Day 1: The Rhythm of New Delhi

Almost three months ago today, I was sitting in Hill Auditorium with some friends, about to watch the University Choir perform. I'd been waiting all day for notice about the fellowship, frantically checking my email every other minute, praying for an acceptance letter. It was 8pm, and my heart was sinking deeper and deeper into my body. "I knew I wouldn't get it..." I thought to myself, sinking low into my velvet seat. I began my application for the Summer in South Asia fellowship last October. I had poured inordinate amounts of time, energy, passion, and hope into this opportunity. Summer in India became almost a memory of some future time -- there was no doubt in my mind that I would be living out this dream that I had so fiercely committed myself to. But there I was. Eight o'clock on acceptance day, and still no email. The show was just beginning. The orchestra members waited patiently on stage arranged in fine swooping arcs, their gold instruments glittering beneath the stage lights. I had been waiting for this performance for weeks, yet I couldn't pick myself up. My heart was broken, my spirit crushed. I thought I had failed. As the first violinist glided on stage, the audience of five-hundred began to applaud. Mindlessly, I swiped open my email. "Congratulations! I'm excited to notify you that you have been selected as a 2016 Summer in South Asia Fellow!" The applause was thundering loudly around me, as if this assemblage of five hundred strangers had gathered here simply to congratulate me. I started to cry and turned my phone screen to my friends sitting next to me. Their eyes grew wide in realization and they threw their arms around me. The choir started to sing, and it was all just too much. I had truly never been happier in my life. (Yes, I swear this happened). So here I am. My very first day in India and the excitement and joy have not faded in the slightest. I still have a long journey ahead of me, so apprehension has certainly been added to the mix of whirling emotions I'm experiencing, but the happiness is the one thing that is remaining constant. Before continuing my weeklong journey, I am spending two days in New Delhi with my friend Gauri's parents. Their home is beautiful -- cool white marble floors, simple furniture, tall ceilings, and powerful fans that push soft air around the halls. The Guptas have been so incredibly lovely and accommodating to me, I feel so settled to be in a home environment, even if only for two days. Being in a new country can be jarring, especially when it's so different from everything you've ever known. And so I never thought I'd say this...but I'm glad I have a mom around. Today Ms. Gupta and I rented a taxi for the day and she took me all around New Delhi and explained all the different parts of the city. It's been mentioned before and I'll mention it again, but the intense energy of Delhi is palpable the second you step out of the airport. It's not that the streets have no rhyme or reason, because they do. But it's unlike anything I have ever seen before; it's very hard to wrap your head around. People, mopeds, cars, busses, cows, kids, dogs, bicycles -- it's just one giant tangle of travelers that (somehow) all seem to know how to work together amidst the chaos. The rules of the roads are unspoken and deeply engrained into the people that live here. So there is definitely rhyme and there is definitely reason, however it is wildly different than the slow and organized rhythm that exists in the states. Even New York City doesn't compare. If New York City is a docile house cat, Delhi is a wild tiger. Today was absolutely sweltering hot, almost 114 degrees. My poor cheeks were flamingo pink, and you best believe that I stood out like a sore thumb amidst the locals. We went to a huge traditional Indian exports emporium and Renu explained all the different types of art and fabrics -- each section of the store was dedicated to one of India's 28 states. I wanted to buy everything I saw, but I have a hunch that a three-hundred pound brass elephant wouldn't fit in my luggage. We drove past all the world embassies, places of worship adorned in gold, empirial style government buildings, the president's house, we took pictures at the gates of India, visited one of the main shopping districts, and an funky Indian bookstore. I don't think I could've done it without Ms. Gupta to help me. I would've been so lost and scared and unable to communicate with the taxi driver, so she was really just the biggest blessing. If I had gone by myself I wouldn't have dared to get out of the car, not even once, because just the sheer number of people is enough to make you faint. It's truly overwhelming and radically different than anything I've ever experienced. By around 3 o'clock, the 114 degree weather was really starting to affect me and the complete lack of sleep for the past 48 hours was too. I started having a really intense nose bleed in the car (lol) and we stopped at a little women's association that Renu knows and they helped me out. We came back home (I fell asleep in the car, I could not keep my eyes open), and I slept until dinner time at 8:30. Renu made spiced potatoes, spicy squash pieces, lentil soup, and Indian bread. Gordon Ramsey would've died of taste-bud euphoria, I kid you not. I truly could not ask for anything more than this. Maybe a cool breeze, but that's it 🙂 India has welcomed me with her big open arms, and I already feel safe and at home. I leave on Saturday for the Himalayas. When I arrive in Leh, I will make my way to my guesthouse and rest for the duration of the day. Apparently 12,000 feet above sea level is hard on foreigners who've never dealt with such a great lack of oxygen before. Can't imagine why though. I will spend three days in Leh resting, buying teaching supplies, and exploring. Most importantly, however, I will be coordinating a jeep ride to Zangla -- a ten hour drive on rough and rocky terrain. My journey has only just begun, but I'm looking forward to the treasures that lie ahead. I don't know what exactly I've gotten myself into, but I do know that I'm ready. Ready to live, ready to change, ready to learn. It's adventure time, people.

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About Hanna Dougherty

Hanna is a sophomore with a major in International and Comparative Studies and a minor in Community Action and Social Change. After graduation, she is interested in pursuing a career in international humanitarian aid with a focus on educational development and youth engagement. Hanna will be spending 12 weeks in India volunteering with the Jaymang Foundation, an organization that dedicates itself to equal educational opportunities and literacy for indigenous girls and women in the Indian Himalayas. Hanna’s research project will focus on using in-depth community-based inquiry to explore native perspectives of the most pressing issues concerning education that exist in the region, and furthermore, how international humanitarian aid has helped or harmed the path to improvement of the educational sector. By focusing specifically on local perceptions of educational issues, Hanna hopes to re-emphasize the importance of empowerment from directly within communities that receive aid, and thereby push traditional notions of humanitarianism in a progressive direction.

3 thoughts on “Day 1: The Rhythm of New Delhi

  1. Hi Hanna,
    Your mindset will get you through this! That sounds like some really difficult things to go through, but the level of optimism will pull you through. I don’t think I’ve ever seen “lol” after describing a bad nosebleed. It’s great Ms. Gupta was there to help you out too, the first steps out of the car are pretty tricky. Feeling overwhelmed makes total sense though too. The language, the amount of people, the stares, the heat, everything. I totally holed up more than once the first couple weeks I was in China. Just me in my apartment reading a book I’ve already read five times, just to feel something familiar. But feeling safe in the arms of India and looking forward to the next adventure is the best way to go about it!
    Also, the part about receiving the acceptance letter is fantastic! If they made a movie about your experience, people watching that part would be like, “Oh yeah, right.” But sometimes that’s how life works out!

  2. Hi Hanna! I remember hearing the story about how you learned about receiving the funding and it is great to relive that moment with you again in the blog. I can verify that you entered this process with so much energy and passion – and the dedication to this project was evident from our first meetings. I am so happy that you were able to spend your first days in India with a loving family. I loved your analogy of India being a wild tiger! I wish you the very best on this transformative journey in India. I can’t wait to hear more!

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