Trip to Old Delhi

One week in…
So, I have officially been here in India for a week.  I have spent lots of that time here in the classroom studying Ahimsa (nonviolence) and Himsa (violence).  We have discussed Gandhi, Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.  That I guess doesn’t sound that surprising when you think, wow, I am in India.

Yesterday, I had the chance to take a trip on a tuk-tuk which is like motorcycle which is like a van.  We had 10 people jammed into this little thing and went riding off to the metro station.  The way people drive here in India follows several “rules”.

1) the lines on the road are just a suggestion.  Often the idea of driving on the right side or left side of the road switching in the moment.  Your driver can be on the right side at one minute and switch to the left in a blink of an eye.  It is like playing chicken with every car coming the other way.  Somehow, we managed not to have a head on crash despite this issue. It also means a two lane road could be more like 6 lanes and if there is even a smidgen of space into between cars, drivers will attempt to scoot in even if that means coming dangerously close to other cars.

2) Fit as many people into the car as you can.  If you don’t have a person on every other person’s lap, there is room for more.  Of course, I remind you it is 90+ degrees out with 85% humidity.
IMG_0013When we finally made it to the metro, I was surprised how clean and well cared for it was.   It is required men and women go through separate security lines for a carelessly done pat down and a metal detector that goes off for everyone that passes though it.  Of course, it going off means nothing as everyone just keeps moving and the guards (who carry AR-15s) just wave you through.When we got to Old Delhi to shop, I was blown away.  Remember, this is my first time out of the Country.  To come to a third world country like India and see the poverty, filth, pollution, and inequality of human life is just gut wrenching. As we walked from street to street and alley to alley it is important to watch where you walk so you don’t step in anything.  From there, it is important to watch your valuables.  After that, people are amazing friendly and they think Americans are rock stars.  They want to take pics with you, talk to you, and even touch you.  I find it really freaky!IMG_0987We went to find spices.  Of course, India is known for its spices, so this makes perfect sense.   The stores filled with spices smelled amazing.  The colors were also amazing.  Basket after basket of color and spice.  many of which were sold at minimum amounts.  You couldn’t buy just a pinch, you had to buy at least a 1/2 pound.

The poverty is just everywhere.  I have seen mothers putting there kids to sleep for the night right on the sidewalk.  I have seen other mothers holding infants while begging for change to buy food.  I have seen kids (like 6 years of age) begging for money while holding a younger sibling.  The caste system still has groupings of “untouchables” who struggle to live or who live in shacks, tents, or even under tarps on the streets.  It is hard to see and even harder to not give them money or food to help them. As a tourist, giving them anything is just not a safe thing to do.  If you give to one of them, all of them will start to follow you and they can be extremely aggressive in their attempts to get money from you.   Often times, young kids begging for money are not even doing it for themselves.  They have been kidnapped, made to look disabled, and put in the streets to get money for someone else.

The sights and sounds here in India are also just as varied.  The smells of incense near temples and holy places is delightful and somehow manages to help cover up the smells of urine, trash, sewage.

Shopping is an experience as well since I have not been to a country where negotiating and haggling with vendors is customary.  After watching a few of my friends do it and using the negotiation skills I learned as a mediator, I have gotten some great deals.  In fact, I am wearing a great summer scarf common for men to wear to keep the sun off your neck.  I got the vendor down from 950 rupees to 600 rupees.  (roughly $10).  At home this scarf would have definitely been 50 bucks!  I also got a few other nicer scarfs for gifts which are cotton and silk blends I also got for really cheap by haggling.

Now, I am sure you are wondering what I want with a summer scarf. I personally always wondered why you saw people in hot climates wearing scarves. Now that I am in a super hot and humid climate, I totally get it.  One, men wearing scarves in the hot weather gives them a sweat rag that looks a little better than some bunched a bandanna.  It also acts as a cover from the sun.  Right as I type this, the sun is beating down on the back of my neck.  I have adjusted my scarf to protect my neck from the sun.  The scarf also keeps bugs off my neck.  Most important, this is India where raw sewage runs in the rivers and standing smelly water is everywhere.  Personal hygiene is also an issue.  Scarves act as a way of covering your mouth and nose so you can breath without smelling the nasty smells lurking around.  I got myself a cotton scarf for this trip for about $10 (600 rupees).  While my group tells me I look cool in it, I am more appreciating the practical uses for wearing a scarf in India for men.

Ultimately, I am having a great time here in Delhi.  Everyone in the Teaching for Peace program have left me feeling so accepted and warm.  I am enjoying the sense of connection and friendship this group has cultivated.  This is positive when you realize I still have 2 and a half weeks to spend with these folks.


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