Going to temple in Setrawa, India.
In a sea of black hair and headscarves I was the only blonde. The only other color of hair that came close were the gray strands of some elder men. And while pierced left noses were a dime a dozen my right nostril was the only one adorned. The tiny diamond I wear there paled in comparison to most of the other stones: large diamonds, red rubies, jeweled hoops. Every other woman besides me and the younger children was wearing a sari and all of the men were in some degree of collared shirt.
Jaime was across the makeshift aisle, separated in boys on one side, girls on the other fashion. The men seemed more interested in him than the women were of me. At least, more vocally so. I got a lot of stares but the questions stopped after “what is your name?” and after everyone who asked inevitably butchered it with something like “Ballrey?”
It wasn’t so much a room as it was a tent and we all sat crossed legged on green tarps that were laid onto the sand. The walls were made up of shiny ruched fabric screens in red and yellow and green stripes, in an almost tie dye.
Behind a stage that wasn’t used was a sign that looked like a mail-order restaurant billboard, printed with images of a giant sun and people.
Music was playing from a group with instruments in the front. Despite the fact that I seemed to sit a little taller than everyone else, I couldn’t see the band through the crowd. Girls were clapping along and a few boys were keeping tune with finger symbols and tambourines.
When the monk entered, draped in orange with a matching thumb smear on his forehead and thick yellow hoops through the middle of each ear, everyone rose, and when we sat back down the crowd had hunched forward and I no longer had room to sit Indian style. Eventually with a little wiggling around and a little readjustment I was able to get into a somewhat comfortable position again.
The monk started speaking, but as I don’t understand Hindi, I had no idea what he was saying. Every so often the crowd would laugh and I would laugh along on instinct. His microphone picked up an echo, so that the end of everything he said reverberated around the room.
I spotted a few teenagers texting on their cell phones, a phenomenon that, apparently, isn’t confined to the Western world. The woman behind me kept burping. The baby beside me stared in awe at me and waled until he fell asleep. A man in a striped shirt walked around offering water I could not drink in a metal pitcher and bowl.
The monk’s speech finished with music, a chant, and then he returned back up the aisle. Only a few stood at his escape, but then, though the night seemed to keep going, some of the crowd, including my host family, got up to leave.
As we exited the tent, a man handed us each a banana from a basket.
We walked back home in the unlit desert town, eating our bananas, discarding the peel wherever we finished, following the boy who had a flashlight. Every so often he’d turn around and shine it back at us, so we could no longer see the path in front of us but just a ball of bright light. I was nervous that I’d end up stepping on a dog or a cow or a goat.
Looking up, I could see a black sky full of stars. Something that fascinates this big-city girl who is used to light pollution, to paved streets, to Christianity.