Homesick with Home So Soon

     In retrospect, most things seems simple and clear. In retrospect, every challenge pairs with growth. In retrospect, life becomes a movie where the pain of the temporary never quite hits because the hope can be seen on the horizon. Looking back at my time abroad, I can see the lessons, colorful memories, and true friendships. I can see the journey from when I arrived to where I stand now. However, I am not done yet. I have two weeks left in India. Two weeks left to soak it in, to finish my internship, to travel back to Jaipur, to visit with my friends, to finish writing a 20 page paper, and to give a final presentation. Two weeks left to thank the place that has welcomed me, pushed me, broken my heart and put it back together, and that has filled me with awe and exhaustion. I am trying to ground myself in gratitude, to not wish the time away.

     However, there are times in every day when I cry for the slow turning of time. Typically, I am not an overly emotional person but something about the last month at my internship, uprooted from my program friends, my supporting teachers, and host family, has left me stuck deep in homesickness (In my program, I take classes the first part of the semester; the last month of my semester is comprised of an internship – not classes). I have managed the majority of my study abroad experience only minorly scathed from the burn of being far from home. There have been days when everything I love feels as far as it is and days when I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through. Yet, each of these days were met by a small group of people from roughly the same place and adapting to the same space at the same time as me. Here, at my internship, I have had to build a whole new community with people from different places, all adapting to India at different paces. However, building up support one loving, kind person at a time, I have found the courage to stand.

     I am ready to be home. I am ready to see my family, friends, boyfriend, and dog. I am ready to lie on my couch against a warm fire, go on long runs in the snow, and eat my favorite holiday foods. I am ready. However, readiness doesn’t change reality. I want to say that I am holding to hope, grounding myself in gratitude, and appreciating my fleeting time left. There are some moments where I feel like I can and some moments where I feel like those words simply fall through my mouth without sticking to my heart. As I write, as I let the frustration out, as I cry to both my dearest friends and strangers, I realize that even when the words feel empty, I am making it. I am soaking it up, I am feeling this fully. I am ready to be home but I am not going home just yet and I am finally allowing myself to sit in this uncomfortable space of heartache. I am here and I am managing. I am smiling, crying, learning, and loving. In retrospect, I know this time will bring growth. In retrospect, I know my reflection on my time in India will be too full to put into words. In retrospect, I know I will miss the excitement, the life, and the color of these days. Instead of diving with energy and joy, today, I am just trying to feel it all. Thank you for those who read, good luck with finals, and know that you are capable of making it to the end.

Love Language

      Of all the barriers I could have expected from this study abroad experience, language was not at the top of my list. I think lots of people asked me about it, but for some reason I just didn’t put too much weight on it. Even throughout the first week or so, I didn’t really see language as a huge separating factor. My new friends, my host family, and all my instructors spoke perfect English. I consider myself someone who values knowing other languages, but I was taking Hindi. With everything else going on, I thought that just going over flashcards and participating in class was plenty of effort on my part. I don’t regret not pouring myself into more Hindi exposure and I don’t think anyone would have encouraged me to do so. However, after giving myself the space to adjust, I began to gain a new perspective on language.

     We were at a Pakistani refugee community in the Rajasthani city of Jodhpur when I first smacked into the barrier. I was sitting in a group of brave women and children who had risked everything to more freely practice their faith. I wanted to affirm them with the poetic voice inside of me and listen fully to their struggles and hardships. I wanted to find my role in their struggle and pour my love into their lives. However well-intended I was, I soon realized that by going into a community expecting to be able to contribute often takes the focus away from those suffering. As Bob Goff often says, “It’s not about you.” I have read all his books, I have preached to my fellow classmates on the importance of sustainable aid, and I have written essays on the “White Savior” complex. However, when language is taken away, I was left undeniably knowing I could not say or do anything for these people besides listen attentively to their voice, gestures, and the translator helping us to communicate.

      This experience helped me to realize how big and bold the language barrier was. In the future, I hope I am the kind of person who always works hard enough to start to move over it. However, I think there is so much to learn when two people stand on either side of the barrier but still try to communicate. There is a language without words that says more than any speech ever could. I see it when my host mom gives me a warm nod when my super-fast blabbering is hard to understand and when I spend five minutes laughing with a woman that speaks an entirely different dialect than I anything I have ever heard. I believe this language is the love language that is more connecting than separating.

