Garden Lunch Box

Basmati Rice with Lentils in a Hyderabad curry (left), Beet & Jalepeno Salad with a Habenero Glaze(top right), Harvest Ginger Salad (bottom right): Matthew Stromberg 

Your body is your vehicle: intestines like gears become clogged with gunk, limbs scarred with adventures as bumpers are scratched and replaced, and the heart drags on a toll as an engine would wear out. Yet, throughout a lifetime of usage, this body is beyond a car. An evolutionary biological vessel, existential transformation. With the right nutrients, the right combination of elixirs and the expansion of the mind, the body is no longer a body. Consume everything: the air, the water, the people, thoughts, desires, accomplishments, the environment. Consume everything that will transform and evolve you and soon you will realize the absence of a barrier between the skin on your soul and the atoms of the world. 

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Inside Indira: Train Life

20:40

After ten hours of a delay, the train has finally arrived. Everyone is crowding platform 3 and she grabs her suitcase and travel bag and begins chasing the train cart labeled S9. 

She enters her cabin. A small compartment with two benches face each other, two ladders on either side leading to the upper bunks, while another bunk bench lies perpendicular from the two, and a small walk way separates the three bench formation. Her seat number is the bottom bunk, but she grabs her suit case, stuffs t under the seat, and proceeds to climb the ladder to the top bunk. Here, she can relax. Here, she can see everything below her and around her. Here, she is safe. 

By the time they all boarded it was late night. She tries to fall asleep but vaguely remembers dreams of giant trees, secret family duelings and her feet freezing. Early in the morning, the train is rocking and everyone is up and about, making all kinds of noise. She looks to her left, her nieghbor bunk mates are three Russians. Two women and a man with only facial hair and not a smile to crack. Typical, she tells herself. They’re all still asleep, she looks at her watch and it reads 7:32, too early. She rolls back and covers her face, more sleep. 

When she finally wakes up again, it is about 10 and one of the Russian girls are still sleeping. She grabs her bathroom toiletries, climbs down her ladder and heads to the washroom. As she passes the other compartments, she’s met with many stares and many men. It doesn’t frighten her, just annoys her. Have they never seen a women before? Four small bathrooms face each other, one of them is western with an actual toilet. She ops for the squatter. Inside she begins brushing her teeth, washing her face and combing her hair. Three days without a shower is nothing for a girl who’s lived in Morocco. Clean she tells herself. No cold water to refresh her soul. 

She gets out of the bathroom and walks down the path of stares to her bunk. She throws her toiletries down, and grabs her passport and cell phone. After tucking it into her waist, she peeks at her bunk mates, one Russian still asleep, the others are sitting, and the Indians below her bunk are up and talking. They all had their formalities last night and continue to talk this morning. She wants nothing of it. After spending three weeks working in the Clinic, being surronded by people, and living with house mates, she wants anything but to talk to people. She doesn’t understand it. Are people naturally inclined to talk to each other? 

Just because conversation isn’t immediate and friendships aren’t established, doesn’t mean it must be. I leave the mates and head towards the back of the train. Compartment by compartment, cart by cart, I see families dotted here and there, suitcases stashed in every nook and cranny, feet bare and naked and stares. Always the stares. She decides not to play this time. Too many to focus on just one. Between each train cart are the entrances and exits, one open metal door revealing the fast fleeting scenery outside. Mountains, trees, grasslands and plains. The doorway is obscured by someone either standing or sitting. I continue down the carts until I can find an empty one where I can sit and let my feet dangle. 

Images. Images of barren fields absorbed of their nutrients and images of rich, lucisous, green life. Images of sun kissed, black bodies bent over plants picking endlessly. Images of women wrapped in garments from head to toe, balancing bunches of branches on their single small head. They walk and they work. Images of cattle, both cows and goats and dogs, working as well. Various fields lie adjacent to each other. Some squares of land contain plants sprouting in water, while other lands show rows of seedlings growing tall not yet strong though. These are the farmers. These are our farmers. Theese are the fruits and vegetables labeled “imported from India” that stock the supermarkets in first world countries. These are the farmers that work endlessly, feeding nations yet making just enough to feed their own families. I sit and I watch the fields grow what will stock my pantry at home. How much profit will this farmer receive for his life’s work? How much profit do companies make off small family farmers like himself? I look at the fields and the farmers and the hot sun and the green lucisous fields, endless with life yet dying from exploitation. I understand. 

