Before departing to India to volunteer for Village Ways, I asked a previous volunteer trainer for any words of advice. Amongst many other words of wisdom, the main response I received was ‘Be prepared to drink lots and lots of tea!’ Now for an avid tea drinker such as myself, this translated into ‘you are travelling to tea heaven!’
I was travelling to Southern India to help teach English to guides in preparation for the upcoming tourist season for Village Ways. And, I was preparing to drink lots of tea! I’m not sure how tea is served in your part of the world, but here in Australia we commonly make our brew using a tea bag and our host will then make the offer of milk or sugar. The word for tea in the local tongue is ‘chai’ and it was one of the first words I learnt. Chai is central to the Indian culture and is served as the host makes it – sweet, spicy and delicious! Tea is brewed from locally grown tea and the concept of a tea bag seemed as foreign as a kangaroo in England. For myself as a visitor, it was hard to wander past a house without the offer of chai. The tea was brewed with a sense of delicacy and dependent upon whether or not the family had access to a cow for milk or sugar on hand.
In Australia, I tend to stick my preferred brew (milk no sugar), however tea in India was so much more then the taste sensation and it didn’t matter how it arrived. I was honoured to be invited inside a family home and all too often met many several generations of a family. It was over tea that my neighbours became life long friends, that I learnt the traditions of the village and my friends learnt about myself and my culture. It’s funny, since returning home tea just doesn’t taste the same, though perhaps it’s just the absence of great company.
Contributed by Jessie Laing