A Calcutta Christmas

Early in November, I was invited to accompany friends from Pune to their hometown for Christmas. Which is how this year I celebrated a Calcutta Christmas.

Park Street at night

Park Street, Calcutta at night

To be fair, my holiday began in Pune. As I mentioned on the 23rd, I attended an Akanksha sports day at our Matoshri English Medium School (MEMS). The children normally have an outrageous amount of energy. Divided into teams and locked in fierce competition, the energy carried through for hours. It was fun to be reminded of my own elementary school days, when sports day included roaming around the schoolyard, playing tug of war, racing, and eating frozen treats at the end of the day. The MEMS sports day operated on a slightly smaller scale (due to lack of space and equipment), but the infectious energy and joy was the same.

Second time with this picture, but it's too cute!

Second time with this picture, but it’s too cute!

Although I came with the intention of helping out, I spent the morning and early afternoon watching the events and cuddling with children. Some of my favorite moments at the school will be sitting on the ground with a child pressed on both sides, two in my lap, and one hugging my neck from behind. Christmas cuddles!

Christmas Eve was a normal day filled with anticipation. I went to the office, as usual. I felt the travel/holiday excitement hit me, and I listened to Christmas music for the first time this December while counting down the minutes till 5pm.

Christmas morning began with a jarring awakening at 3:15am. Direct flights from Pune to Calcutta are not common, so my departure time was a brisk 5:55am. Having scheduled a cab for a 4:15am ride, I dragged my sleepy self out of my nice, warm bed and shivered my way through a barely warm shower.

(Please note that I use the traditional spelling for the city – Calcutta – as opposed to the current spelling, Kolkata. As far as I can deduce, the situation is much the same as the Mumbai/Bombay, Pune/Poona divide; people understand you either way, and it’s more of a personal preference. However, I am sticking with the traditional spelling because that is the version that my Bengali friends use. Andddddd not gonna lie – I love the alliteration of the phrase “Calcutta Christmas.”)

I was particularly curious to see what awaited me in Calcutta after spending my summer in Dhaka. The state of Bengal originally consisted of what are now Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Indian state of West Bengal. In 1947, the Bengal region was divided into the Indian West Bengal, East Pakistan, and West Pakistan. The separation was to create individual areas for the Muslim and Hindu populations in the region. Then, in 1971 East Pakistan separated from West Pakistan and became Bangladesh. (A great name – it literally means the country of Bengali. There is great pride in the Bangla language there.) There is a ton of history between 1947 and 1971 that I am not covering, but it is a fascinating and tragic period for the region and worth looking into if you’re a history buff. I had no prior knowledge of the regional turmoil in Bengal until my stay in Dhaka during the summer of 2014. The Liberation War Museum in Dhaka is an excellent stop for the Bangladeshi perspective on that time, and I began to explore the history after my visit there in June.

Calcutta taxi cabs

Calcutta taxi cabs

Calcutta is certainly more similar to the architecture and atmosphere of Bangladesh than Mumbai, Pune, or Delhi. Watching the city unfold before me during my cab ride from the airport to my friend’s house in the posh Park Street area, I was struck by the classic look of the city. This may sound stereotypical, but Calcutta looks the way I imagined an Indian city: the narrow streets, the old fashioned taxis, the flow of people. I fully admit that this bias might be based on my summer in Bangladesh, since I received my acceptance into the 2014-2105 AIF Fellowship during my stay in Bangladesh. There are definite difference between Calcutta and Dhaka; infrastructure in Calcutta is better maintained and the city is cleaner than my memories of Dhaka. I enjoyed the contrast, and I am fully happy with my decision to explore the Bengal region further.


Christmas day was a time for reunions, chatting, and feasting. After arriving at my Fletcher friend’s house, we spent hours chatting. As with my Goa weekend, I found the Fletcher conversation to be thoroughly refreshing and informative. I then popped down to the metro and traveled to my AIF co-fellow’s apartment for a Christmas feast of bruschetta, pumpkin soup, chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, and a delicious variety of cakes and cookies. I had several AIF reunions while also meeting new friends. Conversations meandered as we lazily ate our way through the early evening. Holidays away from home are never easy – somehow, it doesn’t quite feel the same without family and snow – but I am incredibly grateful for the network of friends I have in India.

