Friday, February 9, 2007

And so it's begun...!

Well, I hope this doesn't come as a dissapointment, but my journey to NYC and ultimately New Delhi went exactly as planned. I got to New York as scheduled, and upon arriving my friend Mat picked me up, and we chilled in his appartment until dinner. We ended up eating at a great place called "Asian Grill." It had various Japanese, and Vietnamese dishes, all affordably priced and extremly delicious. During dinner Mat and I were discussing the Superbowl party he was planning on going to when he mentioned that he needed to make something to bring, but that he didn't know what. I suggested that we make some chilli, so after dinner he and I went to his neighborhood grocery store, bought ingredients and proceded to make some chilli. Seeing as chilli is one of those dishes that gets better the more it's cooked, we hunkerd down in his appartment while it simmered, and ultimately until my Super Shuttle came. As scheduled it showed up at 2:45 A. M., and I, reeking of chilli and half asleep made my way down to the street. After picking up some other passengers, we headed to the airport. I checked my bags in and one by one, the other participants showed up. We were all in quick agreement that catching the red eye would be less that ideal; however, the excitement that we all had seemed to enegize us all. After we all had gathered at the check-in counter, we headed to the gate, and eventually boarded the plane. The moment I sat down, I fell fast asleep, and the next thing I knew were were getting ready to land in Heathrow. By this point I was feeling somewhat rested, but I still had that over all tiredness about me. Regardless, we caught our connecting flight to New Delhi, and this is where some of the more intesting details come in.

The first thing that one will notice in the International Ghandi Airport is the emense heat. I think the moment I stepped off the plane and into the airport I started to sweat. My excitement however, made the heat a non-issue, so we all headed to baggag claim, and eventually got thru customs. Surprisingly, the customs agents were extremly lax, didn't ask us any questions, didn't check any of our bags, and seemingly had no other purpose than to stamp passports. Waiting for us on the other side of customs were Mia Stallone and Christina Monson, the program coordinators. The greeted us with extremly warm smiles and flower neclaces made out of carnations. Once we all gathered again, we headed out to some vans that were taking us to a guest house that would be our home in New Delhi for the next few days.

The first thing I notice when I got into the van was the lack of a functional seat belt. The strap part was there, but the part you put the buckle in was nowhere to be found. I resigned to the fact that I would simply not wear one; however, once we got into traffic, I immediately wished I had one.

Traffic in India is like none other. I used think driving in Boston and New York was pretty bad. I even thought Israel and Thailand was horendous, but I will say without any hessitation, that the drivers in India are by far the most gutsy I have ever seen. I cannot say with certainty wether or not drivers in India have a concept of what a lane is, and to make matters worse, the j-walkers here seem to believe they are invicible. Ultimatley, as we wove our way through the streets of New Delhi, I was fascinated by the city around me and endlessly wishing that I had a seat belt on.

Eventually, we made our way to the guest house, Amar Nash, where we were given a few hours of free time to unwind and simply relax. Amar Nash is extremly beautiful, and a beautiful place, and seems even more so because it is juxtaposed with the craziness of the city. At it has an extremly large yard with a full garden and a pool.

I'm skipping a bunch of details, so the next part on going to Jaipur is a few days off, but due to the lack of access to the internet I've had, it's hard to keep current...I'll fill in the gaps when I get home.

Well, we've been in Jaipur for four days at this point, and it has honestly felt like a life time. I say this in the best of ways, but everything is so new here that time has become meaningless.
After our stay in Delhi, we took a bus north to Jaipur. The scenery slowy changed from a crowded urban setting to that of the desert, and then finally after five and a half hours, back to a city scape; however, this time were were in Jaipur. As we approached the city, it felt as though we had gone back in time. The streets were more crowded than I could have ever imagined, and the entire scene looked like a typical bazar. The first thought on my mind was honestly that it all looked chaotic and extremly dirty, but now after being here for a couple of days, the traffic seems less terifying, and the bustle of the city seems less and less chaotic as the days go by.

The program center, where we'll be taking our classes, is located about a half mile outside of the historic Old City, and is essentially a house that has been converted into a school. The downstairs has one large classroom, a bathroom, two administrative offices, and the kitchen. Upstairs there are two more classrooms and a beautiful outside roof area where we eat a freshly cooked indian lunch each day. Overall, the school is extremly nice by both American and Indian standards.

I'm trying to type everything that I've seen, but it is entirely impossible. I'm even having trouble putting my thoughts into words. India is so drastically different in every way from the U.S. that trying to describe it in any concise sense is impossible. I'll try to put down some of the most apparent ones.

First, it is acceptable to eat with your hands. As a matter of fact, I've essentially only used a spoon to eat soup-ish items since I've been here. Otherwise, my right hand (and ONLY my right) has become my fork and knife.

Second, staring is not impolite here. Walking down the street and being stared at has become something I've had to quickly gotten used to.

Third, men dominate all sorts of interactions here. It's not as though women are actually there is a very distinct sense of chivalry here, but all in all men are more free to do whatever they want than women.

Forth, we can't drink the tap's simply not safe.

Fifth, there is the most extreme poverty I've ever seen in my life. I'm not saying poverty doesn't exist elsewhere, but I've never seen it so intensely before.

Sixth, everything is very inexpensive. A full dinner might cost 100-200 rupes...and that would be considered expensive...more realistically dinner could cost as little as 50 rupes. By the way the current exchange rate is 44 rupes per dollar.

Ultimately, I could go on, but I'll do it later. Tomorrow, we all move into our respective homestays, and although I'm a little nervous about picking up on what's polite etc...I'm extremly excited.

Well, much love to everyone, and I'll update as soon as I can next.