Life at a United World College in India

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

By Marija Kanavin

" ... but part of you is screaming don't you understand how much I have changed? And I don't mean hair, weight, dress or anything else that has to do with appearance. I mean what's going on inside of your head. The way your dreams have changed, the way you perceive people differently, the habits you've you lost, the new things that are important to you."

Months have gone by and I don`t know how to pick up the words where they scattered like my thoughts and tears on grad night, falling like a trail of bread crumbs so I can find my way back there, soon. I left MUWCI a million years ago. The dirt under my nails and the glow of fairy lights in my hair slowly washed away with each pacific wave that crashed onto what felt like a unfamiliar roof and sticky notes and pieces of grass and scratches around my ankles that stowaway-ed in my suitcase seem like the only reminders that it wasn't all a dream. And I still don't know what to say, where to begin.

Answering 'it was good' isn't enough, and yet those four letters hold everything. Claiming polite conversation, the g holds all the nights I had to leave Sams roof because of mosquitoes and peeling mangoes in Paud and the o sings like my ukulele by the lake on that last Wednesday and continues to o: burn the roof of your mouth like maggi just off the stove, reminding you for days that it was worth the 2 am d of May thunderstorms excusing you from studying just for a moment because you need to be reminded of what rain feels like. It was good.

It's taking me a day to write a paragraph, but I know it will take years to understand what they mean. I don't know how I've changed or what I've learned or what was the best or the worst or the funniest or the most meaningful. It just was, often and loudly and sometimes quietly, too, and I am grateful for it and it doesn't have to make sense and it's enough.

Norway in 2 days, India in 10.

Promise to write more this year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Out of the bubble

More than 3 months of living in India. Of the smell of Saturday violin rosin fading from my fingertips and and the smell of Wednesday sitar oil replacing it, chasing it away and by now my callouses have remolded themselves to fit the new kind of string that comes along with that even though it hurt in the beginning and I would bleed and run to my roomie and she'd kiss it and give me chocolate.

8 weeks ago I was 3800 meters up, blistering in the Himalayan air, blistering as I summitted another 300 meter climb only to go back down on the other side. With 15 kg on my back, wearing the shirt I hadn't taken off for 5 days and sweat raining from my temples, I cheered as the campsite finally came into sight and another 8 hour day came to an end. Project week is now over but the taste of the blue glacial water and the taste of ash in the chapatis we made over the fire and the taste of the ginger chai we got from one of the villages hasn't quite faded yet because the mountains had me in love and I think those boots fit me a little too well. Sitting with my feet in the river that followed us along the valley, watching the sunset as dozens of little bells signaled a goat herder was passing through and humming Shady Grove under my breath, I finally had time to reflect on me in India, something I had forgotten to do, shoved under the dirty laundry at the back of my closet.

Hampi was sitting in weird mattress restaurants and little seedpod boats and barefoot on rocks by a temple and jumping into a lake and on a motorcycle that might as well have been a bicycle and drinking coconuts and wondering if you can eat them too and then the lady smashes it and the answer is no and we move on.

The last few weeks on the hill were the worst and the best but it means that I am invested enough in this place. Tea is glue and so is apple cider and I've finally come to terms with the new kind of branches that shade me here and also did you know the people here are beautiful? I do.

12 nights ago I arrived with my Bangladeshi roommate Safieh in Dhaka, her home. There is a gentleness in the crowds that push and the bright rickshaws with three wheels that travel these crazy roads that look like birds of paradise. 2 more nights and I'm leaving for Sri Lanka for 2 weeks. Numbers numbers.

I think I do feel different. 3 months ago I was only just embarking on an adventure that I kind of thought I understood but I didn't have a clue I really didn't and now my hair is shorter and my eyes a little older and a little happier I think or at least they understand more and my feet a lot dirtier and my lips chapped from all the new words I've spoken, words and questions that I didn't know existed or maybe I did but I never knew how to ask
and I am grateful.
Cannot wait to hug everyone safe and sound back on campus.
Love to you.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Welcome to MUWCI"

"Welcome to MUWCI, and this universe has different lighting – fairy lights only, and the occasional sunset off internet hill, a hill with no internet. You can only get internet with the mosquito net open, the mosquitoes are in permanent assault, the rain, when it starts, doesn’t necessarily stop, and there is always one dryer which isn’t working. You are advised to shower occasionally, as you are advised to attend first block, but neither is strictly mandatory. Cakes at midnight on birthdays are mandatory, as are inane conversations at the frazzled split-ends of a day – ‘Dude, which Wada is dead this year?’
Welcome to MUWCI, and your nails are almost always dirty, there is almost always mac ’n’ cheese cooking in your common room at 2 a.m. Courtyard mattresses smell of dog piss. Your roommate eats pomegranates in the rain, people on personal days ask you in the cafeteria, ‘Does language restrict the scope of human thought?’ You look left on the way to the library, and the mountains are a semi-colon to your exhaustion; eight people are dancing on the courtyard slabs on Wednesday night and each has an essay to write, half are folding in from the sheer weight of the bags under their eyes, but just eleven minutes more, because what kind of time is 12:49 to leave, anyway.
Welcome to MUWCI, and Philosophy consumes your brain: does the ‘self’ exist? But either way, you have had to find a ‘you’ to present to three hundred people. What colour do you paint your walls? Do you care where your meat comes from? Forget to miss your parents. Feel guilty about drinking tea out of paper cups at college meeting, do nothing about it. Realise how average you are, use multiple metaphors of fish and ponds to describe it, continue to feel entirely inadequate. See your first two shooting stars on the same night. Turn pink at festivals, leave your clothes outside to wash in the rain, retrieve them a month later. Shower with two frogs at a time, flush a third down the toilet by torturous accident. Put your trash in the wrong bin, steal slightly expired butter from the Wada fridge, wear someone else’s boxers to brunch. Never miss Tuesday lunch. Never cook maggi with its own masala or expect pale pants to stay pale. Understand that Sagar Inn will not serve your food on time. Listen to the same twenty songs on repeat on Saturday nights, watch thirty people from twenty countries dance to them in the rain. Realise that it doesn’t really matter where they’re from. Realise that you’ve begun to recognise them by the slope of their shoulders, the stripes of their sweaters, the way their hair curls sideways when it gets too long. Smile at Kurt Hahn’s success, crack another joke about your Nigerian friend in the dark.
Welcome to MUWCI, and have you yet walked through a cloud? Do your neighbours play guitar sitting on their  walls? Have you pierced your nose, shaved your head, eaten gummy-bears close to dawn? Do you curse PNC on Friday afternoons, know what post-modernism means? How many beds have you slept in? Why is no one ever done with their EE? Why the hell does shaking your hands beside your head mean ‘I agree’?
Welcome to MUWCI. Walk barefoot. Or don’t. Live isn’t an autological word. Do it anyway."

