As I sit here on Emirates flight 237, only two and a half hours away from stepping foot in Boston, I can hardly believe it's been three weeks since I left home. I'm sitting in a nearly identical plane, eating nearly identical terrible airplane food, wearing a nearly identical outfit to the one I did when I began my journey to India. If you were to look at me, you would think nothing had changed.
But you'd be wrong.
Last time I was on a flight, shooting thousands of miles in the other direction, so hopeful and so excited, I vowed to leave a number of things behind as I began my new journey. But now I write not about loss, but about gain. Because three weeks later, thousands of memories later, hundreds of experiences richer, I'm bringing so much home.
The main thing I'm bringing home, in many senses of the word, is love. In fact, if I had to pick one thing that Niswarth is about, I wouldn't pick education, or development, or even learning. I would pick love. I'm bringing home all the love that I was given by all the people we met: the ESI staff, the teachers and students at the Municipal school, the adolescent girls, my fellow peers. I'm bringing back the love of Sanjay, one of the students at the Municipal school. The way he followed me around, his bright, big, brown eyes on mine every time I turned around, the way he would watch our van drive away every day, the way he looked at me through the barred window on our last day at the school, asking me in Hindi, "You're not coming back tomorrow?" I'm bringing back the touching, real love that he managed to give to me despite our limited interaction and knowledge of each other. I'm bringing back the love that dozens of adolescent girls showed me, as we danced and laughed and sang and said good-bye. I'm bringing back the love contained in the way that they hugged me and patiently applied mendhi for me and shook my hand and asked me when I would return and told me to visit them if I came to Ahmedabad again and shouted good-byes until our bus zoomed away.
Along with the memories of the love I was given, I bring back a new philosophy of love and a determination to both find it, appreciate it, and create it. From the wisdom of Mukesh Bhai, Suresh Bhai, and Jayesh Bhai, I bring back the belief that small things done with great love are what matter. I bring back the belief that spirituality is the openness of one's heart, that the heart has no limits, and that we must treat every person on earth with the love of a brother of sister. From Vandana, I bring back the knowledge that we are shown immense acts of love every day, and that when recognize and appreciate these acts, we will find gratitude and happiness. I bring back the intention to love myself and love every person around me.
I'm bringing home a new perspective, understanding, and respect for all the people and communities we encountered and worked with. As I walked through various slum communities, I learned not to see the dirt-covered, small shanties and prominent ribs of the children, but to also see the meaningful communities that they forged, the fact that they were people just as much I am a person, their bravery and fortitude, and their resilience.
I'm bringing home new habits of meditation and silence and reflection and thought.
I'm bringing home a journal full of scribbled quotes, jotted-down notes, and haphazard thoughts. Thoughts that I haven't yet digested and don't yet fully understand , but ones that I hope I will continue to pursue long beyond this summer.
I'm bringing home thirteen incredible, hilarious, generous, kind, thoughtful friends, ones with whom I hope I will stay friends for a long time to come. Our connection truly is remarkable--we have shared experiences and seen sides of each other that are rarely possible in typical friendships. I'm bringing home so many memories: late-night talks, hours of singing in the back of the bus, sprinkler adventures, slightly embarrassing water bottle incidents, slightly more embarrassing tripping incidents, countless odd inside jokes, hours of attempting to dance garba, and more. My heart aches a little when I think that I may see some of them very rarely, if ever, but I have faith that we will keep in touch.
As I come to the end of this blog post, I feel as if I am concluding my Niswarth experience, neatly wrapping up the end of my sweaty, beautiful three-week experience. But while the three-week program itself might be ending, I know that its effects are far from over.
I'm bringing home gratitude.