Hi all! As you can see, I have made it home from my incredible journey through India.
And so, welcome to my first non-related food post on my blog (normal post starts again tomorrow!)
I had trouble thinking about how to write this post. While every event that happened to me in the last 2 weeks have been amazing, I don’t want to bore you guys after the first paragraph.To prevent this, I’ve divided this post into sections and pictures, just to make it easy for you all. And so, these pictures aren’t exactly in chronological order.
I have to tell you, it was extremely hard to pick which photos to share- there were so many! I tried my best to select pictures that captured India as I saw it. Enjoy!
This first picture occurred right after landing in Delhi, India. After 23 hours up in the air with no sleep, I was a little slappy-happy. But flower necklaces are common welcoming gifts in India. We received a new necklace every time we entered a new village. I wanted to bring my necklaces back to frame them, but unfortunately airport security confiscated them 😦
The makeup in the middle picture is again part of celebratory customs. We got them at every new place we went to. Luckily, this makeup stayed on my forehead long enough for a picture- my bangs kept smearing them off! Another reason why I’m showing this image is because of the man in the upper-right side of the picture. Unbeknown to me at the time, this man is very influential to the area of India we were in. Princess Diana even visited him here once! His son, an actual prince, was our tour guide for a few days.
The last picture is welcoming food offered by the first school we visited. The treat on the left was my favorite- homemade cluster nuts! And of course, there was tea. Tea for them is usually what we would call chai tea. It was very tasty, but since it had a lot of milk and sugar, I had to limit my intake. But everywhere you go, tea is offered. While we toured a village one day, a man begged us to come into his house to have tea with him and his children. The house was tiny and barely had any furniture, but the man still wanted to share what he had. This is just one example (out of many instances) of how generous and nice everyone was over there.
The Schools I Visited
The main reason I traveled to India was to teach in the villages. So please excuse me if this section contains a large amount of pictures and commentary! While we traveled through the touristy Golden Triangle (Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra), we bused several hours to more rural areas for teaching everyday.
The first school we went to was in the mountains in the North, about 2 hours away from Delhi. This meant rather cold weather both inside and outside (40-50 degrees). Unfortunately, we were told that it was going to be 70-degree weather throughout the whole trip. And so, none of our clothes were really suitable for the cold This school was privately funded, meaning their classrooms had more learning materials than all the other schools we visited. Most of the students here were orphans and lived in the dorms located next to the school.
We also went on a tour of their living quarters:
Working in the classroom at this schools was so much fun! Most of the students understood English and then ones who didn’t had it translated for them. In this school, we played a lot of games and then separated into groups to answer questions about ourselves and where we live. It was very interesting; the students knew who Mickey and Minnie Mouse were and had heard of Justin Bieber, yet did not understand the concept of snow or what a beach was. And they absolutely LOVED it when you took pictures of them and then showed them the picture afterward. They thought it was hilarious and kept asking for pictures. Resulting in some of the following:
The next school we went to was in Jaipur, which is much more south (hello 70-degree weather!). This was a VERY rural village. We were told that most of the people had, and never would, leave the village as it was so far away from the rest of Indian civilization. As a result, 98% of the people had never seen people of a different ethnicity. Meaning, they were very fascinated by our clothes, skin, and even my hair! Both the teachers and students wanted to be near us and shake our hands (over and over again). While the teachers could speak English, the students did not know any. Therefore, we taught a lot of math- a pretty universal subject.
The last school we went to was more back up North, toward Agra. Again, this was another rural school. The school was constructed in 2007 by an ordinary man who realized that the local children had no school near them to attend. And so, the school was built completely independent of government help.
This is the school we decided our University would “adopt.” Every year, my school is going to return to this school to teach and give out supplies. We are also raising money to get the school plumbing.
Both the students and teachers at this school knew no English. Therefore, we had to run around to find our bus driver if we wanted anything translated. Again, we played a lot of basic games as well as teaching math here.
One of the most surprising things about India that I was totally not expecting were their roads and traffic. They put New York City to shame. EVERYONE blows their horns in India! But while we consider it rude and obnoxious here, they do so simply to let fellow drivers know of their presence on the road. Which is important because there are barley any stop signs or lights in India. And nobody pays attention to lanes. You just GO! And there were many close calls to being swiped (especially because of the many motorcycles on the rode). Most trucks even have a “blow horn” signs on the back of their vehicle. In addition to vehicles, the road is also shared by merchants, rickshaws, pigs, cows, MANY stray dogs, goats, sheep and- in the south- elephants and camels.
