Évα, Two, तीन

Pomegranate and a cup of chai

By Alex, Tufts 1+4 Participant

If you watch a home video of me up until the age of five, you’ll notice my parents disagreeing with one another, specifically about language. Everything I say in English, my mom asks me to repeat in Greek. Right after she does that, my dad whispers from behind the camera, “Now is not the time, Sofia.” My father, who grew up in a British-American household, did not understand my mother’s will to engrain the Greek language in my brother and me. For her, however, language correlated with successfully raising us to understand and appreciate our roots.

As a result, despite my dad’s grumbling, my mom continued to force me to spit out as much Greek as I could as a child, whether it was for asking for a cookie or telling her about my day. I grew up confused as to which language I should talk in, because between the Greek my mom was insisting upon, the English my dad was speaking to me, and the Spanish my nanny sang to me, I could hardly distinguish the three. I knew not to speak Greek to my father but often ended up singing Spanish nursery rhymes to my mother because they sounded similar to Greek ones.

Language gradually became less of a burden and more of a skill. In given moments, I could use bits and pieces of each one to help me form connections with different people I met, from the Greek passport control agent to the Mexican waiter at my favorite diner who would sneak me pieces of chocolate after I spoke my broken Spanish. Language was my superpower: a few words opened a doorway of friends, and most importantly, free food. I excelled in languages in school because I put my heart into them and always saw them as an opportunity to make the world a little bit smaller.

The first day my family members visited me in India, I suddenly felt like a stranger to a country I have been living in for the past four months. Upon arriving at our hotel, a person greeted us with hot chocolate. My family members happily accepted the drink. I was shocked. I had never seen hot chocolate served in India and blurted out, “Bhaiya, chai kaha hai?” I wasn’t thinking, but rather responding naturally. I saw the way my family looked at me after hearing this foreign language come from my mouth and in that moment, I became a stranger to my family. Rohan, the boy who had offered us the hot chocolate, smiled widely as I continued, “Mira nam Alex hai” and “Main Pune me reheti hu” (My name is Alex and I live in Pune). In the first few days while I struggled to connect to my family, I used my Hindi to open up relationships with people I felt would understand my new tastes better.

A picture taken by me from my first night in Delhi on 12/21/19 after I had spoken some Hindi to people in front of my family visiting from home

My interaction with Rohan was only the beginning. At every meal, I became friendly with the waiters, asking them for their recommendations and telling them my Maharashtrian favorites. To my family’s delight, this often led to free desserts, and what touched me the most was when my new friends would bring me ginger lemon tea after they heard my horrible cough, telling me they had prepared it themselves using their mother’s recipe.Speaking just a few sentences of Hindi broke down the formality between me and the hotel staff, allowing me to meet people from different parts of the country. When they heard me speak the little Hindi I knew, I could see their faces instantly relax.

During this meal, I ordered everything in Hindi!

In the beginning of this year, I dreaded Hindi class. I did not see the point in learning a language in a city where most people spoke to me in Marathi, the local language. Traveling around India with my family earned Hindi its spot in the superpower category, rekindling my deep love for the transformative power of languages. I came back to Pune more motivated to speak a few more lines of Hindi and Marathi in an effort to see what they could unleash. The results were often large smiles, exclamations of surprise, and questions that led to conversation. As a foreigner, I now know that putting in a little effort to speak Hindi or the local language allows me to experience India more deeply by making it possible for me to communicate with people and show my respect for their home.

Gandhi Jayanti Day

by Alex, Tufts 1+4 Participant

The Indus Valley Civilization and the fierce Mughals have pulled me to India. In high school, I consistently found myself being drawn into my world history textbook every time India was mentioned. I particularly enjoyed learning about Mahatma Gandhi and admired how instead of using force, he had inspired Indians to liberate themselves from the British colonialists using non-violence. Later on, this same philosophy would be used to spark freedom movements across the world, from the end of the Apartheid to the Civil Rights Movement. The earth was a better place because Gandhi had walked it.

Due to my love for Indian history, I was excited to find out October 2nd, Gandhi’s birthday, was a national holiday known as Gandhi Jayanti Day. Since government schools spend the day commemorating him, I would luckily be able to celebrate his 150th birthday alongside my students.

