Adjusting to India

Week one in India is complete! I am starting to feel adjusted to the countless changes I’ve experienced so far. And there have been many. Since leaving the airport, I have not seen another American, or person not of Indian origin for that matter. This is something I did not expect, especially coming to a city known for tourism. I have been spending most of my time in a more residential area, so I suppose this is understandable. Just with a city of SO many people pooring over the streets, it is strange not seeing any of the diversity I am used to in American cities. This was especially evident to me when I first arrived because it was a constant reminder that I am an outsider here. Now, at this point in my stay, I have grown excited by the vibrant strength of the culture it brings.
What I have seen peppering the streets that I was not expecting are many cows and stray dogs. They’re as frequently found as our squirrels and chipmunks, if not more so! The problem is that they are much bigger than squirrels and chipmunks and often cause traffic problems (and leave much bigger, smellier presents behind). But they keep things exciting 🙂
Beside these, the biggest adjustment has been the heat. It is constantly over 100 degrees during the day, so hot that it’s hard to do much of anything. I felt so sluggish after first getting here. I am used to exercising everyday and walking miles and miles across campus. Here, I was nervous to walk outside at all and too hot to do any sort of exercise. The best fix for the heat (still I find it to be this way) was taking that first shower and instead of drying off, walking into my room to stand under the ceiling fan. I finally felt cool enough that I could move! I often do this throughout the day, now. At the office though, I find it hard to concentrate in the heat, especially in the hours of peak heat which is most of the working day. This, I am still adjusting to. But I do feel much more comfortable in this new environment overall. I am getting more exercise by practicing yoga every morning at the studio my host mom goes to, riding my bike to and from work, and joining my host father for evening walks. My host family is so invested in my well-being. They keep check on my hydration, like to talk to me about life, offer me “chai” three times a day, and have even adjusted some of their cooking for me to be less spicy and dense. Moreover, they have introduced me to their friends and their favorite local  shops and cafes. They’ve made the lifestyle and community here so much more accessible to me, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
About the food, I was naive in thinking that I could handle Indian food for all three meals everyday. In just over a week, I have been successful in staving off sickness *knock on wood*, but have felt uncomfortably full on multiple occassions, even though I often don’t finish the servings offered to me. (I did at first to not seem rude, but have realized that my host family really has my interests at heart, and they were very understanding once I explained how the food was affecting me) They serve this traditional bread called chapati, which is lovely and made of whole wheat which I prefer to white breads served otherwise. However, chapati is deceivingly much more filling than other breads and I have had to switch to rice with my dinners instead. I plan to eat chapati again now that it’s been some time because home made chapati is not something I will get back in America. Eating heavy, savory meals for breakfast is also something I was unaccustomed to, tried, and realized I needed to work my way up to. I am used to mostly eating fruit or nuts not so flavorful cereals for breakfast. With so much fruit available, I was surprised to find that at least my famiiy does not eat it often. But, my host mom explained to me that if she doesn’t eat super spicy meals, she feels sick. I had to explain to her that for breakfast, I was mostly the opposite. She has been kindly spoiling me with french toast and pancakes recently 🙂
I sometimes feel that I am wrong to try to adjust the norms here to accomodate my comforts. But, converting from the only customs I have known for the eighteen years of my life so far to radically different ones in the span of a week is too lofty a task. I will give myself time, and hopefully find some middle ground. I am also excited to experience the wide variety of customs and cuisines offered across the country. I am tentatively planning a weekend trek in the Himilayas with a fellow SiSA intern and a day trip to the Taj Mahal with another, so far! I so hope these will work out, but am still working to find people to travel with for the two weeks I will have after my internship.
Speaking of work, it has been a trying time to get my internship project off the ground. I was expecting my role in the project described to me in applying for the internship to be decided before I arrived, or at least for some options to be. However, I have had to spend all my time so far researching the innerworkings of the foundation and the project and revising my potential project proposals. I know that I will have time to complete my project once I get it started, but I just wish that I was at that point already because timing is starting to worry me.
On the upside, I got to visit the field this past Friday, and it was an incredible experience. I saw the water harvesting structures, continous contour trenches, and loose boulder structures I had spent all week reading about. I climbed a mountain that provided an exquisite view of the whole Aravali Hills mountain range and project area.   I met some of the villagers working on building a boulder structure which excited me! Seeing the process and progress FES is making in the villages helped me realize what an impactful organization FES is, and I get to work for them!
I am planning to do some more sight seeing soon, so get excited for some vivid descriptions and beautiful photos 🙂