While we got a lot of stares in the busy cities, it was nothing compared to the attention we got in the villages. One of my favorite parts of the trip was simply looking out the window and watching as people realized who we were and then start waving at us. And if you gave them your attention, they became the happiest people on earth. And so, I was totally content with just sitting on the bus for hours at a time and just smiling and waving at people. In fact, I took a lot of pictures of people waving, just because I loved seeing their facial expressions.
Once actually in the village, children and adults followed us around and wanted our attention. They even put us on camels one day so we could get a chance to go through the entire village to meet everyone.
As a foodie, I was very excited to try authentic Indian cuisine. Now, before signing up for this trip, we were told that we’d be given the option of Western and Indian food at every meal. As much as I wanted to dig in to Indian food, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to do so right away. Unfortunately, I had no choice. Turns out we were lied to about the option of Western food (they needed people to sign up for this trip) and had to eat Indian food everyday.
Now for me, I had no complaints (at first). I’m not a picky eater and I knew a lot of the food would be fresh. While many of my fellow adventurers went on hunger strikes after Day 1, I was fine.
Here’s the problem though:
- I’m used to spicy foods. Curry and spice has no effect on my tastebuds and I couldn’t detect the spiciness everyone was complaining about. So I dug right on in.
- I no longer eat any grains (they make me feel bad). So, for a lot of the dishes, I’d forgo the bread and rice and just have the sauces. While I loved the taste, this was not good for my stomach, which was now dealing with foreign spices my dead tastebuds could not detect.
- I think traveling on a bus for hours at a time might have been upsetting to my stomach.
Come Day 3, I was sick to my stomach. I couldn’t bare to eat anything and was terrified of making the situation worse by consuming anything else (remember, we were only given Indian food). Since bread and rice also bother me, I had close to nothing left to eat. To make everything worse, I never knew when I’d have access to a bathroom.
Because of all this, I’d eat a hard-boiled egg for breakfast, skip lunch, and snack on applesauce and nuts I had packed from home for dinner. After 3 days of this, my stomach settled a little. Fortunately, at this point, the directors of our program realized many people were not eating, losing weight, and becoming weak and cranky. They finally took us to places where both Indian and Western food was served. Still, I was really hesitant to have a lot of complex foods. For the rest of the trip, I ate sautéed veggies (without sauces) and grilled meat or fish (without the spices).
The good that came of this was that my dad nursed me back to health for a week after I got home and made me large and (good) fattening meals- it was nice having someone cook for me for a bit 😉
And so, I’m ashamed to admit, I did not get around to as much food tasting and picture-taking as I would have liked. I do have some pictures though, and I occasionally sampled a few dishes- just to get a taste of the flavor. And I’m excited to replicate them now that I’ve gotten my stomach back!
Some common staples I picked up on: curry (duh), pineapple, paneer, cottage cheese, fruits, pomegranate, chicken and lamb, eggplant, raw onions, cauliflower, grilled tomatoes, rice, and naan.
There were obviously lots. Unfortunately, I can’t squeeze them all in. So here is a select few:
There were sooooo many. Again, I’m not posting it all. I’ll update this section as soon as I dig through my notes and find the names of these places!
And finally… the Taj Mahal!
1) The Taj Mahal is a tomb for Emperor Shah Jahan’s third and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
2) His first 2 wives are buried to the right and left of the Taj Mahal in small graves.
3) The designer of the Taj was Turkish. Since earthquakes can occur in Turkey, he built the Taj Mahal to withstand earthquakes by building the pilars at a 92 degrees angle (as opposed to straight up). This way, if they fell, they’d fall away from the main building. Funny thing is, they don’t ever get earthquakes in this portion of India.
4) The Taj Mahal is perfectly symmetrical. The only thing that isn’t is the placement of the coffins inside: the queen is placed at the center of the building with the emperor off at the side. This was not by mistake though. According to religion, only God is perfect. Therefore, no manmade thing should be made to rival him.