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Digesting India

As in food and metaphorically speaking of course

Lots of people tried to prepare me for India with tips about the amount of trash here, the people hassling you as a foreigner, the stares, the cows, watching out for scams...and yet many people still really love it. It's still very surreal though when you actually arrive, no matter how much advice people give you. I didn't really feel much culture shock in China, but it took me at least 3-4 days to adjust to the culture shock here in India, and I'm still not fully adjusted.

India bombards all of your senses, all at once. For me, I was welcomed to India with a dark, smokey sky and the smell of something burning. As you walk the streets, you are greeted with the smell of trash, exhaust fumes, shit, animals, delicious smells of foods cooking and Lord only knows what else. The scene is generally chaotic, with cars, bikes, tractors, rickshaws, pedestrians, food carts, cows, pigs, and dogs all vying for space and headway on unpaved dirt roads strewn with trash. Trying to cross the street entails not just a look to the left and right, but rather 360 degrees, and multiple times at that. Like China and much of SE Asia, honking is considered the best communication between vehicles and pedestrians and is constant. Cows, pigs, donkeys, monkeys and dogs are everpresent in the trash heaps, sorting through for scraps. There are piles of trash or leaves burning all over as well. It's just a neverending menagerie of pure chaos.
Trash in Agra

Trash in Agra


Cow town

Cow town


Hi, goat. Say hello to your mother for me.

Hi, goat. Say hello to your mother for me.


This man is talented. Balancing his food tray on his head, while carrying the stand.

This man is talented. Balancing his food tray on his head, while carrying the stand.


Appetizing street food stall. At least these banana leaf bowls are biodegradable.

Appetizing street food stall. At least these banana leaf bowls are biodegradable.


Mmm...trash

Mmm...trash


This guy knows where to get his morning handout

This guy knows where to get his morning handout


Auto rickshaws in Agra

Auto rickshaws in Agra

I have yet to try any real street food as I'm trying to avoid getting "Delhi Belly." I am provided 3 meals a day, and some snacks, by my host family, so the only eating out I have done was in hotel restaurants over the weekend in Agra and they use bottled water to cook everything. The divide between the poor and the rich is large. I am living with a family in a suburb of New Delhi, called Faridabad, who have one maid (of the lowest caste) who sweeps and mops the floors. She is not however allowed to cook the food. Some of the other host families have designated cooks as well, but in my placement my host mother does the cooking (and teaches us how to cook the food too). Either my host father drives me, or I walk about 10-15 minutes into a nearby neighborhood that is a slum to teach the kids in the slum school there. While even the nicer parts of India are still pretty dirty, the slums are beyond filthy. The kids come to school in tattered clothes covered in dirt, their hair sometimes matted or full of bits of trash and things. They bring old, worn rucksacks or reuse food sacks to tote their decrepit slate boards and little shards of chalk. The morning class is 3 hours long, with about 25-30 kids ages 3-6 or so. The afternoon class is another 3 hours, but the age range is a little older, up to about age 9 or 10. The kids are enthusiastic and some of them are very sharp, especially considering most of them have not had formal schooling. The goal of the school is to get the kids off the streets and hopefully segue them into public schools. So the range of abilities and ages is very wide, so we do the alphabet, numbers, simple addition, coloring, rhymes and simple songs like "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" with them. Teaching itself is very tiring, but trying to teach kids who can't really understand you is ten times more exhausting. There are Indian teachers there who help translate and keep the kids in order (sometimes by hitting the kids or pulling their ears). The kids come up and shake your hands and say, "Hello" and introduce themselves as we walk through the slum. The schoolkids will hold our hands as we walk out of the school until they peel off to go to their homes. They can be really sweet.
The slum school classroom and just a handful of the younger kids

The slum school classroom and just a handful of the younger kids


Lots of colorful buildings in the slum

Lots of colorful buildings in the slum


A street in the slum on the way home from school

A street in the slum on the way home from school

The front of the school. They're hoping to expand the school out into the dirt area to create separate classrooms for the different age groups.

The front of the school. They're hoping to expand the school out into the dirt area to create separate classrooms for the different age groups.


The water pump for the slum right in front of the school.

The water pump for the slum right in front of the school.


Cows eating the leftovers from a wedding the night before, in front of the school.

Cows eating the leftovers from a wedding the night before, in front of the school.

This morning however, one of the other volunteers and I were the only teachers at school - the Indian teachers never came - and the kids were acting out and impossible to manage. They wouldn't listen to us and were all over the place. After trying to get them to color and do some ABC's, we finally ended class after less than 2 hours. Some of the kids from the slum don't go to school and just roam the streets, but the door of the school is open and those kids kept coming in and trying to take the coloring books and crayons and were just disrupting the chaos even further. We couldn't keep the kids from coming in, or others from going out. It was seriously awful. But the afternoon class was fine and the Indian teachers were there to help control the class. Also, our host father gave us some Hindi lessons tonight, so we are now armed with some ways to try to control the kids more!

Anyway, I love the food here. My host mother fixes us roti and chai tea for breakfast, sometimes the roti has onions in it. We have chai at least 3 times a day here as well, yum! She fixed pokoras for a mid morning snack one day, and then samosas for a late afternoon snack yesterday. She made some yummy dessert called halwa (wheat flour, ghee aka Indian butter, water, sugar) last night which was also delicious. Our meals are usually either rice or roti and daal or some kind of curry dish, and a small salad of cut up veggies like cucumber, tomato, carrot (which are red here not orange) and even papaya. I think I will gain a serious roti belly here:)

My host family is very nice - they have 2 young daughters who are 3 and 4 years old. Sometimes we'll watch cartoons with them, or play with play-do with them, or they'll watch movies with me on my computer. They're really cute girls. I was the only volunteer here for the first 2 days, then I joined 2 other volunteers to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal this weekend. When I got back on Sunday, 3 volunteers came to live here too so now it's nice to have some company. Our shower doesn't have a showerhead, and the water is always cold. So I take quick boat showers by dumping a bucket over me...this is one of my biggest challenges here since I love my scalding hot showers. I have to clean my feet about 3-4 times a day from all the dust and dirt from wearing sandals outside. My boogers are always black and my nose is stuffy several times a day, once again from all the dust and dirt. BUT I am starting to get used to things and finding I'm liking it more and more.

Posted by shlee 08:49 Archived in India

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