Another Story Written

I’ve been back in Arizona for about a week now and it’s never felt so good to come back to my roots after going abroad. After living in both Tokyo and India—two countries I swear must be some of the most different from Western culture as you could find—it feels right to settle into my own customs and ways. I guess, “The American Dream” has never felt so real. I don’t mean that in the sense of “I was dying to come back here and revel in all my luxuries.” I mean that in the sense that I have never realized the degree of privilege I possess as an American—and how grateful I am for clean air, water, food, driving a car, independence, and more.

I feel like there’s so much to catch up on—simply, because so much happened in India every single day. My life was so full of entertaining situations, noteworthy conversations, and learning strides, that I couldn’t even keep my personal journal in the daily loop. But, I guess I’ll explain all the endings…

The end of work was nice. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to finish my video project. The script had to go through too many re-drafts, so by the final week, there wasn’t enough time to create an actual video. One of the problems with the script was that Paromita found the conversational tone unnatural. So, she suggested I record and direct a conversation between Umang and Kanksha to make sure my story-line and major points were included, but that they brought these points up in their own manner. It was an interesting exercise that helped me understand a way to blend documentary with a pre-determined plan. Looking back on the internship, my confidence with Adobe Premiere (editing software) has definitely increased, and Umang taught me that we can’t let technology be smarter than us. Often times, if something went wrong on an edit, I would ask Umang or someone else. I’d quickly s see how easy the fix was (after watching), and realize I wasn’t exactly trying my hardest. By the end of the internship, I was starting to catch on to this, and nowadays, I push myself to fix and find solutions to everyday happenings.

I have to say, it felt so freeing to travel after the internship. As hard as it was to say goodbye to everyone at the internship, I knew I wasn’t going to miss my 8-hour-day desk job, plus commute. This style of working is not for me, and I’m so glad I learned this now. I want to have an active job, where I’m interacting with other people and moving about. So, as it was time to go, I packed my bags, and started to feel a little uneasy. Everything came to a close at once, right as a I was about to begin a whole new journey by myself. It was the first time I was going to embark on a semi-unplanned journey. I had my initial and final flight booked, and knew which cities I wanted to go to, though I didn’t have all transportation and housing booked. But, Swapnil (one of my housemates) sat me down the night before leaving. He wrapped a red string around my wrist several times and tied it tightly. He said The Goddess, Bhairavi, would protect me while I was away. She’s the female form of Shiva and he’s had some powerful interactions with her. I’ve always liked this the most about India—the meaning that can be found in almost anything and everything. I felt way more at ease and ready to start my new adventure.

I traveled to Dharamashala for the longest period, then continued on to Delhi, Agra, Jodhpur, Osian, and then Udaipur. Again, no matter where I went, what mattered most was the people I was with. It’s as if it didn’t really matter what we were doing… with the exception of a monumental point in Dharamashala. I was only supposed to be there for 5 days, which turned into 6. It had been raining every single day, so I had already kissed goodbye my dream of hiking to the Himalayas. Even though Mumbaikers have assured me that monsoon season is the best season for hikes, everyone at my hostel told me there was no point—that it would be too cloudy at the top of Triund Trek to see anything. Once I accepted I would have to pass up the primary reason I flew all the way to the north, I booked my bus ticket for Delhi to leave at 5 pm. But the night before my bus, a worker at my hostel, Kabir, told me he would be getting up the next morning at 5 AM to go… and that I was welcome to join. He said there was a chance that tomorrow would clear up. I debated for the longest time, because I’ll tell you what, I was NOT ready to wake up at 5 AM, hike the whole day, then make sure I was back in time for a restless night on a sleeper bus. So, I went to bed, still unsure, and as 5 AM struck, my alarm blared. I looked around. Rainy and pitch-black outside. I turned off my alarm and went back to sleep.