Hours pass and more hours can pass but I decide to get up and continue my journey throughout the back of the train. Today I will explore the back, tomorrow I will explore the front. After looping through obstacles of feet, bodies, suitcases, tight spaces and many more stares, I make it to the back. Nothing but a locked door and a panel with lights. Turning back, I head back to my bunk, navigating once again as seamlessly as before. It’s about 1700 at this point, dinner time calls. Several of the train attendants pass back and forth, yelling out their offerings of chai and coffee, Momsa and chapti, lunches and dinners. I stop one of them and ask for a lunch. He hands me tray of rice, potatoes, chapti, Dal, and a spicy lentil curry. After nearly swallowing half of the meal, I save the other half for later that night. I open my wallet and count the few bills I have left in my wallet, 360 Rupees.  With each meal being about 100, I decide to make this last. The plastic money in the pocket of my wallet is useless and the American cash hiding in my bag will do no good. My destination is Kerala yet the exact place is unknown. No reserved hotel, no Andreas to call a Tuk-Tuk, just Kerala. Without wifi or anyway to search for information, I send out messages for help. What some would consider God, or a higher power, I call the Universe. The universe hears me and somehow, someone will help me. The people around me are out here for a reason. One of them will help me and I will figure out exactly what to do. Turning over, I slump to my side and figure the task for later hoping my stomachs won’t hate me too much. 

Inside Indira: Normal

She gets up from the bench and looks at her watch. 14:00.. It’s been one hour since she last checked and three hours since her train should have arrived. “7pm, Kerala Express” “7 pm?!, you mean in 10 hours??” 9 hours, 7pm he repeats. 

A 9 hour delay, normal. After reading for a few hours she looks at the man next to her. He’s been sitting there since the morning too. Can she trust him? She’d been watching him for a bit. He held dark skin and a bushy mustache with a somewhat familiar face. Really needing to use the bathroom, she continues to watch him, contemplating whether her suitcase would be safe here. A school of children pass by all dressed in orange and holding two bags each. A lady trails in the back and as she walks, a plastic bottle is kicked behind her legs, landing by the man’s feet. He looks at her and grabs the bottle, setting it aside. He looks about and spots a trash can a few feet away. Standing up, he grabs he bottle and throws it in the bin. Abnormal. She grabs her suitcase and moves it closer to the next bench over where he is sitting. When he sits back down, he looks at her and she nods her head in a plea to safe guard her things. He nods and smiles. 

People are lined down the tracks, piled in clusters of families. Suitcases filled of belongings, blankets in cases, food in hands, the station is packed.  There are 16 platforms, each with its own destination. She walks down platform 3 in search of a bathroom. To her left are the tracks and a man holding a very young boy, pantsless in a squatting position. Normal. As she ventures for a the sanction of privacy, this family settles for urgency. Normal. 

Platform 1. She enters the washroom and the first stall has a western style toilet. Clogged and full of shit, she moves on to the second. A squatter also clogged. Next, a squatter with no light and a floor that’s soaked. With what? She prefers not to know. She enters and shuts the door behind her. Turning on her flashlight she looks for a dry spot to place her bag. The back left corner. She puts it down and looks for a tampon and wet wipes, her life. Pulling her pants down and settling into a squat, she releases her bowels. Relief. She looks at her wipes and then looks at the water tap to her left. Do you wash a window with just paper or with water too? Deciding to try this forgein technique, she opens the faucet and fills a cut open gallon in front of her. Once filled, she brings her left hand to her bottom and begins pouring the water. Water splashes everywhere but her target. Again. She fills the gallon and repositions her hand. Spllllassshhhh down her legs and shirt, everything but her target. Again. She refills the gallon, turns her torso, and widens her squat. This time, she gets it. And washing away all kinds of feces, she understands how something so primitive still exists. Normal. 

Walking back to platform 3, she strides feeling clean, refreshed and ready. To her right are the tracks and a man holding a very young boy pantsless in a squatting position. The same boy except he now has feces smothered all over his ass, the back of his thighs and in between his legs. Did he roll around in his shit? Normal. His father encourages him to keep trying and the boy sits laughing. She stares, not wondering whether it is in disbelief or disgust. She walks over to her bench and nods to the man who sits in the next bench over. Thank you, her eyes implore. She turns back to the little boy and his dad who now has the mother standing by with a liter water bottle ready in hand. Normal she decides. She stares at the normalcy around her. 

