07. No place like home

 IMG_2988A lively scene from the annual Badaga festival.

By Jackie, Cornell student.

I cannot believe it is Week Six already…but actually I really can believe it, and with the team that we are, it is no surprise to me that we have come this far. I think we have finally grown accustomed to our environment, the peace and beauty of this campus complemented by the bustle and sounds of the town. We have overcome our fear of vehicles whizzing too close to our bodies as we brave an invisible sidewalk that hugs the dusty road, and the wide-eyed and curious stares of the people are not as perceptible, mainly, I suppose, because we are not wide-eyed and curiously staring back at them.

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The student guest house on Keystone’s campus, nestled amidst the hill tea fields.

Although waking up in a dorm nestled in the mountains or walking to the center of town may evoke less of a sense of adventure and awe than it did when we first arrived, there is another feeling that is settling in its spot and one that is strangely comforting: a feeling that this place is our home.

For me, I am fighting this numbing feeling of familiarity with all I can, for with any familiar place, you begin to overlook the now common things that were once bizarre and alluring. Even so, I could never grow completely accustomed to any environment, especially this one. It is constantly in flux, and each day brings a new wonder.

Take the Badaga festival we attended Saturday night, for example. Traditional music, food, and dancing pervaded the scene with twinkling lights and one majestic tree to inspire a mood of good spirit and true devotion. The way of the Badagas is to “dance as one,” mimicking each other’s rhythm and moving in harmony. When the music plays, each member of the circle is both the teacher and the student, learning the dance from the one standing beside you and performing it for the next, until there is no clear distinction who is leading and who is following.

It reminds me of the way we live here at Keystone and the reason why I have so quickly adopted this place as a home-away-from-home. I am constantly learning—not just in the classroom, but in the field and on the road and waking to town and as I wait for a meal in the canteen and even as I sit here on the balcony overlooking Kotagiri.

So far, I am enjoying the information and stories and experiences Keystone and Cornell colleagues alike so openly share with me. And when I think I have little to give in return, I am reassured by those around me that I have contributed my thoughts and feelings and knowledge in ways in which I am still unaware. In my eyes, the NFLC is a team like the Badaga dancers: always ready to learn and teach when the music plays and never ceasing to share when the music stops.

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Students take in the scenery on a hike.

Photographs: Jaqueline Sepulveda & Ahana Chatterjee.