Monday, November 1, 2010

INDIA 10/22-10/27

Words cannot begin to describe what I have experienced in India. In fact, I do not think there are words that could describe this country.
 I arrived in India on Friday the 22nd,  I had the Dalit Work Project from 12:00pm to 6:00pm. We took it easy in the morning since there would not be time to get off the ship and then back on to make our field study at noon. At 11:45 we headed outside to catch our bus but when we walked outside there was a massive line, I was confused what this line was, I had never experienced this when getting off the ship. The line turned out to be the guards at the gate checking our passport and our custom forms, strange because they just had a face to face passport check on the ship before the ship got cleared. I was like okay whatever who cares I am in India!
        Once on the bus we got to the port exit gate and we were stopped again, this time an officer boarded the bus and checked all of our passport and custom forms again!  India is extremely strict and has high levels of security since they have had terrorist attacks. We finally made it outside of the port gate and there were lines and lines and lines of motorcycles and auto-rickshaws everywhere! Jenny had told me about the traffic and the rickshaws before I left, so I knew that was one thing I needed to experience.
        Traffic was insane and so crazy! I cannot begin to describe it. I have come to the conclusion that we are the only country that believes in traffic lights and lanes. India’s traffic was worst then every country I have been to so far. The auto-rickshaws, bikes, motorcycles, and cows take over the roads. They use their horns every second, even more then in New York, and that is the signal to the other drivers to get out of the way because they are switching lanes. They get right on the back of the cars bumpers and honk their horn till they move out of the way. They never apply brakes; they will hit the car before they would ever think of applying the brakes.
        After making it through this horrible driving experience we finally make it to our destination. I did not know what I really was going to be doing except, painting a community building. When I got off the bus there were children screaming and waving, music, drums and people greeting us. There were also flashes going off right and left, we felt like celebrities.  An Indian Women was standing right outside the bus; she placed a necklace of flowers over our heads and placed it gently on each of our necks. She was holding a bowl of red powder; it looked like baby powder died red. She dipped her two fingers in the bowl and then put a red dot on all of our foreheads.
        The tour guide kept trying to get us to move throughout the crowd, which seemed impossible. After the tour guide and his workers helped push the people away, we were able to continue moving forward inch by inch. I hated how they just hit the kids on the side of the head to make them move. It broke my heart. They were just so excited to see us and touch us and the adults would whack them across their heads, it killed me. We were able to make it to the community building.
        They had this huge banner toward the front of the chairs. The sign read Semester at Sea Dalit Work Project Group and had a picture of our ship and some other words on it. They had all of us sit in chairs facing the front where other people from the community were sitting. The flashes continued to go off and men yelling look over here, look over here. We were so confused what all of this was for. We were just here to paint a building for them. For about an hour, they just gave speeches.  They were just thanking us for coming because we had helped break the cast and on and on it went. Finally, after the opening ceremony was over they handed each of us a different bucket of paint, blue, yellow, green, or pink. Then they brought us to the area they wanted us to start painting. It was extremely watered down and we were painting over dirt, bugs and old newspapers that were all on the walls. I was in charge of painting the outside of the house and the stairs a blue color. The news crew was yelling at us, “Hey you, bend down, no you stand up, act natural like your painting the house.” They took hundreds of different pictures of us painting the house. I actually made the paper!
        I was done with the front of the community building and the left side. So they moved me to the right side. When I was walking over there, members of the community were pointing and laughing. I was confused and thought it was because I am blonde and really white. It turned out that they were laughing at the blue paint that had splattered onto my face. The women were licking their fingers and wiping it off my face. It was not coming off so they ran into their house and got a bucket of water for me to wash my hands off. They tried to get me to wash my face off, but I did not want that water on my face. I was able to divert the situation.
        Their English skills were not good. They were trying to ask us if we had eaten lunch yet and if we were thirsty. We were really nervous about the food and drinks. We told them we had just eaten but they insisted on us taking a break and at least having a drink. So they brought out a two litter of soda/juice and opened it for us. I heard the seal pop so I knew it would be okay to drink. Unfortunately, I do not like soda or juice and I do not drink it. Emma knew this and she was trying to get to me and drink my cup of soda without them seeing , but they were just staring at us, watching us drink it. I had no other option but to drink it. I was able to finally stomach the whole glass.
        The individuals that surrounded me were trying to ask if my eye color was fake. Their son spoke pretty good English and was able to translate for me. They had never seen someone with blue eyes and they thought it was so different. They loved it. They were so happy when I held their son. By standing next to them, and having a conversation, we breaking the cast and they were joyful for this. This was a huge day for them; we were making history as we stood in front of them. They never asked for money, they just wanted us to touch them and take pictures with them or of them. After we would do that, they would thank us. I continued getting chills throughout this entire day. I just felt the joy and love that was in the air. I knew this was going to be a great day, but it was only about 3 o’clock.
        After we were done talking with them, we were able to go through the community and visit with the families who would be using the building. We were greeted the same way by everyone as we made our way through the village. The families were so welcoming and wanted us to touch each of the children. Many of the Indian people would ask for us to take their picture. They would want to see the picture after and then would thank us for taking their pictures. Their faces would light up so bright as they looked at their own image on the screen. The one thing that really affected me was the way they lived. There were hundreds of people all around living in these huts or building made out of tin. It broke my heart. I was glad to see that they were all happy and did not look depressed. It still boggles my mind how they were so happy when they had nothing. Children were walking around with ripped clothes or no clothes at all. In America we look bad at children who do not have shoes on but in India you look at the children strangely if they do have shoes on. It was very abnormal to see a child have a simple pair of shoes on. As we made our way through the village, it was like a parade, there were Indian woman outside in the streets preparing the food they did have. It did not look very sanitary; I do not understand how they were able to eat the food and not get sick from it. I loved watching their everyday life unfold in front of me. This experience was a huge eye opener to me. In America we worry about having the nicest car and if we have the latest Iphone, but in India, they are just worried if they have enough food to survive. This opportunity really helped me open up my eyes and realize that I do not need all of these “extra” things in life to be happy. This day was amazing and I could not have asked for a better first day in India.

