Before moving to Abuja for this six-month long assignment, every Pulse volunteer attended the Pulse orientation program. It is an exceptionally well designed interactive course that gave us a flavour of what to expect during our assignment, both personally and professionally. During the orientation, the emotional curve was mentioned i.e. the emotional index whilst people are away from family and friends. In short, volunteers are generally excited and happy for the first few weeks, even months. Then comes a period of extended unhappiness and loneliness where volunteers start to question what are they even doing being away from everyone they love. Most volunteers then visit family for a few days and then come back with a lot more settled emotions as they know what they are doing and where they are headed in their lives. This sounds like a no brainer but you start to realise the value of knowing/awareness of this trend when you actually experience these emotional swings.
I didn’t think it would apply to me as I have been living away from home for half my life. But thinking back to the day I left Cambridge and now, I’m certain I’ve been through all that and more. I landed in Abuja in high spirits and full of positive energy. I started my work at Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) with the same energy and went on a week-long field trip on the very second week. For almost 100 days I stayed in Nigeria. Off these 100 days I stayed away from Abuja for more than 30% of the time, mostly for work. I didn’t take a single day off for all this time. Still, my energy at work stayed right up there, exactly where I started, perhaps a tad more. It has helped that I’ve had an enormous amount of work and I’ve enjoyed every single bit of it. However, personal emotions have been on a different playing field. The emotional intelligence and self-control slowly drifted away and I almost reached a point where I needed a break. I spent some time alone. I even started doing a bit of drawing, something I used to do a lot of when I was younger and I really enjoyed it. I started reading and writing an awful lot more than I used to do. There was still a void. I realised I was the first one to land in Abuja and one of the first to start the assignment in 2017. I was also the only one left in Abuja (of the 9 volunteers) who hadn’t taken a leave or visited family. It’s fair to say I needed a break, away from everything. So, I decided to go to see my family for a few days, during the most festive time of the year in India i.e. Diwali.
I landed in India just over a week ago, however, the journey to get here wasn’t easy. In fact, it was draining and exhausting and didn’t help that I was not the most spirited when I left. I left Abuja and first arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in a 6-hour flight. I changed to a flight to Mumbai from Addis, which was another 5-hours. Once landed in Mumbai I then had to go through immigration, collect my luggage, clear customs, go through another set of security checks and then catch another flight to Kolkata. This last flight was just under 3-hours long. Although the two cities are in the same country they are a long way apart. I had even more travelling to do to reach home as Kolkata wasn’t my final destination. I then could have waited for 4 more hours and then taken a 5-hour train. The long flights and wait/transit times really took a toll on my body, so I decided to take a 4.5 hours taxi to Dhanbad from Kolkata instead. I finally arrived home and I felt a little bit relieved, not just from travelling but from everything. The 34-hour toil and not-so-exciting journey felt totally worthwhile when I saw my family. I could not hold back when I saw everybody. My dad’s first comment upon seeing me brought about a very nostalgic emotion, something I really needed to feel awake. He did not hold back in jokingly commenting on my not-so-long three months of unshaved beard, longest ever I have ever had. I trimmed the very next day 🙂
I’m grateful that Pulse allowed us to take a short break during the six-month assignment. It has been a refreshing few days in India for me and it’s time to depart soon. It has helped that it’s also my favourite time of the year, it’s Diwali season. It’s the Festival of Lights. The vibe is electric. Like most Indian festivals, mythological connotation is victory of good over evil, right over wrong and peace over violence. The overall essence of the festival is happiness and joy for one and all. We celebrate by eating delicious food and sweets, burn fire crackers and chill with families. If you ever get an opportunity to visit India, it has to be this time of the year. The streets, houses and shops are decorated with fancy lights, flowers and glowing objects. The weather during the day isn’t too hot (between 25°C – 32°C) and there’s a cool breeze in the evening. October-November is perhaps the best time to travel in India as you get to experience the best festivals in the most traditional spirit.
Diwali celebration is very much like Christmas i.e. every family have their own little way of celebrating. I decorated the house, placed some fancy lights on the terrace and in the garden, made Rangoli in the house, brought flowers and bouquets to decorate the main door. Every house in the neighbourhood looked stunning. It was a show that one couldn’t have missed. My house looked bright and beautiful too. Later in the evening we placed diyas (they are small handmade lamps) all around the house and ate loads of very unhealthy but extremely delicious Indian sweets. My family is quite religious so we also held prayers to mark this beautiful occasion. We then distributed food boxes to the economically disadvantaged section of the society. Fireworks are an important part of celebrating Diwali. As much as conscience hurt because of the environmental impact that fireworks cause, I couldn’t resist the temptations and brought some fireworks. We started bursting those after 10pm and it went on till mid night. Playing card games with friends and family is another Diwali tradition, so we ended the day with card games after fire-works. This was my first Diwali with my family in 12 years so I was obviously very happy and wanted to re-live my childhood. Although Diwali 2017 was perfect, I still missed some very close family and friends that I wish were here.
This short time that I have had to spend at home with my loved ones really gave me an opportunity to reaffirm a lot of my thoughts. It has been a very fulfilling break. I will soon leave India and head to Abuja where my work will be back on full swing. I will go back a lot more settled as this break has given a slightly broader perspective of where I am heading. Landing in Abuja won’t be an unknown territory either as I now know what to expect. I have less than two more months to go before I finish my assignment in Abuja and head back to the land where I have made a home for myself. I cannot wait.
‘Where is home’ has been in mind for a long time now and it was only about perspective. I have two homes. I left India a long time ago but India hasn’t left me and it never will. I’ve been in the UK for long enough to feel at ease and at home there too. Home is not a destination. Home is where your heart is (thanks Caroline) and my heart is happy both in India and the UK. Unfortunately, I didn’t find a home in Abuja. Instead, Abuja helped in finding me.
Happy Diwali to all the readers. I hope it lightens up your life too.
More details about my work in my next blog…