These last few days in India have certainly been some of the most eventful thus far! Wednesday was Emily’s 20th birthday, so I woke up extra-early to decorate while she was still asleep. I think she really liked it! Later that evening, we sang and had cake, and it was a lot of fun! One of our resident friars, Fr. Leslie, celebrated his birthday on the same day, so a lot of the other friars came to visit and it was quite the affair. We took a lot of pictures, mostly because the boys jump in front of the camera (and take the camera from you) every chance they get! Here’s a picture of Emily and a swarm of our boys in front of her birthday poster that we all signed:
On Friday, we had an opportunity to see some of the other centers of ICID. One, Nirma Jyothi, was located relatively nearby in a slum section of Nagpur. It was not the nicest area, but the people there were so kind! (One of the perks of India is that no matter where you go, [schools, houses, jewelry stores where they think you’re a dumb tourist and want to get you to buy something] they always give you tea. It’s awesome.) There were two main buildings at Nirma Jyothi. One is a schoolhouse, which was having kindergarten class that day. We got to see English vocab practice, story time, and lunch (Guess what they had for lunch? If you guessed anything other than rice, I don’t even know why you bothered guessing!). The kids were great and were more than happy to pose for a few photos (although, the photos are usually even better when they're not posing!).
The building next door was the tailoring instruction center, where women from the community are able to attend tailoring classes and can learn how to make different types of clothing. Something different about this center was that it catered to less fortunate and less educated adults in the area, and women at that. These women have been given the opportunity to learn a trade not just for the benefit of their families, but because it’s something that they can be proud of within themselves.
After swinging back to Yuva Jyothi for lunch, we went to the other center, a combination library, classroom, and sewing center for local women. We were told that the first area would be bad, but it was nothing compared to this. The entire neighborhood was located between the railroad tracks and a garbage dumping yard, and everything was mud (there were temporary bridges built out of bricks and plastic containers to assist people in getting across particularly large or deep puddles). However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen happier people in my entire life. The kids at the center were thrilled to see us, and even sang for us and showed us some dances they had been practicing! The older women were wonderful, too, and they showed off some garments that they had proudly made themselves.
One of the teachers from Yuva Jyothi who accompanied us, Sharda, actually attended this school before she came to work for ICID. Her mother was in the sewing class, and her cousin was a teacher as well. After visiting the center, we walked across the neighborhood (and a lot of puddles) to visit Sharda’s mother’s house, where she made us each a cup of tea (I am LOVING the tea). I was surprised to find that this “home” was really just one room with a bed, a television, a vanity, and a small gas stove sitting on top of some cinderblocks. Afterwards, when we visited Sharda’s home (which was just across the way) the setting was very much the same, except her husband was there to greet us (they got married about a month ago, and Emily and I loved looking through the engagement and wedding photos. Indian weddings are super fancy).
Soon enough, other family members like in-laws, cousins, sisters, brothers, and plenty of neighbors all crowded into the tiny room to say hello. Cookies and juice were passed around, and the room was quickly filled with laughter and chatter. I barely cared that I couldn’t understand a word, just because I enjoyed the atmosphere so much. Here were these people, living in an area I could only imagine ever seeing in the movies, with basically nothing, and they were just so happy to be together. They were all friends and family that had grown together over the years and knew each other so comfortably that they could talk about anything. It made me really miss my own family and friends back home (Sharda’s mother-in-law literally looked just like my grandmother, but in a sari), but it also made me happy that that kind of comfort an familiarity can happen anywhere.
On the way back home, I did a lot of thinking (riding on a motor scooter in India with the wind in your hair will do that to you). I thought about how blessed I am to be able to travel to a place like this and to see the beauty in what others might call ugliness. Here there are millions upon millions of people, all crowding around each other for a tiny space (or a one-room home). And yet, it is just the same as back home in America. Family is the same. Love is the same. Home feels the same. Within these faceless crowds there are individual people, each with a story and life goals and a mom and a dad and a place that they call home, just like me. Sure, maybe theirs are a little different (and there were most likely WAY more cows where they grew up), but it seems to me that people really are connected by that one common thing: the ability to connect.