      For the final month of my study abroad experience, I will be completing an internship at Kiran Society in Varanasi, India. Kiran means “ray of light” in Hindi and it serves to be just that for children of different abilities and of marginalized communities in the area. Through targeted educational plans and communal empowerment, they uplift children and those around them to a new point of togetherness and encouragement. I arrived two days ago, and I am filled with awe at the smiles, work, and growth of the children that prove this mission to be undeniably true. However, here I will encounter more language barriers than at any other time in my life before. Without the women I met in at the Pakistani refugee community, my host mom, and the many other people who I have clumsily walked through Hindi with, I would not be open to the value of this opportunity. I don’t want language barriers to ever prevent me from making new friends, loving new people, or learning new things. Here is to the next few weeks of diving into the love language, I will let you know what I find.

Food Talk

My arrival in September was not my first time in India. I had the opportunity to join Dr. Annie Dandavati of the Political Science Department and fellow Hope student Tristan Tobias (‘19)  at the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA) Conference in Pune this summer for a week. I knew the traffic, busyness, and smells enough not to be shocked but India has still found ways to continuously surprise me. When I got off the plane and walked out into a dark and busy New Delhi, my system still did a back flip. Everything is entirely different right down to the pigeons and crows. New languages, car horns, and ways of culture seemed to grasp every inch of my attention until it was left over extended. I cried that first night in New Delhi not because I was sad to be there, but just because this seemed to be the only reaction that could summarize my spinning thoughts. However, in the midst of the crazy, I have found a new relationship that has helped me ground me when I needed it most.

I know a lot of people, myself included, have a very complicated relationship with food. I have spent much of my younger energy on criticizing what and how much I was eating. Although my mindset has come a long way, I would say up until arriving here, I still had a hard time appreciating my relationship with food. I never really acknowledged the partnership that it was. However, something about watching my host mom wake before the sun rises to start cooking for the day, tasting the violent spice of Rajasthani food as the desert sun beats down on my face, and actively participating in a society that values the ability to eat fully has greatly changed my outlook. At the end of the day, being able to sit with a family and appreciate a home-cooked meal has been my center as the world spun.

Growing up, my family would pray before meals, making a point to be grateful for the fact that we had food on our table and recognizing that many people do not. Although I still hold this practice and mindset, I think true appreciation for food goes much deeper. It’s not just seeing and recognizing those without food, but seeing and recognizing all the people and efforts that went into the food. When I lift a bite of a South Indian Dosa to my mouth, I think about the farmers, truckers, factory workers, and cooks that went into the spicy potato and vegetable stuffed lentil crepe. I think of the many steps that went into the exact taste in my mouth. In eating in this way, I am able to see the oil sizzling garlic and onion, the potatoes being roasted and coated in turmeric, mustard seeds being poured over everything, a pinch of cardamom powder bringing all the flavors together, and the final intricate flip of the ballooned Dosa.

A big philosophy in my life is “invite more people to the table.” I think this is what my faith calls me to do and what the world often needs. We don’t need to agree or hold hands all the time, but if we could just sit and share a meal, the world could be a much better place. However, I never really realized the importance of actually inviting food to the table. Each day brings new challenges and learning opportunities, but I now encounter these ups and downs with dedicated time to sit and share a meal with those around me.

What to Say, What to Keep

When the voices of friends and family ring through my ear over phone call conversations that fit into the narrow space we have between time differences, I am often at a loss of what I want to sound like. I love being here and I could go on for hours about my sweet and welcoming host family, my intelligent and kind new friends, the deliciously spicy food and elaborate art, and the sounds of car horns, yelling vendors, and religious music that is my new constant background. I have been greeted here with so much love and curiosity that it gives me a whole new perspective on what it means to welcome and to love.

However, there are also things here that make my heart want to throw up and keep me up late into the night without any concrete thought to take them away. My journal is filled with pretty paintings of what I see and words of what I hear, but there are also long trails of thought that don’t seem to point anywhere. There is sadness here and it comes alive for me in poverty and in pollution and in the unmovable systems of hierarchy and caste. I feel okay to share this because this is manifested in different ways everywhere from New Delhi to the greater Hope community.

However, I still don’t know what specifics to vocally bring home. Maybe I won’t until I get there. Maybe it is taking away from being here to think too much about it. Yet, I think the internal conflict I am struggling with is worth bringing to light. What sadness do I share and what do I keep for others to find and observe when and if they come here?