At school that morning, teachers handed out posters with slogans such as “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and “Clean and Green is Our Dream” to our students, directing them to form a line outside of the school building. Excited, I quickly joined them, and we walked around our school’s neighborhood, chanting “Clean Pune, Green Pune,” alongside some of the neighboring schools. Many people stopped on the street to cheer us on or stare blankly at the commotion. After an hour, we returned to school and sang happy birthday to a picture of Gandhi while eating sweets. My kids were smiling, and I was happy that by raising awareness on pollution, something Gandhi would have strong opinions on, we had done something meaningful. Participating in peaceful protests meant keeping Gandhi’s legacy alive.

Energized by the morning’s events, I didn’t want the celebrations to end after I got home. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an American holiday similarly celebrating a man who devoted his life fighting for equality, my family and I read from some of his works. I was especially surprised that my talkative host father wasn’t making a bigger deal of the holiday. When I approached him about it, he looked me in the eye and told me he believed, to some extent, that Gandhi had left a mess for India. The shock evident on my face, he explained that Gandhi consented to the partition of Pakistan and India. If Gandhi had opposed more vocally, which he had the power to do, my host father and many others think the issues involving Pakistan and India would be lessened. He continued by saying that Gandhi often receives all the credit for independence, but the battle he began in the early 1900s wasn’t over until 1947. In reality, victory came because Britain was weak after both world wars and could not afford to fight for India.

Although I had only known my host father for less than a month, I cared greatly about his opinions. I enjoyed learning from him during our many conversations about politics and values. While initially confused, I later realized that this conversation with my host father broadened my views about a man whom I had been groomed to treat as an untouchable figure. They contrasted a morning solely full of festivities. As a result, Gandhi Jayanti Day forced me to challenge my preconceived assumptions. I had been comfortable with my knowledge of India’s fight for freedom from school and my own research that I hadn’t opened myself up enough to hearing more from locals. While I still admire Gandhi in many ways, I have taken the initiative to learn more this year by questioning in order to better immerse myself.

Photo taken by me while rallying on the street outside of our school on October 2nd, 2019.

Peanut Butter and Chai

By Alex, Tufts 1+4 Participant

When thinking about what to get as a gift for my host family, my mind immediately went to peanut butter. There may not be any food condiment more quintessentially American than the creamy golden colored substance made from crushed peanuts and sugar. Peanut butter just doesn’t have the same tang anywhere else. It is the United States’ crown jewel: whether you are a Skippy or JIF fan, peanut butter forms a common bond between Americans. While American cuisine may be lacking, we can proudly call ourselves the founders of peanut butter. I knew I wanted my Indian host family to experience its deliciousness and get a taste for my childhood, as I had grown up eating peanut butter.

So 8,401 miles later, I finally gave my host family the prized peanut butter that had fortunately not been confiscated during customs. We arranged to have a formal taste test on that Thursday, and that morning, I eagerly woke up early and took my usual seat at the dining room table facing the window’s swaying palm trees.

I’m not a great cook, but I can proudly boast about making mean peanut butter toasts. As I began to lay out my ingredients, my host mom started to make her everyday chai. While I added cinnamon and honey to the peanut butter, my host mom added masala chai spices and ginger to her teapot. While I chopped bananas, my host mom poured steamed milk into the chai mixture. Finally, when I finished preparing plates with peanut butter and jelly, and peanut butter, banana, cinnamon, and honey, she added two spoonfuls of sugar each to five cups. Together, we crafted a breakfast I’ll always remember.

One by one, each member of my family came downstairs and enthusiastically grabbed pieces of toast before I could describe what I had created. As they took their first bites, I could see surprise turned to pleasure on their faces while I explained to them that this was a typical American snack. My host father jokingly told me that Indians typically didn’t eat sweet things for breakfast while I replied that sadly Americans did. My host sister Pritti declared her new love for peanut butter and stuck her finger into the jar, reminding me of one of my grandfather’s old habits. Pranoti added some ghee (a quintessential Indian condiment) to the toast, making it her own. While we continued eating our meal, I realized my role and my host family’s role reversed. I had been the one trying different foods daily and discussing the differences or similarities between Indian and American meals. Now, for the first time, they were getting a taste of how I had been feeling.

Food bridges cultures. My host mother’s careful preparation of chai, the staple Indian drink, paired with a classic American meal exemplified this notion. Through the taste of her masala chai, I am in India. Through peanut butter, I am in the United States. With both, I am on my bridge year.

