The most recent update from our LEAPYEAR2 group, who are in India right now working with an organization to set up a goat bank for children of the red light district. For more posts and many more pictures, check out their blog or Facebook Page.
Well, I think this is the post that we have all been waiting for, the one where I can officially confirm that there is indeed a small herd of goats inhabiting our goat bank! It was quite a limit-testing adventure to get them there, but it feels so amazing to look at them grazing and think back on when Passion Project 2014 was just a dream. But before I get into the nitty-gritty details I have a few pictures for you that I’ve been promising for a while. I’ll have a few more of the other section of the indoor mural in a day or two, but for now, here’s a glimpse of the finished murals (for pictures, visit the Passion Project Blog).
With that out of the way I am happy to get down to the business of sharing our adventure.
Our day started out much like any other day would, aside from the fact that we knew today was the day we were heading to the goat fair. The funny thing was, we had no idea where exactly we were going, just that we’d be going there by overnight train and arriving in the early morning.
The first surprise of the day came when we found out that we would be responsible for carrying the money for the goat purchasing, along with the Guria employee, Umashankar, who was going with us. Now, five thousand dollars is a lot of money, but when its converted into Indian Rupees it becomes 300,000 rupees. With that much money, the only safe place to carry it is on your body somewhere. For those in the group with a money belt this was a little awkward, but doable. But let me be the first to tell you, girls, never leave home without your money belt, because no matter how it might sound, fifty thousand rupees tucked in your bra is NOT comfortable.
So with money in our undergarments, and an adventurous spirit in our smiles we set off for the train station with Umashankar and our goat expert (I must confess, we never learned his name, he was always referred to by ‘goat expert’ whenever anyone mentioned him to us). When we arrived at the station, I was a bundle of nerves and excitement. It was really happening and I just didn’t want to mess anything up! We had been given very specific instructions, to see everything and enjoy it, hand over the money when needed, hold the goats as they are purchased, tie ribbons on the mama and baby sets so they don’t get confused when we arrive, and above all don’t let people figure out who you are with or the prices will skyrocket.
While I was stressing about that, our train departure time had come and gone, and we were still standing outside the train station, waiting. We waited and waited until Amit, another Guria staff member arrived, and then we ran. We ran into the station, up the stairs, over the tracks down to our platform where they began arguing with the train officials. You see, our tickets hadn’t been purchased much in advance, and so we never made it off the waiting list. They kept arguing until the train started to pull out of the station at which point we were just told, “Run”. And again we ran and hopped right on to the moving train.
Since we were still on the waiting list we had no seats, but after some searching and quite a bit of arguing with the police on the train, Umashankar found one sleeper berth for the four of us and someplace in another car for him and Goat Expert. This is where the fun really begins.
We napped on and off (but mostly off), and played road trip games until two am when our train was supposed to arrive at whatever station it was that we were getting off at. We still didn’t know where that was, but we were awake because we’d received a phone call at midnight telling us our train was (miraculously) on time. We needn’t have bothered though, the minutes and the miles ticked by until we could scarcely keep our eyes open and finally, at four in the morning we disembarked.
After a short nap on the train station floor we were off in a rickshaw to the goat fair, and finally we found out where we were, Etawah, for those of you interested in tracking our journey on a map. After a quick breakfast of subjipori (stewed veggies and fried bread) we were settled a little ways off from the fair to watch the goats come in from the surrounding areas while Umashankar and Goat Expert set off to buy goats. This was the most action we saw all day, but we were glad to be out of the way. Above all else we wanted this day to be great for the goat bank.
Soon however, even our presence outside in the town was causing problems, so we spent the rest of our day in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, trying to stay out of the way.
Around three o’clock in the afternoon we finally got to meet our newly acquired herd and set off on our journey. At first they tried to keep us all crammed into the upper rack of the truck or the cab, but with only men allowed on the top of the truck it soon became too cramped and we got our wish, to ride in the bed with the goats. I hope the pictures I’ve included give you a sense of the back of the truck, unfortunately it was already dark outside and the truck was covered by tarps, so those were the best we could do (for pictures, visit the Passion Project Blog).
I’ve been struggling with how to accurately describe this experience without coming off as whiny or sugarcoating it and I’m not sure that I’ll find the balance so I’ll begin with a disclaimer: This may have been one of the hardest things I’ve done and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. However, much of it was not at all pleasant (and in retrospect quite a bit humorous). So please, as I describe our journey in the back of the truck please know that I write this all with a smile and a grateful heart.
We began our journey at 4:30 in the afternoon. At 6:30 we made our transition to the back of the truck with the goats. We arrived in Jakhanian at 8:30 the next morning. Here are some of my thoughts on those fourteen hours:
I feel like I understand goats on a very deep level. The first couple hours I remember feeling some fear about these creatures that could bite me or hit me with their horns, but that soon melted away into annoyance at the stubborn ones, empathy for the small scared ones, hope that the pregnant ones wouldn’t give birth, more annoyance at the pushy ones, and a wish that they would all just lay down.
Goats + Long Drive + Covered Truck = Getting peed on, pooped on, stepped on, and headbutted, but also cuddled with.
If anyone would like me to expound on the olfactory pleasure of our time, feel free to email me, otherwise let me just say that it will be too soon if I ever smell a goat again.
Goats seem eerily human at times with the noises they make, their little teeth, and their penetrating stares.
I could go on (and on and on), but those are the highlights, so I’ll jump back into the more human elements of the story.
Around 1 am or so we went through a police checkpoint. Our instinct was to get down and hide, and it turns out our instinct was right. Unfortunately, Sarah Rose was riding in the cab of the truck, and there was nothing she could do to hide. So, seeing a white person they stopped the truck. It was a long time before anyone made it back to where we were, but we could see Umashankar arguing with a police officer. It was very stressful, and maybe this is fanciful, but I think the goats felt it too because they were completely still and silent.
Eventually some men who spoke English came and demanded we remove the top slat of the tailgate so they could talk to us. They gave us the third degree about who we were, where we had come from, where we were going, and who the men were who we were with. They said that they were just worried that we had been kidnapped. I don’t know if that’s the truth, or if its because of the small bribe that Umashankar slipped them that they let us go, but I’m going to believe that the police really would have helped us if we had indeed been kidnapped, even if that’s wishful thinking.
At about three am we made a stop for a bathroom break at a small roadside restaurant. Even though we had no money, the proprietor (who was surprisingly busy for three am) sat us down and proceeded to fill us with chai, rice pudding and papadum. It was bizarre, but the kindness was a welcome feeling after our unnerving encounter with the police. I can only imagine that it was pretty bizarre for him too, to have four dirty, white travelers appear out of the night, use the bathroom, and disappear again.
After that our trip was fairly uneventful until we finally reached our destination, Jakhanian, and we could finally show the goats their new home.
After the unloading it was time to milk the goats, and get them their medicine to get rid of any stomach problems (I didn’t grasp a more specific reason, though I’m sure there was one). And then we finally got to head for bed. After being awake for at least 50 of the last 55 hours, bed seemed like a distant memory. It was so nice to sleep, if a little torturous, because for some reason I could only dream of goats.
Well, that’s it for now. I’ll fill you all in on the adventures of the next few days, including the first distribution of goats from the bank, very soon.