Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Christmas in India: Part eight

January 22, 2011

With Boxing Day just an hour away, I had one last thing to do before my Christmas would be complete.

But that last thing was the most important of them all.

Minutes after arriving home, I called my mom just as I’d promised. I was disappointed to hear the familiar greeting and beep of the answering machine, but far from dismayed. She was likely en route to my grandma’s place, picking her up for the traditional Christmas family dinner at my aunt’s house. I’d be calling my aunt’s house that afternoon, so I could talk to her then. I left a one-minute message anyway.

I’d coordinated things with my aunt via email beforehand. If everything went according to plan, Christmas dinner would follow the usual schedule, and everyone’s plates would be cleared by two in the afternoon. I planned to call as the gifts were being opened, just as everyone was settling into their post-meal routine. That way, I’d be able to talk to everyone at the dinner table without hanging up the phone.

But I still faced a two and a half hour gap between my last phone call and my next one. So I spent that time talking to some other people I cared about. I had a good conversation with my host parents before they went to bed, and I wished some of my friends Merry Christmas through Facebook Chat. But mostly I was just waiting for the clock to strike 1:30 local time. Thanks to the 11.5-hour time difference, sleep once again fell low on my priority list.

Nearly two hours after midnight, I punched in the thirteen digits that would create a direct link between Nagpur, Maharashtra, India, and Champaign, Illinois, USA.

My aunt told me beforehand to prepare to be homesick, and I know why she said that. I missed my family. I missed my younger cousins Claire, Henry and John, and I missed their parents, my older cousins Dawn, Cyrus, Chris and Lisa. I missed my Aunt Julie, who always does such a good job hosting Christmas dinner each year, and I missed my Uncle Larry, who always cooks up a scrumptious meal. I missed my grandma, with whom I hadn’t yet talked from India, and I missed my mom, with whom I’d talked several times from India, but was still anxious to speak with all the same.

Was I homesick? No. But before calling, the gap between my family and me was larger than it had ever been.

I picked up the phone, and it was as if I was entering another world.

My aunt’s “Hello” was the first thing I heard. In the background I could hear wrapping paper being torn and exhilarated voices shouting out. Familiar voices. Voices I hadn’t heard in months…

As the phone made its way around my aunt’s house, I exchanged Christmas greetings with almost everybody there. Everyone had something nice to say, and almost everyone had questions about my life in India. People seemed particularly interested in the balmy weather here, and given the climate they described to me there, I can understand why.

Champaign is the kind of city that gets more than its fair share of winter weather. Several deposits of snow fall each winter without fail, sometimes of the knee-deep variety. In spite of this, I hadn’t experienced a white Christmas in Champaign in years – either the snow would melt in time for the holiday or it would wait until January to fall. So as person after person recounted the scene out the window – six inches of fresh powdery snow covering everything in sight – I wasn’t shocked, but I understood the significance of the moment. It was certainly nothing like Nagpur.

All of us were getting used to temperatures in the 20s. I just happened to be the only one using Celsius.

For over 90 minutes, I painted a picture of Indian life to the eight people I talked with. Our conversations bounced from topic to topic, from how I was enjoying cricket to how I was living without meat. Time slows down when you’re enjoying yourself, and when my uncle asked me what time it was in India, I looked down at my watch and told him: 3:30 a.m.

What is it about absence, they say, that makes the heart grow stronger? Of the eight people I talked to, I hadn’t heard the voices of seven in five months, and I hadn’t seen any of them since leaving for India.

It’s precisely because of that absence that the phone call I made that night was life-changing.

I’d always taken my family for granted. That’s not a rude statement, or an offensive one. It’s just a fact. Christmas dinner with my family was always a given, as predictable as the fireworks that shoot off each New Years at midnight. They were always with me in the same area code, or at least usually within driving distance. I grew up incredibly fortunate to live so close to the people I love, and I grew content with them being there, whether I needed them or not.

Now I was in India for Christmas, and I could no longer take my family for granted. Sure, they were all still there at the table, quite solid in their seats. But for the first time in nearly two decades, I wasn’t. There’s just something about being halfway around the world that makes Christmas different. Quirks and petty disagreements don’t matter when you’re 8,000 miles away.

It’s still my family, no matter what.

And that’s all that matters.



South Tour: Ooty to Coimbatore – How we celebrated Thanksgiving in India

December 23, 2010

25 Nov

COIMBATORE: I have not eaten turkey since coming to India.

Every potato I’ve eaten here has been unmashed.

And when it comes to dessert, you’re certainly not going to find pumpkin pie.

My Thanksgiving dinner consisted of chicken noodle soup, rice, noodles, daal, carrots and tomatoes, spicy potatoes, and a 4 oz. cup of vanilla ice cream. I’m not going to lie: the food was quite bad. At least the vanilla cake, with “Happy Thansgiving” (sic) spelled out on top, capped our meal nicely.

It was the least traditional and most memorable Thanksgiving dinner of my life.

Of the 18 students on the tour, seven are from the U.S., meaning today’s holiday was one not celebrated by most of us on the tour. Some of the students from Europe and Canada were familiar with Thanksgiving, but had never celebrated it. The hotel staff around us, of course, was about as familiar with the holiday as they were with lemon meringue pie – in other words, not at all.

Nonetheless, it was an occasion for all of us to put on our best clothes, eat a nice meal together, and celebrate.

Thanksgiving is a family holiday. Not once in my life do I believe I’ve missed Turkey Day dinner with my family – normally at my aunt’s house. The weather is usually close to freezing, I’m in the midst of a five-day break from school, and I get to see my close family gathered together for the first time in months. It’s an opportunity to relax and enjoy the company of people I already know but haven’t seen for some time.

Tonight, everyone at the dinner table was between 15 and 20. None of the blood that flowed through our veins was shared. The amount of time we’d known each other varied from ten days to several months, but in all cases it was less than a year. Before eating, we held hands, went around the circle and said what each was thankful for. Everyone found different ways of saying it, but what we showed thanks for always came back to the same thing: each other.

My journals, too, keep coming back to the same thing each time I put pen to paper. Because each day I realize even better why my friends are my friends. It’s like having three families – one in Illinois, one in Nagpur, and one in this hotel in Coimbatore. They’re not interchangeable, and certainly not replaceable, but each group is important to me – in different ways, for different reasons.

Spending Thanksgiving abroad doesn’t make me sad so much as it makes me happy. Because this trip has helped me realize how much I have to be thankful for, at home and abroad alike.


P.S. Black Thunder Water Park, unlike most of the events on this tour, was merely good, not amazing. The bumper cars, however, were well worth the ride.