Monday, October 18, 2010
Eyes Wide Open
Preface: I would like to apologize to all of my fabulous and exclusive readers (aka all 7 of you) whom I have left high and dry about my experiences in the last month. Obviously, I’m not a seasoned or extremely dedicated blogger, but hopefully this post will be a peace offering and a revival of this blog before it flat lines. To say the least, I’ve been a bit busy. And after you put off reflecting on one experience, the experiences just continue to pile on and you don’t even know where to begin. But I’m going to try. If you’re curious what I’ve been up to the past month, I’ve listed some highlights at the end of this post and most of the pictures are on Facebook.
I’ve surpassed a lot of the culture shock and frustrations that come with being in India. That doesn’t mean that I’m not frustrated now and then, but I’m taking a positive approach to everything. I’ve realized that negativity is the bane of my existence. Sometimes when my entire program (all 30 of us) are in the same small building or classroom it feels as though a dark cloud is looming over my head when there are really only a fraction of the group who have completely given up on even trying to enjoy India. I won’t go too much further into that, but a good piece of advice that I’ve learned is don’t let other people come between you and your experience. No one is going to have the exact same experience in such a foreign place as India, and it’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. But for me it is, so I’m continuing to love India.
That being said, I do have one big fear – going home. I’m excited to be back in my comfort zone just to feel a bit more relaxed and to be with people who feel so far away right now. But I’m worried about my sight. In India, I see everything. I see every color, every person, every nook and cranny. I feel like my peripheral vision wraps around my head and I’m completely absorbed in my environment. It’s the best way to experience something. Even though I’m sure I miss things from time to time, I feel like I’m getting the most I can out of every aspect of my travels, and even my day to day life.
When I go home I want to see things in the same way I do now. I want to experience everything about my “normal” life in this new heightened way. I don’t want to continue missing everything that seems to be blurred out of my vision when I’m in the U.S. I also don’t want to see home as boring in comparison to India (even though that’s an easily reached conclusion). I want to see America as a whole new territory for exploration. I want to find the nooks and crannies in my own street or neighborhood that I’ve failed to miss a thousand times before.
Something else is also unnerving me right now. It’s not a fear but an acute awareness that right now I am going through one of the most important and possibly life-changing experiences of my life. Knowing that I’m going to come out a different person in December is a bit scary and exciting at the same time. I can’t wait to see how these four months affect my life back home and my perception of the world around me.
But I am also trying not to focus on December 12th and instead on today, each and every day. Sometimes I think I miss an opportunity during my daily school and homework-filled life. But even yesterday as I spent the whole day at home, reading my book, I spent time with my host family that is a one-time opportunity of its own. I threaded flowers together to make garlands to decorate the house for Navratri (festival celebrating the goddess Luxmi) and then sat on the floor with a bowl in between my feet and my toes gripping the handles to churn/whip the dessert, Shrikand.
I’ve been doing my fair share of traveling, with more to come. I went to the caves at Ajanta and Ellora, which are in Maharashtra and are world heritage sites. For lack of a better word, they were awesome. They are a mix of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain caves. The ones at Ajanta were built in B.C. – so now they are officially the oldest man-made thing I have seen. At Ellora, there is an ornate and intricate Hindu temple that was carved from one giant piece of rock. If you have had a chance to see my pictures – Google it.
Only two days after the spelunking exploration, I jetted off to Kerala which is a state in South India and is one of the top tourist spots. We started in Alleppey taking a gorgeous 3 hour private boat tour of the backwaters. It’s the Venice of the East. Then we took a boat to our hotel, because, of course, it was on an island. After that we drove to Thekkady where we checked all of the touristy activities off our list: elephant ride, ayurvedic massage, shopping for overpriced souvenirs, and watching a traditional dance – kathakali. Then we failed at seeing wildlife at a wildlife sanctuary in the area and continued on to Munnar. Now we’ve moved from winding canals of rivers to rolling hills of tea. So much tea. In Munnar we did some exploring, visiting the local temple, from which you can see a church straight across on another hill and a mosque to your right. Talk about coexisting. The next day we hit up all the scenic viewpoints and then took a relatively unsafe jeep ride up winding, rocky, narrow roads (oh, have I mentioned it was raining?) to the highest tea plantation in the world. It was pretty great. We tried the tea and then toured the factory. Kerala was the greenest green I have ever seen and is high up on my list of recommendations while in India.
About two weeks after Kerala, my program (so all 30 Americans) went to Mumbai. I took my first train ride where I leaned out between the cars to try and touch sign posts and had the greasiest egg sandwich ever – with fries. We sat through several lectures about Mumbai, especially its development process and the transition from mills to malls. We visited a Gandhi museum in a house where he lived for a period of time, St. Xavier’s college, and a couple other areas. Most notably we went to Dharvi, which is famous as the filming location and setting of “Slumdog Millionaire.” However, the picture we got of Dharvi was very different than the film presents. Dharvi is labeled as the largest slum in Asia, but can we really call it a slum when the people that live there have a thriving local economy, mostly based within their homes, and consider themselves, for the large part, developed. It did not look like any slum I had been to (namely Kibera in Nairobi and Collique outside Lima). And even though I’m sure everything isn’t all rosey in Dharvi, it seemed pretty legit to me.
Now I am starting an internship at a primary school in Pune that caters to a large slum population. I’m doing some research there (which is still being defined) but I’m really excited to work in such a different field as education. This weekend I will be in Goa relaxing on a beach, and the weekend and week after that I will be in Rajasthan exploring three cities in Northern India and riding a camel.