I landed on the platform (train) and due to my lack of phone at that point, had to wait about 25 minutes before my aunt (Atya) came to pick me up. I spent that time observing the small chit chat of the people around me and the absurd amount of trash on the train tracks. From the time that I sat on my aunts scooter (activa) to the point where we entered the apartment complex I tried as much as possible to shut my eyes so I wouldn't have a heart attack looking at all the traffic. We ran 4-5 red lights and at one point I'm pretty sure we actually stopped at one and had to run it because the cars behind us were honking at us to go....I know right. I was greeted in Pune with a light shower of rain as we parked the scooter in Kusumkunj (my aunts apartment). Atya (my dad's older sister), Vahini (brother's wife) and my cousin Manasi were there to greet me. This placed had changed a lot as us kids had grown older. There was now a bungalow in the area that we used to play outside, my aunt and uncle had bought two more flats in the same building and even the bathrooms had changed from indian toilets to western toilets. While so many things had changed, there was still a familiar smell and millions of memories attached to this place and I at once felt like I had come home.
My first week in India Day 1 7/20 Mumbai It has only been 20 hours since we got here and yet I feel like it has been over a week. Me and Vai arrived at 3:15 am and waited over an hour for our bags to find out that the bags were still in Boston (due to a flight delay and therefore a quick connection). Then we had to fill out paperwork and go through customs which took another hour, and we didn’t arrive to her Aunt’s place until about 6. We then slept until about 1 pm, and that is when our day started. Atya (Father’s Sister) and Vai’s uncle and cousin, lived in a building two stories with many “houses” next to each other (think like a condo). Each house is actually just two rooms, the front room is the bedroom and the back room is the shower and kitchen. The bathroom is communal down the hall (which I somehow managed to avoid). Total, the house is probably the size of one and a half normal rooms in a US house (and more than just 3 people can live in one of these houses). Me and Vai stayed in a similar house down the hall. We slept on 1.5 inch thick mats on the ground, and the same thing but smaller was used as a pillow. These can be rolled up during the day which creates the versatile space. Even just being here for one day, I realized we have too much in the US. They have everything they need to live life, and it perfectly suffices. Though it is small, it has everything you need. And here we are in the US complaining that our living rooms, laundry rooms, bathrooms, garages, patios, and kitchens aren’t large enough. All that space that isn’t necessary and no one is occupying most times of the day, and yet it needs to be bigger. I’m very lucky to have been able to live in a real residential home of India, because it’s a rare thing to experience and grasp as an outsider. I think the most unique thing about India I have seen so far is the vast difference in wealth, and yet the extremely close proximity of it. To give you a picture: I was in the car looking out the window to my right, and in the background (maybe 400 yds out) is a huge apartment building that looks nice, and is probably 20 stories or more. Then in the forground 20 yds away lining the street is slum looking residency-- tarps for walls and roofs held down by weak string and bricks, slabs of tin from old building for some protection and separation, and lots of people and trash. This type of juxtoposition happens everywhere you look. We visited the old Taj Hotel (one of the nicest hotels in India) where there is security at the entrance (and the buckets you put your stuff in to get x-rayed like at the airport are velvet lined), the staff treats you like you walk on water, there are stores in the lobby (of course only Dior, Loius Vitton, and the likes), and the hedges are trimmed perfectly. And then right outside is a child begging and across the road is a beach strewn with trash. It’s very different that there seems to be no spatial segregation of wealth. Day 2-8 Varanasi Continue reading
So I know I’m kind of skipping around on these posts, but my travel week has so much info and is taking so long to write and some people wanted to know how my first days at the institute are going, so here’s that. I arrived Thursday at about 1:30 pm after an overnight trip from Varanasi (yet only 5 hours of that were flying). I got about 2.5 hours of rocky sleep in a foreign airport next to a bunch of other young drowsy travelers and I will say it was not ideal. My first impression as I got driven the 1.5 hours from the airport to the institute was that people were right- the north and south are like completely different countries. Though the basics were the same (driving, traffic, selling, people, clothes, etc) everything was much more toned down. (I am now realizing you have nothing to compare it to because I haven’t posted the other one describing the north, so come back to this once I post that haha, or maybe I’ll make another post describing the differences) So we are driving- and wow it is so green and gorgeous here. It is mountainous and hilly and there are palm trees everywhere (which makes sense why every dish has coconut in it). The drive was nice, and I saw many houses that were gorgeous. Like mansions to our standards (with an Indian vibe flare). These were more in the back roads when we were driving to the institute. So I got to the institute and the public relations officer, Sajith, basically knew I was dead tired and gave me the rest of the day to rest in my room, which is in the facility. No shame I went upstairs and just cried because I had no clue what I was doing (and anyone knows me knows that when I don’t get enough sleep I am extremely susceptible to the water works). I didn’t know anyone here, what I would be doing, what they would want, or just anything. I felt completely blind without a clue and you all know how that’s hard for me too. At least this place has freaking awesome wifi. Continue reading
