Author: Emma Cerovich
Tags: Asia, Finalist, India, Volunteering
Travelling is a mentality. Am I willing to start the adventure? Vulnerable enough to step out the door to learn more about others, and, by application, myself? Not a tourist, but someone on the journey to understand, be challenged, grow and connect with others of different backgrounds. I had the opportunity to embrace this adventure almost ten months ago when I received an unexpected offer; with one phone call, I jumped in headfirst and began to prepare for a life-changing trip to India. Passport. Visa. Trying on Indian Punjabis and packing them away with other supplies for ten days in Indian villages. Six weeks flew by in a blur, and I was on a sixteen-hour flight to Mumbai before I had fully comprehended where I was going.
Over twenty-four hours of travel later, we stepped off our plane from Mumbai into the city of Lucknow, India. I was immediately hit with new sights, smells, and sounds. Women in brightly colored saris and Punjabis rode on the backs of motorcycles and walked alongside the highway. Driving through the streets of Lucknow, I was overwhelmed by this otherworldly traffic situation, where signals and lanes were nonexistent, and horns blared. The most chaotic part of this experience was the highway itself: every mode of transportation was contained by this concrete artery—women and children walking, donkeys and rickshaws plodding, large trucks with men hanging on every side.
Our final destination was a stark contrast to my first impression of India. A group of people standing in a dusty courtyard greeted us as we stepped out of the car. A one-eared dog ran through the throng and welcomed us with a sloppy, lopsided wag; the children giggled and waved shyly. We waved back, and, because neither our group of travelers nor the children spoke the same language, we continued to smile at each other expectantly. Over the next few days, we learned other ways to communicate than words. We played games and signed to each other. We shared pungent meals of rice and savory curry, masala spices and hot chai tea. A large catalyst to the developing relationships was music. The children enjoyed learning songs from us almost as much as I enjoyed learning songs from them. Hindi is a hard language to grasp for me, but I soaked up every moment singing the strange-sounding words. I was mesmerized by the pounding tala rhythm of the chenda, the twang of the sitar and sarangi, and the voices of the children and adults, raised in unison in a beautiful song.
Although there were too many life-changing moments to count, one that impacted me profusely was my time with the young adults. This group of twenty men and women, ranging from sixteen to twenty years old, were experiencing the same changes of life I was: exams, school, friendships, adolescence, finding who they are. With the help of a translator (and through broken Hindi and English phrases we attempted to use), I formed friendships that were so pivotal to me because, despite our different lifestyles, cultures, and languages, we are on the same journey, filled with struggles, triumphs, and adventures.
I love travel; I love the journey. Halfway across the world, it was evident that travel is not a photo-op; it is a chance to engage new cultures and grow for future journeys. Whether my next expedition is half the globe away or in my own community, the adventure begins when I step out the door.