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. 

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