Wow, it’s crazy how time flies! I didn’t realize it until my dad emailed me this past week that it’s been a month since I last blogged- oops, sorry dad, I’m alive and doing well! I have learned so much about cultural adjustment, the way of life here in India, the meaning of the “little things” and many other things that I probably won’t be able to articulate because there’s just so much that I’ve experienced. So, I’ll discuss two events that really stuck with me and I’ll end with a short summary of what I’ve been up to.
1) Mixed Fruit
I seem to encounter this just about every time I start a conversation with a local citizen when I’m alone, with Song, or with our group of friends. Whether it’s with a stranger, or a shopkeeper, or a rickshaw driver, I’m always questioned, “where are you from, ma’am?” or “from where madam?” or “Japan me? China me?” or “you are looking like you from China ma’am, from where?.” I never thought anything of it because it was normal to get questioned when we initially arrived in Jaipur and the majority of the time we traveled, I was with the other students who were predominantly Caucasian so we always answered as a group, “we’re from America” or “USA” or we’d replied in our limited Hindi skills, “ham Amrika se hoon.” Then as we spent more time in Jaipur, learned more Hindi, Song & I would get the question twice or they would answer the question for us immediately after they asked it.
This recently occurred when a group of friends and I were on our way home in a rickshaw and the driver had started a conversation with us about who we were and what we were doing here in Jaipur. Since it was pretty loud and only a few of us had a good hold on our Hindi skills, my friend Zeenat & I had answered most of the questions. Surprised by our speaking abilities, he laughed and asked if Zeenat was a “mixed vegetable” (because she’s Indian but from America) and if I was a “mixed fruit” because I could speak Hindi so well but did not look fully Indian or American. To my surprise, I was really amused because one, no other stranger has ever been so impressed about my limited Hindi speaking skills and two, I’ve never heard of the term before. It was one of those moments where I really considered explaining my ethnicity and nationality to him, but chose not to. I’m not sure why I didn’t but I think at that point, I came to terms with the idea that it’s alright if others may not understand who I am or where I’m from, all that matters is that I know who I am and I know where I’m from.
2) A Simple Hello
Two weekends ago, a group of friends and I traveled to see the Blue City, Jodhpur (6 hour train ride from Jaipur). We toured (and ziplined over) the Mehrangarh Fort, toured the Umaid Palace and visited the spice market (we got tons of great spices from a really hospitable and kind lady). After we explored the market, it was time to head to the train station and go back to Jaipur. Now, train rides are always an interesting experience because you never know who you’re going to sit with (aside from the party you’re traveling with), you never know how cramped or empty the train will be and you’ll almost never know the exact arrival time (sometimes early, sometimes on time, sometimes super delayed). On our train ride back to Jaipur, I sat with Sadia and Song, across from an elder couple. We were exhausted from traveling all weekend so we all decided to take naps and listen to our own music.
After about an hour or so, we woke back up and greeted the couple in front of us since we didn’t before when we initially got on the train. We started talking with the couple using our limited Hindi skills and we could tell we were still lacking because they laughed at about everything we said! We mostly talked about who we were (students from America, not from Nepal), where we were going (Jaipur to study) and where they were going. Because our Hindi was so limited, we spoke in English as well, and used a lot of hand signals and pointing. The lady barely spoke because she couldn’t speak or understand English so her husband translated when we spoke in English. This eventually led to the discussion of the lady’s attire and accessories. We admired her pretty bangles, shiny and color-coordinated toe-rings, her matching silver anklets and her perfectly round nose-ring so much that it consumed about half of the conversation. The best thing I said that night was probably, “apke (insert accessory here) bahut sundr hai, ham bahut passand hai” (your accessory is very pretty, we really like it). Every time I said this about a piece of her accessory, she smiled and laughed. When we got to talking about her bangles, she offered to let us try them on and we kindly declined and stated that we were just observing/admiring and wanted to tell her that they were very pretty (her husband translated). The next thing you know, she digs into her purse, pulls out a white-elephant-embroidered with gold bangle and hands it to me as her husband says, “she wants to give to you.” As I was absolutely caught off guard, I wasn’t sure what to do except kindly decline since I was always raised to not take things that weren’t mine, even when someone offered (because it is always more polite to be modest and decline). I declined and replied with, “ah nahi, ye apke kangel, hamare nahi. Ham sirf dekh” (oh no, these are your bangles, not ours. We are just looking). After declining a couple of more times, she took out the other bangle and handed it to Song while her husband stated that she insisted on us taking them. We kindly declined again and he replied with, “no money want, just gift to you. Please take.” Completely surprised and touched by now, we finally gave in and thanked her for it. Since it was nearing their destination, we took pictures with both of them and thanked them both for the great conversation and for their generosity. They smiled and left at the next train stop.
When we finally reached home, Song & I told our host family about the entire event. After telling them about the couple and what had happened, they said we were “very lucky the couple was nice because people who usually do this ask for money in return.” Then when we discussed how the couple told us they only had three sons, our host-mom told us that the reason for her gifting the bangles was probably because the lady didn’t have any daughters of her own. Whatever the reason was, it was definitely an experience that proved just how far a simple hello could go, despite language barriers.
3) A Summary
I have learned to adjust to many, many things that I would probably never adjust to back home. Some of these things include: constant loud-honking from possibly every car on the road (mind you, there are about 2.3 million people in the city of Jaipur), crazy rides in tuk-tuks (rickshaws), taking late night cold showers everyday, all-vegetarian meals for breakfast/lunch/dinner, foul-smelling streets, no-structured classes and as mentioned earlier, my assumed ethnicity.
I have improved my Hindi skills but I still have so much to learn and work on. I have now seen one of the greatest 7 wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. I’ve also seen Agra Fort in Agra, India. I can now say that I’ve ridden on an elephant and have seen Amber Fort here in Jaipur, India. I have seen the blue city, Jodhpur, where I’ve toured Umaid Palace and the Mehrangarh Fort. I also zip lined in the vicinity of Mehrangarh Fort, and it was an absolutely amazing experience. I’ve learned to bargain well but still have yet to learn how to budget my finances better. We started our internship track courses (I’m in the Education and Social Service track) and took our first field trip to an all-girl’s school (Vimukti Girls School) that serves 300 girls from the slums of Jaipur. It was such a great time meeting and learning from the students. In addition to that, I’ve also been accepted to intern for the remainder of the term at Seva Mandir. It’s a development non-profit organization that strives to build stronger communities through various development projects in woman empowerment, youth education, sustainability, etc. I’m so excited to start after our holiday break, wish me luck!
Here are a couple of photos from my adventures during this past month and a half.