Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Gratitude Without Guilt

First of all, let me apologize for the very late post - I was without Internet access through the weekend and into Monday, and the Internet in our apartment is spotty right now (as in it honestly takes at least 5 minutes to load a plain-text page - forget about anything with pictures or backgrounds!).  There are so many things I could blog about from last week: classes starting, the ongoing internship saga, hostel night -- but what I want to talk about the most is my home-stay last weekend with my peer mentor, Karuna.  

There are so many things I could say when talking about my home-stay (so, so many things), but I want to focus on one thing in particular.  There is a saying here: “The guest is like God.”  Nowhere was this more evident to me than in my home-stay.  Karuna took me and another student, Faith, home with her for the weekend.  Upon arriving at her house, her mother welcomed us with a traditional Tamil welcome ceremony.  From that moment on, Karuna and her family were hospitable to the point of embarrassment (at least, on my part).  

We never went hungry.  We sat at a small table set for two, and Karuna’s mother served us the wonderful food she had prepared.  She would keep coming back, asking if we wanted more, if the food was good, if we wanted something else, or what she could make if we didn’t like it.  (It was all delicious.)  The first day, everything, including the snack she brought in on a plate, was served on a banana leaf - this is something done for special occasions in Tamil Nadu.  Karuna and her mother would serve us tea or coffee in the afternoons, always asking if the ratios of milk and sugar was all right and, of course, if we liked it.  

They were always turning on the fan for us, telling us to take the only chairs and sitting on the floor instead, making sure we had enough to eat, getting us water, finding snacks for us, seeing if we were comfortable - basically, trying to please us in every way possible.  And every morning, Karuna’s mother gave us fresh flowers to put in our hair, sometimes ones she’d picked and strung together just for us.  

From Left: Karuna, Me, Kanya, and Faith 
One other amazing thing about the weekend that I have to mention is that we took an auto up the mountain to be shown the banana plantation Karuna’s family owns - 40 acres of banana plants.  I can’t even describe the beauty of the trees and the mountains.  We could see the clouds shrouding the mountaintops.  The banana trees were stunning.  There’s nothing to compare it to in the States, no way to compare the wide, slick green leaves of the trees, or the way the different types of bananas grow upside-down, or the height of the trunks, or their orderly rows.  There were banana trees as far as the eye could see, surrounded by  water.  It was incredible.  
We did a lot of other things.  Karuna, her mother, and Karuna’s cousin Kanya pulled out all the family photo albums for us.  Her mother didn’t speak much English, but we went through every single album with the three of them, hearing about where each photo was taken and who was in it.  It was a bit overwhelming, but it was clear that by doing that, they wanted to not only show us their family but make us a part of it.  Kanya was over at the house every day, spending time with us; we played cards and games and got to meet her family that weekend, too.  In addition, Karuna’s father came back home from Chennai to meet us - Chennai.  It had to have been at least a 7-8 hour journey for him, but he came.  He came so that he could welcome us to his home and to his family.  

At the end of our stay, when we were already so humbled by our time there, they bought us saris.  Let me repeat: they bought us saris.  I was blown away.  When Karuna’s father told us he would be buying us saris, I couldn’t believe it.  So we spent our last afternoon at Karuna’s house looking at saris (and of course, they asked repeatedly if we were happy with the fabric, if it was okay, and telling us if we didn’t like it, we could exchange it, no problem). I honestly don’t know how to emphasize the enormity of the hospitality we experienced, but the sari purchase was only one example of the so, so very many ways they welcomed us into their home and their family.  

They sent us home well-fed, with half a papaya and other fruits, with new saris, with a lot of amazing pictures of everywhere we stayed, and most importantly, with a new and personal understanding of the incredible hospitality extended to guests.  It was a fascinating, beautiful, grace-filled, humbling, indescribable weekend.  I only wish I could have described it better.  

Me with Karuna's Family!  From Left: Me, Faith, Karuna's Father, Karuna, Karuna's Mother


  1. I think you described it very well, Gretchen.

  2. How beautiful! I so love hospitality in the Middle East (yeah, I kinda include from Israel to India in that, because the cultures are alike, and India is nothing like the rest of Pacific Asia). I wish I could do that so much better, because it is so humbling to be served like that!

  3. Thank you for sharing this incredible experience with us, Gretchen! I received the same kind of hospitality in India when I was there for several months as part of my medical school training. Savor every moment!

  4. One of my favorite authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder, admittedly became so to be her sister's "eyes" after Mary was blinded. What I love about her writing is the ability to paint beautiful pictures in the reader's mind and make one feel like they are THERE beside her in that moment. You, my dear, also have that gift! Keep these posts coming...and stay safe!