Friday, May 24, 2019

Days 2 & 3: Student home visits Volunteering at Surya Bharti: An Enlightening Experience

Days 2 & 3: Student home visits

Aside from teaching, our first two days in Bodh Gaya were spent visiting student and alumni homes. These visits are gems of memories that will certainly stay with us the rest of our lives.

The van chugged along the narrow dirt road as we made our way to Karan’s village, the first of the five we visited. As the bustle and concrete of the city fell away to the countryside, with its open fields of rice, grain, and grazing cows, the change in air quality was palpable. The village air was dewy and fresh. We inhaled deeply.

Karan greeted us when we arrived and led us down the dirt road toward his home. As we made our way, gingerly skirting the fresh piles of cow dung, we could feel the gaze of the curious villagers on us. We must have looked completely foreign, taking in the scenes of goats, chickens, stray pups, women in sarees, and overall, the lifestyle of subsistence farming surrounding us. Casually, Karan explained to us that one of the homes had been invaded by locusts.

One thing was clear, especially as Karan proudly explained to us how his extended and nuclear family all live near one another in a cluster of homes: family and community are indispensable elements of the villagers’ lives. This is in striking contrast to the U.S., where we often forego proximity to family in pursuit of personal and individualized goals. Though neither way of life is necessarily the be-all end-all, seeing these tight family units inspired me to be more intentional in my life choices that will impact proximity to loved ones.

We entered Karan’s home. Four generations of his family were present, from his grandmother to his niece. Karan led us to his study room, which doubles as his family’s prayer room. In the corner stood a yellow lamp. We learned over the course of the house visits that this yellow lamp is government-issued and solar-powered. It helps many of the students study, as electricity in their homes is unreliable at best, and non-existent at worst. I couldn’t help but think about a Skype lesson I had with Karan and Ravi (both my students over the past six months) on the topic of “dream homes.” They had described their dream homes as having windows, curtains, and lush gardens. Polished floors, beautiful bathrooms, and bright lighting. I could now better understand the mesmerized ring to their voices when they described these dreams, elements that are so far from their reality.

It would be a shame not to also mention the delicious and vibrant foods we had the privilege of eating at each of the student’s homes. There was the sweet and milky masala chai, which we drank so often that we began to crave it at the end of each meal. There were the soan papdi and the rasmalai. The toasted rice. The fresh papaya. The list goes on.

Suffice it to say that, by the end of these visits, both our hearts and our stomachs were full.

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