As a born-and-raised southern Californian, it’s safe to say rain makes me uncomfortable. While I know rains are desperately needed in my home state, precipitation is one of my least favorite environmental phenomena. To make matters worse, I’m somewhat afraid of lighting—pitiful for a twenty-year-old, I know, but that’s what living in the desert your whole life gets you.
Due to my rain aversion, I had no clue what to expect from the climate during my DukeEngage project in Ahmedabad, India. “Monsoon” wasn’t even a word my family understood; my mom equated the term to “hurricane,” and began to worry (and I think still worries) about me getting trapped in the middle of a dangerous storm.
That’s why, when I first arrived in India two and a half weeks ago, I was so surprised to hear how excited everyone was about the impending change in weather. “The rains are coming!” was an expression I heard from my host family members and coworkers alike—to which I smiled and pretended months-long rains didn’t freak me out on the inside. Life in Ahmedabad already seemed hectic enough without constant downpour, and I couldn’t imagine how things would change when monsoon began. And then it started.
Sitting in packed bleachers and munching on popcorn, we thought we were about to watch a great water display … not be a part of one. Rains harder than I’d ever experienced began falling during the first scenes of the show.
My first monsoon experience happened during a group visit to the Gujarat Akshardham temple—a little ways outside of the city—a place that blends a sacred space, museum and amusement park all into one. After learning at the temple museum about Bhagwan Swaminarayan, an 18th-19th century Hindu prophet, our group went to the site’s nighttime water and light show. Sitting in packed bleachers and munching on popcorn, we thought we were about to watch a great water display … not be a part of one. Rains harder than I’d ever experienced began falling during the first scenes of the show. People began leaving and—even though we tried to tough the water out—we quickly became too drenched to focus on anything else. As we attempted to leave with hoards of people, I realized something; I was soaked and I was cold, but I was happy.
Being drenched with rainfall, a condition that would usually make me annoyed or exasperated, in a way made me excited. Just like the onslaught of new Indian foods or the seemingly lawless driving methods in Ahmedabad’s roadways, monsoon was an intimidating yet exciting aspect of my time in India I’d come to love and appreciate as different from my own culture. Experiencing the much-talked-about rains for the first time, I felt initiated into my life in Ahmedabad—like the skies opened up and said “Hey, Americans, let me show you what I’m really like!”
My sense of the rains as welcoming was reinforced the next day at the NGO office where all of us DukeEngagers do our work. Having spent a few days becoming familiar with the organization, its various community endeavors and the specificities of our selected projects, that day was the first I felt completely settled into the space and into my goals for my personal project.
Working on the Women @ Work project at SAATH Charitable Trust, I am focusing on developing a teacher’s manual for their beautician training program. In this initiative, women in Ahmedabad take classes in which they learn how to be assistant beauty therapists at existing salons—and also how to establish salons of their own. As part of this training, they are required to complete a series of Life Skills modules, on topics ranging from the importance of community to women’s rights. While the modules touch on important subjects, they provide little guidance for program leaders on how to approach each topic, kinds of activities that are applicable for each module, or general interesting and helpful information on each subject. To facilitate program leaders with their teaching, I am thus creating a manual to accompany the modules. In addition, during my visits to two different training centers, I field-test a handful of lesson plans with groups of women enrolled in the Life Skills program.
With a daunting new assignment on my plate and the new environment still setting in, I was nervous for my first real day at work. Luckily, though, the rains welcomed me. Just as I was finishing my first few lessons in the teacher’s manual—and I finally had some sort of physical evidence of the work I’d be contributing during my time in India—the other DukeEngager in the office and I were called outside for a dalwada party.
Reminiscent of a pizza party in high school, the whole SAATH office flocked around a few plates of dalwada, a fried snack consisting of ground lentils, green chilies and coriander. Expecting the gathering to be in celebration of someone’s birthday or an accomplishment by the organization, I was surprised to learn the afternoon snack was commemorating something else: the rains.
Meeting many SAATH coworkers for the first time and bonding as a workplace over the delicious snacks, I couldn’t have felt more welcomed during my first day in the office. Just as the rains the day before had made me feel somewhat initiated into life in Ahmedabad, this celebration of monsoon made me feel inducted into the office. A million miles away from home, I couldn’t have predicted that something so unlike home would be the thing to make me feel so welcome. So, I’m left saving something I never thought I would: let it rain.