29 Sept 2019 7:33 pm- Jaipur
I am currently processing the wonders of this past week and listening to “I’m a Lady” by Santigold, one of the many songs I’ve just regained access to on account of hotel WiFi. This morning, we arrived by train to Jaipur, where we will spend the week learning Hindi and Devanagari at the American Institute for Indian Studies (AIIS). We spent the week in Magkahli, a small village nestled in the Himalayas, with host families. I was partnered with Anna, and we had a wonderful time getting to know Amma Ji, our host grandma, Shusila Ji, our host mom, Vikran, one of our host brothers, Dileep Ji, our host dad, our other host brother, and Mao, our host cat.
At first, I was nervous about what my relationship with Amma Ji would be like, as she wasn’t very warm on the first day. I wondered if my race was the issue. Coming into BYI, I knew that race would be a unique challenge that most of the other students in our cohort wouldn’t face as often. Aside from encounters few and far between, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the attitudes of almost everyone we’ve met so far. In a day’s time, and with a little communication assistance from Ajay Ji, the head of the Center for the Contemplation of Nature, and the host family coordinator, Amma Ji and I got along just fine. Our exchanges became an integral part of my Magkahli experience.
On the first day, I tried to tell Amma Ji that I thought her bracelets were nice. I’d forgotten that in many Indian cultures, complimenting someone on an article of clothing or accessory is is interpreted as asking for it. Amma Ji stood up, went to her room, and came back with a bracelet she’d removed from her wrist for me and a new one for Anna. In that moment, I realized that I’d committed a faux pas and tried to give the bracelet back, but it was a bit too late. She gave us the bracelets, and, a few days later, gifted me with a brand new (and more intricate) one that resembled Anna’s a bit more. It was the first of many awkward, but special interactions with Amma Ji. By the end of the week, we were sad to part. I was also sad to leave the other members of my host family, each of whom I had other memorable interactions with.
Our host mom, Shushila Ji, is a phenomenal woman. She laughed with us, helped us learn some vocab words, and made amazing dishes, ranging from Chana Poori to Aloo Parantha. Our host father Dileep Ji taught Anna and I how to make Aloo Ghea subjee and Chappati one night. A few nights later, the entire cohort put our cooking skills to use by preparing a community dinner of Mutter Paneer, subjee, and Poori, to thank the people of Magkahli for their kindness and generosity. We also performed our dance number, “London Thumakada”, and danced the night away with friends like Vikran and Haima Ji, who we’d met that morning herding cows.
The memories I made in Magkahli are some of the most precious of my BYI journey so far. I left my host family and friends with tearful goodbyes and a promise- that I’d be back to visit one day.