A random encounter with a girl on the ghats in Varanasi led to me taking the train to Jhansi and a 40 min tuk tuk ride to the quaint village of Ganj in Orchha where I participated in a homestay.
Friends of Orchha is an amazing NGO that raises the living standards of families below the poverty line by using income made from homestays. A byproduct of these interactions are rich cultural exchanges.
When I arrived in Orchha, I was welcomed into the home of a wonderful Indian couple and their two girls. I thought it couldn't get any better until two friendly cows greeted me in the courtyard. They lived in a humble 3 bedroom (plus a kitchen, toilet and shower area) house; 2 of the bedrooms were for Orchha homestay guests so the four of them shared the remaining bedroom that was attached to the kitchen. We introduced ourselves with simple English and then I went out to explore the area. In the mornings I sought solitude by passing the fields and plopping down on a rock with a prime view of the forest. I got lost in the imagery elicited by my favorite band, Iron and Wine. I dare you to come up with a better band... it just can't be done. The only noise I heard for hours at a time were made by birds and cows; I was in awe. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed the absence of man-made noise until I laid there in peace. I then moseyed into town and feasted my eyes on the palace, temples, chhatris and fort. I made friends with a Korean guy and we stuck together our couple of days there; roaming around the beautiful architecture and cooling our feet in the river.
I came back home to find everyone sitting on the kitchen floor and my host mother making delicious chapatti and curry for dinner on the cow chip fueled fire: win! The mother is pretty much a super hero. She is a full-time teacher, henna artist, mother, wife and chef. Her husband is a security guard for the school she teaches at (it's sad that there is a need for someone to protect the school from thefts stealing tables, chairs and documents at a school) and leaves every day at 8 PM for his night shift (without a single day off). The two children, aged 6 and 9, are sweet girls with spicy personalities. The first night I spent there I helped the girls pick out their outfits to see their grandma (their mom's mom) the next day. It was so special for me to see them weighing hair clip and outfit options so they could look their best for the rare visit (because it is their mom's mom, they get only a few short visits a year). I got to share the experience with a kind-hearted American who is currently living in China pursuing writing fiction. Nearby, lived an eccentric French woman that was the epitome of class (she stayed with a different family than me). She is a long-term seasonal guest and authored a play (with translations in English and Hindi (written and phonetic)) about a boy named Ashok, who went on a mission and ended up discovering his true dreams along the way (similar to The Alchemist) for the Indian children.
In summary, they went on with life as usual which helped make my life anything but usual.