September 5 Journal
Over 50 days ago I left America not having any idea what I was getting myself into. Now I sit on my bed writing to you all that already my life is changing. It is so incredible seeing the way people live here, and its heart breaking at the same time. There is so much poverty, and there is wealth all at the same time. There is disease, pollution, and population. I have been sick so many times while being here because of accidental drinking of water or due to eating food from the street vendors. I have been cheated of my money. I was yelled at when I entered the mosque with my shoes on. I accidently ate the food off the plate that was supposed to be given to the gods. Through all of these experience though, I have loved every moment. This confusing, yet passionate country has hit my heart hard. I have realized a lot about myself being here. Each day I pick up a little more about the language. Sometimes the language barrier gets annoying because a lot of people here speak up to five languages.
I have had a lot of fun adventures being here. One of my favorite parts is going after school to play with these little girls who live at my convent school. They all come from very poor families so the nuns took them in and they live at the school. Their beautiful smiling faces make me smile.
There are many festivals as well. The most recent festival we celebrated was Gunpati Papa. We were all dancing in the street and the boys were banging the drums. We all were doing Punjabi dancing. It was so fun, but that was also the day I got a really bad bacterial infection because I drank bad water. I cannot wait for my body to be immune to this extremely dirty country because I’m so sick of being sick all the time. Starting September 17th it will be Navratri which is a 9 day dance festival! During this festival I get to wear the traditional Indian dress, and every night we do the dance called Garba in the streets of our society. I'm so excited! The festivals are extremely beautiful here.
All I can say right now is that I am so thankful to be here right now. I have this huge playground of opportunities awaiting me, and I will not take them for granted. I still have so much to learn and experience. This is just the beginning of a crazy, life-altering journey I have ahead of myself. So until next time.. Aavajo!
December 17 Journal
Today I saw reality. The nightmares that we dream, and the visions we hear about are authentic and occur in our present. I'm learning things, seeing things, and experiencing life in a way I once did not think existed. My heart is currently like clay. It is being shaped and molded every time I see the world in these new goggles I am wearing. The things I have seen have permanently put a dent in my heart.
Today I went to Suman's house. Suman is a servant who has worked in my host family's home for over eighteen years. Everyday she would tell me in Gujarati to come to her house. So today I got in the car with my host mom and Suman to drop Suman at her home. It takes her one-hour to travel to and from work everyday. Suman works twelve hours a day and has provided all the money for her family. Her husband is an alcoholic who uses her money to buy beer. As we left the city to take her home I felt a change in the atmosphere. We began to enter a huge part of India that I really had not gotten to experience, the slums of India. I got out of the car and entered into Suman's tiny little house. It was probably equivalent to the size of an average American's kitchen and living room. Seven people live in this house and there is absolutely no privacy. When you look out the backdoor you are looking directly into your neighbor's house. The distance between houses is about 12 inches. There was no furniture, except for one bed in the corner. They gave me a chair to sit in and Suman and her family sat on the floor. She poured me a glass of Seven Up that she had brought from my host family's home so that she could be a good hostess to me. This small but fragile experience has severely punctured my heart in a way I thought wasn’t possible. Suman, who has never even gone to school, and can not read or write, has taught me more than what any school or teacher could teach me.
Now that I know Surat in a way that I didn't know it 5 months ago, it has weirdly become like home, except at the same time I want my real home more than anything. Thank God I have lots of things going on to fill the void. At present I'm taking an Indian dance class, I'm starting a cooking class, and three times a week I volunteer at a school to help teach little kids how to speak English. As I move quickly, caught up with all these events, I have no time to think, but as soon as I sit down and think, I realize how I'm changing and how I'm seeing the world differently and I cant recall how I used to see it.
By the way, just for all you who are wondering... I can officially handle all the Indian spicy foods, I shock my host family when I tell them I understand what they're talking about when they speak Hindi and Gujarati, I could walk for miles in this city and not get lost, basically I'm adjusted, and I'm so used to this culture and the way people talk, eat, and live. Now, I have about five more months left India... bring it on. :P
March 20 Journal
The sound of Hindi music buzzes in my ear as I paint the mysterious world I got dropped in 8 months ago. I sit in this one chair, with my ten paintbrushes and my 13 colors, and I sit, and I paint, for four hours a day. I get taught by a cute little old man who speaks only Hindi, and for some reason these four hours are the best hours of my day. After months of trying new things, I went from teaching kids at an orphanage, to teaching mentally disabled kids, to taking Indian dance, to oil painting. Finally, I found something that I really loved to do.
My day to day is pretty chill. I wake up at 11, I drink my milk, I go upstairs, take a shower, and come down eat my lunch and then head out to my art class at one. I come back at 5:30 and then I go out with my best friend here Alanna. We love to explore and do crazy things in our city just for as Indians say “time pass.” Today we went to the grocery store and bought a bunch of spices so we could cook our own Indian food, and also we played ‘chicken’ with the rickshaws as we cross the street. One of our FAVORITE things to do is rickshaw running… now for those of you who do not know, a rickshaw is like a TINY yellow matchstick on wheels and its my LIFE SAVER because it’s the only thing that gets me from point A to B. Since we are white the rickshaws love to try to rip us off but we do not fall for it. When they tell us a price we always give them half of what they say, and when they do not except the money that is not the amount they say we leave the money on the rickshaw man's chair and RUN and the rickshaws chase us! It is so much fun. People stare at us no matter if they have seen us a billion times, they look at us as if we are aliens, and so now we just give them something to look at. We either pretend to speak German really loudly or we dance on the streets and take pictures. People love it. As of now I feel completely comfortable to roam around anywhere in my city and nothing intimidates me.
I’m basically done learning about the Indian culture, but I will never be done learning about myself. This year was more of a journey to discover who I was, than a journey to discover the culture… because the culture is not going to be discovered, its going to be THROWN AT YOU, and it's your choice to accept it or not. This year turned out so differently than I thought it would, it has changed me from the inside out. I discovered the good, bad and the ugly about India, and also myself. I only have two months left in India and it really is a bittersweet symphony. I feel as though I put my life on hold for a year to come here, but in reality nothing is holding back for me. The world keeps spinning madly on and when I get home I have so much work to do to graduate, but I am so ready to be home. India is such an extreme place to live in and to be frank it gets so overwhelming at times… and sometimes I’m just like BUSSSSSS. (Which means ENOUGH in Hindi) this word will become any exchange students best friend when in India.
These last two months will FLY. My mom and dad come in less than three weeks, and we are traveling with the NINJAS aka my best friends Amy and Alanna who have become my sisters this year and so the whole month of April will be full of adventure with my parents and Amy’s family. Then the month of May will hit and I will have two weeks left until I’m heading back to that Mumbai airport with my bags only filled with the best of India such as indian clothes, spices, etc.
and now... I’m beginning to ask myself… where did this year go?