Falling in love with India

Falling in love with India

Did the time fly or did it crawl? I honestly can’t tell. The last six months have not always been easy. I’ve cursed India, I’ve loved India, but in the end I’m leaving EduCARE feeling pretty good. I didn’t always embrace this experience, but about half way through my internship my attitude started to change for the better, and I think this can best be demonstrated by my very different coordinator’s retreat experiences.

Back in July I attended my first coordinator’s retreat as the new Center Manager for the Paro center. I was a little stressed and overwhelmed at the time, so I was looking forward to going to a new center in Rait, and learning from the other veteran managers. When I arrived in Rait the other interns were busy with meeting the waste department and setting up new waste facilities. I thought “wow, their interns do so much more than Paro! They have a strong project and get things done! Why can’t we do that?” That night the interns cooked mixed veg for dinner, with so much variety, I thought “wow, they have pumpkin and carrots! I wish Paro had as many vegetables as them”. Everything annoyed me little by little. The next day I woke up with the infamous Delhi Belly (my first time experiencing said illness) and I spent the next three days in the toilet stall of the Rait house with some serious bowel issues (“wow, even their bathroom is nicer! I wish Paro had a toilet like this”). I was miserably sick (I even missed the last workshop of the retreat because I had passed out with a half eaten piece of bread in my hand) and between trips to the bathroom I was on the phone with interns back in Paro trying to mitigate conflicts between the team. I just wanted things to be easier. I wanted my team to get along and do their work; I wanted to spend a normal amount of time on the toilet; and I just wanted things to be better. I left the retreat weakened physically and mentally and ready for a holiday (a holiday at this point would just mean a burrito, a smoothie, and a western toilet).

Cut to my second retreat in the middle of October. I was coming directly from my holiday and going to Khuri outside of Jaisalmer. I was so excited to see all of the old coordinators I’d gotten to know, and the new ones who had just arrived. I was so stoked to tell people about my trip and to talk about the projects that were breaking out of Paro. I celebrated my birthday with 20+ co-workers who surprised me with a chocolate cake (no easy feat in the Indian desert), and we slept in the desert under an incredible night sky. The workshops may have been long, but I felt I had a lot to contribute. I had a project that was uniquely my own, I knew the organization better, and I was enjoying myself. Jokes were still made that I was a plagued mess at the last retreat, but I laughed and embraced the Khuri toilet stall happily.

Celebrating my birthday in the Khuri desert with all of the Educare coordinators

Two things occurred between these retreats, and I owe them a lot. First, I met Daniela; second, I found soap.

Daniela was a new intern that arrived a few weeks following my IBS filled retreat. When I met her, everything was “amazing” and “beautiful” and I thought it was “too much”. Surely, she couldn’t truly find everything “amazing” and “beautiful” when I thought everything was “overwhelming” and “difficult”. But after Daniela came with me back to Paro, and it was my turn to give her a tour of my Indian home, the constant exclamations of amazement and beauty started to resonate with me. She’s right! It is incredible that when you walk down your street complete strangers invite you in for chai and start a dance party! And it’s super cool that the migrant community greets us with hugs and practical jokes when we enter their home! Daniela made me realize I was being negative about an experience that offered so much positivity and beauty. And at the same time that Daniela changed my outlook, I found soap.

Playing with the Paro kids during Laura and Daniela’s center tour

Finding a project I felt good about gave my time in India a new purpose. I no longer felt I was floundering, but I had something to work toward that could produce tangible results. And having Daniela in the back of my head reminded me to appreciate the opportunity. While I still don’t feel like I’ve finished what I started, and I have so much I want to keep doing in terms of making soap with the community; Daniela reminds me to revel in what I have accomplished and embrace the relationships I made with the community. I still have a list of goals for the soap making project that I hope another intern will take on, but in the end I embraced the work that Paro did, I embraced the vegetables in our town, and I’ve embraced that India does stuff to your bowels that sometimes is funny…after the fact.

With Geeta, Sonya, and Vide, our soap makers and Restore girls at my final Restore opening

Madeline Zdeblick

Paro Centre Manager – Punjab

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