Meiko is a rising junior, studying Urban Studies. She spent this past summer volunteering at Aarti Home, and wrote this piece reflecting on her time at Aarti.
Anjali counts to three on her fingers. She’s in tenth class and can memorize lyrics to songs no problem, so I know it’s not that she’s having trouble counting.
“Three days akka [‘Akka’ is Telugu for older sister], three days until you leave?”
“Three days Anjali, but we will enjoy every minute ok?”
Time is a fluid concept in Kadapa– I don’t think I’ve ever had someone tell me five minutes and actually come back in five minutes–but three days is three days no matter how long someone tries to make you wait. My train ticket is booked and I’m leaving on the 26th.
Over the past eight weeks here, time has both stretched unbelieving long and flown by faster than I could have imagined. It’s something I ponder as I sit in the office known as the guest room, trying to get small pieces of information I need to make an Etsy account for the women’s cooperative. I spend my days alternating between waiting for long periods of time to talk to people and getting a few minutes to pepper them with questions. Boredom sets in as I wait for hours, hoping to make the smallest sliver of progress. The hours filled with nothing are so long. But the days are short; the end of my time looms and the information I need is still only in pieces. I need more time.
Counting the passage of time is somewhat arbitrary; it’s a way of making sense of the ceaseless moment we are experiencing; it’s a way to parse through the voice of a woman crying in front of you, sitting on the floor of an Anganwadi center, holding a piece of her sari and telling a story you won’t understand until it’s translated into English that is rough around the edges by a mustachioed project officer who–try though he might–has neither the language nor the eyes to tell her story as she did. Still, from the information he gives you, you can note the outlines of her past–married too young, abandoned by her husband to care for their three young kids, dreaming of a system that brings her justice and hoping that these foreigners might be able to help. These foreigners aren’t able to help. These foreigners were sent here by their internship to hear stories like this, to hold video cameras and ask questions and write a report on the progress of a project looking to fight gender discrimination of the kind she has experienced every day of her life. These foreigners have no idea how the courts system in India works or what power the organization they work for might have to help this woman. They can only thank her for her time and her story and promise that they will pass along her questions and needs to the president of the organization and ask the project officer to please please continue to follow up with her. They can only feel the moment of explaining this all to her expand, filling their consciousness and feeling so much longer than the two minutes it “really” is.
I want more time. I want more time with the girls of Aarti Village as carefully choreographed dance routines descend into a dance party, lights flashing, bodies whirling, laughter filling the air. I take a breath, look at the beautiful chaotic joy of dancing children, and hold that image in my mind, before returning to dance with them long into the night.
Time is a fluid concept in Kadapa–leaving at eight thirty sometimes means waiting for a van until ten, watches are more decorative than functional, goodnight hugs are always too short. The prayer before dinner extends into a time of calm much longer than its two minutes. And eight weeks, eight weeks of my summer has been more than I could have imagined, more confusion, more love, more discovery, more frustration, more joy… more time. And less time. Maybe a wiser person would have learned to stop trying to keep track of the time here. I am not that person, but I am grateful for every moment, fleetingly short and frustratingly long, I have had this summer at Aarti.