Thursday, July 3, 2008
I'll Be Back
Here we are, 12 hours from departing on a long journey--for me a 26-hour journey, to be exact-- back to the beds and families and homes and friends we have missed dearly over the past three weeks. To be perfectly honest, I never ever thought I would be experiencing the emotions that are rushing through me right now. A week ago, not having seen my family for over three months, I was itching to go home. I thought that, despite the incredible experiences I've had here, I'd be more than ready to go home; I sit here, however, on the verge of tears, already planning my next trip back. I had always wanted to do service-work in a Spanish speaking country after or during college, but I have abandoned that desire since coming here. I truly find it hard to believe that there are people more hospitable, inspiring, hopeful and compassionate than those I have met here. Today is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.
This morning, to be rather frank, I was dreading the day before me. After staying up until 4 am to ensure our ability to pass the long flights by sleeping through their entirety, Lily and I woke up groggy and grumpy, unprepared to give the scheduled presentation at the high school of our Indian roommates. On the bus ride over, Mr. Mundra prepared us for the worst. He said that in past years the 8th graders and potential future Niswarth participants to whom they presented were reserved and that we should expect to hear crickets. Great, I thought, Just great. To make matters worse, we were unable to utilize the greatest piece of our presentation, a photo slideshow showcasing the past three weeks, due to technical difficulties. So, a little unsure but certain on selling the school on the impact that Niswarth has had on us, the fourteen of us ambled to the front of a packed hall and began to share our experiences. They were indeed quiet at first, but the more we spoke, the larger that flame of curiosity in their eyes grew and by the time we asked if there were any questions, hands darted up into the air. One of the questions asked was, "What is your favorite part of our culture?" I had magnitudes to speak about in regards to his question, so I made my way to the rickety microphone and said, "Well.. the music is incredible. I'm a singer so I really appreciate Hindi music..." I continued with a few other favorite aspects of Indian culture--food, hospitality, fashion. Later, when all questions had ceased, the principal asked, "Any last questions?" The students looked around at each other and finally, at the back of the room, a tall girl with long, braided pig tails stood up and made her way to the microphone. As she passed me, she asked, "Your name is Tessa, right?" I nodded and she proceeded fearlessly to the front of the room.
"I want to know if Tessa would mind singing a song for us."
My heart started pounding and I immediately thought, who in the Niswarth group told her to ask me this? So flustered it felt as if all the heat in India was rushing to my face, I moved to the mic and asked through an awkard chuckle, "How did you know? Who told you I--" Before I could finish my question, the whole room of students shouted back at me, "YOU TOLD US!!" I was so tired, I didn't even realize that I had mentioned just thirty minutes before that I was a singer and at that moment I was beginning to regret my habit of babbling when I'm exhausted.
"I...uhh.. you put me on the spot." I looked at my roommates and their faces screamed, C'mon, Tessa, just do it, and the kids rattled in their seats, swinging their feet beneath them, waiting anxiously for me to begin. "Do you guys want to hear the American National Anthem?" A roar of approval filled the room and some brought themselves to their feet. I never get stage fright, but something about this audience--their eagerness and purity and my desperate longing to please them--made my stomach so uneasy it felt as if I hadn't eaten in months. "Okay, well I haven't sung in weeks so please forgive me if I butcher it," I said apologetically and took a deep breath.
"O say can you see.." It started off rocky, my voice struggling to grab hold of the slippery notes, but after a couple seconds, I got my bearings and realized how lucky I was to share just a little bit of my culture with these incredible students. After I finished my song, they stood, clapped and proceeded to share with us their school song. It was a delightful song and a wonderful exchange of tiny pieces of our worlds.
Finally, the presentation had ended and the kids were given five minutes to confront the Niswarth participants with any questions or comments. Every single one of them made their way in a swarm, each choosing one of us to introduce themselves to, and I suddenly found myself surrounded by several smiling students. We complemented each other on our songs and they continued to ask questions. From, "What didn't you like about India?" to "Do you shop as much in America as you did here?" the students were incredibly eager to learn about me and one of them even asked me if she could have my autograph. In a damp notebook she pulled from a pink bag, I wrote:
Thanks for having us. I will be back soon.
I have every intention of keeping my promise. I am counting the days until I return to India and if I'm grateful for anything from this trip--and it's impossible to choose just one thing--I am grateful for the ability to experience a culture I would have never fathomed visiting otherwise and falling head over heels in love with it. Other than the cockroaches and the rare spells of dreadful heat, I will miss everything about this place and will constantly find myself reliving my experiences through my daydreams until I can get myself back here. My first visit back will probably be for the marriage festivities of Ms. Taranjeet, a teacher from the Udayachal school who has been Alana and Mr. Mundra's Indian counterpart on the trip, which are projected to be in a few years. After that, I hope to come back after college to work with one of the NGO's we visited.
I find it impossible to summarize my experience or feelings in words, so I won't try to. I will say that this has truly been the most amazing experience of my entire life and now, more than ever, I believe in my ability to be a change-maker. I have an overwhelming sense of faith and hope now that I could not have acquired anywhere else but here, with these people, with this program, with these experiences. The past three weeks have been the greatest, most challenging, most rewarding, most insightful, sweatiest, happiest, most wonderful weeks of my life, and to everyone who has been involved--thank you. I am a different person because of you, a person I like a lot better than the person who stepped on a plane almost a month ago, and for that I am forever thankful.
See you soon, India,