Tuesday, September 4, 2012


It has been over four months since my departure from Delhi.

The flight from Delhi to Heathrow was a blur, punctuated by a viewing of the Bollywood hit "Rockstar," and the clipped, cordial, plummy accented voices of my British Airways flight attendants.  The journey through Heathrow was rushed, with no time to cruise around the terminal, or to converse with coffee shop baristas in my best British accent.  In no time at all I found myself on a second plane, bound for Dulles Airport.

After landing in Washington DC, I drove home with my parents, happy to be home with family, but disoriented by the silence of the beltway, a silence that was, paradoxically, disquieting.

For days there was a constant ringing in my ears.  At first I was terrified that I had inherited my dad's tinnitis, but soon realized that the ringing was just filling a void.  The space in my head that had once been occupied by blaring car horns, the muezzin's call to prayer, yelping street dogs, laughing children, roaring motorbikes, salesmen hawking their wares, Bollywood tunes, temple bells, the crack of ball against cricket bat, and so many more sounds loud, soft, and somewhere in between, was now empty, and desperately trying to compensate by creating its own dull ring.

The whining buzz in my ears continued as I journeyed into Whole Foods for the first time in a year.  I shivered in the intensely air conditioned environment, stared at the neatly stacked shelves and abundantly stocked produce bins, and marveled at the pristine, weevil-free lentils, yet still longed for Delhi's open air, tarpaulin draped vegetable stands and chaotic markets.  My ears continued to ring as I watched women in tube tops and mini skirts walking the streets of Montgomery County Maryland.  Their attire seemed somehow indecent now.  The buzzing in my ears continued as I waited in line at the supermarket, at the doctor's office, and at Rite Aid.  No one jostled me.  No one questioned my place in the queue.  And no one smiled and offered me a place in front of them.

Eventually, the buzzing disappeared.  I attended my sister's graduation from my own alma mater, Haverford College, where I enjoyed dining hall food, reunited with professors and fellow fords, and found myself more inspired by the commencement speeches than I had been at my own graduation.  Back home in Maryland, I saw still more friends and family members at my sister's graduation party.  And of course, I was glad to see everyone.

I grew used to eating apples, peaches, and nectarines without subjecting the fruits to a rigorous soaking and disinfecting procedure.  I became all too quickly accustomed to the comforts of air conditioning and reliable power.  I drove, at first marveling at the wide open streets and American drivers' lack of horn usage, but then quickly also grew used to these realities of the American road.

I worked as a teaching assistant in a summer academic program for talented teenagers.  Unlike in India, I was a true assistant, helping the primary teacher with her job, rather than leading the class myself.  Unlike in India, my class had only five students in it.  I was shocked at how easy it was.  I was anxious, constantly wondering if I should be doing more, if I was really needed.

And now, four months after my departure from India, I am getting ready to go back.  Eager to continue to delve into the complexities of Indian education, I have decided to work for one year as a full-time volunteer for Manzil Welfare Society, an NGO that had greatly impressed me during my previous visits to its headquarters near Khan Market, New Delhi.  Now that the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship has exposed me to the harsh realities of the Government school system in India, I am eager to join with Manzil in combating the system's many problems.

Of course I am nervous about the upcoming year.  Four months in the US have softened me in many ways, and I know I will have to go through culture shock all over again for a third time.  Additionally, this will be my first time going to India alone, without a group of fellow Americans embarking on the same journey.  There will be no American "bubble" into which to retreat when times get rough, or when I just want a peanut butter sandwich.  There will be no office dedicated to helping me and my cohort settle in and feel comfortable; I will have to provide my own comfort and sense of stability.  I will be working Indian hours--"the weekend" will be limited to Sunday only.

That said, I believe I am ready for this challenge.  After so much time in programs specifically designed for Americans in India, I find myself wanting to break out of this cozy, sheltered lifestyle.  I will still have a sizable safety net of course: the Manzil staff are kind and caring, and I can always call on my friends from CIEE, Fulbright, and elsewhere.  If I need help, I will always have access to it.

But still, this experience feels as if it will be somehow different.  More "Indian."  And I am very excited to see what is in store for me this year.