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The geography of bliss

I am so happy.

...for more reasons than the fact that I am face-first in a pile of homemade gnocchi and tomato pesto from dinner last night

  Life is so good right now.

The past few weeks have been everything I could have hoped them to be and then some. The next few weeks — months — are totally crammed. Time here is quickly ticking away. Two more months? That’s it?

Getting out of Pune always gives me some perspective. I just got back the other day and am leaving again on Saturday for about a month. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting in recent times and feel like I’m at such a good place…

…on some project revelations:

For a while I was feeling a touch insecure about my project. While many of my fellow Fulbright friends are out in the world delivering babies, rebuilding slums and splitting atoms (I may be exaggerating on the last point…maybe?), I sometimes get quizzical looks when talking about my project.

That sly smile I shoot when tell people what I’m doing has sometimes been secretly uncertain.  I’m not writing a groundbreaking paper. I’m not working in a medical facility or collecting statistical data on the birth rate of sea turtles. I’ve wrestled with myself: so, what’s going to be my tangible contribution? What am I giving back? My beloved mentor (shout out to Pat Taylor, holla) at Marist advised me to stop chill. Relax. Come home, put the project away and revisit it after some time. Then, clarity would come. The beautiful (and unique) thing about the Fulbright is that there is nothing specifically required at the end of your 9-month stint to prove that, say, you have been fostering relationships between the yam cultivating communities of rural Timbuktu.

The project, in its essence, isn’t about a deadline result: it’s about placing yourself on that trajectory that you need to be on and running. In reality, it may never be finished; at least, in a way, I hope not. I can’t believe that I am doing everything I love: living and traveling all over, photographing as I go, playing my little heart out and meeting so many inspirational people as I go. It totally blows my mind that I can do this — sport sociology, sport for international development — as a career. After fretting for months — hardcover, soft cover book?! What size format? And that binding! WAHH! — the greater picture finally dawned on me. Of course I want to make a groundbreaking photo documentary and win a half dozen or so Pulitzer prizes (why not?)… but you know that saying “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” or however it goes? That’s exactly this whole shebang. I get it now!

Muddy ruggers sometimes take showers and put on dresses — or saris. Pictured here at the wedding reception of Anna's sister a few weeks back.

Saturday I leave for our Asia Fulbright conference way down south in Kochi. I’m beyond excited to see what else everyone has whipped up in the past few months, what they’ve been doing on the ground, what they’ve discovered. What I also love about the Fulbright is that everyone on a grant has these out-of-the-box niche interests that, chances are, you may know absolutely nothing about haha. Really inspiring company to keep, and always something to learn.

…on playing rugby again:

When talking about their proudest moments in sport, people will get a far off look in their eyes as they recall that extra-inning grand slam or the clutch penalty kick that won the title. Mine are a bit different.

In high school I was part of a 4x400m relay team with an All-American legacy… until an ankle reconstruction and subsequent stress fractures left me sidelined, that is. Rough times, my friends. But, what I still so clearly remember is the day my physical therapist finally gave me the green light to run again (July 17th to be exact!). It really was so, so sweet. One of my favorite — and proudest — memories of mine is the mental image of me in my running shoes, shuffling through the gravel up and down his clinic’s driveway. 

And recently: the day before I left to go north my team had rented a university ground for a 10-side match. I had been anticipating this showdown forEVER. I hadn’t played rugby since the fall season of my senior year in college. Towards the end of that last season, I found myself bottomed out in a complete physical and emotional low. It became painfully evident playing through the pain was no longer the right (or noble) answer — so, after much agonizing (i.e. crying into my beer), I hung up my cleats. It was the right thing to do. The road back has been a long and hard one, but when I stood in the mirror the other morning and wrapped that red bandana around my head, everything felt so, so right. I finally felt ready — physically, mentally — to get back on the pitch. Later that day as I was turning a corner and making a break for the try line, I had visions of the day when I finally got to jog up the driveway of my PT’s office. I gently touched the ball downand I was back. And buoyed by my awesome teammates — the same girls who inspire me, teach me everyday —

it couldn’t have been a better welcome back.

A few of the Pune girls and I after our match, pictured with the younger girls that we coach on weekends...who had just played their first match as well!

Getting our post-match RFS Pune swag on (with Anna and Surabhi)

…on so many friends! So many places!

Julianne and Solen came down and we took on the north; as soon as I get back from Kochi, Carys — one of my good friends from high school — is meeting me in Kolkata. Here, we’ll be checking out Khelo, an NGO run by the Jungle Crows rugby squad that works with kids in the slums. From there we’ll travel a bit — where too? — perhaps back up to the Himalayas for some more trekking.

Come April my mum, dad, sister, aunt and one of our good family friends from Austria (talk about an entourage) are all coming over.

Cory, my mum, Nika, me and my dad at the Marist Baccalaureate last May... all together minus my little brother Ian who was busy wrestling alligators in Florida. And by wrestling 'gators, I actually mean going to class.

Fifteen years ago my sister Kshanika was adopted from Nagpur, a city in the dead center of India. We’ve always talked about going back someday and that time has come! My parents were having a hard time getting in touch with the orphanage that she was adopted from — they didn’t know if it was still in operation. I was telling one of my best friends here, Crissy, about how we were having trouble and she chimes in “Oh, I know someone from Nagpur, maybe he can help.” As it turns out not only does he still live in Nagpur, but he is legit the grand poobah of the city — and has very, very close ties to this same orphanage that Kshanika came from. Small world, eh? Nika is really excited — I imagine that it would be incredibly eye-opening to have that piece of your personal history unfold itself before you — what a powerful thing.

…on coming and going…again.

Four years, four cities: Florence, Poughkeepsie, Amsterdam, Pune

I think a lot about the notion of home, of movement, of complacency and consistency. I think a lot about the transience and longevity of relationships. I think a lot about the people I meet along the way, the ones I’ve kept, the ones I lost. It’s a bittersweet thing: Though I’ve had the opportunity to find so many good souls along the way, I’m always leaving them.

As my time in India quickly draws to a close that creeping feeling of “here I go again”  begins to resurface. But, the way I like to think of it: the more you fear leaving, or the more you miss people is simply a testament to the ways in which they’ve enriched your life… it’s something for which you can be grateful. These are the ones that shape you. I’m not sure where I’ll be when I head back stateside in May… but, truth be told, I am looking forward to cooling my heels (maybe just for a little bit) and spending time with everyone who thinks that I keep running away from them haha… 🙂

But lots has to happen between now and then… I’m excited about where I’m at and I’m excited to see how these next few months unfold…

Until next time!




4 thoughts on “The geography of bliss

  1. This was beautiful Robin.

    Posted by Jennifer Sommer | March 1, 2012, 4:54 pm
  2. So happy to see that beautiful, enlightened nature of yours through written word and images, once again. Your happiness is my happiness.

    Posted by Kristen | March 1, 2012, 5:33 pm
  3. Im not sure if iv read all your blogs, but i have read quite a few of them, and they just bring back great memories, super writing power, i say! 😀

    Posted by niharika | March 1, 2012, 8:48 pm
  4. Robs, you are the best!

    Posted by Suzie | March 5, 2012, 8:32 am

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The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State, the Institute of International Education or the Fulbright Program.


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