At 5:15am this morning I thought I was in the midst of a nightmare when I opened my eyes to faces alight by candlelight. The floating heads threw stone-hard bread at me as I lay defenceless in bed. Strangely, I wasn’t so much scared of these intruders as I was at thought at having to get out of my comfortable position. Thankfully the experience ended abruptly and the Scandi students continued on their singing adventure to the rest of the campus to share the celebration of ‘Frohen Advent.’
After over three months at MUWCI I’ve gotten used to these sorts of random events happening just as the one I had finished last night. An organization called OXFAM operates globally to raise money in support of partner organizations fighting social injustices, in particular poverty. Every year the OXFAM India branch organizes a 100km charity walk in the Mumbai area which somehow I was brought into as a volunteer. From the website, the brochures, the recruiter who traveled to our school and from the e-mails of encouragement from the adventure stream head, the event seemed pretty legit. Then, we got there.
By jeep in the night we drove 1.5 hours from our campus down a winding, rocky road until we arrived at what appeared to be a circus tent in the middle of an area of rice paddy fields. The entire arrangement was shining with huge event lights and bug-eyed volunteers who had not slept the night before. We proceeded to the check-in desk to find out where we’d be needed and a very confused event organizer attempted to direct us. Unfortunately, we were all too distracted by his well-groomed moustache and his suit vest to take him seriously. They didn’t offer guidance or trail maps but they did give us Kit Kats which I suppose was better than nothing. The circus of an experience had begun.
In our role as trail marshals our only responsibility was to provide support to participants along the way. Our job would not start until the next morning so we decided to hike from the checkpoint where we had been dropped off to the next one a little over 10km away. Once we arrived at 2am we had just enough energy to refuel with a cup of questionable instant noodles before crashing for the night. Far too soon, light streamed in through the windows illuminating a giant framed photo of Ghandi on a chalkboard. Somehow we ended up sleeping classroom in an isolated school and we were eager to hit the trail out of there.
With our packs full of bandaids, electrolytes, glucose and extra water, we journeyed through villages, rice paddies, pockets of forest and along a canyon ridge. The entire landscape was as dehydrated as the energy of the participants taking part in the walk. Other than the Indian Army team whom completed the entire 100km in 9 hours 30 minutes, the walkers were mostly middle-aged business men whom seemed out of place with their clearly brand new walking poles and hiking shoes. In most cases their companies had donated huge sums of money to the cause so they were sent as representatives. I’m not convinced many were aware of the cause the event was supporting but it seemed as though a trip out of the craziness of Mumbai was reason enough for them to participate. As we passed countless people on the trail we were met by many groans, strong smells of sweat and witnessed desperate gulps of electrolyte filled water. Unable to find motivation in the spirit of the event, we found our enthusiasm to finish the 55km+ trail in the beauty of the place we were in.
After hiking briskly from sunrise to moonrise, we finally hit the last patch of the trail luminous under the full moon. The circus finished under a grand white tent with men wearing gold suits playing drums in celebration of the finishers whom at this point were largely on the ground receiving foot massages from the support team. Happy to not have this task under our volunteer requirements, we earnestly left in our jeeps in laughter at the entire experience behind us.