As I sit to write this, Sudha is across the room watching an Indian soap opera on full volume but still seems to be slightly embarrassed by the fact that I am watching it with her. Maybe she is confused to why I am still proudly wearing the red dot she painted on my forehead, or maybe she is worried because I was actually getting the hang of my Hindi lesson this morning. If so, she is so wrong. I keep forgetting how to say the simplest things, like yes, which is haan ji by the way. Just in case you want to impress a Hindu in the near future.
‘Thank you’ has come much easier to me because their hospitality here is too fantastic to not say dhan'yavada every second.
After a 30, but felt like 100, degree morning of learning about the education project and women empowerment program, our small group of volunteers were whisked off to Delhi, but not without first passing a beautiful elephant with a pink lotus flower painted on its trunk. Our small group of 5 includes myself, Anna, Keiron from England, Maria from Spain and Claire, another blonde from Germany. Shivreg was our driver again for the day, and Govind joined us as well, a new face to guide us around Delhi for the afternoon. Govind is an older gentleman with just a little mop of white hair on his head and a fantastic full mustache. He is from east India and came to Delhi to be a guide many years ago. He started as a freelancer but because of his curiosity for different languages, as he is fluent in about 5 of them, he was quickly picked up by a ton of tour companies to facilitate tours all around India, especially in Japanese. He is now retired but of course still finds time for his passion; teaching others about India. He is so knowledgeable with answers to every question, stories for every step of the way and jokes to follow every stereotypical Indian saying or action.
What I really enjoyed about our tour with Govind was that we went to buildings that I would have never known existed and temples I wouldn’t have thought to seek out. My highlights included Gandhi’s cremation site, as well as the Gandhi museum, which was not only rich with inspirational quotes, stories and photos, and surrounded by a beautiful lush garden, and little monkeys running all over the place! We also visited a few government buildings and outstandingly beautiful monuments that are so rich in European architecture. For example, the India Gate is engraved with over 70,000 names of Indian soldiers that lost their lives in the Third Afghan War and it is identical to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.
Today I also experienced two things that I think will stick with me for the rest of my life. First was visiting a Sikh temple, where I’ve never felt so moved by the power of song. Before entering, I covered my head, removed my shoes, washed my hands and feet and kissed the dirt off the floor from my fingers. The ceiling was drenched in gold with incredible patterns etched into it. With the sparkle of the gold against the colorful sarees the women were wearing, it was absolutely breathtaking. I also got to walk through the kitchen, which was more moving than I thought it would ever be. Hundreds of volunteers come in everyday to cook meals for the community. They slave all day and feast in the dining hall with any neighbor, friend, tourist or stranger that would like to join. No matter what religion they practice.
My second favorite was the Bahá’í House of Worship, also known as the Lotus Temple. Now, I have never prayed. Ever. I was baptized as a child but grew up in a Jewish family. I guess religion has always kind of been an ‘I’ll be Jewish on Chanukah and Catholic on Christmas’ type of thing. But today, I entered the Lotus Temple and did... something? I'm not sure if it was praying and I'm also not sure if it was meditating either but, something did come over me and suddenly my eyes were closed and I was wishing good health on my family, friends and the acquaintances I have just met. The power of the Bahá’í House somehow changed me. If you are not sure of what the Bahá’í faith is, it is an independent world religion that exists to unite all people from different races and religions to come together for one universal cause. There is absolutely more to it, and it is definitely worth a few minutes of your time to research, but I thought I’d share that because to me, that is the most beautiful thing I've ever heard.
When I walked out of the temple, a young boy walked up to me. I looked down at him and he smiled. “I am so happy”, he said. When we got back to the car, I thought to myself, me too. I am so very, truly and deeply happy. Happy for everything I have, for every place I have been, for every emotion I have felt and for every loved one who has supported me in any way. Especially with this adventure.
Then with a smile on my face, I dozed off listening to the noisy traffic of Delhi with a now smudged red dot on my forehead.