Mariya Davis
2008-09 Outbound to India
Hometown: Tamarac, Florida
School: J. P. Taravella High School, Coral Springs, Florida
Sponsor: Coral Springs-Parkland Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Nagpur Rotary Club, District 3030, India

Mariya's Bio

 My name is Mariya Davis. I was born in California on January 1st,1992. Soon after, I moved to Canada with my mother and younger sister. I attended Catholic school from 3rd grade to 8th grade until my family re-located to Tamarac Florida .

During elementary school and middle school I played many sports such as basketball, softball, volleyball, track as well as skiing and snowboarding. My favorite holidays have always been New Years’ and I have had an obsession with Justin Timberlake since Nsync! I also love to dance to Spice Girls and Grease (I know ALL the lyrics).

From as far back as I can remember I have traveled and visited places such as Quebec, Florida, New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Toronto and more. Now I go to J. P. Taravella High School and I love it.

August 29 Journal

 India is beautiful. I've been here for almost three weeks and I have managed to get onto the front page of the newspaper, on television, go on a road trip, see an amazing Hindi movie at the movie theatre, and attend an Indian wedding. I've also been to a Rotarian's farm and saw a monkey! My host family is very kind and helpful. I'm sorry if I seem all over the place, there is just so much to tell and I don't want to forget anything!

On Aug. 15th (which is their Independence day) I visited an old fort used during British rule that is only opened on Aug. 15 and Jan. 25th. It was very nice and had a lot of interesting history. My new favorite food is chapati with cream and guava jelly! I keep catching myself singing Hindi songs and saying words I don't exactly know the meaning of. Everything in India seems so be more intense. The sugar is sweeter, the food is more spicy, the bugs are bigger, and everything is greener. There are a lot of stray dogs and cats that roam the streets. The driving is insane. It is very scary and between all the trucks, cars, people, and animals walking through the streets at any given time of day or night, I am relieved I will not be driving!

I've met the other inbounds and I like every one of them very much. Actually, everyone that I have met so far has been very nice and I am feeling very comfortable here.

P.S. Samosas are absolutely delicious and I recommend them!

-Mariya :D

October 16 Journal

 The last month has been very eventful, never a dull moment. My host brother has been in town with his wife and I like them both a lot. He recently won a big golf tournament so we went out to celebrate. That was when it happened...

The friendly waiter gave us our spicy chicken and it was delicious. Then my host mom said 'This chicken is so spicy, I can't take it. Don't you think it's spicy Mariya?' When I replied no she told me I had made the transition into a true Indian. I couldn't believe it and I wanted to scream, and sing and do a silly dance. I feel like I've leaped through a threshold to a new dimension of the universe where everything makes sense. I'm finally starting to mesh with the Indian people and I don't feel like the awkward foreigner trying to figure out what's going on. I'm used to my friends having a conversation in Hindi and then translating it for me after. It feels so good to tell them 'No that's ok, I got it'. My grammar skills are horrid now though but my Hindi is getting better.

I will be attending RYLA on the 28th and leaving for my south India tour directly from there on the first of November. I also realized EVERYTHING costs money and I was actually excited about the free conditioner that came with my shampoo (which is very unlike me).

I also want to apologize for turning in my assignments late because I get so frustrated when people are LATE nowadays! Everything here has to be a long, drawn out process. I can't stand going to the bank. There is no such thing as quick and it makes me very stressed.

Thankfully, that is the only thing making me stressed here. Everyone is very kind and the other inbounds are very cool. My family has also decided to keep me the whole year! All I can think about is the bangles and silk saris I'm going to get in the south and how much fun Goa is going to be!

I am off of school right now for Divali holidays and I am taking ceramic classes in the morning. I also purchased a Tabla (Indian drum) the other day and I as well as the other inbounds are taking classes in the evening. I am enjoying myself very much and I'm going to miss custard apples, rose water and fresh cream a lot when I leave.

November 28 Journal

 I just got back home from my 'South India Tour'. It was amazing. First we visited Hyderabad where you can purchase some of the most beautiful bangles in India. While there, we saw the Birla temple, Golkunda Fort and had a blast at Ramoji Film studio which is somewhat like an Indian version of Universal Studios. After that we moved on to Chennai and Mahabalipuram. There we enjoyed the beaches and saw marvelous stone monuments dating back to the 7th century.

