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on May 23, 2012 on 5/23/12 from ,

Farewell Dinner and Thanjavur

Last Friday was our farewell dinner, our host family-goodbyes. Ama, Dharshue and Kaavya dressed Isabella and me up in Ama’s silk saris, bindis, and flowers and we rushed ungracefully down the stairs, hiking up our saris as we stepped into rickshaws at rush hour and tried not to let our fake nose piercings fall off.

Most of the families had a presentation prepared– a fashion show, Niv played the guitar with his host brother’s band, Anabelle and Karen did a hilarious interpretive dance with their fam, some families awkwardly shared a few last words, and Isabella and I read a poem! Here it goes… (written at 2am lying in bed the night before, deliriously tired.. “what rhymes with companion..? GRAND CANYON!”)

From the moment we saw Dharshu Of the luck we were in for, we had no clue. Fresh flowers for each, big hugs and a bow, “Call me Ama,” she said, “I have four daughters now!”

From the moment we saw Dharshu

Of the luck we were in for, we had no clue.

Fresh flowers for each, big hugs and a bow,

“Call me Ama,” she said, “I have four daughters now!”

We lugged our suitcases up two flights of stairs

And looked at the bed that for two week we’d share

The five of us girls sat cross-legged on the floor

And after sanbar, dhal, dosa– she insisted we have more!

Often we’d sit for hours, trading stories and inquiring

No question was off limits; of Ama’s openness we were admiring

Ama runs a tight ship and was never a bore–

For her we woke up at sunrise to walk the Marina shore

Twelve-year old Dharshu will outsmart us all

But don’t ask her to study, for to sleep she will fall

Dharshu can make omelettes and paint nails like a pro

We can’t wait to see how she’ll blossom and grow

To Tamil movies with Kaavya, there’s no greater companion

Her explanations echo louder than a shout in the Grand Canyon

In awe of her wit, smarts and beauty we do stand

For her masters we hope to next see her in our land!

The elusive Apa sent flowers and cake our way…

enough chocolate to ensure his girls the best Valentine’s Day

Each afternoon, Ama greeted us “Chalamay!”

It breaks our hearts that we must fly away.

How we will miss the bamboo swing and this family’s flair

And the coconut oil massaged so gently through our hair…

Although two weeks here does not nearly suffice

On the memories we made together we could not put a price.

Thank you Ama, Apa, Kaavya and Dharshu;

Our family in this time zone will always be you!

We all took the 8am train to Thanjavur for our last weekend before vacation. The six hour train ride was one my most memorable days in India– where to begin? The compartments were a little cramped, but the windows made up for it, and I spent almost the entire ride sitting between two cars with my legs dangling off the side, strategizing how to get to the roof. Apparently, the roof-thing isn’t actually a thing in real life, and electrical wires would’ve blasted me had I tried to climb to the top.

The train passed rice patties, coconut groves, tiny colorful villages and women washing their clothes in rivers or ambling down orange-red dirt paths balancing buckets atop their heads. Children crowded by the tracks to get a view of the foreigners peeking out the window. A few towns were recently destroyed by a cyclone, which ripped down banana and coconut trees– destroying thatch homes. Multiple times, Indians on the train brought bags of trash to throw over my head outside; not too surprising considering the toilets were holes leading straight to the tracks. Rumors were flying about the hotel we were staying at.. Hotel Oriental Towers. A week prior, we were psyched up about alleged wifi, a rooftop pool, yoga (our guru traveled with us), a sauna, fitness center, air conditioning, a steam room, and ayurvedic massages. Real life: take away all of the above, add a few broken treadmills, a cesspool of a pool, and evil monkeys that peered into windows and stole one person’s phone and another’s water bottle. On top of that, about 10 girls got India-sick on day 2… I’m still pretty convinced my stomach is invincible.

Thanjavur’s history dates back to 846 AD and it’s biggest draw was the Brahadeswara Temple- the grandest in India! It was built in 11th century dedicated to Lord Shiva and can be seen from any corner in town. I went at sunset the first night with Isabella and Shaina, and again at 5am for sunrise with Arin and Emily.

Monday we visited the remote village of Orthanadu, where we were greeted with tender coconut before we split into small groups. Five of us got dropped off at a giant 36,000 acre farm and spent the morning exploring ground nut plantations, rice patties, sugar cane, and tambarin. It amazed me how deep the ground water was obtained: 700 feet! Four little village boys followed us around all morning, always calling me ‘akka’ like Dharshu– the respectful name for ‘older sister.’ So cute and endearing. They were super excited to point out the ‘touch-me-not’ flowers lining the paths next to the ground water stream, and to show us the coconut, mango and papaya trees offering the only shade in the village. We met the town mayor, who proudly posed for a photo outside his home, and we chatted with a few women (with the help of a translator) tending to their chickens, then checked out a government rice procurement center and a beautiful fish farm.The lunch feast was in a marriage hall and we were joined by what seemed like the entire community for afternoon cultural performances, including a 4 year old Carnatic dancer complete with 2 nose rings and full eye makeup like Kaavya’s costumes. The most entertaining was this guy who danced blindfolded and smashed a coconut on a man’s head and back. Terrifying!