Coming home from our trip to India, my team and I were excited about a lot. Torchys tacos, sleeping in our own beds, and being able to use faucet water to brush our teeth were all things that we kept at the forerfront of our minds as we pushed through the last leg of travel. However, there was some stuff we weren't looking forward to. One thing in particular was how we weren't excited to go back to the worries of our lives back home.
Between the stress of work and school as well as anxieties circling around relationships, we all had things we were subconsciously avoiding by going on this trip. Wanting to get back home and have a week of purely processing, many of my peers as well as myself hoped we could just look back on the trip and not move on. We didn't want to go anywhere nor talk about anything until we had some time to ourselves to think it over. But the reality was, we couldn't hide from the world forever. And so the next morning as I headed off to work, knowing the dreaded questions "How was it?" and "What was it like?" were sure to pop up, I tried to come up with some sort of general answer.
Now, most people know from talking to me that my answer was something along the lines of "Great! But I'm so dead from the ten hour time difference!". Which I know, is totally basic and not interesting whatsoever. But knowing I'd write plenty on it, I thought that was the appropriate response, right?
So here's my true response to those questions, my take on the country of India and it's atmosphere. "What it's like", if you will.
First Thoughts upon Arriving
From the moment we arrived at the airport there, there was a feeling of alienation that set in on my team members and I. Being the only white people in a crowd of thousands, we had become the minority. Which was weird, because for our entire lives we had been the majority. So when we came to this new country it almost felt as if we weren't welcome with how many eyes laid on us, how many remarks on our presence were exchanged in hushed whispers.
Typical Infrastructure and Neighborhoods
Because of how government money is misused there, many of the streets have been poorly kept as well as the buildings themselves. Looking out the bus window, I remember wondering whether the buildings had been bombed the day before or were in the process of being rebuilt. And the land around those buildings was no better. Piles of trash (and I mean piles) would line streets and alleys for miles, not ceasing unless there was a physical barrier like a cliff or a building.
The neighborhoods in the area we resided were very much clustered together. Due to the impact the caste system has on the country, the neighborhoods and how nice they were depended on which caste lived there. So for the Dalits, the lowest caste in the system (also known as the untouchables), their homes would be bunched together off the side the road and would be fenced in with whatever materials they could come by (tin roofing, tarps, etc.). For other, higher castes, their homes would be more structurally sound than the Dalit's, and would be close to or in the same building as their livelihood.
Smells and Sounds
I remember prior to the trip, people had put misconceptions in my head that India smelled awful and was loud. While they weren't entirely wrong, I think I got it in my mind that those two aspects would be unbaringly bad.
However, living there for the week that we did, we found that the smells we came acrossed varried from place to place and weren't as horrible as people made them out to be. As for the loudness, India actually happened to be quite quiet. Due to the respectful nature of their culture, Indians weren't loud and obnoxious (like us Americans were). While yes the hustle and bustle of streets and markets were loud (as car horns blarred every other second), walking into a store or restuarant required my team and I to be self concious of our noise level as many of the locals around us were.
Locals vs. My team and I
The locals there were both very similar and very different to us. In how we had more money, opportunities, freedom of religion, schooling, and knew Him, we were different. A lot of the people we interacted with were struggling with feeding themselves on the daily and without the respect of their community, were subject to lives without as many chances at schooling or careers. Just as well, the harshness of the government on religious organizations made it difficult for anyone to hear about Him or the Good News.
But while they may have had less than us, government and society may have worked differently, may have spoken a different language, and may have had different customs and traditions, they were still exceedingly similar to us in that they needed a savior. My team and I came into contact people who were spiritually on the same level of need, the same level of brokenness.
Surprising Things about India
One of the most surprising things about India was the way that they live their lives. Due to the caste system, the people of this country were in a constant state of helping out those around them (as long as they were in the same caste as them). Their caste was a sort of community, a community full of people not seeking personal gain but an overall gain for their people. You can see it in their goals- how even little children dream of becoming doctors and police officers so that they can help their city when they get older. You can see in in their businesses- how they are all at the same level in life as vendors or farmers so they don't have anything against their next door neighbors.
And to me, this was so shocking because over here in the United States, it's the complete opposite. For the most part, the things people do on a day to day basis are for themselves. Having a self-focused mindset, many people start off their day at the gym to get that perfect body, go to work or school to ensure a solid future, post on social media to improve self-worth, buy clothes or shoes to gain approval of others or to feel better about themselves, hang out with friends to not feel alone. Instead of working towards a future career that is sure to benifit society, we go to school and study in hopes that our paycheck out of college has plenty of zeros in it to satisy us. Instead of building each other up soley for the purpose of doing so, we compliment and hype each other up because it will make us look more friendly.
Things that are Different, Similar, and the Same in India
Different- There is the typical societal differences like- the community mindset that they have (as mentioned before) is different than ours. The government and society work differently. Infastructure looks different (as mentioned before). Their customs and traditions differ due to their culture. There are more gender rules. You cannot declare that you are of another religion besides Hinduism until the age of 18.
And there are also the differences I still can't comprehend like how, instead of nodding their head to say yes, they move their heads side to side. There are also no laws in driving. Honking is a helpful signal to other drivers, not one that induces stress on others because some dumb guy did something dumb. Dogs aren't domesticated. Motorcycles are the main mode of transportation and are called scooters. You eat with your hands (your right hand specifically).
Same- Traffic and large amounts of people.
Things that Made the Trip Hard
There were two things that made this trip hard for my team and I. The first being the itinerary for the trip. As I briefly discussed my other post In the Darkest Corner of the World: An Introduction our time in India was split among different schools and meetings with different managers. While it was tough at first for us to see how we could make an impact with such a schedule, we found by the end of the week the power of our presence and prayers (which yes, I will write about in a later post) was strong and could do much.
The second thing making the trip hard was how different the culture was. Last year when I went to San Diego, the food and atmosphere was pretty much the same as back home. While there were plenty of cultures there, we weren't being fully emerged into it like we were in India. The food, time change, conservative clothing, and all the other things I talked about earlier in this post, took us a couple days to get used to.
I know that was a lot of information for one post, but my hope is that if you were able to read through it all, you could see how it was a bit much to share in one conversation, a bit much to just spit up on my computer the day that I returned to the States.
India was an incrredible place, and while some of the sights and truths of the society that surrounded us were hard realities to swallow, I'm so honored that I was chosen by God to experience it and have the opportunity to share it with you all.