Enjoy this guest blog post by Annegreth Gori who has created a fulfilling semi-retirement with utilizing her skills as a nurse, volunteering around the world. You may follow her here on her blog.
To each a different path
I could never do what you do!
I’ve heard this so many times and of course you are right: you could never do what I do and nor should you. Do whatever you want and deep-down desire. If it is staying put in your comfort zone, so be it. If you choose not to stay home, then the world is your oyster and the pearl is yours alone to find and polish.
When I worked full time – often 2-3 jobs plus volunteering in various capacities – I was raising my son as a single parent, and all I wanted to do was escape. I had vague ideas and even less money.
Out of the blue the opportunity arose to report on projects in India. This was financed by a small group I was involved in and for which we did the fundraising. Since the money for the projects was matched by a government agency, an inspection was necessary and long overdue.
I bravely proposed that if they would pay for my flight, I would do the rest on my own. They agreed, so I went.
Not exactly a smooth landing
Having been to India once before I thought to myself “This is no problem!” I even landed in Mumbai without having bothered with a hotel reservation. This might have worked in Delhi, but arriving in Mumbai in the middle of the night turned out to be a bad choice. All the hotels I could afford were locked tight and my only option was to beg and bribe a watchman to let me stay in the stairwell behind iron gates.
After this self-imposed deprivation, I took the overnight train the next evening to my first project destination vowing to allow myself some luxury. I planned to stay in my guide book’s highly recommended ex-Maharaja palace with a swimming pool.
And, I hadn’t yet contacted my hosts where eventually I was to stay.
Hyderabad was a bit off the backpackers-tourist radar, and the ex-palace was affordable and certainly impressive as I walked into the reception area. Here I was assured there was indeed a swimming pool. The office suggested that I could give them all my clothes to be washed and that they would be ready by late afternoon. Donning my swimsuit, I grabbed a towel and handed my clothes to the maid for cleaning. I happily made my way through the slightly less impressive dusty garden only to find when I arrived at the pool that it was empty!
A tense query at reception resulted in a smile and a shrug so I retreated to my room to sulk.
My host found me here a few hours later, insulted that I had preferred a hotel room to her home. This is when I explained to her that before moving into her home we first had to wait for my clothes.
Meeting powerful perspectives
All the next week we toured project sites and found that many of the wells did not work anymore – pumps were broken and even with replacement parts they had not been fully repaired. The most shocking perspective to me was that the “untouchables” were not allowed to use wells which were still operating. All of this had to appear in my report and I was increasingly uncomfortable with the hospitality I was receiving. I suspected that more was being hidden from me.
With relief I boarded the train to my next destination in Orissa, where I then had to take a bus to a small town. My Hyderabad host had been doubtful about my journey but I was eager to be gone. It was not until I sat on the bus – I was the only white-faced passenger – did I feel a little apprehensive. It was a long and dusty ride, and we did not stop for any bathroom breaks. All I can say girls, is wear a skirt! One can learn to squat in a row with all the other women and simply ignore the stares when nature really calls!
When I arrived at my destination and walked into the clinic, I was greeted by shouts of incomprehension.
“How did you get here?”
“By bus of course!” I replied.
Nobody, my new host exclaimed, would take the bus! Of course he meant nobody white, especially a woman who was alone!
Honor, respect and a purple eggplant
Things settled down after that and I had a great time touring clinics and checking wells in remote tribal areas. Here whole villages greeted us upon arrival and we were escorted with music and garlands to the place of honor. To my horror, I found that I had to give speeches. I concentrated on women’s rights, which at this time in history must have confused the heck out of everyone.
But the women in the doctor’s household showed their respect by insisting on making me my first Salwar Kameez. To their amusement and to the tailor’s despair they used more than twice the material needed for a regular-sized Indian woman.
The result was stunning. I looked like a large purple eggplant!