Alex’ feedback, French man who joined URMUL during 3 weeks.
Every travel starts with feedbacks or personal experiences from your traveller friends. Everybody knows someone who has been to the country where you are going to. You can compare this situation to a great movie that you haven’t seen yet where most of your friends are already telling you that it’s going to be amazing. “You will love this”, “be careful with that” those kind warnings or advices can’t be avoided from people that you like, especially when you are about to travel in one of the country which requires one the highest number of vaccination in the world. It’s also funny how people can easily talk about their stomach issues when it comes to discuss about Indian. These usual intimate subjects suddenly become a random discussion for everybody.
I decided to go out of the comfort zone by discovering India, alone. The last word of this sentence changes a lot when you know that the people you will met are culturally very far from the occidental education that you had. I heard lots of stories regarding opposite ways of life about their food, tradition, religion or values and I will have to face it all by myself. When you are used to travel with old friends in places which are very close to your current way of life, what we can call “the risks” are higher than usual.
My first motivation in the URMUL project was to help people, in any ways. I don’t have medical background but I was humbly convinced that I could be useful for a local NGO.
The first reason of traveling is that you want to go to places that you haven’t been yet. Plus, Indian is personally a country which attracts as much as it scares me, so going there meant a small personal challenge to me.
I heard that North India was more authentic than South of India where big cities have emerged in the last 10 years. I expected “Real India” as I could imagine to be more connected with the local population.
How did I join URMUL organisation?
My project has been defined: going to North India to help local people with the best I could. I met some research and I found a French NGO. I briefly explained my motivations and they gave me one of their contacts in India: Arvind, general secretary of URMUL in Bikaner. After a couple of emails and a quick phone call through What’s app, we agreed that I could come whenever I want to discover URMUL organization. It was easier than I thought. Once the visa procedure was over, I will join a man where I just had a five minutes’ chat with in a country that I don’t even know, alone.
What did I think about India when I arrived?
First impressions of India were opposed; you can feel that it’s way different from all you know but you also have the feeling n that you could be like home. The way that Indian people look at you can be disturbing in a first place (especially when you are a girl). According to our occidental codes, this look is intrusive and could mean they are hostile to your presence; it’s actually the opposite. Most of them are simply curious about you and would love to ask you questions about your life and where you are from. Once you are smiling in return to their looks, you will often receive a smile back.
Everybody talked to me anywhere. When I was waiting for the bus or train, in the street, young and older will easily ask you random questions about your life (your profession, where is your country) and will be very helpful for every needs that I could have.
” Every guest is a god for us” is a sentence that I often heard during my trip. The kindness of people that you met can embarrassed yourself because they will do a lot for you without asking anything in return. Plus, it could be impolite in some ways to always say thank you, nobody will reproach you to say it but it’s good to be aware of. According to Hinduism religion (which is the main religion in the country – with Muslim), making good things for others improve your karma and will enable you to have better lives (Hinduism believe in reincarnation). Simple advice and very hard to do: try not to say “thank you” every time.
First day at URMUL
When I arrived to Bikaner, one member of URMUL was waiting for me at the train station to pick me up at URMUL offices where I met Arvind for the first time. While we were drinking tea (British heritage), he kindly explained me URMUL organisation, their achievements and their goals. He also told me that I will discover “Real India” on the field with URMUL. The day after, I was on my way to Bhap to discover NGO work in Rajasthan 50km from Pakistan.
Indian way of life
One thing to understand about this country is that they have their own organization and it works well like this. Our occidental standard doesn’t exist. When you want to take a bus, there is no screen telling you that it will arrive in 15 minutes, no ticket to buy before the departure, no numbers on buses, just people waiting with some cows around. You quickly understand that you have to ask somebody to know your bus and no worries, you will have a good answer every time. On the road, standards are also different: no traffic light, non-established roads, cows in the middle of the way; welcome to real India! The wonderful thing in India is that you don’t need books or smartphones to pass time, watching outside the window is the best way to spend your ride. Everything is so different from our life that is an amazing human tapestry that you can admire by just staying on you seat.
First day in the field within URMUL team
When I arrived in Bhap, there was also a member of URMUL who were waiting for my arrival. We took his motorbike (main way to travel for short distance rides) few minutes until URMUL office / house. This place has the particularity to be an office in the day and a house in the evening. Staff breath URMUL from the beginning to the end of the day.
After introducing to each other’s, Rajender ensures that everything was ok; he managed most of the translation with the other members of the team. Despite of this lack of facility to communicate, I felt very comfortable with everyone. They hosted me like a member of their family. We lived 24hours a day together and shared 2 bedrooms for 4 people.
Sometimes, it was better for us to sleep outside because of the high temperature in the rooms. It’s barely impossible to write souvenirs about India without talking about food. Every meal was an experience: no fork, no knife, no spoon, no chair, no table. Everybody is sharing the food seating on the floor, which is always composed by vegetables, rice and chapati (or naan) that you eat with your hands. It’s far from our habits but local food is mostly a good way to learn about a country. We talked a lot about the description of their jobs, taking time to explain me every part of their roles in the field.
URMUL’work in villages
During several days, we visited villages around and met people who were very curious to see me here. I was nicely surprised that some of villages have hospitals, schools and governmental houses. I talked to doctors, teachers, students, agricultures and people from the village, trying to understand how things work in India. Even if basic infrastructure is here, Indian people living in villages live in hard condition but it’s very unusual to see someone who seems unhappy.
This experience reflected to your own condition, some complains or disagreements that you could have that made you unhappy and when you realize that these people are way happier than you are sometimes, it makes you realise that everyone could be focused on real values and things that really matters like love, family and friends. ” family is more than gold” “please don’t say thank you, you are family now” so many sentences that I will never forget … I learned a lot about India but also about myself. Going to India with URMUL was really helpful and a good way to discover a country from the inside. I think it was also interesting for the people I met within the organization to talk about our cultural differences. People from villages (espacially kids) seemed very happy to have a talk with me. People that I didn’t know gave me so much that I will try to keep in mind what they taught me for a long time, ideally for the rest of my life. It was a very emotional experience and it’s hard to put words on what you really felt when people who have limited revenues can give you more than your friends. I’m not particularly talking about money but deep kindness, looks with eyes that made you feel good, without any expectations in return, a smile or a look is more valuable than things I could buy in my life. I will never forget this experience and I want to thank everybody that I met during these 3 weeks with a particular thank you to Arvind. Rajender and Prince who treat me like a member of their family. For anyone who wants to join URMUL for a day, a week or a month, don’t hesitate to contact me, I will be more than happy to answer to your questions.