Amazing trip to India

Published 12:27 am Thursday, March 16, 2006

By By JOHN EBY / Cassopolis Vigilant
CASSOPOLIS - Lila Cox liked India. A lot.
She wants to go back, perhaps as a youth exchange student.
The Cassopolis seventh grader devoted her Christmas break to catching up on homework so she could accompany her grandmother, Barbara Groner of Dowagiac, to northern India for Rotary's ongoing polio eradication immunizations.
Lila lives on Black Street east of Vandalia with her parents, Darrell and Lynne Cox, and brother C.J., 5.
At her three-day home stay she got to know a 21-year-old, a 14-year-old and a 7-year-old. The two-family house takes turns serving meals, so they'd have dinner on one side one day, the other side the next.
Lila, an honor student, spelling team member and basketball cheerleader, wants to be a veterinarian someday, so she didn't mind being wrapped up by a python or watching a snake charmer whose basket contained two cobras.
Lila not only saw tourist attractions such as the Taj Mahal, but staying with a Rotary family in their opulent home led to other opportunities, including travel by rickshaw twice, two tour buses with guides she came to regard as uncles, an overnight train trip on which she slept up high in the third berth, observing two operations at a facility that performs post-polio corrective surgery and learned about how artificial limbs are fit.
She acquired an Indian outfit, including a suit, shoes and necklace.
They met the holy mother of the Jain religion on her 50th jubilee.
Groner said the tiny woman, who eats an amount of food equal to what she can fit in her hand, gave them an audience after they toured a succession of temples.
Proof of how small the world has grown is the photo of McDonald's golden arches tucked in with sacred cows roaming the streets “wherever they want” along with monkeys and stray dogs - but only two cats.
Lila is not a finicky eater. “I tried everything,” she said.
Another picture shows Rotarians distributing clothing. “The children loved the clothes,” she said. They were fascinated by Americans. One child startled Lila by kissing her hand.
It felt a little like being a rock star: “Ooh, look at those Americans, wow! Let me go shake their hand. Sometimes children would have dark eyeliner around their eyes to keep away darkness.”
A Muslim woman with her face concealed by black cloth was close by while Lila administered polio vaccine drops. “I have no idea how she could see through it.”
They saw people riding elephants while taking Jeeps to a scenic overlook, “We couldn't ride them. Our guide said there have been a lot of deaths.”
Lila spent about $4 (200 rupees, 43 rupees per dollar) to have a woman cover her wrist with “henna,” which looks like a tattoo made of calligraphy.
, the longer the better. After you want it off, you scratch off the crusty stuff. The ink soaks into your skin to make the design. Then you put lemon, which I didn't have, so I just used moisturizer. She was very good. It only took about 20 minutes.”
One eye-catching building, Lila said a woman was behind each mirrored “window. They can see life going on outside, but they can't go outside and nobody can see them from outside.”
Huge sundials “were all over the place” that showed the hour and Zodiac signs, the Taurus said.
A father-and-son team of street performers in colorful red garb played an instrument like a violin and danced for tips.
By the Ganges River bodies are cremated. They saw a “really colorful” lighting ceremony to welcome the night. “There are stands all over with lights and flowers. There would be singing. In the morning, you take a bowl of marigolds with a candle in the middle, say a prayer” and launch it into the river beneath imposing edifices.
Groner tells about a K-12 school built by a 70-member club about the size of Dowagiac's which afforded to build the service project by half of its members putting liens on their own homes.