So I've been in India for pretty much 6 weeks (and actually writing a blog entry...I'm trying not to write something I'll cringe at tomorrow. So far, I've been unsuccessful). By this time, what may have warranted entire blog entries of me ranting/being amazed by/freaking out now are just routine. So, to give you an idea of what I'm actually doing across the world, I'm going to go through a "typical day." Of course, in my experience so far, literally NOTHING is "typical" in India. Everything is different. Example: the light switches are the opposite way. I still have not gotten used to it. But hey—today was a great day. I got fair rickshaw prices, managed to get myself to more than one Delhi neighborhood within three hours, had friendly negociations with some shopkeepers in Hindi and found a bagel place. Days like this kind of make me feel like I'm getting the hang of things...that is until I come back to homestay to discover that there is bat in the laundry room and I have the unexpected reaction of shrieking and diving under the table when it flies out. Don't worry, cause my homestay mother took pictures.
I love India.
So, I rise every morning at 7. Well, that is a lie. 7 is the goal. My Massi-ji (that means mother's aunt in Hindi, and it's what I call my homestay mother) makes me some breakfast and chai tea, which is milky and sweet here and doesn't resemble chai tea at home in the least but in a good way. Also, just as I love breakfast in America, I am a gigantic fan of Indian breakfast food. I run downstairs to meet another girl from my program, who is staying at an apartment within my complex. Her homestay family and mine are extremely close, and I call her homestay mother my "Massi-ji Number Do (2 in Hindi)."
|Where I'm living—my homestay sister says our part of Vasant Kunj|
is the best because "there are a lot of rapes in the others." Hooray!
We walk up to the main road and hop in a rickshaw to get to class—well, I wish it were that easy. For some background: a rickshaw is a small open-air car and the main way of getting around Delhi. Even if you take the metro, you usually still have to take a rickshaw to where you want to go, because area-wise (and everything-wise) Delhi is huge. But, rickshaws are not taxis—they may have a meter to tell you how much your ride costs, but the driver is going to say it is broken and refuse to turn it on. You have to negotiate a price with him, which is FRUSTRATING. And then it's not guaranteed that the rickshaw driver is going to actually know where you want to go. I have more than a few stories of nightmare rickshaw rides—including one that was over an hour long, costs far too much money and involved the driver getting so lost for so long that not only did he stop to phone a friend, he also stopped to pee. He offered to stop to pick up some food, but I put my foot down.
|Bane of my existence?|
I, along with most of the other people on my program, did feel for a little while that rickshaw drivers were the antagonists of my life. However, I've (kind of?) gotten the hang of them now, or at least gotten used to it. Plus, once you are actually in the rickshaw and heading the right direction, it's totally fun! Like a go-cart! Only with higher chance of death because Delhi traffic is actually insane and there seem to be no rules keeping the cars and trucks and motorcycles and rickshaws and bicycles and cows from crashing into each other except everyone's mutual fear of death (excluding the cows—COWS DON'T CARE. I am continually in awe at the extreme apathy of cows).
Once we are set up in a rickshaw, which usually involves my friend, who is Nepali and looks significantly more Indian than me (not hard), pretending she doesn't know me and speaking in her fluent Hindi to the drivers in order to get a good price, we proceed to our program house for class. We begin the day with two hours of Hindi—sounds dreary, but our Hindi teacher calls our class "Thori Hindi, Thori Masti," which means "a little Hindi and a little fun." Example: a few days ago he forced all of us to improvise songs to introduce ourselves, and then danced along as one girl made it rain Sikh men during her introductory rap.
Aside from Hindi, we can have any number of lectures, some by our main professor and program coordinator, Storm-ji and a lot by guest lecturers discussing their specialities. The lectures all either themed around national identity and the arts (what our program's about) or anthropology ethics and such to prepare for our big INDEPENDENT STUDY PROJECT in November—a month we get to do independent research pretty much anywhere our budget can take us on anything we can think. It's awesome.
|Smiling at Sulabh! (as per instructions on the signs)|
Sometimes we have field trips. One day, we went to the Sulabh Museum, or as it is more colloquially known as, the Toilet Museum. Strangest (but greatest) museum experience of my life: after we received a tour of all the toilets and the history of them, we were taken to a board room, given cookies and juice boxes, and a group of women who used to have the job of picking up sewage with their hands came in to meet us. After that, we all went outside to take a picture together, and a man came out and gave us a self-help speech about succeeding in life. Then the women presented us all with sandalwood garlands and scarves.
One a week, we have practica, which is a fun class where you learn a skill. We can choose from a few options, and I am taking cooking! Yes, I'm totally continuing my quest to learn how to feed myself. I have still yet to light something on fire, and I stuck my hand in a huge clay oven fire tank last week.
|Massi-ji and homestay brother, after a slight mishap with the flour-making machine that resulted in a bit of a flour explosion|
After classes are over, I usually try to explore Delhi or run errands or whatever. Then, I go home to Vasant Kunj Sector A Pocket C to my Massi-ji and my homestay brother, which is honestly one of the best parts of my day. My Massi-ji is a stay-at-home mom who also teaches English to children who can't afford to go to good schools, teaches abacus on Sundays, used to teach computers, designs furniture, gets up at 5:30 every day and is in general a superwoman. My homestay brother is a clever little 9 year old boy who thinks I am a complete joke, especially when he wipes the floor with me in something that he likes to call "survival badminton." We all watch Hindi soaps as I do homework at the kitchen table, and then I stand over my Massi-ji and write things down while she cooks. While they both speak English, there is definitely a language gap—needless to say, I'm learning a lot of Hindi. And making a lot of faces at my homestay brother, which contributes to the "thinks I'm a complete joke" thing.
|THE BEST BIRTHDAY CAKE EVER|
We have fun. My homestay brother's birthday party was this Monday. I was the picture-taker, which was super great since there was a BOUNCY HOUSE and a cake SHAPED LIKE A RACE CAR. Last week, we went to the huge, gigantic mall in Vasant Kunj that has a Chilies and a bowling alley, had a food orgy at the food court, and then played hide and seek in what looked like India's version of Wal-Mart for two hours.
|My homestay sister putting us to work—arts and crafts hooray!|
As for the other half of my homestay family, there is my Massi-ji Number Do and her high school age daughter, and the girl from my program. My homestay sister often recruits us Americans to help her with her homework, which occasionally includes arts and crafts (yesss I love them). They are some of the sweetest people I have ever met, and they make everyone feel so incredibly welcome in their home–which is also full of magazines, and I have recently become addicted to "Femina
," which is like Cosmo but with less sex and crossed with Women's Health and human interest stories.
Basically, my homestay is absolutely wonderful and I'm going to miss them so so much. I love being able to come back to Vasant Kunj and have my Massi-ji drink some tea with me while I share all the things I learned in Hindi class and my homestay brother laughingly corrects my pronunciation, or go down stairs and have my Massi-ji Number Do give me a hug, giggle about the day with the girl from my program and have a long chat with my homestay sister.
To continue my summing-up, I love India. It definitely takes some getting used to—I swear the first two weeks in Delhi I stumbled around with my mouth open in shock/disgust/awe/amazement. India is exciting, and fascinating, and beautiful, but as our program director puts it, "its not all elephants and jasmine." Also, I'm not going to lie—India at times has definitely made me want to throw in the towel, sit down in the dirt next to the nearest pile of trash and cry. There's a lot of grey sludge and creepy men and fear of strange diseases, but all of those things are so small compared to everything else. Everything here is an adventure, and I'm starting to have more stories about India than I can remember. Plus, there's Mother Dairy Kulfi on a stick here. What can beat that?