**I wrote this post the evening of July 24th but am posting it July 25th. My host family now has wifi (!!!) so updates should be coming regularly! Yay!**
Hello all! I finally had time last night to write a full-length blog post, so here it is! I’m posting it using the wifi at school because as of now I haven’t been able to connect to my home internet. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this it’s all been figured out.
I’m warning you now, this is going to be a long post. I have two full days to cover, after all! If you want the short version, here it is. I absolutely love it here. The people are wonderful, the food is fantastic, and the culture is fascinating. I’m so happy that I came and so excited to see what the next two weeks hold! Now for the extended edition.
We arrived at the airport in Delhi around 7:30 AM on July 22nd. After picking up our bags we walked out front to meet our host families. That was the most nervous I have been in a very long time. As we walked towards the exit we could see them all waiting outside, looking for us through the windows. It was incredibly surreal and strange. Once everyone had found their family, they welcomed us with a traditional Indian ceremony which involved being given a beautiful flower necklace/lei-like thing and putting a spot of yellow ink (is that what it’s called?) on my forehead. It was the first of many new cultural experiences. We then drove home. It was about half-an-hour away and I spent the entire time staring out the window and soaking it all in. As well as talking with my wonderful host family of course.
Words can’t fully describe how different it is here. First of all, everything you’ve heard about India and cows is completely true. They are EVERYWHERE. They’re walking in the street, they’re lying in the middle of the road, and everyone just drives around them! Which leads me to the next thing: driving. Here, yet again, the stereotypes are true. Driving is insane. While I’m sure there are traffic laws, they are more of ignored suggestions than requirements. In a way it makes sense: if someone is in your way, honk so they’ll move or go around them. But at the same time, it results in many terrifying almost-crashes. Except I’m the only one freaking out so I don’t think we’re actually at risk of an accident. One thing that struck me which I hadn’t heard about are the dogs. Like cows, they are all over the place. Unlike cows, people don’t particularly care for them. They seem to be largely ignored until they get in the way and then you honk at them to move.
My host family lives in a three-bedroom apartment in what they call “ the society.” It’s an enclosed community called Safal Parivesh (apparently this means “safe surroundings”) with 10 apartment buildings, a lawn area, a tennis court, and a gym. There are guards stationed at the gates to keep out people and cows. However on my first day I did have a calf run towards me with an angry guard chasing after it. It’s a very nice community and the apartment is lovely. The room I share with my host sister, Gaurvi, is air-conditioned. Hallelujah! I really like it here and feel both safe and welcomed.
On my first day I had an orientation at my host school with the other AFS students. We met the local AFS volunteers and learned more about how the program’s going to work and what we’ll be doing. Afterwards I came back home and hung out with Gaurvi for a while before she went to a math class and I went with my host mom, Sonal, to her parents’ home. It was really fun meeting my host grandparents and we had a lovely time talking. Like everyone else in India, they were eager to give me food I hadn’t had before and welcome me to the country. There’s a real sense of patriotic pride here and it’s very heartwarming. When we came back from that we waited until my host father, Tanmay, got home before having dinner. We had what my family called “not Indian” food, meaning Punjabi. I don’t know the names, but there were two dishes. One was a chicken in a sort of spiced (but not spicy) gravy and the other was a fried ball with potato and cheese, also in gravy. We ate these with roti which is a sort of pita-like bread. It was very good! Heavy, as you could probably tell from the description, but good. After dinner I was absolutely exhausted so I went to sleep. It was my first good night’s sleep in three days and felt heavenly.
Yesterday was my first full day in India! I woke up around 6:30 and had a delicious breakfast, which once again I don’t know the name of, but it involved potatoes and vegetables and spices. Then it was off to school! My host mother is a vice-principal at the host school, Anand Niketan Satellite School, so I got there earlier than the other students and got to sit-in on a Grade 11 Psychology class which was so different and so interesting. There were two year-long exchange students in the class as well, a boy from Italy and a girl from Thailand. They spent the whole day with us and are hopefully going to join us for all of our activities! Once everyone else came we spent the day taking a variety of classes. Sometimes a few of the Indian students who are our mentors joined us and otherwise it was just the eight of us, six Americans and the two year-long students. We took art, Hindi, yoga, dance, tabla (Indian drum), vocals, and joined a Commerce class for a team-building exercise. It was all fantastic, but my favorites were dance and Hindi. I can now say “My name is Margaret. I’m from the U.S. I like to travel. I’m in Ahmedabad on an exchange program,” in Hindi as well as hello, thank you, good morning, goodbye, well gone, and I like [blank]. So basically I’m fluent.
The school day was filled with meeting amazing people and having awesome new experiences and that didn’t stop once school ended! Once school was over we headed out on a bus to visit some temples with an AFS-USA returnee and her parents. We visited a Sikh temple and two types of Hindu temples. They were so beautiful! However by this point I was already incredibly hot and adding a headscarf did not help. It didn’t stop me from enjoying myself though!
I got home around 6:30 and had a bit of downtime with Sonal and Gaurvi before going out to dinner! Oh. My. Gosh. In order to let me experience a variety of Indian food they ordered 5 or 6 dishes for me to try and naturally everything was delicious. There was dosa, roti with daal, pani-puri, a dish which I’ve forgotten the name of but consisted of a fried dough ball with a yogurt sauce, another dish with a bread-thing and chutneys, and for dessert a Eastern-India treat called rasgulla. I only had little bits of each which was definitely the right decision. There was a lot of spice! Not too much, but a lot. I’m so happy to have now tried so much Indian food. It’s definitely one of the things I was looking forward to!
And there you have it! A summary of my first two days in India. In my future posts I hope to include more observations, detailed stories, thoughts and feelings, etc, but since I had to fit two days into one I went the factual route. Today I have more school and then a visit to Gandhi Ashram, Adalaj Stepwell, and two more temples. I’ll go into detail about today’s activities in a post soon. India is ten times more amazing than I expected and I truly am having the time of my life. Until next time,अलविदा!