Keeping Spirits (and your pants) Up Through Volunteering in India
I was running along wildly, my arms out at my sides as if I were a small aircraft, as the little kids chased me, their laughter booming ahead, filling the gap between us. I thought to myself they must really have taken to this new white kid who came to play with them. It turns out they were just laughing at me, enamored with the fact that my mesh shorts kept falling down thanks to the wallet and keys weighing down the pockets, revealing my boxers-covered bottom.
"Pants! Pants" they squealed in laughter as they pointed at me. I ran
for a bit with my hands in my pockets to avoid indecent exposure in
front of fifty kids from the local slums, but every 50 meters or so, I
would remove my hands once again, inevitably causing the shorts to
sulk down on my legs, renewing the laughter from behind.
My friends and I spent our Wednesday afternoon out at a field,
symbolically located between Mahatma Gandhi's Ashram, and the largest
slum in Ahmedabad, which houses 400,000. As part of a project, some
volunteers -- both Indian and American -- are working to bring the
game of ultimate frisbee to these kids -- and we were there to help
coach them, or in my case, entertain with my weighted-down shorts.
Practice began with a couple of laps around the "field," which really
was little more than a big plot of dirt. We then moved into a circle,
and began some basic stretching exercises. I turned to the kid on my
right -- my presence in the group now well established -- and worked
with him on some basic English: LEFT, RIGHT, GO, and STOP.
After warming up -- which I thought was a great idea: teaching these
kids the importance of basic exercises and stretching -- we moved into
a throwing drill. The kids ranged in age from eight to fourteen years
old, and all seemed quite eager to be running around learning how to
play. Though I managed to keep my pants on for the whole drill, I
did, also, happen to nail a poor kid in the mouth as a wind gust
picked up my frisbee and delivered it, to his surprise, right to the
side of his mouth. He was tough, though, and kept on practicing.
Meanwhile, I had developed an affinity for a cute eight year old girl,
Alicia, who spoke perhaps the best English of the entire group of
mostly older boys. I took her aside and we played catch by ourselves,
counting aloud, in English, the streak we had built. Alicia managed
to throw the disc about eight feet, but it took a big windup of her
torso that caused her floppy hat to bounce and briefly cover her eyes
until she spun all the way back around. Our record was nineteen
straight, though, try as we did, we never could break that magical
The practice ended with a circle and a "hands in the middle cheer,"
before we each went our own way -- the kids back home, and us back to
our fortress of a University. It was a great experience to break free
of the Indian Institute of Management bubble of academia, and be
around some kids just happy to run around a bit...
and to laugh as a goofy white guy's pants fall down.