Indira: Not Thailand

17:38

She sits on an open bus headed to Rishikesh. The yogi ashram. A paradise for hiking, meditation, rafting, yoga and all things mystic. She heads there in hopes of….

Nothing. No hopes no expectations, just ride. I sit midway on the bus where the entrance is a folding door that won’t stay shut. It creaks open with every road bump and men stream in and out at every red light. I watch and observe, knowing this is well normal. The bus rocks down the road and its like riding in scrapes of metal soldering together. The air is humid but as the sun begins to set, wind chills breeze throughout the cracked windows. The A/C bus was taking off at 21:30 and with a five hour ride ahead, I’d rather risk it on this bus than arrive in Rishikesh in the early hours of the morning. 

The fog is thick today. The smell and feel of India compresses against my body. With a long bus ride ahead, I come prepared. Two half sandwiches and a bottle of water sit on my lap. My fusia colored back pack also sits on my lap. It has everything I could possibly need. Unless I’m sleeping, I never lose sight of it. Tissues, wipes, tooth brush, toiletries, lap top, camera, document copies, passport, wallet, spoon and fork, shit ton of cash, and most importantly, tampons. Scenarios of escape thrillers rush through my mind and I can only imagine surviving with this back pack. Prepared. I am always prepared, and if it really comes down to it, my brain is the only survival kit I really need. 

22:12

Hours into the ride and I’ve been reminiscing on past adventures. Pai, Thailand. A beautiful town in the high mountains, full of wonders. The best adventures I’ve had. Renting scooters and riding three hours to giant caves and hot springs and enjoying the freshest, juiciest, red strawberries I’ve ever known to exist. On our way up we passed maybe 15 other scooters and the way we raced around those curved mountains, close to the edge, reminded me of my entire childhood playing Mario Racecarts. It was freezing up there. We sped down the mountain trying to make it home to change into dry clothes and sip on a few buckets of alcohol, Thailand’s special buckets. 

A young blonde American stands with his friend at the hostel bar. He’s wearing his sunglasses and a stuck up attitude. Americans. I’m rolling with my Australian mate and two Dutch friends we picked up along the way. We order our buckets and Alice and I head into her dorm to change. The planning begins. We’ve heard of a place where we can find some green goods and it lies not far from here. A herd of people walk into the dorms and they’re talking loudly about their recent adventures. “I think we passed you guys on the way up there.”  The blonde from the bar talks to Alice. She smiles and continues the conversation. “We’re going to this bar, Sunset Bar, if you’d like to come.” He looks at his friend and they contemplate the details, who’s driving, when to go, what to do after. I stare at Alice and roll my eyes inside. Great, more small talk to entertain.

The beeping outside of my windows wakes me from my mind dreams. This is India not Thailand. The desolate scenery outside is changing. More bright lights are present and we seem to be driving on well paved roads. Still, there is at least an hour left and it is hard to keep my mind from wondering into places it desires. 

We each take our own scooters. Alice, Australia, Dutch boy, the American and his friend and then I. It’s dark out and when we arrive at the bar, we are the only ones there. An empty bamboo porch with neon lights, two pool tables and a bar selling juice. Juice? Yeah, the alcohol is at the bar next door. No wonder this I empty, I thought. No matter, we were there for one reason only, the green goods. From traveler to traveler we had asked around and it was told that we had to ask the owner of the bar. Australia, with not a fuck in the world, asks for the owner. After 5 min, a tall skinny tanned fellow walks out and up the back stairs. The bamboo porch is wide and underneath a straw roof. The stairs in the back lead to a higher dirt path where no light shines. Australia looks at me and nods. With all the power and the cash, I put my drink down and follow him to the back. I meet his offer at the top of the stairs with rolled up 500 Thai baht. Two seconds of a switch and we’re done. Mission accomplished. 

