I am sitting under a tree, watching a monkey jump from the top of my sleeping quarters onto a fence -- guess I won’t be getting anything out of my room for awhile. It is a strange juxtaposition – the monkey swings on the laundry line (there goes my shirt) and into a tree, while in the background a tall modern looking apartment building rises into the sky as the sound of lyrical bus horns and honking cars fill my ears.
I am in Ahmedabad, India, in the state of Gujarat, at Kochrab Ashram where the AJWS Fellowship Orientation has begun.
I have to admit I am relieved to be here. I very much enjoyed Nepal, but I felt the whole time that I was pending, in a liminal space between America and India. Now I am here, and finally feeling present.
We were welcomed at the airport by our fabulous AJWS staff -- Lily, Sunita, Will and Aaron – and taken on a typically wild ride through the streets of the city to our Ashram. On the way, I did a double take – was that a camel pulling a cart? There it was in the middle of traffic, walking jauntily beside a bus. (Note: I have since seen a plethora of animals asserting their right to the road: elephants, camels, dogs, goats, cows. Crossing the street behind one is a good way to avoid being run over.)
As our first day passed, the rest of the fellows began to arrive, culminating in a lovely dinner and welcome ceremony facilitated by our country representative, Sunita. First I was asked to light an oil lamp, which Sunita circled in front of each of us in turn. Then she placed a dot of red pigment between our eyebrows and a flower garland around our necks, handing us bangles, sweets, nuts, and dried fruits as gifts. I felt instantly at home.
It has been three weeks since we arrived and we have covered everything from the caste system to the LGBTI community to Hindu rituals to being Jewish in India. We have visited a 600 year old stepwell where the community once drew water, purchased salwar kameez and dupatas to wear, seen wild asses at an animal sanctuary, visited a women's court, and gone to a (terrible) Bollywood film called Ra-One. I even got to visit Bhuj briefly in order to attain my documentation.
This evening our NGO partners arrive and everything changes.
By Friday we will disperse around the country: to Mumbai, Patna, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Bhuj, and in the case of one Fellow, a campus in the middle of the desert where Dalits (untouchables) can study. I will leave with my counterpart from Khamir for Bhuj and begin the process of transitioning into a new home, town, and work space. My apprehension is overwhelmed by excitement. But I have grown to love Ahmedabad, the Ghandi Kochrob Ashram, and the AJWS group, and am a bit sad to be leaving the comfort of this community.