We were cycling through a village in rural Rajasthan, India, waving and saying “Hello” to the children who lined the road to greet us when a middle-aged man came out of his house and asked us to stop for a talk. We braked and stepped off our bikes to see what he wanted. His brown skin and black hair were offset by a white dress shirt and tan slacks, and he had badly-bucked teeth and a huge smile on his face. He asked where we were from, and when we said the U.S. he asked which state. Yes, he had heard of California, but he had not been there.
A small crowd started to gather, including a woman half his age who we guessed was his daughter and several teenage boys who stood listening to our conversation. We complimented him on his English.
“I learned English from my father, who was in the Army,” he replied.
“Now I teach English in this village, and also Science.”
“Are these boys your students?” we asked, indicating the teenage boys next to him.
“Yes,” he replied, “And there are more. There are very few teachers, so the villages must share them.”
“Are they good students?”
“Only average,” he replied, teasing the boys. “The girls study harder.”
We visited with him about President Obama and world affairs, and then he invited us into his house for tea.
“We are very sorry, but we can’t,” we explained, “the rest of our bicycle group is waiting for us.”
We hated to turn him down, and we told him what an honor it was to be invited into his house. He smiled and looked wistfully at us.
“Then I thank you for talking with me, and I wish you the best,” he said, and he took each of our hands in his in farewell.
As I rode off I looked back to see the English teacher standing in the dusty road in his tiny village, about to go back to his life. I got misty-eyed as I thought about how far apart our lives are and how we had made a connection halfway around the world.
We were in Rajasthan, India for a two-week cycling trip organized by Explore, a British tour company. There were 14 of us; from Canada, the U.K., and the U.S., and we were accompanied by two local guides.
It was a fairly intense trip. We cycled 12 of the 14 days, and covered a total of 380 miles. The tour company supplied bikes and made hotel arrangements, and the guides furnished water, snacks, and recommended restaurants for our dinners. All we had to do was show up, cycle, and enjoy this amazing land.
Land of Extremes
Some of our friends thought we were nuts when we told them we were going to cycle in India. “You’ve got to be kidding,”they said, “On those roads?”
Well, as with most things in India, we found the roads to be extreme: some were smooth, well-paved highways, and others were dirt roads with potholes and mud puddles.