I Love My India
Four months in India. I arrived in this amazing country exactly 123 days ago this morning and I can hardly believe so much time has passed. It feels like no time at all and yet so much has happened. We've spent a Christmas, brought in a new year, taught around 500 lessons to around 200 students, celebrated Emma's and many of our students birthdays and discovered we've been missing out four extra verses of the happy birthday song all our lives. (I don't think I'll ever be able to stop after the initial verse now, not when I can sing happy long life to you… many greetings to you... and may God bless you dear… All of which have their own verse! Amazing!) We've taken an insane amount of selfies, suffered through endless "just one photo?" from random strangers; eaten nearly three hundred portions of dal, getting to taste it's awful blandness twice a day, every day; made so many friends, seen so many amazing places and settled in to life in India so, so well. Better than I could ever have hoped to. I really do love it here. I love being "Annie-mam", I love seeing my confidence improve and the enthusiasm everyone has for learning English.
Things like the lizards in the bathroom and camels at the side of the road and the yellow autos and cows and all those little things that wowed me at the beginning now seem like a fairly normal part of everyday life. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because I can hardly believe I'm living in India and have been doing so for four months. Recently, I was silly enough to think that India couldn't wow me anymore. So many things feel normal to me now that I thought maybe I'd seen it all. I thought India couldn't possibly have any more tricks hidden up it's sleeve. Yet, just when I think India can't surprise me anymore, something unbelievable always happens to make me realise that this country will forever manage to take my breath away and force me to pinch myself.
For example; let me tell you the story of our drive to work yesterday morning. In the same car, with the same driver, the lovely Basha, who first brought us to LVPEI exactly four months ago, the change was so visible it almost felt like a metaphor for the past four months. So, there we were, both of us with our headphones plugged in as we watched Hyderabad pass us by through the windows, similar to that very first drive to LVPEI. Back then we didn't really know each other, but instead we sat in an quiet, anticipatory silence and had very little idea of what the next few months would hold. It seemed impossible to me, back in those early days that I would ever feel quite so at home here. Four months later to anyone watching, the scene probably didn't look so different. Alex & I sat listening to our music, occasionally pointing out to each other daft inside jokes. We drove through streets that aren't unfamiliar anymore, but ours. These streets hold memories of the past four months, of exploring and trying new food and getting lost and finding our way. Where we saved the puppy or the corner where we first had sugarcane juice or saw our first camel or that time after getting the wrong bus when we saw that sign and realised we were on the right road again.
Anyway, we sat in our seats in the middle of the car and watched the drivers have some conversation with two men sitting on the truck that was driving just beside us on the motorway. The sat upon a large bed of branches, fairly relaxed and shouting things at our driver. We didn't understand what they were saying, even though it seemed fairly friendly. Then they started laughing as one of the men jumped down from the bed of branches and stood, barely hanging on. We pulled up along side them and he threw a bunch of the branches in through our car window. To use Alex's famous phrase, we were both SO CONFUSED. Alex and I took out our headphones as the driver divided up all the branches and gave one to every person in the car. They turned out to be peas and everyone munched away happily, laughing as the driver waved goodbye to the men when we turned onto a different road.
Easily the strangest thing to happen in the car yet, completely random and yet bizarrely wonderful. it was one of those strange moments, that afterwards you laugh and think, did that really happen? Then later I found pea peelings in my pocket and looked at the picture and I remembered that this is India and I'm not dreaming. These dusty streets and sweet little fruit stalls and this warm weather is mine. I'm beginning to see familiar faces wherever I go. Four months in this place and it feels more like home every day. I couldn't be more thankful for that.
Lately, I have been thinking a fair amount about home. We had only been in India for a few weeks when one day Alex & I were coming out of the hospital and as we climbed on the bus, for the first time we said we were going home. In such a short time, Room 508 of Kismatpur Guest House had become home. Hyderabad no longer seems like a transitory layover between school and university– a place to pass time in and help make my future CV a little more colourful. No longer a navigational waypoint, a pause along the route, somewhere to break up the journey before moving on, upwards, away. The other day the ONAs were writing and one of them wrote I love my India and I realised for the first time that I really, really do. I absolutely adore this place, and I suppose the magical part is that I love it in ways I was never expecting to, that I never imagined I would like it here so much.
I suppose the point of this is that, just a few months ago, when I first arrived here I suppose I saw it as a stopgap – a place to pass through, a layover before I travelled homewards and got back to my life again. Home was still in Scotland, the town where I had forged for myself a small family of friends. When I left to come to India it did not feel so much like the end of an era nor a goodbye to a home. When I arrived and started to stick photos to the wall and put my clothes in the cupboard, the whole affair still seemed temporary. I had very little idea of what the next weeks would hold.
Soon enough Alex & I got into a routine. We've started waking up at certain times on certain days, going to the hospital for a certain time, getting to know our students. I liked it, unequivocally so, but it did not seem permanent. Then, unexpectedly, I saw my confidence start to build and suddenly I did feel at home and it began to seem, well, not so temporary after all.
It will not be forever. Come next September Alex & I will have left LV Prasad and Hyderabad and new volunteers will come in to take our place. Yet in no time at all since that night when my home was unequivocally elsewhere, this Hyderabad home no longer feels like a place only to pass through. I am happy to be here, even for just a little while.
