returning.

coming home is an odd thing. you sit in the airport in bagdogra (peoples exempt from the security search: the President of India, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. substances prohibited on the plane: explosives, firearms, and chilly [sic] powder) and see white people for the first time in 3 months, college backpackers leaving darjeeling, retired couples back from tours of sikkim. people are speaking english and it sounds like a foreign language. people are wearing jeans and lipstick and their hair, unlike yours, is clean. everyone is going home. everyone is in their own world.

you arrive in delhi after a major snafu regarding your luggage which, because you have brought back approximately 2000 glass bangles to sell as fundraising, was nearly double the allowed weight. you sit in the departures lounge; the same one you tried to sleep in a season earlier, when you were scared and alone. now you are exhausted and filthy, but you have a glow of homecoming – security officials tell you how happy you look, the guard tells you you are beautiful even though you know you aren’t. in your salwar and jewelry you look as local as you can, and when the janitor asks you if you know the name for your dupatta (you do) you feel, for the first time, indian. even the misery of your post-wedding indigestion cannot dampen your excitement at boarding a plane to paris in a few hours. the irony of feeling at home only while leaving is not lost on you, and because you radiate compentence at Being In India, you are asked by many travelers about hows and whys and wherefores. you speak with enthusiasm that you do not really feel, for you think it is unfair to burden those just arrived with stories of babies dying in their mothers’ arms and girls with acid burns on their faces, and policemen taking bribes in the red light district. their india may be diffierent. it may have the Taj Mahal and the houseboats of kerala. it may have clean linens and tiger sightings. it may not bleed on your feet and stain them.

but this is your india~ my india. this is the country i have left. the girls cried when i said goodbye, and i felt like a traitor, for coming into their lives only to leave. i told them i would be back. but many people have told them that, and i know they no longer believe it.

i was sick all the way home; too sick to enjoy my layover in paris, city of my heart. i was too sick to mind the 5 crying children all under the age of 7 who were sitting in my row for 15 hours. i was too sick to appreciate my coveted window seat, wishing instead that i had an aisle seat with better bathroom proximity. ‘delhi belly’ and ‘turbulence’ don’t mix well…

i landed in san francisco and felt as overwhelmed by my home state as i had by india 3 months prior. people looked down and not at each other. there was expensive luggage everywhere, and unhappy travelers complaining about something, loudly. people wore coats that cost as much as my life. no one was singing, anywhere.

and now i am home. i miss ‘my girls’ desperately and wish there were some way of telling them that i have not forgotten their smiles. but they have no internet or phone, and a letter may or may not ever reach them. i can’t wait to dance with them again. but for now i am here, dancing in a different way. i am determined not to return to them next month empty handed. i am creating an educational fund so that they need not return to prostitution when they leave school at 17, as their life-path currently dictates. i am collecting clothes so that they can add a layer in the cold of winter, in rooms that have open holes in the wall for windows; the better to let in the bitterness of northern india. i am collecting stories to tell them, as i tell theirs to my hometown.

dear readers, i thank you for your love and support over these months. i will continue to write these letters while i am home for the holidays. best celebratory wishes to you all, and, lastly, i would ask that, as you count your many blessings, you remember the girls in bihar who have so few in comparison.

love and blessings and holiday light,
melinda.

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