Things I hate: anything cold and wet, boisterous children, camping. As an English lady of a certain age, I enjoy a bit of comfort, peace and quiet these days. Or so I thought..
Bored with retirement, I’d volunteered to spend a semester teaching English at an International School in Tamil Nadu, Southern India. The campus was located high on a wooded mountain. I was allocated a reasonably furnished apartment, and given small groups of polite, respectful students to introduce to the subtle mysteries of my mother tongue. Life was perfect.
I didn’t even mind being asked to help out occasionally at evenings and weekends – dinner duties, staring earnestly at a stop watch on sports day, checking in dark corners during school dances. Each evening I could retire to the peace and comfort of my apartment and close the door.
So I didn’t see it coming when my Head of Department asked me to help her accompany a small group of eleven year olds on a trip to a local beauty spot. It actually sounded quite attractive.
“Love to!” I replied enthusiastically.
“It’s a wonderful place,” she continued. “There’s a lake, miles of unspoilt forests, and lots of activities for the children around the camp.”
“Camp?” I queried nervously, but she had already disappeared.
I asked around.
“Nothing to worry about,” was the general reply. “The lake should be nice and warm at this time of year. It gets a bit brown, of course, because the water buffalo use it as well, and you need to check for leaches.”
I made a mental note not to pack my swimming costume.
“The children just love the freedom of wild camping. Some of them spend all weekend in the water. Just count them from time to time as we did lose one a couple of years ago.”
“There’s a fantastic zip-line down a slope through the trees. We got a broken hip last year. Silly boy! He let go and fell off.”
By now I was starting to feel a little apprehensive. Indian standards of Health and Safety were one thing, but how on earth was I going to cope with the physical trauma of CAMPING!? However, I had a lot of faith in my Head of Department. She was a sensible woman of my own age, who liked a degree of comfort for herself and didn’t stand any nonsense from the children. It’s only for two nights, I thought, and if she doesn’t mind going then it can’t be too bad. This is India, after all. At least it won’t be freezing cold and it won’t rain.
The camping weekend was approaching. My Head of Department developed a cough, quickly followed by a bad cold.
I stared with a sinking feeling at the email which read – ‘Sorry, but unable to come this weekend. I’m sure everything will be fine…..’
And of course, it was. No-one drowned in the lake, and no-one fell off the zip line. No-one was shot in the eye with the bow and arrows, fell into a camp-fire, was gored by one of the wild pigs that crashed through the camp, bitten by a monkey, slashed by the horns of the formidable Bos Gaurus that roam these mountains, or carried off by a tiger.
I was the only one to suffer a small mishap by falling into a particularly smelly patch of bog as I led a small group of wildly excited children around the lake.
I lay awake on the second night. I’d asked for a couple of extra blankets to keep out the bone-chilling cold, and was listening to the rain hammering on the tent while waiting for the next flash of lightening.
As I lay there, I remember thinking that I was unbelievably lucky to have spent an adventure-filled weekend with a group of active, cheerful children on top of a beautiful mountain in a secluded corner of India, that camping wasn’t the nightmare I had anticipated and that no way would I have swapped this experience for a comfortable weekend anywhere. I had to admit, I was quite enjoying my retirement.