Written by my beautiful roommate Safieh from Bangladesh for the MUWCI Times

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

MUWCI moments

1. Being woken up by your roommate in the morning when you have a free block and hearing 'Thule, can I borrow a jumper?' and wondering with a half-asleep Canadian mind what the hell a jumper is and telling her to take what she wants.

2. Walking around with friends from Guatemala and Norway spreading jazz music and dancing your way across the wadas until you find more friends and sit in someone else's courtyard until late at night.

3. Not being able to remember where you left your shoes but waking up to find that your co-year returned them with a note saying you're crazy.

4. Melting chocolate into a bowl and cutting apples into pieces and eating it cross-legged with friends.

5. Falling asleep backwards while doing homework on your bed and your roommate propping you up with a pillow, turning off your lights and putting away your laptop. <3

6. Being told the next day you had a conversation with someone that woke you up when you were sleeping and not remembering it at all.

7. Receiving a letter from home and almost crying and it making everything ok.

8. Falling asleep in your co-years bed and waking up in your own and being confused.

9. Eating someone else's noodles.

10. Tea parties.

11. Entering the AQ and having to make the difficult decision of going either left or right.

12. Laughing until you cry and crying until you laugh.

13. Carefully avoiding the topic of the EE around second-years.

14. 20 second dance parties in someone else's room.

15. Running around in the monsoon after midnight holding hands and laughing so hard you can't see straight.

16. Writing this list instead of studying for your math test tomorrow.

Love to you

Saturday, September 21, 2013


I've been here exactly 32 days and I love it more than ever.

It's true that the pollution in this country makes me feel claustrophobic at times, that a distant view of Mulshi Lake doesn't replace the Pacific Ocean and that I miss a bed of pine needles beneath my feet but everything I get in return is slowly settling into place;

Yesterday we had the weekly farmer's market organized by the Gomukh organic farm team which I am a part of. It felt like home with home made soaps, incense and lip blams and organic veggies and fruit on the library lawn with couches and music overlooking the sunset. We all ate 2 pomegranates together sitting overlooking the mountains. I now have lemons, tomatoes, assorted fruits, organic laundry detergent and incense and am so happy with all of it.

After a brief stop by karaoke in the social center where Britney Spears was sung so loudly the villages probably heard it in Paud, me and Lam (Finland) watched Amelie Poulain in my corner until 1am with more of our pomegranate haul, chocolate and tea. It was lovely.

This morning it was an early Saturday start because its UWC Day and also Satat (sustainability) action day. This meant the whole school met up in the MPH and was divided into main action groups that then went out and did things like picking up garbage on the river road down in the valley, planting trees on campus, building dams to harvest the water that runs down the hill behind campus and getting rid of invasive species for several hours.

Then, lunch. Cucumber, corn and coconut salad, chopsuey, rice and dal, and so much chapati.

A little while ago it was Ganesh Chaturthi, which meant we celebrated the lord Ganesha by bringing a statue of him from campus down to the river below in village Khubavali, all the while throwing pinkredpurple powder and dancing to bollywood through monsoon rains. Whatever was originally white is now permanently orange. Most of the blond people on campus now have very pink hues.

I still can't really believe I'm here yet it's starting to feel so normal. The campus is tiny and it's so incredible to have some of your favourite people a 1 minute walk from home and you can't run away from problems and I'm grateful.

So much has happened in one month. One month of India. One of the biggest struggles I had coming here was finding myself, who I was and could be in this community and country. A big part of my identity, taking walks around Swan Lake and sitting by the ocean, are far away here and I felt a little lost in the beginning. I also realized what my being Dutch-Canadian meant to me. Being here has made me realize that in Canada I was always the European, while in the Netherlands I'm always the Canadian yet I lived half my life in both. It was weird feeling like I didn't have a claim anywhere until I realized my claim is the little things in those countries that make them feel like home therefore rooting me there.

Last night I went to the treehouse by myself to gather my thoughts and I was completely filled with happiness and a kind of peace only the night can instill in me. That I'm here, in India. Finally. Though it's different than anything I might've imagined, it's more than I could've dreamed and there's no place I'd rather be.

Me and Andrea (Norway) during Ganesh

A (un)usual evening at MUWCI with Daan (Netherlands), Sam (USA), Zelma (Denmark) and Safieh (Bangladesh)