Fires

You’ll notice that in every picture of me from India, I’m wearing a puffy pink coat. That’s because I was freezing the entire time. It wasn’t actually that cold. Probably in the 40s. But there was no central heating. So whatever it was, it was, unless you could get a seat at the fire. How I came to appreciate fires! The central fire, and the hub of all conversation at the orphanage, was in an old mango tree that had toppled over in a storm.  We would all huddle together on a log and watch the flame. (I was huddling. Most of the kids were trying to jump over the fire.) My hair, my clothes, my skin all smelled of smoke. Periodically someone would go off with an ax and come back with wood, which they would throw onto the fire. Time passed in a different way than I’m used to. You could spend hours just chatting with the people who came and went. The coziest fire was in the library, in a fireplace. Here many of the kids congregated in the afternoon. (I should say that I was at the orphanage at an unusual time. For most of the year, the kids would be at school.) Here I played an intense game of Monopoly with Rampal (and we came in second). I was also introduced to a lot of good books, such as the Percy Jackson series. The most exciting fire was in the jungle. One night, we all crammed into a jeep and drove into the jungle, which was only about ten minutes away, but felt like an entirely different world. There was a huge vat filled with curry, that the cooks had been working on all day. Music was blaring. A lot of Justin Beiber. (It struck me funny that the kids used the flashlights from their iphones to navigate their way around the jungle, but ate food cooked over a wood fire.)  Then there was the fire I went to first thing in the morning. At 7:00, music would come over the loud speaker–uplifting hymns. Soon thereafter a girl would knock on my door. “Your tea, aunty.” Then I would make my way over to the kitchen fire, where Maya and some others were cooking the toast. I’d sit there and chat until it was time for breakfast.  When I got back to Delhi, the first thing I did was take a long, hot shower. It felt great, but I missed the warmth, communal and otherwise, from those fires.

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