By Ingrid Schwab, Rotary staff
Amit says it feels like our team has been in India for a week, but really it’s been about two days. It definitely feels like a lifetime. This is the first Rotary staff Sub-National Immunization Day (SNID) trip to India, and our schedule is full of activities to experience and understand the fight to end polio. On this day, our colleagues at Rotary’s National PolioPlus office, Amit, Lokesh, and Deepak, arranged for us to take part in a polio awareness rally in Khera Khurd, a village on the outskirts of Delhi.
We first arrive at the local school and are greeted with beating drums, beaming smiles, and fragrant flower garlands. We are each welcomed with a tilaka on the forehead, made of red paste (for peace), rice grains (for happiness), and coconut (for success). We meet with Rotarian and community leaders, school administrators, teachers, and the schoolchildren. Many selfies and giggles later, we are treated to a special dance by girls in vibrant costume. You can tell from their proud and happy expressions they’ve practiced quite a bit. They very clearly have a “momager” who is first orchestrating from the side, then, overtaken by joy, joins the girls. They loop us one by one into the dance. We shake and twist our arms, flutter our hands in the air, put our feet out and lean to the side. We smile and laugh and our delight is captured on camera. Quite a celebration.
The dancing and singing at the school leads into a parade through the village. There are signs, happy shouts, banners, and balloons. January 2011 marked India’s last case of polio and the country was officially certified polio-free by the World Health Organization in 2014. The excitement is genuine; it is vital to celebrate this tremendous success. It is also critical to keep sharing the message as polio is endemic in two countries in close proximity to India (Pakistan, Afghanistan) and recently resurfaced in Nigeria.
At the end of the parade, we are covered in dried sweat, dirt, and sunblock. We are also grinning from ear to ear. As our van heads back to our hotel in Connaught Circle, the driver turns the radio to a station playing 80s music. We hear the strains of a very familiar song, the theme music from Dirty Dancing: “I’ve had the time of my life/ No, I never felt this way before…” We ask the driver to turn up the volume and join in the song: “Yes, I swear… it’s the truth/ And I owe it all to youuuuuu…” We laugh and continue to dance and sing along to some old favorites. It is strange but fun to hear “Mambo Italiano,” for example, as we drive through Delhi. Gradually our energy fades, much like the fragrance of our flower garlands, as we nap and recharge for our next adventure.