Saturday, September 11, 2010
Rise and Shine
Waking up in India is pretty rough. First off, the mattresses are extremely thin. I’m starting to believe that Indians have a completely different perception of comfort because the pillows are also basically flat rocks.
For the first couple of weeks I would wake up with pains in my shoulders and neck because I would roll over on my side in the night – which these beds are not designed for. But now I’m in my fourth week of being here and the pain seems to be less and less every day. I actually long for my bed after a long day because India wears me out.
A lack of comfort seems to be in every facet of Indian life, or at least my Indian life. There’s minimal privacy, lots of crowds, dust, and pesky bugs. Not to mention that whenever I go outside my house I’m stared at, profusely. Sometimes I feel like I have a spotlight on me and then I remember that my skin is blindingly white in comparison to everyone around me.
If being pushed out of my comfort box was what I wanted coming here, that is precisely what I got. I think I’ve already been through the complete cycle of culture shock, maybe even multiple times. The first day I was in Pune I wondered why I decided to come to India in the first place. I even thought about how nice it would be to be back in the United States. But, I couldn’t just quit barely a week in. So I decided to give India a chance.
Being around the other students on the program and getting to know my host parents better made things a little easier. But as soon as I started to feel a little more at home, some new challenge would make me feel like I was a Martian.
It’s not only being in such a different place and immersed in a drastically different way of life that’s rough. It’s also being so different from everyone around me. Forming personal relationships with Indians seemed like an impossible task.
So why am I here?
I don’t know anyone in India. I don’t know anything really about India. I pretty much came here on a whim. I’ve made up several answers to this question before I came, but the honest truth is that I have no clue why I am here. I just am. Not that any of this brashness in my previous decisions has helped me with intense culture shock.
So basically, after the first week of being in the country I wanted to go home. Four months is the most daunting period of time I’ve ever faced in my life. I felt so weak, helpless, and dumb thinking that I wouldn’t be able to make it until December.
Don’t worry, this didn’t last long.
I don’t know what exactly changed my mind, but I’m going a completely different direction now. Even though I don’t want to jinx anything, I must say that I think I’m in the beginning stages of falling in love with India (thoo thoo – similar to knocking on wood). I’m in awe right now, at least. We’ve still got three months to see what happens.
This change probably started with Aunty (that’s what I call my host mom) truly becoming my Indian mother. Uncle (my host dad) also remind me so much of my dad that I can’t help but feel comfortable here. Not to mention my roommate, Akta, who is Indian but born and raised in America (and we go to the same school at home), has really helped me figure this place out. We both struggled a bit at first, finding our way around the city. She has even had issues with feeling out of place, despite her heritage. So now I have a place to call home.
I also started school. All of my classes are amazing! I’m taking: Issues in Political Economy and Development, Social Justice, Contemporary India, and a Field Study Seminar (later to become an internship). And this is why studying abroad is probably one of the best experiences of your life: Being in a 24/7 living classroom is incredible. Everything that we discuss in class is happening right outside the window. Also having a place to ask questions about what we see and experience helps with processing everything.
To be honest, this blog isn’t going to be extremely helpful to try to relate everything that I’m experiencing. I recommend that everyone comes to this country at least once, because you can only truly understand it when you are here. But I am going through a lot right now and learning so much that hopefully I can relay some of that to all of you.
The culture is so rich and Hinduism is so different from any other religion that the way of life is just so fascinating. Right now I’m hearing continuous drums beating and we have been watching processions down the street to celebrate Ganesh, the god of wisdom and other things with an elephant head. I also participated in my second puja this morning, which involves prayers and several rituals for a particular god.
Earlier this week my program took us to a village area about 6 hours from Pune called Jawhar. There we toured several villages with an NGO that is working to develop farming and production within the area. They were helping fulfill Gandhi’s dream of self-sustainable villages, for the most part. We took vans everywhere and probably one of the best parts of that trip was looking out the window from my bumpy backseat. The countryside is gorgeous – greener than you can imagine, rolling hills, with vibrant colors in the towns and villages. I’m now pretty determined to do some intense traveling around the country, and this trip will hopefully just be the first of many.
But the greatest thing that I’ve seen or experienced so far are the people. India would be nothing without the spirit of its vibrant people. With the exception of a few mean rickshawalas (rickshaw drivers, they sometimes like to cheat you) basically everyone I’ve met has been extremely warm and hospitable, even if we can’t speak each other’s language. Probably the thing I’m looking forward to the most for this semester is continuing to develop meaningful relationships with people here and trying to see India through their eyes.
My ramblings have gone on far enough, and my posts will hopefully be more frequent and detailed from now on. But if you want to know more specific things about what I’ve been doing this month in India, please take a look at the photos I’ve posted on Facebook and soon on here as well.
And let me know if you have any questions for me via email or comments. Thanks for sticking with me thus far. And continue to send good vibes from across continents because who knows what the next three months will bring.