Friday, June 27, 2014

Coming home to the foreign

I wrote the following post last Monday but haven’t been able to post it yet for a number of reasons (lack of wifi, classes and lots of stuff to keep me busy – classes, shopping adventures, Indian food, my shower, my bed, my homework, etc.). I will intersperse this post with updates in italics and will definitely post some new pictures as soon as I have a chance to upload them to my computer. ENJOY!

One of my favorite feelings in the world is being immersed in a completely unfamiliar place, feeling the thrill of the exotic tease all my senses as I am challenged to transform the foreign into the familiar. Am I strange? I guess it’s a symptom of my travel addiction.

I am in India.

This thought runs through my head a lot ever since I got here. I am writing this at a small wooden desk, in a swelteringly humid bedroom with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto a garden, walled in by stone and crimson bougainvillea. Hair is sticking to my neck as I rub a sleepless night of unfamiliar heat out of my eyes and I can hear the parrot cackle outside, along with the cacophony of morning birds. I am in India. It was only that hot because I hadn't yet figured out how the fan and air conditioning worked. Now my room is so cool I've got a cold!

As we only have internet at the institute, I will post it there, after having even more experiences and lessons learned. Today is my placement test, to prove that I’m truly a beginner in Urdu. PLOT TWIST: First they put me in Intermediate, and today I was promoted to Low Advanced. We are already reading newspapers and magazine articles! Before that I will have breakfast with my host family and the two program companions who live here with me, I will have my first ride in a rickshaw (overrated), and go through a State Department Briefing via skype.

Here are a few photos I’ve been wanting to post of my journey so far!


Our program had conveniently booked a 6-hour layover in the very international airport closest to my long-distance love. I was certainly not going to spend this layover in the airport (as if I ever spend long layovers in the airport haha – layovers have allowed me to discover Istanbul, Bucharest, and Iceland).

We took the train to Frankfurt am Main Haupbtbahnhof to start our little stroll around the tiny piece of Germany we had time to visit. After a short walk we stopped for some pretzels  and pastries, and the very german apfelschorle (apple juice mixed with seltzer water).

We then stopped by the Euro sign, where no one could deny that we were in Europe. There was even a gift shop where you could spend your euros on collectible euros.

The pinnacle of our trip was the ascent to the top of the Main Tower, with an elevator taking you up 54 floors to a maginificent view of the city of Frankfurt and the surrounding dark green countryside, with the Rhine river running through it.

I was ecstatic to be with mera pyaar and we took the opportunity to take lots of photos before our next episode of long-distance.

Back at the airport, four of us program participants had a final meal of good asian wok before our next 2 months of Indian food. I highly recommend this place if you’re ever stuck in Frankfurt Airport and really hungry!


We arrived in Delhi just passed midnight, jetlagged after two uncomfortable overnight flights across over 9 timezones. From the moment we stepped off the plane, we were attracting stares. As we piled into our air-conditioned minibuses who would take us through the warm Delhi night to our hotel, I could see old men looking down at us as if we were in a gladiator ring, fighting culture shock. I was just so excited to be in a place I had dreamt of for years!

We stayed at the Ibis hotel, which already had breakfast ready when we arrived around 2am. I relished the free wifi and a room to myself with a bed to stretch out on for three hours before my third and final flight to Lucknow. Those three hours were so refreshing after so much sleeplessness on airplanes!  The breakfast was really good too, and I had my first sip of chai in India, as well as my first taste of what Indian breakfast is like.

We nearly missed our flight to Lucknow because our minibus driver took a wrong turn on his way to the airport. At the small domestic terminal we seemed to be the only non-Indians, and due to the tight schedule we were rushed through security, overweight fines quickly handled by the program. The brief 45-minute flight to Lucknow was so nice after the 7 or 8-hour flights of the past couple of days, especially in the company of all my fun and easygoing program participants. However, the haze we encountered in Delhi seemed to stretch across the entire distance we flew, making my window seat not as exciting as I had anticipated.