In Alternative Spring Break, we often discuss the importance of an “elevator pitch”. That is, if you were in the elevator with someone and they asked about the program, you need a quick spiel that you can pitch them. I have also been told that after big experiences you can prepare a 1 minute, 3 minute or 5 minute brief, in order to be prepared for any given situation. I have never been very good at this because to me, the impacts of my experience run together and I end up babbling. I learn about myself through my interactions with the people that I have built relationship with and it is often these relationships that help me find my passions for the future. Before I left for India I understood that I would come back with some newfound appreciation for my education. However, I did not expect to come back feeling as confused as I do. It is honestly difficult for me to sum up the way that this experience has affected me personally and academically and I am having trouble putting it into words. I am passionate about the education system and through my internship with Pratham I have been given a hands on opportunity to see how another education system is run. There is no system that runs perfectly, and India’s education system is no exception. Aside from my experience at Pratham, I have learned that students must choose what educational path they want to take when they are in the 11th grade. I have seen how difficult this can be for students later on in their educational career because their interests change as they mature. As this relates to me personally, I had never appreciated the freewill that I have in my education. Here I am, a rising senior and I still have room to decide what I “want to be when I am older”. I chose my major and minor because I enjoyed the course load. I also knew that they are broad and that I would be able to tailor them to the sector of jobs that I am interested in. I know that my internships, student organizations and my experiences tell almost more about me than what I my studies can. However, I also know that this is a privilege. Continue reading
My internship with NIRMAN and my seven-week stay in India as a whole challenged the way I think about equity and diversity in society. I have engaged in many conversations surrounding diversity in the U.S. American context, with identities including race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. These categories play out very differently in Indian society, where the aftermath of now-abolished caste system is still very prevalent and sexism affects everyone like no other countries I had been in. Wealth distribution is far from perfect, and many workers barely make enough to live day by day, and thus look for every possibility to earn more money. It is difficult to process such inequality, especially as a foreigner that has never struggled financially. Continue reading
About 10 more women ran into our box on the train at almost every stop...there are no other words that can be used to describe the scene other than every inch of the train was being used to it's full capacity. As the woman from the UP got up to move her things above her seat, along came a slightly older woman and quickly sat in her spot: an argument erupted. The most hilarious thing was that not only were the two women who actually should be the only ones involved in this argument) were fighting back and forth, but four or five other women, one outside the train had joined in and taken sides. "Aaji, you should know better than to take this UP woman's seat, she has been sitting there for over 2 hours", a college going girl scolded. The best line was what I like to call a mar-hindi mix (mar means hit in marathi), or a marathi person's way of completely destroying the hindi language. Continue reading
"The Nagercoil Express from Mumbai to Pune will leave the platform at 30 minutes after 12". I ran onto the platform with a bag of some of my things. My second day in India (July 22) and my research plans had already been changed, instead of starting research on August 1st, the date had been bumped up because the Professor I was working prior to my arrival had to suddenly leave the country for work on July 24th. So there I was, gasping as I boarded the train just 2 minutes before it's departure time in the "unreserved" ladies compartment completely unaware of what I would witness in the next 4 and a half hours of the train journey. The first few stops were quite comfortable, I had managed to get the window seat with the entire rest of the bench free of people and just threeladies sitting across from me: one who looked to be muslim with an entire headscarf/burkha duo and the other with her daughter, both of which looked to be from the UP (not the same UP that we use in Michigan I can assure you). UP stands for Uttar Pradesh which is a state in the northern, center part of India. People from the UP speak in a particular Hindi dialect, one which I had heard before when studying Hindustani Classical music. The word "kahe" is used instead of "kya" which means what in English...but I digress. The first few stops went by with very talking from any of us. However, as the train started to become crowded, I thought that perhaps, the women might be waiting for the hustle and bustle to add their noise to. To be continued...
