It was 4:00 AM on a Monday morning in Delhi. I was in my room at the Vishwa Yuvak Kendra, wide awake. At times like this, I’m usually in the comforts of my home. Had I been in New York, I would have raided the refrigerator in the family kitchen. Or caught a rerun of “Real Housewives in New Jersey”, a ridiculously guilty pleasure. But I was thousands of miles away from New York City. I missed my family, friends and loved ones terribly. Flipping through photos on my iPad, I yearned to be back in my city, near the people I cared about the most.
Suddenly, I felt a cool breeze in the room. It left behind this wonderful, earthy fragrance that reminded me of the time I spent in Bangladesh as a young teen. The warm, clay-like smell was comforting and familiar. Nostalgia turned into a moment of realization. The sights and smells of India never change. Gregory David Roberts, author of Shantaram, once explained, “…[whenever] I return to Bombay, now it’s my first sense of the city-the smell, above all things- that welcomes me and tells me I’m home.” At that point, I realized: I was in India. It was not the signs at Delhi airport, nor the welcoming packets from AIF, but the smell that led to this realization. It was surreal. I was actually in India, a country I had dreamt about living in since I was a little girl.
The most beautiful part about traveling and living abroad are the life lessons you learn from your experiences overseas. Each of my trips taught me something new and important.
So what will India teach me? My expectation is to gain a substantial amount of field experience during my fellowship. Having research gender rights for many years, it’s important that I can practice advocacy and not just write policy briefs about women’s rights in South Asia. I can actively fight for stronger laws to protect women and share my experiences with other activists like myself. I also hope to connect with the other fellows and learn from them. I’m really looking forward to learning about their work in their respective fields and areas. I think working in India will be a challenging but extremely fulfilling experience. There is so much I’d like to contribute and at the same time, so much I’d like to learn.