Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Home away from home

Beginning of June 2015: After 28+ exhausting hours of travelling I finally made it half way across the world! Standing in the scorching heat, I spotted my suited driver holding a ‘Ms. Sheth’ placard. Off I went to my ritzy hotel. When I arrived, the staff welcomed me with overzealous ‘Namaste’s’ and ‘How are you?’s’. Travel weary, I was in no mood to talk. As soon as I entered the suite, I drew a bubble bath and dimmed the lights to ‘relax setting.’ I thought ‘Well, this will be one hell of an easy adjustment.’

Flash forward 4 days, I’m now in the Himalayas in the middle of a place that has the address ‘Naddi, Near Bus Stand.’Ok, so not only do I have no idea where I am, neither do the residents of this village. Oh and there’s a cow pooping next to me. Cool. Great. Where’s my welcome drink? 

I was stranded in the middle of the Himalayas, hauling a large suitcase—the size of which could fit my body into—with the sun beating down on my back, and temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I lugged my suitcase down the unpaved, rocky path ventured by moving animals and their feces. Every step I went down, my heart beat faster and faster. Soon, I was sufficiently disoriented, and my mental sanity was about to explode. ‘Sh** what did I get myself into. Holy hell Tulsi, you think you’re Mother Theresa? What’s your problem in life?’ I was just about ready to throw my suitcase off the mountain until I heard someoneyelling “Hi Tulsi!! Hi Tulsi!!” Confused as to where the voice was coming from, I continued to walk down the dubious path. 

My mind was frazzled, my bones fatigued, but my eyes finally saw the girl who was enthusiastically screaming my name—Savita Meen. Her long brown hair, radiant smile, and beautiful brown eyes were enchanting. Savita’s physical beauty was only overpowered by her charisma—quite the sight for my weary self. Unfortunately, my mind was still completely elsewhere to appreciate that at that moment. As Savita showed me her quaint home, my throat started to close and my eyes began to swell. We quickly made it to my room that also functioned as her sister’s, Sunita’s, sewing room. I held my tears back while seeking the right words to say, I choked ‘Thank you for showing me around, everything is great!’ 

Alone in my new room, hundreds of flies swarmed around my face—great. I burst out into tears. Again a series of rapid-fire thoughts zoomed through my mind, overwhelming me and causing me to sit. 4 days before I had breakfast made for a king: the choice of 100 dishes and an omelette bar, and now I’m with a family burning sticks to prepare a standard meal of rice and dal. 

I cried myself to sleep that night. I woke up in the morning not feeling much better. I told myself, ‘Either you can go home and end up regretting everything or you can suck it up and do what it is that you came here to do.’ I sucked it up. But by the end of my first week, there was no despair that I needed to ‘suck up.’Savita’s family became my family. Every aspect of them and every stick that was used to cook our food I fell in love with. I was happier than I was at that omelette bar. No hate to the omelette bar, but in retrospect I believe this was the beginning of my journey towards understanding happiness outside of materialistic possessions. I spent a few weekswith the Meen family before moving into our NGO’s house just up the street. My time and experiences in Naddi and with the Meen family were quite extraordinary, and deserve far more space than I can give them—however, that is for another time.

My perspective on life and India began to change drastically. I had only experienced a narrow version of India—my extended families’ secured, Bombay lifestyles and the swanky hotels we visited. It was quite perplexing, with a dash of irony, that despite being of Indian descent I was oblivious to all of India’s colors. Every week, I exceeded my emotional limit. I kept witnessing things that I thought would only happen in movies- young girls chasing their cows down the street and others carrying buckets of water on their heads. I thought that my efforts would lead to no avail, and even if I could do something I wouldn’t know where to start. I realized that I to take a step back and take in the whole picture, to understand how I could address the needs of the community and create measurable change within it. As I learned, it’s a picture easy to lose sight of. 

In many ways, I think the Naddi community gave me more than I gave them. I remember walking up the main road with a 3 lb. wooden board for ourlocal shop. But I was wheezing by the time I got to the main square. As I searched for my breath, I heard a mischievous giggle behind me. The giggle continued. I look behind and its Mamaji aka Savita and Sunita’s mom bearing the biggest smile. “Hi Tulsi!!” she lovingly says. Her right hand was holding the bottom of her headscarf that she was innocently chewing, and her left hand was effortlessly placed on the side of a 40 lb. haystack sitting on her head. ‘Well I’m a total loser. Panting while carrying a wimpy piece of wood, while a 50 year old is running around with a forest on her head.’ While humorous, this encounter helped showed me that no matter how much I improve and how much I learn, there is always something more I can do to be better than I was yesterday. The strength, love, and happiness that the community members taught me are true blessings. I’ll never forget them.

EduCare’s philosophy avoids the classic paradigm of imposing Western thought processes and value systems on groups receiving aid. Rather, it aims to provide a context-based understanding of people and their circumstances, leveraging them to foster individual empowerment. This organization has provided me with endless opportunities and challenged me in ways that I didn’t think were even possible. It helped me understand the boundless nature of human achievement. Bring any idea you have come to life! All you need is a cupful of humility, a spoonful of introspection, and a sprinkle of imagination. 

Hopefully I’ll be seeing you soon near a bus stand in the middle of nowhere.

Tulsi Sheth, USA
REstore Project Manager - Microfinance Project Coordinator

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