Identity in a Sea of Ambiguity

By Ashley, Tufts 1+4 Participant

In my life, there are few times that questions have truly stumped me and left me scrambling to formulate a clear response. The majority of these instances are linked to any question asked by TSA that turn me into a clammy, stuttering mess for absolutely no reason. Although, I suppose all the “random” security checks really did a number. However, the questions that I am referring to specifically have to do with questions pertaining to language, culture, and identity. I did not give myself the space to think about these aspects of my being and, as a result, had to rush words out of my mouth. Well, at least that was the case. My time in Hyderabad gave me the time to reflect on the questions that I never had clear answers to and also the added vocabulary to add to my repertoire.

बोलो – Bolo (Speak)

My first month I was reasonably quiet; living with new people, in a new environment, and in a new country warrants the occasional uncomfortable silence. However, there were times that I wish I would have spoken up. My host family at the beginning were under the impression that I was Mexican, i.e from Mexico. I figured it had to do with my description on my profile and clarified that I was Mexican-American. Nevertheless, they continued to introduce me as an international Mexican student who would live with them for the next 8 months. While this was all seemingly harmless, it caused me to notice the inner turmoil of the way I identify. My family could not have known that they had begun a cultural exploration that I would take home. While that is all great, looking back I would have wanted to tell myself: “बोलो”. Speak for yourself. But how could I when I didn’t even know my own truth?

My senior year I shared a part of my Mexican-American childhood with my school and this year I wondered where that part of me had gone.

चुप – Chup/Choop (Quiet)

Thoughts began running through my mind that I didn’t have clear answers to: Do I have a claim to Mexico? Can I call myself Mexican or is that disrespectful, as I have the privileges of an American citizenship/passport? Would people of Latin American consider me as Latina as well? What am I- चुप !! I needed time and space away from my own thoughts to reflect. Thankfully, I had all of Hyderabad to take up my time, until I was mistaken as Indian. My racial ambiguity had always been a source of entertainment to see what people would come up with next; however, at this time my racial ambiguity was a reminder how my outer self matched my inner confusion around race and identity.

See, prior to arriving in India, I had an encounter with a Latino who had asked me where I came from after hearing me speak Spanish. Quickly becoming flustered, I began with “Well, my parents are from Mexico but I was born here in the states…” to which he responded, “Oh, so you’re not really Mexican”. My identity had just been discredited by what I considered to be a “real” Latino. My Mexican card had just been rejected. That encounter left my world crumbling and had left me in an existential crisis before my year abroad even began.

This picture is of my mother’s naturalization in becoming a United States citizen. This signified the end of fearing being removed from her family, children, and the country she grew to know as home.

बस – Bus (Enough/Stop)

There came a point where I recognized how far away from myself I felt after constantly questioning my truth; where I allowed my desire for validation to speak for me instead of claiming myself and my story. It also helped to have a friend to tell me “बस”. Enough. Enough of the questioning. Enough. She said all the things I knew and it was up to me to believe. The perceptions that people hold about me are not a representation of what I actually am. I am not to be put in a box just because the world isn’t equipped to broaden the world of identity. Self-care and self-love require you to hold space for your own truth, even if it isn’t what the world considers to be “true”.

Food has always been a way to connect; whether it be serving curry at the table or making a makeshift tortilla station, love and culture are always shared.

शुक्रिया – Shukriya (Thank you )

All I have to say to my experience is शुक्रिया. I needed this year to fully accept the answers to questions the world made of me and to start seeking questions of my own. I was fully complacent, after being awarded a scholarship to a private school, and thought that the golden ticket in my hand meant I couldn’t question what I saw around me.

I have come to realize now that a part of me was right. I have no real roots and that is okay. My family has roots to Mexico and from those, I am able to learn the wisdom and knowledge they carry. Although my roots to the United States are nonexistent, they begin with my sister and me; as well as every first-generation born person in America that will be the roots for their descendants.

Before this year I couldn’t question the intersections of race and identity or the nuances of going through this world as a literal and figurative world traveler as I couldn’t see it. My experience in both American and Mexican cultures equipped me with tools to make a wonderful year living with a wonderful family. I was able to regain my trust in my sense of self and now will not become panicked by questions regarding my identity, language, or culture. While my exposure to language and culture expanded so did my appreciation for all India has to offer the world.

Thank you for a year where I was able to question my surroundings and also myself.

Thank you for the diversity that India has to offer.

I called my mother when I arrived in Agra to show her where her genes, her history had made it to; my growth is a continuation of the journey our family began.