After 20 straight hours of go-go-go, I crashed for the night. Around 2:30am, I had an unpleasant awakening of intense pain. My left ear was throbbing so hard that my teeth ached. The left side of my throat radiated pain, and my lymph node was the size of a tender golf ball. Somehow exhaustion won out over the pain, and the intensity had diminished somewhat by the time I awoke in the morning. However, I was feeling sick, sluggish, and overall not too happy. All I could think about was how painful an earache would make my return flight to Pune and how awful it would be to be sick during all of my upcoming travels. Fortunately, my friend’s father came to the rescue and recommended an over the counter antibiotic that I started right away.

I had made plans to meet a German friend for some morning sightseeing, so I dragged myself out around 11. We meandered our way to Victoria Memorial, chatting and taking in our surroundings as we walked. She is currently based in Darjeeling for research, so it was extremely interesting to hear about life in the mountains. Victoria Memorial is a stunning building, and I enjoyed the site even through my haze of illness. It is curious to see how many remnants of the British remain and characterize Calcutta.

Victoria Memorial

Victoria Memorial


Afterwards, we headed to the India Museum, the oldest museum in the country (or so I was told). We had been warned that the museum was a bit strange and perhaps best experienced while under the influence of something strong, so our curiosity had been peaked. The museum is indeed very trippy. The exhibits remind me of the set up of New York’s Museum of Natural History, with large diorama-esque cases that depict animals in their natural habitat. These examples of taxidermy are not stellar, and the pulled facial features, with their glossy eyes peering in different directions, walk the line between hilarious and downright bizarre. The material itself was normal, but the execution was indeed rather creepy.


My second lunch in Calcutta was a plate of vegetable momos (dumplings) and vegetable thukpa (a clear soup with thin noodles). The warm broth soothed my throat and aided conversation, but afterwards I returned to my friend’s house for a 5-hour nap. I awoke to meet my host, my friend from Pune, and some of their school friends and devour an egg-chicken kati roll. Kati rolls are sinfully delicious. Imagine an oily, thick pita bread (but better) with a layer of egg that wraps around veggies, chicken, and a tangy hot sauce. The paper it was wrapped in was completely soaked in oil, but the taste made it 100% worth the clogging of my arteries. The heavy meal sent me back to bed for another full night’s sleep.

Thankfully I woke up on Saturday feeling exponentially better. After another massive breakfast prepared by my friend’s mother – who is the kindest women and who managed to feed me a week’s worth of food in 3 days – I ventured out for a quick solo trip. I made my way up to New Market, a famous destination for shoppers. I wasn’t in the mood for shopping but I wanted to try to capture the bustle with my camera. After getting an annoying amount of attention from shopkeepers in a short period, I gave up and bee-lined my way to the exit. I did snag a couple of cheap scarves on the street to protect my throat from the cool breeze.

Fruit stand near New Market

Fruit stand near New Market

Lemonade stand

Lemonade stand



Roads near New Market

Roads near New Market

Breaking away from the crowds, I wandered along Park Street, marveling at the various Christmas decorations while keeping my eye out for the Park Street Cemetery. It was a bit further away than I had anticipated, but walking through the gate made all of my direction inquiries to bemused shopkeepers and policemen worth it. The cemetery is just breathtaking and a nice break from the crowds of Park Street. The tombstones are memorials that stand taller than my 5’6” build. Crows dart from tree to tree, cawing and snapping their beaks. Some of the tombstones date back to the 1700s, which delighted my American sensibilities. (Seriously, I always get excited to see history that predates the independence of my own country. It makes me giddy to imagine having such a long history.) It was, needless to say, very cool.