        The next day I had to be in the Union by 4:30am to leave for my trip to the Taj Mahal. I decided to get up at 3:00am and get all my stuff together and email my mom. We meet in the Union, got our itinerary, and were told to go outside to load up on the bus. We went through security and got onto the bus. I got a seat to myself and began writing in my journal so I could catch up. Half way through the tour guide asked what I was doing and I told him I was writing in my journal. He then asked if he could sit next to me. I said yes hesitantly, and moved my bag onto my lap and scooted over toward the window to allow him to sit next to me. He instantly leaned closer to me and put his hand around my back and grabbed my boob and began rubbing me. I was trying to push him off and tell him I had a boyfriend back at home but he would not stop. He was rubbing my skin and my face and trying to get closer to me and take pictures of me. I was getting louder and he still would not stop. I looked over to the Semester at Sea guy that was watching this entire thing go down and he did not help me at all. We finally arrived at the airport and the guide stood up and then turned around and tried to kiss me I yelled NO and told him to get away. I mouthed it to the Semester at Sea guy what had happened and he told me that I would be okay and I would lived. I was shocked and felt like I was out of line and that I did not need to tell anyone. So I just kept my mouth shut.
        We got inside of the airport and got our boarding passes. We hopped in the bus that brought us to the airplane. The airplane looked just like the normal air plane I take on South West. The plane had steam coming out of the top that help make the air not so dry. The flight went really well and we landed in New Delhi. We found our bus driver and he took us to visit the Qutab and the Indian Gate.
        I cannot begin to describe the poverty I saw here in India. I still cannot even come up with words to describe it. Neither pictures nor words will even begin to do justice. This will never be able to be explained. It is something you just have to experience it.

        We were very hungry and wanted to eat so we decided to change up the itinerary and went to Forte Grand to eat lunch. Lunch was held in one of the ballrooms. It was buffet style and all Indian food. I liked the rice and loved the naan. I ate so much naan it was crazy. After we finished up with lunch, we continued with the itinerary. Around 4pm we went to the hotel and checked in. We had to put all of our bags through security and get searched before we were allowed into the hotel. The hotels name was Le Meridian. This hotel was extremely nice.

I am still trying to figure out why this 5 star hotel existed in India when there was so much poverty outside. We went upstairs to our room and took a nap before we headed out to do a city tour at 5:30pm.
        We saw tons of Monkeys running around; some of the monkeys had babies on their backs or their stomachs. It was so cute how the baby latches on the mommy! I really wanted to bring a monkey home, but I knew I could not. =(   

The cows were all over in the streets. All of the traffic stops if there is a cow in the road. The cow is considered sacred. They do not lock the cows up in pins or eat them. At breakfast they have chicken sausage not beef sausage. It was weird seeing cows in the department stores and traffic backed up for hours because of a cow in the middle of the street. I thought this was extremely neat that they had something that meant this much to them.

