I’m in Indiaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Praising God that all flights to India were problem free. I was sitting right over the wing when it was hit by lightening. Although it rarely rains in India outside of its monsoon season, for some reason it’s been raining since we got here. Of course the plane is designed to handle that stuff and it didn’t have an effect, but it was pretty incredible to see. The plane that we rode on was enormous…it had two floors!
We arrived to our hotel, Taj Mahal New Delhi, around 4am. Because of jetlag, I went to bed around 6am but was up again at 9:30am. Breakfast was a huge buffet and my favorite part was the fresh fruit. There was so much fruit that I had never seen before that tasted sensational. I’ll have to do my research and figure out the names of the fruit, but it was happiness in my mouth!
After breakfast we all piled on a bus and headed into the city to check out 3 different mosques. Out of respect, we were expected to take our shoes off before entering the temple. Naturally, I’m thinking that I’m going to walk up to the door, take my shoes off at the door and walk in (similar to entering someone’s house). To everyone’s disappointment, that was sooooooo not the case. We had to take off our shoes wayyyyy before getting to the door (like a 10 minute long walk before) and then walk to the temple, barefoot in the rain. By the time I got my shoes back, my feet were disgusting. Meanwhile for the Indians, it was no big deal. For the second temple, there was a bunch of food spilled all over the walkway and there were a lot of homeless people lining the walkway to ask for money. I was so far beyond my comfort zone. Afterwards, I talked to my professor about how hard it was to watch such a dirty lifestyle and that everyone there seemed so incredibly stuck (probably because it was soooo many people caught up in poverty). In the US, you may start at the bottom but there are pathways out of poverty and most people are actively striving to better themselves. He explained that in Hindu culture, there is a strong belief in playing the role that society gives you. He said that a lot of Indian people are perfectly content with their lives as unattractive as it looks. In the Hindu religion, beliefs about reincarnation and the caste system are still a big part of how they operate.
We flew to Haridwar (a rural part of India) and checked into a hotel that overlooked the Ganges river. It was an hour and a half ride from the airport to the hotel and it was ROUGH. I thought Atlanta driving was bad… INDIA DOESN’T HAVE ANY LANES!!!!! Seriously. Everyone drives in any which direction all the time. Literally, people do WHATEVER they want and somehow it works. Buses, trucks, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and buggies all share the road. It is possibly the craziest thing I have seen. On top of that, the road are awful…You would think you were on a shaky, bouncy, bumpy ride at the amusement park! I was so stressed out just watching all of this happen!! On the drive, we passed through several different villages. There were tons of people and everything/everybody looked poor but everyone also looked highly productive. No one was just sitting around– everyone was doing something! Fixing something, building something, selling/buying something. Thinking back to how things are in the US, there’s a common belief that people in poverty take more than they give. I asked our tour guide, how it is that these poor Indians were so motivated to contribute to the well-being and sustainability of the community. He told me that I had the wrong definition of poor and that I hadn’t even seen poor yet. He clarified that what I was defining as poor, Indians define as hard working people providing a decent living for their families. He explained that instead of looking at the disposable income, India feels that poverty should be measured by the number of calories consumed per day. In the eyes of Indians, if you can provide yourself/family with at least two meals a day and have some type of roof over your head, you are not poor. This really blew my mind. Granted we’ve only seen two examples of life India, the pressure to manufacture a certain appearance/image is non-existent in comparison to the US. In this sense, the influence of Western norms seems so minimal. It’s been really difficult for me to process/understand everything that I’m seeing because their value system is so different.
Today, I got played by a little Indian boy! We went to a religious ceremony at the Ganges and afterwards these little boys starting handing out cups of milk to pour into the river. I wasn’t sure how it worked so I asked the little boy, “what is this?” “what am I supposed to do?”. The whole time he’s answering my questions in Hindi and gesturing to me to pour the milk into the river. As soon as I turn the cup over this little boy, who could only speak Hindi seconds early, looks me dead in the eye and says “You owe me money”. I told the boy that I didn’t have any money (which was true) but he didn’t care. I keep telling him that I don’t have any money and he keeps yelling that I owe him money. So a classmate gave me 15 rupees to give to him but then he says I still owe him more. I was like “look little boy, I don’t owe you anything. Leave me alone” … Then another classmate comes over and is like “look kid, ‘no’, she gave you money”. This little boy still did not care. In my head I was like, “little boy, I was a teacher and dealt with annoying kids all day every day, I can most definitely tune you out”. So I decided to wait it out, but then our tour guide came over and made the boy go away. My classmates watched the whole thing and definitely made fun of me afterwards. They kept saying to me, “since when is milk free!?” I was like, “true”. Lesson learned.
