**I wrote this on the plane from Delhi to Newark. I’ve since flown another six hours to San Francisco where I saw my dad (he’s in SF for work and happened to fly in around the same time) before getting on a plane to Eugene. My mom picked me up at the airport and I am now home, safe and sound. Being home feels weird. I may have to write about it, but we’ll see.**
There are three hours remaining in our flight from Delhi to Newark. Only three hours until we are back in the U.S. and our time in India is truly over. Three more hours.
The tour of Delhi yesterday was fine. We saw an ancient tomb, the president’s house, and went to the National Museum for a short while. It started raining while we were out, so most of the time was spent just driving around. By that point none of us were really in a touring mindset, plus it felt wrong to be seeing sights in India without our student mentors and AFS volunteers. We ended up returning to the B&B early and relaxing there for an hour before loading up the cars and heading to the airport. I’m really glad we had that time to hang out as a group. In Ahmedabad, whenever we were all together there were always lots of other people around. It was great having it just be us six — Mandy, Olivia, Carlos, Sujata, Abby, and I.
The drive to the airport took an obscene amount of time, as did check-in. Security went by fairly quickly, but none of us girls were happy about the separate screening line for women. There was only one, compared to two for men, and it took about twice as long. That’s one aspect of India that we are not going to miss.
Once through security, we were in the airport for about an hour before we had to go to our gate for yet another security clearance. Every time we’ve been in an Indian airport we’ve had our passports and boarding passes checked at least 10 times. I appreciate the vigilance but it gets a little irritating. But we all got on the plane, no problem. The only disappointment is that our seats were switched so Sujata and I are in row 42, Mandy, Olivia, and Abby are in 22, and Carlos is in 21. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we wish we could have spent this last bit of time together, even if we slept for half of it.
My time in India has been eye-opening in countless ways. I’ve learned about another way of life and have tried to understand it. I’ve learned that as human beings we instinctually connect, no matter where we’re from, what we like, or our world-view. I’ve visited places of worship for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Muslims. I’ve seen sights so steeped in history that you feel that, if you stay there long enough, a 13th-century maharaja will walk through the door to entertain his guests. But most of all, I’ve met people. People from India, the U.S, Thailand, Italy, and Germany. People who, on paper, have nothing in common, but are instant friends in person. People who I already miss and people who I will have to start missing in just a few short hours. Friends, family, and teachers — I have all of those in India now. Two weeks ago, all I had were Sonal, Tanmay, and Gaurvi’s names. Now, not only do I know and love them, but I love Anushka, Tanmae, Vedanti, Tweesha, Jinal-ma’am, Nashy-ma’am, Aakansha, Maithilee, Salisa, Max, Pratima-ma’am, and so many more. A few months ago, I never would have dreamed of traveling to India this year, let alone becoming part of a community there. I truly felt like I was a student at Anand Niketan (even if I didn’t go to real classes) and that is entirely due to the wonderful students and staff who did everything in their power to make it feel like home. I know that this will not be goodbye for all of us. Instead, it’s an “I’ll miss you terribly until we meet again.” And I will miss them. So much.
Speaking of people I’ll miss terribly, Olivia, Carlos, Mandy, Abby, Sujata, and I have become a family — a mismatched group of foreigners who were brought together by a common desire to explore the world and expand our minds. I feel so lucky to have been blessed with this group of incredible people. Together, we have shared this unbelievable experience as well as countless jokes and stories. From bemoaning India’s lack of toilet paper, to worrying about weight gain while eating more bread and potatoes, to the misery that is a parked bus in India, to the misery that is a moving bus with open windows in India, to the “Sujata look”, to Abby KYROS, to “Amandalynn Barber!”, to Cartos, to teaching Sujata how to “communicate” in various languages, to art class, and Hindi lessons, and dance rehearsals (everyone’s favorite part of the day), and school lunch, and Tanmae being more American than all of us, and…I could go on for pages and pages. I never knew that people could grow so close in such a short period of time and it hurts me to know that I won’t see them every day anymore. I love each and every one of them more than I ever thought I would.
Mandy, thank you so much for putting up with us. You’ve been the best chaperone we could have asked for —you treat us as equals while keeping us in line, and we know that we could come to you for anything and never be met with scorn or judgment. I’m so glad to have you as a friend and am so grateful to have had you on this trip. I still can’t believe you agreed to sing with us and, despite what you may think, you killed it. Also, you look awesome in Indian clothes and I hope you end up wearing everything you bought! If you ever end up not wanting those gold earrings, feel free to send them to me ;) Thanks for dealing with all of our teasing and serving it right back. You’re the best, Amandalynn.