The blonde American sits against the wall. It’s dark and his sunglasses are glued to his face. So where are you from? And the small talk begins…

It’s freezing outside. Sleeping bags are scattered on the rooftop hangout above the dorms. After a night of drinking, card playing, and international bonding, stray travelers have passed out. Myself included, I lie underneath the star filled sky on a thin mattress with just a bed cover. No, not just a bed cover. I’ve awoken from the cold and lie shivering. I grab the covers and hug it tighter to my body. I grab his arms, and hug him tighter to my body. Body warnth, I tell myself. Bullshit I tell myself, as I sink in his scent. I look up and feel his bare chest against my own, his eyes are closed shut but he’s not resting. Skin against skin and I can feel the current of energy flowing within him. He is not resting. Tense. Fast. Uncontrolled. I feel it before I see it. He is not resting. Do not move… The energy is too much and my body slightly inches to find some way to comfort him. Snap. His arms tighten around my ribs, my head which was lying on his chest is now straining to look up. His body is shaking and as I squeeze from underneath his grip, I prop up to look into his awakened blue eyes. Blue eyes. Naked, Raw, Vulnerable. 

23:09

I snap out of my dreams again. This is India, not Thailand. We should be arriving soon. The bus has emptied a fair amount and we seem to be heading intown. A delux Twin Private, two bottles of alcohol, and an Australian mate awaits the arrival of Avi and I.  

Indira: A Trench

Clean body, dirty clothes. She slips on her scrubs, a pair of long Black pants and a loose short sleeve shirt, given to her by her volunteer roommate. A nurse’s gown. Dirty. Dirty because it was given to her used by who knows what previous wearers. Dirty, because there is no laundry machine and she is too lazy to get on her knees and scrub away the filth. 

Outside of my room, I hear grandfather chanting. Jheeer Rama Rama Rama, jheeer Rama Rama Rama, jheeer Rama Rama Rama. His footsteps pounce throughout the small apartment floor. His voice fades as he goes in and out of rooms, jheeer Rama Rama Rama, jheeer Rama Rama Rama. I inch my ears closer to the door, curious. Is it to ward off evil? What exactly is this for? I make a mental note to ask Mama Shushma. 

With my stethoscope around my neck and my back pack right around my body, I step out to the livingroom to grab some breakfast and sip on some chai. Mama Shushma has prepared grilled potatoe sandwiches and they are delicious. I ask her if they have cheese and she replies, “No, we like to eat healthy here.” I smile inside, knowing full well the truth in that statement and the controversy of it back in the States. 

The chai on the stove begins to boil, announcing its ready. Em grabs the pot and pours five small cups for all of the volunteers. A sweet waft fills the air and the brown cream colored tea tastes of cardamon and ginger. Bliss. 

We finish our breakfast and the doorbell sounds, an alarm to tell us to get going. Our Tuk-Tuk carriage awaits us outside. 


The air is heavier today. What they call fog, I call pollution. Riding to the slums in our auto rickshaw, I see remeants of burned plastic and the flames of a lit fire melts more trash. Down the street we take a corner and to our left, lies an enormous plain. An earthly depression the size of three football fields is filled with garbage. A carpet made of plastic cups, wrappers, tires, broken materials and much more cover the entire trench. What’s more shocking is the amount of pigs and hogs sifting through the junk. Their snots are deep in. Families of pigs, dark and dirty. 

She sits there, watching these animals search for food. Beside them, are huts made of nailed wood and rags draped to cover the entrance. Homes. These are homes. Three walls shaped together as a fort with blankets on the floor and a fire pit outside is a home. No bed, no sink, no toilet, no food. The trench. She sees little children squatting and running about. Whatever cloth clings to their body is stained in must. Their bare feet are deep in. Their skin is dark and dirty. They run. They run and they can’t be more than 7 years old. Many children. They run and they smile. They run and they’re barefoot. They run and they’re ignorant.

Anger. This does not shock her. She does not feel remorse or sadness. Anger. She does not close her eyes and look away. Anger. She looks at her Tuk-Tuk driver and she looks back at the trench. Anger. She looks at the women lying beside the huts with empty eyes. Anger. She looks at the men who forever sit, walk, beg, work, gamble, sell, work, beg, and age. Anger. Anger because they were all once children playing in a trench full of trash and hogs who had to grow up. Anger because they grew up working for their parents, begging for money and missing school to be able to eat. Anger because despite their own miserable lives, they decided to have children and keep having them. Anger because they force their children to beg and work and education is void. Anger because all she sees is a cycle of misery and poverty. 

Anger, and she promises to never have children. 