A sample of the Christmas decorations along Park Street

A sample of the Christmas decorations along Park Street

Side Park Street Cemetery

Side Park Street Cemetery

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I then went to lunch with my friend and his father. The hospitality of my friend and his family cannot be stressed enough. They were amazingly kind and welcoming during my stay. I am blessed to have so many incredible friends, here in India, at home, and abroad!

The lake near our lunch spot

The lake near our lunch spot

After lunch my friend joined me for another jaunt in Park Street Cemetery, followed by a visit to the Mother’s House, the home, workplace, and tomb of Mother Teresa. Reading about her life and connecting her work with the history of Bengal was a humbling moment. Regardless of all else, she truly worked for the poor of Calcutta during a tumultuous and difficult time. The pictures of that time period are sobering; I cannot imagine what it was like to live and work in Calcutta during those years. Although I am not follower of any particular religion, I said a prayer and sent appreciation for the path that led me to her tomb that day.

Mother Teresa's tomb

Mother Teresa’s tomb

A memorial post to Mother Teresa along Park Street (not near the Mother's House)

A memorial post to Mother Teresa along Park Street (not near the Mother’s House)

My last day in Calcutta was a quieter affair. There were many conversations, and I went to Howrah Bridge for a walk with my friend. We ate a late lunch with his family, and then it was more or less time for me to head to the airport.

Howrah Bridge

Howrah Bridge


For all of my travels, I am a cautious traveler and always try to give myself extra time. While I was in a cab heading to the airport, I received a text from the airline: “Your flight is rescheduled to 20:10.” (The original departure time being 19:30.) Not too bad, I figured. I would still arrive in Pune before too late.

However, within 30 minutes another message came: “Your flight is rescheduled to 20:50.”

After checking in and going through security: “Your flight is rescheduled to 22:30.”

At that point, I started getting worried about a potential cancellation. I knew it wouldn’t be the worst experience – I could always get a taxi back to my friend’s house – but it wouldn’t be ideal. I was fortune to meet a couple on the same flight as me, and we went to find out more information. Winter travel in the north of India is fraught with delays and cancelations due to bad weather. Even though Calcutta is in the east side of the country, our flight was delayed in Ahmedabad or Delhi – it was hard to get a concrete answer. The desk at the gate quickly became a scene of frustration and much anger. I sat back and watched, somewhat amused, somewhat worried. After lots of yelling, we were given a free dinner, as per Indian flight rules. (If a flight is delayed more than 2 hours, the airline must provide a meal. Not too bad, if you ask me.) Concerns over taxi availability in Pune arose, which worried me the most. The couple that I had met was extremely gracious, and offered to help me get home.

After some tedious airport hours and a drowsy flight, we arrived in Pune after 1am. My new friends and I grabbed a taxi, and they dropped me at my place before heading to their home. I got home after 2am and was too wired to sleep right away. I finally faded off to sleep around 3:30 and managed to sleep through two alarms before rushing off to a normal day at work: chai, meetings scheduled and canceled on the same day, venting over still not having the right data from schools, and a simple lunch of idli sambar. And thus the week begins, with a Pondicherry adventure beckoning on the horizon.


The Beaches of Goa and Fletcher Reunions

Goa is the smallest state in India (measured by area), but it is by far the most recommended places that I’ve been urged to visit thus far. Especially given its proximity to Maharashtra, many of my colleagues and friends here in Pune have highly spoken of the beach/party atmosphere in Goa. Even getting from Pune to Goa is rather easy; you can take a plane, train, or bus. Despite all this, I didn’t have any real plans to travel to Goa before last week. It was in the back of my mind as a destination, but I hadn’t taken any plans forward.

Anjuna Beach

Anjuna Beach

But when I got a message from a former classmate from Fletcher, saying that she and another classmate would be visiting Goa, I figured it was the best opportunity I’d get. With the help of my coworker, I booked two overnight buses. Honestly, I was rather nervous about traveling alone overnight in a sleeper bus, but it turned out to be one of the nicest public transportation experiences I’ve had on a bus. Sleeper buses are wonderfully convenient for overnight travel, as beds replace chairs. Curtains cover your bed, and it’s relatively easy to close your eyes and drift off to sleep. In fact, I didn’t feel too tired either day after my bus rides. Which is MUCH better than I can about Mega Bus’s overnight bus from Boston to Philadelphia.