As I began to prepare for my time abroad, I also began to accumulate words to put to the Western perspective of India. People would greet my “I am leaving to study abroad in India!” kind of excitement with worried faces and remarks suggesting that India would never be a place they would want to go to. This mindset is a threat to not only seeing the world in a holistic way, but to how one sees one’s own country as well. I want to share my experience fully with the people I love, but I know there are details that my words could never accurately depict.

So, I suppose my strategy is to share the excitement and the love, and more than anything else, my admiration for the people working to fix the problems that are hardest for me to come to terms with. These people are the hope and the progress I want to share. I have witnessed and gotten to know some of the most intuitive solutions and NGOs. People working not only for their community but for better models for the globe to follow. At the end of the day, I think my words will have to be carefully chosen as I describe my time here, but I am learning that this is a practice I should undertake when I am talking about all people, all places, and even myself. We all deserve the grace of being described with love first. As I struggle with finding the words to represent my time here accurately, I plan to focus on the name of the place that brought me here: Hope.

 

A Moment Here

I have an overwhelming desire to take people to Jaipur and give them my eyes to see it through. At first, any city in India can seem overwhelming. There are a lot of people and there is a long line of smells and noises to digest in each direction one turns. Whenever I try to explain my view of a street or a road to someone not here, I run into roadblocks because they often get attached to one of the images I am describing and they run with it. “There is a camel! How do you say camel in Hindi?” It is “oot” by the way!

However, part of the beauty of India is the fact that it all hits you at once. There is no room to process the elephant moving past you because you are about to get hit by a motor bike with four people on it and there is a symphony of car horns orchestrating your road crossing as well as sweet smelling stalls to greet you when you finally make it to the other side. There is no way to describe that in a conversation because the other person, understandably so, often cannot comprehend all that is happening in one instance because each detail is worth exclaiming about on its own.

I thought that maybe, this blog would be a platform to share a glimpse into the bazaar of old city Jaipur as the single entity and moment that it deserves. I feel like everyday here is a year and a second rolled into one and I am always left feeling simultaneously exhausted and energized. Doesn’t a place with so much packed in deserve full attention and imagination?

So here we go: Imagine standing with two feet planted firmly on slightly sandy and uneven cement ground. The wind may blow, but the blazing sun will always take precedence. The buildings are covered in pink, orange, and salmon covered paint which grants Jaipur the royal nickname of “Pink City.” The smells will swirl through the traffic of camels, cows, cars, and auto rickshaws to fill you with such a mix of diversity you may feel a little dizzy. There is the smell of sweet chai, an unknown combinations of vibrant spices, smoke from a nearby street stand, and unfortunately, a sprinkle of cow poop. The hollering vendors have stores overflowing with everything from colorful saris to mobile phone repairs to fried combinations of spicy and sweet Indian street food. If you sample some spicy daal from a new buy restaurant, the leftover spice in your mouth and the beating sun on your face creates a combination so amazing and unique I know words can’t do it justice. There is too much to say but I certainly tried. This city is overflowing with life and booming with growth. The new meets the old and the two dance creating a wonderful world of color, spice, and everything bright. The only way to pay this place true respect, is to one day find yourself standing on the street of the old city bazaar in Jaipur.

Trying Ayurveda

After my trip to the Telangana State Forest Academy, I was very excited to try an ayurvedic treatment for myself.  For three months I had heard nothing but praise about the therapies and curiosity had gotten the better of me.

While I could have gotten a massage virtually anywhere in Hyderabad, I held out until I visited a retreat in Kerala— a state in southern India that is known for being the birthplace of Ayurveda. Out of all the places I’ve visited in this country, Kerala is by far the most beautiful. Everything is full and green, even in the heat of India’s summer. Coming from Hyderabad, an extremely arid city, this greenery was a welcome relief. It was the perfect scenery to be spoiled by a massage.

Unlike massages I have had before, ayurvedic treatments require the masseuse to know a few things about my personal constitution. In Ayurveda, people have a unique balance of three “bio-elements” called doshas: vata (a product of air and ether), pitta (a product of fire and water), and kapha (a product of earth and water). These doshas affect what treatments they think would be useful as well as what products to use in the massage. To determine my constitution, I was asked whether or not I can stand hot weather, how strong my appetite is, and other similar questions. From these questions, the ayurvedic doctor determined that I was a Vata-Pitta constitution. Because of that my massages were done with sesame oil to combat the heat in my body.

