Last week my study abroad program, made up of 10 students, went on a tour to Kerala. Kerala neighbors Tamil Nadu and a lot of Indians call the state by its nickname, ‘God’s Own Country.’ If I had to compare Kerala to a specific location in the United States I would say it’s similar to the Outer Banks because it seems to be where a lot of Indians and foreigners flock to for their vacation. Kerala was beautiful! The temperatures were much cooler (about 85 degrees Fahrenheit) and there was very little humidity.
Our first stop was Thekkady, a very popular tourist destination. Trees and greenery surrounded Thekkady; I felt like I was in the jungle. One of the highlights of my stay in Thekkady was visiting an organic spice farm, which was also a mini animal farm. On the spice farm tour I learned that almost 78 percent of the world’s pepper is grown in Kerala! Crazy! I’ll never look at black pepper the same. Another highlight of Thekkady was being able to run outside. I woke up early in the morning to take a long jog up the mountain and it was beyond fantastic! The morning fog was still lingering amongst the trees and the sun had yet to fully rise. The air was cool against my face and I could actually see my breath when I exhaled. The best part about my run in Thekkady was the peace and quiet that surrounded me. It had been a very long time since I was provided with a space and time to be consumed in my thoughts.
Thekkady was filled with luscious greenery and calming, cool air. The visit to the spice farm was a stark realization of where my food came from. The visit to the tea farm helped me understand why my friend Hunter is in love and obsessed with tea. Tealeaves are planted in a way that it looks visually appealing. All the shrubs are evenly spaced out and grow along the side of the mountain; therefore, from afar the tea farm looks like a wall of green. In Thekkady I was one with nature (which is hard to come by in Madurai); however, in Cochin my experience was the complete opposite. We visited Cochin for the last 2 days of our tour. It was a bustling, hustling city. It felt like Madurai but on a greater scale. The streets were filled with automobiles, the nightlife was exciting, there was a humongous mall. I visited the Centre Square Mall a couple of times and for a split second it felt like I was back in the United States. The mall had stores that I was familiar with: Nike, Puma, The Body Shop, Levi, and so many more; however, I wasn’t interested in shopping. The real reason I visited the mall? It had a Baskin Robbins! Finally, an ice cream shop that I recognized! To be fair, I’ve had my fair share of ice cream in Madurai. Ice cream at iBaco is mediocre; they always have waffle cones, which helps make up for the lack of depth to the flavor of the ice creams. The mall around the corner from where I study has Coldstone ice cream but I find that they mash the ice cream one too many times. Therefore, finding a Baskin Robbins stand on the first floor of Centre Square Mall was a sign from the world that I needed to consume as much ice cream as possible. What are vacations for if you can’t eat whatever you want in huge quantities? I estimate that I had at least 7 scoops of ice cream during my 2-day stay in Cochin. In other words, the Baskin Robbins employee got to know me very well.
Although the existence of a Baskin Robbins could have probably convinced me to set up camp at the mall for the rest of my time in South India, I wanted to return to Madurai. I remember saying to myself, “I want to go back home now.” Regardless of Madurai being drastically different than my home in the United States, I have made Madurai my home. For the past couple of weeks I have struggled with establishing personal space and finding my niche in Madurai. Regardless, I call it home.
What constitutes a home? For me, home is closely related to familiarity. In Madurai, I can hop onto any ‘share auto’ at the end of my street because the drivers always go the same route. I can walk to Nila, a local grocery store, and pick up a carton of curd to eat with my oatmeal. Every evening my patti (grandmother) greets me with a huge smile as she hands over the house key. While it can be relaxing to get away from the city of Madurai, being able to come home to a welcoming host family at the end of the day is much more satisfying. After 2 months of being in India I feel like I’m settling in; I’m finally starting to call Madurai my home. With only 30 days left in Madurai (I have a short study abroad program) I hope to make the most of my time by spending more evenings watching movies with my ammaa (mother), getting to know the employees at Puppy’s Bakery, and whatever else Madurai has to offer.