Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Day 6--The Day I Became "Shishue"

Nicknames. Usually either a sign that you are a complete loser or a sign that you are cool enough to warrant an alternate moniker. In this case, I am not sure which category I fall into. Wait. Yes I do.

Today I got up early and took dose 2 of the cholera/E.coli vaccine that I purchased in Canada. Since it has to be taken on an empty stomach it made me pretty nauseated. Especially when I stared thinking about what was contained in the cloudy liquid I had just poured down my gullet. The B-subunit of the cholera toxin I am ok with, but the whole inactivated V.cholerae count was rather unsettling.

After breakfast (of hopefully limited bacterial load) we piled into Jeeps for the long road drive to our first camp. I was in a Jeep with Cathy, James, and attending Liz.

The classic "do I have anything in my teeth?" photo...
We had an absolute blast in the jeep, entertaining ourselves with various car games like, "what is that lorry carrying?" Time flew by, surprisingly. At one point we stopped to stretch our legs and get some air. I took this photo as it was not an uncommon sight to see very small children wandering alone. This little one certainly seemed like she could hold her own.

After snapping the photo I walked around the side of the jeep, trying to negotiate my way around the deep mud and the standstill gutter which was full to the brim with black, murky, 'schmegma' as I like to call it. As I opened the door to the jeep and attempted to keep my telephoto lens from banging on the side I slipped and ended up calf-deep in the gutter. In the shit gutter. The black, liquid, toxic waste, oily, slime gutter.

I totally panicked. I didn't know what to do. I just stood there for a few seconds with my mouth hanging open, my heart racing, and my stomach churning. Liz sprung into action...dumped a large zip lock full of tylenol out and told me to drop my shoe in it, grabbed large bottles of water to rinse my leg and pants off, told James to find me some scrub pants, and asked Cathy for some spare footwear.

A few miles down the road we stopped at the side of the river so I could rinse off my clothes, leg, shoe, and orthotic. I would have taken a photo but I was still traumatized by the event.

Unfortunately there was a jeep of fellow volunteers parked behind us when it happened so it wasn't just my car that saw the incident. "Shit shoe" was my initial nickname, which was later shortened and softened to "Shishue". We decided that Shishue also sounded more Asian as well and was therefore more fitting. People have already started using expressions like "pulling an Erin" or "having an Erin moment". Great. As usual I make an impression in a group almost immediately for better or for worse...in this case the latter obviously.

The rest of the ride was uneventful except when one of the other cars in our caravan got stuck.

We arrived, set up camp, and then figured out our roles for the next day. I am working in the Triage tent which ought to be interesting.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Day 5--And So It Begins

Liz offered me space on her bed since there had been a mix up with my booking and I was without a place to stay. We decided since we were basically carbon copy versions (only with 5 inches of height difference but otherwise similar in appearance), both Canadian, and both in love with Smoking Lily clothing that it wouldn’t be weird if we crashed together after only hanging out for a few hours. Besides, the next month was going to involve living in a tent with a complete stranger anyway.

Enjoyed my last warm shower. Oh yes I did. Made a mental note of its greatness knowing it would be a long while before I felt the sensation of an overhead spout drizzling warm water over me. I know it is a cliché but we really do take a lot for granted in our day to day lives.

The group met at some ungodly hour in the hotel lobby. There was some quiet confusion and chaos as we eyed each other up. Some people had come in groups or with friends, others were solo travelers like me. A lot of big hiking packs and newly minted outdoor wear appeared on our tired and un-caffeinated bodies. We loaded into several taxis and headed for the train station. I believe there were 21 of us total but I could be wrong. If you’ve heard the phrase “cat herding” then you can make a visual representation of what we looked like in the train station in Delhi. Most of us had a large pack on our backs and a little day pack on our fronts. Okay maybe less like cat herding and more like deformed turtle herding.

We were divided into groups of 6-10 and given our assignments for seating on the train. I was at a booth-like seating with a handful of the group and another cluster sat a few tables away.

We clamored to get our bags into place in on the metal rods that ran along the upper sides of the train. Every seat was full and every square inch of space in the luggage area was occupied. I pushed and stuffed and squeezed my heavy day-pack on top of my big pack, directly above our table with the hopes that I could easily access it for various means of entertainment when needed.

Turns out I was the entertainment that day.

After we had been served our thermoses of hot water for tea and coffee, Leba (one of the members of the group) handed over her hot water to me, not wanting it. I was, for some reason making two simultaneous cups of tea when the rocking of the train caused my day pack to slide off the top of my bag and land with a major crash right on the table causing both cups of tea, several opened packets of coffee mate, and sugar to fly up into the air in a magnificent arc and land directly on my head and lap.


