Breathe

Okay. So that last post was me in thrall of my first day of India. Here’s a more measured response.

I’m still in love with India. I’ve thrust myself into a very complex culture that I understand only vaguely, and I learn so much every day. I had meant to blog more often while here, but I think it’s ok that I haven’t been. I don’t really have all that much time to sit around and relax – I spend a lot of time with my family and in school, which is as it should be – I didn’t fly across the world to sit on the internet.

My host family is wonderful. They are very concerned with me feeling at home and safe. I have two host sisters – one is 16, and the other is 24. Neha, the 24-year-old, is wonderfully funny and we get along very well. The family is arranging her marriage right now, so on Monday they traveled to Delhi (five hours from Jaipur, 6 1/2 in the traffic) to meet a potential proposal. We also have a guest right now – Patricia. She’s British, and was born in India before it gained independence. She’s come back to India very often, and through volunteering met my host father in Dharamshala. She’s an extremely interesting woman.

Last week feels like so long ago. I’ve been in my host stay for four days now, but my experience of India is entirely different than it was last week. I know that I’ve grown so much since then. It’s almost difficult for me to put into words here what life is like, because it feels like it’s always changing. I’m going to have to keep up with blogging regularly if I’m going to do it at all, because too much changes in a week to have to play catch-up.

But I will try to play catch-up none the less.

**

After we left for Delhi, we went to Jaipur. It’s a very long drive, and so we got in at night when all of the palaces were alight. Jaipur is known for its palaces – it’s one part of the Golden Triangle, which is basically the tourist circle. The Golden Triangle is Jaipur, Delhi, and Agra (where the Taj Mahal is). One of these weekends I want to go to the Taj Mahal, since it’s only 6 hours away or so, but first I want to explore Jaipur.

Orientation was pretty intense. I don’t honestly remember much of it. We visited a hospital, so we know where to go if we get sick. We also talked about academics, adjusting to life in India, had our homestay orientation, and went out to see many things. One of my favorite things we did last week was a hike up to Nahargarh Fort. I think that I’m just going to tell the story, and then post my favorite photos from last week in a separate, best photos post. (You can also see all pictures at my flickr account if you’re impatient.)

This week has pretty much been a lot of school, though there have been some very important things. Namely: the Basti (slum) visit.

Yesterday, we visited one of the slums of India. It wasn’t a very large slum (only 300 people), or even the worst kind of slum (it was recognized by the government, so the people are living there legally, and have got basic sanitation). The group of us was split in two, and the two groups went to different slums.

It was definitely an emotional experience. I felt very uncomfortable being there, mostly because for the first half hour we weren’t supposed to talk to anyone – just observe. The Basti was colorful, with goats, children, men, women, cows, and dogs everywhere. Of course there wasn’t much space, because everyone had to share very small quarters. It was close to some railroad tracks, and when the people had first moved in, they went to some very old huts on the outskirts of the buildings and built among them.

After we walked through the slum, we sat down with our instructors and a husband and wife that they knew personally that lived in that Basti. Through our instructors’ translations, we were able to talk to them about the development issues of the Basti and what life is like there. They were seriously amazing people, with such a clear sense of community and development needs. They explained everything to us fairly frankly (though I’m sure a lot was lost in translation), and I feel like my idea of poverty in India is much more complex now than it was before I left.

Tomorrow we’re going to a Rajasthani village. I’ll have more to write about then, and some more pictures to post. Until then, I’m going to rest and relax. Hopefully I can kick this stomach flu/ailment/not sure what it is, and feel better tomorrow for the village visit.

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