To start my treatments, the masseuses said a small prayer over me. Though it is not an exclusively religious thing, Ayurveda is very closely linked to Hinduism—this surprised me. Back home, medicine and religion rarely see any cross-over but they go hand-in-hand in Ayurveda. After the prayer, I was given a foot bath and prepped for the massage table.

At the resort I got two treatments: a general body massage (which is essentially what it sounds like) and shirodhara. Shirodhara is a Sanskrit term that roughly translates to head (shiro) flow (dhara). During this treatment hot liquid, typically oil, is gently drizzled over the head in a rhythmic swing for an extended period of time. It is a therapy used to treat many ailments of the brain: migraines, insomnia, vertigo, paralysis, and anxiety. Ideally patients typically get several regular shirodhara treatments but, even though I only got the one, I completely recommend it.

I know that a lot of folk reading this will be pretty skeptical about whether Ayurveda is “real” or not. In the States, anything outside of modern western medicine is dubbed “alternative” and it is almost always seen as lesser-than. But just like modern western medicine, I learned in my Ayurveda class that Ayurveda has published research papers that support their traditional treatment. Also, Ayurveda doesn’t have as many problems with overdoses, addiction, etc. as western medicine. I’m not saying one is better than the other but, after learning and experiencing Ayurveda, I can say it is worth trying.

Class Outside

Over the past few weekends I’ve had the chance to experience India’s traditional medical practice, Ayurveda. As one of my gen-eds, I have already been taking a course through CIEE on Ayurveda. I am by no means pre-med, but I think there is value in having basic medical knowledge. And between the class field trips I have been taking for my class and going out to try a few treatments for myself (more on that next week), I certainly have learned a thing or two.

In brief, instead of focusing on curing diseases as they come, Ayurveda tries to prevent diseases before they can take root. Because of this, Ayurveda is more of a philosophy and lifestyle than medicine in the West. There is something prescriptible for almost every aspect of a person’s way-of-life. For instance, depending on your constitution and current life situation, ayurvedic doctors will suggest exactly what you should eat, what time you should wake up, and more.  More often than not, these suggestions are non-intrusive and rely on natural, easy-to-find remedies.

To see how natural remedies play such a big role in Ayurveda, I went to the Telangana State Forest Academy on a class field trip. I had been excited to visit the academy; it had been awhile since I last went on a real class field trip and the academy is essentially just acres of beautiful forest. It is a center that maintains a forest of hundreds of plants local to the area. While the TSFA isn’t specifically an ayurvedic forest, there is a complete overlap between the native plant life in Hyderabad and the plants used in ayurvedic medicine.

As we walked around the forest, I was so impressed by how much our guides knew. Again, there were hundreds of plants in the academy. Still, our guides could name every single one and, for many of the plants, they knew a little about their histories and medical uses. I know nothing about plants so seeing them list off all this specific botanical knowledge was incredible. But, more impressive than that, I was struck by how much more ayurvedic doctors need to know. Not only do they have to know the plants, they also have to know medicine preparation recipes, dosages, and how one plant might react to another. My class might not be able to teach me all of that, but I’m glad I got to see all that goes into the practice of Ayurveda.

  

  

Happy Holi!

I finally got to do it. I finally got to play Holi.

For those of you who don’t know, Holi is the Hindu festival of colors and it is an absolute party. Ever since I knew I was coming to India, it was the thing I was most excited about. And it’s pretty clear why.

First of all, you don’t “celebrate” Holi; you “play” Holi. I think that phrasing says a lot– it’s definitely not a sit-down, family dinner thing. To play Holi, people smear color all over each other, have water fights, and dance. Color runs everywhere. There were even a few points in the day when I couldn’t open my eyes because I was surround by a thick cloud of pink, or blue, or green, etc.

For the first half of the day, I went over to my director’s house to play Holi with the people in her family and neighbors. When I was invited, I thought that would mean *at most* thirty people but the total was more like a few hundred.  The venue was packed with people and there was even a full water tanker truck, a DJ, and reporters. I’ve been to some wild block parties but all that was something else.

By the time I left, I was drenched head to toe in the rainbow. Afterwards we did our best to clean ourselves up. I say “our best” because the dye in those powders really clings on to you. My neck stayed somewhat blue for two whole days and the outfit I wore will probably never recover (R.I.P.). Was I warned about that? Yes. Did I prepare enough for that? No. Still, the fun of being out in the thick of things was absolutely worth it.

