In my first three weeks I’ve been lucky enough to experience a small taste of India’s diversity!
Changing host families was hopefully one of the more challenging things I will take on this year, and I am so grateful to the Singh Chouhan family (my friend Riah’s host family) for taking me in while AFS placed with me a permanent family. The support I received from AFS, my school, the NSLI-Y girls, and loved ones at home reduced my stress tons. I have already gained important skills in self-advocacy and exercising the courage to speak up. I know the importance of working with those I trust to find a solution to problems I face, am feeling better prepared for the upcoming year. A big part of the reason I chose to come to India was because of this country’s diversity. Experiencing three different host families was the perfect way to see the range of customs and cultures right off the bat!
My week spent with the Singh Chouhan family involved spending time with host siblings and relaxing. Indore is divided into colonies, that are each filled with a mix colorful house and townhouses called bungalows.Our nightly walks were filled with seeing small kids with huge cricket bats, stray puppies (including a tiny limping puppy my host sister named Tiffany), and buying tons of ₹5 ice cream and biscuits. Indian Oreos were a little disappointing, but I ate more than my share of the mango popsicle I shared with my host sister. One night, when I was feeling a little homesick, my older host sister Padmini took me on her moped to rent a Hindi movie. Riding through the monsoon mist and debating the movie choices with Padmini made me recall how special this country is. I’ve found that doing something I can only do in India, from riding the moped to even a bucket bath or listening to my current favorite Bollywood song is the perfect cure to pull me away from homesickness or overthinking.
This past week I celebrated my sixteenth birthday! The night before, my host sister made beautiful mehendi (Henna) on my hand. The day was filled with the Indian tradition of handing out chocolates to classmates and shaking lots of hands. Birthday cake is also included in the custom of eating with hands here. Having cake smushed in my face is definitely a tradition I want to bring back home. Being able to experience both traditional and modern Indian birthday traditions really made the day special. The actual night of my birthday, we had a dinner with cousins and the daadi (paternal grandmother) performed a blessing on me with a tilak, or red dot, and rice that stuck to my forehead for the next few days. In a more contemporary fashion, the next day the NSLI-Y girls celebrated at a rooftop café with our AFS local coordinator. Although I am usually at camp for my birthday, I felt a little out of place celebrating my birthday so far away from my friends and family at home. Feeding each other cake on a roof overlooking Indore, the view of the city framed by a beautiful post-monsoon rainbow was another jolt of India that brought me back to feeling happy and grateful for this experience.
Right when the first tilak was starting to fade, I was welcomed into my new host family’s home with a huge hug and more red paste. I have a sister and brother who are both about my age, and this past week has been filled with trying new foods with them and getting minimal sleep from staying up chatting. My host parents have been so welcoming and sweet, and the language barrier has definitely lit a fire under me to work on my Hindi. I am attempting to say something new in Hindi to my host mom everyday, and we are able to have Hinglish conversations filled with a lot of smiling and hand gestures.
As part of the Sindhi Hindu festival Chalio, I got to have my first temple experience! Leaving the house fairly late at night, we left our shoes in the car and entered the crowded and beautifully decorated temple. On one side, there were smaller rooms where you ring a bell and enter to pray. Each had a differently decorated shrine and god. On the other side, people were gathered for different small ceremonies that I will hopefully understand better when we return next week. Being able to participate in everything (spinning around with a large plate of offerings on my head, being given an Indian sweet by a “miracle man”) was very memorable. I felt honored to be welcomed into a space that was very different from anything I had ever experienced at home. People were understandably were surprised to see me, and I took lots of photos with them, which was new for me. I am grateful to my host family for helping me feel comfortable, and I felt privileged to be there. While I don’t consider myself very religious, joining in with my family during their pooja (prayer) made me feel like part of the family. With an ice cream stop on the way home as an added plus, my visit to the temple was one of the most educational and beautiful things have done in India, if not ever.
Although I am settling into more of a routine, there is still welcoming and organizing going on. This includes an AFS dinner this week where we all dressed in traditional Indian wear! Except for one day when I managed to forget both my ascot and belt, I have gotten a handle on my daily routine. At the same time, new challenges are presented constantly, whether it is coordinating a SIM card or asking a question in Hindi class. It is a strange and good feeling to simultaneously be pushing myself out of my comfort zone while also feeling more at home! I am really looking forward to settling in with my family and continuing to progress in Hindi.