And so I awoke around 8 to see from my hostel balcony… what do ya know? A clear, sunny, beautiful skyline of the lush foothills. “Welcome to the REAL Dharamashala!!”, my roommate exclaimed. My heart absolutely sank. I couldn’t believe it. What’s worse, Kabir came back around noon, sharing how amazing the hike was. How clear it was… and he even met a dog at the top. The entire day, I had a pit in my stomach. I just couldn’t imagine leaving Dharamashala without seeing the Himalayas now… but, I already booked my bus ticket and was mentally prepared to leave that night. It was weird. As the time ticked on, I went back and forth on my decision. What am I losing by staying? Money? Time? My pre-determined plan? I actually felt physically ill. Like this decision meant everything. It felt like I was forcing my hands to stuff my belongings into my backpack. I was upset with myself that I couldn’t understand what I wanted to do. That I was 22, on the road in India, and couldn’t simply pick if I was going to stay an extra night in Dharamshala or not.  I’ve always been a bit of an indecisive person, but I’ve never waited until the very last minute, bags packed, to decide that no… I just couldn’t leave. I came all the way to see the Himalayas, so the rest of my plans could wait. Sure, there was no guarantee that the good weather would persist through the next day, but I had a chance to make-up my mistake of skipping out the first time.

And guess what? As I walked up to the check-out desk, bags in hand, I looked at one of the hostel workers, and said, “Do you want to you come with me on Triund tomorrow morning at 5 AM?”.  “Sure, my new friend, Sunil, immediately replied.

The hike to the Himalayas is a story in itself, but what I can tell you is that it was my favorite day of this whole summer. I enjoyed the company of a new friend, let my mind spread free of worries, physically drained my body to a state of natural meditation, and was overwhelmed by the pure beauty of this world. There’s no way I was able to know what kind of day it would turn out to be… but, I’m glad I finally reached an understanding with my gut.

I think traveling takes practice to get right, and this is just one idea I’ve learned along the way. For instance, Udaipur was memorable all thanks to a travel and food blogger I befriended–Nishi from Delhi. We both happened to come to Udaipur during a heavy monsoon wave. On top of that, most places I intended to see were closed (including a traditional Rajasthani dance show I was excited to see) due to a recent political event. But, Nishi and I met in our hostel, sharing our disappointment in what we thought was about to be a stormy-day in. It was the first time I’ve had a day of travel where I actually didn’t have plans and didn’t know what to do with myself! But, as we ate our breakfast on our hostel’s rooftop, overlooking Udaipur’s main lake, we made a pact that we were going to get going and do SOMETHING with our day. And, that something turned into the most spontaneous, joyous ending to my India travel that I could’ve hoped for.

We started off with our first destination—a temple ground where a famous Bollywood film was shot. Though I had no idea what the film was, I didn’t care. Nishi seemed fun, so the destination didn’t matter. Moments after stepping outside, the downpour began. We hurried down and the rickshaws were charging a bit much, so we decided to go with a cheaper option—squeezing onto the back of a motorcycle of some random teenager. So, we were off! Umbrella above our heads, we flew down the rainy highway. When we got to the grounds, we explored and started to hear… music. I had mentioned earlier that it would be cool to see some live music that day since the dance show was canceled. We just started to follow the noise, and ended up coming to a celebration being thrown for a god’s birthday. There was an entire band, an abundant spread of food and desserts, and gorgeous flower strands running across bright yellow curtains. It was almost what I’d imagine a wedding to look like. As soon as got there, the storm blew out of control. Water even broke through the rooftop, and completely drenched a couple of men in their nice slacks and button-ups, alongside all the food. But still, everyone had a smile on their face.

Nishi looks slightly scared of me, but I can assure you, we had a great day

Just when I thought Nishi and I would be spending our day inside, we ended up taking our day from one place to the next, smiling the whole way. For both of us, it was really one of the “so happy to be alive” moments. After the temple, we went to a cable car attraction, as the rains let up. Here, we saw some of the best views of the city. We split a dosa at the top of the mountain, then came back down. Walking home, we met the lining of the lake and decided to take a boat ride—something else I didn’t think I was going to end up doing. On our way home, we ran into  another birthday celebration for the same God that was being celebrated earlier in the temple. The lights, music, celebration… it was such a pleasant experience to run into again. Later, after hitting the local craft market and an art café she wanted to review for her blog, we ended our night chatting on the rooftop again. Just like the guys I meet in Varanasi, I didn’t really need to know Nishi to completely enjoy my time with her. I just had a good feeling about her, and we ended up talking about the challenges of solo traveling. About why it’s good to be alone, but why this irrationally makes us feel selfish at times. We talked about budgeting and unnecessary worries about money. She told me “We will never feel like we have enough money. Even when we do have more than enough. There’s just no point.” And, of course, I had to ask about relationships (conversations are the best form of research, right?) Nishi had just got engaged a few months back, and finds her finance understanding and good to her. As I was giving her my best wishes, I started to talk about my own experience finding a guy who treats me with respect, and considers my emotions, etc. Nishi and I started to wonder, “wait why do we act like men who act like this are extra-special? Shouldn’t all of those things be a given? That’s the baseline for how men should treat women, and vice versa!” We laughed.