As my time at my internship came to a close and my flight home approached, I thought back to when I first arrived in India. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and I roamed around the airport, asking anyone and everyone for advice. Six weeks later, I knew a few more words in Hindi and felt much more comfortable but overall still clueless. I could not have asked for anything more and I have grown immensely. I was blessed with amazing people around every corner, teaching me that it was okay to ask for help. My adventures have taught me that the unknown doesn’t necessarily have to be scary but it instead means that there’s room for personal growth. I was incredibly sad to leave the women that I met at the centers and I will miss each of their lighthearted and powerful spirits. It was difficult to say goodbye to the teachers, who I have grown so close to. As difficult as it was to say goodbye to my host family, I am just as confident that I will see them again because my time in India is not over. The blow of my final goodbyes subsided in my final week of work as I looked forward to my mother coming to travel with me. My excitement grew to travel throughout the dazzling country with my beautiful mother. A little tea, a little Taj; can a mother-daughter trip get any better than that? I was able to show her all of the wonders of my experiences, instead of merely trying to explain them (which would, of course, not do any of them justice). It all began in the Delhi airport, where my mother cried real tears—a rare occurrence. The true adventures started when, later that night, we went in search of a market near our hotel. Asking for directions from a kind stranger on the street, I was informed that the market was “down the street a ways, take a right”. Sounded great, I thought. Let’s walk, I thought. However, my mother began to get a little nervous when we were walking on the side of the road because the traffic in New Delhi has a little bit more oomph than in our little hometown of Greenville, MI. She suggested that we walk on the sidewalk, to which I looked around at the two-lane road, decorated with fruit stands, bus stops and cows and assured her that a sidewalk was not an option. Before picking my mother up from the airport it really felt like I was still as lost in India as I was when I had first arrived, but something as little as this excursion assured me that I had, indeed, grown throughout my six weeks; I felt comfortable asking strangers for directions and I knew how to cross the extremely busy streets, where the traffic never skips a beat. I came to many realizations while adventuring with my mother, which opened my eyes to different sides of the country. Before her arrival I had been living with a host family, eating food prepared by “auntie” and traveling by way of public transportation. After six weeks of this, I really did feel comfortable and my host family’s house began to feel like a home. This kind of travel taught me so much about visiting a country and learning about the culture. Traveling around the “Golden Triangle” (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur) and seeing how tourists interacted with the tourism sites motivated my passions in safely entering communities because this kind of travel takes a toll on the country, but the individuals don’t have to make as much of an effort. In this environment, it’s easy for the individual to draw conclusions about the culture and to never be corrected, as they do not have any ties or relationships. There is beauty in reason and by drawing our own conclusions we are losing the original intent of the traditions in cultures, which can be both sad and dangerous. I do feel extremely blessed to have spent my final week in such a beautiful country with my mother and it was a learning experience for both of us. My mother was honestly very hesitant about me traveling alone for such a long time and throughout our time in Jaipur she met my family and my co-workers, all of whom had made huge efforts to keep me safe. She had the opportunity to learn about the culture that I fell in love with and she, too, learned to appreciate it. The entire week was an experience that I will never forget, filled with laughs, rain and sweat.
I applied to this fellowship for a few reasons: my friend Morgan did it last year and told me how amazing it was, I have never really travelled outside the country (I don’t think an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican really counts), with my engineering schedule I can’t travel abroad, and because I had recently become a yoga instructor. Now the yoga is what made the fact that it was India so enticing since it started there. Yoga is used as part of the healing process in Ayurvedic medicine (more on that later) and so I also got interested in Ayurveda- which is what I’ll be researching. Since Ayurveda (and therefore yoga) started in India thousands of years ago, what better place to study it? So I’m not really sure what I’m going to be doing at my internship sight, they weren’t very specific. I’m nervous that they’re going to expect more out of me than my two years of introductory courses. I wanted to work with this organization because of their unique specialty in combining Western medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, very few places do that to the degree of the IAD. I’m not necessarily interested in the dermatology aspect of the institution, just their methods. My final project is understanding what aspects of Western medicine and Ayurvedic medicine the IAD has taken from each to optimize the treatment of their patients. I find this so interesting because the two types of medicine are complete opposites. Western medicine sees symptoms and treats with a medication that was manufactured in a lab. Ayurvedic medicine tries to heal by balancing the body. People are seen as being composed of three doshas- fire, water/earth, and air. When any of these are out of balance the body gets sick. The doshas are very specific to each person, the doctor takes into account many aspects of the person’s body, life, and well-being, so the same symptoms from different people may not require the same treatment. Ayurvedic also treats with more natural remedies instead of manufactured drugs. So I’m very curious how IAD combined two medical practices that have such a different mindset and methodology. IAD is located in Kasaragod, Kerala. Kerala is in the south west corner of India and Kasaragod is at the northern tip of the state, one hour south from Mangalore. I will being in Mumbai and Varanasi for the first week and a half, then I will go to my internship on August 1st for four weeks. I still don’t feel like this trip is happening, Everyone keeps asking me if I am excited and of course I said yes, but really it still feels like the trip is over a month away. I don’t feel like I’m going to be taking my first steps across the Atlantic any time soon, and yet I leave today. We will see when it hits me that I am going to be in a different country very far away.