Anjuna Beach


Baga Beach

My friends and I spent Friday walking between beaches in Goa, eating delicious seafood, and enjoying the time for Fletcher conversations. Friday nights should always end with sipping drinks and staring out at the sea. (If only!)

I also spent quite some time riding pillion on a motorcycle. We managed to fit all three of us on the bike for short trips. It’s really quite fun. I’m seriously considering motorcycle classes back in the US…

Blakeley Hall Residents, 2013-2014

Blakeley Hall Residents, 2013-2014

Saturday was saved for sightseeing. We woke up slowly and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with lots of coffee. There is something glorious about sitting in a hotel, coffee in hand, just staring at the lush, green atmosphere and enjoying a wandering conversation with friends. Those kind of slow mornings remind me of so many places and so many delightful people – Heather in Guatemala, Katie and Mollie in Colombia, Stephen and the family in Puerto Rico. It’s a mixture of mildly humid heat and the bitter taste of black coffee. I’m glad to have a morning in Goa to add to this collection of holiday mornings.

Mid-morning we tested our mettle with the public transportation as we traveled down to the historic old city of Panjim (Goa’s capital). The highlight of the old capital was an absolutely delicious lunch of Goan food: chicken vindaloo (Goan style), masala fried fish, pork sorpotel (spicy chopped pork), rice, and bread. To compliment the food (and cool my burning tongue), we sipped feni, a Goan liquor made from cashews, and Limca, a sweet lemonade soda that is very popular here in India. To round out the meal, we shared bebinca, a layered pudding cake, and two bowls of a creamy pudding (I sadly didn’t jot down the name, and Google search is failing me at the moment). So say that we were stuffed is an understatement.


Feni and Limca in the short glass and water in the tall glass



We meandered around a little and then made the journey (this time via ferry, bus, and auto) back to the hotel. After a short rest, we went to Chapora Fort for sunset. The fort itself is famous for a scene from a Bollywood film. We quickly found a nice vantage point and claimed our seats. What we did not anticipate was the smog that blocked the sunset into a vague, hazy pink-orange glow. Even without a clear sunset, the conversation and relaxation more than made up for the view.

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Sadly, after dinner, I had to head down to Panjim for my overnight bus back to Pune. It was hard to say goodbye, but it made me excited for future Fletcher reunions – two more in the next few weeks!


So happy holidays to all! I’ll be spending my Christmas in Kolkata with AIF fellows, Pune friends, and a Fletcher classmate. Certainly not a traditional holiday, but I am looking forward to it nonetheless.

Of Work and Joy

I don’t know how to say this without subscribing to a cliche, but here goes: there is a delightful sense of joy and lightness within the Akanksha team. There is such dedication. It is amazing how many of my coworkers tell me how they switched from jobs in the private sector to Akanksha and how now they cannot see leaving. There’s something about this mission that entices people to give this NGO their all.

Not to say that everything is unicorns and rainbows and pixy dust. There are varying ideas regarding what is best for our students. People have different methods of approaching logistical problems. I notice the same barriers that box in other development NGOs (both domestic and international) at play in Akanksha – lack of funding, staff turnover in schools, the overwhelming struggle to combat a lifetime’s worth of problems. Education can carry students further than they might imagine, but the daunting mountain of obstacles they must overcome in the process remains a massive hurdle that Akanksha does its best to recognize and address. Yet one organization cannot solve the ills of a city or a society.

We are actors trying to make a difference in a limited sphere of influence.

However, there really is something about this mission that fuels people here. So many have experience in the classroom; there is an honest and earnest belief in education. And there is such excitement about learning. The passion is real.

