An Unforgettable Summer

One year after an African experience the author traveled to India to help out another a less-developed country

By Julia Bell

After 39 hours, four airports, 7,000 miles, and zero sleep, I have arrived in India! I am immediately struck by the people.  There are so many of them.

They are speaking so fast in a language I have never heard.  I notice them staring as I pass by, and I find myself staring back.  My eyes are drawn to their clothing. The colors are as warm and welcoming as the people wearing them.

I am handed a wide-eyed baby boy, no older than a year, and pulled towards a flip-phone to be photographed.  A few teenage boys huddle around to snap a picture, and then rush to show their friends.

I’m on a big white bus with colored paint striped across both sides. It rattles as the wheels roll further and further down the left side of the road. There are no stop signs, lights, or speed limits.

We pass a couple rickshaws, a few trucks loaded with fruit, a handful of motorcycles, and a countless number of cows. We swerve in and out of traffic to the tune of loud car horns, which are eventually drowned out by the Bollywood music on the radio.

I am standing in front of the Golden Temple, on bare feet that were rinsed upon my arrival. I am surrounded by people from all walks of life and I feel genuinely welcomed.  We are given a tour of the dining hall, where volunteers prepare free meals each day for roughly 100,000 visitors. It’s uplifting to witness so many individuals interacting peacefully despite race and religion.

I wake up sick in the middle of the night and spend all morning in bed.  The discomfort of illness is much greater when you’re a day’s distance from home.

It’s now afternoon, and standing in front of a pile of rubble I can’t help but overlook my troubles as I imagine those faced by the 800 slum-dwellers who have recently been evicted from the slums and forced to spend days on the road with nowhere else to go.

Each morning of my remaining time in India would be spent volunteering at a summer camp. I would make my way down a steep and winding road to a field where I would be greeted by dozens of energetic children, eager to play. I spent countless hours kicking soccer balls, jumping rope, and drawing.

I found myself drawn to a young girl named Bindiya. Neither one of us could understand the others’ language, and we found it difficult to communicate with words.

Although I couldn’t tell her how much I loved India or how much I missed my friends and family, she always seemed to understand what was going through my mind.

In the afternoons, I would continue to gain a better understanding of the culture and people of India, as I explored the country and built relationships.

One afternoon, I found myself standing in a field with water up to my waist. I grabbed bundle after bundle of rice seedlings and transplanted them into the water. The sun beat down on my back and I quickly became exhausted. I sat down for lunch with a new appreciation for each grain of rice on my plate.

A few days later my backpack was tied to the back of a horse, and my boots were tied to my feet.  The monsoon rains poured down as I hiked my way through the Himalayas.  As the sun disappeared over the mountains, I climbed into a tent and fell asleep under the clear Indian sky.

As my time in India drew to an end, I bid farewell with a visit to the Taj Mahal.  To consider this ivory-white, marble mausoleum a New Wonder of the World is an understatement at best.  I stood among an enormous crowd of people, most Indian but many tourists, gazing in awe at the famous symbol of love.

After 21 days, 10 miles hiked, 9 games of cricket, and 40 cups of chai, I returned to the United States.  It was hard to believe how quickly the weeks had passed. I was excited to see my friends and family back home, but I wasn’t ready to leave my new friends and family on the other side of the world.

I will cherish the memories of this experience for the rest of my life, and I hope to return to India soon.