Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ta Ta Guwahati

My last week in Guwahati was an incredible whirlwind. I was very busy finishing up projects at the centre and enjoying taking the girls to school the last few days. I continued stressing to them, "I am going home but you are going to school." Lots of last lunches and last dinners at friend’s houses. Lots of tears, hugs, goodbyes, and wondering when I will be back. Because we all know, I will be back. I have never eaten so much (rice) in my whole entire life. For every meal, I was at a friend’s house, saying my goodbyes and learning more and more about generosity. And in India, guests are Gods so they pile on the hospitality and food. I am so thankful for everyone who welcomed me into their homes and into their lives throughout my time in India. They gave me such a sense of community. Without that, it wouldn't have been the same. 
The centre gave me a very nice send off. It was so special to make lifelong friends in a place filled with people who simply care to improve children’s lives. Then, on my very last day, I went to feed the children in Lakhtokia. Those goodbyes and riding away from those children as they chased after me was almost more than I could bear. Rosie, my flat mate, then whisked me away and took me to a dance center that just opened for a Bollywood dance class. For an hour and a half, we danced the departure blues away. It was a hoot and if I still lived in Guwahati I would be dancing Bollywood everyday.

And now, I find myself back in America. In just one plane ride, I land in a culture that used to feel so normal, so right. And now, I am shocked at excess. I am shocked at how my heart legitimately hurts as I think about what Khausitan and Komala are doing at this very moment. Did Kristin have an easy time getting the girls to school today? Is Puja staying out of trouble? Is Abita staying safe from the monsoon? Is Pinky enjoying her new job? Is the centre staying busy with the upcoming mission? Is the “egg guy” selling all of his eggs? Is Rosie enjoying her new Bollywood dance class? Did Mashu have a good day at school? Did Omit make it through another grueling day? Did Hina get past her attitude and walk to school this morning?
If I listed what goes through my mind before I go to sleep, when I wake up, when I am making lunch, then this post would be the longest post ever. I am so thankful for this experience and so thankful for what I have learned. But I am not going to sugar coat everything and say I am having an easy transition. This is hard.  For what it"s worth, I have learned that I love the kids in the slum. I love Renuka, the cleft lip patient. I love Khausitan and Komala; they were a pain every now and then, but their determination despite their surroundings, inspire me everyday. I am filled with love and it is up to me to be able to bring that love and compassion here. I think after a couple of weeks the adjustment will be better. Now, I am grieving. But, I will get back in the groove of things. Even so, I know I will continue thinking about Guwahati forever. Remembering the sensory overload and all of my friends. Lakhtokia and all of my friends there will never leave my mind. I think about them every second of the day.

“Always leave a place better than you found it.” I hope I gave Guwahati what Guwahati gave me. I hope I gave GC4 what GC4 gave me. I hope I gave Lakhtokia what Lakhtokia gave me. I learned something from every person I met, from every experience I had, and from every walk I took.
As my flat mate Rosie said, “India will always be here.” And it better be, because I am coming back for it: I am coming back for Lakhtokia and Pratyasha, I am coming back for Operation Smile, and I am coming back for Guwahati. 

Always sending smiles from wherever I am,

Photos of my last few days in no particular order:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

11 Things India (Specifically Guwahati) Needs:

1. Less Corruption

It all started at the beginning of my adventure (back in September, 2012) when Dad and I went to the police station to get registered. All foreigners who are staying in Guwahati for more than three weeks must register with the local police station. As Dad and I walked out of the musty room filled wall to wall with moldy old files, the "sign in" desk asked us for a tip. We were so confused. A tip? What kind of tip? A tip for doing what? Sitting there, telling people to sign in, and not even give them a writing pen? They told us—and I'm not lying—that they wanted a tip for "tea and snacks." I think you get the picture. And that wasn't the only time I had to pay a bribe.

Let me say that in some government schools, the corruption is hard to imagine. Teachers take the uniforms, books and lunches that are supposed to be free for the kids, and make the kids buy them. If the kids do not buy them, the teachers then sell all of this on the street. Throughout the government, and court systems, when you offer to pay bribes your kids get into any school they want, and your life is just a lot easier. The stories about the government here are unreal, and it's all about the money. 

2. Yogurt and Cheese

Enough said. 

3. The "Volunteering" Spirit

Most of the time, people from India ask me why I help Lakhtokia. They do not understand why we feed the slum on Sunday or what makes us have the passion and energy to walk the kids to school twice a day. In all honesty, it is not culturally normal for this to happen here and the Indians have a hard time understanding why we do this. One thing Pratyasha does well is change the way people perceive the people from Lakhtokia. And the foundation also helps inspire Guwahati residents to begin volunteering for NGOs, and noticing what is wrong in their society. 

4. Trash Cans

Today I walked from Don Boscoe afternoon school to Lakhtokia slum to my home (a 45-minute walk) with a juice box in my hand. I never saw one trash can (unless you count a massive pile of trash on the side of the road as a trash can). 

5. Meters in Rickshaws

These would calculate how much I owe for the drive and it would save me and the rickshaw driver a lot of trouble. 

6. Brown Rice Instead of White Rice

White rice is not nutritious (brown rice is more nutritious) but it is such a staple in the diet here. I am going to be completely honest, I cannot eat any more rice. My gosh, it is unreal how much rice they eat here. 

7. Fewer People Doing More Things

Whenever you go somewhere, you have to deal with half a dozen people rather than just one. I understand that is how the economy works: there are so many people in this country and they all have to somehow have a job. But sometimes it is stressful walking into a store, needing help, and having six to ten people to choose from. 

8. New Traffic Police

The traffic police here sit on the police stand and maybe wave their arms if they are feeling up for it. If they could really stand up and direct some cars, it might help Guwahati traffic a tad. 

9. Smell Removal Machines on All City Sidewalks

As I mentioned in an earlier blog about the smelly smells in Guwahati, I think such an invention might be a good investment. The place oftentimes just stinks. My Dad even brought his own after shave lotion that he applied liberally to his face every day to ward of the smells. I think that's a little much but hey, it worked for him. 

10. Gutters, Drainage System

When it rains, it floods. 

11. Hannah Dobie

I mean, Guwahati needs me, right? Then, I would not have to leave, right? 

Sending smiles from India,