Living in the moment

 

leather chappals sold in Khamir’s store

I’ve been in India for well over a month. Whoa. Time flies when you’re having fun working so hard.

I received the best compliment from my roommate a few weeks in: “sometimes I forget that you are a foreigner.” A simple statement that meant SO much to me, and still does today. That moment was a validation for the life I have chosen to live, a challenge I have accepted, and now, with my head held high, I can honestly say I am doing just fine.

In fact, I’m doing more than fine. I am truly enjoying myself, learning new things everyday, and even getting used to my “new normal.” There are so many moments that warrant sharing, documentation and discussion, either with a close friend or my parents or my sister, but as the days go by, I am becoming less of a foreigner, and am just living in the moment. Personally and professionally, I am trying to take full advantage of this unique opportunity, especially on days like my first field visit.

On that beautiful Saturday, I accompanied a small group of staff members headed to meet some mashroo (weaving) artisans, and a family of potters. Meeting the artisans in their homes and communicating with them in gujarati was cool, but the journey there was a treat in itself. The drive was so much fun—windows down, few cars on the road, greenery as far as the eye can see, old school hindi music blaring, and a steady stream of fascinating stories about places we drove by and communities that lived there. Highlights: history of the lacquer artisans of Kachchh (originally jungle dwellers), an interesting account of an invasive tree (shrub?) species that was introduced in Kachchh that has taken over entire landscapes, and also a story about a swarm of poisonous bees that randomly appeared in one of the villages we visited. In between visits, we had lunch at a Jain temple, visited a famous Hindu temple, had goat’s milk tea at a Muslim artisan’s house, visited a coworkers’ home, shopped at a batik store, sampled the local famous indian sweets, and had a day full of great memories.

In India, as I am learning, there are endless opportunities of things to see, people to meet, and places to go. Everyday, I find myself intrigued and inspired by something/someone/someplace new, and feel that much more committed to my work and time here. It certainly helps that I have great company in an interesting and fun city, among people that are very friendly, and definitely know how to eat well. I like that different communities co-exist so well together, and that Kachchhi’s take pride in their identity.

As Navratri approaches, I am looking forward to joining in the celebrations, having just bought some new clothes for the occasion. I also learned about and witnessed a local religious pilgrimage known as Mata na madh, whereby thousands of people walk more than 100 km to a temple dedicated to Ashapura mataji, the goddess of Kachchh. On our way to work, we saw people of all ages walking along the road, occasionally stopping at small camps erected for them for water, food and a place to sleep. These camps are sponsored by the locals, and it is heartwarming to see such a big community effort in support of the pilgrims.

Every once in a while, I reflect on how my life has changed and how difficult (or not) it was to adapt to my new home. Don’t get me wrong, there are many things I miss about Home, but I am also thankful for these new challenges, and the opportunity to support the artisan communities in Kachchh through my work at Khamir.

Here are a few choice examples of changes in my life that make me feel more like a local. I now:

  • Use (Parachute) coconut oil in my hair the night before I wash it.
  • Hand wash my own clothes and chase out lizards from various rooms in my apartment.
  • Speak in gujarati, and think of my grandmother very very often.
  • Make Maggi noodles with potatoes, tomatoes, onions, spices and green chillies.
  • Ride on the back of scooters, weaving in and out of traffic (scary experience!)
  • Eat RDBS (rotli, daar, bhaath, shaak) and khichdi on a daily basis.
  • Dodge cars, scooters, cows, dogs (and their excrement), garbage and people on my daily walk to/from work.
  • Eat street food occasionally and sing praises of Dabur pudin hara (Indian imodium, except its natural and SO much better)
  • Drink and cook with “drinking water,” that is delivered to our house every few days
  • Watch waaay too many hindi movies, even the really bad ones.

Here is a snapshot of life in Bhuj:

Taken during a photographer’s expedition to the top of Bhujia fort. Great view!

 

Meet Raji ben. She is cleaning plastic bags that will be woven into beautiful recycled plastic products sold at Khamir.

One of the best dahi sev puris I have ever had. We ordered seconds, of course.

We set up a Ganesh statue in our apartment for Ganesh Chaturthi.

potter’s house we visited had goats and sheep and donkeys!

Jilna spent the first half of her life in Nairobi, Kenya, and then moved to the suburbs of Washington DC for high school. New York City was home for five years as she worked towards fulfilling her dream to work in the entertainment business. A career in television led her back home to Maryland, and her involvement with South Asian organizations--both personal and professional--remained a constant through these transitions. Additionally, she spent her spare time volunteering with small organizations, and also joined the board of a local non profit for the chance to aid a group with a different mission. Despite having deep connections to her culture, Jilna has never visited India, and is thrilled with the opportunity to live and work in India supporting Khamir's initiatives for the coming year.

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16 thoughts on “Living in the moment

  1. It sounds like you have really opened yourself up to the wonders of India (and the lizards). That is not an easy thing to do. Looking forward to reading more about your journey! Keep the blog posts coming .

    We miss you!

    Ak

  2. Glad that you are turning Desi at least for the duration of the Fellowship. Only way to go. The dahi puris do look good. Must have some when I visit.
    Best
    Sridar

  3. Jilna, you are having an awesome time, everything you write shows how exciting life is on daily basis.. I also can’t believe you are actually holding a kid goat, certainly being with Ava should not be a problem haha…
    I feel like visiting india after seeing your snapshots!! wishing you all the best with this journey and keep blog post coming, its interesting to read…

    take care, Rajashree

  4. LOVE reading your blog.
    So glad that you have adapted so well and that you are making the most of it. (Anyway,we had no doubts about this!)– But don’t like it too much, that you will have second thoughts about coming back, unless….you know what?….( just kidding!!).
    Enjoy and keep healthy.

    Shaileshi- Mahendra

  5. seeing you with that goat makes me squeal. love it- and i kudos for jumping in to all things gujarat! definitely want to try some of your maggi- my maggi skills are still sub par haha 🙂

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