As a young professional, it is encouraging to see an organization so dedicated and hardworking also embrace joy and playfulness at its core:

Staff meetings: learning and practicing resilience with spaghetti and marshmallows

Staff meetings = learning and practicing resilience with spaghetti and marshmallows

Trying to get the tower just a little bit higher

Trying to get the tower just a little bit higher. Things got intense for a few moments.

The final product

The final product

Honoring Gandhi

With the insanity of moving to a new city/state/country calming down, I finally got to visit the Aga Khan Palace. It is a beautiful place, full of gardens and quiet corners to lie down in. I enjoyed spending a quiet afternoon relaxing and lounging on the grass. Lying in the grass and staring at the clouds pass by is reminiscent of childhood, and it was a wonderful start to my Pune adventures.

Built in 1892, Aga Khan Palace is notable as the internment site of Mahatma Gandhi, his wife, and his secretary from the period of August 9, 1942 – May 6, 1944. Both Gandhi’s wife and secretary died during this internment period, and their samadhis (sites to honor people regarded as saints or gurus) are located at the palace.

I’m glad that I started my explorations of Pune with this historical site, and I look forward to continuing to explore my new city in the weekends to come.

Without further ado, pictures:


From inside the palace

From inside the palace

Statue of Gandhi and his wife

Statue of Gandhi and his wife



On the left: aloo (potato) paratha On the right: paneer (cheese) paratha Yogurt and pickle in the small containers. YUM.


Rather bad lighting, but proof that I was indeed there :)

Rather bad lighting, but proof that I was indeed there 🙂

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As of today, I have been in Pune for a full week. I am moving into my own apartment tomorrow. My foreign registration saga is slowly but surely coming to an end. (I’m being optimistic here!) I have been invited to spend Monday at a school event. I have gone for 2 runs, 2 walks, and a yoga class.

There have been challenges as I transition to a new city, but given how nervous I was leaving Delhi and my fellow Fellows, my move to Pune has been wonderful. As such, I thought that it would be good to remember the highlights of my first week here. As I am constantly reminded, it is best to approach life with a sense of humor and patience in India.

1) Getting to know my amazing mentor and colleagues.

Everyone at Akanksha has been so welcoming. My mentor has been SO helpful with my foreign registration process. I seriously could not have done it without his help.

I’ve also been housed by another coworker and her roommates. They have taken me on apartment viewings, fed me, and made sure that I am 100% comfortable here. I’m sad to leave their place tomorrow, but it will be nice to unpack my suitcases after 20 days!

Even going to the Akanksha office is comfortable. Everyone greets me warmly, and it’s been fun to start talking with people. Everyone is incredibly friendly and dedicated. I have been offered more projects than I can realistically take on in 10 months, and I’ve also been extended the opportunity to create my own project(s) as ideas come to me. I have been offered a great deal of freedom in addition to the opportunity to do useful work. I couldn’t have asked for a better placement.

2) Visiting two of the Akanksha schools.

The kids are so cute. And smart. And energetic. Seriously, they have more energy in one classroom than I ever saw in my entire school in Korea! The antics they get into… I am going to have so many stories once I start going regularly. The last school I visited I had to promise that I would come back. And even then I had to give 5+ minutes of hugs before I could escape.

My favorite student comment of the week: “Didi, your hair is like maggi noodles. I like maggi noodles.” And then I had about 6 girls playing with my hair. (Maggi noodles are a specific type of Indian ramen.)

3) Eating lots of delicious Indian food.

Masalas. Dosas. Chapati. Paneer. Enough said.

On that note – palak paneer is so much better here than in the States. Seriously.

4) Finding an apartment.

I am so happy that I found a furnished place that’s within my budget and in the area that was recommended to me. Plus, my new roommates have a cat. So by default I get a pet for my Fellowship year! And apparently there’s a jogging trail nearby…

5) Running.

It’s so nice to run outside again. I’m taking it slow and making sure that I work up to my normal milage again, but the ability to wake up and go for a run has truly been a great normalizer in my transition. I feel like me when I can run.

6) Trees.