After that we took the night train to Bangalore which is an experience in itself. We were in second class NON-AC sleepers that were very crowded. But it's not really as bad as it sounds as long as you don't use the toilet! In Bangalore we went to Banargatta National Park where we saw many lions and tigers. Later that day we visited a Botanical Garden that I could have stayed in for the rest of my life. I can't recall a time in my entire life when I've felt that calm and happy. It was like stepping out of the normal world and into the flower garden in Alice in Wonderland. The city of Bangalore is also very western and I felt very 'at home' there.

Sadly we had to leave and travel 220km to Hassan. Once there we climbed the 300 + stairs to the world's largest monolithic statue Sharavan Balgola. It was exhausting but very rewarding. Continuing on to Mysore which is nicknamed 'city of palaces', I didn't know I was about to fall in love. Not with a boy but with Mysore Palace. I've never seen anything as beautiful as it. Every square inch of the palace is decorated with highly detailed designs that are bright in color. The doors are carved with teak wood and ivory and the walls are painted delicately with red and gold designs. All of the floors are made from marble and I can't even describe the chandeliers and jade stain glass ceilings. Unfortunately, you aren't allowed to take pictures inside the palace so afterwards I purchased some post cards of the palace but they aren't HALF as beautiful.

I didn't think I could see anything as gorgeous as the Mysore Palace until we arrived in Ooty the next day. Ooty is located high in the mountains and I got car sick while we drove up the steep mountain. That drive was one of the most terrifying experiences I've had on my exchange so far because the road is not necessarily made for two cars to pass each other let alone two tour buses. So when another bus was on its way down the mountain our bus had to get as close as it could to the edge of the cliff, and a couple times I thought I was going to have a heart attack. But it was worth it because Ooty was FABULOUS.

On the terrace of our hotel rooms we could see all of the mountains and the city nestled perfectly in between them. The view was breath-taking and I want to live there one day. It was the only place on the tour that was cold and it was a bit strange considering everywhere else we'd been so far had been scorching hot but it was in the mountains so it made sense. In Pollachi we went to a water park that is supposed to be #1 in Asia. It was loads of fun but little did I know my fun would soon be cut short when we arrived at the hotel.

It was very late and everywhere was closed so our only option was to eat at the hotel restaurant. Because of the language barrier as people in the south do not speak English or Hindi, our orders were wrong so we took them from our rooms and back down to the restaurant. By then the kitchen was closed and the only thing we could have was some kind of vegetable curry in curd. At first I felt fine but the next morning i woke up severely sick and I spent the whole day vomiting. But that did not stop me from riding an elephant, no way.

The next day we went to Munnar and Thakkadi where we enjoyed a show of the traditional dance called Kathakali which happens to be what we are learning for our district conference in January. We also experienced full body massages and steam baths for the first time. In Allappy we spent the night on a house boat in the back waters of Kerala. In Kanyakumari I saw my first black sand beach and made lots of friends as it was a very touristy resort. I also came across a Tibetan store that had the most unique and beautiful merchandise.

Then we moved on to Kovalam which is the very tip of India and on a clear night you can see the lights from Sri Lanka! In Cochin we saw the famous Chinese fishing nets, St. Francis church, Fort Cochi, a Jewish synagogue and the Dutch Palace which were all very interesting. And last be definitely not least Goa.

The beaches in Goa were amazing but the hawkers were terrible. I surprised myself while I was there. I kept staring at the foreigners like I'd never seen one until I realized 'hey you're foreign too'. It was quite peculiar really. I had delicious cashews, seafood and MEAT while I was there which made me extremely excited!

Everything was going perfect until I lost my bank card. As soon as I realized I didn't have it I went into a panic. After about five minutes of 'ohmygods' and childish whining I remembered that I had left it in the ATM! I rushed back as fast as possible but it was gone and I was devastated. The thing that after you take your money you have to press another button to retrieve your card but I was in such a hurry I hadn't noticed. I felt so stupid! He told me that when someone from the bank came to refill the machine he would also take out the cards as well but I would have to go all the way to the branch to get it back. So the next day I took a bus and a boat to the city. When I got there it didn't take long to find the bank but my worries were not over just yet. When I told the lady the story she simply said "By policy, we are not allowed to hold any cards that are not from our bank...that card has been destroyed". Her words rang in my head over and over and she must have saw the sick look on my face because she told me to wait while she went to get another man. THANK-GOODNESS he had my card and he gave it back to me after I showed him my passport. I was so relieved I actually danced when I left the office.

Goa was our last stop and after a month of traveling I was ready to go 'home'. I arrived in Nagpur station at 6 am and I was so happy to see my host family. My host sister is here with her son and I really enjoy being with all of them. I miss all of the exchange students from my district but they will all be coming to Nagpur for Christmas in a couple weeks. My days are filled with ceramics, dance and tabla classes and I'm very excited because my birthday is coming soon and I don't know what to expect!

