India has always conjured striking images of exoticism in my mind. My first trip there was less than four years ago; however, I have since returned three more times while spending weeks off the tourism path while never seeing another Westerner except my small travel teams - be it Americans or Europeans.
Because of the organizations’ missions that have financed my trips East, my time in South Asia has been primarily spent in the slums and remote villages in addition to expansive wildlife preserve jungles that served as inspiration for the classic tale “The Jungle Book.” My assignments usually follow the status quo of contemporary freelancers who do this sort of thing - weaving together multimedia narratives that hopefully help assist various humanitarian causes.
My time thus far has been spent both rurally and within the confines of the hemorrhaging sprawl of Sonagachi - one of the largest red light districts in Asia. I have read that more than 10,000 prostitutes sell their wares within a walled hell on earth encompassing no more than one square kilometer. It’s one of the most terrible places I’ve witnessed to this point.
I’m still reeling from the travel of my latest journey (which was of a much more lighthearted consequence) as I visited a hidden girls’ orphanage there for the second time. Having grown close to my heart since my first visit, I recently returned with ambitions to achieve more than the simple documentation of the orphanage’s story, but rather to volunteer a hand in whatever way I could. With my background in construction and manual labor, my efforts ended up turning into oppressively hot days hand picking at termite mounds that fill with cobras in the summer, cutting down coconut palms, and simply spending time with the girls while trying to help them feel as important as they deserve.
It was my first trip to the sprawling country during the late summer months, and I struggled with the heat. The insects were abundant, and one of the girls had to be rushed to a hospital in the dead of the night due to the sting of a centipede that made its way into her bed. Likewise, the orphanage’s field director showed me the rotting skin on his abdomen where a spider bite sent him to a nearby doctor for antibiotics. I managed to stay free from most harm except some simple scratches from working in the fields with the Dalits, more commonly known as the untouchables.
The monsoons have been sparse for the most part this time of year, although they have been strong enough to kill dozens in their floods when they do arrive. We hope the weather systems will balance out soon however, as much of India is projected to be without water in the next five years, which could cause a mass migration exodus the likes we have yet to see.