Three reflections from India

India is a land of vast diversity. So far during our time in India we have experienced a plethora of different religions, customs, rituals, ways of life, cultures, etc. A prime example of this has been the clear contrast of our recent village study in the Himalayan Mountains to the rest of our stays in larger cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, and Udaipur. We split into three different groups of about eight people in each and set off for three separate villages. We spent one day and one night in our villages and then came together to describe our different experiences to the whole group. Each group had generally similar experiences with their respective villages. One group experienced the local village culture by helping carry manure, in bags, on their heads down steep mountain paths. Another group had the privilege of visiting with and talking to the village mid-wife. The third group introduced the Macarena to some of the children; they ended up having so much fun with it they didn’t want to stop.

Hospitality was a common theme throughout all the village stays. Everyone in the villages was so kind and accepting of us staying with them for a night. Each group had someone who could interpret the language so that we all had a chance to share in a conversation with the villagers. Staying in the villages has definitely been a highlight to the trip so far. It was a great experience getting out of the cities and into a beautiful rural Himalayan culture. Sharing with the locals and experiencing their culture has made me really appreciate India in its diversity.

-Matt Swartzentruber

When was the last time you were surprised? Maybe it was a pleasant surprise like a letter from a long lost friend. Or maybe your found your carpet soiled by your house-trained (or so you thought) dog and the surprise wasn’t pleasant at all.

Here in India we’ve had our fair share of pleasant and unpleasant surprises. For instance, back in Kerala at the Sarang Center, we were treated to a nice, formal meal served by bowtie-wearing hotel management students – pleasant surprise. A few minutes into the meal, the song from the late 90s that everyone loves to forget, “Barbie Girl,” began playing…LOUDLY – unpleasant surprise. That might seem like a silly example, but it illustrates fairly well the kind of odd juxtapositions we witness every day. For everything that seems “normal” to me at first, there is always something surprising right beside it that takes me right back out of my comfort zone.

However, since things like this are happening constantly, it’s come to be something we expect to happen. A few of us made up a game called “surprising or not?” Whenever something crazy happens, we ask the question, and more often than not find ourselves answering the question with “not surprising.” The fact that wild situations occur so often has encouraged us to take on the attitude that we can’t let ourselves get too comfortable. With this mind-set, we’re pretty much ready for anything to happen – at any time. People being awkwardly close to you, driving the wrong way down a highway, men wearing sparkly pink sweater vests, none of it really fazes us anymore. Expecting ridiculous things to happen hasn’t taken the fun out of anything, just kept us from going insane.

For this trip, flexibility is crucial, and I hope by practicing flexibility this semester in a country where it is completely necessary, I can develop a skill that will be useful throughout life.

-Ryan Eshleman

After finishing our village study with SIDH, the group is now in Mussoorie. We toured Woodstock school and had a couple days to relax. It has been great to have mornings free to wander up mountain roads and explore. This is a conversation I had earlier today.

I was sitting on a mountain park bench in Landour listening to music and writing in a notebook. I sensed a figure to my left. It was a fifth grade girl, leaning, with her arms stretched out toward me offering a bag of munchies. Looking up, I met her eyes. “Would you like some?” “Yeah, thanks,” I reply. As soon as my fingers could feel the salty residue on the inside of the bag, a dozen other girls scrambled over. As I Lifted my eyes from the bag of snacks, I saw six other arms offering me everything from chocolate to sour straw candy. Where are you from? Are you a writer? What do you want to be? Are you a Christian? The high pitched conglomeration of sound stewed together in my head. I turned to one of the girls and asked, “What did you say?” I talked with the girls for about 20 min. They told me about their cousins, aunts and uncles who live in America, Canada and Europe. A couple of them told me they wanted to be pop stars when they grew up. To show me their stuff, they began singing Justin Bieber songs to me and I clapped for them when they finished. They were quite good. Afterwards, the other girls talked to me about things like their blood types. I told them that I was impressed they knew their parents blood types, too. When they needed to go, I waved goodbye and they told me not to forget them. I told them I wouldn’t and one of the girls handed me a goodbye candy bar. I enjoyed it all the way down the mountain.

It has been fun,

-Stewart Nafziger