trains, planes and rickshaws

Monday marked one week since being in Indore, and one week since moving in with my host family. After 4 days of traveling (the 15 hour plane ride and 12 hour train ride it took to get here) and anticipation, it has been such a relief to settle in and get in the swing of things. Our first indian train ride was an experience I will definitely never forget. At around 6 am, me and two of my bunk mates decided we were so awake that we had to get up and do something. We found ourselves sitting in a neighboring train bunking section with our india program coordinator. He left for a while to check on everyone else and we got to talking to the people around us in the cubicle. They were a group 4 or 5 men, probably all in their late twenties, and one man who was still sleeping who didnt know them. After making some small talk, we jokingly asked them if they had been the ones who were playing Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” on repeat at high volume the night before. Two seconds later they produced their speaker and to our bemusement proceeded to blast what I would consider “obnoxious” American music throughout the entire train (Pitbull, Arianna Grande, Nicki Minaj and the likes). Keep in mind the sun is just rising and we’re traveling in a train of about 400 people through the rural indian countryside. Definitely not how I expected to experience India for the first time but it turned out to be the perfect introduction. For the next 2 hours, our new friends introduced us to popular Bollywood songs and dance, taught us some popular slang words (most of which I won’t repeat on here) and even bought us all chai and Poha (famous Indori street food). We felt rude about disrupting the whole train car (especially the elderly man who was still sleeping in our section) but every time we would turn down their speaker, they would steal it back and turn it all the way up. At our orientation, they had told us all about how India is a collectivist society whereas America is individualist. So this was partially why I was so surprised that they were so unconcerned about everyone else in the train and why they even woke up the sleeping man and asked him to scoot over so that some other people could come and join the “party”. After they each took a selfie with everyone of us foreigners, we went back to our section to freshen up (a tedious task when on a shifty bumpy train) for our host families who we knew would we waiting for us a the train station in Indore.

My first day with my host family was amazing. They decorated their home with “Welcome home Gemma” signs, balloons, and flowers (including a welcome ceremony in which each of my relatives gave me a glittery rose and a gentle handshake) The first week, we had two holidays from school , for a muslim holiday called Eid. We celebrated at my Hindi teachers house who is muslim. One of my favorite things about here so far is the religious tolerance and diversity. My host family is Hindu, but my brother still came to the celebration with me, and we have also been to Sikh temples as well. Everybody supports and celebrates religion, but they never try to impress their views on other people.

It’s taken me a while to get the motivation to write a blog post, and I don’t really know how to organize my thoughts here… so I’m just going to list some observations I have made (they aren’t positive or negative, just objective)

Everyone is very eager to share with me (food mostly), not only because I look foreign, but because I am a guest and that is the culture. Today on the school bus home even, my bench mate who was probably 8 was forcing her little school lunch snack on me saying “Didi(big sister) Didi! Eat Eat! Have it!” Everyone is amazingly generous and persistent.

Food is very, very, very important. I often “get in trouble” here because I “don’t eat enough”.

People love the monsoons! Most people don’t bother with raincoats or umbrellas because they like to get wet from the rain.

Yes it’s a “patriarchal” but men are usually very respectful to women. I have never been catcalled or street harassed like I have in the US. Although Indian men like to stare. A lot.

Me and my American peers at school get asked for autographs and pictures daily! It seems bizarre to me, but the younger kids think we are celebrities, according to my host brother.

Family is absolutely the center of life here.

There are rules, but many of them seem optional. I have never seen a traffic cop here and on the street there are basically no rules except try not to kill anyone and you can use your horn to mean “hello!” “get out of my way” “im turning now” “im bored so heres some horn music” “hey im behind you and might crash in to you if you dont move immediately”. Most big trucks even have the words “horn please” painted on the back of them.

Some people will also go to the bathroom and bathe on the street. There is also not a lot of awareness about littering. When we were at a restaurant a couple days ago, the waiter came and gathered up all of our trash into a neat little basket and then tossed is all out the window.

Everyone here knows more about American politics and current events than anyone in the US knows about India. Today my host cousin and siblings had to do a debate in class on whether or not the US would benefit from having a female president.

Hopefully I will post more frequently now that I am settled in.



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