Welcome to the details of my second semester in Varanasi! If you have stuck around this long to read, then I thank you, and I promise to post updates as regularly as possible again in this new semester. While it is nice just to get my thoughts down on paper (or pixels), I like to think that some people (even if it is just my grandparents) have some interest in what I have to share, and that maybe some people are even getting some use out this (people thinking of studying abroad, maybe?)
I am back in my old Varanasi stomping grounds after nearly a month of travel around India. “Amazing” does not do justice to how the trip was, but just as amazing was the feeling I had when my two travel companions and I arrived back at the Varanasi train station a few nights ago. I really felt like I was coming home, and I got a feel for what it will be like to return to Varanasi in the future—chaotic but familiar, like nothing has changed. A month isn’t such a long time, but I really get the sense that Varanasi will be this way for a long time to come.
Back to the trip. I am not sure it could have gone any smoother. I kept waiting for disaster to strike—a missed train, a hotel nightmare, a train robbery, illness—but nothing ever came. In fact, it was the opposite. Even things that seemed like they would end badly turned out well. Example: we got in to our first stop in the south at 10:30PM, drove to the guesthouse where we had made a reservation weeks ago, pulled up to a locked gate, phoned to learn the reservation was lost and there were no free rooms. Exhausted, defeated, and facing some language difficulties (no Hindi in the South!), we allowed our rickshaw driver to take us to a different guesthouse, expecting to be overcharged and disappointed. It turned out to be run by great staff, clean, comfortable, and half the price of our original hotel. Chance happenings like that have me more convinced than ever that most things cannot be controlled but will happen just as they are supposed to.
The other thing that made our trip so great were all the people we met. We talked to a lot of people, from all different countries, from all walks of life, and everyone was so amazingly kind. There was the fatherly man on the train, who warned us to steer clear of some troublemaking boys sharing the neighboring car. The man who gave us a boat tour in Alleppey, who might go to the Olympics some day. The teacher from Spain who was traveling in India for a few weeks before moving to France to live with her boyfriend. The barefoot cycle rickshaw driver who told us we were guests in his country, and for perhaps the first time ever did not try to charge us more because we were foreigners. The woman in Gandhi’s ashram who was so happy we were there that she took us to meet the archive website design team, even though she could have just given us the site link. The Sikh man who explained his religion and invited us to drink chai in the gurdwara’s kitchen. The 8th grade girls on a field trip who were so excited to practice their English, all the people who patiently helped us get off at the right station on every train ride, the man on his scooter who helped us find the bus stop, the guy who gave up his seat and got off the crowded public bus so we could get to the Ellora caves, my friend’s distant relatives who bought us lunch and told us that some day we would figure our lives out, the crazy characters we met at the prison-themed hostel we stayed at over Christmas, and so many others we bumped in to along the way. I will probably never see most of them again, but I am grateful that they have all crossed paths with me. I have made a promise to myself that I will show everyone I meet as much kindness, or more, as they showed us.
The spring semester students have arrived in Varanasi and school will start in just two days. Seeing how fast the last semester went, I feel well prepared to make the most of every day I have left here, and I have a few goals set for this semester:
-begin speaking Hindi with the other American students that speak it, because last semester we were mostly horrible about not speaking English with each other
-learn to type in Hindi and Urdu script, because it will be useful and make my homework that much neater
-finish reading at least two Harry Potter books in Hindi
-spend more time cooking with my host mom so I can learn to make more delicious food
-watch more Bollywood movies, because when I get back to America they will probably seem too ridiculous and long to devote time to
-explore more areas of Varanasi, since there are parts I have not seen
-not worry too much about life “after India”, but still make enough of a plan to move on after my time here
That’s all I can think of for now, but I reserve the right to add to my list. Stay warm if you’re in Wisconsin, and check back soon for more updates from India!