Olivia, thank you for always making me laugh. I know we’ve discussed this, but literally every time I talk to you I just can’t stop giggling! We could be talking about dead puppies and I would find it the funniest thing ever. That’s a concerning statement. Thank you for bringing your calm energy and positive outlook to our group of high-energy, insane people. You always know what to say when things get tense and you exude peace from every fiber of your being. I’ll miss having someone around who can make me chill-out no matter what’s going on. Also I’ll miss giving you trash so that you can transform it into awesome jewelry.
Carlos, thank you for being so passionate about this experience. You were always engaged and interested in whatever we were doing (dance excluded) and it made the rest of us want to pay attention, too. The car ride to the airport yesterday was one of the best conversations I’ve had in a long time and I love that we can disagree on things but remain respectful and never take it to a place of anger. Thank you for your determination to make this trip what you wanted it to be — I’m so glad you got your sitar! I hope you find time to learn to play it. I’m sure you’ll be great.
Sujata, thank you for becoming my friend. Towards the beginning of the trip I wasn’t sure if we would get along. It seemed like we had nothing in common and I was worried we’d end up disliking each other. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I love that you are so unashamedly you. I feel that no matter who is around, you will always be yourself and stand up for your opinions and what you want, which I respect immensely. You are hilarious and never fail to make me smile with your dry comments and fantastic facial expressions. I’ve also never known someone who can sleep in as many places as you, or get hungry as frequently as you do — it’s really very impressive. Thanks for running up and down stairs with me in an attempt to workout and thanks for putting up with how much I tease you. I’m going to miss you so much, but don’t think you’re getting rid of me that easily! I’ll be in your neck of the woods sooner or later, and don’t doubt for a second that I’m going to come say hi. Sorry, you’re just going to have to put up with it. Also, don’t forget that Nike is from Eugene, so really you should be dying to come visit me. See you soon?
Abby, thank you for being a friend before we even met. Connecting with you on Facebook and messaging you whenever I had a thought or question about the trip, or when I was freaking out, was so reassuring. I loved knowing that I already had at least one friend in the group. And since then, thank you for being lovely, dorky, taller than me, my airport buddy, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. You are so wonderful in every way — I couldn’t have asked for a better Indian twin. I still don’t know why people couldn’t tell us apart, but if I’m going to be confused with someone I’m glad it’s you. I can’t wait for our Hindi phone calls — “Hello” “Hello” “How are you” “I am well, how are you” “I am well. What is your name?” — they will surely be the most fascinating conversations of our lives. You are going to kick butt in college and I can’t wait to see how you change the world with your designs. Don’t forget about us lowly high schoolers! I’m going to miss you so much.
I should have warned you all that this would be a long post, but at this point you might as well finish reading it.
There are many things I’ll be bringing back from India. Besides souvenirs, I’m carrying with me a new culture which I will desperately try not to lose. Indian people respect each other in ways I’ve never seen before and they fully appreciate all that they have. These are things that I feel my own culture could use more of and, to quote Carlos, I hope I can behave a bit more like an Indian in the U.S. There are also some habits I’ve picked up. For at least a little while I will be very tempted to eat with my hands and wear a bindi for special occasions. Our whole group started going the “head-shake-thing” so if it looks like my neck is having a small seizure sometimes, don’t be alarmed. I’m also bringing a love of Indian music, dance, and food. A Bollywood playlist may be in order. It’s going to be strange not to see colorful sarees, rickshaws, and cows everywhere when I drive through town and to not be the odd one out anymore. I’ve grown used to being stared at and, weirdly enough, I might sort of miss not being interesting anymore. It’s also going to be weird to see white people everywhere. In Delhi there were a lot more international tourists and we all felt very thrown off by it. It’s crazy how quickly human beings adapt to new surroundings. I just hope I don’t adapt back to soon.
Ending this post is something I so strongly do not want to do. When I finish it, Chapter 1- India will be for archival purposes only. Over the past two weeks, I have managed to read one more page of our magnificent planet, but I feel like I only skimmed it. There is so much more of India to explore and I can’t wait until l have an opportunity to return. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing my experience with anyone who will listen, encouraging others to see the magic of India and exchange for themselves, and constantly looking for my next adventure. No matter where I end up, you can be sure that it will be found here. A new passion has been born in sharing my stories with all of you and I’m so grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read them. India will forever hold a special place in my heart and I hope I’ve managed to do it justice. It is an amazing place. Until next time, whenever that may be, goodbye!