Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lieberman, Lamont, Bush, Israel, Iraq, Vietnam, Justice: Part Two

Lieberman, Lamont, Bush, Israel, Iraq, Vietnam, Justice: PART TWO

Because of the poverty that I witnessed in the Rochester, New York neighborhood where I went to college, I became interested in joining the Peace Corps. I applied for and took the Peace Corps test early in my senior year at RIT. Within two weeks of graduation, I was accepted as one of the first 5,000 volunteers.

Approximately three months after graduation from RIT, I found myself in India after a short training session in Illinois. I had never before been outside of New York State.

My two years in India was to become my important education. I taught printing production and graphic design at a government of India Printing Technology College in Allahabad, India. But my life in India taught me about the real world for most of its people.

Like many Peace Corps volunteers in an undeveloped country, I battled heat and disease and witnessed poverty on an unprecedented scale in my life. When two PC Volunteers would get together, the first question was usually about how our bowels were. We seemed to always have dysentery. I dropped from 145 pounds to 110 pounds in three months and stayed at that weight for the rest of my stay in India.

By my second year there, I found I could visit Indian friends and students in their homes and villages and not request special treatment concerning food and water. By the third day of my visits the gas pains would start and I’d say that I needed to get back to work at my school in Allahabad. That way my hosts wouldn’t be embarrassed to learn that I had become sick in their homes.

On trains I slept in luggage racks and on the floors or tables of train stations like everyone else. I was attacked by a coolie on the train platform at Margao, Goa. Jawans (Indian soldiers) came to my rescue. On one nine hour train trip from Allahabad to Jabalpur, I rode standing up for the whole trip. On another trip in second class, I heard Indians complaining that as an American I should be in first class so as to not contribute to the crowding in second class.

While traveling on trains doing 60 miles an hour, someone would invariably knock on the doors from the outside begging to be let in. Crowds of people would travel on top of the trains and hang onto the sides of coaches. Train compartments, clearly marked for 60 person occupancy, would hold at least double that amount. Itinerant salesmen would climb through windows at train stations and hold the occupants of the compartments hostage for their pitches. If I was lucky, I was in a luggage rack.

I rode my bicycle everywhere in Allahabad, passing elephants, cows (sacred in India), millions of bicycles, tongas, bicycle rickshaws, the occasional car and numerous speeding trucks and buses. At night I had to be careful not to hit Indians squatting on the roads in the darkness. There were no streetlights.

When I went to Calcutta, I stepped carefully over the families sleeping on the sidewalks at night. The trolleys didn’t seem to ever stop in Calcutta. They just slowed down at stops to allow passengers to jump off or to take a running leap to get on. Otherwise they would have been swamped with people.

I visited many Hindu temples, big and small. I was invited to worship in a Muslim mosque and did my best to be respectful.

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963 while I was in Allahabad . Everyone was understanding and supportive. In spite of their circumstances, I found Indians to be friendly and helpful.

When I returned to the USA in July 1964, my life and opinions about the world, world problems such as the Arab-Israeli conflicts and justice for all were changed forever. (Continued) –Walter Haan,


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