candy chai and the benevolence of cow eyes

Almost a month in, and things are settling a bit.  Not like dirt to the bottom, but more like the ocean after a storm.  Ramaa, the other AIF Fellow here with me, and I have gotten into a bit of a routine by now, perfecting small things like the best time of day to brave the bathrooms, the best materials and methods with which to hand-wash our laundry, the best times to enjoy a quiet moment with a cup of chai and (not so cool) breeze.  We’ve identified the meals we like best, the bathrooms we like best, the people with whom we feel we connect.  This last of course fluctuates a lot as we get to know more of the people who live here on the SEARCH campus.  It has been hard for me given that most things on a daily basis are conducted in Marathi, but I am starting to understand a smidge more than before at least contextually, and the staff here are getting used to my presence and remember that I am totally clueless more often than not.  They are making an effort to look out for me a little bit, and I appreciate it so very much.  I also appreciate good ol’ Ramaa C on a daily basis, as she not only speaks fluent Marathi, but is totally hilarious and helps me to decompress a lot with her completely novel quirks.  I have even developed a decompression face that I bring out in those necessary moments.  It involves squeezing my head from both sides really hard with my eyes shut tight and teeth gritted.  Believe me, it works!  I might start using it more now that the other interns from TISS here are leaving soon, and they’ve become real friends.  Sad!  (Ramaa and I did not try to look wicked and intense in the above picture, it just happened very naturally ack!)

I am so impressed with the work that SEARCH does and their reputation in the field of maternal and child health.  As Ramaa and I have discussed many times before, the people who really belong here, who have been here since it started, are all such happy, passionate, brilliant people.  It’s a joy to work alongside them and on the occasions when our paths cross, it helps remind me of why I’m here.  Working in the field of Public Health in the developing world, will always be a challenge, and these people approach every day as an opportunity.  They’re proud of what they accomplish and it’s a lifestyle for them, not a job.  They are a family here, a family that celebrates together, that raises its children together, that prays together, that plays together, and when they wake up in the morning and they finish eating breakfast together, they are a family that works together.  I’ve never been a part of an organism that functions like this one, and although I still don’t feel completely like a part of it (which is bound to be, language issues, temporary resident issues), I feel like I’m starting to be allowed in, and I’m finding a lot to love.

I’m not going to lie, it’s hard work, really really hard work adjusting to a life so drastically different from my own, and it takes a lot of vigilance on my part to maintain an awareness of where I am and why.  I didn’t expect it to be so hard, which was probably naive, even though I said I did.  On the other hand, I’m proud of the way Ramaa and I are tackling it and finding ways to enjoy ourselves during the struggles.  Sort of like at Orientation for the Fellowship, people think we are a little weird, and we laugh a lot when others don’t really think anything funny is going on.  It keeps us sane.  It may not function in the same way for others, but hey you do what you’ve got to do, right?  We have seen snakes!  I also talk to the cows and here sometimes.  I find their big open accepting eyes pretty soothing.  That could just be their bovine indifference mixed with my own rather too vivid imagination, but again with the do what you’ve got to do theme…

To all (3) of you who care, I have also established a routine that allows me to follow the sports world pretty closely, so don’t any of you worry about that.  I know exactly how fab the Ravens look so far, and how right they were to fire Cundiff.  I am trying to force Ramaa to care about sports but so far she’s gracefully resisting.  I just tell her stuff anyway.

Like I said, we have a comfortable routine…

P.S. As other Fellows have discussed, afternoon chai is most definitely a habit that should be brought back to he U.S.  I like ours here, even when it’s so sweet that it lives up to the name I’ve given it of candy chai.  yum!  Also,we were really proud of ourselves being able to handle the spiciness of the food, even though people kept checking on us until we were told that in reality, it was way toned down from natural Maharashtran style.  bubble burst!!

While completing her Master' s degree in Public Health at Tufts University School of Medicine, Shilpa honed her interest in Nutrition and Health Promotion. She worked with the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts Bay, providing healthful food and counseling people living with AIDS/HIV about how to achieve optimal nutrition while living with their disease. Shilpa conducted a study examining barriers to achieving that goal within the population served. Her commitment to Public Health work and a new focus on these same issues in the maternal and child population was cemented during subsequent projects, where she visited elementary schools in Chennai, India with a pediatrician to learn about the status of rural child healthcare. There she completed an informal study examining the nutrition status and school performance of girl versus the boy children in rural Chennai. She later returned to India, where she continued to focus on child health and nutrition by teaching English to preschool children as well as running health education sessions with local women in Dharamsala.

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8 thoughts on “candy chai and the benevolence of cow eyes

  1. Love this post Shilpa! You say it so well, and I totally agree with you! Looking forward to more posts from you, for sure!

  2. Thank you Shilpa for a little window in to your lives. I had almost given up on trying to find out.
    Enjoy the candy chai while you can because it never tastes like that here.

  3. Hi Shilpa,

    India grows on you doesn’t it?

    I hope, in addition to having an interesting experience you are also able to contribute in some positive way to the SEARCH mission.

    I hope you will make lifelong friends during the course of this year.

    BTW I did not know when Ramaa became fluent in Marathi!!!! Do you guys have any opportunity to learn the script. That should be quite useful especially since it is the same script for Hindi!

  4. Hi Ramaa’s mom gave me the link to the blog. Your writing is brilliant and the work you folks are doing is so admirable. Thank you so much for the view into your “new world” and I look forward to hearing more.!

  5. so proud of you that u r braving this out… am sure u will come out a different person altogether, and hopefully we can converse in a new language now 😉 great going keep at it am sure u will enjoy… though i really dont know if i could do something like this , so it makes me feel all the more proud of u 3 cheers for Chip!!!!

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