To my right, Cherif pushes a soccer ball with his right foot, forward, backward, forward, backward, as he sits at his computer, typing. Taylor is to my left, blue headphones in her ears, also sitting at her computer, also writing. Annalise has Notepad open on her own computer. We all stare at screens, fingers hovering above keys, hoping to be able to somehow explain in words the part of life which has just now come to a close.
For the past three weeks, our daily schedules went something like this:
7:30 am: My alarm begins to sound Jason Mraz’s “Curbside Prophet,” his melodic voice and the upbeat rhythm pulling me slowly from sleep. I push the light covers off, searching for my phone, since it probably fell off of the narrow bed at some point during the night. The fan is loud, because I turned it on its highest speed before I went to sleep (at its fastest, I don’t even miss air conditioner). I step into the blue-tiled bathroom to wash my face, brush my teeth, and light a stick of incense, the stem of which is pushed into my deck of cards and placed over the sink so that its ashes will be easy to wash away later. I hurriedly dress in leggings, a kurta (basically a dress, but with openings along the sides from knee to hip), and snatch a scarf and scrunchie from the metal armoire.
8 am: Breakfast is laid out in the mess hall, which is a large room with cloth tapestries pinned to every inch of wall and ceiling. There is yellow rice with peanuts and herbs, and boiled eggs, and hot water for tea or coffee set alongside a pot of steaming chai tea. Someone is always already there, sitting with a small mug of one hot drink or the other, and we begin chatting as I pour myself a cup and slowly let the caffeine take its desired effect. “What is the schedule today?” one of us inevitably asks, and the other stands, and walks over to the slip of paper pinned to the back wall. We groan, looking at the time, and quickly finish our breakfasts and rush to the Training Center classroom.
9:30 am: We sit in chairs arranged like a half-moon, our backs pushed against the plastic, waiting for Jayesh or Surekha, or probably both, to begin teaching. Jayesh sits across from us in the center of the room, leaning against his chair relaxedly and chatting with Surekha, who is prepared with a marker at the whiteboard. “Today, friends,” Jayesh begins, “We will discuss…” The topics range from the adolescent girls’ and boys’ programs CRHP sponsors, to water sustainability, to community-based participatory research, to nutrition programs taught by village health workers… in three short weeks, Jayesh and Surekha gave us students an in-depth understanding of the daily workings of CRHP. Halfway through each lesson, just as eyes began to become heavy and attentions started to wander, Mundubai, in her typical green, gold and brown saree, brings in two plates: one with Parle-G biscuits, and one laden with tiny cups of chai tea.
She gives the plate of biscuits to Amol, a young main training to be a member of CRHP’s mobile health team. Mundubai slowly walks around our semicircle, passing out the chai, and Amol walks behind, grinning as we each take one, two, or even three biscuits to dip carefully in the small cups. Jayesh’s and Surekha’s voices sound pleasantly as we settle again for the second half of the day’s lesson.
After finishing the lesson for the morning, Jayesh says, “Thank you, friends,” with a smile. I walk with the other students into the morning sunshine, down the narrow pathway with arcing vines and leaves, with purple flowers and white baby’s breath dotting the edges of the walkway. To the right of the path is where CRHP staff live; I smile at the women doing laundry, the children playing with toys, and the somewhat frightening old dog who growls and chases me when I accidentally get too close.
1 pm: Lunch is served. We line up next to a series of plastic tables, our plates and forks held ready to be loaded with rice, dhal, vegetables in sauce, and chapati. The mess hall is full with our voices as we sit for far longer than the food lasts, discussing the class material, or perhaps chatting about documentaries we want to watch next.
2 pm: Often, we walk into town after eating lunch. Town is out of the gates of CRHP, past a dozen chai stalls and snack shops, along the dusty road with cows sprawled relaxedly along the sides, over a bridge set across a slowly-moving river, and into the bustling, heavily populated main street of Jamkhed.
We walk into the fabric stores, goggling at the colors and imaging using stretches of patterns as tapestries, skirts, or sarees.
We buy a new sweet from the dessert shop, tasting something at once foreign and reminiscent of a cookie, or a doughnut.
3:25 pm: We realize that we are nearly late for another class at 3:30 pm, so we quickly walk to a nearby rickshaw and ride it the bumpy five minutes to CRHP’s campus.
We again sit in the Training Center classroom, in our half-moon of plastic chairs, listening to Jayesh’s and Surekha’s voices resound in the acoustic room. There is more hot tea, and more Parle-G biscuits. I think ruefully of my promise to myself that I would avoid sugar, and as the plate of biscuits makes another round, I take a second. My attention is again on Surekha, who is explaining gender discrimination in rural India, or discussing the watershed system of water conservation in local villages as instituted by CRHP.
Soon we are on break, and we have half an hour before a group discussion at 5:30 pm. I walk with Annalise and Yudi, two other student participants in the practicum, to Annalise’s apartment with the large, tiled common space. We set up two yoga mats and share them between the three of us. We open up a Kayla Itsines workout, play a Blogilates Youtube video, or begin a yoga flow.
5:30 pm: We rush to the classroom, this time settling down for an open discussion. These discussions are student-led and include such topics as mental health, sexual assault, and the caste system. These conversations are difficult to have, because they require self-examination as well as a deeper, more thorough style of listening. I questioned my right to speak about topics which not only are heavily complicated by the specificities of rural Indian culture, but are also topics understood more by minority groups. I felt frazzled as time and again, a student’s question or comment was responded to with, “Be careful not to generalize,” or, “We can’t compare this to any American systems.” I realized how much I do not know, and how much I needed to listen more actively than ever before.
7 pm: Dinner is again in the mess hall. It is usually American-style food, and has been the source of my greatest increase in gluten consumption since I was a child constantly eating mac-and-cheese and PB&Js. We stay and chat after the meal, our ankles turning spotted with mosquito bites. When we can no longer stand the flies, we move, one-by-one, into the Intern Office where we each settle into a variety of available chairs. We begin a card game (Egyptian Rat Screw, Capitalism, or Kemps), and listen to someone’s Spotify playlist from Elijah’s speaker. An hour later, someone loads a Netflix documentary and we watch that, then discuss the film for days later.
I’m back in bed around midnight, with my fan turned to its maximum speed, and an audiobook playing as I fall asleep.
From conversations with CRHP staff members, to discussions with fellow students, to moments spent in reflection, I feel deeply affected by the past few weeks at CRHP. I have been challenged and have come to the conclusion that I have much to learn not only academically, but also about empathy, listening, and being in spaces with people whose lives are quite different from my own. This time with CRHP has been invaluable to me, and has put me in a necessary position of uncomfortability and self-awareness as July becomes August and I approach the beginning of graduate school.