As we drove to our hotel in Lucknow, the small and elegant La Place Sarovar Portico, I just wanted to get out and explore Lucknow with my camera. But after lunch at the hotel I was already so sleepy, and decided to take a half-hour nap, which swiftly turned into two hours. Fortunately I still had time to explore some of Hazratganj, the famous street at the heart of Lucknow, before dinner. Here are some of my first impressions captured through my camera lens:

After dinner I watched dramatic love stories, Tamil movies with English subtitles, and Little Krishna 3 on the hotel room TV before falling into comfortable sleep in the air-conditioned room.

The next day our orientation started, where we met our program instructors, introduced ourseleves as best as we could in Urdu, were given cellphones, and gradually siphoned off to our host families. I was in the fourth group to leave to my host family, the Khan family living in the most modern and trendy part of Lucknow, Gomti Nagar. I would share the host family with two other program participants, Sabrina and Yasin, who are sure to become good friends over the course of the program.

In the car to the host family I saw cows in the middle of the road and monkeys climbing bridges, as well as shacks by putrid gutters juxtaposed with huge beautiful houses with mughal architectural elements. This was the India I had heard so much about, right in front of me.

My host family live in one of those big beautiful white houses with a garden and terrace and servants and jovial auntyji welcoming us into her cool, airconditioned sitting room with glasses of cold water. It felt like I had stepped into an oasis – I couldn’t believe this was my home for the next two months.

I have a host mother, who I call auntyji, as well as two host siblings living here. My host sister wants to be a photographer and has already been a tremendous resource on where to go in Lucknow. My host brother, who hasn’t really engaged with us so far, just came back from studies in London. Auntyji says all her children were educated in either Oxford or Kings College and she has family all over the USA and Europe. The host family in general seems well-traveled and well-educated, but most importantly, so caring of the students they host, of which they seem to have a lot of experience. My host mother clearly understands all our English but mainly answers us in Urdu – with that sort of support I feel like I’ll learn the language in no time!

Here are some photos of my room and ensuite bathroom

My bed! <3

View out my window!

My bathroom

In the afternoon we sat and chatted with auntyji in the TV room. The rest of the afternoon was unplanned so Sabrina, Yasin, and I chose to watch a movie. Just as we were ready to press play a strong breeze brushed through the courtyard and into the house. Thunder rolled in and soon the skies opened up – the monsoon was here! We watched in awe at the rain pelting down. We hadn’t expected the monsoon to come for another week! Apparently the monsoon gives some preview rain showers before it actually hits. It is getting hotter by the day and the 5-minute rain that comes once in a while does little to curb the heat. Oh well.

At dinner auntyji and the cook made us a very lightly-spiced dish of tofu (she had read in a magazine that Americans liked tofu), chapatti/roti with cheese, potatoes, corn, and shedded cucumber in custard. It was actually very good but we told her we are ready to handle Indian spice if she wants to give it to us. We finished the meal with my first taste of Indian mango – absolutely delicious, confirming that aam (the Urdu/Hindi name for mango) is still my favorite fruit.

At the dinner table we talked about Lucknow and Bollywood. We were all tired though and soon went off to bed. I took a nice cold shower before bed, although it did little to help the sticky heat of the night, as the electricity had gone out earlier that afternoon and still hasn’t returned this morning. Welcome to India!

I hope you enjoyed the blog post. I'm so happy I finally got to post it! Next posts will showcase photos taken on the roads of Lucknow, that are run in total chaos by cows, mangos, and motorcycles mostly (the monkeys dominate the bridges), my shopping excursions, and my trip to the Bara Imambara and Chota Imambara (shi'a shrines in Lucknow). I will also be doing more exploring of Lucknow this weekend and will certainly have pictures and stories about that to post as well. In other news my classes are super challenging, but my teachers and fellow students are all amazing and in this environment I am learning so much! 

Khuda hafiz!

No comments:

Post a Comment