Move over Bear Gryllis, there’s a new survivalist in town.

Journal # 4   (Make sure to read #3 first!)

*originally written June 7*

The last three days have been periods of incredible boredom interspersed with moments of sheer adrenaline. My two day train ride was blissfully uneventful as I slept alone in a small cabin. This allowed me to relax, catch up on sleep, and spend some time in thought. The only disturbance I had was a Malaria pill induced hallucination that two men had entered my cabin in the middle of the night. Getting up early the second day at around 3 AM I hopped off of my spacious and classy (yet not clean, c’mon this is India people) First class AC car and sat down for a 8 hour layover at Gwalior junction. It was hot. Nothing much exciting occurred while I drifted in and out of sleep on the floor of the railway station but I was jolted into awareness when I started taking notice of the train class I was riding next. In India, “Sleeper” is the lowest class of train. Think of it like a budget commuter that you can take to and from work. Only without AC and with over 70 people crammed into a spot that fits 12 on a First AC car. They really aren’t that bad unless they are overbooked, long distance, or have people trying to board without tickets. All three of these things applied to my train.

I began noticing that as the Sleeper class trains left they had people hanging on to the sides and riding solely on arm holds due to lack of space. My solitary yet large backpack was going to be a problem. In what must be an effort to reduce overcrowding attempts, the Indian government has taken the liberty of barring all windows on Sleeper cars except for the emergency hatch. The Idea being, I guess, that in the event of a crash all 70 people will calmly and orderly file out of one window and evade complete harm. This results in people trying to hold onto the sides of trains but falling back onto the station platform and not making their train. I realized I was going to have to fight to make it to Bhind and began to learn the timing of the leap of faith that would be required. Taking a tip from my Uncle Jim who traveled to India at around the same age when he was a young man, as my train I arrived I used my lanky elbows as weedwackers to propel me and my single backpack to the front of the comparatively short crowd where I threw my bag through the emergency window of the train car and dove through headfirst after it. I looked, I assume, like a dog with its upper body stuck in a cone-of-shame leaving only my shockingly white legs to kick wildly outside the carriage.

Like something out of a movie, the crowd of people rushed the sides of the train and guided my noodle-ly appendages through the window until I was perfectly sandwiched between my bag and 3 other men claiming my seat was theirs. Puffing out my chest and barking what must have been nonsense interspersed by curses in Hindi, (Thanks Aaruran) I secured my seat and began the long sweat towards Bhind.

As I stepped off of the train in Bhind my eyes glimpsed the Lifeline express and I couldn’t help but smile. Here she was, the world’s first hospital train.

Having operated on over 500,000 people, serving hundreds of thousands more, and winning the United Nation’s highest award for Public Information since its inception, the 7 car beauty is a critically acclaimed success. Painted with rainbows and brilliant colors the convoy sat on a track all alone and radiated in the afternoon light. Spurring a boat version in Bangladesh as well as similar trains in Thailand and Australia, the Lifeline express represents a new way of combining infrastructure and medicine that the world has yet to understand the full potential of. As I toured the barracks, mess hall, 7 bed dual operating theatres, offices, and waiting rooms that the express had to offer I couldn’t help but read the awards written to the program by Narenda Modi, Manmohan Sing, and others. This program was revolutionary, and I got to be a part of it. So I hoped.

Turns out only two men spoke enough English to communicate with me and both seemed shaky on what exactly my role was aboard the train. Considering that neither of the Doctors I talked to seem to be here, it might be a long 20 days. Here’s hoping it involves some serious work.

I concluded my hotel to be less than perfect as I stood next to the bed with ants building a slow colony around my foot. But hey, roughing it for few nights can’t be that bad can it? (Fingers crossed on the bedbugs issue). The only thing I really cared about was Wi-fi and I was promptly informed that there was none. After being told by multiple sources that there was likely no Wi-fi in the entire town of Bhind, which prevented me from even booking a ticket out of the town, I hit rock bottom. You see in India, Wi-fi is so prevalent that I am fairly confidant even some of the more intelligent cows have Instagram accounts. In fact, one of the most interesting things about the country is that cell phones and Wi-fi have penetrated the culture, I would argue, more than almost any other technological influence. So I had assumed an entire town without Wi-Fi was like picturing an ugly Emma Watson, impossible. But, like Mr. T attending a Justin Bieber concert, India had conjured up the impossible to stump me yet again. Having not eaten since my 3 AM wake up, I avoided sadness by mounting the courage for an adventure to find a cell phone “recharge” of pre-paid minutes and dinner. My journey was a short one as both were provided by the kindly man living beneath my hotel and soon I was watching a confusing Indian dubbed rendition of the film Mangal Pandey on a television that I coaxed from the grave.

After the hotel manager demanded payment in advance I was relieved to find that he had mistranslated his original price and I would actually be receiving a 2$ per night discount (Dutch blood takes joy in the little things). A phone call to my friends and family kicked out the last bit of sadness as I made peace with losing the thing that I had come so far to find, Wi-fi.

As I sit here typing I am aware that the next few weeks might be very difficult for me. Being a social and outgoing person, only having access to one person with which to converse will be a new experience entirely. I only hope I have interesting work and research to help distract me from time to time. Regardless, I was not raised to be a pansy and even if Bear Gryllis couldn’t go a week without sleeping in a hotel room (google this if you don’t know what I am talking about) I am sure I will make it out of this with relative ease.

Is that a tarantula?

Undergoing social withdrawal,

Matthew Greydanus


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About Matthew Greydanus

Matthew is a freshman that is pursuing a degree in Political Science and focusing his studies on a pre-medical track. After graduation, he plans to attend medical school and has an interest in reconstructive plastic surgery. Matthew will be interning with IMPACT India, an organization which acts as a catalyst to bring together the Government, the corporate sector and existing NGOs in mass health programs of national priority. He will be spending five weeks interning on one of their chief projects, the Lifeline Express, which is the world’s first hospital on a train and is celebrating 25 years of service. The train has medically served more than 100,000 people in rural India, restoring sight, movement, hearing and correction of cleft lips, and many more types of surgery completely free of cost. Matthew’s final project will explore whether mobile health care is safe, effective and efficient and how this type of care could fill a needed void in rural outreach of health care systems in developed and developing nations alike.

2 thoughts on “Move over Bear Gryllis, there’s a new survivalist in town.

  1. I hope your experience in the medical train goes better than the one where you’re diving through a window! The trains and buses seem like an incredible adventure. Using your arms is a necessity. When we weren’t able to get on the bus in China because some old grandmas were able to elbow us out of the way, we said we got “out-China’ed.” But those little old ladies had some sharp elbows.
    I’d follow a cow on Instagram.

  2. Wow, Matt, your great descriptions bring back so many memories. i am shocked at how little things seem to have changed in the last 43 years. India is such a totally foreign experience that it lets you see our own culture in a much more clarifying light. Everything we take for granted is unreachable to the masses in India and yet there they are eking our a living just the same and often experiencing joy, pain and pleasure to the same degree that you and I do in our insulated cocoons.

    I can’t wait to be able to sit and listen to your stories and your insights!

    God be with you,

    Uncle Jim

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