Dear Goat Givers and other Love Ones,
I have just returned from one of the most Intense (and wonderful) experiences I have ever had.
You may recall from last report, I had signed up with Relief Riders International (www.reliefridersinternational.com) for a three week riding adventure (horses not Harley’s) delivering educational, medical, dental and economic relief to remote villages in Rajasthan. WooHoo! An important aspect of the mission was to deliver goats – a much needed source of nutrition and income – to desperately poor villagers in the region. And YOU, my love ones were there to cheer me on. You all donated goats galore. I was deeply touched by the overwhelming support.
What many of you don’t know – I was just too devastated to tell- is that 4 weeks prior to my scheduled departure I was bucked from a horse on a training ride in Mexico and spent 3 days in hospital with 5 fractured bones in my back, including my pelvis. What would happen to our goats? How could I tell you all? Every ounce of my energy and focus for the next month went into physio and rehab (thanks Boyd) in the hope of still being able to go. I was far from healed but decided to go anyway. I was literally bundled off the plane in a wheelchair and hobbled around India with a cane for the next few weeks, like a three legged goat! And it was AWESOME!
Yes, I imagined myself, “Florence of Arabia” riding horseback across Rajasthani desert and NO I DIDN’T GET TO, following ignominiously instead in the support vehicle I affectionately called the “loser cruiser”, BUT… I did get to give away goats and many other glorious and wondrous things.
Before I left, many of you tried to cheer me up with the “everything happens for a reason” brand of philosophical determinism, but I didn’t buy it. I am more of the empirical school of rational thought but I am forced to confess that in many ways, my pathetic state heightened the experience. It was more challenging, more emotional and I got tons of concerned attention!
The travel experience alone blew my mind. Relief Riders creator and “imagineer” Alexander Souri has deftly crafted the perfect adventure. Journeying through exquisite countryside, “camping” by lakes and under mountains in “Queen of Shiva” tents, yoga in the mornings, dining under the stars in Rajasthani fields, eating curry tiffin lunches served under the shade of giant Banyan trees, exquisite Mawari horses bedecked in red and orange garlands panting in the background. A cultural interlude was provided by a visit to the breathtakingly beautiful Jain temple at Ranakpur, a world heritage site we just happened to be passing. All this interspersed with an occasional restorative night spent in low key but stylish, elegant digs – with swimming pools!
I was able to wear silk dresses at camp, sip Margaritas (not a palm tree in sight) and engage in campfire dalliances with intelligent women and handsome men. What could be lovelier?
It was a privileged journey for sure, but “lovelier” came in an unexpected way.
We were enriched by a sense of purpose. We were enriched by the humility that came from daily contact with beautiful people and their struggle to endure incredible hardship. It was at times difficult to synthesize the onslaught of emotions; pride, shame, guilt, joy, sadness, gratitude, humility, friendship and love all mingled together with a delicious dose of pain!
I was wearing a hair shirt in the heat of the desert but I felt the heartbeat of India.
Imagine this; hundreds of bedraggled kids in a small, dilapidated school, some in rags, showing signs of “fluoridisation” and malnutrition, their mothers and grandparents all gathered to witness the spectacle; serious little faces, eyes wide, slack-jawed with wonder, as the riders, bearing standards, ride through the villages and into their school grounds. After a little blessing ceremony,bindis painted on our foreheads, graced with garlands of flowers, the charismatic Souri works his magic; roaring laughter, hands clapping, singing songs, holding those kids in the palm of his hand as they celebrate and thank us all one by one. God knows what he was saying to them, but they were mesmerized.
Imagine this; several hundred kids shouting, chanting your name interspersed with fits of giggles and waving of hands. Under the supervision of Dr. Mahesh Aurora (Doc), the kids were administered de-worming meds and individually, with hundreds of “namaste’s” we handed basic school supplies; pencils, rulers, books into little outstretched hands, faces now beaming. They seemed most excited by the athletic equipment donated to the entire school; cricket bats and balls, volleyball, badminton, soccer. I hope they had as good a time as we did.
