Saturday, August 6, 2016

One More Saturday Turns 2 Today!

~2 happy 2 b celebrating year 2~
Remember that scene in Gilmore Girls where Lorelai wakes up Rory on her birthday and snuggles into bed with her? (Here's the clip if you want it; have tissues nearby.) Lorelai whispers about how on this very day, many moons ago, her lil nug was born and her life since then hasn't been the same. Picture me, getting out of bed for the sole purpose of getting back in again to recreate this scene, snuggling with my lil Macbook and quietly whispering, "Two years ago, on this very day and in this very room, you were born."

Gilmore Girls references aside, OMS was the brainchild of a series of interactions with wonderful humans. It started with my high school economics teacher, who was supportive and encouraging about my writing and suggested starting a blog back when I was a wee freshman in college (and an econ major, nonetheless). I talked to my wonderful and supportive friend Danielle, the only blogger I knew at the time. And I bounced ideas back and forth with Alana, with whom I first started this bad boy. Two years later, this blog is all mine. 

And this sounds cliché, so sorrysorrysorry, but this blog would be nothing without all of y'all. One More Saturday has allowed me to write about the things I want to write about, and it has been an outlet for pieces that I can't really put anywhere else. It's helped me to write better, present my content better, photograph better. More than anything, I'm grateful for how this blog has helped me to connect and reconnect with all the wonderful humans around me. Over the past two years, I've received so many personal messages from friends, family, and strangers. Just as much as I value the friends who understand and value and appreciate my words enough to read and share them, I appreciate the strangers and near-strangers who do the same. I've had people I only met in passing message me years later to simply tell me how much my posts meant to them. That's nuts to me, and that's one of my favorite things about being a writer.

I love it when I read something  a novel, a poem, a blog post  and immediately feel like I connect with the writer. I want to be their friend, I want to buy them coffee, I want to thank them for just doing what they do. The fact that I can be that writer for anyone in the world, never mind multiple lil humans out there, is just so crazy cool to me. 

So thank you guys. Really. Thank you to all of you who have read any number of posts in the past few years. Thank you to my generous, loving, caring friends and family who read and comment and share over and over. I've said this before, but you really don't know how much your support means to me. Thank you to all the strangers, the friends' moms (I know you're out there!), the former classmates who care enough to click on the posts I share on Facebook, and everyone else. You guys have made this experience so rewarding for me. It's so gratifying to learn that someone appreciates your labor of love as much as you do; just know that I appreciate you guys, too.

P.S. Here's the song that inspired our blog name. I'll be out turning this blog birthday into a lifestyle. Hope you enjoy your Saturday, too <3

~ V

Monday, July 11, 2016

Sinking and Swimming and Other Things I Learned Post-India

In the weeks since I've been home, I've had dozens of conversations that all start the same way: "How was India?" 

My friends from abroad and I have bemoaned this amongst ourselves, sometimes getting a bit salty about how lazy the question can feel. One said, "How's India? How are we supposed to fit so many months of experiences after such a simple question?" And this is fair. But one thing I've been thinking about is that people tell you how much they care. Both in the general sense and in the context of the post-India, manic-depressive readjustment phase, it means that sometimes people are asking just to be polite and other times they really want to know.

In regards to the former, it's pretty simple responding to, "How was India?" You manage to shorten five months of experiences into a short, 30-second spiel, one that gets more direct  and reductive  each time it is told. Just like that, five months of traveling and taking classes and learning (because while the two aren't mutually-exclusive, they're certainly not necessarily linked either) and laughing and dancing and yoga and riding bikes (both with a motor and without) are diluted. And sometimes this is a warm welcome; it's nice to momentarily pretend that this experience wasn't as wonderfully exhausting as it was. It's nice to imagine my life as some cheesy Bollywood film with just a few themes and characters and outfit changes and musical numbers and even a dramatic montage thrown in for good measure.

