Monday, March 14, 2016

Halfway there

{views from Golconda Fort at dusk}
Two weekends ago, I was in Kolkata feeling frustrated with my time here and even a little homesick. My cousin Darshana — who's been living in India for the past four years after ten in the U.S. — pointed out that she feels this way sometimes too, and that this is a feeling that comes and goes for her. I’ve (only?) been here for just under three months but I’ve noticed the same pattern in my experience here. And a similar thing happened when I was in Spain. In between the weeks, in between the days, you go through shifts where something strikes you the wrong way. Maybe you missed yet another bus, maybe the heat got to you more than you'd care to admit, maybe you had one more person make you feel unsafe or alone or unwelcome. And you started to miss home, started to wish that you had the comfort of being in a place of security and assuredness without having to leave the place you were in.

I'm starting to understand that this is just what it's like to be an in-betweener, to be a person who is forever moving back and forth — physically, mentally, emotionally, etc. — between two or more places.

But that feeling passes. And about a week after returning from Kolkata, I’m at a place where I’m nearly overwhelmed with how glad I am to have come to India. I’m big on appreciating the small stuff, so a few nights ago I made a list of things that I was grateful for. Academically, professionally, and personally, things have been going well for me right now. My life’s not perfect, not even close, but I’ve been making so much progress and I took the time to acknowledge that to myself.

And as I sat there making my list of things that had made my week amazing, I realized how happy I was to be here. I love one of the classes I’m taking, and am gaining at least something from the rest. My relationship with myself and all the bits and pieces of my identity has improved so much here, and I’ve been able to talk (and write) about things I was hardly able to think about a year ago. And I’ve met so many great people here.

And I realized today that I’m halfway in. I got to India twelve weeks ago, the exact amount of time I was in Madrid. Leaving Madrid was horrible for me. I wasn’t ready to go and I kept feeling like I had more to experience, more to learn before heading back to the States and to GW. Twelve weeks into my time in India, I’m so grateful to have about just as many more left.

Around this time in Spain, I published this post on how traveling abroad is at once isolating and unifying. On one hand, you separate yourself from your friends and loved ones back home; beyond the geographical distance between you and them, there is a separation of experiences. Your friends don’t know the street you’ve come to call home, the cafĂ© you go for an afternoon bite, the people you now spend all your time with, and so on.

But at the same time — and this is one of my favorite things about traveling — you are reminded that you’re part of a bigger world. Not simply because you go to a new country and realize that when it comes down to it, we’re all the same. But instead because when you travel, you become part of new communities and you find ways to connect with absolute strangers. The lady sitting next to you in a packed shared auto. The children who wave to you on your walk home. The man sitting next to you waiting for the Metro. lt is in these moments that your life begins to feel like a movie, not because of how picturesque the cathedrals and temples and architecture and scenery around you is, but because of the way strangers become acquaintances with whom you share an experience no one else knows anything about, if only for a moment. And if you’re lucky, some of those acquaintances become friends.

It’s weird to see how much of my experience in India parallels my time in Spain. Beyond the fact that the two are very different countries, the parallels are shocking to me because I’ve been here before. I’m no stranger, no foreigner. In many ways, India has always been home whereas Spain only became home. There’s such a degree of familiarity to me here, and yet I found myself experiencing a sort of culture shock in the early weeks of my time here. And now, around the same time that I did in Spain, I find myself feeling isolated from a lot of what I consider home in America. Certain aspects of my life there disinterest me. They seem trivial to me, while others don't matter at all. And the idea of heading back terrifies me. I have so much left to experience here. It's not that I have cities to check off my bucket list or more souvenirs to shop for. It's simply that I'm not ready. I’m so happy to be here, right now, to be experiencing all that I am and to have learned all that I have and to have met the amazing people that make up my community here. I'm reminded often that coming to India is one of the best decisions I've made for myself. I don’t want to go back, at least not anytime soon, and I’m so glad I don’t have to.

So here's to being twelve weeks in, and here's to twelve more.

~ V

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