Brown and Bold

by Ashley, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I can recall my early preschool and kindergarten days where I would spend countless hours (probably minutes) drawing and coloring to my heart’s content. I was not one of the children that would paint the sky green as the sky is blue or cloud anything other than shades of white and gray. That was not how the world was and my picture then would not be a representation of the world I called home. 

I only used the shade “peach” when I drew human beings. I think back and underneath my mother’s beautiful black-brown curls and glasses was a shade that was not her own. It took a long time to switch out the peach crayon and include the range of shades all around me. Now I find myself in a space where I am surrounded by seas of people with a complexion just like mine. Everywhere I turn, I see beautiful pigmentation and melanin; however, even in this `oasis of color,’ the beauty standards still try to rip apart men and woman, both deserving of praise. 

Lightening creams were something that were introduced to me this year and the reaction I gave my family when I was offered it came from pure shock. 18 years of being brown in America, where my neighborhoods were filled with people that looked like me while school was full of white walls and white people, taught me to protect my brownness with tooth and nail. The idea that it could be wiped away with “tan removal” made me want to grab my shield and amour. I realized that nothing could be done when someone is ready with a sword and a shield; there are no grounds for talking, for sharing cross-culturally. 

Taking down the defensive walls I brought up around this issue of being brown proved to be grounds for connection instead of conflict. I shared my products and got into conversations with my host sisters about liking my caramel like skin and the hair that embellishes my arms and legs. While my host family saw my declarations as a little extreme, throughout the months my truths were accepted. Although my thoughts were not accepted they grew to be understood.

Soon came the months of Holi and my Hindi teacher spoke about how Holi is a time where color, religion, race melts away as the colors are played with and people connect through the inner being. There are multiple thoughts on this but I resonated with this idea proposed by Maam Suchita. 

When the actual day came I saw what she meant. The controversial spectrum of brown was now a rainbow on the streets laughing, running, and connecting with one another. Colorism was no longer a source of divide as blues, reds, and yellows flew through the air. 

Hyderabad Pride was another place where the rainbow was created again. Colors, signs, and love were in the air as we marched and danced down the highways. Our group took up space that was invaded by lightening creams, social norms, and lack of exposure and was combated with love, understanding, and intentions for connection. 

As I left Hyderabad, I left with hope that one day my host sisters and other Indians could find a home in their own skin. The hope that one day the colors of Holi and space of Pride will no longer be needed to accept the amount of melanin that make up color. My limited kindergarten mind could not have predicted the amazing color that would make up our complex world and I continue to share that wherever I go to. 

A New Scale of Love

by Jamie, Tufts 1+4 Participant

As my time in India comes to an end, I have realized the best way to measure how much my host family loves me is by how much food they try to (and most times, successfully) pile on my plate. 

Before we were placed with our host families we were warned by Global Citizen Year India staff that we would be faced with a challenge. The challenge of having to say no to the massive amounts of food that our host families would attempt to put onto our plates. We were told that it’s a “cultural thing,” but after spending 7 months with my host family I have determined that it is based on how much they care about me. My theory was confirmed twice in a week when I went to have lunch and dinner with my extended host family. 

The first incident happened when I went to visit my host Mom’s mother’s house, which is also where both her brother and sister and all of their children live. I had thought that I just came in to say hi and check on my host mom but I was clearly wrong. They brought me cake, soda, egg puffs, and even prepared dinner and dessert. My host Grandma made a comment that she felt like crying when she found out that I was leaving so soon. During that dinner, she served me and she served me lots. 

The second incident occurred when I went to visit my host Dad’s brother’s house. We had gone to have dinner so this time I was expecting to eat, but I was expecting to evade the extra offerings of food. I think I expected this prematurely, as I hadn’t told them that I was leaving in two weeks yet. Once I told them, my host Aunt caressed my face and began to serve me food. Within that dinner, she served me 3 separate servings and they weren’t small either!

I thought that I had mastered the way to get around accepting more food. It usually entailed putting my hand on my stomach and saying “I’m full! I’m full” or putting my hand up and saying “No, I’m good, I’m good”. Sometimes when I was really trying to resist I would pull out the big, Hindi guns and say “bass,” (pronounced bus) which means enough, but none of these methods worked in either of these situations. 

This is where the more food, the more I’m loved theory comes in. None of these expert avoidance tactics worked because the amount of food they serve me is a testament of how much they have grown to love me, and I don’t think anything could get in the way of that. I am so grateful to have been a part of a family that tries to feed me to my hearts content and my stomachs extent. 

So, if you are ever in a similar position, try not to focus on the loss of the battle but on the love your family has for you.