Life in the Van

By Betsy Dunklin

We spend many hours together in our tourist van, sometimes laughing together, sometimes quietly chatting with our seatmate, other times dozing.
We all find that our days are so full, and we are so bombarded with unusual sites and overwhelmed by the crowds, that we get tired easily. Taryn, our group leader, asks for a “check-in” every couple of days, asking us to report to the group how we are feeling spiritually, mentally and physically, and what the group can do to support each of us. Taryn has worked hard to not only handle countless details of housing and feeding us and getting us to our destinations on time but to build camaraderie and a caring atmosphere.

Today, our energy level was low. Christine began by reporting that she has a pinched nerve in her back that causes a great deal of back, leg and foot pain, and she is really struggling. Immediately, everyone offered drugs and advice. Our group includes two doctors, Martha and Susan, and a complete pharmacy among us, it seems. We all have our favorite OTC’s or holistic specialties to treat the typical ailments of travelers. Sujata, our guide, offered a back rub. Tina, a yoga therapist, volunteered a breathing treatment. Chris agreed she would ask for help if she needed it. We insisted she no longer carry heavy bags.

Tina, who had been very sick for a couple of days, said she was still feeling tired and asked for understanding. Again, there were many suggestions of drugs and treatments we each could offer.

Heather is getting over a cold but is getting better. Taryn asked what we could do to support her. Heather paused, then said “Drugs!” That cracked us up.

Susan said she is happy but has a bit of a cold and hasn’t been sleeping well. She said, in response to our many inquiries, that she doesn’t get sick that much so doesn’t have much experience to describe her symptoms.

Donna said she is feeling good but also has cold symptoms and is still dealing with “the green apple two step”. A round of laughter again. She too is having trouble sleeping and noted that one of the biggest challenges with moving around every night is just keeping track of all her stuff! We all have this complaint. Our careful organization has disintegrated, and we can’t remember which pocket or bag we put what.

Martha said she was fine and then told a very silly elephant joke. She said her husband, also a doctor, had a huge collection of elephant jokes he used to put patients at ease. She and Sujata, our guide, began a silly-joke competition. Sujata asked, “How do you put four elephants in a car?” Martha whipped back, “Two in the front and two in the back.” Well, Sujata retorted, “How do you put four camels in a car?” Martha: “You can’t! There already are elephants in the car!” and so it went.

I went last and said I was having a great time, felt just fine, and no doubt was tempting fate by saying so. Indeed, the next day the “touristas” struck while I was on the train.

We may be feeling road-weary and even sick, but our humor and mutual support remains strong.

Unfortunately, however, we lost Christine on Nov. 14 when her pain became unbearable and she decided to fly home from Kolkata. She had been a good sport, trying our meds and breathing exercises to no avail. We are glad she is taking care of herself and will miss her in the second half of our trip.