        After we finished up at Humayun Tomb, Raj Ghat-Mahatma Gandhi’s Samadhi and Imperial building we headed back to the hotel for dinner. I went to my room first to drop all of my stuff off and my phone was ringing. I ran into my room and answered it! It was Emma! I was so happy that we were staying at the same hotel even though we were in two different groups! We went and had dinner in this amazing ballroom! It was extremely elegant, but the food was not that good.
        We had to get from New Delhi to Agra. So we took a train for 2 1/2 hours and got there safely. The Taj Mahal was next. We arrived there and so many beggars/hagglers approached us; Children, adults, people with disabilities. I did not even know what to do. I wanted to help them all, but I knew I could not do that. My instant thoughts were to help the young children, but all I could think about was Slum Dog Millionaire. I felt I was helping this horrible problem. There was this one boy who would not leave me alone. He was 12 years old but he looked like he was 8 years old because he was so malnutritioned. He was trying to sell me these keys chains and I was like no I cannot bring them inside the Taj Mahal. He was like okay let me tell you the truth you cannot bring them inside. He was like, “you are my sister I will give them to you for free.” I said, “No, you go make profit off of them.” He was breaking my heart. Then he asked me, “Will you come buy them from me after you guys inside.” I said, “of course.” I felt extremely guilty after I said yes. I felt like I was doing him injustice, but then I thought to myself maybe I helped him from being beaten to death because he did not sell them for his master. This situation made me so sad.
        We almost made it to the entrance when I saw this older haggler slap this younger haggler to the ground. The older haggler grabbed the child's key chains out of his hands and through them to the ground until some of them broke. Watching this happen and not being able to interfere even made me feel smaller than before I just wanted to run back to the bus so I did not have to witness these horrible things happening.

        We made it inside the Taj Mahal. It was absolutely gorgeous. There were tons of Indian families surrounding the building and courtyard. Mothers were approaching me asking me to take pictures with their children. Some of them even went to the extent of asking me to be in their family portrait.

My friends were telling me that they were asking me because I looked so much different than they did. I had blonde hair, blue eye, and really white skin. We ran up to the top where the Taj Mahal was and put on our red booties so we could go inside. The two tombstones that were inside was the guys tombstone that built the Taj Mahal and the other was the girl he built it for.  The inside was not as extravagant as I would have thought it was going to be like, but the outside made up for it. We also went to the Agra Fort. It was cool because you could see the Taj Mahal from it. That night we left Agra and headed to Jaipur we were suppose to have a 6 hour bus ride but it turned into a 8 hour bus ride. The traffic was really backed up in this one area. Our tour guide was trying to figure out what was going on, there were cops with their guns pulled out, so he phoned his boss and asked to find out what was going on. His boss told him it was a riot and that we needed to turn around for our safety. So that is what we did, later on we found out the road ended up being closed until 10:00 that night! I am so glad we decided to turn around.
        The next day we headed to the Amber Fort, this was where we were going to try to ride the Elephants to the Fort. We had to drive there fast and get in line as quickly as possible because the elephants are only aloud to make two passes up to the fort. Our group ran to get in line. We did not want to miss this once in a lifetime experience! We were able to get to the front of the line and there were enough Elephants for the entire group. I was so excited some of the Elephants faces were painted. I was next and my elephant was approaching me. I was thrilled to see his face was painted! Yay! 

