I Never Expected That

 How to explain the feeling of escaping the hospital to grab ice-cold milkshakes on a forty degree day, sitting so close to the air conditioning we actually get chilly. Laughing so much, it seems we rarely have time for anything else. Chattering away in jumbled, half-forgotten Spanish everyday with my new friends from Mexico and feeling it all coming back to me. Funny letters, chats and giggles with my best friends back home. The way the dawn light paints the sky, peach orange, caramelised, not burnt but simmering. A letter from my little cousin that made me beam with pride– I smiled quietly about it the whole day long (thank you, thank you, thank you Leah!) When the nurses randomly break out in song and it's unbelievably adorable. When we leave to go out somewhere, and one of the nurses always spots us and they gather around the classroom windows to wave and call out "bye mams!" It's the way the security man sees us and says "hello! hi! hello! hi! hello! hi! namaskaram!" (really, he says it three times whenever we see him!) So many new students eager to learn and old ones looking incredibly smart in their new uniforms.

Last year I dreaded going to teach those lessons. I dreaded getting up before the sun, too early to stomach a spicy breakfast and I dreaded having to stand before that huge class of confused, disinterested teenagers (save a few) at eight in the morning with only the view of the loveliest, sun-drenched blossom tree via the large left hand windows sustaining me. I dreaded the disdainful tone in some of their voices and their sly contempt for me, this girl not so much older but with so much more authority, that informed every sentence I had to force out of them. Now, instead of the disparaging seventeen year-olds? A class half the size, who are so excited about having a real, live, scottish person teaching their lesson that they hang around after class to ask questions, or to hand in the practice essays they wrote for fun. What a difference it makes. Of course, if I’d had to keep on toiling away with that difficult class, I would have. and I’d still have been happy. I’d still have loved Hyderabad and I’d still have counted my blessings. Yet somehow, with the new students, I love everything that little bit more. 

The real highlight of April though, has to be the fifteen days spent entirely with my mum, dad and aunt mairi after eight months apart. Finally, they made it to India – and I couldn't have been any happier. On the drive from the airport to the hotel, I sit mesmerised in the back seat as if seeing it all again for the very first time, willing my tired eyes to stay open, to soak it all in. Watching their first impressions of this place is as magical as it is hilarious. India greets them warmly and without abandon, and although having them around me feels like a dream, quickly it feels as though we've never been apart. As I'm sure many a project trust volunteer can attest, the second best thing about having your family come is getting to experience the fancy, savvy hotels you would never stay in normally. (The best thing, of course, is that they have come.) As they go around saying "wow" at cows on the road, the crazy driving and the idiosyncrasies of India, I'm walking around saying "wow" at having fluffy pillows and a duvet again, with hot and cold taps in the bathrooms and carpeted floors. Showers that don't involve a bucket or shooing away two pesky lizards. Cereal for breakfast and no mosquitoes in my bedroom. 

Their time in Hyderabad is really just a tour of the places that comprise my life here. Closed tight like a fist, my world contained in these small streets. Where I live, teach, eat, shop, laugh, cry, am. I take them to all the tourist places people used to take Alex & I when we were newbies to this city and the realisation of all that has happened since then hits me harder than before. I’m recognising the streets I last walked in early September and feeling so many worlds away from that me.  I wonder if maybe years from now I’ll come back and feel distant from this me too. But I don't want to think about that, to be honest. Knowing I have three months left in India, just three more months, is INSANE. Whenever I think of that ticking clock I have the most overwhelming urge to shout "GAHHHH" and invent something that will stop time. I really don't want these days to end. I'm not lying when I say over and over and over how much I love this place and these people and that this year has been one of the best in my life. That's not to say life in Hyderabad doesn't have its fair share of everyday frustrations, of course it does -  life here is not without the mundane or dramatic. Yet even after eight months of calling it home, daily life here is still imbued with a shade of magic. There’s a storybook quality to the warm, golden air, to the omnipresent greenery, the fusing of the fast-paced, colourful beat of this Indian megacity with the calm, orderly, clean charm of LVPEI.

Just a few days after they arrive in India we fly to Delhi, before heading off to Agra and Jaipur. For me, not many Indian cities compare to the way I feel in Hyderabad, but Jaipur definitely comes a close second, I think. I didn’t know a thing about the so-called pink city before we arrived there but I quickly fell in love with it. After whirlwind overnight stops, and a long drive we stay for three nights in Jaipur, in the cutest, most adorable 110 year old Indian home. There is this big tree growing in the courtyard and fairylights strung through the bushes. Sparrows and tortoises roaming the grounds. Watching a traditional puppet show and getting the chance to show off my own hopeless puppeteer skills. Eating dinner outside by candlelight because apparently the moonlight is so lovely and bright, and we can only fully appreciate it in the darkness. Everyone tells the owner that it's like the best exotic marigold hotel, but he just smiles and says that it is except everything works and the guests aren't that old! We eat lots of yummy homemade Indian food and I feel like I'm in heaven. I was truly spoiled rotten. 

I've seen more grand palaces and tombs this month to last me for the rest of my life, and my head might explode if someone says the words moguls or public audience hall one more time, but that's not to say I didn't love them. I'm obsessed with history, it’s peculiar and quite wonderful to think of how different these palaces would have been at the height of their use – the bustling business of a royal court - what a tremendous sight it must have been. The wall of heat that hits as soon as you step outside. The absolute perfection that is sugarcane juice. The smiles and the stares. Falling into bed each night with tired feet, freckled cheeks and a smile on my face.

