The NWCCI program is comprised of numerous host families across the Puget Sound and would not have been possible without the gracious help and kindness of these people, such as Kathleen Beaumont, who hosted NWCCI students for the past six years near Pierce Community College’s campus in Lakewood, Washington. Beaumont is a full-time program development manager at the University of Washington and teaches part-time for Pierce College, home of the NWCCI program in the South Puget Sound. An avid traveler, she has visited over 25 countries, starting out as an international student herself in 1975 in Canada. Here she shares about her recent trip to India to visit NWCCI alumni, where she was able to explore the country on an adventurous NWCCI road trip! Next on her list? Visiting with NWCCI participants in Indonesia, December 2016.
Namaste. I have always been fascinated by the whole idea of India as a dream destination. It seemed so far away, like one of those exotic vacation spots with a slight haze in the background, that you only see on posters in a travel agency window, but never get to visit. I read the book and watched the PBS series Passage to India and was hooked years ago on the idea. I tried to dance like the railway scene in Slum Dog Millionaire, tried to meditate in an Eat Pray Love kind of way and found I could totally relate at 60 years of age to the hotel guests in both Marigold Hotel movies searching online for outfits like Dame Judy Dench wore in the movie. India was everything I expected and more than I could have asked for because I had “family” there.
I became a NWCCI host family in 2010. With a car full of empty car seats, I often took other NWCCI students with me when we did something. Because of this, I became friends over the years with several students from India. In 2010-11, I met Sonu Singh and Rohit Gusain. In 2011-12, I met Kinng Azhar (Nizzam) from Kakinada and Abdul Wahab from Aurangabad, and in 2012-13, I met Alifya Gittham from Mumbai and Anish Fnu from Delhi. In 2014-15 I met Annie Ashwini from Hyderabad. We shared food, taught each other how to cook, discussed politics and culture, got lost in a corn maze, carved pumpkins and went camping. Like with most NWCCI students, we kept in touch on Facebook. I got older, they got engaged, married, had babies and started new careers. In 2014, Alifiya posted a wedding invitation on Facebook.
In December 2015, I spent almost a month in India travelling to cities along the way with former students as my focus. India is an amazing combination of sights, sounds, smells and tastes. It is a country with a mosque on one corner, a temple and a church on another. Everyone brings flowers when they worship. In addition to the amazing sites, I was fortunate to have a NWCCI family to take care of me while in country.
Nizzam and his new wife, and Sonu took me on a “family road trip” all over northern India that included camel riding in the dunes, “glamping” in a fully-equipped tent and dinner and dancing around a roaring fire, and of course the Taj Mahal and the Punjab. I met a tour guide working with the camels who had been working in the industry for more than 20 years. We talked about raising kids and changing jobs so he could be at home more with his family. He spoke textbook English he learned from working with tourists. Rohit couldn’t get the time off for the road trip, but joined us for a Starbucks coffee run when we returned to Delhi. Sonu took me home with him to meet his mother and brother (and family) and Mom cooked a huge meal (only a little spicy) for us and gave me a Sari to wear for the wedding. What a generous heart that woman has. She had just lost her husband about a month before.
From Delhi I flew to Aurangabad and met Abdul’s aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, wife and two beautiful young sons. I was the surprise (to me) guest speaker at Abdul’s university where he is teaching an undergrad journalism class as he works on his master’s degree. He took me shopping in a local street bazaar, his mom bought some fabric and took me to a tailor to have a salwar kameez made just to my size. There are not a lot of plus size clothing shops in India.
I then left for Mumbai to attend Alifiya’s wedding events. When Alifiya and the girls got together in Lakewood, Washington, she had talked about her upcoming wedding and invited us all to attend. I told her to be careful, as some of us might take her seriously. It was a once in a lifetime chance to participate in an amazing cultural event and to meet all the relatives from both sides. They spoiled me rotten. Just about everyone spoke English, the kids especially. Find a nine year old cousin or brother of the groom and they’ll tell you all the family secrets. And the color! The bride and groom and everyone attending were dressed in all colors of the rainbow. A different outfit for each event: layers of sheer, beaded and embroidered fabric.
And the food at the receptions! There was so much food and so many new things I’d never tried. I was trying to eat light at one of the receptions as it was about 10 pm, and I’d been eating mostly fruits and salads when this big platter of lamb came out of the kitchen and the women started dishing it up. I am pretty adventurous, but I draw the line at lamb. No sheeeeeep! How could I graciously get out of the main course and save face? I told them convincingly that I was a vegetarian. That worked quite well until one of the women told the mother of the groom who was hosting the party. She came over to me, so worried that I had nothing to eat. I had to confess my little lie and that it was the only way I could think of to get out of having another two or three plates of food. She laughed as hard as I did. I told her, “don’t tell them.”
While I may have seen more buildings on a tour, I would never have had the experiences that I had sharing their lives back at home. I am so grateful for my Indian family and the time they spent with me. It was an adventure of a lifetime for me. Thank you so much for making those connections for us. The past six years have been priceless.
The NWCCI program is part of the Community College Initiative, an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The opinions expressed in this blog by writers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Northwest Community College Initiative program, Edmonds Community College, Whatcom Community College, Pierce College, the United States Department of State or any employee thereof. NWCCI and Edmonds Community College are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied by the students or bloggers.