Pune is a green city. It’s unlike any other South Asian city I’ve seen yet. And I love it. Can’t wait to sit outside my new balcony, stare out into the greenery, and read. (I’m pretending as though I’ll have time.)

7) Riding on motorcycles.

Motorcycles, or as they are called here, two-wheelers, are the way to travel in Pune. The public transportation system is more or less nonexistent, traffic is busy enough that cars are inefficient, and auto-rickshaws are expensive. So what’s a Pune-ite to do? Jump on a two-wheeler with one or two friends, and off they go!

I never imagined that I would be a regular backseat motorcyclist, but it’s a blast. I still grip the back of the bike with both hands and won’t let go unless we’re at a dead stop, and my heart still pounds like crazy when we hit a clear swath of road and the speed increases, but it is a blast. Although how women sit sidesaddle on the bike WHILE HOLDING THEIR INFANT CHILDREN is besides me. I cringe every time I see that. Just… just no. That can’t be safe…

It’s been a fun week here in Pune. I can’t wait to get my new place looking like home so that I can go explore Pune’s sights! My place is 2 kilometers from a palace – YES.

A Weekend at Ashram Paryavaran Vidyalaya (APV)

This post travels back in time to 9/5 – 9/8. I had written a post in my notebook, and I am finally getting around to transcribing my reflections now. Better late than never!

A morning view of the Himalayas

A morning view of the Himalayas

APV. What an introduction to the Fellowship.

As part of orientation, the AIF Team took all 40 fellows to an alternative school in the remote Himalayan region of Uttarkhand. The school’s educational strategies deviate from India’s memorize-or-die pressure cooker system. The children are taught meditation as part of their daily routine, and music is incorporated into lessons. Subjects such as math and history are explained with unique techniques. For example, I sat in on a class that taught algebraic factoring through volume and cubes. It was fascinating!


One of the most stunning moments of my brief time at APV was sitting in the classroom for the first time. After a brief moment of meditation, the children started singing. it was absolutely breathtaking. Forty fellows, the AIF staff, the children, and their teachers were all crammed into a single room without chairs. We sat, body to body, the music utterly enchanting. Knee to knee with other fellows, a young girl pressed against my legs, I saw a glimpse of life in this rural Indian school. It made me ache with excitement to head to my own schools and my own students. (Present moment note: the students at Akanksha schools are ADORABLE and I love them to pieces. It is so much fun transitioning from “Jessica Teacher” to “Jessica Didi,” and I will certainly be writing about my first experiences at the schools this week. Soon. I hope.)

Bells at the Goddess Temple

Bells at the Goddess Temple

I think the best summary that I can give of this retreat must be stolen from one of my peers here: I haven’t been this relaxed in a long time. Between the early morning and evening meditation sessions, hiking the Himalayas, viewing a Goddess Temple, playing soccer with the APV kids, yoga-ing, and talking with the other fellows for hours while staring at the most beautiful valley imaginable, I feel more free than I have in ages. Keeping this calm in Delhi and then Pune will be the real challenge. (Present moment note: Hmmm, will have to keep this thought in mind more… Certain bureaucratic processes are testing any zen moments I had previously!)



This excursion is by far the best way to start this fellowship year. So far everything has been amazing beyond all expectation. I cannot begin to imagine what this year holds for me. (Still can’t!)

Discarding Pride

I don’t like asking for help.

It is not that I believe my own knowledge to be greater than those around me. Quite contrary: at Fletcher, most of my colleagues have a great deal to teach me and I love learning from them.

Rather, I dislike asking for help in situations when I feel helpless. I dislike the feeling of losing control. I dislike being a burden on those around me and those I trust. Even when I know that if the situation were reversed, I would be happy to help – even then, it grates me to rely on others for help in simple tasks that I am used to doing independently.

I am relearning humility here in Pune.

By no means, please do not misunderstand my words for harsh feelings against my new home. Although I have only been here for four days, I already love Pune. If any Indian city were to be crafted with me in mind, it is Pune. The city is green. Trees offer shade along sidewalks that are mostly well kept. Early mornings are cool enough for a nice run and the sight of a foreigner jogging has attracted almost no attention yet. Twice now I have taken off, running along the paths and enjoying a taste of normalcy.