At first I was stunned. It happened so fast. One minute I was about to enjoy some sickly sweet tea, the next, said tea was dripping off my nose, down my pant leg and onto the floor. A light dusting of dried creamer and sugar covered my face and hair. Everyone on the train burst into laughter. Even has I write this it makes me chuckle and wince. All I could hear was Napoleon Dynamite saying “IDIOT” in my head.

Thankfully I was wearing my arcteryx rain pants so the tea just beaded and rolled off, but my pink shirt was not so lucky. I grabbed as much newspaper as possible to clean up my mess but it was a disaster. Somehow in the tea-water-fall I was the only casualty. It was amazing.
I scuttled to the washroom and offered my trip-mates some soggy newspaper on my way by “current events anyone?” John radioed Liz in the other car “Erin has had an incident with some tea but I think everything is fine now, over”.

The rest of the day was thankfully uneventful. We took train after train after train and finally arrived in Shimla around 2000h. Hungry and tired we wandered into the hotel meeting room and did group introductions. I got a pretty good vibe off of the gang, mostly young 3rd and 4th year med students, a few residents, Deb (the NP), 2 dentists, John and Liz (attendings), and me. Deb and I switched things up so we could board together. I liked the fact that she was older and seemed totally chill. In a possible world of type-A-overachievers I wanted to secure a roommate that was going to be mellow.

Tonight I take my sore-from-sitting-for-the-last-three-days-self to bed and enjoy the last time a mattress is underneath me for the next three weeks.

Friday, December 5, 2008


We interrupt this journal of my recent volunteer trip to India to happily announce that I have been accepted to 2 medical schools!

So...now I just have to wait to hear back from the other 12 that I applied to...sadly the interview offers for the rest don't come out until February or later...

If there are still some of you out there...I promise I have emerged from the cave that I crawled into after India and will get back to posting again more regularly.

In some ways this knowledge that I am now for sure going to medical school is...almost hard to wrap my head around. I have spent so much time and money and made so many sacrifices to get to this point I almost thought that there would be fireworks and cartwheels when I found out.

But it was just a large envelope and at the time no one to jump up and down with. It did seem a little empty. Of course my family was over the moon but everything almost seemed bittersweet.

Anyway now there appears to be someone who is going to come along for the ride so...fingers crossed...

Day 4---The Taj

It is Oct 3rd by my watch and I am exhausted. Amazing how one can be exhausted from doing absolutely nothing.

This morning Liz, Sheele, and I met in the lobby sometime just after 6am. We had booked a taxi to take us all to the Taj Mahal. I hadn’t seen it my first time in India because I was on this holier-than-all-things-tourist trip and frankly, I just wasn’t interested in the detour. But here I was again, with no real excuse not to go.

As we stood in the foyer preparing to go a woman approached us and asked if we were with the HHE trip. Yes, yes we were. Turns out it was Deb, the nurse practitioner from the Bay area who was joining our expedition. With some finagling we were able to arrange another cab so that we could go two by two to the Taj.

It was a long, sweaty, day in the taxi. Deb and I quickly hit it off and were equally puzzled by our frequent and unexplained stops along the way. I was happy to be back in dahl, raita, and naan heaven. The thin pink napkins that I swiped from every restaurant table to keep as emergency tp in my money belt were still available. The only difference was now, I wasn’t the paranoid 20 year old. I didn’t bother with tucking my money belt into my pants anymore, I liked the ‘bandit look’ as I called it—slung over one shoulder.

At the Taj things were insanely busy. An Indian holiday meant a line up that stretched half the length of a football field. People approached us, trying to sell their guiding abilities, Taj key chains, and postcards. We stood in line in the sweltering head of the day. The sun seemed to push the humid air down upon us, through the smog and smells of the city. At security I was turned away, having to go lock up my power bars and my ipod. Electrical equipment and food is not allowed. The others ventured on in, I walked to the nearby locker and handed over my things. Got back into the line and was then turned away again, this time for my book, “Three Cups of Tea”. Apparently certain books are not allowed onto the grounds either. The frustration at my impotence in the situation seemed to be compounded by the heat and random nature of my ‘contraband’ items.

Finally we were all in. We put the booties on over our shoes and padded along the stone walkways. Ok, I’ll admit. The Taj is a beautiful structure. It is quite phenomenal in fact. But I was now drenched in sweat, hypertensive from my line-up experience, jet lagged, and hungry. And now I was staring down the barrel of a 4h taxi ride back to Delhi.

Back in the cab my shirt front dried from the air-conditioning, my back and legs remained sweat-soaked I shivered back to the hotel, fell on my bed, and fell asleep.

Despite the long, dusty day I was glad that I went on the excursion. Tomorrow we meet first thing and I will finally have a better idea of what the next month is going to look like!