Student Experience Blog

Stretching dollars

Yesterday consisted of us running around Guwahati, in the sweltering heat of high noon, going through a maze of side streets, and side side streets, purchasing supplies for the current mission and the center. I was told later by people that I made quite a sight, a guy wearing an undershirt and jeans, holding a blue plastic bag overflowing with tshirts, (Operation Smile, in a true spirit of ingenuity, converts tshirts into surgical gowns for patients by cutting across the back of a run of the mill tshirt), on the top of my head, while simultaneously holding a gunny sack of mirrors, tooth paste and other miscellaneous accouterments entailed in post-oral reconstructive surgery, being followed by an entourage of other volunteers holding other supplies.

Mark, of course, held up the rear, with the most important job of all. Mark was lugging the water. While you might sneer at the role of a water boy, when the sun and the heat act as if they hold a personal vendetta against you, water is a precious commodity. Anybody who claims to not like water should be dumped in the Guwahti sun for two hours, and an about turn of beliefs will surely take place.

With such strenuous work taking place, Mark and I decided to call it a day at 2 PM, rather than 7 PM. We than proceeded to fall asleep for 8 hours straight, go for dinner, and come back to 8 more hours of sleep.

Today, we went to a local orphanage where Kirsten, a 2-year veteran of GC4 from southern California, had set up a novel program. She, with the capable assistance of Rosie, a deadlocked nurse of down under, fed street children, especially girl children, and assisted them in their educational endeavors. We were there, not only to witness the weekly ritual, but also to solicit Kirsten's help with our own program, but more on that in later posts. And after that we came back and slept.

This project has been a revelation to me in many ways. Not only in terms of learning how much people care (all the team is doing the work pro bono, which is impressive because they are in a different country too, which makes it a significant expenditure of time and earnings lost), and how far a dollar goes in this country. Seriously. We had a really hard time spending $300, because it was too much money.

On the Operation Smile pamphlet for the mission, it was written that people could expect to spend $15-20 dollars on a good dinner. Mark and I spend $10 each on food each day, and we don't even eat on the streets (I really want to not get cholera and dysentery at the same time in a different part of the country than home). $10 dollars gets us a solid 3 meals, all the bottled water we need for the day, and most of the electrolyte sources (Thumbs Up and Maazaa, look 'em up). And this is keeping in consideration that Guwahati is very expensive, because everything is transported in from India (The North East is connected to the rest of the India by the chicken neck, a 10 mile wide strip of land, separating Bhutan and China from Bangladesh).

This just gives me a stronger appreciation for the almighty dollar. The next time I decide to spend 4 bucks on coffee back stateside, I will pause for a bit.



-Rahul Sharma

Rahul is a senior art major from Jammu, India.