Degrassi Does India – Day 2!

December 26th, 2010

Watch into MuchMusic’s special presentation of Degrassi In India on Wednesday, December 29 at 8pm ET!

In August 2010, through the continued partnership with Free The Children, fourteen Degrassi cast members helped build a school for an impoverished community in Udaipur, India. When not working on the educational facility, the cast immersed themselves in the culture of India. Combining the morning ritual of yoga and meditation, with Hindi classes, exploring markets, riding camels, and meeting children within the community, the trip proved to be a life-changing experience.

Find out what cast member Sam Earle thought of his experience in India and check out photo’s from the trip, as well as the one word that each cast member would use to describe their trip! For more information about Free the Children or to see how you can get involved, please go to www.freethechildren.com We Day is Thursday September 30.

With two weeks left of summer I stepped back onto a familiar Toronto street. A relatively busy avenue, it had served as a kind of boundary for the neighbourhood shenanigans of my childhood, and even still feels as familiar as my front porch. There was no mistaking the comfort of home, but just as unmistakable was the home that I’d left behind. The experience that was our trip to India had already become a thing of the past, and after just a couple flights, what had been our daily reality for two weeks already felt a world away.

In that world, “home” was the place we slept, nestled between the gorgeous mountains of Jaipur; it was the daily bus rides on rocky roads running along frantic cow-filled streets and winding through the vibrant slums and ancient architecture of Udaipur; it was the modest classrooms we were working on, filled by students from the rural community, some exuberant, others reserved; and it was a quiet state of inner peace, resting at the top of an archaic temple, looking out in all directions at the historic city as I sat, sharing a silent moment of understanding and reflection with some of my closest friends. Our muscles aching from the steep, 850-step climb under the aggressive Indian sun, during which Luke and Munro riffed tirelessly on the Frodo-Sam dynamic of Lord of the Rings, we took a moment to catch our breath at the top of the temple.

After smashing a coconut to offer as a gift to the Gods, we sat, shoeless, in front of small religious statues and some burning incense. Whether, technically speaking, we were “praying” or not is uncertain and probably irrelevant. Spirituality is a rare commodity in the life of a privileged, North-American teenager, and I don’t think I’d ever appreciated the significance of the word until that moment.

Listening in on the hysterical banter of the typical bus ride littered with immortal inside jokes, hyperactive storytelling and maniacal laughter, it would be easy to label us as a family — a community to which one must belong in order to fully understand. Even more telling, however, were those precious moments when all that social electricity was cut out. On the best day of the trip we spoke with a 13 year-old boy, Hazari Lal. Sent into the city from the rural community that was his home, Hazari Lal made Chai tea every day, delivering it to workplaces, usually government officials, in order to support his two younger sisters back home as they went to school. He was extremely, sometimes painfully timid, but his smiles were sincere, warmer than most, and they came easily.

When he showed us how he made tea he moved like a machine, with the grace of a well-seasoned chef. Observing quietly in awe, I felt foolish and out of place, some kind of clueless, lanky creature. When I asked what subjects he would like to be studying if he were in school, he told me that when he went to school, he looked forward to learning, quite simply, how to read and write. He wanted to read books. I tried to communicate enthusiasm, tried to wish him luck excitedly, letting him know that I’d think of him when I went home and did the exact same thing. Walking away from his tea stand and back towards our car, my heart crumpled and a perfect silence fell over us as the small group of us shared in an indulgent, emotional collapse. The ride on the way back was quiet, and again allowed for introspection and contemplation, hopefully not just delusional, I felt the shared soulfulness and love between my little group of friends. This was the kind of magical, phenomenal experience I’d never shared with any of my friends back home. We were crushed and enlightened, all that at once, and all of us at the same time.

After all the beauty, all the poverty, all those thrilling new experiences and all those grueling, shocking ones packed away into my measly human memory and scribbled disjointedly into my journal, it would be tough to describe exactly what I “took away” from India, other than a little bit of love. It’s the kind of love that fosters an appreciation for our big, broken world and a hunger to explore all that is unknown to us, expecting optimistically that coming face-to-face with even the most gritty and tragic realities will make us better people, however microscopically, and let us open our hearts and minds to all those other people on the planet, the ones that we’re stuck with until the sun explodes.

Feeling like a zombie, high off of a lack of sleep from the 30-hour journey home, I sit on the patio of a Greek restaurant for lunch with my family (even though my mind is convinced it’s 3 AM). Compared to the wild ride that was India, things are strikingly normal, overwhelmingly pleasant, but I’m not bored. More than ever, I’m enjoying the routine, the daily nothing-much. I think that maybe, when a smart man visits an impoverished country, he returns home and, not without good reason, ridicules our wasteful, silly way of life, distraught by the void that separates the rich and the poor on this planet. Fair enough, for without that sense of urgency and alarm, some of us might live uselessly on, unenlightened and selfish. But when a wise man visits an impoverished country, he comes back home and embraces all the silliness, the daily routine, the pop culture, making it meaningful for himself, falling just as in love with it’s imperfections as he did with the imperfections of a society plagued with hunger or child-labour. It’s blissful enlightenment. From there, making a difference, connecting with others, and working towards improving the imperfect is inevitable. But it’s that first step – that irreversible attachment to and sense of personal implication in the whole mess – that’s so often overlooked. This is not to say that I’m wise or smart, but I sure spoke with a whole lot of wise kids in India, both the inspirational natives of the country, and my fellow foreigners, friends, coworkers (though the term sounds like a pathetic label for a relationship far more important), their minds all equally blown. If there’s any wisdom in me, it’s borrowed. I’m just patient and incredibly lucky.

Sam Earle

Degrassi India Day 2

Picture 14 of 15

Check out what word the cast of Degrassi use to describe their trip to India!

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