With ISP over I only have one more week in India. I am still not quite sure how I feel about this. I have moments of “I NEED to get out of here!” followed by moments of “Please don’t make me leave!” The first half of our last week was spent doing presentations. I was somewhat nervous about this but also excited because I had been working on the same topic for a month. I wanted to show what I had learned! Also, I got to wear my saree again so that makes everything better! It was also so much fun to see everyone in my program again. It was fun to exchange experiences because everyone did such different topics.
The last half of the week we were back in Delhi. One night we had a final banquet where some host families, our professor’s families, and some of our lecturers all came together to celebrate the end of the semester. It was fun to meet everyone’s families and of course eat!
In addition to the banquet, I spent time just wandering through Delhi. I reflected on how comfortable I had become here in such a short time. No longer did I feel the need to plan every detail of my trip before getting on the Metro. I knew the stops, what shops are where, how much to pay for rickshaws to get to the markets and what streets to walk when the market is close, and, most importantly, what time of day I am most likely to get a seat.
As a group we talked about adjusting back into the U.S and what we should expect. I also said my final goodbyes to my teachers and fellow students. It was so bizarre to go from only spending time with the same people to not seeing them again. Saying goodbye hit me a lot harder than I expected.
Leaving Delhi I had to wake up at 5 a catch a taxi. Luckily I was able to share a taxi with another student who had a flight at around the same time. While taking off in Delhi I had to turn my head so that the person next to me didn’t see my crying. This is not good-bye India. I will be back!
After my program in India was completed I was given the opportunity to travel to Singapore for a week. Although this isn’t home, it gave me a pretty good idea of what to expect when I do get home. Here are some things that surprised me about life outside of India.
Space: I am continually surprised by how much space there is. I don’t want to give the wrong impression because India wasn’t as crowded as I expected. You know in movies when it shows a scene from New York and it is shows is a massive clump of people moving along the sidewalks and crossing the streets. That is what I expected India to be like all the time. It is not that way. At all. Still, space is something that I had to get used to. When in the Singapore airport before I went through immigration I had to go down an escalator which lead me to a big empty room. I thought to myself, “wow there is nobody here.” Even while waiting in line I kept looking backwards into the room and thinking “there is so much room and nobody is using it.”
Food: I forgot what it is like to have meat with every meal. I am weirdly becoming overwhelmed by it. In India, meat was a rare treat that I had to buy for myself on the off chance that I went to a restaurant that served it. Even then, sometimes I did not order it. When I sit down to meals and see huge dishes of meat I have this feeling of “here we go again”. Meat is not nearly as appetizing to me anymore. I can do small portions and that is about it.
Gender: When walking around Delhi you will see quite a few security checks (malls, metro, etc.) In these checks men and women are always separated. Men use the metal detector in the open while women go behind a curtain. When I was departing the Singapore airport I obviously had to go through security in the airport. As I waited in line I was mindlessly watching the people in front of me. I was genuinely shocked when I saw a man go through the same metal detector as a woman. I thought he has gone through the wrong one and would have to come back to go to the men’s line. I was surprised to remember that not everything in the world is segregated.
I am also having my first experience with people coming up to me and saying “How was India?” I don’t know how to respond to that question. How do I sum up the past 3 ½ months? It was beautiful, ugly, challenging, rewarding, overwhelming, comfortable. Sometimes I wanted to lie in bed and cry while other times I could not stop smiling. I wish I could be given more direct questions like, How was the food, what did you wear, what did you learn, how was it adjusting to a new education system etc. It is so tough to explain my experience when there is really nothing to compare it to. This is my plea that my friends and family be patient with me and I will be patient with them.
In the mean time, here are some pictures from Singapore:
My time doing my ISP has come and gone so much faster than expected! At the beginning of the month is seemed that I had all the time in the world. I was surprised at how quickly the weeks went past. It started with me navigating the New Delhi Railway station on my own. Luckily I found my train and my seat without too much trouble. I spent the first two weeks of my ISP in Varanasi. That city is so beautiful. I am thankful that I was able to spend some time there taking it all in. One of the best things to do in the city is spend time on the ghats by the Ganges. They are great places to sit and observe people in a variety of activities. In any given time you will see people bathing and performing other religious rituals by the water.
One afternoon I was sitting on the stairs of a ghat when I hear the loud MOO of a bull. This is not an uncommon sound to hear anywhere in India but this one was close enough to make me turn around. I turned around just in time to see a huge bull walking down the stairs right towards me. Now I am not one to be afraid of cows. I had been walking past cows everyday on my way to school for the past 2.5 months but this bull had horns and I wasn’t about to stand in his way. (Also, isn’t there a belief that cows can’t go down stairs? I’m here to say that isn’t true).
