Originally posted April 28th, 2014
Two weeks ago, my wonderful mother showed up in Dharamsala.
She’d gotten on a plane in Newark, got off in London; got on another plane in London, got off in Delhi; spent a few hours sleeping in Delhi and boarded a final flight the next morning which took her up to Kangra, just an hour or so from me. We had a quick wander through Dharamsala which was entirely deserted compared to normal standards since the city is closed on Mondays. Back in Naddi, she pet a lamb, helped me teach some kids and then it was time to pack up and go.
Ok, there was a bit more to it, but that was how it felt: quite the whirlwind last moments. On my final day in the area I introduced my mother to McLeod Ganj where we had the best coffee I’ve ever had in India (discovered only a few days before). Back in Naddi she came with me to my final fun club, where I was thrilled to see that for the first time in weeks all of my regular students had shown up. School holidays must finally be at an end. I had decided to spend this final Tuesday afternoon decorating the classroom which has remained entirely bare since we began renting it – just lots of empty space in between four brightly coloured walls.
After I distributed art supplies so the children could draw pictures for the walls, I began putting up accumulated material from the past three months. The large map of the world I’d used to teach geography was put in the centre of one wall. The handmade paper from our attempts to teach about recycling was displayed near the shelves on a second wall. Representations of the water cycle which two particularly eager children had brought coloured in from the week before were added to the wall by the windows, with a sheet describing the process in Hindi to accompany them. The finger-painted peacock which Emma had made as an example for the children during her art class was added to the collection. And then on the final wall I had each children sign their drawing as they handed them in and we put them all up next to each other as a colourful representative of the “fun” side of the after-school programme. Everything was placed in laminated sheets to protect from the damp of monsoon season.
The rest of the class we spent playing with foam stickers my mum had brought from the US. There were lots of little pieces which you could stick together to make elaborate flowers and the kids split into groups to work on them. Two of the girls latched onto the concept immediately and made some beautiful flowers which they stuck up onto the wall with great pride. Two of the other girls working together seemed to combine various pieces together at random, unsure of the end goal, while all of the boys and very young children enthusiastically starting sticking the finished flowers (made with much help from my mum) onto their shirts and showing off their new outfits.
It made for a rowdy class with all the art supplies and the excitement of a new face, but they really had fun and I was so happy to look around the room at the end and have it finally look like a classroom, and a lively and interactive one at that. I’m not sure if the children understood what I was saying when I told them that this was my last day, but I’m glad I got to tell them regardless and hug goodbye some of the girls I was closest to. Fulfilling this role because it was really needed may not have been something I expected to do during my time in Naddi, but it was an amazing learning experience and I have so many wonderful and amusing memories from my times with these kids. I will miss them.
Walking away from fun club I finally grasped that I was leaving for good. In the weeks leading up to this moment, I’d been increasingly eager to leave Naddi and the organisation I had been working for. I was starting to feel like I had contributed as much as I really could to my projects with my limited experience and their restricted resources, and at the same time, I was beginning to realise that I had learned just about all I was going to from this experience. It was the right time to move on and try something new. There were certain frustrations and unrelenting obstacles to progress working for an organisation like this and while much of it was equally rewarding, the difficulties were beginning to become overwhelming and I was ready for some easy living. Hot showers, nice beds, privacy and easy access to variety when it comes to food. Living in a room where things don’t stay damp all the time (going back to Scotland doesn’t necessary solve this particular problem…), being able to actually unpack my belongings for the first time in months. And what probably made me ready to move on more than anything was the fact that I’d been quite sick for the past week and was just exhausted by the fairly constant health problems that come with living in rural India.
But of course all of the factors that had made me so very ready to move on the week before suddenly seemed incredibly manageable and even possessed a nostalgic charm as I reached the day of my departure. Preparing to go back home was exciting, but also a scary prospect: worries about reverse culture shock and knowing I was coming back to more of the uncertainty and confusion that I’d left behind three months earlier. And going back to a place where I don’t have a group of friends like those I found in Naddi.
The people I met during this internship were the most interesting and inspirational team to work with, and overcoming new challenges with peers who support each other is a very special experience. Being in difficult and confusing circumstances while living in close quarters with a group of strangers makes for close friendships very quickly. Even the people you are less compatible with you end up with a deep understanding of and a respect for. I really did learn a lot from the people I lived with in Naddi. There are people who have sacrificed a lot to work with an organisation like EduCARE which leads to a very passionate, thoughtful and creative approach to work. Everyone who was there had one simple thing in common: the desire for meaning in their daily life. Whether this was through the adventure of travelling outside of a comfort zone or the desire to work in a field which is trying to make the world’s future a little more hopeful, this shared desire makes for a group with interesting past experiences and exciting future ambitions. The one thing I’ve learned above all during my time in India is that meeting likeminded people who will push you and appreciate you, people you can connect with, doesn’t happen by coincidence – you put yourself in the right environments for it to happen. This is something I will carry that with me now that I’ve left, making sure not to settle for less in the future.
After three months spent in India, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface. Granted, for most of my time I was contained to one small area which was far from representative of the country as a whole, but it allowed me to live in a world very different from any I’d experienced up to now and I’m very grateful to have had that opportunity.
So while leaving friends, both from the community and fellow interns, was difficult and surprisingly emotional, it was also very much time for me to transform into a proper tourist and go see some sights before heading home!