So, I should probably do this blog-thing. Apologies for the awful quality of the writing. I’m very sleepy and my computer cut out halfway through the first attempt. (An example of a challenging moment in my year abroad…)
Arriving in Delhi airport with no local currency (why did I bring US dollars?), a smallish suitcase, disgustingly warm clothing, and an address across town was pretty terrifying. I repeated my Mother’s advice “take it bitesize and remember to breath”, and focused on my mission for an ATM. (Of course I found one right where I had initially been stood after a fifteen minute search). Reaching it – I stared blankly at the screen, realising with self-loathing that I had never written that last minute post-it note to myself to *Check the exchange rate!!*. I withdrew what was actually a paltry amount of money with undeserved pride, and headed over to the prepaid taxis – where I was told that the address I had for my hostel was not a real address. Neither were any of my contacts answering my panicked calls on a very expensive payphone. I pushed with the address and the Delhi University area with a rudeness I wouldn’t have believed myself capable, which led to two hours of manic, seatbelt-less, noisy, smelly driving in a general “North Delhi” direction before we finally (I still don’t know how) pulled up outside the hostel. Where they weren’t expecting me.
I related this panic and rush because it illustrates the pattern of trying to get something done in Delhi. You arrive where you think you’re supposed to be, thinking you’re prepared, but are invariably missing something vital or carrying something heavy and useless (why did I bring hair straighteners?) you will invariably get it wrong first time – (Oh, I’ve only bought 5 passport photos and you want 6? For a sim card?), and when you reach the end goal, jubilant and puzzled as to how you managed it, you realise a major flaw (My phone is still in Hindi because I don’t want to go back to the sim card place again.)
Delhi scares me – there’s no point denying it. Crossing the road is an adventure – the kind you don’t want to tell your Grandparents about in case they have a heart attack. Getting home at night (I have been scrupulously and annoyingly careful about this one so far) has to be thought through, and done in a group. Dogs are everywhere. Women ask you for milk for their children, and after you’ve bought it for them, you see them selling it on. People ask where you’re from, who your parents are, and how long you’re in Delhi for. People want photographs with you, and they stare wherever you go. (I do understand this, because the other exchange students and I just look so much like tourists – hot, sticky, carrying cameras and maps, and wearing an odd assortment of tourist fodder and western clothing.)
I’m fluctuating between loving and hating India, and the moment I think I’m getting used to it – I realise I most certainly am not. Yesterday for instance, in the few minutes which followed my happy and oh-so-naive statement – “I think I’m getting good at Delhi” – I was almost run over by a motorbike, paid a vastly inflated sum for a couple of mangoes, and a stampede of small children caused me to drop my bag in the mud. Here though, everything is an achievement worthy of celebration – the man in the chai shop we frequent waving as I approach, haggling a rickshaw driver down (in Hindi!) to something near the going rate, successfully navigating a series of forms and officials in order to obtain my academic timetable, and stumbling upon the tastiest food I’ve ever come across in a little restaurant near the university – where £2 will buy you a feast.
I feel like I will never get used to the monsoon, (I’m the one with the horrified expression in the photo), nor the beauty of the Lodi gardens where lovers go to be together (this can range from highly adorable to soft porn), nor the fact that I take a rickshaw to University, and won’t be eating beef until the Christmas holidays. (This will definitely be the hardest, as anyone who knows me will testify.)
But then, I didn’t think I would ever like chai, until I realised that it wasn’t trying to be Yorkshire builders tea, and now it tastes really really good. I didn’t think I would ever get my own room, or a timetable. And I’ve got them. (Yesterday and this morning, but the point still stands!) I still don’t know how this year is going to pan out – but I’m enjoying it as it comes. I am of course, a little homesick – Edinburgh’s Fringe is just beginning and in those moments when I’m not running around Delhi, I get attacks of jealousy for people enjoying it, and the family holiday I’m missing. But then I remember that I’m in India, I’m going to Shimla this weekend, and the Taj Mahal next, and the longing to be on a camping holiday with my mother and her flatulent friend fades away like the longing for beef when I have thali.
(Perhaps when I next write, I will have slept more, and be able to actually make sense.)