Then there are those who when they ask about India, really want to know. After more than six months away, I went to D.C. last weekend and met up with some friends. When my friend Medha asked, "How was India?" she followed up with some more direct questions. "What was it like adjusting there? How were the other students? What was your daily routine like?" And my response, while a bit more rambled and messy and verbose, was more honest.

But as I recounted details and experiences of my time abroad, I realized that it all felt so far away. My friend Shanice recently wrote to me, "India feels like a far-off dream most days." And while India is undeniably far with respect to geography, I hardly think a few weeks is enough to explain how distanced I feel otherwise, how disoriented I sometimes feel in this post-India life. 

When Shanice and I spoke about how we both miss India but are happy with what we've got going here in the U.S., I said I was "good at the moment," something that rings true because missing India comes in waves. There are moments of tranquility where everything fits and you're just flowing along in your new routine. And then something will happen to trigger what it feels to miss India. Something will remind you how much you don't fit in here, not that you fit in there either, because you don't fit in anywhere. And that wave will pass, and you'll try to make sense of whatever you can on the sodden sand, but it's just a matter of time before the next wave comes along.

The good thing though is that the waves are getting smaller.

So, how was India? I don't know. It's hard to say. Ask me when the tide shifts again.

~ V

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Last Hurrah in Sri Lanka

I've been home in New Jersey for a few days now. Whether I'm meeting up with old friends, reconnecting with family, or alone in my room working through the seemingly endless process of unpacking after five months abroad (and five months of shopping), it seems like my mind stays focused on one thing — my time abroad. Of course, this comes as no surprise. When you've spent so much time away, it takes time to readjust. It takes time to wrap your head around all the things that are no longer part of your routine, all the people you miss, all the "new" aspects of your life at home. And of course, people are interested in hearing the stories you have to share. The people you met, the places you went, all of it holds some novelty. But just like I learned after my return from Spain, I'm sure this won't last (peep numbers 3 and 4).

A few days after I got back from Madrid, I was going through all the things in my room. I'm one of those people who actually really enjoys packing and unpacking, and anytime I return from a big trip, I sort of do a major reorganization of my entire room. I reorganize my closest, bookshelf, and desk and in the process of doing so, I always find old journals and photos that slow down the unpacking even more. I was pretty sad after leaving Madrid, but seeing old photos from different points in my life inspired me to print out photos from my time in Spain, Italy, and Portugal. I'd have something physical to hand to friends and I'd be able to put real photographs in a real album, something I hadn't done in maybe a decade. 

I haven't gone in full-on reminiscing mode yet, and I'm trying to focus on the good things about being back — friends, family, and pizza. As such, I haven't started to sort through the 6,000+ photographs from India, Sri Lanka, Oman, Dubai, and Amsterdam. But as I try to move forward, looking back just a little bit is comforting to me. It makes me feel like the space between me and India isn't so wide, that the time that will pass between now and my next trip won't create an even bigger distance. So I began sorting through the photos from a trip my friends Jesse, Alena and I took to Sri Lanka.

To celebrate the end of our semester and as a sort of last hurrah, Jesse and I went to Kerala for two days before spending ten in the Lank, as Jesse calls it. Our time in Kerala was pretty low-key. We spent the first day exploring Fort Kochi — enjoying great food and tea, walking around, taking photos — and the second doing a backwater village tour around Viakom. By some miracle the heat was worse than what we'd been dealing with in Hyderabad, and the humidity wasn't helping. Luckily, we only spent one night in our homestay, where we had no AC, and spent the next night commuting to Colombo.

