Anything and Everything Happens: An Experience in India

Holi Fest
BengalTiger Cow KolkataPool Nepal Peacekeeper SariImNotSorry

My name is Sarah Evans and I am a rising senior at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. This next year I will be graduating with a degree in Environmental Studies and Latin. This summer, I was lucky enough to be accepted into the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University Marie and Robert Jackson Fellows Program. The program funds twelve students for a full-time summer civic engagement internship. This month I am working at the Will Steger Foundation, and mid-July I will be moving up to the Steger Wilderness Center where I will work as an apprentice and complete my internship.

Three weeks ago I arrived home from a five-month study abroad trip to India. I chose India because I knew that the culture I would experience there was going to be completely different than anything I have experienced in my life. I came to learn that India is a place where anything and everything happens. I would walk down the street and in one block see street venders, beggars, men in business suits, goats on leashes, men peeing in the streets, heaping piles of trash, and even lazy cows taking naps. After a month of constant overwhelming tastes, sights, and sounds, my senses slowly decreased. I started to grow accustomed to crowds the size found at the State Fair, food so spicy that no water could stop the scalding of my mouth, and air so warm and humid that it was like walking through a bowl of chicken soup. These are the things I became comfortable with, but what made me most uncomfortable was the pollution.

I lived in the seventh largest city in India where the air is far from clean. After about two months, I came down with the illness known as the “Kolkata Cough,” which consists of hacking up the dirt and smoke in the lungs and sneezing black snot. Kolkata is not a city with skyscrapers or large industrial buildings like we do here, it just sprawls for miles. With a population of over 14.5 million it is difficult to move around the city, as there is constant construction and traffic in every mode of transportation imaginable. There is a grimy layer that coats the city that at the end of the day you can scrape off your arms. I finally cleaned all the dirt off my skin after my third week home.

India is the most unpredictable place, yet the one thing that is predictable is the weather. People there know what each season is like and how they need to prepare for it. However, like everywhere else in the world, weather patterns are changing. When I was in India it was unusually hot quite early in the year. They had a warm winter and an even warmer spring.  Frequently, people would ask me “How are you handling the heat?” or “Do you think it’s hot here?” Of course it was hot, but you realize just how warm it is when the Indians can barely cope.

The heat is not the only concern from a changing climate. The Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest in the world that spreads across the coast of Southern West Bengal into Bangladesh. This forest houses some of the last remaining Bengal tigers, as well as other rare animal species. This fragile eco-system is very susceptible to salt imbalances in the ocean waters that the mangroves grow in, as well as ocean tides. The predictions of the rising tides in the coming years will destroy this beautiful eco-system that I was lucky enough to see. Hundreds of thousands of people who live in coastal villages will need to abandon their homes and livelihoods, and relocate themselves into the already crowded inland cities and country sides.

Experiencing these changes in a different part of the world, and seeing how it is affecting eco-systems and human health gives meaning to my work this summer. The Will Steger Foundation and Steger Wilderness Center are environmentally sustainable organizations working on climate change issues, and I’m excited to be a part of their efforts.

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