no initiation or training period for me either. Devin just gave me a day with each class- ALONE - and the next day told me to go teach! Luckily I spent a day with 2 British volunteers, one of whom is a certified teacher, and left me with tons of great ideas and supplies as their volunteer month had just come to an end.
Don't laugh. Here is my very first chalk board lesson inspired by our discussion on how America and India both have the British in common.
Then we did a week on USA (what other country would I have chosen?) Geography, neighboring countries, foods and major industries culminating with these beautiful works of smart art!
Next week - GRAPHS! Does the tallest Magno Vale student have the biggest feet?
WHY? Why am I doing this?
To help out the kids?....Sure.
To be of service to someone other than myself?.... Why, of course!
Because I feel guilty about being privileged enough to take a 3 month trip half way across the World?.... Uh, mostly.
And this leads me to a larger discussion on the subject of altruism. Is it really possible for humans to do a nice deed with absolutely no self-interest? Is not everything we do somehow fulfilling some subconscious desire? A fellow Yogi I met in Rishikesh says NO and that even the most compassionate acts of service are related in some way to duty, guilt or that great feeling you get when you make someone's load a little lighter. I cannot speak for all, but I can say with certainty that the work I am doing with these amazing kids is doing me more good than it is doing them. And I must also be honest and admit that I knew this would be the case before I even arrived. Not to diminish my service but subconsciously, I had a need and in providing for other's needs I managed to meet some of my own. Not a coincidence.