We got to Colombo very early, around 3 AM, and after killing some time with the free airport wifi, we headed to the Maradana train station for a 6 AM train to Unawatuna. After a four-hour, incredibly scenic ride along the shoreline, we reached Unawatuna, where we spent three nights at an amazing homestay a short walk from the beach. In all honesty, I've been to better beaches. There were plenty of big rocks along the shore, which made it hard to go anywhere further than waist-deep when combined with the slightly rough tide. But the waters were still beautiful and we caught a stunning sunset our last night there. We ate a huge and incredibly delicious breakfast at our homestay each morning, and ended up eating a late lunch/early dinner on the beach each afternoon. We also spent one of our days there exploring Galle Fort, which was a short tuktuk ride away. There we met a Canadian couple who had been traveling for quite some time. They told us about their travels around India, but once they learned we were Americans they started asking us about the election. I swear, you can't go anywhere in the world without someone bringing up Trump.

After our stay in Unawatuna, we headed to Colombo, where we spent one night and met up with our friend Alena. After a pretty disastrous experience with two different tuktuk drivers  — seriously, the one thing I definitely don't miss about being abroad is having to constantly haggle or having to deal with difficult auto drivers — we finally got to our homestay, where we were greeted by FOUR ADORABLE DOGS and our wonderful friend, who we hadn't seen in weeks. Our host made us all chai, and we gathered around the table catching up and swapping stories of our travels thus far. I was exhausted, sweaty, and frustrated after our experiences that day but puppy cuddles and good conversations with even better friends cure everything.

We woke up very early the next morning and headed to the train station for a 6 AM, five-hour trip to Palugaswewa. From there, we took a tuktuk to Sigiriya, where we stayed at a slightly-gross but very hospitable homestay. The owner's son, who was our age, took the family tuktuk and showed us around the area, and the next morning the three of us hiked up Pidurangala Rock before a safari in Eco Park in the evening. The next day, we headed back to Colombo and spent a couple hours in the city before a late-night flight back to the Bad. I'll be honest — by this point I was pretty done. I missed clean laundry (all of our clothes smelled like wet dog), I missed not being constantly hot and sweaty, and I was very ready to spend a last couple days with my family in Hyderabad. But I got some pizza from Pizza Hut, which was significantly less atrocious that I'd anticipated, and Jesse found a pretty cool tea cafĂ©, where we spent a couple hours before heading to the airport. I'd started Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger earlier that day on the train after Alena passed it along to me — crazy book, but undeniably well-written — and passed it along to Jesse at the airport.

Quick thing about the Colombo airport: this place is weird as hell. The wifi log-in requires you to put in your passport number (although any pseudonym and passport number will do; at one point I wrote that my passport number was 7); they sell washers, dryers, refrigerators, and other large household appliances in the arrivals section, as if anyone in the history of the world has ever gotten off a flight and decided to purchase a microwave; they don't accept credit cards in the arrivals section (which turns out is pretty common throughout Sri Lanka); and everything in the departures section is priced in USD. This isn't necessarily weird per se, but since we were so close to the end of our time abroad, and not 100% ready to be back in the U.S, Jesse and I found seeing American pricing pretty jarring and uncomfortable ($6 for a latte?! That's over 400 rups!!!). Alena pointed out that I was experiencing a bit of culture shock throughout my time in Sri Lanka, which was true, and by the end of our trip I was just so ready to be back "home."

Would I go back to Sri Lanka? I'd like to. There's so much that country has to offer, and we touched upon just a little bit of it. It was so beautiful, and the people were so nice. Next time, I'm just bringing more laundry.

~ V

Saturday, May 14, 2016

On Hyderabad and Home

{the fambam}
My first few months of college, I felt oddly disoriented. I hadn't been at GW long enough for it to truly become home  although it certainly didn't take long for me to call it as such. At the same time, I realized quickly that my home in New Jersey was no longer mine. It was my parents' house, it was the place I'd tell people I lived during high school, it was the place I'd return for holidays and short breaks but it would never be home the way it was before college. Something had changed and I felt unprepared, blindsided. I'm often anxious when big changes happen in my life, and the more something means to me the more I overthink, over-analyze, over-internalize. But I hadn't anticipated that in gaining a new home, I'd lose home altogether. 

