As I travelled from Miami to London, and then to Abu Dhabi and finally to Ahmedabad, I found everyone along the way to be very helpful and have excellent English. Sitting in the Abu Dhabi airport an hour before my flight boarded, I was able to take deep breaths and just allow myself to feel the anxiety and nerves. I had not really wanted to acknowledge that I was a bit scared, as I was one of few Westerners sitting in a very large room. Not scared because people didn’t look like me, rather unnerved because never once before had I felt like I was so out of place. I was traveling alone, my clothes did not blend in, I knew very little of the place we would arrive in three hours later. I’ve heard my friends express this, I’ve read countless books, but I live with an inescapable amount of privilege at home. I am grateful that this is an opportunity that will challenge me and force me to ask hard questions of myself.
After 30 hours of travel, I finally arrived in Ahmedabad! I don’t think I’ve stopped gasping in my very short time here. A driver and our lead professor picked two other students and myself up from the airport. At 5am we departed and drove down streets that somewhat resembled those of Madrid. I quickly realized that the only true similarity is the street signs. The big difference however, is that here in Ahmedabad no one follows these street signs. People rarely stop at red lights, they drive in the opposite direction of the road, there are no lanes (not even faint ones), the honking is incessant, and yet, accidents are a rare occurrence I’m told. What looks like pure chaos and madness to me seems to be an effective system for locals. I watched what I guessed to be an eight-year-old girl walk through oncoming traffic of cars and a dozen cyclists (eating a fruit by the way), not once flinching, and making it safely across without even the hint of being touched by a vehicle. I said “oh my god” at least five times before I realized I was saying it quite loudly in the car. There are cows, bulls, and goats roaming the streets. People don’t seem too concerned about them, and quite frankly, they don’t care about the people either way.
The family hosting another Duke student and I is lovely, the couple has a nine-year-old son who after being told my name, Alejandra, said “I cannot say these names from London.” I laughed, and told him that Ale would work just fine, but that I was most definitely not British. He speaks such great English, and he’s a talker. I am looking forward to spending time with him. I can tell that we’ll get along and he will help us understand childhood and education here.
After arriving home at 5:30am, the next shock came when I discovered that 1) there was no toilet paper in the bathroom, and 2) I would use a bucket and cup to wash myself. I hope that none of this sounds judgmental, for that is not my intention whatsoever. I recognize that this is simply another lifestyle that I am not yet accustomed to, but I intend to do my very best to fully experience a different way of doing things. For instance, throughout the next day we were urged not to do much for ourselves around the house. The domestic assistants clean, cook, and serve. One is a young boy, only 17, who we are told is illiterate and will probably spend all of his life working in a home, at least until he is married with someone from his parents’ village and has a child. I started practicing my broken Hindi on him, and I managed to introduce myself and thank him for delicious lemonade. He laughed and blushed a bit, saying thank you back to me in English.
After dinner, our host family took us to have handmade ice cream. It was probably the best I’ve ever had. Flavorful, creamy, and truly all natural. We were told that the ice cream is made in large wooden barrels, with a metal cylinder in the middle. The cylinder contains the flavored milk and sugar, surrounded by salt and ice. The handle at the top connects the containers together, and for about twenty minutes it is rotated in order to end up with the delicious ice cream that we enjoyed so much. I cannot wait to continue trying new foods, sightseeing, and beginning our work at the local NGO we are interning with, SAATH.