In Varanasi, we spent a day visiting the 18-year old son of our close friends.  Willy Gansa has been living there since September, participating in the Bridge Year Program before he begins his freshman year at Princeton University next fall.  We asked our own young cub reporter Finn Flackett-Levin to write about Willy and our time with him.  (As you read the following, you might consider that 9-year old Finn just read “The Catcher In The Rye” for the first time.  Was he influenced by J.D. Salinger?  You be the judge.)

THE INFORMATION  Well, where do I begin?  We are going to skip the trash about Willy making a difference, because in truth, all you have to know is he is making a difference.  He is working for a Canadian NGO in Varanasi, India, a city on the banks of the Ganga (Hindi name for Ganges).  Now, all that stuff about him working long hours, getting sick, and eating scary foods is all true, but he made the choice to go, and he is the truest person I’ve ever met.  He will take those experiences to his soul, and live with them.  Now, I don’t want to get into details, but I would be more scared than a mouse with a snake if I did that.  He has adapted, and every other kid in Princeton’s Bridge Year Program in Varanasi will adapt.

THE BRIDGE YEAR  Now, the bridge year isn’t a year abroad, and it isn’t a gap year, it is unique.  Princeton has made a program in which you sign up to go to Peru, China, Senegal, or India.  Willy chose India. He said he was interested in such a thriving and unique culture different from his own.  Now, if I know Willie, he does not do anything that would make you sick to your soul.  I haven’t seen him work, but I bet he works fast and efficiently.  He is the only person I know who would go to India, work for an NGO, and stay with a family that barely speaks english.  Let’s skip all the hocus pocus and consider what your life would be like if you lived in Varanasi for nine months.

THE ENCOUNTER  Now, during the morning time we drove along in our van.  But I don’t know a soul dead or alive who would want to hear that.  Let me just skip to the part where we met Willy.  Now, Willy is in sync with practically every conversation, so he is great to talk to.  We drove to our meeting spot and we all said hello.  Now, my thoughts on India are positive, but there are some parts that are so good they sticked out like a sore thumb.  This was one of those times.  Now, my thoughts on the world are strongly mixed, and it’s nice when people say how lucky I am and all for traveling around the world , but they don’t know what’s like to be in my shoes.  Willy didn’t do that because he knew, and he has lasted through endless power outs, throwing up in the middle of the night, and eating various types of weird foods.  He is going through a harder time than my family, for sure.  I guess what I’m saying is, he is great, one of the best people I know, and I was glad to share a day with him.   — Finn Flackett-LevinThis is the obligatory “We Have Your Son” photo we sent to his parents.  If you want to read some exceptional writing and get a window into daily life in Varanasi, check out Willy’s own blog: