It hasn’t even been 48 hours since my last post, and it has been a whirlwind. This is so unlike anything I’ve ever experienced that it’s hard to find a way to put it into words.
It is total chaos for one thing, I mean just insanity, but it also sort of works. The streets are just nuts. I mean I am afraid for my life every time I walk into the streets for any reason, which is almost all the time, as there aren’t sidewalks like in the states, it’s just mad chaos with motorcycles, rickshaws (of the bike and auto variety), cars, cabs, horses, dogs, COWS, people, bikes, etc going every which way, honking constantly, with pretty much no traffic rules whatsoever.
I am always holding on to someone’s elbow from my group when going into the streets b/c it’s just too much chaos for me to be able to really visually track it. Plus there is just constant noise (which doesn’t stop at any hour of the night) and just no road rules to follow. There are also allll kinds of smells everywhere – diesel, people, animal smells, sewer type smells, awesome food smells, all mixing and mingling constantly in the air. Delhi is an assault on the senses, and definitely major, major stimulation overload.
As far as riding in it, I kind of love it. I have this thing, and maybe it comes w/not driving, (and I could see how it could go the complete opposite too), where I just don’t really freak out in cars at all, even with semi-reckless drivers. I don’t know exactly what that’s about. I just always feel relatively calm and safe in cars, maybe b/c I’m so used to it. Plus, I most definitely have a thrill-seeker side. So the first cab ride was exhilarating.
Riding in rickshaws, almost moreso. It’s nuts, they’re open, there’s no windows, some don’t have mirrors, we sometimes ride in them with people on laps, just hanging on for our lives. And there are no seatbelts in any of the vehicles except for front seats, and like I said, absolutely no rules, like our rickshaw will be it’s own lane, or make crazy cuts across the road, and there are also people in the roads, mostly beggars, who will come up to you while in the vehicles (often with kids) and ask for money. It’s heartbreaking. So are some of the animals. There are dogs everywhere and they are so tiny, which really makes me sad, and today we saw a really tiny cat. The streets are also cracked and full of potholes and mud and garbage and and just broken down.
Some things make me glad for my low vision. Seriously. Right after we left the internet cafe last time, the others in my group saw a dog get its paw run over or something like that, and there is a lot of poverty, which is hard to watch, and there are other things I’m glad I’m missing too – I mean in some ways it is a blessing.
Anyway, even after 24 hours of flying and a massive time difference, I felt pretty much zero jetlag. I have never really experienced it, knock on wood, so that’s good. And yesterday I felt pretty okay with everything. We went to the Lodi gardens to do some orientation activities, and then our group split in two groups to do a scavenger hunt across the city, with all kinds of tasks we had to accomplish, like getting and mailing postcards (Leo, I sent one to you, look for it, let me know when it arrives), learning Hindi phrases (our group learned “I am lost” “I love you” “Beauty” and “Where are my pants?”), making a phone call from an “STD” (which is a public phone but that name gets lots of laughs), exchange money, etc. I felt totally safe and fine w/my group. We met some great people, including this guy Aqui who helped us negotiate a cab price. While we were waiting for the cab, he bought us all tea and practiced his English on us. It was cool b/c then we were all sitting in the cab place waiting, and just talking about Obama and Bush. This guy who worked at the cab place was telling us about some cartoon he saw where Bush was sitting outside of the white house homeless and jobless, it was pretty funny.
A lot of people were so nice. It really struck me, partly in thinking about how we treat visitors from other countries back in the US. Here everyone asks where we’re from, and when we tell them, they have only nice things to say, or want to practice English wish us, and so on. Or start talking to us about American pop stars! I am really glad to be traveling post-election though, that’s for sure.
So yesterday was great. I was feeling like I was okay on the jetlag front and also dealing with the culture shock pretty okay. I felt great. Today was a different story. We are taking the train to Varanasi tonight, and in our briefing about that, we had a few warnings about really guarding our belongings, being aggressive about when to get out of the train or we’ll miss our stop, being super aware of pickpockets (I’ve been keeping my money for the day in my bra, lol) and also being aware that people might like sit on our seats or come share our seats on the train. Then we were told the begging is much more prevalent in Varanasi, and we’re going to have to use “Indian toilets’ which is basically a hole in the ground. All of it was very overwhelming to me. I mean I still find Delhi a bit overwhelming, and all the warnings about pickpockets and missing our stop, and the train being a major, major just madhouse where you have to be super aware and aggressive, pretty much scared the shit out of me. So I spent the morning after that talk pretty freakin’ freaked, but I did talk to one of the leaders about it. I’m sure by the end of my three months, I’ll be fine w/most of this, but right now it’s a bit much.
I am also used to being so independent and traveling all over the states by myself – here it might as well be another world – there is just NO comparison whatsoever. I actually tried to take some video on the rickshaw just to try to capture it because there aren’t words for it, and I think it came out all right, it’s just that of course, after I stopped recording is when it got to the usual mass insanity. So yeah, I’m using to feel independent. I mean I take NYC subways and feel fine, I’ve walked around Seattle in the middle of the night and felt fine, both in terms of safety and being able to navigate, but here, it is just a whole different story. I feel like a bit of an easy target. I’m totally overwhelmed by the chaos in the streets when walking, afraid of getting run over, mugged, or just totally latched onto by a beggar (we have been giving any of our extra food away, which I think is pretty cool) or harassed or any number of things. It basically feels very, very uncomfortable, which in a way is the point I suppose.
This is definitely the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I think I’m still glad I’m doing it? This morning, I felt like I just wasn’t ready to handle it and that I just wanted to go home. The weird thing is though, I have not felt homesick. I mean for a quick moment this morning, I missed my apartment, and just wanted to watch Grey’s Anatomy, lol, like in the very very height of my freaking out, I just wanted something familiar and comforting, but aside from that brief moment, I have not missed home, have barely thought about my apartment. I am telling you I already feel like I no longer live there. I think it also helped that I was traveling before leaving, because I was already sleeping in lots of different places, so that part of things just hasn’t even phased me.
All in all though, I’m all right. Haven’t gotten diarrhea or sunburn yet, knock on wood, have been vigilant about not drinking the water, am getting used to carrying the weight of my pack (also glad I was traveling before I left the states b/c that gave me some preparation for lugging my pack around). I mean, I am still feeling a bit overwhelmed emotionally – it’s a lot to take in, really, but at the moment, I’m okay. And after talking to one of the trip leaders I feel secure that they will be looking out for me in the train. And that they don’t feel too burdened by my visual impairment. I was starting to really worry about that – it’s definitely more of an issue here than in the states. At least it feels that way. So, feeling better about that.
On a strange note, we did see McDonald’s and KFC here, which was very strange, and there were armed guards outside. Oh also we saw some guy freebasing in some underground walkway thing that sort of looked like a subway tunnel. And we walked through some place where apparently a terrorist bomb had been recently diffused, according to Aqui, who sort of translated for us, and we had to go through metal detectors. Again, just no possible comparison.
I am really happy with my group and our leaders, it is a great mix of really different people, and I think it’s going to work well. Everyone’s pretty awesome.
Anyway, off to brave the train!
This is Your Brain on Music – Daniel Levitin – just started, so really no commentary yet. I left my iPod w/a friend in San Fran so no music part of the blog for awhile.
Wow, I am seriously overwhelmed by just reading that. I’m glad to hear that you’re ok, and voicing your concerns to your group leaders. I love chaos, but only because I know I can retreat to my own safe haven afterwards. Man, I can’t even handle extra kids in the house sometimes, I can’t imagine what you’re experiencing! I’ll be on the lookout for your postcard, can’t wait to get it!
Good to hear you are slowly getting used to the chaos. Varanasi is the home of the three eyed god–shiva. Perhaps you have already heard the symbolism. I am afraid the warnings you got from your guides is not exaggerated or emblished. You need to be very careful. Further more varanasi is the funeral capital of India. You will probably run into a couple of funeral marches and burning pyres. Be prepared.Good luck. Keep us informed.