Well, people, it’s hard to believe, but I’ve officially been living in India for ONE WHOLE YEAR. Whoa, dude. Time flies, doesn’t it? When you’re a kid an entire year seems like a lifetime, but as you get older, it’s really just a little blip in time. Funny how that happens. So, I say this to all you dreamers out there. . .if you’re thinking about moving, or traveling, or doing something different, just go for it. Time goes fast and you might as well do something with it, right?
I can’t say that this past year has been all peaches and cream, of course, because that would be a total lie, but it’s usually the way life goes no matter the geographical location. Living in India has taught me the simplest of joys and showed me the deepest of sorrows.
It has been an assault on my senses, on my mind, on my heart. . .
I know that the range and depth of emotions I feel in this crazy land, by this crazy land, for this crazy land will be etched into the tiny crevices of my soul for however many lives I may live. . .and no matter where I go, or what I do, mother India will always be a part of me now.
To reflect on the past year and share with all of you, I have put together a list of fifteen things I have learned in this confusing, beautiful, confronting, magical, absurd, sacred land. Here they are:
1. The Value of $1.00
As I write this, the current exchange rate is 67 rupees to ONE U.S. dollar. That sounds pretty great when you’re traveling and you want a good bang for your buck. But let me tell you, when you are earning in rupees and *living* in India, it’s a whole different thing.
For instance, I’m a runner. My shoes cost roughly 100 bucks. That is 6,700 rupees. SIX THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED. That is more than what a lot of people make in one whole month and by a couple thousand.
You can get a meal for 60 rupees and you can get a daily maid for 150 rupees. Just to make the equivalent of 30 bucks in a Western culture, some people have to work all day long or sometimes even several days, depending on what the job is.
In Goa, when a coconut falls to the ground, anyone within hearing distance knows that ten rupees is waiting. Why? Because that’s how much you can sell it for. Ten rupees saved is ten rupees earned. Who cares if that’s only FIFTEEN CENTS. That is some serious respect for money, man.
2. Haggling Skills
If you’re human, it’s basically your birth right to get overcharged for pretty much everything in India, and if you’re some shade of white, you may just get triple overcharged. I was not interested in the haggling system at all when I first arrived, but I must admit, it has turned into a fun game of getting the best deal now. After all, it IS part of the culture and I am living on rupees and not an expensive vacation budget.
“Hello, my friend,” the seller says.
“Kitna?” I point to some thing, asking how much.
“900 rupees for you, special price,” the seller smiles. . . and the battle begins.
First of all, every price is special because every price is always different depending on the buyer. Ah ha, tricky. A good rule of thumb when haggling is to divide the first price in half and then take off another couple hundred rupees. So, if something is 900, then you say 200. Got it? I know, I know, it seems too low, but don’t feel bad for anyone because nobody will sell something without making a profit. And chances are, you’ll still get ripped off. But, hey, when you grow up in a culture with so many people trying to get ahead, you can’t blame anyone for trying to get all the bang out of your bucks that they can.
3. Power cuts are Normal
The power goes out almost every day. Sometimes it’s just for a few minutes and other times it’s for the whole day. I have learned to make that smoothie when I think of it because you just never know when the blender won’t be able to turn on. It can be really annoying, but ultimately, it happens so frequently you just get used to it and do something else.
The last time I was in Seattle, I met up with a friend to drink margarita’s at a favorite bar. There was apparently some kind of power outage in one of the neighborhoods earlier in the day. The server greeted us by asking if our power went out. “Did you lose power today, too? And for how long?” she said, totally wrecked by the inconvenience. She didn’t know that I was just visiting, of course, but I found it really funny. People in India would look at me so strange if I asked them the same question. It’d be more appropriate to ask if it DIDN’T go out. Hahahahaha.
4. I can sleep Anywhere
It’s pretty common to see people doing anything imaginable at any given time or place in India. . .including sleeping. I have seen people sleeping in the strangest of places in the strangest positions all over the country and I’m officially one of them now. The above picture is me at the train station in Kochin. I was so damned tired I didn’t care where or how. I just needed to sleeeeeeeep!
5. Personal Space is a Luxury
I still have my moments when this notion is particularly jarring. Like, when I’m standing at the counter of a shop and someone comes up so close behind me they touch me, or better yet, press against me. It’s annoying every time. Why are you touching me??? I scream that in my head but then I remember there’s no etiquette about personal space here because when there’s billions of people, there just isn’t time for things like that. Duh. You’d spend your whole life in line if your manners had you wait. Psshhh.
6. When an old road is paved, there’s some Dodgey Government business going on
Imagine the morning I woke up to find our cute little windy road all manicured with fresh gravel. I thought to myself in wonder and marveled at our rustic neighborhood road looking so nice. This was also just before the monsoon rolled in, which was weird for more than one reason. Why would they put fresh gravel on the road just before the torrential rains? Won’t it just get washed away? That’s when I learned that some new guy was running for some government position. “That’s what happens”. . . I was told. . .”so it looks like they’re doing something for us and they get votes.” Hmm. Now, almost post monsoon, all I can see is potholes in our little road. I guess the guy got into office.
