The First Year
I just finished my first year in India, and I don’t know how to start talking about it. If you’ve followed my other posts you’ve seen that I’ve struggled at times with being fully present here, nearly drowning in the Ganges, getting sick, dealing with students who have learning needs I’m not accustomed to, and even the death of a colleague. That makes for the kind of year that requires new vocabulary. I’m certain I haven’t found the right words yet.
It’s a fact that there isn’t a single thing in my life that’s the same as it was a year ago, and if I look back on the past 18 months — which encapsulates the time when I accepted this job — it’s clear that this time has been filled with unparalleled change. In recent weekly brunches with my friend, J, we’ve talked about how life-changing experiences and decisions in The World come at a rate of one every couple of years, maybe every five years, but for us, the past year here has featured 4 or 5 huge, life-altering changes. As he and I speculated about what returning to “home” would be like this summer, we both wondered how to explain to someone not here what it’s like, or, even more daunting, what is different about ourselves.
I can’t answer that query easily. My gut response is that it would be best if you just spent some time with me and noticed where the changes are yourself.
India, perhaps uniquely or perhaps like other developing countries, contains so many contradictions as well as extremes. One of the changes in my life is I met someone I intend on spending my life with. We walk every morning on the beach, which has become a grounding ritual that I treasure to the point that I can’t imagine being without it. Last weekend we walked further than usual in the early morning heat, strolling through a fishing village that is among one of the poorer places one might encounter in the world (although it is not “real poverty” by Indian standards, I’m told). We passed by old ladies with no teeth and who couldn’t walk who begged for money, and kids squatting in the open 20 feet from us for their daily duty. It struck me that bearing witness to those moments had almost no impact on me. Seeing these things are now normal. Later that day I attended a sumptuous farewell brunch at a high-end hotel in the city, and this extravagance too has become something normal.
India tests anyone, I suppose. With so many inconsistencies and paradoxes it can be overwhelming, but also invigorating. For my old job I commuted long distances each day that sucked the life out of me. Here I drive with voracious joy, the high point being the road trip with my best friend from high school a few months ago to the southern tip of the continent. In the U.S. I suppose there were experiences I knew were going to be taxing and I could avoid or gear up for them: driving in DC, talking to the nitwit administrators at my old school, calling Baltimore City government for help with anything. Conversely, either because of my lack of familiarity with the circadian rhythms of this town or its real-life unpredictability, I feel like I always have to be ready for what’s next, and I can never predict what that is. I love that about being here.
Living in India, perhaps more than all other things I’ve learned, has helped me foster a deeper sense of gratitude. I’m grateful to work for and with great educators at a burgeoning school, I’m grateful that the emotional chaos I felt leaving the US has been replaced by a calm and clarity about where I’m going next. I thank the gods that I’ve met my person, and I am elated each time I hear from someone back home who wants to (re)connect. The list continues, all of the items are reasons to feel blessed.
I’m looking forward to seeing familiar faces upon my return home this summer, and I can’t wait for things like gluten free pizza and beer, a good hamburger, and movie theaters where the patrons don’t catcall the actors on the screen, but I’m also looking forward to coming back in the fall. For you see, I love it here. Maybe that’s all I need to say.