Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day 2 - Ranchi

Woke up to another excellent meal – breakfast at the hotel. Then off to the Delhi airport for our flight to Ranchi. When we arrived in Ranchi, it felt like we were really IN India. We drew attention. The misplaced Americans with all of their baggage, fumbling around to find their passports. Amy in our group is blonde so she received extra stares. Silent eyes that would quickly dart away when your eyes met theirs. Our driver picked us up at the airport and off we went…into downtown Ranchi. This is when India became vividly alive to me. The colors…women dressed in beautiful saris walking with baskets on their heads, brightly colored shirts whizzing by on mopeds, brightly painted buildings. The smells…not neccesarly a bad smell as I had come to expect from what I had heard, but the smell of life. The floating aroma of the street vendors, spices, incense, of humanity going about their everyday life. Children getting off school, walking proudly in their uniforms. As the driver sped through the streets, sometimes on the wrong side of the road, dodging bikes, trucks, cars, rickshaws, animals and people walking on the streets, I realized that the horn in India is not a tool to utilize AFTER something has happened (i.e. someone cut you off) but simply a means to let others know you there…you are coming up behind them and you’d better move your ass over an inch or two so I can squeeze by. The rules of India driving are simple: the bigger you are, the more leeway you get. As you can imagine, the hierarchy is simple: big trucks rule, then it goes down from there…buses, vans, cars, auto rickshaws, bikes and then people on foot. Oh yeah, cattle are considered sacred in India so they can do whatever they want, including plopping down in the middle of the street and stopping traffic.  Watch the video of our drive here.

Our first stop was an indoor bazaar. As our two cars stopped in front of the 3 story shopping complex, the busy street seemed to momentarily come to a halt to take a look at us. Who were we and what were we up to? Within seconds we were surrounded by onlookers. A young girl, no older than 5, begged for change with her outstretched hand. Giving to the children on the street does not help the children. Their receipts typically go directly to their keepers. People exploit these innocent children as the front line to seek money.

Inside the bazaar were groceries, household items, clothing…just about everything. I snapped a couple of photos and shot some video from outside, much to the amusement of the locals. Barbara, the Miracle Foundation Travel Coordinator, caught my attention and asked if I wanted to go on an adventure.  Before I knew what was happening, she put 20 Rupees (about 40 cents) in my hand and pushed me onto a rickshaw saying she’d meet me with the rest of the group for lunch and gave the driver directions. I had told myself I wouldn’t take a rickshaw, simply because I am familiar with the high level of traffic accidents and fatalities in India…rickshaw versus overloaded bus does not have a good outcome. Nonetheless, there I was, zipping through the downtown hustle and bustle of Ranchi loving every second of it.

After a buffet lunch and my first Kingfisher (local beer), it was time to catch the train to Rourkela. Another fast and furious car ride ended at the train station. A little boy, all of 4 or 5, followed me all the way down the platform, tugging at my hand with his little fingers, begging for any change I could spare. It’s not easy to look away and ignore the children on the streets and train stations but I understand that by giving to them, the problem is only made worse and the child does not benefit. These are the kids we are here to help but giving them money on the streets is not the solution.

The train took us through the beautiful countryside. Fields of rice and vegetables, cattle, families living in very modest shelters. You could see very young children tending the cattle and working in the fields. It was peaceful. The people out here don’t know what they are missing. When you’ve never had, you never want. I found it interesting when I would see a woman out in the middle of a field, surrounded by nothing but countryside, but she would be dressed to the tops in a colorful sari, her hair made up perfectly.

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