India continues to be amazing. We went rafting down the Ganges and it was so surreal. Granted I’ve been rafting before and I was going through the exact same motions, there was something special about being in the Himalayas. There are 34 students on the trip and we all get along really well. We’re all pretty laid back and easy going. The people in my raft were HILARIOUS. So we hit the first rapid and the guide yells “fast paddle!!!!” So, of course I start paddling as fast as possible! I didn’t even realize that I was paddling air lol! For the rest of the time on the river, this one guy was like “Naomi! Are you paddling? Are you sure!? Paddle Naomi! Paddleeeee!!” I would end up laughing so hard that I actually couldn’t paddle– a self-fulfilling prophecy. Afterwards we had lunch on the beach and then headed to an Ashram. An Ashram is where intense Hindu believers retreat to meditate and isolate themselves from society. Everything there was the bare minimum. It felt like Girl Scout camp, except worse because the night before we stayed at the Taj Mahal hotel and the contrast was quite salient. The bathroom didn’t even have a shower/tub. Just a faucet that was high up on the wall. For meals, we had to sit on the floor and we weren’t supposed to talk. In the evening, we attended another religious ceremony on the Ganges. There was a lot of chanting in Hindi and several rituals performed. Turns out they gather to do this ceremony every day in order to put the Ganges River to sleep…the Ganges River is considered a goddess. It’s really interesting learning about Hinduism. Personally, I see it more of a lifestyle/philosophy than a religion because in India, God seems like a presence more so than a person. I deeply appreciate the Hindu perspective (that God lives within each of us and has to be discovered from within) and love learning more about leaders like Gandhi, but at the end of the day, I am SO grateful that I was raised to understand who God actually is and how to have a real and personal relationship with Jesus. I feel like Hinduism does a great job governing how people think, behave and contribute to society (and seems very successful at helping to establish order in a world full of chaos) but it doesn’t actually discuss WHO God is…a mighty, powerful, and merciful creator. Afterwards, I did some shopping and bought two pants, two tops, and two scarves. I’d like to think that I’m done spending…but that’s a flat out lie. I love wearing India clothes and feel more connected to the country every day. I’m excited to bring stuff back to the US.
I attended a yoga session and learned some yoga moves. After breakfast, we hopped on a plane back to Delhi and took rickshaws (Indian taxis) all around the city. Picture the traffic situation that I described earlier and then picture “taxis”, that are actually BICYCLES with buggies attached, bobbin and weavin through alleys and traffic. After we rounded the first corner, my classmate turned to me and was like, “Ok, I’m scared” lol. Using the taxis, we got to see several parts of the biggest outdoor market in Delhi. It all seemed haphazard, cluttered and organized at the same time. They manage to do so much with so little. It really makes you wonder why the US can’t do better. However, as I continue asking questions my understanding of India is balancing out. While India does have a ton of hardworking people (that appear poor) there are several issues that they’re not exempt from (corruption in the government, a struggling education system, alcohol abuse within poorer communities).
I got Delhi belly ?
Today we had a company visit to Fortis Hospital. In an effort to create a space that offered holistic healing, it was essentially a hospital and a resort at the same time. Turns out, open heart surgery which costs $250,000 in the US only costs $6,000 in India. That sounds sketchy at first, but hospitals function very different in India allowing them to keep their costs low. A little history: In India, all citizens receive medical treatment at government hospitals for free. There are also private hospitals that charge a premium and can only be afforded through insurance (Fortis is a private hospital). The quality of care at the government versus private hospitals is actually the same, but since India has such a large population, government hospitals become less efficient (incredibly long wait times and a lot of complications with paperwork). Compared with other countries, India already has fewer resources to offer per patient. Since 1990, when India opened up to free trade, the middle class has been growing. Today, the spending power of the middle class has grown to a point where there is a demand for private hospitals. It was very fascinating to learn about how the system worked. India has actually relied on privatization quite a bit in order to overcome corruption and get things done.
We visited a village where women are empowered with skills such as sewing in order to provide livelihood for their family. We visited a school and it was hard to accept how little they had. They were operating as a one room school house, where all of the students K-12 were in one cluster, with 3 different teachers simultaneously teaching elementary, middle, and high school. But when I say they were focused– I mean they were focused. Due to government corruption, teachers don’t show up for work (the deal: they pocket 11 months of salary and kick back 1 month of salary to the government) which means that the oldest students become teachers for the younger grades.
I saw the Taj Mahal!!!!!!! First we went to the deserted city from Akbar the Great and learned all about how the royal family functioned back in the 16th century. It’s fascinating to learn about how much strategy and intellect went into the leadership of Akbar, hundreds of years. For example, in order to achieve unity within the community, Akbar (a muslim) had three wives (one muslim, one Hindu, and one Christian). Marriage was a common method of creating alliances.
We ate lunch at McDonalds but the menu was completely different. I ordered a McVeggie (which was decent not spectacular). Afterwards we went to the Taj Mahal. Turns out that the Taj Mahal is simply the burial grounds where an emperor buried his wife. The beauty of the Taj Mahal is so surreal…I absolutely didn’t want to leave.