Now, nearly three years later, my understanding of home has become even more muddled. I have more homes than ever before, spread across different cities and different families and even different continents. 

As I write this now, I'm sitting on the plane. In between the sentences I've written so far, the plane started. The engine whirred and we pushed forward. Hyderabad, in the middle of a drought, is as brown and grey from up here as it is down below. The sun reflects off of metal rooftops and the higher we go the more gems I see in the City of Pearls. There's a lot of smog today, and somewhere in between land and sky the horizon blurs into a grey-blue. Is this home? Not anymore. 

Leaving Spain was brutal. This? Less so. I've been processing the end for weeks, have been anticipating the goodbyes and the see-you-laters and the hugs and the tears and the last times. The last time I take an auto. The last visit to campus. The last time I pet the two strays on my side of campus. The last time I buy chocolate from the south campus shopping complex. The last time I hug each of my friends. The last time I hug my family, for now. 

And by some miracle, I didn't unravel upon leaving. And even though some of my goodbyes were left unsaid  after all, you don't always know when you're in the middle of your last visit to a spot in the city, you don't always know when you're seeing someone for the last time  I was okay. Because it's not as though I'm going home, at least not to the home that is the U.S. I'm going to Bombay, to my grandparents' place, to that home. 

And even when I leave India in a few short days, I'm going to visit family in Muscat, to spend ten days in Oman and Dubai. Only then will I return to New Jersey, to a house full of people I haven't seen in months and a jet-lagged first meal of real pizza and a bed with soft pillows and a world of Starbucks and central air conditioning. Do I miss all of that? I did. At many points in these past five months, I've missed it all. But right now, sitting in this plane, I miss none of it. Not iced coffee, not driving, not even pizza. I miss my aunt and uncle already and I wish my friend was sitting next to me as she was on my last trip to Bombay. But I'm going home, and then I'm going to another home. And I guess that's the thing about having multiple homes. You can either chose to stay in a constant state of missing  missing people and place and all that comes with the two  or you can just accept your fate. Accept that part of you will always belong somewhere else, that the rest of you is here. You can just give in to being wherever you are, sink back into your seat, and enjoy your stay for however long it lasts. After all, you're only home for so long.

On a recent visit to Sri Lanka, I was talking to Nadee, the owner one of the Airbnb guesthouses my friend Jesse and I stayed at. Nadee was born in Sri Lanka and has also lived in India, but has spent most of her time in the UK. I told her about where I was from and how I'd spent some time in Spain and she nodded understandingly. "You're looking for home, too," she said. "So am I."

I didn't come to Hyderabad with the expectation of it becoming home, and I don't really think it is now. All my friends have left or are leaving soon. I just left. And when I drove through the city in auto rickshaw or car during my last week, I didn't feel the sentimentality I felt in Madrid. I'm not detached by any means, but this is always just going to be the city I lived in for a few months; the city in which I met the people that made my experience what it is; the city in which I lived with two amazing, inspiring, strong, and loving human beings; the city I studied abroad in. But my study abroad experience hasn't been about me and Hyderabad  it's been about me and India.

I've learned so much here. A year ago, I bought my tickets to Spain and it seems like since then my life has been moving forward more quickly than ever before. I've spent nine of the past twelve months outside of the United States, across seven other countries. Isn't that crazy? So much about who I am and what I want and what I've experienced has changed. I define myself by different parameters now. I'm more sure of myself and yet I'm more willing to admit that I don't know what I want, that I hardly know anything at all. And now, after nearly five months in this city, it's all over.

This semester has been crazy. I've come to question so much and I've come to appreciate so much of what my life is. I've been forced to confront how insanely privileged I am. I've learned to stop asking for more, to become patient for what's to come. I've learned to redefine what's important to me in all sorts of relationships  platonic, romantic, and familial. It's not that I've changed; I've simply grown into myself a little bit more.

And for the hundredth time, I'm reminded of how important this decision was  this decision to come to India. To study here. To grow here. To feel a little more uncomfortable before becoming wholly comfortable altogether.

But as I've said before in numerous other posts, there's nothing like travel to make you question what home is. I don't really tie my definition of home to any place or any people. At this point in my life, I simply can't. I don't live where I grew up or where I was born and I make new friends every year, every day. And this city isn't home to me. I'm grateful for that; it's a relief to not feel so intensely attached to a city for once. But this experience has certainly felt like home.

But now, unlike three years ago when I started college, I don't feel as though I have no home. Rather, I feel like I have many homes. My parents' place in New Jersey, my new apartment in DC, my grandparents' flat in Mumbai, my host family's place in Madrid, my aunt and uncle's place in Hyderabad. None of these homes belong to me; none of them are truly mine. But they've made me who I am. They're the places that mark so many different parts of who I am, who I've grown into. 

Like my definition of home, my definition of family has always been a bit confused. Growing up, my grandparents lived 8,000 miles away from me, and even though I'm very attached to the extended family I have in the New Jersey area, I've always felt a bit separate. So much of my identity separates me from my family, and it's something that I've been used to for years. And when I came here to Hyderabad to live with my aunt and uncle, I didn't come with too many expectations. I didn't think things would be as comfortable and natural and loving as they are. I didn't anticipate how much I would feel taken care of, how much I would feel like two people would love me and care for me and make me laugh and for once, I didn't anticipate how difficult goodbye would be.

It's crazy  before I even got to Spain I had anticipated saying goodbye to my host family would be difficult. And it was. But when I came here, I was just trying to wrap my head around living in India for five months. I didn't even think about how much I'd get closer to my family here, how difficult moving away from them would be for me.

I guess all I'm saying is, I've found a home here. Not in this city, but with these people. With my uncle and my aunt and our little fambam, as we've come to call it. These two understand my sense of humor, they know how I show love, they know how to make me happy and take care of me and I'd like to think I can do the same for them. I've come to appreciate the idea of family more than ever before and by some miracle my understanding and definition of home have become even more complicated.

And maybe that's my favorite thing about travel. You find home in the least expected of places. You find love in the least expected of places.

~ V

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Understanding India through art

{sunset from my Bangalore trip in February}
I got to India on December 23rd, sixteen weeks ago. Hearing the number, seeing the weeks in between now and then feels surreal. I would say that I’d never spent so much time away from home before, but this is home — just as much as GW is, if not more. I think of GW as a temporary home away from home, if seven semesters spread over four years can be considered temporary. And even though I’ve been in Hyderabad for just one semester, the conceptualization of my time here in India as home is made possible partly by the fact that I’ve been living with family, then because of the fact that many of my friends are American students, then because it’s been easy for me to connect with Indian students as a Non-Residential Indian (NRI) myself, and finally because of my connection to this country. India is home in ways the United States will never be, in spite of the fact that the opposite is equally true, in spite of the fact that I’ve spent eighteen of my twenty years in the States. 

A few days ago, I finally did what I’d been putting off: I booked my tickets away from here. For once, I’m living in a city I have little emotional attachment to. Hyderabad has a great food scene, and I much prefer this dry heat to winters in New Jersey. And when I return years from now, I'll think of it fondly as the city I lived in for five months, the city in which I met amazing people and cut off all my hair and learned to read and write in Hindi. But I’m not in love with this city the way I fell in love with Madrid or San Francisco or Venice. Usually when I visit a new place, I become infatuated fairly easily. But for once, my time abroad has nothing to do with the city I’m in. For once, the experience is only about the people I’ve spent my time with and the way my time here has shaped me. And in four weeks, my present will become my past.

I don’t consider myself a nationalistic person. When you’ve spent your life sprawled across oceans, when your love for people and place is so spread out, it’s hard to feel exclusively patriotic, to feel as though one country is superior over another.

