To India with Christmas

Reuniting with my Indian host family 10 years later, and bringing my mom with me.

Ten years ago my parents gave me an incredible gift of participating in an exchange program to live with a family in India, and host another girl my same age from that family in our San Diegan home. Cheyenne and Sneha at Bhushi dam falls Her name was Sneha, and we were both 19.  She came and stayed with us for a month and a half in our home in San Diego from a major city in Maharastra, India famous for education. I then flew back with her and lived for a month and a half with her and her family there in Pune.  I have never known a more generous family.  Sneha, her sister Shweta, and their little brother Yash (who I think was about 9 at the time) treated me like a long lost sister, and their parents, who I called Ai & Baba (Marathi for mamma & papa) treated me like their daughter.  Baba took me on a week long train trip up through the country, visiting incredible sites, including Red Fort and the Taj Mahal, which he had not even yet seen.  They taught me not only how to eat roti and dal correctly, and how to get 6 people into a 3 seater rickshaw, but they taught me about patience, open heartedness, and trust.  Living in another country, even if it is only just a month, was a vital experience to getting out of my head and not taking myself too seriously.

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For Chistmas this year I went back to India to attend the youngest daughter, Shweta’s wedding and celebrate with the family.  But this time I made sure to bring my mom with me.  Yash is now a young man, and Sneha is married with a little 10 month old. Shweta’s wedding was to be on December 26th and so my mom and I flew together knowing that this would be the most unforgettable Christmas of our lives.  Leading up to this grandest of any event I’ve ever seen was a series of wedding events, each greater and grander than the next.  I laughed as every day the family would tell me that there was nothing special planned, only to find that 30+ community or family members came over nearly every night with good food, music, and chatter.  By the 24th when the “official” events began, my mom and I were already exhausted, and my mom had gone through a series of blows to her health, but were wide eyed and eager for the literal fireworks that the wedding was sure to end with.

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This was by far the most brilliant Christmas I had ever had, and I am so grateful to have gotten to experience it with my mom. It was a blessing to have someone to share the impossibility of some of the sites, to have someone to talk to when the rest of the room was a flurry of Marathi, and a familiar hand to squeeze when we feared for our lives in the backseat of a rickshaw in rush hour. I am forever grateful for this family who, with total trust, took me into their home and family as one of their own and ensured that I was loved, celebrated, protected, included, and respected. I could not have asked for a more generous family to stay with, and I am forever grateful for this incredible experience of being behind the scenes with the Sawases and my mom, and the gift of being able to see the changes in the family, city, and country after ten years.

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