Sitting in the Chennai airport, I’ve been trying to gather my many thoughts about the past 10 weeks. Although I will try to write something more overarching about my experience on my next post, I realized many of the things that touched me the most are not grand or picturesque, but instead small things we have seen or people we have met. As cheesy as it may be, I want to share a list of these little moments:
At the eye camp
I really enjoyed spending the day with the MLOPs. They laughed at dilating my apparently large pupils with a flashlight and watching them move back and forth, giggled as I struggled to eat with my hands, and shared pictures of their houses and families over Facebook on the bus ride back. My most poignant memory of the camp was when Roshni and I happened to see a woman put on her spectacles (their term for glasses) for the first time. She was over the moon and kept laughing happily with her friend.
The long car rides
For many of our Sunday trips, we spent lots of time in a car traveling from place to place. Even though these rides were supposedly the means to the destination, I found myself looking forward to the time spent in the car, looking out the window, talking occasionally but mostly sitting in our own thoughts.
We were lucky enough to get to travel to some incredible places in South India. Hills and hills of tea plantations, hikes around Madurai, watching the clouds come closer through the mountains of Munnar, and so many other moments made me want to sit for hours just to take it all in.
From the excessive dubstep at a dance floor in Pondicherry, to the prevalence of Facebook, to the love of selfies, it was fun coming here and seeing how the prevalence of these cultural items is similar to, but slightly different from, what I knew in the US.
Paints and portraits
I’m afraid that Philly will seem like a sea of grey and beige after spending so much time here. Every rickshaw has different décor, the trucks are painted with care, the boats are beautiful, and many signs are painted in yellow blue and red. The streets are lined with posters of people, murals, and signs.
Although it sometimes betrayed me with stomach cramps, I will miss eating lots of mangoes and kiwis every week, the paperboat and dosas, the butter masala, the interesting but very delicious pizza served at inspiration, the lime sodas, the lassis, the chocolates, and above all, chai.
Three times a week, we all went to a dance class a few blocks away from our hostel. At the beginning of each class, we loved watching the adorable little kids class bop along to songs like Chihuahua. The other people in the class were very fun and welcoming, and the environment was (thankfully), not judgmental at all. I will never forget master Gopi, with his intense “more attitude” demonstrations, his instructions to go “maximum range,” his sweet salsa moves to Ed Sheeran, and many more little quirks.
Roshni, Oliver, and Liz
There are so many reasons I will remember these wonderful people, and so many reasons I am thankful to have spent this time with them. But this is a post about the little things… so I will miss the intense fits of giggles over nothing when we got too tired and had spent too much time together. I will miss the dance, dominoes, and Harry Potter nights. I will miss playing cards and getting too intense over Egyption rat screw. I will miss the world-cup watch parties, salsa, vine references, late night conversations, and getting to know three wonderful people so well.
The part of leaving that tore me up the most was saying goodbye to the people at Aravind with whom we have spent so much time. If I could change one thing about my time here, it would just be to have gotten closer to them sooner. These are a few of my favorite things:
Coming over to Devendra’s house for chai and food, and playing Carrom terribly
Going on spontaneous coffee breaks with Deepa in the middle of meetings
Talking with Siva about current issues in America and in India
Going on a hike the first week and being a part of the Wanderers group chat
Getting advice from Mutu, who ran the lunches at Inspiration house
Talking to all the characters who stayed at Inspiration about their lives back home
Witnessing the kindness and humility of the upper management at Aravind
Eating lots of little treats from the Aurosiksha crew
Seeing the Aurosiksha department make each other gifts and scavenger hunts
When Pradeep brought chocolates over “just to spread the love”
And so much more…
The sound of Tamil and people’s reactions when I tried (and failed) at speaking it
The head bobble that can mean so many different things
Being thoroughly confused by Kabbadi
The commentary at a martial arts presentation in Munnar
Teaching gymnastics to a bunch of kids while waiting for a bus
Getting to know our driver Keshevan, and all his playlists
Seeing wild elephants from the side of the road
Being expected to stand up for myself
The stillness of the Ashram at Pondicherry
Getting time to slow down and think
Of course, I won’t forget seeing the Taj Mahal or any of the other spectacular things we saw here. But the little things made my experience much more special.