by Gabriella Sonabend
Yesterday the rain was falling heavy but Phyllis and I did not want to waste the morning as she had only a few days left before returning to a hectic New York life. We decided to head to Assi Ghat to find souvenirs for family and friends. We picked through hand painted wooden toys, silver bangles and miniature painted pendants. We sat in a Japanese run cafe, which I was surprised to see served meat. The rain grew heavier and heavier outside. After lunch Phyllis returned to the Ramlila for one last visit and to say goodbye to those who had been assisting her, I went to Aum café, (a local hippy touristy hang out), to meet Kathrin, a friend of the residents, soon to be my little sister.
At Aum, Kathrin was sat with a group of American students who were part of a study abroad program in Varanasi. They were studying a range of subjects but were all in Varanasi to learn Hindi and observe the local culture. They were all around 18-20 and although I am not much older they made me feel bizarrely old!
Kathrin is a relative of one of the residency organisers. She is 20 and from Germany. She has come to Varanasi on her gap year to work in a school for street children. She is currently living in Assi with a local family and each morning she walks or cycles to her school where she tries to teach English to the children. She is in Varanasi for 6 months, (she has been here 1 month already) and I am in awe of her. Something about Kathrin is extremely special. Although she is quiet and shy, she is very humble and I think incredibly brave to be doing what she is doing here. She is unlike other gap year kids I have met; those who decide to go and do something ‘good’ in a foreign place. I can’t exactly put my finger on what it is about her, but she possesses a sort of intensity and integrity which is rare to find. In Aum café, I could tell that like me, Kathrin could probably do with a sister in this strange land. So we have made a promise, to meet daily, to talk honestly about how we feel, about our fears, our triumphs etc and to make exciting plans each week to look forward to. I have never had a sister and I never thought that I would be suddenly acquiring one, but right now, I could not be happier to have found one!