But there’s nothing like travel to remind you of your love for one specific place. I love Madrid with all of my heart and plan on living there for a few years down the road. And after spending eight of the past twelve consecutive months abroad, it’s safe to say that I value and appreciate the U.S. now more than ever.

But my love for India is something I’m still struggling to understand. From the conversations I’ve had with countless friends and family, I don’t know if others feel the same sense of longing, the same omnipresent experience of missing a place even when you’re in it. India isn’t perfect, not by any means, not even to me personally. But the love I have for it — again, something that I’m still struggling to conceptualize and unravel and explore — is something I best understand through art. Here is a song  along with the lyrics and their translation  that perfectly captures my experience, that features the missing and longing and flashbacks that come with loving this place the way I do, with constantly feeling as though your love is spread across continents — a song I mentioned in my second post in the India series, the day of my flight to Mumbai. And here is a poem, written by Tyler Knott Gregson and featured in his recent book Chasers of the Light, that captures the experience of missing as well. 

And finally, here’s a poem I wrote after a year of avoiding writing poetry, after just as much time wanting to resume doing so.

learn to let go.
learn to accept that
you will never really belong,
not truly.
to understand that you
will forever be stretched
between continents,
pieces of you sinking
and swimming in oceans
in between them.
to appreciate that you
are unique are rare and
that you alone decide
your fate,
that somewhere in 
between the places
you call home
you will find a
space to call your own
and for the first time
it will be okay
to not belong.

For the remainder of my stay here, I'm trying to focus on just being. I'm trying not to constantly count and recount the days I have left. Trying not to think of what I have left in terms of to-do lists, in terms of what to fit in one last time. I'm trying to just be here, to memorize the smells and the heat and the taste of Cadburys and samosas and fresh mosambi juice for an afternoon snack. And more than anything, I'm trying to make most of the time I have left with all these amazing people that have made this experience what it is. So here's to that and here's to loving India.

~ V

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Weekend in Rajasthan

After about three and a half months into my time in India, I've finally figured out a good travel-to-home ratio. For every two weeks I spend in Hyderabad, I need one to visit a new place. Now that finals have started I won't be traveling until the end of my program, but my last trip was so productive and exhausting that I'm happy just being in Hyderabad for a while.

I spent the last weekend of March in Rajasthan, with about two days each in Jaipur and Jaisalmer. My friend Alena and I left Hyderabad very early on Friday morning and landed in Jaipur around 6 AM. As the sun hadn't even risen yet, we decided to catch a few hours of sleep before exploring the city. We checked into a hotel and after resting for about two hours, we headed towards the Hawa Mahal. We did some shopping in the area and then explored the City Palace for a bit. Then we grabbed lunch in the area, headed back for another nap, had dinner in our hotel restaurant, and then headed towards our sleeper bus to Jaisalmer.

As beautiful as Jaipur is, Jaisalmer was definitely my favorite part of our trip. I'd visited both cities about a decade before as part of a two-week trip through Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan, and even then riding camels through the Thar Desert was one of the most memorable parts of the trip. After resting in a guesthouse near the Jaisalmer Fort, Alena and I headed into the desert for a camel ride, which took us to where a few other friends from our program already were.

That night, we ate a meal cooked by campfire and listened to our guides perform some Rajasthani songs. We stargazed for a bit  definitely my favorite part of the trip  and I got to see four shooting stars before the moonrise ruined our night vision.

The next morning, we woke up with the sun, had breakfast, and got back on the camels for a final ride. We headed out for lunch and exploring in the Fort, relaxed in the guesthouse, and then headed towards our train back to Jaipur.

For the last day of our four-day weekend, Alena and I walked around the Amber Fort for a while, talking, taking photos, and trying to stay cool in the hot sun.

While it definitely feels like Hyderabad is much hotter than the desert, I'm trying to enjoy the time I have left in this city, trying to soak up all that I can. Here are some photos from our trip.

~ V