The status of a volunteer: The Mesiah, the bringer of treasures, teacher of knowledge, who looks more like Shakira than any other person in the village. A reflection on the inflated ego of a volunteer.

13 May

I turned up at Sidhbari Hostel with only a bag of things. I knew I was going to live with the people, connect with the third world, and prove we don’t need the material goods in the western world we so aspire not only to own, but to be known we own. I wanted to live amongst the locals. With modest intentions did not take my fancy things (no laptop, not high heels, no jewellery). Despite this I was welcomed with great vigour, not only as a volunteer teacher, but also as an English speaking white girl with an Ipod.

My ipod soon became a star attraction. The children came from an isolated area in North Western India, that can be accessed only by yak during the snowy winter months, through which there is no phone line or electricity. But they knew how to work an ipod. 

A boy asked if he could borrow my headphones for the day. I assumed he’d borrowed a music player from someone. Later in the day walking through the village I saw him wearing them. I asked what he was listening to, the end of the cord in his pocket. He pulled the end of the cord out with a grin, nothing attached.

The first two weeks I was in Sidhbari people would run from their homes with children wanting me to hold them for photos and for the kids to show off their English language. They wanted me to tell them their children are smart, healthy and fat.

I was invited to every event. Never before (or since) have I made a room silent on entering. It was assumed I could dance like “Shakira”, (I got some funny looks when I did bust my moves at the many weddings I attended, I proved the theory wrong; not all white girls can dance like Shakira). I had become a celebrity based on the colour of my skin, and all that was associated with it, and I didn’t mind.

Some Indian men took the friendliness too far. I’d sit on an empty bus and the first three men to get on sardined up beside me to look directly at my chest. The first Hindi words I learned were to tell them what I’d rather they do (Ill write about Hindi/English swear words another time).

Despite this, the friendliness I received from people made my time in India easier and more warm than I’d have ever got without the beautiful people. By the time I was leaving I knew which families to stop by and say hello if I was hungry (the food at the hostel was meagre), who made the best chai, who had cute kids to play with while I had time during the day, who would help me tanslate Hindi and more so, I made close friends, who I’ll never forget.There were days I wanted to walk home without holding babies or discuss children’s progress through their English text book, but this wasn’t often, usually when I had another dose of Delhi Belly. 

But now I’m back in Sydney I miss the attention, I’m only another white girl in the village. I walk home from the bus, saying the usual civilities to neighbours, no toothless Indian women with a body shape like the samosas she is thrusting at me. I am again back to being only another white Anglo girl, in a white neighbourhood. My ipod impresses no one at all. 

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One Response to “The status of a volunteer: The Mesiah, the bringer of treasures, teacher of knowledge, who looks more like Shakira than any other person in the village. A reflection on the inflated ego of a volunteer.”

  1. palacar May 14, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    Stella, I love the honesty and vividness you put into your story. And you know what is really funny? I don’t know if you know this, but Shakira is actually Colombian (like me), so it’s funny that she’s become like this American idol that embodies what in India is perceived as the Western type of girl. And her dad is from Lebanon!

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