The second half of my ISP month was spent in McLeod Ganj. Since my research was completed and it was getting hot in Varanasi I decided that retreating to the mountains might be nice. Getting there required a 20 hour (always more because…. India) train ride and a 3 hour taxi ride. I wasn’t worried about this. I figured I could sleep through the night and if I charged my laptop I could watch movies during the day. Also, I splurged and bought the 2AC ticket which meant I only had to share my train “compartment” with 5 other people (men) instead of 7. Everything about traveling to the mountains went great. Oh, except that I got violently ill only a few hours into the train ride. I will spare the details but it was not good. Instead of sleeping through the night as planned I was up with the chills and going to use the bathroom (hole in train floor) every hour. Every other sickness I have will now be measured on a scale from 1 to this train ride. I was only sick for a few more days once I arrived in McLeod Ganj. I had a great time writing my paper, meeting new friends, and eating Tibetan food. I still cannot quite believe that it is over. Next step: presentations!
This week I was given the opportunity to attend my first Indian wedding. I have been looking forward to this for weeks. The wedding was on a Wednesday which was interesting because most weddings that I have attended happen on weekends. Since I do not know how to put a Sari on I had to have some of the neighbors come over and help me. I was expecting 10 minutes of them helping me get dressed and that being it. Instead they fussed over me for about an hour. Everything from what earrings I should wear, why I didn’t have makeup with me, and trying to explain that you cannot brush curly hair. I left the house around 8pm to go to the house of the groom. There was no questioning where it was because the music could be heard from very far away. I was only there for a few minutes before to procession started. The wedding takes place near the bride’s house so there is a whole ceremony to transport the groom there. Outside of the house was a full band (think marching band) playing as loud as they could. The whole groom’s family goes out onto the main street where a car, decorated in flowers, is waiting. The groom gets in the back seat and everyone crowds around. From what I observed I think all the older female family members gave offerings and said prayers with him one by one. While this is going on everyone else stands behind the car and dances to the music. Then we start going down the road, stopping every few minutes to have a mini dance party. This is essentially a parade going down the road even though the road is not closed. It was crazy but everyone seemed to be very respectful of letting us through. After walking for about 20-30min we arrived at the ceremony location. All along the perimeter are tables with various kinds of food. At the front there is a stage with a couch on it. The setting was very informal. I didn’t even notice when the bride entered because there was no announcement of everyone to rise like I was used to.
Arranged marriage is still a very common thing in India. I have heard so many different sides to it that I am still not really sure what to think. This wedding was an arranged marriage. I was told that the bride and groom had not met prior to this day (not sure if that is actually true or not. In most marriages I have heard of they meet for the first time at their engagement party). The couple sits on the couch and all the family members come to get pictures taken. This takes hours. The couple just sits there, not talking to each other and not smiling. It was actually really hard for me to watch because the bride was very obviously trying to hold back tears. This is the part of arranged marriage that I struggle with. I believe it is normal to be nervous on your wedding day but it is another thing to be completely terrified.
So I did not actually see the couple get married. Indian weddings last until 3 or 4 in the morning and since it was a Wednesday I could not stay out that late. When I left at midnight I noticed many other people leaving as well. From what I can gather I believe only close relatives attend the actual ceremony of marriage.
It was a great experience to go to this wedding and it taught me a lot about Indian culture. I am hoping to one day be able to go to another and maybe stay the whole time.
Yesterday Cassie and I had a genuine “expect the unexpected” moment. Our host mom told us that we would be going with the family to Puja. She explained that someone in the family moved into a new house. Cassie and I decided to google “house warming Puja” to see what we were getting into. Everything we read explained a religious ceremony where prayers and sacrifices were offered to the gods. We prepared (and dressed!) for a religious service. Our family seemed to be taking it pretty seriously so all signs pointed to something religious. We were instructed to be home by 4 so that we could get ready and leave.
The morning on the Puja Cassie and I went to school like normal. The first sign that it was a holiday was that there were almost no people on the metro. By almost no people I mean I was able to stand without having to tough another person. This is greatly different than our normal commute. When we got off the metro and started walking to school we started to hear weird voices and songs but had no idea where it was coming from. We started to notice temporary speakers set up in trees and on poles. They were blasting what we assume was a prayer. It felt like an amusement park where ads are played throughout the park. It was the weirdest experience.
