Preparing for India I had mixed emotions. My entire life I've been mesmerized with the Indian culture. The people are extraordinarily beautiful. I mean, they are really REALLY good looking people. Their song and dance is beautiful. Their prayer is beautiful. They are a people of rich rich culture - and dedication to that culture. I feel like I have been waiting my entire life to get to India.
Everyone in the world has been moved by the fight that came out of India. Anyone who has EVER recited a Ghandi quote is quoting a man who was more like a God to the Indian people, a God that walked the streets here. And walked the streets only forty years before I was born.
After the incredible amount of warnings and overwhelming reviews I heard from others about India, I began to finally feel nervous to actually come here. Friends I know that have never traveled here made comments on how unprepared I am (better yet, how one could not possibly be prepared at all). Travelers we've met gave me my fair warnings as well. "Be very very careful in the north...." "Cover all of your skin...." "Do not make eye contact with men...." "You won't be able to escape the smells...." "You haven't experienced poverty until you've experienced India."
Let me interrupt myself by saying how incredibly fortunate we are to be volunteering at Manav Sadhna. It's a center we were connected to by some very good friends and co-workers of mine from India. Amir Patel introduced me to his brother and best friend, Nimo Patel who is a major influence at this center. Starting our Indian journey in this way is truly unique, comforting, and uplifting. I cannot express my gratitude for the introduction to these people, this center, and the Universe aligning this opportunity for us.
I read articles on articles about tips to know before going to India. All of them referencing the extreme poverty, the "Eve teasing," the public defecation, the pick pocketing. Nearly every single person I met told me they HATED India. At first, they added. But then, they grew to love it.
After the anxiety I experienced in the Philippines I absolutely got nervous about India. At that point I was unsure if culture shock was something you experience once in your life or what... There was a moment where I was really thinking, "Oh shit. India is going to be like the Philippines. On steroids."
We left our hostel in Yangon, Myanmar at 4:00 pm yesterday. Our flight departed Yangon at 7:40 and headed southeast (the completely opposite direction 🙄), to Bangkok. We laid over in Bangkok until 11:45 and took a red eye back north to New Delhi. The flight from Bangkok to Delhi was (obviously) primarily filled with Indian people. There was one Chinese and a few Caucasians. On that flight I was already nervous about eye contact and body gestures. EVERY article I read said to avoid eye contact with Indian men. That they take making eye contact as flirtatious. Do NOT be polite in India. What does that even mean?? I was always taught to make eye contact! As a woman, even more so, I find it highly important to be able to make and hold eye contact when walking past, greeting, and speaking to people, ESPECIALLY men. And politeness? I can't even begin understand this one. We've been traveling the rest of Southeast Asia for coming on four months and they are the most polite people I've ever met. What happened to the golden rule? Treat others as you wish others would treat you? Clearly, I'm not doing so well with these new Indian cultural tips. We were even warned that as women, to always place a bag between you and a man when sitting next to him to avoid groping.
To listen or not to listen to these tips on India... that is the question.
Back to the point. On the flight from Bangkok to Delhi, I started my experiments with all of these newly learned travel to India tips. I placed my bag on my seat next to me. An Indian family squeezed in, so of course I moved it. Politeness strike #1 🙄, I guess. They had a little girl who was precious and making googlie eyes for me. I smile and wave and the family smiles in gratitude and encourages the little girl to say hi back. Okay, Indian tips - 0, politeness - 1.
When we land in Delhi it's 2:25 am and we have to go through customs, get our baggage, exit the airport, re-enter the airport, re-check our bags for our now domestic Indian flight, and get back to the next gate. At 2:25 am. During this fun little process I failed to follow the non-eye contact making and rudeness rule. Just about the entire time. Every airport tenant we spoke to was a man. None of them made me feel uncomfortable for making eye contact or giving a smile when saying thank you. Indian tips - 0, politeness - 2.
On our flight from Delhi to Ahmedabad Zach and I are two of four non-Indian people I see in the entire airport. The culture is rich. I mean, you feel like you're in India on the flight out of Thailand... going TO India. We landed in Ahmedabad at 6:30 am, picked up our luggage and stared outside delusion-ally tired. It was pitch black outside. Two Indian men point at Zach (the only white guy in the airport at this point), and start yelling "Jackshari" "Jackshari?" We don't understand their words, but we assume they knew we were with Manav Sadhna because Zach is white. We get in the car with these two men, both shake our hands and smile very big. Neither speak English more than "come, come" and "this way."
We drive for about fifteen minutes and I'm taking in all the sights. We drive past some slums, garbage, and typical Southeast Asian type poverty areas. I'm waiting for my moment. My moment of, "Oh shit. Oh shit. This is India." We slow down and arrive to a little very low income apartment complex. One man says "You! Come!" We get out of the jeep and put our packs back on. The two Indian men exchange words with another very sleepy Indian man that was asleep in a chair at the entrance. The three Indian men then cram into a very tiny elevator with me, Zach, and our two 75 liter backpacks. We get off the elevator and they knock on an apartment door. "You come, you come," they say. I'm so delusional at this point I'm half laughing half dying. Good god, just get me a bed. We take off our shoes at the entry way and step inside. A very tired Indian girl sits up from a twin mattress in the living room. She exchanges words with the three Indian men. I'm not sure what exactly happened, but Zach and I got ushered into a bedroom, "This way this way." We put our stuff down and I can't even wash my face, brush my teeth, or change my clothes I'm so tired. At this point it's nearing 7:45 am - with no sleep.
Nine o'clock rolls around and we have a knock at the bedroom door. Adidi, the Indian girl from the living room is standing there. She says some words that imply we are to go with her to morning prayer at 9:30. Uh. But I thought we didn't start volunteering until Wednesday 😖. It's only Tuesday. That's why we came a day early... to get a day of rest after travel. So Zach and I get up and sloppily brush our teeth and put ourselves together.
Adidi walks us around the Ashram. We are not sure who she is or what her role in this is yet, but we just follow. She's a bit hard to understand and keeps making a wobble head gesture whenever we ask questions. A few hours in we determine Adidi is another volunteer who just arrived. She simply wanted us to join her for her first multi prayer. She has been a hilarious and kind roommate to get to know.
So far. My vote is to listen... but take it with a grain of salt.