"see that row of coconut trees there?" my father asks me quietly in armenian as he points out the window.
there are nine people in our tata sumo suv and all the windows are rolled down. the heat is exhausting but i feel alive. our driver sounds his horn at another herd of water buffalo trudging lazily across the crumbling road. m. is singing in telugu. there is dust in my eyelashes and a drop of sweat rolls down my back. the road is impossibly bumpy as i push a wind-blown strand of hair back into place.
"which row?" i answer. there are yellow-spotted coconut and banana trees as far as the eye can see. i have a garland of jasmine flowers in my lap. and a handful of roses that was placed in my palms at the tiny village we just left. and i have flowers in my hair, pinned there this morning by s. and her mother. we are now on our way to the next village, another 10km drive. behind me, it seems k. has told another joke and the entire truck explodes in laughter. i can’t help but smile. next to me, s. takes her hand out of mine to cover the side of her mouth as she laughs softly. her other hand daintily holds a handkerchief.
"that neat line over there in the distance, the furthest line you can see against the sky," my father says.
"oh, ok. i think i see which one you mean," i reply, following his gaze. "what about it?"
"well, that’s where the world ends," he answers, smiling, "and where we’re going to fall off."
i smile back at him because i'm amused that my no-nonsense father has told a joke. and because i know he may be right. because with each day and every hour, i have traveled as far away from my world as i ever thought possible. further and further from everything i have ever known. almost instantly, i'm overcome with love and sadness. how will I ever go back? s. is looking at me. her sweet face worried. she offers me some water and i accept. i've had to stop myself from crying at least a dozen times today.
journal excerpt from march 6, 2003 southern india
i'm back in L.A. now but i don't know where i am when i wake up. i can't eat very much but i'm not hungry. i don’t want to watch tv. i don't want to listen to music. i don't want to go out. i want to look at my photos. i want to sleep all day. i want to cry all the time.
i read that "reverse culture shock" might do this but i thought that as each day passed, things would get easier. i miss my indian family more than words can say. i'm having nightmares. it's been 3 days. and i'm lost.