The Points to Our End

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Photo © Christina MacGillivray, Mummy Daddy Media Pvt. Ltd.

We always knew there would come a point when things would end; when for one final time – at least for now – our paths would converge to conclude the journeys we’d been on. And so, Endpoint came. By plane, train, and auto, we descended upon Delhi to gather at our dear Vishwa Yuvak Kendra (VYK), the hostel where we began our Fellowship. Ten months older, with many more sweet lime sodas under our belts and much more dirt under our fingernails, we embraced and sized each other up. Yes, we were all the same: full of energy, laughter, and enthusiasm. And yes, we were all different: full of many more stories than we had time to recount.

The journey to the Endpoint location in Kanatal was long, sweaty, and stomach churning – a somewhat accurate metaphor for many of our fellowship experiences. We woke at the crack of dawn and miraculously managed to board the waiting bus on time. We counted heads and found that even the sleepiest of our bunch had benefited from some kind housemates who had schooled their co-Fellows in the fine art of the alarm clock. In some cases, ten months can be life changing.

We set off for the train station, where in a grand parade of backpacks we scurried through crowds of early morning commuters, proving how adept we’d all become at navigating chaos. With only minutes to spare we hurled ourselves onto the train bound for Dehradun – a juncture in our journey – and promptly made ourselves at home. I spent six hours talking with my co-Fellow Srijana Angdembey in a continuation of our ten-months of conversation in Mumbai, while a crowd of Fellows and AIF staff members discussed the riotous events of the previous night’s world cup game. Various other Fellows could be found dozing, reading, chatting, or filming scenes for the glorious “Happy” dance video that our co-Fellow Brit (Brittany) Boroain put together. I was exhausted from my last few weeks of work in Mumbai, but buoyed by the spirit of my class and amazed by the complete ease with which we’d all sunk back into each other’s presence.

Finally arriving at the Dehradun railway station, we once more spilled out of the train and into a waiting bus. Despite the cramped quarters we all settled in for the second leg of our journey. Up and up we went, winding around one steep ledge and then the next. We sang songs, and stopped at a huge dhaba to fill our stomachs with dal makhani and jeera rice. Of course, a few Fellows promptly threw it all up soon after, but this was also a somewhat accurate reflection of our Fellowship experience. Some things we took with us, while other things we left behind; what’s important is that we gave them a try.

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Christina MacGillivray, Mummy Daddy Media Pvt. Ltd.

I dozed off for a bit and awoke to find that we were floating through a dense cloud. Rain was falling and it was hard to see the edge of the giant precipice we were perched upon. Sometimes the intermittent signs pointing towards Club Mahindra Kanatal had a distance marked on them, while one just read “    km.” This seemed an apt metaphor for the way time had worked over the previous months: although we’d always known there would be an Endpoint, there were many days throughout the Fellowship when it seemed like the challenges would roll forth without conclusion. However, as we so gratefully found, there was always a resolution to every challenge and always a reward to be found in it.

I nodded off once more, and when I finally awoke it was dark outside. The bus was stopped and my co-Fellows were beginning to shuffle off. I grabbed my bag and walked towards the glowing entrance of a beautiful lodge; in the mist of that mountain cloud it seemed a marvelous cabin in our minds where we could all drop our bags for a bit and reflect on the world below.

It took a plane ride, a six-hour train ride, and a very barfy bus ride to get to Kanatal, but we all agreed it was worth it. Up in the clouds, surrounded by trees, and birds, and wild fruit (something otherworldly to my Mumbai mind) we breathed a collective sigh of relief, letting go of the things we’d carried for almost a year. “Don’t take tension,” my amazing co-Fellow Mohit Raj has always wisely advised, and I found myself listening to him more attentively than ever.

Our four nights and three days in Kanatal passed both as quickly and as slowly as the ten months of our Fellowship. We packed each day with individual presentations, rolling from one Fellow’s seven-minute story to the next. Some more formal, some more impromptu, each presentation filled in small gaps in my knowledge of my co-Fellows’ experiences. “Trash Talks” with Mike Johnson and Caitlin Fergusson was a highlight, in which they shared tales from the dumping grounds they worked on. Rougye (Rorujorona) Ferrell had us pick names out of a hat and promise to reconnect with said person before Endpoint was over, and various other Fellows shared photos, personal reflections, and funny tales of the ups and downs of their Fellowship experiences.

As a break between individual presentations, Megan Casebolt led us in a round of résumé speed dating, in which we paired up to provide constructive critiques in preparation for our reentry into the global job market. Caitlin Fergusson, Taylor Robinson, and Nora (Eleanor) Godfrey also moderated a “Failure Fair,” which provided us with an opportunity to reflect upon, and confidentially discuss events, projects, or processes that we initially viewed as “failures,” but which could be reframed as positive learning experiences.

