Today marks the end of my 38th day in India. 38 days of mangos, 38 days of flowers in my hair, 38 days of bucket showers (the last one is pushing it though because I’m pretty sure I’ve skipped more of these than I should have). I have been overwhelmed by the love I have received from people I have only known for a short period of time. Rajeswari brings me flowers for my hair every morning and gives me three cookies when she has four. Ramya makes my favorite foods and doesn’t judge me when I eat 8 poori (deep fried tortillas, basically) in one sitting. Dhandapani (I know the spelling is right this time because he wrote his name in big letters on my notebook this week. I think the inaccuracy of last week comes with the fact that head bobbling is the universal sign for no and yes in India and I have not come to grasp the difference yet) spends extra time at my favorite Hindu god in the temple because he knows I love elephants. I am living in a place where it is socially acceptable to hold strangers’ babies at bus stops and where children follow me around to ask me the name of every member of my family and where my tiny friends split the snack cakes they buy a few houses down with their grubby little hands and watch happily as I eat my half. The language barrier is still a difficult thing, but I have learned a few songs in Tamil now which I pull out when I can. No one actually teaches me what they mean though, so a few days ago I accidentally serenaded a man at the post office when we were getting water and Sasi shushed me and put her hand over my mouth and said “Sister, no!” before I could get very far. I am trying my best to be patient and receptive and loving to the people around me because they have done nothing but the same to me. I understand that since I am only here for three months, it is highly unlikely that I will transform the education of these kids, however I try to listen and tell them they are smart and kind and important as often as I can. I revel in the small victories, like how Charulatha stopped saying “nice to meet you” whenever she leaves school at night and instead emphasizes how it is nice to “see” me. Or how Sasikala now understands that “small tired” is not a replacement for “a little tired” and now only says it to spite me. Or how Mathi actually made an effort to learn English this week and didn’t copy anyone else’s homework. A major victory though is that the cutest bus driver in the village waved at me this week and we all squealed at the bus stop and one of the girls excitedly elbowed me in the ribs.
One of the best and equally most hectic parts of my day is sending the kids home at 7:30. The problem comes in that the center is facing a main road and saying goodbye to sixty children who demand you do the handshake they taught you with each of them while also trying to keep them from getting hit by oncoming traffic. Eleverasi makes me kiss her on the forehead before she will walk down the street, Logaskana has to shake my hand, and Rakesh always just talks and confuses both of us by saying things like “Your home! My home! 8:00! Temple! Next day!” So far so good though, there have only been a few close calls with some motorcycles and a cow.
This weekend was very eventful. The nursing students were practicing giving shots on Saturday, which is about as terrifying as it sounds. I was told to give one and I refused, therefore also getting me out of having to get a shot because someone established a “You get a shot from the person you give one to” rule after Nithya gave an extremely painful looking shot to Mathi. We were all just crowded around her as she was yelling in Tamil saying how it didn’t look like that was right. After that excitement, we left in the afternoon for a nearby village temple festival. Thousands of people were there and 500 goats were sacrificed. There was a parade of sorts that went through the village of priests, women holding pots of food and flowers on their heads, and goats that we followed through a dirt road in between fields of banana trees that ended at a temple. I missed the sacrificing of the goats part but got to see them all this morning skinned and ready for eating. Speaking of goats, I woke up this morning to my hair being chewed on by one baby goat and another goat sitting on my stomach. Also speaking of goats, I’m about 94% sure I had goat testicles for lunch. I’m not sure which one of these things is more concerning. I was talking with Gracie last night, who is the wife of the director of ISSI and a beautiful and loving human. She was telling me how they usually don’t have volunteers come in the summer because some have complained in the past because they take breaks for the holy festivals and sometimes not as many children come to the evening school. I love this part about it though. I understand that people’s lives don’t stop just because I am coming in to them and I am happy to be so accepted and loved and embraced by these people. She said they decided to invite me though because I seemed “so eager over the Skype-y” and she wanted me to see the real India. She said this all to me as we were sitting barefoot in the dirt surrounded by coconut trees next to a herd of soon to be sacrificed goats as we were drinking tea and eating some type of spicy rice (per usual). “Welcome to the real India, Alice. Very strange, very wonderful.” All my love!!