When I arrived at the airport in Chicago a week and a half ago, I was sleep deprived, thinking of about a million things at once, and chock-full of excitement. I was also full of curiosity and expectations for the people I was about to meet. I’ll admit I had been much more worried about the people I’m traveling with then the trip itself. Well, I can happily express that my fellow travelers are about as open minded and considerate as I could’ve hoped for, and I’ve been getting pretty close to all of them. As an individual that is usually different than most, I haven’t held back my personality or many of my thoughts at all, and I’ve been welcomed with interest.
My first impression of Bangalore (and therefore India) was enjoyable and exciting, and also not particularly unfamiliar! Unfortunately, our first full day in India did not go as planned, due to an unforeseen citywide bandh (protest) based on a water shortage that has been going on for a little while. We didn’t really get to go out that day, probably for good reason, because I read in an article that almost 100 people were arrested in that morning alone. In the single day that we got to go out however, we certainly enjoyed ourselves. Despite the short amount of time we spent in Bangalore, we got to see several cool things. We saw the Lalbagh community garden, which was beautiful
Just outside, we witnessed an interesting street play focused on environmental awareness.
We went to a marketplace and got a chance to practice bargaining
It’s really interesting to see the similarities between the cities I’ve visited here in India so far, and some of the cities I visited while I was in Africa the past couple of months. Everywhere we’ve gone in India we’ve seen various animals hanging out on the streets, including monkeys and cows.
The other day I saw a man riding an elephant on the street we were driving down, which apparently is relatively uncommon. I didn’t manage to get a good picture of it, but my friend Sridar saw a different elephant and took this picture when they went for a morning walk which I missed (Gaurang’s in there too)
I’m unsure of the ethicality of having a domesticated elephant (or what got it there).. But nonetheless, what a sight.
Also, you see stray dogs literally everywhere. What we’ve been told is that certain people within the city put food/water out for them, so most of them get taken care of.
I’m experiencing crazy traffic all over again; I’m also the minority by huge proportions once again, which I’m starting to get used to. It’s interesting also to compare the differences between India and Africa, from language and mannerisms to clothing and building styles (among many other things of course). Here, instead of the communal vans I rode around in Ghana and Zimbabwe, we ride auto-rickshaws, essentially three wheeled taxi motorcycles.
From Bangalore to Madurai we rode in a “sleeper bus,” and I’m pretty sure I know where J.K. Rowling got her inspiration for the night bus in Harry Potter. Trying to go to sleep in the upper part of a bunk bed while dodging through chaotic traffic was not too easy, but I managed to make it work.
The past couple of days have been a whirlwind of adventures and lessons. We’ve been hosted here by the SITA center, where other international (college) students come to study, and I’m very interested in studying here in the future. I’ve had some good chances to talk to people around the city, and learn a bit of Tamil, the language in the state we’re currently in (Tamil Nadu). We’ve taken Bollywood and yoga classes, and had several hugely beneficial lectures and discussions. We visited the Meenakshi Aman temple, a Hindu temple that is over 400 years old.
Our tour guide was a wonderful character by the name of Dr. Venket Ramen (Dr. V), who gave us a lecture about the temple and some history before we went. It was a noteworthy sight and experience, but it was bittersweet because not all of us were allowed in. Part way through our tour of the place, I realized that our friend Ayan wasn’t there. She is Muslim, and they didn’t let her in because she refused to take off her Hijab, something none of us had fully considered before arriving at the temple. I think she managed to still have a good time, and so did we, but it felt bad not moving as a group. It did bring up some interesting and passionate conversation however, which has been going on a lot recently.
We also visited a Pandiyan temple, which was much smaller but more enjoyable and inclusive than the Meenakshi temple. I have pictures, but can’t currently access them, so I’ll upload them later. Historically, the Meenakshi temple was only open to the Brahmins, the highest caste, whereas the Pandiyan temple was open to anybody and everybody. We received blessings, met some wonderful children there, and I had some good conversations with locals.
A couple days ago, we were given the opportunity to speak with a man named Henri Tiphagne, who is the executive director of a large human rights organization called People’s Watch. I’m extremely honored to have taken part in the lecture/conversation, and I’ll certainly remember his words for a long time. But in all honesty, it was a bit frustrating. Henri told us much about the difficulties of the state of Tamil Nadu that we’re in, as well as the whole of India, and he gave us several specific stories that were very heavy, although most had good endings. Everything he said was full of passion, and I felt a huge amount of respect for him just seeing him talk, but the realities he spoke about left me feeling rather helpless. I felt helpless about my inability to have a significant effect on any of the overwhelming number of problems in my community, let alone the rest of the world. Regardless, he nailed several important points into my brain: even if I don’t feel like I can cause a noticeable or significant change in the world, that doesn’t mean I should stop trying, and it’s okay to be angry, because that’s the first step towards truly wanting to make a change.
360+, the program that brought me here to India, keeps us busy. Also, Internet access can be pretty inconvenient, or expensive. Because of those reasons, my initial blog post has been awhile in the making, but I should be able to complete at least one more full blog during my time here!