I have been home for little over a week now. Sophie and I landed in Los Angeles at 7pm last Monday. Our flight over the Pacific was long and not terribly unpleasant, but also strange. Strange because it felt like going back in time in a way, back to the States, rewinding it all, almost like I never left. Or maybe that’s an inaccurate description of how it felt to return. I’m not quite sure how to verbally define the parameters of time and space that make up my trip to India. India was just so…India. And the States are just so…not India.
It’s been a week since I landed, yes, but I still feel exhausted. Not exhausted solely in terms of jet lag, which hits me notoriously hard, but also because India really tested me. I thought that I was strong before, no. I had never been to India. I thought I was confident in myself before, no. I never had to step out of my comfort zone in the way that living in India forced me to. I thought I was savvy before. No. I was silly and bumbling. India slowly but surely broke me down, physically and mentally, and forced me to shift how I look at the world and how I interact within it. And that was exhausting in the fullest expression of the word.
There were many aspects of my trip that were not fun. At first, it was novel that people, namely men, would follow me down the street on my way to work, as I ate lunch, or while I boarded an airplane, and ask to take pictures of me. I thought it was funny and cute; not so much after the seventh time it happened. In a way though, that’s my fault. I put myself in a situation where I was the outsider, the foreigner, the one who doesn’t belong. In the United States, I rarely, if ever, feel that way. What a privilege that I could experience feeling that way and then, at the end of the day, go home and slip back into my comfortable existence. What a valuable, empathy-building exercise it was. If everyone knew what it feels like to be the odd one out, how isolating and sometimes scary it is, I think we would all smile at each other more. Or readily lend a helping hand more often.
For each negative, however, there was a positive to counteract it. Sophie and I met and befriended a wide range of amazing people who welcomed us with open arms to India. Our coworker–turned–good–friend invited us over to her house for dinner on a regular basis. We would often stay up for hours, lost in conversation about politics, pop culture, current events, celebrity gossip, and the like. Our guide and translator became one of our most trusted allies, someone who cared about us and we knew we could count on if we needed anything. Every person we worked with went out of their way to make sure we were the most comfortable and happy that we could be and I am undyingly thankful for that.
My job was incredibly unique and kind of unbelievable. I’ll just leave it at this: when in my life will I ever again get to live in rural India, interview coffee farmers and their respective families, visit indigenous lands that have been cultivated for generations, and eat fresh–picked jackfruit as I look out, high up on a mountain, over the expansive Eastern Ghats? Umm…pinch me.
I guess right now I feel like I have a lot to soak in and internalize. As I just typed that last paragraph, I still couldn’t believe that that was my reality for the last two and a half months. I have to analyze my experience over the months and years to come and pick out the lessons I want most to take away. This trip, to me, is more than just something cool to talk about at dinner parties. In fact, I hate that part of going away; the coming back and explaining it all. I love to share my experiences and talk about them with people that I care about, but it’s always been difficult for me to express the true value of what I have seen and felt. Maybe that’s it, though: I travel and see the world for…me. It’s my gift to myself and it’s the best way I know, thus far, to make the most of this undoubtedly blessed life I lead. India, for all its good and bad, is apart of me now and I’m so lucky it is.
And I miss Sophie. There’s a lot of good content that my parents have imparted on me, but something I’ll always remember is my dad telling me that the friends you make in your twenties are special. They’re what you think about when you’re old and washed up. They’re the ones you travel with, confide in, grow with. Just like India, my twenties friends will always be apart of me. Maybe it’s because us youth are highly impressionable, maybe it’s because being in your twenties is like living in a constant highlight reel of life and having great people to share that with is the essence of, well, everything. In June, Sophie was a girl that I barely knew who just happened to be hired to work for the same organization in India as me. Now, she knows me. She’s reading this and she hears my voice. She cares about me. She’s seen me cry and be crazy. She knows what makes me laugh and what annoys the crap out of me. She’s listened to me poop because India does that to you and she’s listened to me sing in the shower. And vice–versa. I killed a lot of bugs for her. There’s the whole world out there for me to see, and yeah sure, I can go see it alone. But there’s something really, really important about life that I know for certain: it’s not about what you see or do, it’s who you see and do it with. I got lucky that she was there for it all. Even the poop.
So, this post is an ode to my time in India and to Sophie. Once I figure out anything more to say about it all, I’ll say it. But for now, I’m still soaking in it, like a sponge, and letting it settle, like dust. Then, I’ll move on to the next great adventure, because it’s out there somewhere.