Monday, May 23, 2011

Thursday, May 19th

Last day of VBS, which is real shame since we finally had an effective system down. A team of three to handle a group of an average of 10 little kids. (two team sets).In this way, VBS was educational, somewhat constructed, and safe for all involved. Relatively speaking.All joking aside, it really was a great group of very cute kids. Also, very bright! able to explain things to me, in perfect English, games or activities, or recite bible versus that we had memorized as a group.

At the end, each age group put together a presentation. And our little munchkins did sooo well!!!! But then again, each and every group did a great job. The older groups were creative too, and performed well. Despite the power outage that afternoon (not something out of the norm)

It really was kinda sad. Saying goodbye, not only to the kids (even if I spent most of my time chasing them as they tried to leave) but the other leaders, teachers, and volunteers too. We had a lot of fun together, as we scrambled around frantically trying to maintain order.Oh, and the songs they loved? Still getting stuck in my head! Luckily, they aren’t super annoying, just a repetitive child soundtrack in my brain. (there is NOT an off button).

This evening, Joel and I went to the Red Fort (also a big deal. On the list of Things To See While in Delhi…probably on google)

Our driver dropped us off and after two seconds of feeling like I’d been shoved into an oven (pre-heated)…I adapted rather nicely and resumed drinking enough water for a camel about to cross a desert.

We walked in, following the outer wall. Bought tickets ( 250 rs for foreigners as opposed to 20 rs for Indians…what is this nonsense!!!)Went through the standard metal detector and body searcher. Have I described these yet? They are at the entrance of anything public. Metro station. Mall. Tourist spot. Some temples and mosques too. Ladies and Gentlemen have separate lines for a metal detector then same gender body check. And girls step behind a little three sided booth to be patted down by the security lady. Just for privacy, not because the search is any more in depth or anything like that.Though, some places have involved an EXTREMELY THROROUGH body check. But, location in the world has made me appreciate that more. And I’m not un-nerved or bothered by it. People in America would not tolerate it though, which is rather stupid. It’s there for safety precautions only, not like you are being singled out and sexually humiliated. Anyways, once through there we walked through the hectic bazaar, where I found a bag/purse with an elephant on it that I liked! Should have haggled down, but I was hot, it was crowded..and did not seem worth it for the dollar or two I could have saved. I can just hope he will spend it on his kids and not pot.

Once through there, we walked through a little building where there were pictures of many different historically and religiously important throughout India. There were even little descriptions in enlgish and hindi next to them read a few, they followed this structure: Xxxx building was construct by so and so for this and this era made of that material. Then a nifty paragraph that was actually interesting on it’s purpose or function as a building. Then a bunch of years that started blending together, usually involving someone conquering a group of people.

It was pretty interesting, but did nothing besides bolster the realization that I know nothing historically about India! (I mean, in Rome and Europe it was the feelings that I must have learned this at one time or another but dag nabit I could hardly remember any specific or chronological order to it all history) here, it is straight up obviousness and ignorance on my part. *guilt guilt guilt* and to think I would dare take pride in having successfully made it out of my country more than once… when I am useless in knowledge of these cultures and their country. What a fail there.Really enjoyed walking around the inside. we passed through another tall, arched structure ish. With all kinds of pretty flower and vines engraved. That was a theme here. We passed through a temple looking building that had a few notable features. 1. Many columns 2. The flower and vine theme 3. elevated building, steps leading up to the place of interest.The first one had an important looking alter… of which I found extremely lovely, but zero personal religious application.

The next couple buildings were old stone bath house type set ups. Displaying the three common features, but also with water grooves to fill and empty the different pools with hot or cold water. I would not mind taking a bath in a many pillared, decorated stone set up. That sounds good to me. We walked along these stone paths, next to the water system a couple feet below where we walked. Possibly all leading to the pool, meant to be filled by this decorative irrigation type system during monsoon season. I think the main thing I liked about the Red Fort was that, although there were people, they were scattered about. It was a mini break from the city/crowds. Still dusty and hot, but some grass had been coaxed to grow. There was a little bit of space, and a little bit of smudgy smog sky above us. It felt like a break anyways.

The rest of the evening was spent to polar opposite. With crowds and traffic so dense it makes south delhi (where the bennetts live) look like the outskirts in comparison. The first road we turned down was, clearly, a big deal. I succeeded in crossing the street... while somewhat glued next to joel. For some reason my brain works this way: the closer you are to the body next to you, the safer you are. Is there some truth to that?…well…I’m sure in some small amount there may be, but I think it is mostly psychological. Because I have watched Indians stride into the middle of traffic with four sets of cars moving and, flying solo, made it to the other side with hardly a pause.

We first passed Chandni Chowk (try saying it outloud..it is rather fun) which was…some buildings? Of importance?? Okay…they looked cool and not the standard rectangle. Next we walked passed the mosque (pic below). I wanted to go inside, and was covered enough to do so. But Joel was not (shorts!) and so I figured I would come back to check it out sometime when I didn’t have to be by myself, or make someone wait. I could have, I did not feel threatened or anything…should I have?

Walked down a side street. A side street that had as many people as a main street, with less space. (and the main street was hard enough to walk down dodging vehicles, packed sidewalks, vendors and more people).

It was a whole new level of hazy smoggy. But no fear, once immersed, one hardly noticed the difference in the air. The wires crossed in tangles above the people, but below the buildings. And the many smells of people, food, animals, and fires blended together.

