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Roses, orphanages, dinner parties: Patiala, Punjab

Lindsay Houts Published: January 31, 2013

Our itinerary said today was a rest day – it ended up being entirely different. (No complaints here.)

We’ve been in our homestays now for a full day. What stands out the most is that nuclear families aren’t so typical in this part of India. Sarah and I are in a beautiful, marble-floored home where a husband and wife, their two adult sons, their wives, and their children all live together. The daughters-in-law, Sima and Gudoo, are doing the heavy lifting of the hospitality. Every fourth minute they ask if we want tea, something to eat, a fresh towel, another pillow. I swear they’d give me a baby unicorn if they had one. Maybe I should ask.

After an eggs and toast breakfast and a shower that involved a bucket and measuring cup, our driver arrived to take Sarah and me to meet the rest of our group for our first full day in Punjab. First stop: a college in Patiala, one of the cities in Punjab.

Kate, our resident academic, was the reason for the visit to the school. She works as an archivist at Oklahoma State. The school’s president, a Rotarian, greeted us with bouquets of flowers and ushered us in for tea. Their 3,000 students are pursuing various degrees, from C++ to biochemistry and art.

Faculty members took us to a nearby restaurant for lunch. I absolutely owe you all a post on food (and only food), but let me just tell you that the lemon coriander soup I had at lunch today might’ve changed my life. We were told before we left that ice cream in India was exquisite. It was dessert, and … eh.

After lunch we visited SOS Children’s Home, an orphanage in Punjab. I was fighting back tears yesterday just being told that we’d be visiting it – so you don’t have to work too hard to imagine what I was like this afternoon. Their concept of an orphanage, though, is beautiful.

The property has 14 individual homes – bedrooms, kitchens, family areas, and most importantly, a “mother.” She’s usually a woman who never had children of her own or whose children are grown and gone – though whatever the reason, she has devoted her life to service to orphans. Children who are abandoned, whose parents have died, or who are simply found orphaned can be brought to SOS and placed in a “family.”

Each mother typically cares for 8-10 children at a time, from the day they arrive (what SOS dubs their birthday), until they are old enough to go to college. The children in the home we visited ranged from 8 years old to 20 years old, the oldest two (18 and 20) each with plans to go to college, and all with a mastering of English.

As we left the house, a group of girls on the lawn stopped us, and for 5 perfect minutes sang a traditional Punjabi song. The music, the cool air, the smiles on their faces – everything about the moment was perfect. And I only had to use one Kleenex. (Kind of a miracle, actually.)

The day was capped with an enormous dinner party at the home of one of the host Rotarians. There was dancing, games, more flowers, door prizes, and entirely too much food and drink. I’m not sure when the last time I played musical chairs was (my 8th birthday party, I’m guessing?), but I came real close being the Punjab Musical Chairs Champion. I thought it would be in poor form to shove one of my hosts to get to a chair … but I’ll admit that I REALLY wanted to. If you’re wondering how good I am at Punjabi dancing, the answer is not very, but if you’ve seen me regular-dance you wouldn’t be at all surprised.

By the numbers:

  • Showers taken with a bucket: 1
  • Visits to a Turkish toilet: 1
  • Pashminas gifted to me: 2
  • Shawls gifted to me: 1
  • Flower tally: 1 bouquet of roses, 6 marigold necklaces. (They’re like leis, really, but this isn’t Hawaii. I should find out the Punjabi word for them.)
  • Passports stolen: 1 (No, not mine. Kate’s purse went missing last night, complete with her passport, phone, and wallet. She’ll be visiting the embassy in Delhi to get it all sorted out. Better now than the day before we leave, I say. And another reason why my passport will stay on my body at all times.)

We have instructions to be ready at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, but for what I’m not exactly sure. I do know that we’re going to a wedding tomorrow night. I guess it’s good that I have the whole day to work on my dancing?



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