We’re going to tell you something special about the ACE in India program: This week, all of the participants were given the opportunity to experience a homestay. One Stanford student was paired up with another Duke student and each pair was assigned to a family who had volunteered to host in the local area. This allowed us to observe the everyday life of a few community members in New Delhi, adding to our perspective as visitors. For our homestay, we were assigned to a woman who goes by Nani Ji, meaning “mother’s mother,” which honestly could not be more fitting, as she reminds us of our own grandmothers in certain ways. She is from Kashmir, a Northern state of India near the Himalayas and has lived in Lajpat Nagar, a neighborhood of New Delhi, since she got married. She has been volunteering as a host-grandmother for over six years and is one of the sweetest and most hospitable people we know.
Being granted the opportunity to stay with Nani Ji was just what we needed at the end of our second week. We got to try new foods, including Kashmir staples like aloo palak sabzi, puri aloo, okra, and red beans, which were all homemade. We also had tea every night with our host-grandmother. During that time, we were able to ask questions about Indian culture, learn about her family history, and also explain our sports to her and tell her more about the service work that we are participating in. Nani Ji is well-traveled and told us illustrative stories of the beautiful places she has seen. She asked us both if we had girlfriends and if we were planning on marrying soon. We laughed and told her we were too young to be married, but she explained that it was her duty as Nani Ji to keep us well-fed and ask about marriage! She even asked if she could be invited to Blake’s wedding. Having tea with her will be some of the nights we’ll never forget from our time in India.
We also had tea every night with our host-grandmother. During that time, we were able to ask questions about Indian culture, learn about her family history, and also explain our sports to her and tell her more about the service work that we are participating in. Nani Ji is well-traveled and told us illustrative stories of the beautiful places she has seen.
The more time we spent with Nani Ji, the closer we became and the more we loved her. She was our host grandmother and we were “her children” as she would joyfully say. We learned lots about her like how she is very fond of different arts, especially music, and even used to play the sitar and drums when she was younger. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, reading, and spending time with her friends at a nearby club. She explained to us that the first weekend of every month, she meets with many of her girlfriends, at what they call a “Kitty Party,” where gossiping often happens. But the most important thing is that every night, Nani Ji would watch her television program and she would do anything not to miss it. Despite Nani Ji’s older age, she is still very young at heart and has a lively personality like no other.
Even though Nani Ji is truly one-of-a-kind, it’s really special to be able to say that her hospitality and accommodations for us were not unique – the Indian community members we have met during our first two weeks were the same way. Between the gracious staff at SIT, the employees at our non-profits, and even the young children at our organizations, everyone is extremely friendly and wants to show us all of the beauty India has to offer—from its rich tradition to its exciting, changing culture. Our weekend with Nani Ji was truly unforgettable, and we feel so lucky that our ACE program got to pilot the homestay program.