January 3 Journal

 I'm 17 !

I wish I could say my Christmas was fantastic, exhilarating and full of excitement but sadly, it was not. I've been so busy with all of my classes that I FORGOT it was Christmas until I got to my yoga class and my instructor wished me a 'merry Christmas'. That night all of the exchange students in my city and I went to an expensive restaurant to get western food which didn't end up being very tasty. During dinner we all talked about how we celebrate Christmas in our home countries and what our families cook. It was a very dull Christmas, no Christmas cookies, no stockings, no Christmas tree, no watching 'The Grinch' on Christmas eve and no Christmas spirit. But I was not the least bit disappointed because I am full of Indian spirit and I didn't even miss Christmas. I felt a little awkward being the only one at the dinner table not 'home-sick'. And it's a good thing I wasn't because I don't think I would have been very good comforting them if I was.

I have yoga, tabla and dance classes every day, but I am currently out of town practicing dance routines with the other exchange students in my district for our district conference on the 10th of January. New years eve was a lot of fun. Rotary organized a function for all of the exchange students in the district and we ate and danced to Bollywood music all night. At midnight they all sang happy birthday to me and threw me into the pool! My birthday was definitely a lot of fun. It was even more fun because the next day I got a flood of 'happy birthday' emails from the US, and because of the time difference it felt like I had TWO birthdays! We will be performing a classical dance and a bhangra dance (another Indian dance). We are also showcasing all of the festivals of India through dance, then we are all participating in an instrumental fusion. I'm very excited and I have to say that I am really not looking forward to leaving India anytime soon.

January 14 Journal

 I have reached a new height in my exchange.

Tonight my new friends and I prepared a pasta dinner and it was amazing. While I was making the sauce, the aromas from it made me have several flashbacks to my home life in the US and Canada. It made me think of my mom making dinner, and watching kids shows on television with my sister. I remembered all of the things my sister and I would giggle about and how we used to play monopoly and barbies for hours. I didn't realize how much I actually miss her.

It was odd because instead of feeling sad and homesick, I felt happy. Not because I was away from the people I love, but because the closeness of the friends I have made here in India really remind me of my own family. And although I have definitely had way better pasta then what I made tonight, it was the bond I shared with my friends that made it that good (cliche I know!).

I miss my family terribly and all of the things we used to do together (uno!) but I have to say that I haven't been this happy in a while. I love India and I didn't know I could actually feel at 'home' away from 'home' but I guess home is wherever you are happy. The saddest part is that it's almost over and I will be leaving home once again......

March 10 Journal

 I have just recently returned from my North Tour. We visited: Calcutta, Darjeeling, Sikkim, Bodh Gaya, Varanasi, Jaipur, Jalsaimer, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Agra, Amritsir, Dharmsala, Manali and Delhi. Overall it was a very good trip and I had a lot of fun with the other exchange students. Darjeeling, Sikkim, Dharmsala and Manali are all located in the Himalayan Mountains and are absolutely gorgeous. When we began our journey through the mountains I could hardly speak, I was so amazed at the natural beauty. When you are up in the mountains you feel so alive, so connected to nature and the air is so fresh, clean and un-polluted. There is a large Tibetan population in these places as well which was wonderful to experience. I had heard about them but up until now I didn't know much about them and their hardships when they were forced to leave their homes when Tibet was taken over by China. I also had the privilege of visiting a Tibetan orphanage where I got to play with the kids and talk to them. I also was lucky enough to get my hands on some of the beautiful handicrafts made 100% by the Tibetan people. Despite having altitude sickness, I was so sad to leave this lovely paradise.

Calcutta is my least favourite city I've seen in India. It is very crowded, dusty and hot but it does have an interesting market. Bodh Gaya is where Buddha reached enlightenment under the Bodhi tree (banyan tree). I have absolutely fallen in love with the Buddhist religion and I am seriously considering become Buddhist. It just makes so much sense to me and I've never felt as at home in a church, Hindu temple, mosque or synagogue as I do in the Buddhist temple. I could go on and on about how much I love and respect Buddhism but this report would become quite boring if I did so. Varanasi is the most important Hindu center in India. Jaipur (the pink city) was gorgeous and very interesting to see.

