Return to America: From Murugan Idli to Wawa

While in India, Busra, Vivek and I discussed how this entire experience would feel like a dream when we arrived back in the United States. Our foresight could not have been more accurate. It’s not that the powerful memories of our crazy and exciting experiences have disappeared; I just have difficulty recreating how it felt to live in our little “Aravind bubble”. I no longer worry about the logistical issues that we encountered in India (negotiating for everything, food/water safety, travel challenges) yet I am somehow no less stressed. I can easily call an Uber now if I need to travel somewhere instead of bickering with an autorickshaw driver over 30 extra rupees. I can walk up to a suspicious food truck and eat its food without a (huge) concern of getting sick. Despite having access to these conveniences, I miss the routine of work, and I miss seeing my colleagues, mentors, Busra, and Vivek every day. I miss walking down the street among the clamber of people, animals, and all sorts of vehicles. Receiving an email or Whatsapp message from my friends back in India momentarily brings me back to the fact that I actually spent 10 weeks at Aravind. I’ve demonstrated my questionable Tamil abilities to some of friends, but the basic words feel unfamiliar even though I spent my summer listening to the language. I also really, really, really miss the Dominos pizza of India.

As we drove out of Madurai, it was a lovely evening, and the sun was setting. It dawned on me that it might be my last time for a while to chat with someone in Tamil, so I started a conversation with the very amused driver. Looking at the familiar chaos and bustle of the streets was comforting, and I finally came to the realization that I was departing a place that had become my home for an entire summer. Despite some of its flaws and challenges, India is an incredible country. Whenever people ask, “How was India??” I struggle to find an explanation that captures everything that I felt while I was there. It’s unclear as to when I’ll return to India, but I’m confident that it’ll happen someday. As a wise Penn student named Vivek once said, “If you want to come back you’ll find a way.” (Add that one to the quote list)

Travelling back to the U.S. involved getting lost in several airports, sprinting through security, making friends, and realizing that I have enough common sense to make it halfway across the world. (The last part was probably the most surprising.) I think the strangest part of coming home was stepping foot into the JFK airport. It’s funny when a country you’ve called home your entire life feels incredibly foreign. I felt awkward wandering around in a kurta, even though it was what I wore every single day in India. When I got into the car with my parents, I chuckled when my mom had to remind me to wear a seatbelt. I was astounded by the road safety and the fact that everyone actually stays in their respective lanes. It probably won’t surprise you from my previously mentioned food preferences that I immediately demanded that my parents stop at a Wawa in order to acquire some macaroni and cheese. I was once again reminded of the joys of American food while prancing around Wawa (still in a kurta) picking up every item that I could imagine. After the novelty of American living wore off, though, I found myself craving a crispy ghee dosa from Murugan Idli. (In reality, I mainly missed the gleeful expression on Vivek’s face when we would go).

I am confident that this is not the end of my relationship with Aravind. This internship has already led me to a clinical project at CHOP that relates to sickle cell disease, nutrition, and ophthalmology. It even connects with content material that I covered in Aurosiksha lessons! I am so thankful to have had this unique opportunity, and I am already jealous of the next group of interns that get to go to Madurai. I challenge CASI to find people more awesome than Busra and Vivek, though that goal seems pretty unattainable.

This leaves me with one final question: Can I apply again next year??

A very happy Vivek (and Devendra) and Murugan Idli

A very happy Vivek (and Devendra) at Murugan Idli

Reentering the U.S.!

Reentering the U.S.!

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About oliviamhess

I interned at Aravind Eye Hospital-Madurai as a CASI Student Programs Intern in 2015, and I am returning to Aravind in Pondicherry to conduct research using CASI Summer Travel Funds, the Association of Alumnae Rosemary D. Mazzatenta Scholars Award, and the Gelfman International Summer Fund.