That night we went to Puja. When we arrived at the house music was blasting from the front door. It was then very obvious that this was a casual family gathering rather than an honored religious ceremony. Throughout the night we ate chicken nuggets, drank wine, and listened to Brittany Spears. I also ate some of the best Indian food I have had since being here. The whole experience was amazing. It was fun to be an observer and watch family members interact.
One of the most interesting parts of the evening for me was that every room in the house was open. It was very common to walk into a bedroom and just see people lying on the beds talking, snacking, or even sleeping. We did not eat dinner until 10:30pm so I totally understand why napping is a necessity.
Once dinner was done we had about a 1 hour drive back in which my host dad ran through red lights, stalled the car in the middle of intersections, and did u-turns in the middle of the road. India is full of surprises.
Last week I had the privilege of traveling to the amazing city of Varanasi. This city is like nothing I have ever seen before and it was captivating. The purpose of this excursion was to travel in small groups and learn about a specific NGO. I visited the NGO Kiran Village that works differently abled adults and children on a variety of things from education to social integration. This organization was amazing to learn about. You will hear more about them from me soon because I have decided to do my independent study project (ISP) with them. ISP is a month-long project where students are able to choose a topic and do qualitative research on that topic for the last month of the program.
Another purpose of this trip was to practice conducting interviews in preparation of our upcoming ISP. We did two interviews in English and one interview in Hindi. I was incredibly nervous for my interviews because it is not in my personality to start a conversation with someone I hardly know. I am happy to report that the three interviews I did went very well and I was able to learn some great information. I am no longer so nervous about having to do interviews for my ISP in a week.
The professor that took my group to Varanasi actually grew up there and was excited to show us his favorite spots. It was great fun! We took a boat ride on the Ganges, drank Lassi, and met his family and friends.
I have noticed recently that all of my blogs have to do with traveling outside of Delhi. Although that does consist of over half of my program, I should probably also talk about what happens when I am in Delhi. Long story short, when in Delhi, I do a lot of homework, meaning I don’t usually have a lot to talk about.
I live with a host family and one other girl from my program, Cassie. Our host family is a mom, dad, and their 22 year old daughter. They are all really busy so Cassie and I do a lot of things together. Every morning we have to leave for school at 8am. We have about a 10 minute walk from our house to the closest metro station. Then we take the metro for about 20 minutes and walk the last 20 minutes to school. It sounds like a lot of walking but I usually really enjoy it. Walking the streets in Delhi is never boring.
It is fun to have a ‘morning route’ because we are starting to recognize people. It is nice to start feeling more like a local, even if I will never look like a local. At school we have Hindi class for 2 hours; 1 hour as a large group and 1 hour in small groups. After Hindi we have a 1.5 hour lecture on various topics that deal with public health in India. The lecturers are people from Delhi, usually professors but sometimes heads of NGO’s. It is really interesting to meet all these different professionals and learn from them. We are served lunch at school and we are usually done by 2 in the afternoon. I always try my best to go and see things in Delhi but usually I have to meet with teachers or do homework. My program puts a strong emphasis on school work. Sometimes it is really difficult to find the balance between being a student and a tourist but I have to remind myself that I came here to learn. The best way I have found to balance is to do homework at a place you have wanted to visit. I have written papers and studied Hindi while sitting on the lawn of a temple.
This past weekend was a “free” weekend where there were no classes or trips scheduled through the program so we were able to travel outside of Delhi on our own if we wanted. Some of us in my program decided that this would be a great weekend to travel to Jaipur.
Jaipur is a great city located in the ‘golden triangle’ of India. It has a lot of temples, palaces, and other great things to discover. It was impossible to see everything in two short days but we made the best of it. Saturday we visited the Amber fort which is on top of a mountain and gives a great view of the city and valley below. Then we did some shopping where we were able to see how textile fabrics are made and watch someone sew beads onto an Indian wedding outfit. Then we visited the monkey temple where we were able to get really close (sometimes too close) to monkeys and feed them.
On Sunday the group split up. Some people went shopping but I along with others decided that we wanted to try and find the city palace. We got some directions from a rickshaw driver and headed out. It didn’t take long to realize that we had no idea where we were going. We asked people in our broken Hindi for clearer directions. Everyone we asked pointed in different directions and said 1 kilometer. This is where we learned that in India everything is only 1 kilometer away even if it is actually multiple kilometers away.