Jalsaimer was CRAZY. We rode camels through the desert and I enjoyed the experience but I have no desire to do it EVER again. We watched a fantastic Rajasthani performance and got to take part in the dancing at the end of the night. I had so much fun and laughed so hard my stomach hurt. After our typical Rajasthani dinner that did not lack in spices, we spent the night on the dunes in tents. In the morning we got up early to watch the sun rise. Rajasthani desert sand is so different from Florida beach sand, it's dry and soft and feels almost like liquid. Jodhpur (the blue city) was a lot of fun and our guide for that day was very knowledgeable and helpful. We visited a huge fort that had a million secret rooms decorated in the most extravagant detail I've ever seen.

Then we finally arrived in Agra. From our hotel we had a view of the Taj Mahal and to be completely honest I was a tad disappointed. From a distance it doesn't look nearly as pearly white and beautiful as the pictures, but when I was standing face to face with it I almost forgot to breathe. My thoughts were "Oh my god! I'm here, I'm in front of the Taj Mahal, I've done it! I'm really in India! I rock!" I got happy tears in my eyes and just stood there for a minute taking it all in. We went inside and after we were off to the less famous, red fort. Next came Amritsir in the state of Punjab where we saw the Golden temple which is the holiest place according to Sikh religion. (The Sikh people are the ones we commonly see wearing turbans.) The temple was very pretty and it was cool to see it up close because it is in a lot of Hindi movies I've seen. And last but definitely not least was Delhi. Delhi is a very Cosmopolitan city and has a western feel to it. It also has the largest market in Asia called Karol Bagh. Unfortunately we only spent one day there. We were also fortunate enough to visit the Indian-Pakistan border and watch the changing of the guards. We had a dance party in the street and then joined everyone in chanting patriotic chants and proudly waving their Indian flags. It was like nothing I've ever seen before.

These days I am enjoying the little time I have left, and looking forward to playing Holi (festival of colours). Recently, a friend and I went to an ice-cream shop and the owner began to have a conversation with me about my travels to Russia and asked me how my schooling was going. I told him I didn't know what he was talking about and he apologized and told me I looked just his friend's daughter. It was a very funny situation. I will be attending a ten day Vipassana meditation course starting the 25th of this month where I won't be able to talk, write, gesture, read or receive phone calls at all for the full ten days. What you do is meditate and participate in activities and learn the techniques of controlling your mind and nourishing your spirit. I know it's going to be very difficult to focus but I feel this is something I need to do.

June 15 Journal

 As the last of my mendhi fades from my hands, the sounds of India still play in my head. The smells are still vivid and the memories are clear as day. I WENT TO INDIA. I cannot describe my feelings when I returned, as there aren't any words to describe it. I don't believe I would have been better suited in another country and if I had the chance to do it again, I would do it exactly the same.

If I could talk to my younger self before the exchange I would tell her to STOP WORRYING SO MUCH, everything sorts itself out. I would tell her to enjoy every moment being with her host family and the other exchange students because she will miss them the most. I would tell her that India is somewhat like what she pictured in her mind and that all those years of dressing up like an 'Indian princess' and her love for Aladdin would ultimately have a great impact on the rest of her life. I would tell her that she would grow out of her shyness and into something beautiful, just have patience. If I would have told her she was going to get two root canals, learn every bollywood actors' name, discover a new favorite food, get into an accident, ride a yak or dance in front of 1200 people, she would have never believed me.

India is the unknown. I don't feel like it can be categorized with any other country. It is everything in itself. Only in India will you find as many different languages, foods and customs as there are people. Only in India does old and new collide to create something extraordinary and unbelievable. The colors of India never fail to distract me from what I'm doing, and when I'm flipping through the channels and I come across a program on India, I always watch it. Not because I really need more information about the Taj Mahal or how great of a vacation spot Goa is, but because I've been there, I've lived it and I know that country. My country.

I believe feeling is believing. I was fortunate enough to be hosted by a Muslim family my entire stay in India. Before the exchange I had some difficult feelings about Islam that were ultimately because I was un-informed. My host family treated me with the utmost kindness and respect and I felt like I was a part of their family. I have a special place in my heart for Islam which no-one can take away from me. I also fell in love with Buddhism and Hinduism while I was overseas and I have taken some of their values to practice in my own life.

I've learned we are all people that make decisions. And as a result of that, there is no way to judge a religion or group of people based on anything else but their actions and character. I believe there is no such thing as a bad person, just a person who makes bad decisions. I've learned I love my life and I am going to live it as happy and full as I possibly can. I've learned I love, love, love India and everything about it. This is a discovery that has taken me most of my exchange year and a few weeks of being home to fully figure out. I believe I was sent to India for a reason and I believe in myself. This is not the end for me. Not even close... :)

Thank-you Rotary International for helping me to make my dreams real.

A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.

-Mahatma Gandhi