This is Jordina and I when we visited the women at the International Social Service Organization in Alwar. We are wearing sarees that the women dressed us up in!
Today is Thursday, August 25th 2022. I have been in India for nearly a week now. When I exited the airport, I was not sure what I would feel, sense, or experience. The best way to cope with changes in your life is to compare things to what you are familiar with. The airport and parts of the city did not look too much different nor smell any different than a typical city. The city reminded me of Seattle in a lot of ways. The biggest shock to my system was the driving. Driving and traffic in India is vastly unique to me. Firstly, the people drive on the left side of the road. This is likely left over from the British occupation. The road rules are seemingly lawless as people drive past one another, people crossing, animals roaming, people driving against traffic, and drivers stopping randomly. As an EMT in the United States, I have seen too many car crashes. It is painful for me to watch the driver of the rickshaw or tuk-tuk weave through traffic. It especially pains me to see no one wearing seat belts and helmets. These behaviors are culturally acceptable here and no one seems to think twice about it. This gives some context to the extremely high statistics of vehicular related deaths in India. I never realized how much safer it is to drive in the United States, and I’m honestly grateful for this fact. I have gotten slightly used to the driving here, but I do not think I’ll ever be 100% comfortable with it. I know how quickly mistakes can happen.
There are many differences I have noticed in the culture of India. As theorized, meat is uncommon here and beef is completely absent. Vegetarianism is highly popular here in India which I find both solace and discomfort in this fact. I love vegetables and fruits and I do not eat meat often. I really enjoy the vegetarian foods here. However, I am disappointed I cannot have salads or fresh cut fruits as they will likely make me very ill according to our coordinator. One of the other CFHI coordinators comically called the illness westerners get from the food as “Delhi Belly”. Otherwise, I had a great time with eating the food. I had dearly missed spicy food when I was abroad in Eastern Europe last week, and now, I get my fill of spicy with every meal. Lentils, chapati turmeric, and rice nutritiously fill my soul during each meal. The food is filling, delicious, and warming.
The best experience I had in India was our trip to Alwar to meet the women in the scavenger rehabilitation organization. “Scavengers” are typically women who have been forced either by family or by financial need to shovel human waste out of homes into a bucket. They carry the bucket on their heads, often spilling on themselves, to the outskirts of the city for dumping. This job pays very little and causes these women and their children to be socially ostracized for their entire lives. The ostracization goes as far as being refused to be able to participate in employment, school, socialization, etc. This program gives the women training and education to create their own businesses and gives education to their children. I had the honor to meet one of the women in charge of the organization, who was herself a scavenger in the past. There was little verbal communication due to the language barrier. I knew very little Hindi and the women knew very little English; however, we all managed to enjoy our time together. The coordinator helped translate every now and again as well. The women gave me a lovely ceremonial welcoming. They sang, gave me a flower garland, and pressed a finger dipped in dye between my eyebrows. Later, we helped the women make food and sang songs together. One woman started to dance and asked us to join. I danced with her as the other women sang and laughed. I was really touched by how kind they were to me and to each other. They treated each other as sisters. I told them I was honored to be here. I thanked them for all the hard work they do for so many other women and children. They thanked me for visiting. They expressed how being visited gives them motivation and feelings of security that they are doing the right thing. The experience was really heartwarming and hopeful.
We had the honor of visiting clinics, addiction centers, and homeless shelters throughout New Delhi. There are differences in the details of the aesthetics and operation of these public health centers. However, the basic ideas are the same as in the United States. The workers are some of the most compassionate and hardworking people I’ve had the honor of meeting. The differences between cultures and people are so minuscule when you really get to the heart of it. We are all just trying to survive and provide a decent life for ourselves and each other.