I cannot wait to truly take off and explore my new city in earnest.

My frustrations lie in official registration business and apartment hunting. I am continuously relying on the help of friends and coworkers as I fruitlessly search for accommodation and a way to formalize my stay in the city. With each helper comes another opinion, another voice, another set of ideas. Normally the more the merrier. But right now, confused as I am with so much, each new thought brings more confusion into the mix. All of this makes it hard for me to keep accepting help. But yet I must.

I am staying with a lovely coworker and her two wonderful roommates. I struggle to remain as quiet and inconspicuous as possible while being friendly. I rely on coworkers for rides. I rely on friends for hours of apartment searching. And through it all I still don’t know if my actions are useful or just a waste of energy.

But it takes a lot of my pride to keep asking questions. How do I make coffee? May I make some tea? Where is the washing machine? Can I please help with the dishes?

I am incredibly lucky to be with such wonderful people here in Pune. I have been fed, housed, and befriended in such a short time. If I were able to help, perhaps that would alleviate some of the hesitations I feel at the moment. In a normal context – that is to say, in my normal American life – I try to do so much on my own. Because in my mind, that is what grown ups do. They take care of themselves. Here I cannot do that yet. I fight against the feeling of regression, of becoming younger and reliant. And so I must surrender my pride. I must relearn humility. And I must learn to differentiate between the situations in which I should ask for help and the situations where I need to act for myself.

India is simultaneously forcing me to my knees and lifting me to my feet. I am both a child and an adult. I came to serve and yet all I do now is rely on others for help. India teaches me, in every moment, to relax the white knuckled grasp I have on life and let it flow as it will.

I must discard my pride and remember humility.

India is Osmosis

Recently time has slipped away from me. It feels like a moment ago I was staring down two and a half months in Dhaka. A second ago I was landing in the United States for a short reprieve at home. But somehow now I am not only in India, but I have been here for three days and the time is spiraling away faster and faster yet.

It has been a whirlwind of meeting other fellows, talking with my contact at the Akanksha Foundation, meandering down the quiet streets of south Delhi, ignoring the pesky annoyance also known as jetlag, and eating as much paneer as my stomach can handle per meal. For now, all forty AIF Fellows are housed at the Vishwa Yuvak Kendra International Youth Hostel where we are trying to frantically remember everyone’s names and power our way through the foreign registration process. (Lesson one in India: bureaucracy is a force to be reckoned with. Lesson two: never expect the internet to work when it needs to. It will start working precisely when you want to go to bed.)

Everything still feels like a dream, to be honest. We are in a bubble – surrounded by English, guided by AIF staff, and housed by VYK. The streets are quiet, given that we are currently neighbors to embassies. The rains have cooled Delhi, and while it is still extremely humid, everything has been tamer than Dhaka thus far. I am realistic enough to realize that this grace period of calm will end soon, but I am enjoying it while it lasts.

Despite nagging flutters of nerves at the thought of moving to a foreign city alone while some of my peers will depart together, I am eagerly anticipating my “real” entrance to India. I am beyond excited to join the Akanksha Foundation, my placement organization for the year. Akanksha is based in Pune and Mumbai, where they run after-school centers and schools for underprivileged children. At the moment, it looks as though my projects will focus on monitoring and evaluation of school projects that are scaling up this year. One project will focus on literacy and language acquisition and retention. Another project will test methods for encouraging independent learning in young children (preschool and kindergarten ages). Another option is assisting with a scale up model for an Akanksha school(s) in possibly two new locations. And these are just the ideas selected by the organization – they are leaving things open until I arrive, thus enabling me to explore the schools and organization myself before finalizing my projects for the 10 months. There are so many options, and all possibilities seem infinitely exciting at the moment.

During one of our sessions we were told that India is osmosis, that you learn from this country without realizing it. I’d like to think that I have already started to internalize the tiniest portion of this country.