From New York to New Delhi

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India is a country of contrast. In Delhi, the air is dense and smells like a giant city-wide barbecue. People are crammed everywhere you look. Traffic is extreme, and colors are vibrant.

I’m volunteer teaching at three schools in the city that are specifically for underprivileged children, and spent the last week with first through fifth grade. They have the most enthusiastic smiles and I’m so impressed with their eagerness to learn! Students call their teachers “mam,” and by the time I get home I can still hear their small voices.

My apartment is in more of a residential area, where women wear mostly saris or burkas. Men are wearing a mixture of western and traditional clothes. There’s donkeys, cows, and dogs walking the streets over piles of trash outside my building’s gate. Yesterday, I even passed a pig being chased by dogs.

And then there’s the traffic…after driving through Delhi, I’m almost tempted to think westerners are too uptight with all of our signs and regulations. Almost. I’ve seen village men running up the freeway in the dark for their morning exercise- there was even a group doing “downward dog” as cars flew by. I don’t think I’ll get used to the site of whole families on motorbikes without helmets though- one woman passed nursing her baby.

On Sunday, two other teachers and myself were invited to a family’s home for Diwali, a Hindu celebration. The family lives in a one bedroom apartment with their three sons who go to the Good Samaritan School. I’ve never felt so honored. They put the red, Hindu dot between our eyes, and gave us each a necklace of flowers. We brought Kaju burfee with us (a cashew Indian dessert bought at a local sweet shop) and they made us chai tea and several other treats. After we ate, we ceremoniously lit candles to place all around, then went outside for firecrackers. It sounded like we were in a war zone! We lit the firecrackers in a narrow corridor downstairs ¬†with other people in the building, and the noises would reverberate. If I tried to go upstairs with the other women, the husband would say “please come” and bring me back down to light them. It was fun…even if I lost partial hearing. The next day the forecast said it was “smokey.” There was a definite smog that settled from that celebration.

The other two teachers, Kelly and Lisa, are here for another week. We’ve settled in to a routine of tea, lesson planning, and yoga after school. Lisa, who’s originally from Australia, has taught Kelly and I how to make a mean bowl of porridge with banana and cinnamon. This morning my batch looked a bit like paste, so perhaps I’ll try my hand at a biryani dish next. When in India…