After 22 hours of plane flights, layovers and bumpy bus rides, the Indian cohort had finally made it to Hyderabad. We arrived at the sight and sound of the bustling city of Pune. We spent the first week of our journey at the Center for Development Studies and Activities (CDSA) in Pune doing our welcome week training.
On our first full day, another Fellow named Boby thought it would be a good idea for us to help the gardener at CDSA with his tree planting project. Boby and I had no idea what we were about to get ourselves into. Enthusiastically, we both went over to the farmer asking if we could help, all in English. After 30 seconds of what felt like talking to a brick wall, we learned that the farmer spoke no English. We tried making large hand gestures towards his garden tools communicating that we wanted to help. After a nice hand gesture conversation, the gardener finally understood us and brought us some tools.
We all delved into another hand gesture conversation with the gardener trying to explain what to do. Boby and I had absolutely no idea what he wanted us to do, so we decided that we would try to do what we thought best for this new tree garden. The project looked like a square within a square. In the space between the outer and inner square was where the trees would be planted. That space was also elevated compared to the main, untilled ground.
Boby and I took our tools in hand and started digging a nice trench right outside the tilled space. During our conversation with the gardener, he made what looked like a digging motion with his garden hoe, so we thought it meant something along the lines of, dig a huge trench around the garden. We continued to dig our trench when the gardener kept saying “BAS, BAS.” Boby and I took that as “great job, keep up the good trench digging.”
After ten minutes of sweating and developing hand blisters, the manager of CDSA came over and said, “What are you doing to the garden!? Why are you digging a giant trench!?” Boby and I looked at each other confused and explained that we thought that’s what the gardener sort of wanted us to do and we both kind of went with our own idea. It turned out that “bas” means “enough” in Hindi.
The language barrier is something all the Indian Fellows experience every day. This story taught Boby and me that while in India and everywhere, we must approach every situation with an open mind and willing to listen without making judgments or assumptions. During this experience, I did not really listen but rather assumed what I thought the gardener wanted me to do. Even though the mistake was not that big of a deal, if we had listened and understood what the gardener explained, a trench would not have been dug.
Through daily life in India, I come across language barrier situations like these all the time. Instead of getting frustrated at the language barrier, I appreciate the beauty of it. Even though many Indians do not speak English and I do not speak Hindi, we can still understand each other when we listen and have patience.
After that training week at CDSA, the five Fellows, including me, that got chosen to go to Hyderabad, departed from the 18 Fellows staying in Pune. We took a comfortable eight-hour train ride to Hyderabad. Two days later, I met the family I would be staying with for the next seven months.
Meeting the Syed family is something I will never forget. I was so overwhelmed with happiness, excitement, and optimism while first meeting them. The first meal I had was what India truly tasted like. Since my teaching apprenticeship did not start until October 5th, and the kids in Hyderabad had a two week holiday, I really got to know my host family.
My host father, Syed Abdul Raheem is an architect and extremely funny. We both have the same sense of humor so we are constantly laughing. My host mother, Aashiyana is a fantastic cook and is also very supportive. My oldest host brother, Ayaan (12) can practically communicate with animals. Ayaan has shown me around the neighborhood on multiple occasions and has introduced me to some of the local kids. My host sister, Nida (8) is very intelligent and can figure out most of my magic tricks first or second try. She has also been teaching me quite a bit of Hindi. My youngest host brother, Amaan (7) is quite the entertainer. Amaan is full of energy and is always ready to do some gymnastics with me.
During the month of September, which was mostly free time, I spent a lot of time getting to know Hyderabad. Hyderabad is a bustling city with a population of 10 million people. While there is a lot of pollution and traffic, Hyderabadis are some of the kindest and hospitable people I have ever met. If I am ever in a difficult situation, I am usually greeted by five Hyderabadis wanting to help.
Hyderabad offers a variety of things to do and is quite a diverse city. On the western side, the city is quite developed. There is a section called “High-tech city” where you’ll find skyscrapers and foreign businesses. There is also a section called “Banjara Hills” (my favorite part of the city), which is like the Beverly Hills of Hyderabad where many young people hang out. Towards the middle of the city, you will find the traditional and old section of the city, “Old City.” Old City is the place to go if you are looking to shop and experience Hyderabadi history.
The largest problem I have faced has been being a foreigner. While there are some benefits, there are also a lot of struggles. Foreigners are treated with a lot of respect and get first preference a lot of the time, but we are also constantly being ripped off. I now know how to deal with getting ripped off, but the first couple months I did not realize it and kept losing money. I also want to be treated like an Indian, not like a foreigner, but unfortunately, that will never happen. Still, when I walk down most streets, someone will come up and ask for a picture with me. Many people are very shocked when I tell them I’m 18 years old and teaching English at a Government school. The cultural differences are something to be appreciated. While I do get frustrated at times, it never lasts long because frustration and all other emotions are all part of the greater experience.
Since I have been in India for three months so far, a lot more has happened than what is mentioned in this blog. I am having the time of my life here, and getting as much as I can out of the experience. Next blog, I will go into a lot more detail about my teaching apprenticeship.