Photo Credits to the Lovely Esme

Avoiding Appropriation

Coming to India I knew there was a certain Eat, Pray, Love aesthetic I wanted to avoid. You know, whether it’s Vanessa Hudgens with her bejeweled bhindi, or the ‘intellectual’ trying to “find themselves” with south eastern philosophies, or all the white girls on Pinterest showcasing their ‘modern’ takes on henna—cultural appropriation is tacky. More than that, it can be hurtful. Back home, one of my good friends, Falguni*, likened the appropriation of her Indian culture to “pillaging a village and then putting cheap knock offs of their sacred items on the shelf above your fireplace”. That, to me, served as a pretty clear message that I needed to stay in my lane.

When I got to India, however, I noticed that the line between appropriation and appreciation looks different than it does at home. This was specifically true of henna. In the States, the general rule of thumb is that it simply isn’t for white people. To show my respect and avoid “pillaging a village”, I never had it done. But here, a lot of Indian folk have gone out of their way to encourage me to try it by setting up henna lessons for me and taking me to henna artists.

This was honestly very confusing.

1) I didn’t want to be culturally appropriative and a white-girl-in-henna is one of the classic symbols of that in the States.

2) I didn’t want to be disrespectful and outright refuse to participate when someone offers a part of their culture to me.

It’s a question I think everyone (especially white students) should ask when they are abroad: what does it mean to participate and what does it mean to appropriate in your host culture?  There won’t be a concrete answer; everyone will have a different opinion on what is okay and what isn’t. But asking that question (and asking that question continuously) puts you in a mindset of learning instead of just consuming.

That said, because it was openly and enthusiastically offered to me, I did end up getting some henna and participating in the henna lessons. From these experiences, I learned that there is a difference between the traditional Indian and Arabic styles of henna; I learned which styles are typically used for different holidays and events; and I learned about the reported health benefits of henna. Still, because I know it does not belong to me, I won’t try to boast my new henna knowledge at home by doing it for others or even decorating my own body.

Now,  I don’t want to make it sound like I’ve somehow figured out how to easily navigate the line between appreciation and appropriation. It is messy and something that always needs to be questioned. Not just for this one-case instance of henna, but of so many things here, at home, and everywhere else I go.

 

 

 

*Name changed on request. S/O to her, this gal is the greatest.

 

 

 

 

No Cash

I’ve never cursed out an ATM before, but you travel abroad to try new things, right? For the past week, the ATM by my hostel has been marred with a hand-drawn “No Cash” sign. Back home this wouldn’t be an issue; I can’t even remember the last time I paid for something in cash in the States. But when you are living in a cash-based society like India, bills are very important.

You might think:

“Wait, isn’t it extremely frustrating to have inconsistent access to cash in a cash society?”

Yes. Yes, it is. Everybody, not just visitors like myself, struggles to get their hands on cash (especially small, usable bills). I once went to three different ATMs and was unable to find cash in any of them. And when there actually is cash, very long lines begin to form around the machines. It’s counter-intuitive—if your buying market depends on cash, cash should be readily available.

Now I know you’re supposed to “keep an open mind” and “not judge things too quickly” when you experience cultural differences. I tried to do that. I really did. But everything about the situation just seemed off to me. The paradox that is India’s relationship to cash was too confusing to be normal. So, I did a little digging, and it turns out that paradox isn’t a cultural thing at all—it’s a relatively new problem called demonetization.

In a very small nutshell, demonetization is basically when a government strips a currency unit of it’s legal tender (ie: money stops being money). Last year, India’s Prime Minister attempted this with some of their largest bills and there has been significant issues as a result (some info at the following links:  1 , 2 ); my personal struggles with the ATM being the absolute least of those problems.

Obviously, the whole situation is WAY more complex than I can explain. I’ve been in India for barely a month, I am not an economist, and my understanding of the local politics is relatively lacking. And yet, here I am, operating as a part of a delicate political situation that I don’t fully understand. I do my best to educate myself but, in the meantime, I have to accept the fact that there will be times when I am painfully ignorant of my surroundings here.

I think it’s important to remember that not everything you experience abroad is normal for your host country. When so much of day-to-day life is different from home, it’s easy to play things off as “just the way things are in [insert country here]”. But doing that reduces your host country to one thing and one thing only: different. Personally, I look forward to learning more about the nuances of Indian life; it is already reshaping the way I see both American and global politics.

Examples of INR (Indian Rupee) bills.