Hello everyone! Welcome to my first blog post from INDIA! I’ve only been here for nine days, but it honestly feels infinitely longer than that. I’ll start this blog from the day we left Stanford University at 4:45 AM. We all gathered together, clumps of bags piling up in the corners, breakfast bags grabbed, busses parked down the street, everyone re-counted and passports triple checked. As soon as we were on the road, a tiny fragment of reality sunk into me. I was actually heading to India, and these were my last few hours in California. We were all quiet on the bus, most of us listening to music, gazing out the window, everyone thinking the same and completely different things. The entire journey took thirty-six hours to get to India. Thousands of miles flown, multiple meals on the airplane, dozens of words jotted down in my journal, a few hours of sleep, one bus ride, and a million moments of awe once we landed. Stepping out of the Mumbai airport, I instantly felt the dense air, the humidity sinking into my lungs. We were all past tired, “sleep deprived” were our middle names, and some of us hadn’t brushed our teeth in two days *ahem*, but as soon as we saw Archana and Anand waving through the window with their excited smiles, my energy rose sky high. They greeted us with a beautiful necklace made from fresh cut flowers, a temporary bindi from a red paste, and plenty of hugs. We all got onto the bus, ready for the six hour bus ride. Most of us slept, but I couldn’t. My eyes were starving, and I needed to satisfy them by staring out the window, as we drove through Mumbai toward Panchgani. I had never felt as many emotions at once as I did that night. Fear, excitement, love, sorrow, confusion, exhilaration, and the list kept growing. I saw trash scattered everywhere, tarp covered shacks, markets alive with hustle, packs of stray dogs, and the people. So. Many. People. I couldn't ever focus on one thing, there was too much to look at in the small amount of time I had before the bus rode on. The constant honking hummed around the thousands of other sounds combining together to make a new kind of life I’ve never seen. A few moments that stood out for me on that bus ride we're seeing a huge Ohm sign over a river, its shadow surrounded by the lights across the city. I saw monstrous office buildings, with a single line of laundry hanging in its fifty-foot window. I saw a mother talking to a fruit seller while holding her child, who was clinging onto a balloon, and it seemed almost like the balloon and the child were one. There were towering apartment buildings, some people watching the traffic trudge by, others cooking, each one of them in their own world and together making a galaxy. I must have had my mouth open the entire time, just in pure awe. Out of all the pictures and movies I had seen, this was something I could never prepare for. It was the first time I felt completely out of place, foreign.
Once we arrived in Asia Plateau, it was five AM, and the dull glow of the sun almost peeked through the thick mist surrounding the campus. I crashed onto my bed, which was unusually low to the floor, and managed to get a few hours of sleep before we all gathered at twelve-thirty in the afternoon that same day. After a few days of irregular sleep and trying to process what just happened, my emotions leveled out like a calm sea. It’s now been nine days of living at Asia Plateau (AP). AP is a place of peace, community, friendships, family, and leadership. We have the utmost pleasure of staying here for three weeks, the majority of In Country Orientation (ICO). While here, I am going to sessions on risk management, discussions on country norms, culture and self-processing, and of course Hindi class! These past few days have whizzed by, with each hour carefully planned out by our wonderful staff here in India. We have our team leaders, Elise and Josh, who have been with us since day one, supporting and caring for us. We also have our India GCY team, Archina and Ananad, who have been incredible by making all of us feeling so welcome and thought of. Here at AP, it’s filled with more life than most places I’ve seen. Bugs and animals I’ve never heard of all gather here, making their own strange chitters and chirps. Contagious moss crawls onto benches, buildings, and the walkways everywhere. Each morning is greeted with the thickest (mota in hindi) mist I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something coming from Cayucos! The trees here are a mix of native and foreign, some of them have editable (I hope they are ha ha) “tree beans” that one of the fellows, Ike, likes to munch on in Hindi class. Each meal begins at the time instructed, not any later. The kitchen makes exactly enough for each person staying at AP, and the food has been interestingly amazing! In the beginning, each meal had multiple food items that I couldn’t pronounce, and had never tried before. Still can’t pronounce most of the foods, but I’m adapting to the new spices. Tea time is all of the fellows’ favorite part of the day. Promptly at four, we get a thirty minute break from Hindi class to chat and drink three+ cups of the heavenly delicious tea. Last week, there was a group of people, all mostly from India who were staying at AP for a leadership course. This was a great time to branch out and practice our extremely basic Hindi! I still have a lot to learn, and I always stumble when I introduce myself or accidentally say “Shukriya” (thank you) instead of “Maf Kijiye” (sorry/excuse me), but I can already see a difference. AP is a sheltered place, that's definite, but I’m thankful to have the chance to slip into the pool instead of diving in headfirst.
One of the highlights so far at ICO was our first trip to the town Panchgani! We thought we were going to do a two hour risk management session, but was surprised with a scavenger hunt in the town! We could only use Hindi (we tried our best), and had a few tasks to do such as buying six bananas, finding out how many places of worship there are in Panchgani (three), and of course buying an ice cream at the end. Seeing the little hectic town was a sliver of what I’ll be experiencing in Pune. I had to keep telling myself how louder the horns will be, how faster the cars will drive, how bigger the buildings will be, and how many more people there will be. It’s hard to believe that I’m only barely on week two in this eight month journey. Staying at AP has been incredible, being surrounded by the soothing fog, the kind people, and living with all the fellows. But I also can’t wait to start my apprenticeship at Teach For India and find out who my host family is (We are all DYING to know)!
Another one of the many highlights of ICO so far has been hiking to the top of Asia’s second largest plateau. We all gathered at six am to begin our hike up, and I hate to admit, I wasn’t feeling the hike at all, getting up at SIX AM?!? What is this?! But after actually dragging myself out of bed and started to walk, I felt so much better, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It wasn’t sunny, in fact the sun was barely even out. It was mysteriously misty, and walking out of AP felt so refreshing. Hiking to the top, I felt so small as I looked out for miles of green grass and clouds. I think we all felt pretty free. After trying to peer through the fog to see the little towns below, and taking a fifteen minute (well worth it) group photo, we hurried back to breakfast. I hope to venture there again with the short amount of time I have left here.
So… that’s been my life in India so far! I hope to keep up with this blog and give you a picture of my Global Citizen Year. Until next time!