The International Writers Magazine: Orissa

Starry skies and fireflies
Tina Nandi

n a world where the entertainment at the press of a button on the remote control barely begins at 9pm, sleeping before at least 11pm is almost unheard of. However in a remote village about 45 kms from the capital city of the eastern state of Orissa, there is no electricity let alone television. Here there is not much to do after the sun goes down but to sleep. The only sounds one can hear are those of nature and not the constant erratic jingle of the idiot box. Here the starry skies and the fireflies hush you to sleep.

For about ten days we made shelter in this village where we based ourselves in a large rectangular shaped mud hut with a straw roof. We slept on a large tarpaulin in front of the hut on which after covering our selves with mosquito repellent, we would watch for shooting stars before we eventually fell asleep under the night sky. Our 'bathroom' was a big hole in the ground with a brightly coloured curtain making its four 'walls'. Our food was a large array which we managed to lug in from the city and was often attacked by ingenious ants which always managed to make their way into closed packets of noodles, biscuits, bread and any other eatables! Smack in the middle of summertime in India, temperatures often hit 40 degrees Celsius and higher and were almost unbearable for our hill-station weather accustomed bodies.
As I am sure one must have inferred by reading so far, this was no ordinary holiday. We were not there to relax and be served but to serve. We were there for a purpose; to build a school building for the children of this village.

Having been a member of a group of about thirty, this voluntary project not only introduced me to a new part of India, village life, the importance and advantages of team work but also to the satisfaction in working for the poor.

The journey was quite an adventure in itself. It was a two night journey on train from Coimbatore to Bhubaneshwar. Sounds easy enough, but if you've ever been on a train in India, you'll know that it's a whole different ball game. Besides the fact that Indian railway stations are perpetually crowded with all sorts of people, we were also carrying about three large metal trunks full of things we would need and also things we had put together to donate to the people of the village, plus our individual rucksacks, boxes of food and cans of water. So boarding and disembarking our train was quite a feat especially because the train only stopped at our destination for three quick minutes although we were told it would stop for five so we were practically throwing ourselves of a train with as much stuff as we could at a time!!

Out in the village our days started at the crack of dawn so that we could get in a decent amount of work before the scorching sun came out. As the days went by we could see our efforts coming to life as the walls of the school grew taller from the ground. Building with hands which are more used to holding a pen, this was truly a new experience. We were introduced to bright red bricks that were too heavy for even the strongest person among us to carry alone, cement that we carried in trays upon our heads, mortaring and other such skills of building. We washed our own smelly clothes after a day of sweating and put them up to dry on the straw roof of our hut. We learnt how to stop breathing while we went into the 'bathroom' so as to stop ourselves from dying of suffocation from the reek! We made up our own sign language to be able to communicate with the children and play games with them. We did things we weren't used to doing and perhaps some things we didn't even like doing. But we knew it wasn't meaningless and we didn't have to understand Oriya to know that we were appreciated but the ever smiling and excited children and the sparkling eyes of the women said it all.

Oscar Wilde once very wisely quoted, "Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught." We were there to ensure that the children of that village had a chance at an education because it truly is an admirable thing, besides its being a basic right, but really behind the scenes there was much more learning being done than anyone can do sitting in a classroom. We thought that we were giving a great lot to the village but little did we know that really we were the ones going away with much more than we had brought.

We never got the chance to sit in any of the classrooms of the school we built as we had to leave before the finishing work was done but we still seemed to have gained from some lessons.
© Priyanka Nandi - December 2006

All About Me
I have shared out the eighteen years of my life between Africa and India.I   spent the last five years in a boarding school called Hebron in the Nilgiris in South India, where I became accustomed to packing my bags every three months and am still doing that as I travel between India and Zambia, where my parents work. Greatly attached to both places, I hope that I will continue to gain experiences from my two 'homes.' I am a high school graduate and like to see myself working more with underprivileged people around the world in the future. Applying for a bachelor's degree in International Studies, I hope I will be able to accomplish that through my further studies. My passions are photography, travel, learning new languages, writing and reading.
tina nandi <
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