5 Cups of Chai: Christmas in Jamkhed

On November 29th, my creative side kicked in and decided to make an advent calendar in the form of a Christmas tree. I hoped that, just as Lexi had shared her Hanukkah traditions with us, I could share some Dilly Christmas traditions and impart some Christmas spirit as well. Each day was a holiday-related activity – bake cookies, play holiday-themed charades, drink hot cocoa on the roof and stargaze, watch Elf, etc. We did one or two of the activities, but the calendar fizzled. I was bummed. I was sad the Christmas on the horizon was one without Tupperware containers overflowing with Jojo’s snicker doodle and peanut butter cookies, Christmas music playing endlessly on the radio, nights spent in front of a fire sipping hot chocolate while watching a holiday classic, reuniting with family and friends, and one of my favorite traditions, my crazy loving grandma dressing up as Santa Claus.

In a backwards way, I was actually happy that campus wasn’t celebrating too much because it made it easy to forget it was Christmas-time and forget what I was missing at home.

And then it was the week before the 25th, and Christmas exploded everywhere: our maintenance staff worked tirelessly decorating campus with beautiful lights, and donned the old hospital roof with a giant glowing star; Jabbar unexpectedly set up a Christmas tree garnished with cotton ‘ice’ in the intern office; stockings were hung by the tree in Ravi’s house that we collectively decorated one night after dinner; the pool room overflowed with saris and toys to wrap; Pooja began running (intense) dance practices for the annual talent show everyday at 6pm; and campus bubbled with excited anticipation of the Christmas Eve gift distribution, all-staff dinner and fireworks show.

It was as if I was sucked up by a Christmas tornado there was suddenly so much going on and so much to prepare for. Caught up in this drastic transition from ordinary Jamkhed to Christmas overload, I continued to neglect to think too much about home.

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my favorite Christmas-lights-lit pathway on campus

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star light, star bright

My favorite December memories include the Secret Santa exchange among interns, our intern performance at the talent show – a hilarious rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas that reminded me of my aunts’ singing performances – and opening stockings together on Christmas morning and immediately all putting on our temporary tattoos. Thinking back to the afternoon Lexi and I gave our presents to Sultana, Shahabai, Reshma, Shakila, Biru and Ganesh, which turned into an awkward orange practice, makes my abs hurt from remembering how much we laughed, and looking back to mine and Irene’s dance to a very popular Bollywood song, I am overjoyed we didn’t crash into each other during the spinning choreography. To my inner-child delight, we even had not one, but TWO Santas.

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Lexi and Matt, Jamkhed’s Santa(s)

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Siddhi, Irene, Rachita and I during our dance performance

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evidence that temporary tattoos are appropriate gifts for 20, 30 and 40-something-year-olds 

Jamkhed Christmas 2013 was special and memorable for many reasons. My first Christmas away from home, it was by far the hottest holiday I’ve ever experienced, and the first Christmas I didn’t make it to church (I confess..). The CRHP way of celebrating this wonderful time of the year was uniquely memorable, and I am excited to welcome 2014 with my Jamkhed family.

Since we’re on the topic of memories, I am compelled to tell the story of last night’s events, or the Bohemian Rhapsody Richshaw Adventure, as we’ll call it. It begins with an ending: finishing an incredibly delicious family-style-sharing meal of sushi, Burmese noodles, lobster, a vegetable dish called ‘Three Aunties and Three Grandmothers’ and fancy fun drinks at Malaka Spice restaurant in Pune. Our much-anticipated after-dinner plan was to go to a karaoke bar. I suppose Matt, Richard, Irene and I were a bit too excited; our antsy-ness got the best of us and we set out to hail a rickshaw while the rest of the group finished calculating the bill. Equipped with a GoogleMaps image of the karaoke place, Richard began asking some drivers if they could take us where we wanted to go. While this sounds straightforward, to understand India and the rest of the story, you must know that addresses aren’t really a thing in India, and that “directions” are almost always lost in lack of translation. Blind sighted by our excitement to sing, we hopped in, two interns to a rickshaw.

The first thirty rupees-worth of the ride was pure bliss – singing to each other as the rickshaws exchanged leader/follower positions, laughing and sticking our hands out of the vehicles to catch the wind. Around forty rupees we realize that the “us” dot on the map is going in the complete wrong direction of the destination dot, but are still excited and laughing about it, hopeful we’ll figure it out. Around fifty rupees, laughter dissolves. Concern sets in. We are clueless to where we are and, despite having a map, the distance between the dots on the screen is increasing. Sixty rupees and the shady surrounding neighborhood instigate firm voices, second guesses, extreme annoyance; our drivers have no idea where they are taking us, and instead of admitting so, continue to rip us off. Our furiousness is twofold: we’re paying for a load of bologna, and we’re getting further and further from our glorious night of ridiculous singing. At seventy rupees we demand to stop, exchange words of frustration, and reluctantly pay while angrily calling our incompetent drivers names that they do not understand.

A flustered quartet, we set off to find a different, more promising rickshaw. We start down a hardly-illuminated street. Our frazzled-ness is quickly replaced by alertness as we realize we are venturing down a very sketchy alleyway. We hang a louie, end up back on the busy street and, after barely attempting to bargain, pile into a rickshaw bound for the Pune Railway Station where Atul will meet us to bring us back to the hotel.In the twenty minutes we were at the station were spent, we reflected on the ridiculous, unforeseen events of the past hour, witnessed a policeman brutally whack a beggar away from us with a wooden pole, and filmed a music video to Bohemian Rhapsody.

I had never been so happy to see the Expo 2020 stickered van. We finally made it back to the hotel and rejoined the group outside on the patio for a midnight BBQ. We recounted our adventure; although it was one of aggravation, disappointment, and fear, we told it with huge smiles, bursts of laughter interrupting our trying tale. Was it foolish of us to follow our karaoke ambitions so boldly? Maybe. Was the thrill of adventure worth it? Heck yes. In the end, we even had our sing-along, serenading the patio with none other than Bohemian Rhapsody, and belting the 12 Days of Jamkhed Christmas – Ravi orchestrating – as we rode the elevator up on the way to bed.

I am writing from our van, currently en route back to CRHP, for New Years Eve, Jamkhed style. We won’t arrive until late, so our original plans for cooking something extraordinary will be put on hold until tomorrow night. It is crazy to think of where I was one short yet eventful year ago, crazy to know my fellowship is halfway through, and crazy to anticipate the challenges, growth and adventures that are waiting just around the corner in 2014.

2 thoughts on “5 Cups of Chai: Christmas in Jamkhed

  1. What a wonderful Christmas, and a scary adventure, I am glad I did not know about it until you were back at CRHP safe and sound. Be CAREFUL out there!!! LOVE YOU Mom XOXOXOXO

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