Indira: Clean Perfection

She looks at her phone and it reads 6:31. Outside of her window lies darkness. She can hear the distant sound of dogs arguing and right outside of her room, she hears Mama Shushma frying. It’s early. Yet she’s been awake, lying in bed since 5, replaying the scenes of her dreams. Night after night, she wakes up feeling wry. Tonight, she dreamt of witches, monsters and death. Her hands dipped in guilt. She remembers breaking the neck of one such monster disguised as a pleasant human. Magic. And much of it, she still feels herself tingling with power as it subsides with early dawn. 

My day of volunteering will start soon. It’s 6:37 now and I will get up to shower in 30 min. Our clinic does not open until 10 but my internal clock has woken me up every morning at this time. 

My shower. I relish as the cold water makes me gasp for air. Our pipes do not bring hot water so we have to manually heat it up. A thick wire with a bulb on the end of it hangs around a nail in the wall. At the end of the wire is a plug. Plug the wire and put the bulb in the water. Just wait 20/30 min and the water will be heated. 

She stands naked in a bathroom that has no tub or shower platform. A 6×6 room containing a toilet, a sink and a shower head in the corner is her cleansing station. She opens the faucet and begins filling a bucket with cold water. The clear liquid feels refreshing against her warm skin. She takes a small pale and takes water bit by bit, pouring first on her lower body. 

Ice. My feet and legs can take the temperature but as the water is poured high and higher, tense prickles are formed. Water. I pour more water, and I can breathe. My skin clogged with dust and pollution is washed away to feel like silk. I rub my body to generate heat and as pour I think, pure, clean, water, healthy, alive. 

She is alive. She takes one bucket of water and pours it on her chest. Her body tenses up and her lungs  squeeze inside. She gasps for air as her body adjusts to the cold. Clean she repeats to herself. Clean

10 minutes later she stands in front of the mirror. Naked. She looks at her body, nothing short of perfection. Her face looks refreshed, clean and clear. The skin blemishes on her neck appear to be subsiding and she will continue with the cold showers to help contribute. Her gaze analyzes lower to where her body still radiates an Artic temperature. Her hands graze her chest and cup her breasts. She has never had particularly large breasts and in fact, some may even consider them below average size. But she has breasts. And so she stands firm, gently caressing her chest with gratitude for having some at all. Her hands continue to slide lower. She can feel her skin for what it is. A layer of tissue holding everything together. She feels the curve of her sides and the slight line cutting her front, middle abdomen. Her body is strong. It stands with deceit not showing muscles etched in stone but simply layers of strength. Her hands slide further down, making mental checks of everything that should be there. Her plump bottom. She feels it’s smoothness but sees the thin lines that marked her as evidence of becoming a women. Normal, keep going. Unabashedly, she cups her vagina. It fits perfectly within her hand, easily consealable. The hairs are beginning to grow untamely and she ponders the importance of shaving. Fuck the man is her only thought. Her hands slide to her thighs, those strong pieces of muscles. A battle between strength and image. She remembers her high school days of starving to attain that perfect thigh gap. An almost rite of passage for girls at that age. Now she stands strong, feeling the firmness in both legs she gratefully thanks society for being so fucked. Her hands circle her calfs, and feel her ankles. Scars are randomly interspersed amongst her legs and feet, keeping track of the adventures that proved she was human. Toe check, five on each foot, five fingers on each hand. Done. No abnormalities, no deformities, no rashes, no illnesses. Perfect. She has two arms and two legs and she is alive. Perfect. She is nothing short of perfect. 

Indira: Not Yet Defeat

The sun continued to beam hot and strong against her face despite the day ticking away. She sits on marble steps, dirty with decay. Two lions lie resting beside her. Dressed with flower rings, they guard the entrance. A man with a crooked back has a rag in his hand. He comes up and begins swatting away the dust around her. She looks about and realizes she’s sitting by the foot of a temple, with shoes on and a heavy face, she gets up to avoid disrespect. Tired. Defeat seems like a closer word. It’s 4pm and she left her home at 1:30. What begun as a food errand, soon turned out to be a very long search for money. 

India. A god damn third world country. 6 months in Morroco and the farthest I’ve felt from my western life was not having toilet paper. India has changed everything. I’ve crossed the street, playing leap frog with my life. Dodging Tuk-Tuks and squeezing past cars. City market. The only location I see that will accept cards. My debit card. The only life line I have to money right now. My bag full of Anerican cash means shit in a place where I can not exchange any of it for Rupes. 

