I am not sure how to put into words our experience in Vapi. But I will make my best attempt. I hope the feelings that words can’t quite express can be conveyed and felt by those reading this. I have talked about how friendly and welcoming people have been throughout our travels but this really tops it. Kapil Swamiji says, “For the generous, the whole world is their family.” We experienced this belief of his through his words, behavior, and actions. We were welcomed and treated like family.
We attended a wedding of 53 couples, visited all the schools on the campus, traveled to the tribal villages and schools, delivered tiffins (lunch) to hospitals, and so much more. David captured some of this in 2 of his recent blogs so I won’t repeat – Click here for “Vapi. Where’s That?” and here for “An Education in Education” to read and see some great pictures. We both posted pictures on Facebook and Instagram if you are interested in seeing more. I don’t think I have smiled as much during our trip as I did the last 10 days.
The tiffin (container of food) service is one of the many social programs provided by Shree Swaminarayan Shikshan Seva Kendra. It is for patients and their relatives who come to Vapi hospitals for treatment. Many come from some distance away and don’t have money to purchase food. Of course, since this relates to health care and caregivers, I loved learning about this and being able to volunteer and support the delivery one day. There are 3 hospitals they offer this to. In the morning, the hospital staff count up how many tiffins are needed and at noon they are delivered. Later in the day empty tiffins are picked up. All free for the families. Someone is paid to deliver the tiffins so David and I are thinking if we move here we could take up this role as volunteers. ; ) He would learn how to drive the auto rickshaw and I would bring the tiffins into the hospitals to the families. I just need to learn a little more Gujarati first. Smiles go a long way but pretty sure if I could speak the language it might help others more and deepen the experience for me.
The children and especially the girls who stay in the dorm, or as it is called the “hostel,” on campus have a special place in my heart now. I was asked if we had any children back in the US and when I said no they said we are all your children. The smiles and giggles were infectious. There are 5 girls in English medium school so they were able to talk with me in english and translate for the others. We spent time going back and forth about who was luckier – I said “me” to have meet them and to have been able to spend time with them. They said “they were” to have met me. We went back and forth until it ended in laughter as did most of our conversations. I visited their dorm and got to receive a hair oiling. I returned the gesture and learned how to do this for one of the girls. It’s these “small events” and moments that feel so big and joyful.
Once they learned that David and I do yoga they wanted to practice with us. They would come early to evening aarti and we would all do yoga postures together, teaching each other Sanskrit names of postures. They taught me some new ones! We did some pranayama and also chanted together. We taught them loka samasta sukino bhavantu – May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may my own thoughts, words, and actions contribute to that happiness and freedom in some way. They chanted one to me that included my Sanskrit spiritual name, Bhavani, and emphasized it with big smiles when saying that part of the mantra.
And they taught me a few Indian dances. So fun! We had a few opportunities for dancing. The day of the big wedding Lalita and Chandon, 2 of the 12th graders, took me under their wings and helped me learn the steps and movement. The music was blaring and there were about 1000 people in the street. It took a little time and repetition for me to get it but they were patient teachers and I was finally able to move with them. We got another opportunity and again they patiently guided and taught me. At times just grabbing me and moving me. It’s was hard to hear because loud music always seems to go with Indian dancing so mostly I had to watch and copy. Occasionally I would hear, “come back, go forward, like this…..” All of us laughing and smiling the whole time. I had a few moments when I thought wow, not only am I getting hot and exhausted from dancing, my cheeks and jaw hurt….the good hurt…..from smiling and laughing so much.
Okay and the food was out of this world. Gujarati food differs from Northern Indian and South Indian. As I talked about in another blog, every state has its own language and they also have their own food. As we were leaving Swamiji said he was sorry if we had any problems during our stay…..any problems???? Not possible…only problem might be that we likely gained some weight from the amazing food which was plentiful and we nearly have to cover our plate to stop getting more.
Numerous times during our 10 day stay in Vapi David or I would nudge one another and we knew that meant …. I am tearing up…. we looked at each other, had tears in our eyes, and just smiled. It was the most welcoming heartwarming experience. We saw compassion, love, trust, and hope in so many ways. The interactions between people, the social programs they all work to support and carry out, and in the numerous smiles and welcoming eyes.