Published: February 11th 2012February 11th 2012
Sightseeing with my orientation group (Back-Aaron, Eddie, Sarah, Suzie, Cathy, Mathilde, Front- Natalie, Me, and Heather).
India has gone relatively smoothly so far. My airport pick up went well and then I waited for another volunteer's flight to arrive before we were driven to our home stay. Because it was very late (1:00 a.m) we went straight to bed. It wasn't until morning that we would have a chance to explore our new environment so of course, my anticipation didn't allow for a very restful sleep. Not only that, it was difficult to sleep because I was freezing cold. How come nobody told me that winter in India was going to be cold? I guess skipping one Canadian winter has made me weak as I can't put on enough layers of clothes to keep me warm. The evenings cool to around 6 degrees Celsius (no heater in the home stay) and warm to approximately 23 degrees in the afternoons.
In the morning I had the opportunity to meet eight other volunteers that would be participating in the one week orientation: Eddie and Sarah (Vancouver Island), Aaron (Iowa), Natalie (San Francisco), Cathy (China), Mathilde (France), Suzie (Quebec), and Heather (Nova Scotia). I also realized that we were staying in the home of the volunteer coordinator, Ananta Kumar
and his wife, Namrata. Three meals a day are provided which consist of bread (Roti), rice, lentil soup and a different curry dish at every meal. Every meal has been delicious and I am definately not going hungry. I am, however, hoping to get some naan and samosas at some point, even if it is off a street vendor.
Over the course of the week we have done some Hindi lessons which have included helpful words and phrases as well as instruction as to how to construct our own sentences. We have also toured around some popular sites in India such as: Baha'i House of Worship (Lotus Temple), Humayun's Tomb, Qutub Minar, India Gate, Red Fort, Raj Ghat (where Mahatma Ghandi was cremated), and Jama Mosque. Wandering around temples/mosques/tombs doesn't overly excite me, especially without having a very good understanding of the history of the sites we are seeing. However, I find myself enjoying the journey more than the actual tourist sites. Imagine this, volunteers from all over the world crammed into a tourist van with Punjabi or Hindi music blaring loudly as we take in our surroundings and point out what we see to each other excitedly. We
have seen cows, pigs, a monkey, snake charmer, street vendors, beggars, bright colours, dust, garbage, auto rickshaws, and bicycles. The transportation in this country is an art in itself as traffic signals and lane markers are heavily ignored, yet everyone seamlessly follows the rhythm of the honking horns. Don't get me wrong, there have been a few of what I would consider near misses.
On one of our day trips our driver, Rapeik, took us to a scarf and sari Emporium. Ananta had warned us the day before that our driver may take us to this place as he gets commission on all sales and had strongly encouraged us to barter as the prices would be inflated 100%. In our excitement we all bought scarves at full price. I knew that I wanted to buy a sari while in India so I took this as my opportunity to get fitted for one. As the sari was being wrapped around my waist the salesman kept tucking the sari much farther into my pants than necessary and commented on the colour of my underwear. "Okay, I think thats good" I said. Then he proceeded to wrap the sari across my chest and over my shoulder and again started tucking my shirt collar into my bra to get the 'full effect'. The salesman informed me that I would have to wear a push up bra and pushed my breast into what he considered to be 'proper placement' when wearing a sari. I swatted his hand away, "That's enough". He joked that he wanted to change my name to his name. By now my face was flushed and I was gritting my teeth. "Alright, Ill take it". Even though I knew I was getting ripped off and could find a nicer sari for 1/3 the price I handed over 1000 Rs ($20.00) so that I wasn't pressured into tryin on any other sari's and could get out of there as fast as possible. First time being caught off gaurd in India- Check. First time feeling completely naive and uncomfortable- Check.
So as we all head in our own directions, to different projects across the country I can say with confidence that I have learned alot during this first week of orientation from not only the project coordinator, Ananta, but also my fellow volunteers. Over the course of the week I have become very good at "walking with a purpose" (to avoid being persuaded to take a ride in a rickshaw), gained confidence in my ability to navigate the metro system if I had to (ensuring that I rode in the female only car), could communicate with my limited Hindi (enough to get by), and that my bartering skills have improved enough to actually purchase items at a reasonable rate. Tomorrow I am off to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and then I say farewell to many of the group as I meet my new host family and start my volunteer project on Monday. I am excited to get started!