Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Camels pull carts here, and they’re decked out like show girls. A total stranger will walk with you for kilometers to help you find a place to eat/pee/change money/make a phone call, and everything is made from the ubiquitous marble, which clarifies why some people call toilets “throne rooms”. So regal, so easy to clean with just a bucket of water (and an undiscriminating eye for hygiene)!

Rajasthan (and the southeastern city of Udaipur in particular) has proved a very pleasant surprise thus far, despite an interminable journey (about 28 hours) and a variety of unforeseen complications. It seems that the tenacious gut bugs we picked up en masse in the Himalayas stowed away in a few GI tracts to make the trek to this land of pastel temples and Islamic architecture. Consequently, we’ve got one student admitted to the hospital, and two more in for tests at present, and this only the end of our second full day in the land of Rajputs.

I have to think there must be something I still need to learn in the echoing corridors of Indian hospitals, else I wouldn’t find myself so frequently sprinting their lengths with stool samples and convulsing students. I spent my first full night in what must be one of the nicest hospitals in India with a student hooked up to IV’s and struggling valiantly to retain the few nibbled bites of rice she’d finally managed to ingest. The staff were bemused but courteous. Every ten minutes and throughout the night, there were mute women in mint green saris slipping into the room to wipe down doors and tables, mopping floors, scouring sinks, and changing the bedsheets every time my student rolled over.

Tonight, my co-leader takes his shift on the hospital couch, and I try to corral the remaining ten able-bodied students into an overdue group circle on the rooftop of the quirky guesthouse we currently call home. The hospital crises and overload of logistical legwork currently being tossed between my co-leader and I like a hot potato has left the majority of the group somewhat orphaned, and largely in the care of the organization we are collaborating with here. Who’s flipping out about returning to the States? Who’s nervous about homestays? Who wants a cigarette worse than they ever have in their life. I have no idea, and it’s time to catch up with the non-squeaking wheels. Though I’m almost nauseous with the desire for a hot shower (I smell like sterile gauze and surgical gloves) and an uninterrupted night’s sleep, small sparks can lead to wildfires when it comes to group dynamics.

This Rajasthan chapter is an experimental one for our group, and we are making things up as we go along, none of us ever having been to Rajasthan before. Udaipur is a much bigger city than we were anticipating, and most of what I’ve seen has been from the back of slaloming autorickshaws or the top floor of the GBH American Hospital. I have slightly higher aspirations for the next two weeks. Lake Pichola, the Monsoon Palace, Jagdish Temple, and old city bazaar all beckon like mirages in the shimmering midday heat, but there are internships to establish, homestays to arrange, service projects to organize, and amoebas to eradicate. We’re at week eight of ten, and now is no time for me to go all Lonely Planet on my valiant community of experiential learners.

Everyone’s having to work just a bit harder to reign in thoughts of the familiar creature comforts and problem-free bowel function of life in the States, despite overwhelming fatigue and a saturation gauge in the feverish eyes of each of my students that is just a hairsbreadth shy of “Full”. I keep my own gaze on “Scan”, ever-vigilant, and determined not to let my students see that I'm about one hot chai from "Empty".

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