Volunteering – being part of a family event

  • Post category:Travel / Volunteering
  • Reading time:9 mins read
Cultural diversity is not easy
Cultural diversity is not so easy

I was not a traveler in usual sense before. I mean the person, who likes to go places to see something. I never had any special interest in seeing something specific. Until I completed my bachelors, most of my travels were family oriented; visiting relatives, spending summer holidays at grandparents, visiting some Holy places and so on. Even in college, when some tours were planned for some place to visit, I was never enthusiastic about those tours. I remember, I never joined those trips to city amusement park or trip to nearby hill station or to a zoo. I could never understand the purpose behind it. Somehow, I was not able to connect with some random event planned by someone. Why would I go somewhere, when I did not feel for it, did not connect with the place. At times, I felt like may be I am not usual travel or trips type person. But what is so odd in it or special about it? It just depends where one stands.

I did not travel much in groups to any places. Still after my graduation, I planned to travel alone to middle of India and visited a new state, new cities, new people; all alone. I never did that before in my life. It was just amazing feeling. It was not about the places, fort of Daulatabad or the Ellora caves that made it exciting. Sure, this fort was amazing (it was never conquered), Ellora caves are just breathtaking. To see those amazing constructions of art was memorable. But, still they did not have that excitement that made it special. For me, special was the thrill to be alone in the world, the unknown world. The train journey itself was a thrill. I met lot of people on this more than 24 hours of journey. I noticed the differences when train stops in different states. Everything change with places; people, language, clothing, colors, even sounds on the railway station. At every station “chai wala” (tea man) will come in the train car and deliver tea. At lunch and dinner time, food will change based on which state train has stopped. Topic of discussions in the cabin will change according to change of people. This ever changing dynamics left me with amazing experience and probably with a new thought to travel alone. Little that I knew that after about 15 years a day will come, when I will be doing nothing but travelling to continue that experience with new flavors, new tastes, new colors and new mixtures.

My first long journey, made me experience the variety within India in different states along with some recognition of similarities. Now when I am travelling and volunteering, it is the same thrill of unknown and new experiences that makes it interesting. In my recent volunteer project, I came to a small village to help building an “eco/sustainable house”. During the week I was the only one living in this big place. About 500 meters down there is a small village with 4 proper built houses and others are old or left alone. There also just one man lives, a shepherd, who takes cares of about 80-100 sheep and few chickens with the help of 3 dogs. In such a place I was not expecting much than getting used to living alone and doing simple work. Surprisingly, it gave me different opportunities to know the local culture and observe similarities across countries and oceans.

When I went to this village, I realize that villages are so small that there is a village which consists of different villages. Every person born in this village keeps the last name as the name of the village. I was surprised to know this. Especially after living in cities and moving across cosmopolitan areas, I almost forgot that villages around my place also have village name to last name binding. Just after a week, I got invited to house of a person, who lives in next village. His village is equally big or equally small, He is the one who generally comes there on weekends. It was not just an invitation to another house. I got a chance to see a traditional old style house and got to know how they used to live and cook. Big kitchen, where people cook and eat together, while sitting in circles around the fire. Roof made from wood logs, topped with big stones, was black. I learned that it is not paint, but rather it is the smoke from fire. One old person told me that this smoke keeps the wood strong. If they keep on burning fire and cooking, the roof can remain for hundred or more years. We sat there for hours, chatting, eating and drinking. Thanks to my host for all the translations and being a medium for the conversation.

Language adapts, but people do not
Language adapts, but people do not

It was an interesting experience of culture. Little I knew that in couple of weeks I will be part of a village family get-together. This is an annual event when all the people who left the village for cities come back to meet each other and share a meal. It was a special event for me and for them too. Many of them were surprised to see an outsider. Outsider, who is not just from another village or city, but from completely different country from another continent. A lot of them talked to me to know a little more about me. However, due to language barrier, it was not so easy. But, I could feel from their faces and expression their excitement and happiness. I am usually an observer and such an event was special to observe this culture in work. I observed many similarities.

The main and foremost similarity to note was the timing. It did not look like there was any fixed time to reach. If there was fixed time, then not many seems to be observe it. Some people even came when half the meal was finished. I always had a hard time in my circle about this special Indian timing. I was smiling while observing this behavior in a completely different land. I noticed that, there were some people, who came early and started the work for cooking, tables, utensils, cleaning the place and anything and everything that they could find. On the other hand there were some, who just walked around, see things, give some comments and move on without any actual contribution. It was not just their actions, but their behavior, expressions and the way they walk also felt too similar.

Grouping is something special which exists in some part of human genome or connectome. One study says that humans cannot live together in a group more than 150 people while keeping close connections. However, it does not mean that they all relate to each other at the same level. These 150 contains many other small groups and overlapping groups. It was no different in this small village of 4-5 houses. One just need to look at the lunch table to see the groups in effect. Some overlaps and even in this small group of about 40 people, there were some who are probably just touching the edges. Few ladies made their group different, while few elite gets special position on the table. While some are happily singing in chorus and speaking their heart out, while others are sophisticatedly sipping their wines.

In India, NRI (Non-Resident Indian) is a very common acronym, It is used on a daily basis in discussion, news or advertisement. These are the people, who has left India to find jobs or created businesses in other countries and got settled there. Many of them ( especially the 1st generation) still has some liking towards the mainland. They do not find themselves to be able to come back. But, to satisfy that feeling, they keep on building houses and buying lands and farmhouses in India. It is not so difficult to find such houses and lands in India. I cannot say it is valid for all states, but for my state big portion of land is in NRI hands. On this get-together event of this small village, I noticed that same is valid on a small scale for these people also. All of them were born here and they moved on to different cities for their own reasons. Many have feelings for this place, but do not have time, energy or money to keep that connection. Some who have money and time has build big houses and places around the open lands in village. However, same as those lonely, empty walls of NRI houses in India, these houses also contain only stones, cement and workers sounds, only to be filled with people on special occasions.

It was interesting to see many similarities at this far place from my home town. However, food, the ways to prepare, cook and eat were different. This was an interesting experience to taste a completely “home-made cuisine”. On a normal visit to a place, one goes to a restaurant to taste local food, but we know from own homes that restaurant do not sell what people normally eat at home. In this case for me, I visited the place, met many beautiful people, tasted their food, had interesting discussions with them. A beautiful and active day came to an end by hugs, smiles and sounds of “Vidimo se”.

I am sure, I will not remember what I ate on that day, who did I meet and what topics we talked about. However, I will surely remember this beautiful day with sharing of good interactions, nice energy and beautiful smiles.


An american born Desi returned to India and hired a tourist cab for sight seeing. When taken to the Taj Mahal in Agra, he asked how many years it took to build it. 
The guide replied 20 years.
The American desi remarked, “You guys are lazy, in America we can build some thing like this in 5 years.”

At Red Fort in Delhi, he asked the same question. The guide reduced the period to impress him and said Ten years. 
“Only ten years?” The American Desi retorted: “Didn’t I say you guys are slow workers! In America we could have built it in 2 1/2 years.” 

Same story everywhere. He admired the places but reduced the period to 1/4th. The guide got irritated by this young American Desi.
Next day when they were near Qutab Minar the American Desi asked what is that tower? 
The guide replied, “I will have to go and find out. When I was passing by this side last evening there was nothing here.”