India: sweet and pungent.

One of my most vivid memories from India is the scent of jasmine. And that’s the best way I can think to relate how India affected me. I realize a smell is subjective and elusive to description. But, allow me to try.

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The ladies of India commonly wear this flower in their hair.

Near the end of the trip, our driver purchased strings of jasmine flowers for each of us (see above). I sat for the rest of that drive with the blooms close to my nose (in my nostrils?), sniffing with abandon. Ah, that fragrance. It was beautiful. It was overwhelming. At times, it was necessary; Close proximity to jasmine means other smells seem to disappear. It is so sweet and bright and exotically floral, but it is strong – potent (Does this make sense?  I long to go back and reassure myself that I’m describing this accurately). I know that smell was pungent and, because of that potency, the perfume of jasmine quickly lost its beauty. Each of us on the trip reached a point (within 12 hours) where we threw out the blooms – not because they had stopped being fragrant, but precisely because they would not stop being fragrant. There were complaints of headaches. Yet, as soon as I threw away my blooms, I wanted them back. I wanted the reassurance of loveliness and the intimacy I felt with India while wearing them.

Now back in DC, I’m reflecting on my trip and how to put into words what I felt and experienced – and continue to feel – and I’m reminded of this flower. I see, in many ways, how it is an apt metaphor for the sweet, bright, exotic, and overwhelming adventure that was India.

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It was sweet and lovely, because those kids. Oh my sweet goodness, those children. We worked with children with hearing loss at three boarding schools for the deaf (run by nuns or priests). Each school was unique, one small and rural, the other two larger with a wider age range. All of them, still learning how to care for and use their hearing aids, a gift from the organization EARS, the nonprofit who paid for my journey. Meeting and interacting with the children each day was a delight – they love you without question.

What surprised me – and struck me as perhaps foundational to the  sweet, eager nature of the children – was their security and confidence. They are clearly well-loved and known by their teachers, nuns, and priests. True, before my trip, I saw them only as deaf and impoverished, children to help. And also true that some of the teachers use rods to smack during class and  true that there is still much work to be done with training and educating the teachers and the children in using their hearing aids. But, what does not need training is the community that already exists; the children themselves are insular families, the older ones caring for the younger. What they had before we came, before the hearing aids, was sufficient to them becoming a loving, caring being. Most of these children were not amplified until after their fifth birthday – and many may never develop the ability to use spoken language – which we hope to change with the gift of auditory training and hearing aids. And yet, I remind myself, I am not a “savior.” I did not arrive in a blaze of glory. Along with my team, I provided training and therapy which I hope will open a little more of the world to these children. But, I observed and I know their lives are full of joy, complete, and sufficient in themselves. And I admit both humbly and jealously, how much I can learn from their simplicity.

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It was bright. Everything in this country is full of color. Like the flower, my experiences assaulted my senses – the dirt, the incessant rain, the curry, the language, the music (the children put on performances to thank us before we left).

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It was exotic (see this post on customs I had to learn). We stayed a few nights on a coffee plantation in Coorg, Karnataka – a rain forest near one of the schools and discovered elephants are feared rather than beloved. I also forgot to mention one of my favorite things – the fact that wild dogs and roaming cows feast on trash together. That sight was both beautiful and sad.

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It was pungent, strong, poignant.  India, like warm curry and fragrant jasmine, is hard to ignore. I do not want to forget these dear children. And yet, daily life back here is demanding and full of its own worries. I don’t want to throw my experience away like the pungent jasmine. I want to be reminded of these children – frequently taking in the fragrant memories I have – headache or no.

Maybe I should buy some jasmine candles?

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In the meantime, my fellow speech pathologists and educators and I decided we want to send or do something to remember these children at Christmas. I will keep you posted on how that comes together.

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Alas, my life is a constant journey to remember everything better.

xo,
Shannon

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