Well, I did it. I friended my parents on Facebook. After listening to Mom’s plaintive pleas (“You’ll need to be my Facebook friend before you go to India, ok?”) for the past six weeks, I decided that enough was enough. Seconds after I fired off the friend request, I got a text message from Dad: “You could knock me over with a feather! I’m FB friend-worthy?!?! Are you feeling okay?!” Unsurprisingly, both of my shocked parents accepted my friend request.
Mom and I were sitting together in the kitchen on our laptops when our friendship became Facebook official. Naturally, we both started trolling around each other’s profiles. I teased her a little about how so many of her sorority sisters have gotten old and wrinkly and about how parents always “like” other people’s statuses and have long, drawn-out conversations through status comments. Mom’s first reaction to my (relatively vanilla) profile page was not a comment about pictures with red cups in them. Instead, she remarked, “Way to pretend like you’re all excited for India…” Because she’s my mother, she saw right through my phony Facebook status enthusiasm.
I’m excited for India, I really am. But it’s a nervous-anxious-apprehensive kind of excitement. I have no idea what I’m getting myself in to. Kolkata isn’t a huge tourist destination in India. It’s a city with a population of 15 million, but it’s rarely a stop for visitors to the country. Instead, people travel to Bangalore or Mumbai or Goa or Delhi. I’ve had a really hard time finding travel information on Kolkata. Sure, there are plenty of books (Lonely Planet, Frommers, Fodors) about India, but most of those books devote half a chapter, tops, to Kolkata. I’ve come to the conclusion that visiting Kolkata in India is kind of akin to visiting Detroit in the US. It’s a large city with an interesting past and a big population, but it’s not exactly a must-see for visitors to the country.
The dearth of information about Kolkata in general, the guesthouse where I’ll be living, and even the school where I’ll be working has me feeling quite uneasy about the trip. I know, I know. It’s not a vacation, it’s an adventure. Keep an open mind. It’ll be the experience of a lifetime. I’ll come back changed forever. Yes, that’s all fine and good advice, but right now, I don’t need advice. I need information. I want to see a picture of the room where I’ll be sleeping. I need to know if there are hooks on the wall for a mosquito net or if I should bring my own. I’d love to know how far the internet cafés are from the school. I have been reading and Google-ing and doing everything I can to gather intelligence about this trip, but I’m not having much luck. I need details, and I can’t get them.
I had a long talk with both of my parents about the creeping anxiety that I’m feeling about this trip, and we decided that once I get on the plane heading to Delhi, I’ll be fine. Once I’m actually in the situation, I’ll just suck it up and be there and roll with it. But this part right now, the anticipation, the packing—this is the worst. I don’t cope well with change, especially when I don’t have details about the situation I’m about to encounter.
My parents love to tell the Kindergarten Roundup story to illustrate just how terrible I am at dealing with new things. A week or so before kindergarten began, my elementary school hosted an event called “Kindergarten Roundup”, a meet-and-greet for parents and new students with the kindergarten teachers. Really, it should have been a completely harmless, in and out, here’s-a-nametag, simple exercise. And I’m sure it was. I don’t remember the event, but my parents sure do. Apparently on the morning of Kindergarten Roundup, Mom and Dad woke up at 5:30 am and found wide-awake, 5-year-old me sitting quietly on the couch in their bedroom, hands folded. “Can we just go now?”. Dad says I looked like I was ready to head to an execution. I had woken up in the middle of the night, dressed myself, combed my hair, put on my shoes, and then perched on the loveseat to wait for them in the dark. I was so nervous and worked up at the prospect of going to school. Kindergarten Roundup went off without a hitch.
Probably around the same time as the Kindergarten Roundup incident, I was learning to swim. I was terrified of the water. I would cling to whichever parent was playing with me and I refused to be left alone in the pool. Years passed and I was still paralyzed by the thought of putting my face underwater. I wouldn’t even consider jumping off the diving board. At eight years old, I would float lazily around in the weirdest inner tube ever—it was an inflatable swim ring with the head of a white tailed deer. It had antlers and everything. Whose idea was it to put a deer in a pool? That doesn’t even make sense. This is the modern-day version of it…much less creepy. Maybe the deer floaty toy is what frightened me so badly…but I digress.
Anyway, at 8 years old, I still wouldn’t swim by myself. My little sister, always the fearless one, decided to do swim team that summer. After a season of being dragged to boring, hot swim meets, I decided that it was high time for me to swim. Maggie’s success was a good motivator—the colorful ribbons and meet-morning bagels might have had something to do with my interest in swimming, too. The next summer, I joined the Seahawks swim team. Little did I know that I was setting myself up for a lifetime (so far, at least) of water sports (swimming, a very brief foray into water polo, and rowing) and water-related summer jobs. I just finished up tallying the hours and such for this season’s swim lessons. Maggie and I have taught 58 children how to swim this summer. We’ve taught a total of 165 hours of swim lessons (330 individual lessons) over the course of 7 weeks. Last summer, we taught 54 students in 15 weeks. I don’t have statistics handy for previous seasons, but the point is that I’ve taught a lot of kids how to do something that I was once absolutely terrified to do myself.
I did pretty well with new things for a while. In 5th grade, the entire class went away for Outdoor Education, an overnight program that involved fishing in the rain off a crappy dock, eating at the dining hall of a local college, and getting lost while attempting to read a compass. I had slept over at friends’ houses before, but I had never been more than a few minutes from home. Outdoor Ed was my first experience sleeping (far) away from my family, and I made myself physically ill over it. I was actually sick on the bus ride to the site. Of course, I was fine once I got there. I just found the roll of blurry disposable-camera photos the other day, and it looked like I had a pretty good time. The funny thing is that even though I was so worked up about Outdoor Ed, I didn’t get nervous at all when I was preparing to leave home and go to college. Notre Dame is 800+ miles from home, but I wasn’t really sad or scared or anything. Just excited. Actual excited, not even nervous-anxious-apprehensive excited. I brought this up to my mom the other day, and she said, “Well, you had been preparing to go to Notre Dame for 10 years. Of course you weren’t nervous.” And she’s right. I had been to Notre Dame many times before and I had pictured myself there so many times that it wasn’t at all a strange or scary place.
Kolkata, on the other hand, is not Notre Dame. I’ve never been there, and try as I might, I can’t find much information about it online. It’s a strange place, far from home. I’m nervous. Plain and simple. At least I’m predictable. But I’m going to do my very best to be open to the experience and enjoy it. Like Outdoor Ed, like swimming, like Kindergarten Roundup, once I get there, I’m sure I’ll be fine. And if not, I can tell my parents about it on Facebook.