Saying Goodbye…

My last day with my students will probably go down as one of the most memorable days of my life. Each girl presented me with a gift (mostly hair clips) and handwritten cards. They insisted on braiding my hair and painting my nails while my translator gave me a henna tattoo.

My Indian makeover

Realizing I have smudged my henna

Afterwards I asked if they would take me and George (the other volunteer) to see all of their houses in their village. They were super excited about this (“Yes ma’am! Yes ma’am! Yes ma’am! I’m going to go tell my parents my Julia ma’am is coming!”). They grabbed our hands and started leading us through the narrow stair alleyways connecting the homes in their village.

Village and random village people

At each house, the girl who lived there would introduce us to her parents and other family members. They always insisted that George and I sit down while they brought us cups filled with orange drink. (The orange drink was pretty gross, and we were so full, and I felt like puking each time a girl brought out more, but we had to keep chugging it down because they always insisted we finish it before moving on to the next house).

Meeting someone’s parents, having orange drink

The best part about the tour, to me, was seeing how proud all of the girls were. Their houses were so small, and so bare, and those who didn’t sleep on the floor shared beds with four or five people. And yet, these girls couldn’t have been more proud or happy to have us there.

Sameena, who has always taken a special interest in me, was especially excited for us to visit her home. (All through the tour she kept shouting “My house next! PLEASE my house next!”). When we were finally on our way to her house, she took my hand and said, “My house is small. We don’t have a T.V. Or a fan.” It made my heart melt, the way she said it. I told her that it was okay, that my home is small too.

Her house was the smallest I visited– one room that she shares with her mom and grandma and brother. And yet, she was by far the proudest. She ran off to the shop to get us orange drink.

Sameena’s house and family

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As we went from house to house, random people from the village would follow us and join our tour. I don’t know most of the people in the photo below, for example:

The last house we visited was the largest, though still quite small (The house of Nizbeth, who is in the photo above in the bottom right wearing white. She was my youngest, and smartest, student). There was a big open space in her house and the girls kept asking that I teach them dances. So I taught them the Macarena, which we danced while Justin Bieber and Sheila played somewhere in the background and random villagers stood in the house and doorway watching. (I have a video of this, which I will upload later).

I was really touched beyond words that day by their pride, enthusiasm and love, and so sad to leave them. I told them that I wanted to pack them all in my suitcase and take them home to my village (earlier I had shown them a postcard of downtown St. Louis, and they had gasped and said “Wow! That’s your village?”).

It was truly one of the best hours of my life, and one of those rare moments when I felt certain that I was exactly where I was meant to be.

Here are other pictures from the day:

My beautiful student Rizwana, and her peeing baby

My students

Eating chocolate in the room where I taught

Someone’s house

Some students and some children I’ve never seen before

Village boys

Teaching the robot arm

Outside the house where I taught

Coming Home…

I knew I was back in the USA when I heard the women in front of me at the airport McDonalds talking about how they used to buy Happy Meals for their kids just to get the Beanie Baby toys, and would just throw away the food. Oh, America.

While waiting for my final flight from Chicago to St. Louis, I decided I wanted something totally mindless to read. (I had just finished reading the most intense memoir of my life, written by an Indian man whose fiancé was killed in a car accident the day of their engagement. She visited him as a ghost mere minutes before her heart stopped beating to tell him to take care of himself and to thank him for giving her the love of her life. I read these final pages in line at customs while crying into my passport).

Anyway. I bought People Magazine to get my mind off it, and that it did. Within minutes I felt that I had been properly briefed on summer in America. Long nails are in, according to People, as are iphone apps that sense your mood and Chia seeds. Apple martinis, on the other hand, are out (“Nobody orders them anymore!” experts say), as are mini bath products at hotels. Also, “Anything goes this summer for nail colors! Light and dark shades are great for both day and night,” according to Chanel celebrity manicurist. Helpful.

So it’s nice to be home, though I am currently experiencing severe jet lag as well as symptoms of a condition I have termed post-India stress disorder (PISD). It involves waking up panicked in the middle of the night (pretty consistent theme this summer, eh?), convinced that I am trapped in India with no way home. Hopefully this fades fast.

Thanks everyone for taking interest in my adventures and keeping me company this summer. I’m going to keep writing in this blog, so keep checking back if you like. No more gallivanting through the slums of India for this girl, but soon I will be moving to a city I’ve never seen before with a boy, a kitten, no friends, no job, and lots of debt- so that’s bound to be an adventure, too.