After almost two weeks in India, I am happy to report that I am settling in, enjoying myself, and already have so many memories to treasure. I still don’t have an Indian phone number, but that’s another story for another day.
Following a rather tension-filled travel schedule to Delhi, a large group of fellows arrived to a muggy night, stuffed all our bags in a bus, and headed to our youth hostel-home for our first week. The highlight of the week was definitely getting to know the other fellows/AIF staff and experiencing an openness towards each other and the experiences to come. I felt some walls come down as I made new friends and learned about the resources available to me. From visits to tourist sites to interesting discussions, nights out on the town to bonding at the FRRO office, we had a very productive and fun week where we grew both personally and professionally. To top it all off, our last day included a session with a Bollywood choreographer and front seats to a dance performance by Ability Unlimited. Inspired, thankful, happy and thrilled just begin to scratch the surface of how I felt as I made my way to Gujarat–alone for the first time all week.
My first impression of Bhuj was one of familiarity and intrigue. The town fits the stereotypical image of small town India…cows on the street, people everywhere, two-three-four wheelers competing for road space, multiple food stands on the side of the road, and a very relaxed nature in the business space. It is even very scenic and greener than I had imagined (due to its proximity to the desert).
In the last few days, I have attended my first (delayed) meeting, found some delicious, local places to eat, shopped in the “market” (aka main street), and shopped for new kurtis. I have (mostly) set up my apartment, enjoyed my work commute (half an hour in a shared van), and found a wonderful friend in my roommate, a brilliant textile designer that works at the same NGO, Khamir.
As an India newbie, I can’t help but start with a short series of my India “firsts” (yes, I’ve been keeping track):
First night: hoped to sleep all night but woke up starving at 3:00am…thank you jetlag. My mom’s theplas, half a chocolate glazed Dunkin donut and other fellows in the same predicament came to the rescue.
First day in Delhi: Several of the early risers took a trip to Khan Market (it was closed), Lodi Gardens (gorgeous) and India gate (in the rain). We had a local fellow as a guide, and honestly, the day couldn’t have started any better.
First “auto” ride: Brian and I (the newbies) had a blast! By the end of the week, I was negotiating auto prices (ok fine, just one auto, but I did it!).
First meal: All week long, we had paneer at almost every meal, chai at all times of day and gulag jamun multiple times…no complaints!
First shopping trip: I was introduced to Fab India, a chain that has stores in several cities. It was very difficult walking out of the store empty handed…
First day in Bhuj: I was greeted at the airport by my roommate and Khamir’s driver–both awesome people–and I moved in to my new apartment…much bigger and cleaner than I thought, but fear not, we received a lovely gift of an ant infestation (large ants called “makoras”) within a few days.
First meal in Bhuj: Yes, I couldn’t resist–I ate at a local establishment despite knowing better. My roommate and I shared super tasty pau bhaji and pulau, and it was worth every bite…including that lovely dab of butter swimming in the middle of the bhaji.
First Gujarati practice: Speaking to the bakery owner (naturally) as I bought a slice of blackforest cake and oat cookies (eggless)-yum!
First work meeting: I attended a meeting on Kala cotton, and learned so much about the history of organic cotton in the Kuchchh region along with the challenges it has faced over time. Khamir uses this organic cotton to make garments, so it was quite interesting to hear about the process of farmers growing the cotton, getting it ginned locally, then spun, dyed and weaved into the garments at Khamir. It truly gives you a whole new appreciation for where and how your clothes get to you.
That’s all for now! Slightly homesick but it’s all part of the challenge…