University of Wisconsin–Madison

At Home in Assi

I had heard there was no real “typical day” for a foreign student in Varanasi, and having been in the city for over a month now I am inclined to agree. Things that should take a just a few minutes end up taking entire afternoons, and making plans becomes really difficult because you never really know when it will rain, when the roads will be closed, what time the movie will be shown, or if the shop will be open. In this way, India continues to teach me patience and flexibility. Knowing that I can’t really control anything here reminds me that it’s best not to worry about it.

That said, whatever “routine” I had going for me got a little mixed up two weeks ago, because I moved in with a new host family on the Wednesday before last. I really liked the last place I was staying, but unfortunately my host dad fell ill and ended up spending some time in the hospital. I didn’t want to be a burden on him and his wife, so I decided it would be best if I chose a new place to live.

My new host family is pretty different from the last—before I was living on the roof of the house (above my friend Jackie) of two older people, so life was pretty quiet. Now I live in the bottom of a house that I share with my new family, my host parents and three sisters, who are 15, 17, and 21. They all share a bedroom upstairs, and their aunt, uncle, and little cousins stay in the room on the roof. I share a bathroom with five people.

I’ve been describing my new arrangement as “rustic.” There are plenty of mice in the house, and last week I came home to a stray cat in my room. This evening I saw a spider in the bathroom that must have been 4 inches in diameter. My bed is draped with a mosquito net, I’m taking cold showers using a bucket, and since there’s no back-up battery like there was in my last room, sometimes the power completely cuts out.

My new bedroom
My new bedroom

Normally these things would drive me crazy (and maybe even scare me) but as I explained, not being able to control things here means I just have to let them happen. And besides that, my host family has been so welcoming thus far that most of the inconveniences are just overshadowed. They are helping me with my Hindi, teaching me how to cook, and showing me how to wear a sari. They’re practicing Hindus, they love watching soap operas and Hindi movies, and they their take chai time pretty seriously. They’ve already incorporated me so much in to their lives and routine that I feel like I’ve been with them for much longer than two weeks. I can’t imagine how at home I will feel there after seven months.

Exploring the ghats after school
Exploring the ghats after school
Performers in a Sanskrit play
Performers in a Sanskrit play

2 thoughts on “At Home in Assi”

  1. Something tells me you’re going to want to do some camping when you get back to the States! Also, maybe the woman at REI who told you to ask your host family to help you identify dangerous snakes wasn’t too far off the mark! Anyway, your host family sounds very nice and welcoming and your room is pretty too — it went from very blue to very green — (there may be a metaphor there somewhere…) Keep those blogs and photos coming!

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