Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Awkward arrivals and misconceptions

After a harrowing journey through Indian traffic (traffic laws and speed limits: there are none), I arrived at the home of Mr. G. Rajender Reddy and his wife. One of the oddest, experiences in the world (at least for me) is showing up to someone’s home in the night, halfway across the world, not really understanding what they are saying even though its supposed to be in your language, and telling them what you want for dinner (they eat around 9 or 10 here). After a list of foods I didn’t recognize, I settled on bread. My host mom made tea, and it was the best tea I had ever tasted. Something about drinking tea bridges social gaps and calms people down. It was spicy and creamy, much better than when I have ever made chai. In Hyderabad, tea means chai. Chai is everywhere, for all occasions. We drink it three or four times a day. It’s the best. My host family and I stared awkwardly at each other, me feeling like an intruder on their life, them probably knowing me nodding my head that I understand was a complete lie. The subsequent days have been less awkward, and they are wonderful, kind people. We sit and talk in the evenings, and they say “this is the first time since ’86 we have not had kids in the home.” Maybe this is why they wanted to host a student.

This is not the India I had preconceived in my mind. It is not the India I have seen portrayed in movies or National Geographic. Without even realizing it, I had created a picture of what I thought my host family and their house would be like. I think I pictured us in a tiny house on a busy crowded dirty street, where children played with stray dogs, sharing walls with the neighbors, sleeping on mats on the floor, eating criss cross on the floor, with a bucket for a shower. That is an exaggeration, but I had created a really awful picture collage of documentary shots of the crowded streets of Delhi, starving children, comments from people “be careful, you know India is DIRTY”. I had also been to a “developing country” before, so I thought I was prepared, someone a country halfway across the world with completely different people would be similar to it. Here is what my house actually looks like:
My room (four times the size of my room at PLU)
The marble staircase

Yes, my notions were awful, and I am realizing India is so diverse. Some of the pictures in my head do exist, people are poor, but it is an incredibly diverse country. Not everyone lives in shacks in a slum. The India I had pictured in my head was exciting, but not diverse. I pictured a homogenous mass of people, all speaking Hindi. India has its diverse religions, diverse music, art, dance, food, everything, because the people themselves are diverse. Our program director, Kavitha, was explaining to us a brief history of India. “India is a union of states” is the first line of their constitution, the longest constitution in the world. She explained to us this is because India is so diverse, and the most important thing to them is to recognize that diversity (union of states) and create a constitution that works for everyone. She told us that diversity is like putting a little chili pepper in a curry- it makes it full flavored, gives it personality, makes it different and interesting. The people of India are from so many different backgrounds, cultures, religions, languages, and that is one of the things that make India so special. No person I have met looks alike, talks alike, or dresses alike. Obviously I should have realized that humans are humans. Arriving here has been a lesson in humility and a correction of my misconceptions, and an introduction to some amazing people. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

It’s 2 am and I leave for Hyderabad, India in three hours, so naturally I am awake. This must be what people feel like before they get married, but better because I am committing to something fun. The night before a trip I always start out excited, then panic, realizing everything that should have been taken care of and everything I could bring with me (for example, this summer I realized I should print out my boarding pass for Guatemala). I keep thinking to myself, I have to bring everything with me to exist for SIX MONTHS. However, India is the most densely populated country in the world. People obviously exist there just fine. All I really need to exist is food, love, and God, right? Inspired by stories of national park backpacking dirtbags, I’m only bringing one bag to India.  Maybe India has something to say about what we need to exist.

Instead of using Heidi’s neighbor’s high school friends’ pack as usual,  I headed to REI and finally bought a pack. The green vest guy comes over to the bewildered college student looking at the assortment of packs that just looks like a pile of expensive nylon and buckles. SO MANY buckles. Why the hell would someone ever need a backpack with this many buckles and pockets. Then I started thinking about all the snacks I could put in said pockets…. The man pointed out a pack that would be nice if I was “living out of my pack for 6 months.” I think I gave the wrong impression when I said “hi I'm going to India for 6 months and only bringing one pack ”… I'm not that badass. I’m studying there, not wandering through the mountains as a yogi dirtbag. But hey, just in case I guess it would be good to be able to live out of a pack. He tells me I should probably get a size small in the pack I was looking at. GUYS. THEY MAKE BACKPACKS IN SIZES. So this buckley nylon monster I was buying would look a slightly less like an evil twin on my back. Seriously I could have crawled inside some of these bags. And never escaped because of all the buckles. And tunneled through the pockets like a wandering hamster, living out of my pack., The employee probably felt really bad for how this girl is leaving in 4 days and just bought her pack and gave me free two day shipping (Shoutout  to John, you da bomb). After ordering said pack, I of course went home and researched packs online, because I am the worst planner ever.

For example, I headed to Costco to pick up my anti malarial…. On Christmas Eve. Malarone is very expensive. So expensive the pharmacy lady lectures you for 1o minutes about how you suck at planning (I prefer free spirited, thank you). In fact, so expensive that when you’re full of Christmas cheer and excitement for your trip, you decide you don’t need them. High risk, high reward!!!

Packing made it real for me. I am going to India! Until I started packing, I was moping around thinking about how much I’m going to miss home, friends, family, Ron Swanson (my cat), grilled cheese, my cozy room, the English language. Of course I was excited, but also low key been in denial about actually leaving. The thought of living with a host family terrifies me (which is why I’m doing it). The sheer amount of people terrifies me. But its happening! I am actually going to india. I am going to live with a hindu family, eat curry, go to temples, a mosque, the Taj Mahal, meditate, learn hindi practice yoga, ride elephants, listen to Bollywood music, drink chai tea, see the river Ganges!

As much as I have tried to read up on Indian culture, I have a feeling nothing will really prepare me. Everyone I tell I am going to India ominously replies “you’ll come back a different person”. How do I reply to that “Uh thanks, yeah I know I kinda suck now” or “Yep I plan on reaching enlightenment with some yogis in the mountains”. Whoever I find,  I hope she is cool and still likes animals a little too much, still knows how to place catheters and make really good brownies and gets an adrenaline rush out of behaviors like not buying malaria pills. I could do without the type A- control freak –bossy-socially awkward- inability to understand sarcasm- aspects of myself however.. Here’s to India! Namaste.