Through a rice field, around a stone corner, and there she was. Longer hair, significantly taller, but with the same muddy feet and content eyes. “Kajal?” I say a little uncertainly. I am hesitant not because I don’t remember her name, but because I worry that she does not remember me. A year is a long time after all, especially for an eight year old. But thankfully she remembers me, and I am led into her home to reconnect with her family.
I am back to the same nearby village one year after my first homestay where nearly everything is the same. There are many puddles in ditches alongside the road, dogs wait out on doorsteps trying to appear intimidating but looking far lazier, the fields are evenly arranged in rows of vibrant green crops, the rivers are flowing with the monsoon rains and you better watch your step if you want to preserve small frogs and land crabs. What has changed in this past year is that in this rural setting, I no longer feel quite so much of an outsider. The sounds of drums, the sweetness of chai, the hectic traffic, the command of water buffalo on roadways, and the spice-infused food have all become so familiar.
It all began with an idea that was ignited with full throttled enthusiasm and dedication last year. I would design a waste management project for the school, form longterm partnerships with recycling companies, implement the new plans in conjunction with the administration, engage the student body, and leave this school having made an institutional change. But in reality, things don’t happen so easily, and what may seem like a clear solution does not necessarily fit into the scope of a community faced by many problems posed by a diversity of people. So instead of moving forward, I have been retracing.
Retracing steps of a once well-developed project that has been left in limbo for my three months of absence. Receiving news that the infrastructure that should have been implemented will not,in fact, be developed anytime soon. Revamping my ideas, my procedural diligency, and my stragegies to engage the student body to participate; to care. Rediscovering in the bright and energetic faces of the first years the energy and optimism I arrived with a year ago. Left convincing myself that it is still there. And it is. But it amongst the soil of the organic farm, the tree seedlings in the greenhouse, the Langurs hiding in the mango trees, in my classes and in interesting discussions where perhaps the most action in this place occurs. But it is no longer where I had thought it would be concentrated, and I am slowly letting go of my project ideals. I am not accepting failure, just realizing I may not be the one able to make it a success. While I move on from some endeavours, I am shaping plans for others. This year will be more about listening, genuinely engaging, and not committing myself to the areas where I think am needed, but rather to the places that I need…