7. Enjoy the Simple Things
Living in this little village by the sea, having frequent power cuts, and not being anywhere near the amenities of a big city, it really teaches me to enjoy the simple things. I often revel in the view of our gorgeous sunsets, listening to the fingers of the palm tree leaves rattling in the wind. Just before sunset bike rides through the village and tropical fields. . .incense wafting through the air. . .and my favorite doggies waiting for cuddles. . .Hi-fives from kids as I run by their houses. . .and looking for my next favorite old style Portuguese house amidst the jungle backdrop.
8. IST = Patience
What is IST, you ask? Well, that’s what the timezone is referred to in the mother land. . .Indian Standard Time. And it’s not just your normal time. It’s reeeeeeaaaaallllllyyyy stretched out, like a rubber band sometimes. If someone says that thing will be done on Tuesday, it might not actually be done until the following Tuesday. . . sometimes even longer. Basically, things happen on their own pace around here and you are forced to develop a lot of patience. Or just be pissed all the time, which a lot of people are, but I figure that’s no fun.
9. Monsoon means any other kind of rain is merely Child’s play
I never thought I could be surprised by rain after living a decade in Seattle, but au contraire, I couldn’t have been more disillusioned. When Indians talk about the monsoon they are referring to a kind of rain that sometimes doesn’t stop for weeks at a time. . .and you have to tarp and board every single nook and cranny just to survive. . .and even then the aftermath looks like that of some crazy war. Yes, when it rains, it really rains. It is torrential downpour that turns fields into lakes, bending palm trees to the ground, the venomous wildlife thrives, and the mold is something close to that of an organic horror movie. Now, when I hear the word monsoon, my body shudders with grief and I get a tight feeling in my throat.
10. How to Say NO
“Hello, madam, I can take you here. . .” NO
“Hello, my friend, this is only 100 rupees. . .” NO
“I’m sorry, Delhi is closed. I can take you somewhere else for good price. . .” NO
“Yes, madam, I have these plastic chairs here for you, special price. . .” NO
There are countless confrontations in this odd land where I have to stand my ground and just say NO! I never was really good at that before, so I’m very thankful for the teachings. Being assertive in a culture like this is truly important for survival.
11. Shit Happens
In the past year, I have encountered several rounds of bad luck. Maybe it’s because it’s the Year of the Monkey and I’m a Monkey and according to all the reading it says that Monkey’s have bad luck this year. . .but, anyway. . .I’ve had my share. If you’re traveling and you get an upset stomach and sulfur tasting burps, don’t worry, it’s just giardia and it goes away. Get some medicine and maybe some charcoal tablets. Oh yeah, and if you get bit by a dog and you’re wondering what to do. . .you have to get FIVE rabies shots. Good news is, they’re pretty cheap and available in a lot of places. I once even got hit by a motorcycle while on my morning run. That bugger side swiped me, took me off my feet, and then me, him, and the bike skidded to the side of the road. By the luck of the faeries, I must’ve floated, because I barely had a scratch on me. Like I said, shit happens, but it gives me stories to tell.
12. A Smile can be Dangerous
Coming from the oh-so-bubbly norm of good ol’ America, it took me awhile to get used to not smiling at strangers. In India, smiling at the wrong person could be seen as instigating some kind of sexual advances. Um, no thanks. It turns out just staring blankly is safer, but in some cases, just avoiding any eye contact in general is best.
13. The ART of Honking and walking/driving through CHAOS
Whether you’re in a car, walking along the road, or on a bicycle, being on the streets in India is a daunting experience. There’s a lot of obstacles to dodge. It takes some time getting used to it, but after awhile, you just sort of barrel right through the chaos with a sense of conviction. It’s invigorating and pretty cool to be part of the perfectly choreographed mayhem. Honking, on the other hand, is the way to communicate to everyone else around. Honk, honk, I’m coming around the corner. Honk, honk, I’m turning right. Honk, honk, I’m coming up behind you. Honk, honk, hellooooo!
14. For the Love of Cows
Oh, the cows. I find their long eyelashes and stubborn ways sort of endearing, and after spending so much time with them in the past year, I kinda like their company. I’m constantly amused seeing them in places least expected. . .like the never ending concrete roads instead of the lush green fields, or better yet, the beach. . .I guess that just means there’s good luck, and a few laughs, everywhere.
15. Knowing I’m Lucky
Traveling around India is a mind opening experience. It breaks down everything you once thought, it assaults things you never knew could even be assaulted, and it shows you the good, the bad, the amazing, the disgusting, the magic, and the horrors of life. It reminds me all the time that I’m a lucky girl. . .coming from a privileged country with abundant opportunities.
Have you been to India? What things did you learn while traveling?