What can you do when school's out? My answer...a lot!!
At the end of February, I gave my exams for what would be my junior year of high school. Starting in March, I am only required to go to school a total of less than 10 more days. This is because I will not start class 12 in India and am similarly not allowed to repeat class 11th here either. This freedom has given me the opportunity to go many places and do many things.
Let’s start with the most boring of times – being in school. Well, it’s not all that bad. The time on the bus and the first 10 minutes of school before class starts, I am able to talk with my friends who I otherwise do not meet on a daily basis anymore. However, during the school day, I have no time table, no scheduled time. In other words, I am free to do anything – except sit with my class – for 8 out of 9 periods of the day (my second period being dedicated to Hindi). Since I have been requested to make a sculpture - something I am surprisingly good at – I spend most of that time in the sculpture room. The con to this being that maybe 3 other students my age come in during the day to participate in the class. In India, there is not big emphasis on the arts, especially in the higher-level classes. In Hindi class, I find it much easier to converse now that I have done many things outside of school. My Hindi is not very good, but it is still 30 minutes of the day that I can guarantee I will find something to laugh about in. Usually, it is over some error I have made in Hindi or the exaggerated hand gestures I use to convey my point.
Aside from school, an important part of my time now is volunteerism. In order to give back for my exchange, I have started volunteering with Karma Animal Foundation, an NGO in Gurgaon which cares for 60-70 dogs at any given time. In the past few months, I have accumulated 100 hours logged in service. Therefore, I chose to connect my Capstone Project to my volunteer work:
I have also volunteered with Amitasha, though I only had one class this month. During that class, a new session had started so I taught self-introductions in English to the class 2 and 3 students. It was a very fun experience and was one of the first times I had taught a lesson completely on my own.
In addition to school and volunteer work, I have made time to go to Delhi and experience as much as possible. I have been able to do this by going with McKenna, whose capstone project involves viewing old sights to learn about the architecture of Delhi. With this project, I have been to Red Fort (Lal Quila) and Old Fort (Purana Quila) and revisited Akshardham. It is refreshing to spend the day out, experiencing life in the city.
Sometimes the smallest moments create equally big memories. While making the gunjiya for Holi, I was reminded of a Ukrainian/Russian dish that we make very often at home and is a specialty of my church back home: Pierogies. So, the next day, I made the dough, my host mom made a delicious filling, and I formed the best pierogies I could manage. A few minutes in boiling water and a few more on a frying pan, and soon enough I had some of the most delicious pierogies I had ever tasted. Who could forget about smiley potatoes? They perfectly convey my thoughts on the dish.
Some days are more special than others. This is the case with celebrating Olivia’s birthday. I took the metro and met up with Colin, changing into Indian wear and going to Olivia’s house before she reached home from school. Despite my last minute gift and the last minute plans, I had a great time. I don’t remember the last time we had all three met up and just been able to talk together. Getting home a little late was a small price to pay for this experience.
With Muskaan preparing for boards, we haven’t spent the most time together with me out of the house for volunteering and everything, but the time we have spent together has been priceless. Coming back from Red Fort, Muskaan then offered to take me to Qutub Minar, which was an opportunity I could not pass up. The next day, we went. Luckily for me, I can go with someone who is not a foreigner since being foreign often means being overcharged for everything. We had a great time at Qutub Minar – having Muskaan was far better than the audio tour I would have taken otherwise. Even if we didn’t know the true history behind it, it was sometimes better – or at least funnier – to make up stories. On the way back home, we enjoyed iced tea, mine with actual ice, and watched a foreign couple pay 5 time the amount we did for an auto ride from the metro station to the monument.
March has been an exciting month for me, and I am heading full speed, whether I like it or not, into my last full month in India. I anticipate that April will go by the fastest of all as I will be traveling quite a bit – I leave for Rajasthan on the 31st of this month! I am excited to see what the rest of my experience will bring me, and I pray that it won’t go by too fast. Next stop: Jaipur.
When someone packs up their bags for a year abroad, holidays are usually a point to look forward to. This is no exception for me; celebrations in India are big, bright and beautiful. At the beginning of every March, Holi comes around. "The festival of colors" as it is commonly known, is nothing like any holiday or celebration I have experienced before:
This year for Holi, there were no big plans for a party as Muskaan prepares for boards. However, this was no excuse to let the holiday slip away. A day before, on Chhoti Holi, I hung the colorful decorations outside the house. My host mom, Muskaan and I all went to HUDA market just down the street to buy some colored powder and (huge) squirt guns. While we were at it, we got some freshly squeezed juice but forgot to buy a mold to make gujiya - a traditional sweet eaten during the holiday. Of course, gunjiya has to be made, so we got right to work upon returning home. The dough was made from maida, and the filling a sweet mixture. Since we forgot to buy a mold at the market, we bought one at the shop within our society. As it turned out, anyway, we did not require the mold. We cut circles in the dough, filled them with a spoon of filling, and pinched the edges closed. This type of sweet is prepared by frying it and then serving it. In addition to gujiya, my host mom also made a few samosas with the same dough, but a different, savory filling made from potatoes and peas. Everything came out very delicious.
The next day, it was Holi. We woke up very excited, but a little bit unsure of what to do because of the lack of plans for the morning. We changed into white shirts and went outside to fill the buckets with water, taking along our squirt guns. Along with squirt guns, we also had yellow snow-powder which absorbs water and becomes 'snow'; we used this to form 'snowballs'. Though the day started out quite slowly with no one to squirt water at, the rate of playing Holi quickly increased as the day went by. First we met our neighbor who threw water balloons are Muskaan and I from her balcony. Soon after, she joined us and we played with the water guns and some other young girls in the neighborhood. The first color of the day pelted my white-clothed back; it was a pink water from one of the neighborhood girl’s water squirters. I will add that I was quite impressed upon seeing those contraptions: water tanks carried on the back in the form of a backpack with a hose attachment to squirt the water. This was much more efficient, but no less fun, than having to run back and forth to the water bucket. Shortly afterwards, neighbors started showing up to celebrate. We placed all the chairs in the sun as many of us got soaking wet from water wars. Every time someone passed by us, stranger or known, they would walk, colored and all, towards us with their pots of colored powder and place, rub rather, it on the faces of everyone saying: “Happy Holi!”. Needless to say, by the end of the day, everyone had color shoved into every crevice imaginable and my shirt was no longer -and would never again be- the same pristine white it had started out. For lunch, everyone contributed a dish and I got to eat my favorite, Pao Bhaji. It was amazing to see everyone come out and celebrate the holiday, not many occasions can get everyone together in the United States in the same way. Our neighbors – who we know for their two dogs Cherry and Ginny – joined us for a few minutes. Ginny the pug even had a splash of festive purple added to her coat. From squirting guns, to throwing water balloons, to smearing color powder and dumping buckets of water on people’s heads, it was an experience I will not soon forget.
Holi was not just the festival of colors. To me, it represented many things I love about India. For one, togetherness. Even though we hadn’t planned much, all our neighbors got together and had a great time. Another is the colorfulness. Not only in the literal sense, but seeing everyone’s bright and optimistic attitude the entire day was very contagious. Interacting with people on this level makes everyone in the surrounding area feel amazing. Furthermore, it represented how much this year, the culture, and everything I have learned, will stay with me for a long time. Just as it took me a zillion times to scrub the colors off my skin, I will carry these memories with me for a lifetime.
P.S. to anyone in the US who would like to, let’s play Holi next year!
Namaste! Mera naam Anna hai! Hi! my name is Anna. Please enjoy reading about my experience as a high school junior in India and ask any questions you may have!