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Today was the start of our academic sessions.  My roommate came in the middle of the night, I had a nightmare that someone was trying to choke me (probably my malaria pills doing it to me), and I yet again failed to sleep properly.  It was one of the professors’ birthday, too, so we had traditional breakfast along with birthday cake.  Then we loaded our suitcases into the bus and left Maidens Hotel for another part of the city.  Our first stop was Gopal Dham, a place for young boys without parents or the financial means in their households to live with their families.

Gopal Dham
When we pulled into the walled complex and got out of the bus, we were greeted by a line of children, organized by age.  The littlest boy in the front must have been about five years old.  That tallest one, the leader who kept them in line, was in Grade 11.  When we stopped in front of them, the little boys rushed to kiss and bless our feet.  They were told to stop.  I saw them do this to another man walking along the dorms and he hastily dismissed them as well.  We peeked in to see the cows in the building beside us, which the boys care for, and then we were lead into an open building with a stage at the back.

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We took seats along the sides of the building and the boys sat tightly in lines on the green mat between us.  We did a series of greeting and introductions and were given bindis of red paint.  The boys served us orange cookies and tea sweetened with condensed milk.  Then the professor with the birthday was presented with a chain of marigolds, another red bindi touchup, and a coconut.  We returned this gift with packages of pens.  The boys immediately opened their pens, clicking the top and drawing on their hands.  Next, some boys then went on stage and sang a song to some drums.  Six boys followed them doing complex yoga poses, yoga being something they practice in the facility.  After the greet, we saw the kitchen, the crammed dorms, and said goodbye to the boys.  My friend and I thought the eldest boy was cute, so we went to talk to him.  He taught himself English and wants to go study at a University.  He asked for my e-mail address.  Hopefully I’ll hear from him!  We headed out for the next site.

Sewa Bharti (Street Children Project)100_3361
Our bus drove us by the slums.  Before we knew it, we were out on the street, dodging begging people and passing through tight alleys with trash and pigs all over the place.  We slipped into a gated doorway and found ourselves in the center of the Street Children Project.  There, we saw where children from the streets are trained at a young vocational school-like facility.  There was a beautician room, soft toys and purses made by the children, classrooms where the students sang to us, a computer lab, and an electrical technician training room where boys were tinkering with wires, circuits, and light bulbs.  Other children stood with their faces pressed in the gate, begging for money and trying to come inside.  We were again presented with bindis.  This time, they were red with grains of rice placed on the dots.

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We scuttled from the facility to the train station, passing through a fairly sketchy part of the slums.  We had opted to experience the metro rather than take the bus.  Standing in the station, everyone stopped and stared and surrounded us until their buses came.  We were given small tokens which we used to pass the security and to leave the station.  There was a ladies only car and the train was fairly empty when we boarded.  By the time we reached the transfer, we were in a mess of people.  We were escorted into the control room and shown the switchboards and computers running.  Then we had to rudely shove people to make it to the right platforms on time.  We then walked to our next center in the dead heat of the afternoon.

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Electronic train token.

Deendayal Research Center (DRI)
When we arrived at the research center, we were greeted with chains of marigolds and orange bindis that looked like they were made from the flowers themselves.  A few bugs and caterpillars fell out of the chains and we were reminded how real and fresh the flowers were.  The DRI was a series of speakers talking about how India works as states and how to keep India healthy and functional.  They preached keeping tribal groups because those groups were environmentalists of their own sorts and lived sustainably.  The session was interesting, especially the tribal details (from my standpoint), but it was more directed at health students and the rest of us were too tired.  Every hour or so, we were fed more food and every speech, most of us nodded off again.  We felt bad, but we were very happy to leave when it was done.  We also threw out our flower chains so as not to attract “unwanted attention”.  We walked out to find our bus and fell asleep riding to the train station.

Everyone was exhausted, that was evident.  We headed straight to the train station to catch an overnight sleeper car to Chitrakoot.  We arrived at the station around 6:30PM and were immediately agitated by the locals who refused to acknowledge a line as we waited for security.  When we finally got through, we stood at the first platform and waited to reorganize.  People blatantly walked up to us and surrounded us so they could stop and stare.  Some wouldn’t leave for 20 minutes at a time.  Some walked by more than once.  We then realized we had to go to Platform 7, which required hauling our bags up three flights of stairs, across six platforms, and back down again on the other side.  We sat and waited for our train until 8PM.  We had to rush to load onto the train and, despite our seats being reserved, some cabins were occupied by the wrong people.  Now we are on our train, which won’t arrive in Chitrakoot until 7AM, and these compartments are ridiculously tiny, cramped with all of our bodies and our luggage, hot despite the “A/C”, and the bathrooms are apparently a nightmare to use.  Oh, and a stranger left a bag in the students’ compartment next to my and my roommate’s.  We will see how this goes.

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Some of my classmates across from my hallway bed.