…Today marks two weeks since my arrival in India. Now that I have begun to settle in and get a grasp on the culture I want to start sharing my journey over the next 5 months.
Quotidian life here is even more chaotic, filthy, and exhausting than I could have ever anticipated. In a way, it feels like some sort of post apocalyptic society in which a massive civilization has survived but has been left to its own devices. Life is set to an endless din of blaring horns, spewing engines, and overly aggressive shopkeepers. The novelty of it all is fascinating while sometimes also frustrating. As westerners here, we are the center of attention wherever we go. I have been amazed by the lack of tourists, even in the most touristy of attractions and sectors. As I have been told by numerous locals and have learned from experience, “the guest is God in India.” When the caste system was still prevalent here, westerners were seen as above the system entirely. Even though the caste system has been largely eradicated, we still receive special treatment and attention. The vast majority of people are very thankful to have us here and will go out of their way to help us. However, money is the God of Gods here. No matter how genuine and friendly someone seems, it is hard not to question his or her motives. Almost everyone wants something from us, usually money or commission from a place he or she can get us to shop in.
I spent the first week in a city called Gurgaon, which is southwest of Delhi by metro about 45 minutes. It is the “high-rent district” of the Delhi area. I stayed with six other volunteers at the apartment of the program coordinator and his wife. There, I had a week-long orientation on Hindi language, Indian culture, and many of the major sights and attractions of Delhi. We all had an excellent week and became close friends given such a short time.
Last Sunday, I was driven to my home-stay in Faridabad, a city one hour southeast of Delhi by metro plus about a 1 hour tuk tuk ride (total 2 hours). Faridabad has one of the highest concentrations of slums in all of India. There are few paved streets and even fewer stop lights or even signs in this town of over 2 million people. Unlike major Indian cities which have outlawed diesel engines on taxis and tuk tuks, any mode of transportation seems acceptable here. Everything from camel or ox-pulled carts to tractors are common sights. People will latch on to anything that moves. Tiny three-wheeled tuk tuks sometimes carry 16 or more people. Yesterday, I even saw a small scooter with 4 adult men on it. Because of the bone-dry dusty streets and billowing vehicles, the pollution here is visibly and tangibly worse than even Delhi. Honking is also endless, and is to me the most frustrating aspect of the culture. Drivers honk almost for sake of honking. It is horrible. From the room I am in now, I can hear at least 10 different horns with no more than a two second gap between honks. Cows and stray dogs are everywhere and most of them can be found eating garbage that is left in the streets.
I spent most of this week helping give medical checkups and administer medication to the impoverished elderly. I also saw a C section and helped out around a small local hospital. They have much of the medical infrastructure in place, but the quality and sanitation are decades behind US standards. At times, the scenes send shivers down my spine.