I haven't felt the absence of my family quite so acutely as I did over Christmas, so it's fair to say home has probably been in my mind a lot more than usual. Occasionally I still wake up confused as to where I am, still expecting to see my little side table and the green lamp and all my odds and ends. I miss having my own space, a pillow that couldn't knock someone out cold, and being able to see my family in person, not just through a pixel-filled skype screen. Despite that, now when I think of home, I also think of a not-so-tiny room in Hyderabad, where my bed is surrounded by a mosquito net. I think of the Scottish flag on the wall and the photo collage I see when I wake up every morning and before I go to sleep. I think of the bluetack I can't get off the wall and of Lizzie (the big one) and Chipy (the little one - short for chhipakalee - lizard in hindi), our adopted pets who are responsible for us no longer having an abundance of moths in the bathroom.
My curiosity for all news of my Scottish home was satisfied by the loveliest bunch of letters from some of the third years at CNHS. Back teaching on Boxing Day, getting letters telling me all about the Greggs expansion and the latest goings on at my old school was incredibly exciting. I couldn't be more grateful for those, a little letter with the power to transport back home for a moment. I suppose it's only when someone reminds you that only seven months ago you were still a student in high school that you realise how far you've come and how much you've grown. I can hardly believe I left high school less than a year ago, that already so much has changed, both me and the school.
Although we were back working on Boxing Day, Christmas was really great. For the week leading up to Christmas we did some Christmas-themed revision lessons with the nurses and had a lot of fun. Highlights included when two of the nurses came back to class with a random (but adorable) baby, who'se mother was being treated and whose father needed the washroom and so she ended up being babysitted in English class! Alex made up a lot of Christmas worksheets and games which they really enjoyed working on for the last day. It clearly went very well, as after a week of Christmas themed lessons we were filling in a crossword and as an answer to 'this animal pulls santa's sleigh' we were told, very matter of factly that it was "GOATS MAM! GOATS!" in complete seriousness. They really do make me laugh!
An Indian Christmas meant finally getting to open the Christmas packages sent out by my beautiful family back in November, which was really exciting, followed by morning mass in Don Bosco- my new parish church. These were possibly the most Christmassy aspects of the day, as the wifi was down and talking to everyone at home was nearly impossible.
It didn't really feel like Christmas, maybe because it was ridiculously warm or because I went to a market that was going on as normal, but I still had a really nice day. My afternoon was spent talking to strangers on two of the seven buses I took by myself and eventually finding Ruby and Aleisha in the midst of Secunderabad Market, before going for a wee wander and having lunch at Devnar with Jenny and Emma. I can't thank everyone enough for all the lovely cards and letters and gifts I received over the past few months. Primary 6/7 C at Holy Family, your beautiful cards and slipper socks made me the happiest girl in India, and I had so many that the room was overflowing with them. The only available space for them was the shelf! I am so, so grateful to you, you really are wee angels.
New Year's Eve was relatively uneventful. we say goodbye to our friend Anil as he leaves for his home and I watch a movie. I call as many of my family on facetime as I can and when midnight strikes Alex is watching a movie and I climb into bed, impatient for 2017 to finally begin. It starts of in a beautiful way. In the morning I went to mass and in the afternoon we got an Uber to Hussian Sagar. It's a heart shaped lake in the centre of the city, separating Hyderabad from Secunderabad. I'd said to Alex on Hogmanay that we should go there, and by chance, that night our friend Ritesh tells us they are going the next afternoon if we want to come.
There's nine of us so we take three cars. I share a cab with Ria and we listen to Ed Sheeran and share oreos with the driver. We all meet up outside of the love Hyderabad monument, except the uber Alex is in has been stopped on route as all the drivers are supposed to be on strike. I take photos of the biggest flag in India from across the lake as we wait. It doesn't look as big when you're far away from it, but I'm told it's the biggest. We walk around the lake to the park as the sun is setting, stopping along the way for photos and snacks. Then we get a boat out to Buddha, who is lit up in a variety of different colours and it's really amazing. We take even more photos and hold torches under our phones for DIY selfie lighting, just to realise it's hard to get nine people in one selfie. That's where the 'everyone look down at the phone' idea came from and I find it really funny. When we get back we snack on Candyfloss and get autos to a place called Sam's Pizza, which is basically pizza hut with a different name. There's pasta and pizza and garlic bread and soup, and I really can't explain how wonderful garlic bread tastes when you've not had it in four months. AMAZING, basically. I had a really wonderful start to the new year.
The weekend after New Year's Orla comes to stay with us. We go to Kalimandir to pick her up and after buying snacks we give her a tour of BLSO and the hostel. It's really exciting to have her here, and we exchange all our news. Alex is exhausted so while she goes for a nap, Orla and I go to buy a good knight top-up (mosquito repellent plug in) and watch the first episode of Sherlock in the library and freak out about it. When we go upstairs we find Alex and Shazia both fast asleep in funny positions, so instead of waking them up we take photos that we laugh at later and go for tea in the canteen. The housekeeping ladies give our room a sweep, but so far nothing has been done about the slight damp on Alex's wall. Never a dull moment! We use Orla's presence as an excuse to order dominoes, and go all out for the sleepover feast that we share with Shazia, who's never had pizza before. We move the beds into the middle and make hot chocolate and just enjoy having our friend with us.
We've got a busy week of new classes ahead before we head off for Goa on the 15th which is very exciting. 16 hours on a sleeper train will be fun, right?
"GOATS MAM! GOATS"
baby in the class!
Letters from CNHS
the cards from P6/7!
slipper socks! <3 <3
cards from family & friends
christmas sign Alex's mum sent out
after christmas mass
Christmas at Secunderabad market
when starbucks is next to the post office
Saying goodbye to Anil
my favourite telugu teacher retired!
ORLA'S SLEEPOVER <3
moving the beds
after the spontaneous dance party
peas for breakfast!