After so many days of tour guides and planned outings, Dad and I spent an afternoon simply wandering through Jaipur's old city, the dust creeping through the labyrinthine alleyways behind us, a benevolent monster of sorts. Backstreets, my Indian friends had told me, head to the backstreets; so cameras in hand, we did just that. We threaded through the market stalls, avoiding the grazing cows, goats and mud-covered pigs that crossed our path. This India - the crazy, indescribable side - I love, so much more than any monument or wonder. The Taj Mahal is majestic, but is it weird to say I enjoyed wandering around the dusty streets with my dad even more? India is a country of contrasts in every way and getting lost in its crowded streets, frenetic markets and onslaught of people is genuinely one of my favourite things.  Even when I'm back in Hyderabad, my favourite moments are the ones where we're sitting in the bedroom of our tailor, with half the neighbourhood coming in to say hello, while we play with her little daughters and try on our new sari blouses.  Walking through the little narrow streets back to the hospital, it really does feel like there is magic hiding behind every corner, every doorway and up every hill (at least, that's what I tell myself when, already exhausted, I have to find the will to walk up them). Nowhere else will you see so many bright and beautiful colours on a daily basis; bright embroidered saris, flowers for the temple, painted signs and adverts. The women riding side saddle on the back of scooters so gracefully while a barrage of car horns surround them. Nowhere else will you feel such a sense of magic and history from the moment the sun rises. I feel so immensely grateful that I will always be able to say that I lived here. 

 Getting to see more of India led to a lot of moments where I felt like I had to pinch myself to believe it was real. For example, when our tour guide tells us we can either walk, drive or ride an elephant to the top of the hill, I know instantly what one I would choose. Although I was wary of the elephants being treated ill, our guide reassures me by telling me they all live in a nature reserve with their mahout and his family, with a limit on how many people they can carry and only working for a couple of hours each day. So we start our tour by walking through the square and seeing the elephants. Each elephant has a mahout who has been trained to use verbal cues, never hurting the elephants, to herd them when needed. So I convince dad to come along with me and by 9:30am we were sitting on top of an elephant and making our way up to the palace. Each step the elephant takes, dust escapes the ground and I feel my heart beating to the rhythm of the footsteps, and whenever I look around the view is incredible. I can’t help but feel incredibly connected to the world around me.  I look over at my dad, sitting on top of an elephant with me and I can hardly believe that it's really happening. Fair to say I never expected that!

Lately I have been thinking about how unexpected life can be. Eighteen, ten, even two years ago none of us had any idea that this crazy, indescribable county would become such a significant part of our family’s story. None of us knew, and yet here we are – falling asleep to the staccato whirr of the air conditioner, waking to unfamiliar birdsong and wandering along the dusty streets together. Then, as quick as they come it is time for them to leave again. I thought I'd be more upset, but as soon as I'm back in the hostel I feel just as at home as I always do. More than anything I am just insanely grateful that I got to spend the most amazing two weeks with them.

Quickly life is back to normal and as busy ever. Alex and I chatter away, catching each other up on all that has happened, and we're speaking as fast as ever - so fast we don't even realise until someone asks us: "In what language are you speaking?" Hyderabad is so warm that our windows remain flung open so that, sometimes
just sometimes, a little dragonfly will fly himself inside and refuse to leave, quickly and daringly avoiding capture - Shazia came into the room the other night to find me darting about like wee numpty, trying to catch him with a jug and an biscuit tin lid (the only dragonfly catching essentials we had on hand). Every night coming home to dhal and a hearty vegetable curry. A week which passed in a smudged blur of work, deadlines, furrowed brows and long nights made better by my brother down the telephone line, a conversation snatched in a ten-minute pocket to stretch my legs. You’d be proud of me, I started to say, ready to regale him with tales of my teaching triumphs, when he interrupted with the heart-stopping ovation I’m always proud of you.  With our new students, the idea of me having three brothers is fascinating. "Really mam? THREE brothers?" One day I have lunch with some of the girls and when my background appears it gets passed around with "Ohhh, how old is he? They have girlfriends? Ahh! too young for me! You have any more brothers?"  Everyone says I look the most like Tom, but everyone asks after them whenever we meet, and I really do want to burst with pride. 

 This weekend we're headed off on a nine hour bus ride to reach the village where our lovely friend Yamuna from education will be getting married. Saris, petticoats, blouses, bangles, bindis and shoes have all been packed with excitement and we're beside ourselves with anticipation. I'll be sure to update you all soon with wedding tales and photos, but until then... here's some more snapshots of this chaotic, wonderful month.

my favourite place in banjara hills, even if they do play christmas songs in April <3


  1. ALL I CAN SAY IS AMAZING. You are so lucky to go on this trip even if you weren't sure of it in the beginning. You formed an attachment to a place that you didn't think you'd love this much. Your writing is so good and I am happy to read about your adventure as well as look at the pictures and feel like I am where you are.

    1. NESSA <3 you are so right, thank you so much!x

  2. This is so inspiring! I want to go to India for 2 months as an exchange student and this article gave me more reasons to do so!

    1. Two months is waayyyy too short- come for longer! ;) x

  3. What an amazing month and hope you enjoy your next 3 months in India! Savour every moment! I spent a year in France as a student and miss it all the time!

    Corinne x


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