Riding on back of truck

Trip Start Sep 28, 2008
Trip End Oct 12, 2008

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Flag of India  , West Bengal,
Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Okay, lets just say that when I'm looking down from a mountain, my ability to perceive distance is a bit obscured... so having said that, I took off in the pouring rain with the intent of finding the Tibetan Self help Refugee Center. After all, I'd seen their sign on their roof top and it didn't seem that far away... WRONG. Of course, every person I stopped just kept waving me on, so here I am, trudging down a road, in the rain, bright yellow poncho and umbrella, thinking to myself: this is going to one long walk back up when I finally do get there. Its nice along the way, sometimes the road is very narrow, and those little stalls selling goods show up out of nowhere. I felt pretty isolated and put this down as another crazy stunt....Ang again, there's the monkeys.

One woman sends me down another street when I find myself in another town... so I trudge onward, ask again ( this is the thing to do even if it yields different results b/c my theory is sooner or later someone will have a sense of direction and tell me the right way.) After a steep downhill climb, another man tells me I'm going the wrong way and sends me back up the hill. It's starting to register that maybe this wasn't the smartest of ideas. As I"m standing there, a young Tibetan looking man comes over and starts talking to me. I tell him what I'm trying to do and he says its at least an hours walk away, still, the rain pours. He then tells me he will stay with me and help me get a taxi. He's a student studyng at the university and is from Nepal. He wants to be kind to me, he says, b/c I am a visitor. Oh, the kindness of strangers has new meaning to me. We wait and taxi after taxi comes by, but they're either reserved, or the trucks are full.... except for the last one.

He flags down a truck that is packed with people and luggage on top, and has a boy hanging on the back. The young Tibetan man tells the driver what i need, and lo' and behold, there I am, hanging on to the back of this truck and trying to hang on to my umbrella, and most importantly, trying not to fall off.... around we go, curve after curve, and I'm thinking: now this is something i never thought i'd do in my lifetime!! So, white woman, yellow poncho, on back of green truck.... he lets me off at the bottom of a hill after about 20 minutes or more, and I walk about a km up a steep road to get to the center. The scenery is breath-taking.... mountainsides of tea bushes growing, misty fog, bits of blue sky, quiet... a little piece of heaven. You can not imagine the serenity of finding stillness when so much of this trip has been filled with honking horns and tons of people everywhere.

My first stop is the hospital. Low slung dirty white building with 2 'nurses.' I do not know if they had any formal training but they were very happy to show me their facility. In the examining room was a table with a paper cloth, a screen to read xrays, b/p cuff.... the doctor comes a few days a week and it costs 30 rupees to see him. This is less than $1 to us but most of the people they see are too poor to pay this. In another room, are the medicines. Each shelf is labeled for its use such as GI, Heart, but she said they didn't always know what the meds were for. She showed me one and I happened to recognize its name. The meds are donated, mostly from Germany. Meds also cost 30 rupees. Few can afford this. They also have a mobile clinic where they go out and see the poorest people outside of their community.

They didn't have any patients that were staying over that day. The doctor's child was there and I suppose part of their duty included watching him. They were very nice and happy that I was a nurse as well. Now, what they didn't have: nice waiting room, even a 'normal size' exam room, and all of it was run down, dirty walls, drug books from the 1990's on the shelves, the floor felt like it might give at any moment.

Walked further up the hill, and now I was at the refugee center. These people and now their children and grandchildren, fled Tibet under Chinese rule. The center was started in the 1950's and was literally dug out of the mountain. They have pictures showing women making the roads.

In one room, sat 5 women, all weaving goods which they sell at the community center. I was thrilled to actually buy Tibetan prayer flags from Tibetan people! They were very nice and also sold shawls, carpets, jewelry, statures. Played a bit of basketball with some boys outside as there's a school there as well as a monastery. Got a pic of a child jumping rope.

My dilemma now was how to get back to Dajeeling b/c i'd already decided i wasnt going to walk back. As I'm going down the hill, a man in a jeep with some official looking writing on the windshield stops and says, "lift?" He waves off my question of how much and just repeats lift. So I'm off with him. He could speak some English and was very nice. Also picked up a young girl and her aunt. The young girl, 15, spoke English well and asked many questions. She said she wanted to be a nurse too and asked for my address. I so hope she will write. Her school is a "very far walk away" she told me. No transportation system in place for school kids.

I arrived back at the hotel excited about my adventure, checked on Gabe, and went back out to Chowstra to the plaza to see what might be going on. I wasnt disappointed and before i knew it, I was being escorted front and center to watch the performance. A month long celebration is going on and different ethnic groups were doing dances and wearing traditional costumes.... very cool. I am both delighted and slightly embarassed at the warm reception I receive. My hope is that if I'm the only American they will meet, that it will be one of a happy, smiling, woman.

It begins to rain and I find myself with 3 children all clamoring to get under my umbrella. One big siser takes it upon herself to give her rowdy little brother a slap on the face for his misbehaving and I end up with only one child, a girl, enjoying the performance with me and being fascinated by my camera. Her friend who'd left with her little brother made it obvious that she was annoyed at her friend for staying. Even in another language, you can understand a female's angst. I guess that frustrated look is universal!

A very enjoyable, physically tiring day and my legs can attest to it but oh so good. I have learned to always carry an umbrella as it rains frequently.
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