How was India? What is India like? How can I answer such broad and complex questions? I could be lazy and give a single word answer like, “interesting” or a cliche phrase, “It’s totally different than what I was used to” (I’ve used both of these A LOT), but these answers don’t really answer the question. So, how was India for me, REALLY? Well…
My Indian experience was filled with delicious Maharashtrian food. Every day was a Sunday dinner for me. My host mom could make everything! Poha, Laddu, Egg Curry, ‘Indian pasta’, and my all time favorite DOSAS. There were also street vendors. God bless street vendors. Their food is cheap and delicious. Almost every day, my stomach was filled with amazing Pani Puri, Misal Pav, Vada Pav, Momos, and Pav Bhaji. The best snacks on the go!
My Indian experience was controlled by language barriers. Most people in Maharashtra spoke Marathi (the regional language) and Hindi (the national language). Unluckily, I could speak neither. So, there was always some sort of miscommunication with the native Marathi and Hindi speakers I encountered. The language barrier between my students was very frustrating at times. Some students could barely speak English, so when I spoke to them everything went through one ear and out the other. My accent surely did not help either. Luckily, I had my Teach For India mentor, Natasha, to help me. But, Natasha wasn’t always around, especially when I needed a rickshaw. 90% of the rickshaw drivers I met could not speak English. Many took advantage of that. It was quite a hassle trying to bargain with them when neither one of us could speak the other’s language.
My Indian experience was traumatized by traffic. Crossing the street was… I don’t even have a word for it. Each time I stepped onto the street I felt like I was making a life or death decision. There were streets I wouldn’t even dare to cross by myself. It was too risky. I honestly think traffic lights are decoration for the streets. People paid no mind to them. Luckily, I survived.
My Indian experience was accompanied with the “American” and “foreigner” privilege. You may wonder why I separate the two. Well, it was one thing to be a foreigner in India, but it was another thing to be American. Almost everyone I met adored the US and wanted to go there someday. They see the US as this intangible and surreal place. And because I was American and a foreigner people seemed to be a friendlier and more accommodating towards me. My opinion seemed more valid and I was treated with a lot of respect wherever I went (well more than I am used to). I had and still do have conflicted feelings about this.
Lastly, my Indian experience was surprised with love. Love for India, love for Indian food, love for my children, love for my family, love for my cohort (including staff), and love for myself.
That’s what India was like for me.