Last Wednesday night most of the members of our group waited anxiously outside the entrance to Hotel Raviraj to meet their host parents. We will call them aai (mom) and baba (dad) for the rest of the program.
Although I wouldn’t meet my host family until Friday, I joined the other students on the steps as they waited for theirs.
Dressed in their best Indian attire, the whole process felt like some sort of cross between a blind date and a puppy adoption. Each Indian man or woman that walked by was followed by the hopeful eyes of our group. Each one wondering, Are you my mother?
Eventually the parents started to arrive. First a young woman with two sons picked up Dena who followed her away smiling, followed shortly after by Tameka and her elderly host mother. Some students were picked up by their host brothers and a couple were ushered onto the back of a motorbike for the ride home.
Those of us who didn’t have families yet, had dinner on our own while they were away and when we returned to the hotel listened in on the stories of the other students.
“I love my family! My aai kept trying to feed me more food and I didn’t want to say no because it was so good.”
“We had to eat rice with our hands and my host brothers kept making fun of me for doing it wrong.”
“I have a bucket shower in my bathroom. How do I even use that?”
I listened attentively and wondered what my family would be like when I went for dinner in a couple of days time.
On Friday, Emelia and I were picked up by our baba and taken to our bungalow in Ganeshnagar for a pre-dinner snack. The bungalow is nestled among other quaint homes, surrounded by palms and flowers on all sides. Turning into the neighborhood we will live in for the next three months the air felt cleaner and the noise of the city dropped off.
Baba walked us to the entry way and nodded at us to take our shoes off outside. The house itself is beautiful: an open white living room on the ground floor with a television in the corner connected to the dining room which leads up to the stairs.
On the second floor there is a balcony that looks down at the living room and a pair of bedrooms and a bathroom where Emelia and I will live.
The moment we stepped into the first bedroom, I knew it was meant to be. A small picture of a ballet dancer was propped up in the corner on a table and I felt immediately at home. Like this family and this house were destined for me.
We soon learned that aai and baba have four daughters who have all moved out. Each of their daughters is an artist in one way or another: one dances, one sculpts, one paints and the other is a journalist. Their artwork hangs around the whole house so I feel like they are living here with us, although most of them now live in Mumbai.
Aai and baba are in their 70s now and are a couple of the kindest people I have ever met. I know they will take good care of us over the next few months. Baba already drew us a map so we would know the way to school in the morning.