Dear Mom and Dad, From India

Dear Mom and Dad,

I haven’t talked to either of you since leaving DC, so I thought this would be the prefect opportunity to let you know how I’m doing.

We started our journey in India in New Delhi, the capital. There, we met our teacher and guide , Goutam ji, or as we call him, “Father India” and “Daddy Cool,” per his request (never as cool as you though, Dad). He will be with us until we end our journey in India, and to be frank, we wouldn’t be having nearly as safe and fun an experience without him and his expansive knowledge.

New Delhi was quite an adjustment. There, the sun is hotter than hot, rickshaws and cars pass too close for comfort, and the poverty is not at all hidden away as it tends to be in the US. We passed half built houses, because we were informed that they were not finished intentionally so the owners could avoid paying taxes. We were told not to give to any money to the dozens of begging street children because many were working for a larger network of pimps. We were stared at constantly, and Goutam ji chased away people trying to sneakily take pictures of us more than once. We were separated on the trains by sex, the girls occupying a ‘female only’ car, put in place to limit sexual harassment on trains.

New Delhi was harsh, but there were things that were too beautiful to be adequately put into words. Biting into a fresh mango, the juice running down your arms as you can’t contain joyful laughter. Female security guards’ surprised exclamations at our traditional Indian dress when we visited the Red Fort. Listening in awe to Dr. Anjali Capila sing the songs of the Kumouni women from the mountains. The accomplishment of figuring out to use an Eastern Toilet successfully on the first try. And finally, simply being surrounded by 14 other amazing students day in and day out, and the comfort in knowing that they are seeing and feeling the same things you are.

Today is concluding day four of being in the Himalayas. Here, the air is clear and fresh, a relief after our time in New Delhi. We must be on constant alert for food-stealing monkeys (they are the equivalent of squirrels, Mom). From our house, we can see the Himalayan mountain range, and it is probably the single most beautiful view I’ve ever seen. My roommate is Charley, and each day, we are learning together the dos and don’ts of interacting with our host family.

Do: compliment the food

Don’t: say ‘thank you’

Do: hand wash your clothes

Don’t: hang them where they can be pelted by rain within minutes (*cough* monsoon season)

Do: eat with your right hand

Don’t: eat with your left hand

Today, our host sister, Himani (14 years old), played monopoly with us (I won), and showed us her journal that contained pictures of her extended family. Our host brother, Punkaj (15 years old), showed off his singing and dancing skills, and then in true brotherly fashion, proceeded to ‘shoot’ us with imaginary guns. Our host mother asked us to help cut onions for dinner; the corners of her eyes are permanently crinkled in laughter. Although we do not speak with him often, our host father waves at us from his motorcycle as we partake on our daily walk to the center. They are all so beautiful and full of light, and despite living off of so little, content and determined to make a better future for themselves.

Every morning, we walk about 20 minutes on curvy mountain roads where we meet the rest of our group for daily activities. Today, we toured the building where Aarohi, the nonprofit that sponsors us, housing its Livelihood Unit. Using the extracted oil from apricot seeds, they generated a profit by selling oils, soaps, and scrubs. Goutam ji looked right at me when he mentioned that the oil helps with joint pain. Later, we met with an Aarohi school group. They taught us how to dance to a traditional Kumouni song, and in return, we introduced them to the Cha Cha Slide . As much as I enjoy my time with my host family, I truly cherish the time we spend surrounded by each other.

Mom, Dad, I’m learning a lot. It’s still settling in that I’m in India, but I know that this is where I’m meant to be right now. It might not necessarily feel comfortable, but it feels right. Don’t worry, I’m being fed amazing Indian food and drinking plenty of water. Our leaders, Sarah and Lauren, are all we could ask for, and they’re looking out for us every step of the way. I hope you’re both doing well. Give Conor, Sam, and Maya all my love. Enjoy the trip with Grandma and Papa.

I love you,