Defeat. She had walked around sector 1 for an hour only to come to ATM to ATM all empty of cash. There!  After an hour she spotted two very long queues. Two lines with a separation not to reduce time and increase efficiency. A separation that amplifies the segregation between men and women. Two very long lines respresenting very old social customs. Old? Not old. The words of Ananta come back to her. “In this culture, men are still seen a little superior than women.” She stood in that line for 30 min. Swatting away the flies and observing, always observing. 

My eyes circled the area and I caught six eyes staring back. As I continued to scan the area, I found that more eyes begun to look my way. Look away. A mantra I had been telling myself since I first arrived in India. This is not a place for the staring game. 

She stood in that line for 30 minutes. Finally the banker inside looked at her and said, sorry, we do not exchange money. “An ATM??” No. 

Defeat. She awaits now across the street from the temple, outside of City market. With not one note of Rupees in her wallet she analyzes her options. Walk home…can’t remember the way home. Uber… Not an option. Tuk-tuk.. Only takes cash. Ugh. With a sigh she reaches into her pocket and begins to dial Anata’s number. Anytime you need us, just call. She hates implicating other people into her stupid situations. She hates sitting here, waiting to be rescued. Most of all, she hates feeling defeated simply because she has no money. America. A land which runs on money has taught her nothing about surviving without it. 

15 minutes, Anata promises. He will come and his rescue carriage will be disguised as yet another crazy car racing down the street. Promises. And here I vow to learn to survive without the ties of society. I will survive without which I have learned to be dependent on. Money? I do not need such a paper but to wipe my ass with. 

India, is where I will learn to survive. 

Indira: Small Talk

Day 1, Indira

“Avi and ……..? You will be staying with Dr. Pravda. There are three other volunteers there already.” 

I turn to Avi and with a wink and smirk I feel grateful for her company. We sit in room with 21 distinct nationalities. Volunteers from Australia, England, Japan, the United States, New Zealand and even India fill the seats. We are arranged in rows so that Anata, the program director, can give us a complete orientation of India. “Welcome, namaste,” he begins. “I am here and our staff is here 24 hours of the day for you. No matter what, you give us a call. Do not even hesitate if you want to talk.” He bashly smiles and his eyes reveal a genuine promise. “No matter.” His insistence is reassuring. We are not alone. 

The orientation begins with a brief history of India:

3000 Bc- the beginning Indian history as far remembered. 

1500 BC- the beginning of the Hindu religion. 

300 BC- The Golden Age: riches. Spirituality is abundant. Yoga and meditation is spreading and the discovery of zero is described. Here, as most cultures during their Golden age, poetry and dramas are not only relevant, but admired. The dynasty Morya and Asholca are taking place. 

6th Centuary- The Dark Ages. Chinese and Mongolian influences invade. 

9th Centuary- chawdala & Dualala

11th-17th Centuary- Muslim influence is introduced. Their skills and talents lead the infrastructure of many monuments. The current Taj Mahal itself is due to Muslim architects. Currently, 15% of the population is Muslim. 

15th-16th Centuary- Goa

17th Centuary- the French begin colonizing. 

17th-20th Centuary- the British Rule. Their presence created reformation both physically, socially, and mentally. A law called saidi parta was abolished. This was the tradition of killing all the wives of a husband lest he be killed or punished. Trail tracks and education becomes available to the larger population. 

1947-1971: Indian Independance. This great Indian region is separated into three countries, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and present India. India, having the world’s second biggest population, is the world’s largest Democracy with an elected Prime Minister. 

The short introduction reveals the influences India is penetrated with. All around, many peoples came, saw, and conquered. Ananta tells us of the importance of English rule. Their advanced technologies and way of thinking pushed India forward, towards self advancement. 

My mind buzzes with information. He continues to tell us about culture, family values, economy, religion, marriages, the caste system and then finally, our project details. 

She sits there, noticing the other volunteers. None of them are here without reason. Some, will be working in an orphanage. Most will be teaching English to slum children. And her, like the very few in the world, will be working in the healthcare system. They explain her project and she’s itching with excitement. Her home will be that of the doctor’s. The doctor? Yes, you will live with the Doctor. Giddy. This is simply the start of why she came here. 