So Adorah and I sat on the back of the elephant and enjoyed the ride up to the fort. I liked riding the elephant much better than riding a camel. It was way smoother and more comfortable and I was not sore the next day. We got off the Elephant and started taking pictures with them. They guys that lead the elephants were hitting us telling us to tip them. So I would place the money in the Elephants trunk and he would hand it to his leader. It was very cool. We did a city tour of Jaipur and saw the City Palace and the observatory. Both of these places were very interesting! I enjoyed both of them.
        Later that night we finally convinced our tour guide to let us off because we wanted to go shopping! He had the bus stop and let all of us off. He had us follow him for about 20 minutes. We had to make it through this tunnel that only fit an auto-rickshaw. I still am in shock that I made it through this tiny tunnel with all of my toes and body parts! I will never be able to describe how this was and how I felt. All I can say is it is a miracle I lived!!!!! The smell let alone inside of this tunnel was horrible and I thought the smell itself would kill me.
        Our tour guide said to meet at the bus at 8:00pm. I instantly popped up and said NO!!!! I am not staying out here at night with all of this traffic and commotion, I have not even had time to practice in the day time, and there is no way! He decided to change the time to 7:00pm. We had an hour to shop. The guys decided to leave us because we wanted to head back toward the bus and shop at those shops they looked less chaotic. Leah, Ashley, Emma, Sophie, and I made it inside this store that sold the pants Ashley wanted. Everything is going well, she is trying on the pants and all of a sudden the lights go off. We run outside because we do not want to be in this tiny closet with two guys who are strangers. Ashley tells us that she really does not like those pants. We try to communicate that to the guys and they chase us to the next store. Asking us what price we would pay. We are trying to tell them we do not want them and we would have paid them the price they were asking if we wanted them. We finally make it into the other store. We bought a few things. We glanced at our watches and realized we were cutting it close and we need to run to the bus. We threw them the money and made it to the bus on time.
        We decided we were not done shopping. So we went to the stores in our hotel. We bought a few bracelets. Then the next day it was all travel back to Chennai, India. We got back around 10 at night.
        On the last day of India we decided to get up really early and leave by 8. We got off the ship and got an auto rickshaw. He asked where we wanted to go so we told him Spencer’s Market. He said there not open yet, let me take you to a different store, then I will take you there for the same price. We looked at each other and were like okay sounds good to us. The place he tried to take us was not open yet so he said I will take you somewhere else. We get to the other place and it was closed. He turns to us and tells us they will be open in 10 minutes, let’s just go around the corner and I will show you this temple. We were like fine just for a few minutes but we do not want to go inside because we are not dressed appropriately. The auto-rickshaw driver said we were dressed fine. This Indian man approached us and said that we must go in. We said no we are not dressed right and he told us we were dressed fine and we had come a long ride I insist you must come in. We were still saying no and he was like for me? Please? So we broke down and said yes. He took us to where we needed to take our shoes off. Emma and I looked around and noticed everyone had their socks off, so we took ours off too. We started to head inside and our taxi driver told us to go put our socks back on. The random guy had us follow him inside and started telling us all of this stuff about their gods and all of this stuff and I was taking pictures. Then he took us to a table and said you need to pay for a photo pass since you were taking photos. I said I do not need to take photos I will just put my camera away. He was like no you have to pay for it and you can take as many photos as you would like. I was like fine whatever and ended up just paying for it. He then took us to this kitchen and was explaining about it and how it feeds 300-500 daily. The next words out of his mouth were, you can make a donation and then they will put your name on the board. We were thinking to ourselves okay we really need to get out of here and get going. This is our last day in India. He continues touring us around and a wedding was going on and we felt so disrespectful. We continued telling him we needed to go and he just kept asking for donation for this or that. After we finally got him to let us leave, he asked for 300 rupees each for showing us around somewhere we did not even want to see in the first place. We were like no all we have is 100 rupees, he was like no. We told him that is all we have take it or leave it. He would not take it so I turned to Emma and said come on lets go. We started walking and he was following behind. We grabbed our shoes and started putting them on and he said you need to pay for your shoes, so we give him 5 rupees. The he decides he will take the 100 rupees. We gave him the money and went to our auto-rickshaw guy and told him not to take us to anymore places and we wanted to go to a place to buy a sari. He took us to a really expensive one. So again we had to tell him to take us to a cheap one. He took us to a cheap one and Emma bought one. We were ready to go to Spencer Market but he kept taking us to these really expensive places. We finally made it to a mall, not the mall we were trying to get to, but we got to a mall. We were told there was wifi there, but there was not and all the stores were still closed. We decided to try and get another auto-rickshaw to Spencer’s Market because we heard they for sure had wifi, however,  they ended up not having any wifi at all. IT turned out good though because we were able to get Naan and a drink for lunch. Then I went and bought a sim card so I could call home. I called my mom and told her we were heading back to the ship and I would call her in 20 minutes. Over an hour passed by and we were still not back at the ship. The auto-rickshaw guy kept taking us to the same nice stores again. I got so mad; I yelled at him and told him to take us back to the ship, no more expensive stores. We told you we have no more money, we gave it all to you. It turned out that the auto-rickshaw drivers get paid every time they bring someone to these stores. We were so beyond frustrated, we were glad to be back on the ship and did not care we were back early. Like I said earlier, I cannot explain India very well; I am still trying to comprehend it myself. You really just have to experience it yourself.

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