Today is my last day in Bangalore. I spent the night packing, and thinking about everything I’ve experienced over the past two months. When I hugged my parents goodbye at the airport in June, I knew this trip would be impactful. I knew it would change my life. But I could never have imagined the extent to which my summer in India has helped me grow as a person. I’ve changed in ways I didn’t expect, and I learned lessons I didn’t even realize I needed. I’ve loved traveling, seeing new places, learning, and eating great food. But, by far, the most meaningful part of this trip has been the people I’ve met. I have a fate family now – a group of people who were placed into my life at exactly the right moment. And that’s simply amazing to think about.
I was food illiterate when I arrived in India. Thank goodness, because that’s why I met one of the coolest people ever – Anand. At the very moment I was staring blankly at a long menu of foreign words, he swooped in to save my dinner. He ordered chapatti for me, and thus began my love affair with Indian flat bread. He also took the time to sit, eat with me, and just talk. Anand was the first Indian friend I made, and he helped me feel at home half way around the world from my family. His energy, exuberance, and compassion shine bright in a dark place. Ben and Sarah are fellow American students who took the leap to study in India. I met them both in India, and the rest is history. Sarah is my adventure buddy – we’ve explored together, struggled together, and laughed together. Her determination, strength, and passion for life are a consistent source of inspiration. Ben is my fellow ginger. His propensity for deep questions and observations about the world constantly challenges me to broaden my perspectives. We’ve had some great times together, most of which include some type of food. Hanging out on the Muslim holiday of Eid. We all spent the day having brunch, chatting, and eating ice cream together. We walked into the ice cream shop, the building blissfully air conditioned and situated on the intersection of two busy streets. On each table sat a glass filled with water – red roses floating elegantly inside, two inches of green stem still protruding crookedly from each flower head. I ordered chocolate ice cream. Anand ordered chewy chocolate ice cream. They tasted exactly the same. Sarah ordered chocolate ice cream with hot fudge and a banana. She never got her banana.
Learning how to play cricket.
Buying coconuts from a street vendor. The vendor used a machete to cut a precise hole in the coconuts. We stood on the sidewalk with other coconut customers, cradling the coconuts in out palms. We used bright orange straws to suck out the coconut milk. When I finished, I handed the coconut back to the vendor, and he used the machete to cut the coconut in half. Piece by piece, I peeled the slick white meat away from the hard shell. Finally, I tossed the empty husk onto the ever-growing pile of discarded coconuts that teetered next to the vendor’s cart.
Shopping for tiny metal tea cups.
Feasting at the Black Pearl on Fourth of July. A grill was placed in the center of the table, and shish kabobs roasted above the glowing coals. The waiters served us too many dishes to count. One waiter wielding a pineapple skewered on a sword came to our table and sliced the yellow fruit onto our plates. The manager took forever to bring the bill, so Sarah and I almost missed our curfew. We ran through the dark campus, our sandals slapping on the black pavement.
Taking polaroids of all our favorite people and places.
Sitting cross legged on the floor of the Parivarthana paper recycling center, a grey cloth spread out beneath me. I glued picture frames together, dipping my fingers into a bowl of glue and spreading the white paste along the handmade paper. Sarah sat next to me, dried glue tangling in her hair and mosquitoes buzzing around her head.
Learning how to Bollywood dance.
Eating funky monkey banana chocolate chip waffles with two postgraduate students who had only ever had McDonalds “American” food. They poked gingerly at the banana slices drizzled with chocolate syrup before digging into the crisp brown waffles. We talked about school, future careers, crushes, and Harry Potter.
Sharing chocolate chip cookies in class.
White water rafting on the Kaveri River. We were supposed to see elephants that day. Instead we got white water rafting. We carried our blue raft through mud, our bare toes sinking into the soft brown pits. We struggled to row the raft, and we hit every single rock and tree branch in our path. Our guide yelled at us in Hindi, which surprisingly did not improve our performance. Naturally, it started to rain halfway through. When we reached a point in the river where it was safe to swim, Sarah and I pulled off our broken helmets and jumped into the river. Resting my hands on my life jacket, I tilted backwards to gaze up at the cloudy sky. Sarah and I bobbed along with the current, finally smiling as we floated down the holiest river in southern India together.
Having tea parties in my hostel room.
Prying open mangoes with a spoon, the fragrant juice dripping onto the grey stone tabletop. I tugged the huge pale seed out, handed one half of the fruit to Sarah, inverted the smooth green curve of skin, and bit into the soft orange flesh.
Climbing the impossibly steep and narrow green staircase leading to the best Tibetan restaurant in Bangalore. Dancing on the Christ University bus on the endless return trip from Coorg. We nodded and shimmied to the beat of Indian radio music as the bus jolted over the speedbumps in the middle of the highway. Then we sat, shared bags of Indian flavored Lays potato chips, and shared stories about our lives and loved ones in America.
Inventing a new meaning for the flying eagle emoji.
Ordering spicy veg noodles from a street vendor, and standing on the sidewalk to watch the food being prepared. The cook tossed onions and oil into a black cast iron wok, the metal ridges worn. Next, he added handfuls of limp white noodles into the mix. Using a rag to hold onto the handle of the wok, he continually tossed the food into the air. The noodles sizzled each time they made contact with the iron, releasing a cloud of steam into the dark night. The stone sidewalk slab beneath Sarah tilted as she leaned forward to watch him scoop chili powder and salt onto the noodles. Finally, he squeezed a brown sauce and a bright green liquid from a plastic bottle into the wok, topping the noodles off with a green garnish. His son held open a silver bag, and he ladled the noodles inside. Tying the bag off with a green rubber band, he handed me the hot bag – the reflective surface glinting in the beams of passing headlights.
Playing a fierce game of foosball in a hipster shop. Ben and I won.
Attending a Ramzan celebration on a rooftop overlooking the city. Ben and Anand sat on the left side of the room, Sarah and I across the aisle on the right. We watched the evening worship, men bowing their heads in unison to pray as the sun set in the background. We listened to a Muslim doctor explain the meaning of Ramzan, the influence of God in our world, and our duty to lead lives of purpose. The service included the recitation of a passage from the Quran, the soft voice of the singer lilting through the silent room and reverberating into the pink sky. A cool breeze fluttered across the rooftop, rippling the purple curtains and causing the colored glass lanterns to sway gently. Before leaving to study abroad, I was warned about homesickness. However, I can honestly say that I haven’t experienced any. Yes, I miss my family. Everyday I see something, or eat something, or hear something that I wish I could share with them. I want my mom smell the scent of blooming magnolias in the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens. I want my brother to taste chicken lollipops and honey chili potatoes. I want my dad to see the 80 kg gold throne in Mysore Palace. But even though they’re not here, I feel at home. I have been enveloped into a world of friendship that consistently blows my mind. And that’s the problem. When I left the United States, I knew I would come back. I knew I would see all my family and friends again. But I have no guarantee that I will see all the friends I’ve made in India ever again. Realistically, I probably won’t. And even when I return to India, it won’t be the same. I won’t drink ginger tea at the Couple’s Café surrounded by friends teasing each other in Hindi; I won’t get chapatti and chole from my favorite cook at the Indian Coffeehouse; I won’t microwave s’mores in my Jonas Hall hostel. I would love to stay here, in this moment, forever. But I can’t. It’s time for this adventure to come to an end. Nothing gold can stay and all. My family misses me, and I miss them. I’m so excited to return home, cook my favorite Indian meals for my family, teach my friends some Hindi, and hug my puppies. But it’s hard to leave people behind – one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
It breaks my heart to be here. And it breaks my heart to leave.