The lesson concludes and we’re herded to the roof patio where lunch is being served. Our plates are filled and the dopamine begins releasing. 

Around her, forks and spoons are clattering against the tin plates. She looks around and thinks, stupid tourists. She knows them too well. Many volunteers come as a way of cheap traveling. Some come to claim their good karma for a week and then continue back to their beautiful lives. She sits there with her fingers deep in her chapti. A bread as thin as a tortilla which she uses as a spoon to cup her lentils and soya. Remember, just the right hand, she tells herself. “We do not eat with our left hand,”she remembers the voice of her sister. 

The superficial Canadian across the table begins, “That was the worst bed ever. It was like a rock.” She sits there with highlighted, long, dark hair. Her lips are plump and full and her eyes are tinged with an Eastern ethnicity. She sits complaining, elbows on table, wrist boldly branding a silver bracelet and an expensive watch. “I just couldn’t sleep.”  I sit and observe. We both slept in the same bed and to be fair, it was indeed very hard. But, I had a roof over my head and food in my stomach. “How long will you be here?” 

“One week,” she tells me. “One week??”  The audacity. To make things a bit clear, volunteering is not just showing up and being present. To make volunteering beneficial and actually make a difference, it takes a bit longer than one week. There is a process of not only getting adjusted and settled, but also the process of understanding the environment one will be working in. Day one, we are in orientation, we will begin our project tomorrow. That gives her 4 days. Okay. I tell myself to stop. Relax….we are all here for different reasons. 

After my second plate and a lot of small, talk I get up. Heading downstairs, I grab my things, pack up and wait with Avi to be picked up and driven to our homestay. 

Excited. My journey has begun. 

Indira: Arriving 

Take a deep breath, but not too deep. The city of Delhi is coated with a smog of toxins. The sky, a pale, unison layer absent of color. “It’s worse during winter,” Pawani’s voice filters through. The buildings and trees disappear after 50 yards, so we warp through the land in our SUV, heading to our homestay. 

To her right, her eyebrows furrow, how does that dog–….monkey. Those are all monkeys! A cluster of monkeys and grazing cows crowd the side of the road. The small creatures sit, play and push each other. They’re climbing on walls and scurrying about the dry dirt. 

Home sickness. I’m staring into the rich poverty surrounding me. Red, cracked land. Deep greens grow untamely with a thin layer of dust lying on top. Streets full of strangers, the roads sing songs of horns- one after the other, honk over boom. Bikes modeled after motorcycles are glued with engines, men and boys. Women are randomly scattered, one dark haired female stands alone on the road. Rags drape her body and her dirty face is stained with sadness. Is she begging? Is she alone? 

Homesickness. Morocco is calling her name. She sits inside this vehicle looking out onto the land and she aches for Morocco. Homesickness. Not for the land she left which claims to be free. Not for the land stripped in blood and water polluted with stars. She aches for the land that woke her up.  Where the people shook her constitution and forced her to question everything. Morocco, a land where women walk protected behind a shield, their strength projected in their very diliberate movements. 

India. Are the women here just as strong? Where men suffocate the population, where are my women?

She sits in the vehicle anticipating the home she will live in and the family that will adopt her.

Flying to Indira 

3 hours & 33 minutes. The clock counts down and jolts of jitters pulsate through her body. Wires connected, she is listening to the drumming of Raggae, waiting for the arrival to India. Waiting for a sign  to read her name, held by the hands of a native stranger. She awaits the, “Welcome to my home, here is your family.” This is my family?

This is my mother, my father, my sisters, a brother, your room. 

Nerves pulsate through my body and I only hope there will be a sign with my name on it. 

“Namaste” is all I think.

“Namaste” is all I hear. 
3 hours and 23 minutes. The clock counts down and Tarzan replays in my mind. The unprecedented, vast safari, the blazing Sun, the beautiful dark, ebony skinned beings. So filled with culture, life, with humanity. What an African portrayal…. Do you believe that shit? I’m not sure things still exist that way, but honestly I don’t know. 

So she sits, reminiscing on the adventures she’s destined for. Much like Tarzan, they will take her to a land strangely familiar, yet not ever explored. Nothing stops her. This life does exist, she is alive. There is more on this Earth than the average American Dream. There is her reality, the one I am creating. 

So I fly, into unknown territory, a majestic land called India.