While wandering around we came across a field where there were a bunch of kids playing cricket. There were at least 30-40 games being played! It is currently the cricket world cup so cricket is everywhere! I have always wanted to play cricket so I asked some of the kids if I could join and I hit a few times. I like to think I was pretty good at it (thank you high school softball!).
We kept walking around the neighborhood and saw a beautiful archway that looked like it led to a park. We walked in to look around. Half of the park was a green space with grass and benches. The other half was all playground toys. Have you ever wondered what happened to the toys that were on your elementary school playground as a child but are now considered unsafe? They are probably in this park in India. It was fun to walk through and relive those childhood memories. This park also had carnival rides for 10 Rupees. I rode on the boat ride. This is probably the most unsafe situation I have put myself in yet. There was nothing to hold us in, just a bar with loose screws that we could hold onto. The ride went so high that you actually lifted off of the seat. This is easily the hardest I have laughed in a long time.
We did eventually end up finding the city palace but we did not have enough time to go through it before we had to go to the train. Instead we opted to go through Jantar Mantar which is a garden with different structures that have to do with astrology and weather. The structures are all very unique and it kind of felt like walking through Alice in Wonderland.
Happy Holi!!! Today was the day I have looked forward to since I made the decision to come to India. When I started to tell people of my plans to come here and they asked why I would want to I always answered with “Well, I’ll be there for Holi.” Meaning I will be in India for the best holiday in the world. Let me tell you it did not disappoint in the least bit.
My host family does not play Holi because my parents are older and my sister is allergic to the powder that is thrown. Luckily there is one other host family with students in my neighborhood and they invited us over to play with them. Cassie and I were told to walk over no later than 10am or else the streets would be too crowded and unsafe. The 5 minute walk to our friend’s house was much more than we bargained for. Nobody is safe on Holi. I mean nobody. In just the short walk we were hit with multiple water balloons and covered in colors. Due to the utter chaos we got a bit turned around. The guys that covered Cassie and I in colors ended up helping us finding our friends apartment (more about them later).
When we arrived at our friend’s house we continued to throw colors at each other until we were all covered from head to toe. Now one thing I did not realize about Holi until getting here is that they also celebrate with water (balloons, guns, buckets etc.) and sometimes even eggs. The apartment we were at was on the second floor which is prime location for throwing water balloons at people passing by. Most people walking around or on motorcycles are loaded with their own balloons to throw back. Basically you have a huge water balloon fight with the whole street. It is great fun….until you realize that the door to your balcony is unlocked. Yes. A group of guys that we threw balloons at ran up the stairs and covered us in colors. My first instinct to seeing them run up was to zip my backpack shut and face it to the wall so that nothing could be taken from it (my dad would be so proud). My friends’ host mom yelled at them and locked the door behind them. It was hilariously terrifying.
Later in the morning the guy who helped Cassie and I find the apartment stopped by with about 50 of his friends. They all rode up in motorcycles screaming “HAPPY HOLI” and played drums while we threw water down. It was so incredible. Soon after, we started to clean up the balcony which was full of colored water, balloons, and eggs. Cassie and I still had to get back to our house but we elected to get a bike rickshaw this time. On the ride back we were hit with more colors and water balloons.
I am so happy that I was able to celebrate this great holiday and cross something off of my bucket list!
This past week my program took another excursion outside of Delhi. This time we went to the incredible tourist city of Udaipur located in Rajistan. Udaipur is known as the city of lakes and therefore is a big destination.
Many of the people in my program joked that this is the closest we will come to studying abroad in Europe. The city is full of temples and palaces. One day I was eating lunch on the waterfront with the view of a palace and had to keep telling myself that I really was still in India. It has been so fun to travel around and realize how different each part of India is.
One of the day trips we took was to visit with some traditional healers. They are called Gunis and work in a community educating and providing plant based health options. The first Guni we met took us through his garden showing us all the different plants and what they can be used for. I really enjoyed this part of the trip because I have never used medicinal plants before. I was surprised to find that a garden with 20 different plants can cure multiple different health issues.
Another day we went to a local med school. Here we toured their malnutrition treatment clinic and visited a non-profit mother’s milk bank. These were both great programs that work to stop the cycle of malnourished children. Also at this medical college was an abandoned baby cradle. In India it is unfortunately common for families to not want female babies. This cradle was built so that families can anonymously drop of their unwanted children. The cradle has heaters to keep the baby warm and after two minutes an alarm rings inside and someone will go out to pick up the child. The children are then put in caring homes until they are domestically adopted. It is so encouraging to see such great organizations doing amazing things in India.