Giving away the goats was an emotional experience for us all. Imagine this; a big truck, full of goats pulls into the village, everyone has gathered round to celebrate, someone is banging a big drum. One by one a name is called and a registry signed. We gave the goats personally to those who had been selected; frail widows, single mothers, blind men, crippled men. I took off my sunglasses and peered into the eyes and pressed the hands of beautiful Rajasthani women, glad that we had come to help them. A mother’s shared experience – just knowing. I put my sunglasses back on to hide the tears that were streaming down my face.
I thought of you all through the entire experience, Denys in France, Derek in London, John and Cheryl in Mexico, Boyfriend Bob, Zander, you were all there with me and it was a privilege to give those goats on your behalf. I WANT YOU TO KNOW YOUR GOATS HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE. Yes, somewhere, thousands of miles away you have given dignity to an entire family who were heartrendingly poor.
The final experience to describe is the mobile dental clinic. Dr Vikev Chaturvedi led a small dental team and my new friend Christiane became a dental nurse for a day. I chose a safer job – registration, but occasionally I would go over and check to see how she was doing. I was in awe. There was blood and pain and she was still standing! Later, around the campfire, we talked about the conditions. Patients were having teeth pulled sitting on a small wooden stool and they felt lucky and grateful. Imagine that!
Dental surgeries are traumatic at the best of times but when the patient is sitting on a wooden stool, they are especially tricky and no doubt more painful. The next priority for the Relief Riders is to raise money for a portable dental chair and small truck to transfer it from village to village. After seeing the work they do, I plan to help them. Watch out!
While I totally enjoyed tooling around in the open jeep it was difficult on the days of the rides. I knew I was missing out on an integral part of the experience. As my healing progressed, and after much discussion with Alexander and his crew, on the very last day, we agreed to give it a try. The first step was to face my fears. I was terrified. The second was to get up on the horse. No worries. At first a groom led me around the campsite and then I went on my own. A mere 7 weeks after my fall it felt remarkably good. Under several watchful eyes I was able to join the Afternoon ride. It was really sweet, meandering through a variety of extraordinary terrain, crossing creek beds, avoiding prickly bushes, falling in at a gentle pace. I had done it and it meant the world to me……..
There is so much more to show and tell – next post will be a slide show of my excellent adventure and I hope to introduce you to some of the wonderful cast of characters I met along the way.
I am happy to report that on my very last day, Doc took me to the Mother Teresa Centre in Jaipur where I DONATED MY CANE. WooHoo! It was great to be rid of that sucker but even better to see the work of the Centre and know that it will be serving a higher purpose.
In closing, Love Ones, a huge thank you to Big Daddy – the patron saint of my life.
As always, I try to Live it TO THE MAX!
Special thanks to Goat Givers: Jack and Marion Adelaar, Stephen and Nanette Ainsworth, David Allison and Chris Nicholson, Marilou Appleby, Carol Arnston, Lance Bernard and Nancy Chew, Jane Butler, Heather Buckley, Bob Black, Fran and Wendy Brunelle, Tom Corbeth, John Dives and Shelley Williams, Patricia Dunn, Eileen Ebin, Joe Ennis, Nancy Farran, Terry and Peggy Fields, Jim Green, Mitchell and Lynne Gropper, Deborah Giulini, Darlene Hayne, Alexander Hayne, Bob Hodgkinson and Lori Kozub, Brian and Andrea Hill, Lisa Kopstein, John Kuharchuk, Denys and Norma Laurence, Bob Ledingham, Robert Lemon, Carol Lee, Baz and Jennifer Marshall, Bing Monahan, Marjan Navabi, Jan Noble, Ian Robertson, Rod and Jeannie Senft, Derek Senft, , Barb Sauder, Marlee Sheinan, Joanna Staniszkis, Lesley Stowe, David Thom and Julie Hodgson, Vivian Thom, John and Cheryl Wheeler, Eric Weiser, Steve Wilson and Michael Simmonds, Grant Weaver.
If I have inadvertently missed anyone, please accept my apologies and let me know.