I am writing from the Bhujangi Youth Academy. Days start early here. Bali Bhaaji comes and wakes us up at 6am. It’s a lot earlier than I usually wake up and to be honest sometimes I just want to sleep in.
But my brothers are depending on me to be on-time for morning physical training. We wash our faces and then report for training. We do team activities and support each other. We learn the value of teamwork and that we are only as strong as our weakest link, so we push and support each other. At about 7am, we jump in the showers and make our beds for inspection. I know I don’t usually make my bed at home, and I’m going to start trying, but here we have to make our bed every morning to military standards.
At 7am we report for morning Jap Ji Sahib. Deep Bhaaji leads us in the morning. This is the first time I ever read Jap Ji Sahib. Did you know it was written by Guru Nanak? Did you know that Guru Nanak talks about how the world was created? I use to be really scared when it would be my turn, because I don’t know Punjabi, but now I feel a lot more comfortable. There are people learning just like me. We help each other and make it through together as brothers.
Afterwards we have breakfast. Everyday each small group takes a turn in setting up breakfast and then cleaning up. We have to sweep up, wipe down all the tables, and even wash the dishes. I don’t like washing dishes, especially when it is a big pile, but somehow we always get through it.
Then we get ready for morning classes. My favorite class is history. Today I learned about Sohan Singh Bhakna, who helped start the Ghadar Movement. Did you know that he was a farmer and fought for our rights? He wouldn’t stand down to American racism or even British control of India. He wanted freedom for us.
We have lots of other classes too. Jasdeep Bhaaji taught us martial arts and I already know how to improve my balance. Sim Bhaaji taught us a course on farming and we even planted some seeds and are watching them grow now. Gurinder Bhaaji taught us a course on health and nutrition. Navdeep Bhaaji taught us a course on mindfulness and controlling our anger. Iqbal Bhaaji taught me how to tie a tie, iron my own clothes, and even make a bowtie. I’m always learning a lot of things that I never knew before and making brand new friends and brothers. Since a lot of counselors are Marines, they even showed us military drill so we can march in uniform together. We are going to do this together at the Yuba City Nagar Kirtan in November and all go up together – as brothers for a reunion.
Everyday we have fun activities. We play basketball, Frisbee, and the counselors taught us how to play Kabaddi. I am a pretty good raider. We go swimming in the afternoon and I’ve started getting better. Today we went to Shaver Lake and rented a boat. In 2 days we are going to go on our Hike, the older Bhujangis say it is a “death march” that is almost 15 miles long. I’m a little scared, but I know my brothers got my back and I’ll be able to make it. They tell me if I stay in chardikala and isn't really that bad. Chardikala means I keep on smiling and finding the good in any situation. My counselors shared that I don't always have the ability to control every situation, but I always have the ability to control my reaction to any situation. If we all make it back, we are going to go paintballing together.
Our group leaders in the cabins have been really helpful. They have been our big brothers. One of them named Ekam is going to be a senior in high school. Anytime I feel homesick, he always talks with me and makes me feel better.
For food, we get a bunch of different kinds of foods. We have had pasta, quesadillas, BBQ, and even Thai food. They don’t let us have candy and soda here, so I’m still getting use to that. Sometimes I just want it really bad. They have us eat a lot of fruit and nuts. I didn’t like them at first, but I am starting to more and more.
When I first got here, I didn’t know anyone. Now I have 30 brothers and the counselors are our bigger brothers. We are all Bhujangis. Do you know what Bhujangi means? It means a young Sikh man. And that is what I am. And together, we are tribe called Bhujangi. We are capable of anything – together.