I’m going to miss it all, really. I’ve noticed since I’ve been back, I don’t feel as driven to dive right back into my hobbies like guitar, poetry/songwriting, and running. I’ve gotten so used to waking up and seeing where the day takes me, revolved around people and exploring a city. I think I’m starting to learn how to relax a bit. To watch some TV and just let my mind sit. Maybe those few meditation sessions got to me? I think I’m going to have to keep up my practices from India and see where life takes me now.

“The Last Hurrah” with Swapnil and Sarah, my good ol’ roomies










I want to thank Janelle Fosler, Morgan Fitzgerald, and Ariana Paredes-Vincent for your enthusiastic encouragement through the SISA process. I wasn’t sure if I was initially going to apply, but now, there’s nowhere I would have rather spent my summer. Most importantly, thank you to the anonymous donor who gave me the most transformative experience filled with extremities of every emotion.

Back in the USA

Back in the US, things are a bit different. I’m very happy to have showers with walls that are always hot. To have toilets that you can throw toilet paper in and a bearable outdoor climate.

But there are so many things about my time in India that I already miss after just a few days of being home. The beautiful bright flowers on every tree on every corner, spending time with my extended family, sitting in the sun with a cup of chai and a good book after work.

It feels so strange to be home. What felt like a long, scary trip across the world turned into one of the most fun adventures I’ve ever had. To start, I would like to reflect on my internship. I was so excited to contribute to the work of my nonprofit in a meaningful way which I’m proud to say I accomplished. This experience impacted me professionally by confirming that in my future career, I need to feel like my work is making a difference, a difference that I can see and feel and quantify. This experience taught me that I’m capable of working in a completely foreign context and even thriving in it, which gives me confidence to pursue global work after I graduate this year.

In my public health classes at U of M, we learn a lot about social determinants of health like poverty, housing, and education, but I’ve never focused so closely on these aspects of health as they relate to children. I loved being able to see how what I’ve learned in the classroom in Ann Arbor could be translated to the field all the way across the world. This experience re-energized me for my final year at UM in terms of academics – I really want to soak in as much knowledge and skills as I can in order to contribute better to the field work I hope to do in the future. I’m so excited to have some real-world experience to bring back to the classroom as well because the information I learn now will be that much more important, relevant, and stimulating for me.

Lastly, I can’t begin to qualify how I’ve been impacted personally by this trip. It has been so fulfilling to finally get to meet so much of my family and reconnect with people who all share some part of my identity. Traveling alone has proven to be a very empowering and transforming experience. I learned how to be happy by and with myself, was able to navigate a new city and make good friends along the way. I engaged in new experiences and hobbies that I plan to continue now that I’m home.

Work Update

Time has really gotten away from me lately as my internship comes to a close, so I will have to make this one short! For my video project, I’ve come to understand my place as a foreigner a little more. Paromita told me that by virtue of my identity, a video composed of me narrating Indian history and throwing in some pop-culture references can come off as dominating, even if I don’t mean it. In order to fix this, I re-scripted the video so that a conversation between Umang (boss) and Kanksha (co-worker) takes place.

By writing this script, I’ve learned how to be a clearer storyteller by using visuals to explain without words. To minimize an explanation according to what’s already implied. The original script was a complex idea, so it was crucial to break it down very simply, so the audience could understand and relate without getting bored and shutting the video off. To understand my audience’s perspective the best, Paromita taught me an exercise in which I go through the script and breakdown the major points of what’s being said (every ½ page or so), then put it into a flow chart. That way, I could see what was missing for the storyline to make sense. Because of the all the work from the music video, our projects were pushed back a bit, so I’m not sure this video will be done by the time I leave.

