Tuesday, August 25
I've been in India almost two days now, and am re-adjusting to several things that are familiar from my time in Nepal, as well as adjusting to many things that are new to me. I arrived late Monday night into the hot but beautiful Mumbai airport. After getting in to the airport and collecting my bag, I sat with Abhishek, the assistant director of the program and chatted while waiting for some other students. While waiting, a herd of photographers started running to take pictures of someone leaving the airport. Abhishek let me know that he was a Bollywood star, just back from his honeymoon.
We made it to our hotel and met Uttaraa, the Pune program director, and most of the other students. The group seems great and Uttaraa is one of the warmest and most dignified women I've ever met. From what I've heard and her first impression, I know she'll make me feel at home here.
One of the reverse culture shock re-entry moments that hit me coming home from Nepal was in a grocery store with Avery. He asked me to pick out a juice for us and I freaked out, seeing a huge aisle of dozens of options. In Nepal, we had one option and drank one brand: Real™ Fruit Juice. There's Real™ Apple Juice, Real™ Mango Juice, pretty much any kind of fruit. This morning before leaving Mumbai, I had Real™ Orange Juice and it made me so happy. I've noticed so many similarities in the culture to Kathmandu/Nepal, but this is a very different city. I'm readjusting to seeing cows, goats, pigs, and dogs roam free on the streets everywhere, to swastikas being a normal building decoration all over the city, to Hindu practices being built into the cultural and political life of the nation.
Nepal was easier in many ways; there was a smaller team with whom I had a lot in common so we got to know each other deeply very quickly, the area I was staying in was a very international area of a capital city, things were cheaper and closer together around town. This new city brings some familiarity; my senses recognize I am in South Asia. But it also brings a whole set of new challenges. Living with hosts instead of several fellow Americans in a tourist hotel with everything we needed at stores down the road is a huge learning opportunity. Uttaraa mentioned the other day that we cannot learn anything in our comfort zones, and each step brings me out and into new lessons.
When I was in middle school, I read Mitali Perkins’ novel Monsoon Summer, about half-Indian American teen Jasmine who travels to India for the summer to volunteer at an orphanage and wears salwar kameezes, rides rickshaws, and learns to dance Kathak with girls her age. This semester, I’m living my middle school dreams (including the end of the book where she returns to her boy love in America) and experiencing what India is really like.
This week, we have orientation to the culture and exploration of the city! Can't wait to see Pune with the group.
I am headed to Pune, India for the fall semester in FIVE DAYS and it's getting real! Over the last several months, I've been getting asked the question "why India?" a fair amount and over the last week or so, really doing some thinking about why I am going.
For those who know me in college or who have known me pretty well since high school, choosing India is no surprise. I say my love for South and Southeast Asia traces back the trips I was able to take through church groups to Cambodia and Nepal, 2011 and 2014 respectively. But I have had a love for all things Indian and dream of going or living there for a lot longer in my life. Honestly, this probably comes from scenes and description of India in the movie A Little Princess, various Bollywood films I've seen and obsessed over, and having several close Indian friends who hosted vibrant family parties. It grew from a simple admiration to a sense of missional calling to South Asia and a deep heart for the region's culture, history, and people following my two trips. Since junior year of high school I have thought that living in South Asia for 1-5 years in a nonprofit/missionary context would be a part of my future and hoped that studying there for a semester would help provide insight into what that would be like.
Study abroad is pretty much a given for students at my university and especially in my major, in the school of international service. I definitely had to consider my reasons for going and ensure I wasn't just doing what I was "supposed to" do, or for a fear of missing out. For me, it was India or nothing- there was never another program I considered. After further research, I decided it was the perfect opportunity- I'll be in a program called Contemporary India taking classes on social justice, gender, Indian culture, and public health, as well as an internship with a local nonprofit and a visit to Nepal.
I'm so excited for all the new insight and experiences this semester will bring- and let's be real, too stoked to finally own a sari. #Sarinotsorry #seeyousoonPune
Thursday, June 19. Janakpur.
This hotel has TOILET PAPER. And we got COLD water to drink. After spending almost 11 hours in a van today, my body was covered in dirt and sticky from the air and sweat. My legs have been eaten alive. Between my hips and Jordan’s shoulders, the ride was pretty cramped and my legs and rear are sore from sitting there so long. I just took a shower without a towel to dry off- not a particularly enjoyable experience, or something I’d care to do ever again. But on the bright side, we have toilet paper here! What a treasure.
If I had been charged with the “don’t complain for 24 hours” challenge last night, I would have failed embarrassingly. We’ve talked about how Nepalis have a skill to live simply, a skill we don’t have in the west. I packed lightly, excited to think I have that skill and have quickly realized that I don’t. I’d be slightly discomforted but pretty content to live here with Western amenities. But learning to live like most Nepalis/South Asians do every day would stretch me far beyond comfort.
I am reminded of the two “key words” my parents impressed upon Mark and I during our cross-cultural experiences: flexibility and gratitude. There is much to be flexible about and even more we are learning to be grateful for.
Yesterday we spent driving to Janakpur, and visited a safe home for girls they intercept here. Today we visited the physical border (and walked to India!) Our time in Kathmandu (and Turkey before it) was a great ease into the culture and lifestyle. We hadn’t experienced too much shock there- today was more shocking. Getting outside of the city, almost everyone we encounter will stare at us, and yesterday a group of young men crowded around, pulling out phones to take pictures and video of us. The roads are dusty and lined with cows, water buffalo, goats being herded. Children beg for money and candy.
As we walked for long stretches in beating sun today, I thought of the catchphrase from my favorite Bollywood film: all is well. Rancho tells his friends that the heart scares easy, so you must tell yourself that all is well, and then you’ll have the courage to face the hard circumstances. There was much to complain about on the road, but so much to be grateful for. So much good and beauty to see.
All is well. Aal iz well. All is well.
Christian, feminist, idealist, wife, poet, abolitionist, dreamer, adventurer.