Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A moment at last

So this is a bit overdue but the past few days have been busy to say the least. The sounds of the Muslim call to prayer, constant construction, honking, and vendors shouting in Hindi are carried by the warm air into our flat. It’s day 4 for me and I’m beginning to settle into a routine. The flight was long but I had plenty on my mind to occupy me (one of which was the passenger next to me who had drank herself into a coma, sprawled out into my seat, and snored the rest of the flight). I got into Delhi late and most of that night is a blurr. Sunday morning we had orientation and then shopped for Indian clothes. I bought two salwaar (long tunic shirts worn with a scarf and Indie-style skinny pants that poof at the top somewhat like a diaper with tights). I’ve learned always wearing a long scarf is terribly dangerous for me as I’m constantly dropping it into things like the sink or my food.
Monday, we started at our volunteer placements. I’m working at Mobile Creches in Raja Bazaar, a slum of central Delhi. On the drive to work we pass the beautiful gated houses of politicians and the magnificent President’s house across from the India Gate, then drive down into slums where children beg at the car window and men in rags crouch on the corners. The crèche is a one room building where the children of day laborers can eat and learn and play. Lindsay (one of the other volunteers) and I try to teach the kids math and English but most of them are still learning Hindi. I’ve learned to do math in Hindi with numbers up to ten. The children call us dede which means big sister but I only know a few of their names. Today we learned one girl’s name was Uhdmeelah (I made up the spelling) instead of Uvula which is what we had been calling her (like that thing in your throat that I always thought was your tonsil but it isn’t). The kids look adorable but have a habit of attacking each other.
Each day we leave work about 12 and go back to the CCS office for lunch. We’ve had all Indian food for lunch but dinner seems to be a different story. The first night we had Chinese and Monday night we had “veggie burgers” and fries. I put burgers in quotations because I would not have titled them that if they hadn’t been on a bun with ketchup. Between lunch and dinner we have Hindi lessons and some cultural activity. Monday the activity was to survive in the market and accomplish a random task. My task: buy the ingredients for and make ten sandwiches and then give them out to people. That would never work in America, some random kid handing out sad little sandwiches with only tomato and cheese. In Delhi however, they were hot stuff. Some people even took two. Last night a classical dance troupe performed for us. Today we had a lecture about the political history of India. It was interesting to hear about India and the notion of colonialism from the Indian, British, Scottish, Canadian, and American perspectives. There is definitely a lot of emotion still connected from all sides (except maybe Canada, haha).
Overall, Delhi has been interesting. Shanta (my roommate) and I both felt it had a familiar feel to it, no matter how lost we get. The culture has a complexity of layers both straightforward and contradictory. Delhi is not a pretty city. I see people sweeping the dust off the roads only for it to settle back into their hair and on the buildings. Crowds of people in a chaos of color, from silk to rags, congregate on every broken street. Cars weave in every direction incessantly honking, narrowly (and by narrowly I mean approximately one inch) passing motorbikes, rickshaws, cows, and pedestrians. Yet despite the dirt and the chaos, sometimes the sun will shine just right through the smog and you can see the rays dancing through the trees. Sometimes I catch someone’s feet showing through the cover on a rickshaw and wonder where they’re going and where they’ve been.  There is so much to learn here and I have 66 more days to do it.

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