I had a really awesome chance to go interview local students on the streets around their colleges. For the video, I wanted to get unbiased, diverse views of the topic to see what virginity means to today’s generation in India. We asked 3 questions: 1) What’s the first word/idea that pops into your head when you hear the word, ‘virgin’?, 2) Are you losing something when you ‘lose your virginity’?, 3) What has sexual exploration done for you? To see how interested and open people were in talking about these subjects was really inspiring. It really seemed like our interviewees were having a fun time! My favorite answer came from a male answering question 2. He said “No, if anything we are gaining something. We are gaining our innocence.”

On culture and childbirth

“Babies come out the same way no matter where you go,” was a common phrase that people liked to tell me when I told them that I was going to work at a birthing center in India for five weeks. And in many ways, they’re right. No matter where you go in the world, humans are more alike than different. Not only in our basic anatomy, but all of us have the same basic needs as well. Watching new moms interact with their newborns has taught me how similar we all really are. The joy and love and pure happiness that flows easily between a woman and her new baby knows no language or culture or country.

That said, birth is most definitely not the same wherever you go. Culture is so deeply engrained in the process of pregnancy and childbirth, and to provide good care, we need to recognize that. I think that sometimes it is easy to look at women’s anatomy as the same, and think that all births should be conducted the same way. But culture dictates so much about how comfortable a woman is and therefore what she needs during her birth experience, that it needs to be considered.

For example, in India, when a woman is pregnant with her first child, she typically goes to her hometown and lives with her mother for the last couple months and for the first few months after the baby is born.  If she hopes to deliver at our center, she must keep in contact via WhatsApp and see a different provider in her hometown for checkups, then travel back to Hyderabad to deliver. Our center has to be willing to accommodate that. This is just one example, but there are so many things that I have learned to keep in mind when supporting a woman through labor here in India.

In the future, I’ll take this back to the States with me. People from all over the world with all different needs and preferences deliver at the hospitals that I work at. I need to remember that no two births are the same, and I’ll do everything I can to better understand women’s needs and the role that their history and culture play in their childbirth experience.

In addition, this has taught me how important it is for providers to be familiar with the demographic of patients they are caring for. One of my goals is to someday help train a new generation of providers in low resource settings, so that people who truly understand a culture are the ones providing care. My time in India has reinforced to me how important that is.


The Royal Tomb was probably my favorite spot on the tuk-tuk tour

I travelled alone this weekend to the city of Jaipur.  On my first day I walked through the Pink City to the Hawa Mahal, and perused through the bazars that lined the streets. Because I was alone, I found myself engaging more with the people around me than I would traveling with friends. While purchasing some trinkets from one of the stalls, a shop owner and I struck up conversation. The shopkeeper offered to show me a temple down the street, then quickly took off through the crowded market expecting me to follow him. I didn’t have to follow the shopkeeper, nor did I feel obligated to. But I chose to anyway, I guess because it felt right in that moment.

The Chand Baori in Jaipur

One hundred meters later, the shopkeeper slipped into a doorway in the middle of the market. I followed him inside and was greeted by a beautifully decorated, open air courtyard. Now alone, he explained to me how his father had owned this temple, and how there was an excellent view of the city from the roof. He went up the stairs to the roof and I continued to follow him to what was indeed a beautiful view of the cityscape. Looking out at the city and the mountains on the horizon, the shopkeeper pointed out various temples and gave me a brief history of each. I followed him back downstairs to a shop that his friend had owned, but I didn’t purchase anything. I thanked him for his time and for showing me his temple then continued on my way to the Hawa Mahal.

A very intricate entrance in the Amer Fort

Afterwards I was reflecting on this encounter, wondering why I felt comfortable following this man like I had. I absolutely would not have followed any stranger at home in the United States, but here, it just sort of felt natural. I did this again on Sunday, to a lesser degree, and followed a security guard at the Amer Fort through some closed passages to the roof of the fort. Again I found myself gazing at a gorgeous landscape alone with a strange man, and asking myself, “is this okay”?

View from the entrance of Amer Fort

A lot of the practices here do not have the same formality that they would in the United States. There’s been a lot of phone calls and spoken agreements, and I’ve found myself relying on nothing but the word of strangers for everything from my cell phone service to transportation. At first it felt strange, but after watching people continuously follow through on their words and their plans I just feel wonderfully optimistic about people and their intentions. The amount of trust and integrity that I’ve seen exhibited in the culture here has been awesome and moving and I hope to foster this same trust and integrity wherever I go.