I initially thought the week-long Diwali holiday (Diwali ki Chutti) would provide a lot of free time, but we ended up with a tight (and fun!) schedule.
The first few days of break, I took an overnight trip to Mandu with my host family. I had food poisoning the first day we were there, and being sick still seems extra difficult while on exchange. My host sister was sick from the same thing, sitaphal ice cream. I realized there is no better way to bond with someone you’ve just met than by taking turns throwing up or being fed mountains of dal chaval (simple lentils and rice).
Thanks to the combination of a full day of sleep and more dal chaval, I felt much better the next morning. We woke up early to visit Mandu’s ancient mahals, skipping both the rush and hot afternoon sun. The structures were especially beautiful in the rising sun, and it was a lot of fun to revisit the same places we went to as a school group in our ninth week here. My family elaborated on the history of each monument, and recreating the photos taken on my first trip was a good icebreaker. Sickness included, I appreciated the bonding time Mandu offered, especially before we celebrated Diwali.
Preparation for Diwali, one of India’s biggest festivals, kicked into highest gear as soon as we reached home. In a huge field, vendors set up stands selling crackers, or fireworks. Although each vendor sold pretty much the same exact crackers, I had fun carefully reviewing the options and learning from my host dad’s expert bargaining skills. The next thing on our list was what I think of as Christmas lights. Huge extension cords were set up to test each strand of lights before we bought them, and my host sister and I tried out different shades and sizes. Part of Diwali is wearing new clothes, and I had a great time examining lehengas (traditional dress that consists of a top, long skirt and dupatta) with my host mom and sister. My host sister and I wore the same style dress, both in classic Diwali colors- mine in orange, hers in pink.
After shopping was done, we started decorating the house. My host sister and I worked to make a rangoli- sand art in our driveway. Learning how to sprinkle the colored sand was a lot more difficult than it looked, especially since my drawing skills aren’t the strongest to begin with. My host mom had the great idea for me to write in Hindi, and I practiced some Devanagari script with the thin lines of sand. (This says Happy Diwali, with our names).
On the day of the festival, my host sister and my host dad decorated our yard with the strings of lights. My host mom and I placed diyas, small tea lights in clay holders, all over the house. At night, after dressing in our lehengas, we lit the candles and switched on the lights. We visited houses of family friends on campus and were given mountains of sweets. I ended up trying four different renditions of the gulab jamun (the best comparison I can think of is a syrupy donut hole) and two different kheer recipes, rice pudding. I still think my host mom’s was the best! We burned crackers with our family friends, and although I kept in mind the environmental repercussions, I had a lot of fun.The long skirt of my lehenga was an added challenge to the ordeal of running back from each cracker, and my host sister and I eventually tied our dupattas into sashes.
At the end of break, the NSLI-Y girls and two short term South African exchange students visited our school President Sir’s family house. The day after Diwali, we drove two hours Northeast to Shajapur. We woke up early for a walk and ended up climbing stairs to the top of a mountain. Besides the beautiful view of the brush and river below, there was a small, bright orange temple.
After a city tour, which included visiting a mosque and temple (we now know to bring scarves everywhere we go for surprise head covering), we headed to lunch at the “real” village. Here, we met our school family’s great great grandfather- a man about 105 years old. With the help of two much younger cousins, we were able to talk with him in Hindi. Coming up with discussion topics was sometimes a challenge, and I resorted to a lot of questions about favorites. If you’re curious, his favorite color is white, and he loves Bahubali 2- a recent popular Bollywood film. For the past thirty years, he has only consumed milk, so my favorite question was asking the last thing he ate before he stopped eating real food. Even if we needed “translators” for him to understand our accents, we all felt very accomplished and proud of our Hindi.
After almost ten days off, learning my host family’s school day routine was exciting. My academic classes have continuous testing right now, so I’ve taken up a pottery class. Not my strong suit (yet), but I have a lot of fun, and our sir helps a ton. I thought we would have to work hard to stay busy after Diwali, but things have been relatively eventful. We decorated our classroom in preparation for Halloween and continued the celebration for Riah’s 18th birthday with apple carving. Our school got an impressive new rock wall to host a country wide climbing competition. For the opening ceremony, we got the hear from the youngest girl to climb Mount Everest (in tenth grade!), and I really enjoyed watching the climbing all week.
Sunday we accompanied Steph’s host family to Nagar Kirtan, a procession before Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s (first guru of Sikhism) birthday. Before we began walking, we helped serve rice to passersby. Our host families are all very helpful and our first Hindi phrase, can I help you or kya main aapki medad kar sakti hoon, is often ignored out of love. We are all grateful for the “guest is god,” but it felt good to be contributing. Although I got my toe stepped on right away and was delegated to car duty, I still felt like part of the crowd in my white kurta (the color of peace) and orange dupatta. I had fun cheering on the other four girls as they swept the street, which is cleaned before the Sikh holy book, called the Guru Granth Sahib, is paraded.
In addition to our much awaited Bangalore trip, the beginning of our fourth month here brings Halloween and hopefully more outings around Madhya Pradesh with the South African students. Phir milenge! (See you later!)