At first I was getting hungry, and the food cooking along the sides was deceptively good smelling. But in no sense of the term edible to yours truly. And if knowledge was not enough to convince me of this, observation certainly was. Initially it was the strong presence of flies. Then it was seeing the food, usually in stalls next door to one another, before it was cooked! Ie: raw meat, vegetable stands and such. (ps: they may use massive amounts of pesticides here, but they also use fertilizer of all kinds). By the time we were done walking through, my stomach had gone full circle. From hungry and interested, to very opposed to anything entering my system.

It was kind of a sensory overload. ( and I don’t mean that in the same way when I talk about how media targets people and children)

The smells, the sounds…all the languages and shouting blurred together. Cars or motorcycles sometimes, but mostly carts with people pulling or pushing an empty or loaded cart down the road. Or a bicycle balancing high any kind of cargo behind it, or on it.

Joel had to make me wiggle through a small space between two that had come to a stop in the crowds. No use in waiting around here with this traffic, you push through where you can. They were very nice through, tilting the bike’s handlebars away so I wouldn’t get caught as I squeezed my thighs through.

We were a little uncertain of our location, and joel did not seem to be in any rush, so we turned down a side street, where abruptly the distances between buildings became more narrow. The more we walked, the more the space was reduced. Shops were both on street level, as well as below, with an opening or window at the street level where a person could bend down and request/order what they needed from the person standing with their face at the level of the road. The space was small, and the heat concentrated…how were they okay smooshed in there?!

Goats were tied and laying down in doorways. Footing was questionable, for an even surface or surface type. People continued in both directions past us, though in much less amounts. A couple kids came up to Joel or I, just to say “hi” (probably the extent of the English they know) than ran away giggling. He of course, was not phased by any of this. The first time a girl came up to me though I just responded politely and clearly (wondering if someone was about to try and snatch my bag…with my main concern over the water in it). She stared straight ahead, trying to seem casual, but after I answered, bounced away.

Oh, it’s because I’m white!!! That’s right…

Cultural difference: everyone wants to be white or lighter here. There are skin lighteners in lotion and creams here. The opposite of our skin toners and tanners here. To be white is a status here. And in the U.S. people make appointments to toast themselves. To be tan back home is to be pretty, fit and good looking! Although I appreciate my end-of-summer tan, I shall certainly get a good chuckle once I return at anyone who says “you are just so, sooo pale!” and it will be a personal compliment J So take that!

We returned to the massively crowded “side street” where the shops were “bigger” and the food, clothes options aplenty. We heard the call to prayer at the mosque over loud speakers. I actually saw a few Muslim women in their burkas, I wonder what they thought of seeing a me? Probably nothing out of the ordinary, I’m the one from next-to-middle-of-nowhere country western PA after all. There are all kinds of questions and conversations that I wished I could have though.

I probably would have felt extremely tense and confused if I had been by myself. But thanks to trusty Joel, I skipped all that and got to be straight up curious. I couldn’t look enough, at the people passing me on the street, or the shops stacked next to one another, the blend of buildings and shades of grey. I wanted to take it all in and remember how it felt, smelled, looked and sounded, but I feel like the word that sums it up is: crowded.

Not very profound. And extremely unique as it is.

Walked back to the metro station (40 ish min). The street side seemed less crowded, but still involved a great deal of maneuvering. I did not master busy street crossing in traffic. So me being alive today is a tribute to Joel’s skill, not mine.

I ended up going to McDonalds. Before you judge, realize that 1. Joel made the executive decision I should 2. Hindsight, he was probably right. Heat zaps the energy from you. Aaaand nothing else was safe 3. It was a very different experience than in the U.S.

Walking in was entering a totally different planet. Still crowded but not smoggy, heat saturated crowds. Door was opened by an Indian guy standing there (as is in most places) Joel ordered for me, from the non veggie menu (there is a separate menu for vegetarians, with all utensils not mixing with those that prepare the meat).

A worker standing near-by asked if we were looking for a table, and booted out the employees who were finishing up at a nearby table. Once I was finished with my too big chicken burger and large fries plus warm coke (all for $2!!!!!), an employee standing attentively nearby removed my empty bag and threw it away for me. Walked out a door that was held open for me.

How’s that for five star?

And the fries were hot and salty!!

The Metro.

After going through the necessary security checks. (including a nice security lady …. She said hello with a great big smile, which was nice and rare for these checks. Oh wait *facepalm* it’s the white skin thing again)

Went to get on the metro…. Note: there are the cars in the front that are for women only Whoever can get on the other cars, but those labeled cars are for only women. I figured it was a culture thing, and opted to stick with Joel (not only am I clueless on which stop to get off of, but also not about to get separated from the one thing I recognize...getting back would be entertaining, but not preferred at night).

That means I got on the non-only-women one. That means it was mostly men. I do not mean majority, I mean almost all. And it was PACKED. Like, squished in sardine, if there isn’t enough room, push hard enough to compact those bodies together! Of men. Luckily, I am womanly enough that people did not really touch me much at all. Plus, Joel was great about letting me get good and smashed against him, not some other random stranger, until a seat was evacuated and offered to me. Although I am short and was tucked away in a corner seat, I still felt like I had a huge arrow lit up over my head screaming “LOOK LOOK!” Not in a “check this hottie out” sort of a way (*phewf*) but in an.. ”all eyes HERE” way. I quietly conducted am in-depth shoe study .

Once off the metro we walked back to the house, the evening cool, and streets feeling spacious after previous roads. Safdarjung is considered the nice part of Delhi…and I guess now I at least see where that statement is sort of coming from.

It was a great evening! Even the parts that should have been nerve wracking. Good company, and an adventure for sure. I don’t think I will fully realize everything I saw until I get back… there was just so much. Cannot wait to get out again! I miss so much when in the auto rickshaw compared to walking.


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