It’s the people and the place

I’ve decided the two things that are really special about SPS are the people and the place. Although sometimes I feel a bit physically isolated out here on the Kendra (we don’t actually have an address as we’re not part of any town and our road doesn’t have a name and doesn’t show up on any maps), the people here and beauty of the place make living in the middle of nowhere not only tolerable, but enjoyable!

The walk from our room to the mess


 As Bevan mentioned in her last blog post, last weekend we took the two-hour journey to Indore, which is the closest city to where we’re staying. Although the day—filled with eating all kinds of food and exploring the mall and ‘hyper-market,’ which literally sells everything imaginable—was really fun, it also make me appreciate our home on the Kendra even more. As we walked through the streets of Indore everywhere I looked was crowded with people, smells (not awesome ones, think open sewage) filled the air, and everything was just kind of dirty. Thus, upon arriving home, I realized (for the millionth time) what a picturesque oasis our campus is.

Shopping in a hypermarket in Indore


 Flowers and all kinds of green plants are everywhere and the buildings are all beautiful shapes made entirely of brick, complete with dome roofs artistically tiled with mosaic scraps. The gardens grow so many different kinds of fruits and vegetables, I can’t even keep track. My favorite tree so far is the jackfruit, which has enormous, other-worldly shaped fruits (look it up if you haven’t seen one, it’s literally the weirdest looking, largest fruit ever). The best part is whatever is ripe makes it into our meals. Beyond the fruits and veggies, there’s even a dairy barn on campus that we get milk and homemade yogurt from! We constantly see and hear different birds, from flocks of bright green parrots to egrets wading in the pond (in addition to cows, goats, stray dogs, lizards, snakes and around a million bugs of course…). As I walk from my room to the mess I’m not surprised to see a lone bullock cart passing by, but most of the time I just saunter through the middle of the recently paved road, as there are rarely any cars, motorcycles or people in sight. I honestly am not sure when I’ll experience this type of relaxing, slow-paced environment again, so I’m trying my best to savor it while I can!

One of the short term dorm buildings for trainees


 Beyond the physical place, it is the people that truly make SPS special. As many of the employees live together here on the Kendra, everyone spends way more time together than an average group of co-workers. Last week one of the core employees had his final day before leaving to move onto his next job as a professor. After enjoying a special sendoff dinner (complete with the best homemade mango lassi I’ve literally ever had) everyone sat around in the mess to share funny memories and give sincere parting words. Although I only understood approximately 5% of what was said because everyone was speaking Hindi, by simply being in the room listening to people’s voices I could feel the genuineness of what was being said, and it really just made me feel happy. As people joked around and laughed and smiled together, it really hit me how wonderful all these people I’ve been living and working with are, and how much everyone cares for one another.

Shoes outside the mess hall on a busy day


 The very next day was my 20th birthday. I assumed that this birthday would pass uneventfully. At one point Bevan even asked if there was anything she could do to ‘make my birthday in rural MP special’; and I shrugged her off with an, “It’s fine; don’t worry about it..” We had brought back ice cream from our trip to Indore so I knew that we’d be able to eat it with everyone, but I assumed that would be the extent of my celebration. However, as dinner ended and we sat around in the mess all of a sudden, to my surprise Satish Bhayia (one of the three, wonderful cooks who work tirelessly making us amazing food 3x a day) came out of the kitchen carrying a birthday cake he had made for me from scratch! Everyone sang happy birthday as I made the first big cut in my cake. The cake was very different from what I’ve come to think of as ‘cake’ but was equally, if not more delicious (and probably 100x as sweet). We ate it with the ice cream from Indore until we were all on sugar highs and couldn’t bear to move. After lying in our digestive food comas for some time, someone suggested that we have a dance party. Although people were tentative at first, trying to convince one another to be the one to start dancing, eventually everyone got into it and we had a super high-energy, sweaty, calorie-busting Bollywood dance party. Suffice to say this will probably be one of my most unique birthday memories and I am so appreciative to all the people here at SPS who made it so amazing!

Me and my birthday cake


Again if you want to see more pictures, check out this link: https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0g5nhQSTiLTpt

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About Geneva Gondak

I am a rising junior in the College of Arts & Sciences majoring in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Policy & Application. This summer I will be interning at Samaj Pragati Sahayog in Bagli, Madhya Pradesh.