India is a profound country. When I stepped off the airplane and into a mix of auto-rickshaw drivers shouting for fares and family members eager to embrace loved ones, the raw energy of so many people packed into the walkway of the Chennai Airport overwhelmed my senses. Amidst this sea of people, I nervously searched for something that signified that I belonged here. I found a driver holding a small sign with my name in fine print and we headed towards his car. The ride was a blur of persistent car horns and darting 2 wheelers.
A day later I am sitting on the roof of our apartment in Padaverdu watching a woman dry and sift grain. Behind me are the Eastern Ghats, petite rocky mountains which surround the area. The village is busy with activity and it is only 6 am. On the patio, a young girl is having her hair braided by her elder sister. Young girls often wear their hair in looped pig tail braids accented with sweet smelling jasmine flowers. Middle aged women wear a single braid that extends down their lower back.
Spice filled aromas fill the apartment during meal time. Our mentor/guide here, Lakshmi, is busy mixing and crushing vegetables and spice into a commonly served dish, sambar. We try to watch and learn; however, the vastness of flavors and mastery of culinary technique is not easily absorbed by foreign eyes. I find myself mesmerized by daily life here, whether it’s cooking a mid-day meal or preparing for the school day.