We can all remember the classic Dr. Seuss book read to us as youngsters by our beloved mothers, fathers, and teachers. However, if you asked any of our parents where in the world we would be, come summer of 2017, India would be close to the last place they would guess. Even two months ago, not one of our group members knew that May 2017 would be spent in the beautiful and culturally rich city of Jaisalmer. We use Dr. Seuss’s story as comparison because just like in the book, our journey has been one of excitement, adventure, frustration, and admiration. The time has come where we are on our own in a foreign place taking with us only the knowledge provided by our schooling and loving parents, and our physical bodies with their limitations that we would find soon enough.
[We] have brains in [our] head[s].
[We] have feet in [our] shoes.
[We] can steer [ourselves] any
direction [we] choose.
[We]’re on [our] own.
And [we] know what [we] know.
That being said, we would not ask for a different set of students for this trip. Our team is composed of five bright, intelligent Buckeyes with the common characteristics of adaptability and compassion. Adela Pang is a soft-spoken, inquisitive, food-courageous young woman. Elizabeth Navarre keeps things animated with her enthusiastic attitude and never-ending desire to understand culture, history, and personal narratives especially when interviewing new people. Joe Wimer can be described in one word: surprising. Joe is a man of many hidden talents and the rest of us often find ourselves taken aback by his unforeseen hobbies, interests, and stories. As for the two of us, Hanna and Roni, we honestly still have no idea how we made it this far.
After four flights and one bumpy car ride we finally arrived in Jaisalmer, the Golden City, home to the world’s oldest living fort. We not only have had the opportunity to see this amazing fort, but to reside in a hotel within the fort. The first few days were spent following our Ohio State contact, Priya Kurle, around the city like little ducklings. Truth be told, the five of us are enormously grateful for Priya’s help and guidance the first couple of days; indeed, we might not have made it without her. Our first thoughts of the city were hot, very hot, and extremely hot, but as we opened our eyes and ears we started to notice how colorful and full of life the city is. We can hear nightly Jain worship chants from our hotel balcony, the constant honks and beeps of motorbikes and rickshaws in the city below, the barks of dogs in the streets, and the hymns of school children in the morning. Each day we take in the infinite colors that the women wear, the gold sandstone repeated throughout the fort and surrounding city, and the kindness each person shows not only to each other, but to every living thing. Everyone told us that when we get here there would be cows – but did we truly understand what they were saying? No! All of us were intrigued by how many cows are in the streets. We estimate the cow to dog to person ratio to be about 1:2:8.
Anyone in Jaisalmer will tell you that tourists come for the fort and the desert; however, we have come to find that even though this is true, tourists stay for the people. Everyone has been very welcoming of our arrival, and not a fake or surface-level attitude. They authentically want us to be comfortable and experience their culture. We have spent many of our afternoons here talking with the most interesting locals in a backroom of a handicraft shop. These guys have looked out for us during our time here and conversed with us about topics ranging from our project to Indian history to American politics to Tom Hanks films. Where some Americans may be more reserved to open up right away, our Indian family was able to joke around and make us feel comfortable from day one. Everywhere we go we are offered Chai Tea. Unlike the United States, where it is customary for a guest to either refuse or accept a beverage, in Jaisalmer you accept the beverage. Although we initially were hesitant about hot chai tea in 115 degree weather, we politely accepted. This hospitable practice has now become one of our favorite parts of this city.
We cannot begin to express how grateful we are for this experience. The things we have learned, the relationships we have built, and the memories we have made will all stay with us for the rest of our lives. One day, we will be telling our grandkids about the time we woke up to the biggest sand storm we had experienced, the time we saw some locals in Jaisalmer splinting the broken leg of a stray dog, or even the time we were escorted through the street by the Crown Prince of Jaisalmer. We appreciate all the efforts that got us here that have allowed us to experience all of the above. Our trip is still ongoing and we are all excited to see what else India has to offer – although, it will be hard to beat Jaisalmer!