Whether I came here with many expectations or few, there have certainly been some surprises. Often these surprises have been things I hadn't thought much about before coming. Below are a few of the unexpecteds:
1) Mothballs. As was true of my "bare feet" post, I never imagined I'd be writing about mothballs! The smell of mothballs brings back memories from my childhood. Our winter clothes were always packed in boxes with mothballs. When winter came, the same was done with our summer clothes. The smell reminds me of the change of seasons. When I was in Calcutta, mothballs came into my life twice. First, when I entered my hotel room for the first time, there was a faint but familiar smell. I found one mothball folded into a blanket that was tucked in a closet. Another one rested in the drain of my sink. I left the one in the blanket, but tossed the one from the sink. My second encounter was...at the Indian Museum. Inside cabinet after cabinet of fossils (where I'm sure my brother could have spent hours and hours; I did not) and within other museum displays, there were mothballs. I will admit that it was the first time I've seen that particular preservation method used in a museum.
2) Museums. Since I mentioned the topic, let me discuss the museums. I visited a few- in Delhi, Mumbai, Cochin, and Calcutta. They were different in theme, so I can't compare them to one another. I will, however, discuss what stood out to me about some of them. I loved the Gandhi Museum in Delhi, despite the poor lighting and heat. It was rich in information and photos. I did tend to spend more time reading displays that were located near the fans! At a small museum in Cochin, I was asked if I could hurry up a bit, because the attendant had just received a call and needed to leave for a meeting. He assured me that if I wasn't finished viewing, I could return later that day or the next and finish looking at everything. I decided to hurry and didn't return. I'd gotten my 50 cents worth (the entrance fee) already. At the Indian Museum in Calcutta, I enjoyed the wide variety of displays, but was saddened that items in displays could not be preserved better. Animal furs and feathers had darkened so their natural color wasn't obvious; in a few display cases glass was broken. I thought of my preservationist friend from home who would probably have been more dismayed than I was to see things that way. However, I still very much enjoyed the museum and appreciate all it had to offer. One thing that fascinated me was a huge hall that was dedicated to the plants of India and was divided into sections according to how they were used: as food or medicine, for textiles or dyes, to name a few of the categories. I was amazed at the plethora of natural resources in that hall and in India. Those are a few of my museum experiences.
3) Lizards. I think they're geckos. India is not the first place I've encountered lots of lizards that can be found inside or outside one's home. In fact, there were often lizards running around my own yard at home (though not inside my house). I am pretty enamored of the lizards here. I just think they're cute as they scurry across the wall of the chapel during prayer, make occasional appearances during class, or wander over the screens on my windows. One gave us quite a surprise today as it jumped out of the sink when we started washing dishes. I think we surprised it, too!
4) Gifts. I did not expect gifts before I left and I did not expect gifts from people here. Yet I received several items to bring on my journey from money to bar shampoo to a Dorothy Day book to a rosary bracelet (among other things). Each useful in a different way, all are with me and are wonderful reminders of my friends and family at home. In India I have received flowers as I was introduced to the school groups in Chatra (as well as having beautiful flowers in my room when I arrived) and from students. Many beautiful welcome songs have been sung for me in various places. I was given a lamp/clock for my room and on on St. Vincent de Paul's feast day, a pen. I was spontaneously invited to eat lunch with my class 6 boys on my first day of teaching. Each boy gave me a part of his lunch, even though it meant he'd eat less. Collectively, they gave me so much chapati I had to insist that they eat some of what they'd given me! That day they invited me to eat with them the following day, too, and knowing I'd be with them, they made sure what they had to share was special. They had even more chapati (which we again ate together) and brought sweets and chocolates especially for me. In fact, they insisted I eat the chocolate right there in front of them. Never one to turn down chocolate, I obliged. With such generosity from so many people in so many places, I can't help but feel immense gratitude.
Perhaps that is a good place to stop. Gratitude for the unexpected. Amen.