I sat on the veranda of the tiny flat, which overlooked a beautiful garden park in Delhi. The bright sun cast a golden glow over the veranda as a cool breeze whisked the smells of cow dung and fried samosa into the air. I couldn’t help but smile as I listened to the sounds of birds chirping and the hustle and bustle of Delhi’s crazy traffic. I watched women in jeans walk alongside women in their Kurtas and Sarees as they all made their way to the local market. In the distance, I saw a small temple with a shrine of Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth) next to a herd of “street” children picking through a pile of trash. This was India: a beautiful contradiction. The sound of an angry driver repeatedly blowing his loud horn interrupted my thoughts and I realized I needed to start packing for my flight which was only hours away.
For hours, I took my time neatly packing and often times rearranging things in my big pink suitcase. I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget anything. But no matter how much I rearranged and double checked, I still felt like I was leaving something. I went through a mental list as I scanned my suitcase one last time. I gently fingered the eclectic array of souvenirs that filled my bag. Each souvenir reminded me of one of my bold adventures or heartfelt moments. I giggled as I picked up the Karma sutra book with bad English and ridiculous pictures. I laughed as I picked up a cheap gold bangle a street vendor tried to sell me for $20! I laughed as I remembered how he hassled me and eventually sold it to me for the $2 it was worth. I felt my heart skip a beat as I picked up and refolded the beautiful traditional cloth one of my girls gave me right before I left them. I sighed as I thought about the sadness of saying goodbye to my girls, goodbye to the school I volunteered with and now it was time to say goodbye to a culture that sent me on a whirlwind of emotions.
I often went from being intrigued with all of India’s rich traditions to feeling confused about how those traditions thrived in the worst poverty I’ve ever seen. I often found myself feeling curious to know the secret behind the smiles of people who literally had nothing to being excited when people randomly came up to me requesting photos. As I looked at the beautiful architecture of many buildings and bright colors I felt like a little kid, anxiously wanting to learn more about the history of India. But the thing that intrigued me the most about India was the women. There were many times I was in complete awe as I watched Indian women strut in their beautifully designed saree’s, adorned with intricate Mahendi (Henna) designs on their hands and feet, while gorgeous bejeweled bangles filled their arms. These women wore their culture beautifully and they were a like breath-taking age-old monuments that somehow never seemed to age. It was magical how the history of India was written in the faces of these women and it’s sacredness braided within their hair. The power of India rested quietly in them as they worked endlessly to build a land, their land. The secrets of India were hidden in their eyes which were like tunnels leading to a magical past. And the joys of India were entangled in their smiles.The Taj Mahal and many of the other great historical sites of India are stunning but nothing compared to the women of India.These beautiful women, who held life in their wombs but oppression in their land were the gift and hope of transformation for India.
The most difficult part of being in India.
I felt hurt when I saw mothers walking with half-naked children half-hoping to find some sort of relieft. Maybe they walked because that was all they could do. Perhaps walking kept them from remembering the pain. I once watched a mother walk up and down the small train station. She walked in circles with 3 children waddling behind her. She never looked back as she took long strides with her eyes fixed on the ground. I can only imagine what she was searching for. I stood there for an hour watching her as I waited for the train. And nothing could prepare me for what I saw her do next. She walked back to a little corner in the back of the station and took off her scarf. She meticulously laid the scarf down and all of the children sat on a little peice of it. They were hungry. And just when she thought no one else was looking she took some food from her bag and gave all of the children small bits of crumbs. She then laid the children down and started humming. They were living there in that train station. As I got on the train I felt empty as I watched this mother, who had nothing sing what I imagine to be lullaby’s to put her babies to sleep as she fanned away herds of flies. Life had made a fool of her. But like the caged bird, she too sings.
My volunteer service
I came to Parijat Academy expecting to only teach English and engage in a short-term volunteeer project. But since being here, my life has changed for the best and I will never be the same. Parijat Academy provides on campus, dormitory housing for 7 girls from a remote village. Outside of school I spent a vast majority of my time talking with the girls and getting to know them. The girls of Parijat Academy have truly taught me the value of foraging human relationships. I scheduled and planned my time at Parijat Academy, but there was no way I could plan for how I would be changed. I was most inspired by 7 little girls from a rempote village who lived on the school campus just so they could attend school becuase their home was a 4 hour walk away. 7 girls who stayed up with me talking during late nights even though they had to start their day at sunrise. Girls who always checked on me to make sure I was ok. Girls who reminded me of what it meant to smile in the face of adversity. Girls who talked with me in broken English, teaching me bits of their sacred language. Girls who laughed with me. Girls who danced in the rain with me. Girls who held my hand when I was scared to walk down the steep hills during our hike in the jungle. Girls who always greeted me with a smile. Girls who would sneak and clean my room everyday while I was teaching. Girls who taught me how to knit. Girls who taught me how to use a sewing machine. Girls who pooled together all of their scraps of money to buy me a painting before I left. These are the girls of Parijat Academy. Girls who have reached for my hand, but have touched my heart.
Why I travel
The ancient Roman philopsopher once said, “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” And I could not disagree with him more. If the world is truly a book then we can cross oceans, hike through the rain forests of Costa Rica, scale the tallest mountains, listen to unfamilar chatter of street vendors in Seoul, smell the mixture of greasy street foods in India, swim in the clear, blue waters of the Philippines, touch the ancient walls of Angkor Wat and even marvel at the beauty of women in Sierra Leone without ever leaving our homes. This is the beauty of books. We can see, touch, feel and smell the world from the comfort of our favorite reading place. I do agree with St. augustine on one thing however, the world is indeed a book and in my eyes those of us who travel are merely the writers.
I travel because I love everything about traveling. I embrace the difficult moments of being homesick to the indescribable feeling of locals smiling when I butcher their language in an attempt to communicate with them. I was born to travel. And for me it has become an art. I travel not because I’m running, but because I do not know any other way. I travel not only to see the world, but to feel the world. I do not travel because I want to fill my passport and brag about all of the places I’ve been. Instead I travel because each journey leads me to hidden places deep within me. I travel because for me, it is the only way. In essence, I travel because it helps me find myself. As I connect with locals, visit historical landmarks, take photographs, eat new foods and walk through unfamiliar lands I find a new peice of myself that I otherwise would not have known.
For the first time as I prepare to say goodbye I am smiling. I’ve always cried and had a hard time saying goodbye but now I’m no longer crying. Instead I am smiling because I have found a new part of me while in India.I smile because I finally understand that you can never truly say goodbye to something you love, because what we love never leaves our hearts. And so I maybe leaving India, but the lessons, memories, smiles, friendships, challenges and experiences are forever engraved upon my heart and that is truly something to smile about. Afterall, I am Rashmi. The Goddess of light. (read previous entry to understand this reference)