There were also some presentations about side projects and personal pursuits carried out over the Fellowship year. One such presentation was delivered by our marvelous co-Fellow James Liu: on the wings of a rousing chant of “Analytics! Analytics!” James dazzled us with his analysis of data collected through our class What’s App group. The numbers were revealing: the most prolific messenger was Angela Kohama—our most beloved bundle of energy and pizazz—and the word map of our most commonly used phrases proved us an optimistic crew. Our language was supportive, silly, and full of cheer.

My co-Fellow Ned (Edward) Dostaler and I also had the chance to present a side-project we’ve been working on, which surrounds a trip we took to the Koovagam Mela back in May. AIF supported us both financially and through sincere encouragement in our efforts to document India’s largest gathering of trans individuals, and from this original excursion Ned and I have expanded the project into a much more extensive, multimedia project focusing on trans identity and communities in India. Ned and I are lucky to have Ted Samuels, a Fellowship alumnus, as a collaborator and we look forward to carrying our work over into the next Fellowship year.

Coco Vonnegut and Angela Kohama also presented their project Just Like You, an incredible training module that includes a children’s book, teacher training workshops, and a training manual, that teach inclusion for people with disabilities in mainstream schools. Gayatri Devi and Meghana Rawat translated the material from English to Hindi, an additional aspect of a beautiful collaboration that makes us all so proud. AIF supported this endeavor throughout many months of hard work, and is set to publish the book and manual, and implement the training module in some of AIF’s Learning and Migration Program and Digital Equalizer classrooms in the coming months.

AIF’s support for both Ned and my documentary multimedia project, and Angela and Coco’s brilliant training module, is representative of the kind of support they’ve always provided for the things we are most passionate about. This question of support and caring is something that also came up later in our Endpoint experience when some of our co-Fellows posed a series of broad questions for us to reflect upon in small groups. ‘What was one time you felt proud? Felt disappointed? Felt lonely? What was one time you felt cared for?’

Matt (Matthew Kelly) read this last question aloud and I thought for a bit, looking at the wonderful people around me. From day one of the Fellowship I’d always felt comfortable sitting down at any table, in any circle, with any set of people, and I’d always been completely confident that I’d be welcomed and embraced and encouraged. To never feel excluded, to always feel included – to me, that is to always feel cared for. I shared these sentiments and there were nods from the Fellows around me. In that moment, the grass felt warm beneath my palms and the sun parted the fog just enough to see clearly across the terraced slopes of the mountain town.

In the mornings there were always a few of us who rose early to practice yoga or take sunrise hikes with AIF Board Member and stalwart Fellowship supporter Sridar Iyengar. Gayatri pointed out wild strawberries and apples as we ambled along, each of us sharing snippets of life from the past ten months and thoughts about what the future will bring. Some Fellows are heading back home to reconnect with families, friends, and old jobs—infusing each relationship with the knowledge and skills that they’ve gained through the Fellowship; while others are headed off to new jobs and new cities, where they will continue to explore the important questions and revelations that they’ve garnered over the past ten months. Still other Fellows are now in the mountains of Leh or the sun of Thailand, using their ever-wide eyes to take in as much of the world as possible; and a few others, like me, are preparing for a second year in the Fellowship program. For this, and for all the things my co-Fellows have taught me and continue to teach me, I am extremely grateful.

At the end of four beautiful days in the placid respite of Kanatal’s forests we once more piled into waiting cars and began our descent back to Dehradun, and then Delhi. The trip down the mountain was much smoother than the trip up, and a certain quiet had fallen across our normally boisterous crew. We were exhausted and full of energy; ready to move forward and reluctant to let go; happy to fall asleep on each other’s shoulders and intent on fitting in as many more conversations as possible.

There is far more to say about Endpoint than can be captured in a few pages, but again, this is representative of our Fellowship experience. As Coco so beautifully put it, there were infinite “points to our end” that led us to this moment; and it is now this End that points us in many different, beautiful directions, towards many incredible adventures. We’re all eager to explore these new avenues, and eager to support each other along the way, but we will miss each other fiercely. We may scatter across India, or across the globe, but I hope with all my heart that one day we’ll all be able to gather again in Kanatal to marvel at the grand adventure we all began together.

 

Ilana is a second-year Fellow with a passion for multimedia storytelling, a love of Indian literature, a longstanding interest in public health awareness, and a dedication to promoting the rights of women and girls. As an undergraduate, Ilana produced UPenn's 2010 production of The Vagina Monologues and co-founded The Penn Monologues, an annual show written and performed by students, staff, and faculty. Ilana's interest in public health is informed by her experience as a UPenn-Botswana Partnership Early Education Intern in Gaborone, Botswana, where she worked with children affected by HIV/AIDS. Additionally, her passion for education is rooted in her work as a 2010-2011 Fellow with The Modern Story in Hyderabad India, where she taught digital storytelling to 8th and 9th grade students in government schools. Prior to joining AIF, Ilana worked in Switzerland as a writer and editor for Urban-Think Tank and the Chair of Architecture and Urban Design at ETH ZÌ_rich.

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