By Hannah Duke
In America, things become too easy, too simple for us to even think about what we are doing while we do them. For instance, washing the dishes is a task that does not take much thought for many of us. We rinse the dish off, perhaps, and then toss it in the dishwasher for it to wash itself. Without a second thought, we have finished ‘washing the dishes’. For the people of Agora, washing the dishes means taking them outside of their home every meal and walking to their source of water to wash them by hand there. After my first meal with my host family, I offered to help with the dishes. Of course, Madhu and Ma both said no, that they couldn’t accept any help. However, knowing Madhu couldn’t really say no to me, I followed her outside with a few of the dishes in my hand and began to rinse them under the faucet with her. When we brought them back inside, Ma began to playfully ridicule that I hadn’t cleaned them well enough. A little embarrassed, albeit, I laughed and explained that I couldn’t see because it had been too dark.
While we had been outside doing the dishes, Madhu had asked whether or not my hands were cold. Of course, I told her that they weren’t and that I was fine, even though I was beginning to lose feeling in my fingers. In response, I asked Madhu the same question, were here fingers cold? Madhu replied with a simple no. I looked at her, while she kneeled beside the faucet, with her hands under the cold, running water in the cool night and said, ‘Madhu, you are strong’. ‘Yes, Madhu is strong.’ Her reply made me smile. Last year when I visited Agora, I met Madhu for the first time and we bonded very easily. However, this year in Agora, Madhu became much more than a friend. Not only did she become an incredible role model for me, to see how much her confidence has grown and how strong she has become over the last year, but also Madhu became the sister that I have always wanted. Spending my time with Madhu taught me an unbelievable amount about the strength that young women are capable of having.
Last year, Madhu was a little shy and kept to herself in the beginning. By the end of the trip we were talking pretty frequently and she was really showing me how well she knew English (which she had kept hidden in the first few days). This year, however, immediately she was speaking English and was clearly very excited to see the group. Within the first hour of arriving in Agora, Madhu asked me if I could come to her field with her to get her cows. Of course, I was very excited about this because spending time with her is probably my favorite thing to do, but Mr. Alter told us we had to be quick because I needed to eat lunch. On the walk to the field, people from all around the village were calling to Madhu, they were speaking in Garhwali, so I was unsure as to what they were saying. Seeing the look of slight confusion on my face, Madhu turned to me and explained that they were calling me her little sister. I remember, in that moment, I felt so at home even though I was halfway across the world from my home. Yes, I told Madhu, I was her little sister. Throughout our week in Agora, I only felt more and more at home and comfortable when I was with Suman’s family. I spent my free time there, with Madhu and her friends, or talking to Suman’s mom or grandma. This family has opened up their home to me for the second year in a row and made me feel beyond welcomed and loved. This place, to me, will forever be my favorite home away from home.
The hardest part of the trip is always saying the goodbyes. Of course, I think by the end of the two weeks, we are all ready to be home and see our families, but it is unbelievable how hard it is to say goodbye to the people you meet. For the CCS students who attend the India trip, we all know that Suman and Praveen are the hardest of the goodbyes. We spend two straight weeks with these incredible people who show us around their country, welcome us into their home, and treat us as if they have known us forever. But, not only is it these two people that make saying goodbye hard. There are so many amazing relationships that I have made in my trips to India, these relationships are undeniably some of the most impactful relationships i have ever had. For one, my relationship with Madhu. Saying goodbye to her is different than saying goodbye to Suman and Praveen. For both of them, I am able to keep in touch with throughout the year. On the day that we were supposed to leave the village, Madhu was in school. I began to become very anxious and asked Suman probably more than a few times, ‘what time will Madhu be home? Will I be able to see her before we leave?’. Even as he assured, and reassured, that i would be able to see her, I was still worried I wouldn’t get to say goodbye. Finally, Madhu got home from school while I was upstairs with Ma. I called down a simple, ‘oh Madhu’ and in reply I heard her say ‘oh, Hannah’. I smiled, knowing that I had to get as many of those in as I could before I left. We were sitting on the porch when Madhu told me I was not allowed to leave, that I had to stay. When she said this, i began to feel a little emotional, which resulted in me telling Madhu that I was not allowed to cry when I had to say goodbye. However, when the time came, Madhu leaned in to give me a hug and i could see the sparkle in her eyes as they began to gloss over. Of course, immediately I began to tear up too and I realized that I truly wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I don’t think that even if I had stayed in Agora for another week, that i would ever be ready to say goodbye to her, and many others. The place is great, but the people you meet are so unimaginably welcoming and friendly that you always feel at home and never out of place. Because of this, Agora is a place that makes you wanna stay there for as long as possible.
I can’t thank you enough, Madhu, for the relationship we have created and for all you have taught me these two years. You will forever be my favorite diidii.
P.S it’s a BOY!! Say hello to Cheeni, the newest addition to the Panwar family!!