Nothing Like It Used To Be

There have been so many great moments in the last two months. Overnight bus rides through Western India to explore ancient Buddhist and Jain cave temples; midnight trains and jeep rides up the Himalayas to Darjeeling’s mountain façade to eat warm, chocolate-filled donuts with one of my favorite people; hitch-hiking adventures with Nepalese strangers to make an airport flight on time. I’ve begun to see the diverse face of India. With every turn, I am more and more intrigued and enthralled by India’s beauty, diversity, its lessons of humanity.

And then there’s home. Ranchi, alias “Amazon Town,” “The Final Frontier,” or my favorite, “The Bottom of the Pit.” Despite the colorful nicknames, home has lost the allure of adventure. It has become normal. In fact, sometimes I need to walk outside on my balcony and remind myself that I live in India. Sure, I live next to an open field of garbage, functioning as both grazing and defecation ground for pigs, cows, dogs and humans alike. Sure, I still don’t understand 99% of what is said to me in my day-to-day interactions. Sure, amazing Indian food is awaiting me around every corner. Yet, Ranchi is beginning to feel normal in its chaotic nothingness.

I’m finding a routine. I recognize the dog that trots past me on Airport Road every morning at 9:34 as I wait for the company car. I’m recognizing strangers around town. The owners of local shops greet me with familiarity: one even declared me the “lady person of Jharkhand” this week, whatever that may mean. This capital city, which many warned me was smaller than it looked, is actually just that, very small.

And yet, the routine is lonely. The community I taste on my adventures as I meet up with other fellows is starkly absent in my day-to-day life. Two girls in the office talk with me and share their lunch and it’s the highlight of my day. Like me, they can’t go out after dark but we’ve occasionally met up on the weekend.

I’m challenged to figure out what it means to live life fully in this context, a context I’m still navigating and discovering, a context that frequently feels slow, mundane, apathetic, aggressive.

I’m struggling with what it means to be so dependent on others. To not be able to walk around at night – a frustrating reality when it becomes dark at 4:30pm and shops don’t open for the day until 10AM – and to not be able to communicate well enough to make purchases I need. It’s not that I don’t try, but a mass panic is conjured by my fair skin and blonde hair that causes people to shut down. Or, like my cashier last night, they stare, wide-eyed, until someone physically hits them to attention.

Today, after 2 weeks of asking the men in my car for help buying a blanket, “because the nights are cold and I’m already wearing every layer I own,” the car stopped so we could run into a market. It was a 10-minute gift of time that made me absolutely elated. In fact, that morning, I had uttered a prayer to the Heavens, “Please just help me get a blanket today.” It felt like my best day in weeks to have this blanket in my hands and for the exchange to have been so easy. As we climbed into the car to continue onto the office I was surprised to feel small tears of gratitude welling up into my eyes.

Suddenly, I’ve become a girl who cries over the gift of time and access to a blanket.

My life is nothing like it used to be.
It hurts and it’s really uncomfortable sometimes, but I think I’m okay with that.

Julia is a recent graduate from Johns Hopkins' SAIS with a Master's in International Economics and Development. Before SAIS, Julia spent three years in Jordan working with female entrepreneurs to establish community programs and distribute aid to the camp's most marginalized. Julia's award-winning personal blog raised over $20,000 of international donations to fund these activities and led to the establishment of the camp's first female owned and operated Women's Center. At SAIS, Julia complimented her education working as a Research Assistant for Visiting Scholar, Maya Ajmera, for a pending book, Invisible: the Plight of Children and Youth Globally in the 21st Century and A Blueprint to Move Forward, specifically focusing on the role of community based development in international aid. Recipient of Mount Vernon, Michael R. Bloomberg and SAIS Fellowships, Julia was selected for the Nonprofit Leadership Development Initiative and served as the William Ascher Fellow for the Global Fund for Children, assessing risk for intermediary grant makers in the grassroots context.

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One thought on “Nothing Like It Used To Be

  1. Loving India is often bittersweet. I am glad you have found gratitude in the small things. For me, its always humor that makes things like open fields of trash so surprisingly tolerable.

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