First Impressions


…aka a whole bunch of babbling about this beautiful, crazy city. I sent my family an email and figured instead of writing a new post, I’d just post parts of it here (lightly edited for clarification purposes) because I’m exhausted and it’s only 8 pm. The sun sets here around 6:30, so…it’s hard to stay up super late because we feel like it’s so late already.

Jet lag hasn’t really been a problem, which I’m surprised about. My sister always takes like a week to adjust, and her husband does too. Even one of the girls in the program who has travelled extensively said she’s surprised none of us are too jet lagged because usually she just sleeps for like a day or two when she arrives in Europe. So I guess we’re lucky! Or maybe we’ll feel it tomorrow? Haha…who knows.
It’s gorgeous here — I love the trees, they’re super tropical looking. There’s one kind that looks kiiiiinda like a jacaranda but with less blossoms that’s so gorgeous. They have bright orange/red blossoms and every time I see one I feel so happy. :)
I think mostly the weirdest/most different part is all the trash on the streets and sides of the roads. It’s everywhere, and people sit in trash heaps sometimes and pick through it. There’s also a lot of cow dung on the sidewalks that you have to avoid (it smells so bad!) and cows just chill on the side of the road really peacefully. There are donkeys too. The cars barely even slow down when people cross the street, but when cows cross the streets every single car comes to a complete stop and waits for the cow to cross, because they’re sacred here and slaughtering them is illegal, etc. They’re really beautiful animals — I don’t think I’d ever realized how massive they are.
You have to look down almost all the time when you walk because there are often huge holes in the sidewalk and if you fell in you’d seriously hurt yourself because they’re several feet deep and usually filled with icky water. We also live across the road from the open sewer-river thingy and it smells pretty bad but…honestly I’ve already gotten pretty used to the fact that everything here just smells a little bit decomposed. Sometimes I walk by shops that smell like incense and stop for a minute to cleanse my nose :)
Most of the people here are very dark skinned and pretty short, with rounder features than Europeans. They definitely seem tiny compared to me and a couple of the other people in the group, and when we bought a few clothes yesterday I didn’t fit in many tops because everyone here has narrow shoulders and really small chests, whereas I don’t. But the pants are all long enough, and I found a nice tunic. We have to wear a chulidar  (tunic and pants with a headscarf) to the temples, and our heads have to be covered in those. Whenever you buy pants or a chulidar outfit they give you a matching headscarf, so I have two now. The clothes here are so diverse for the women, it’s hard not to stare at the women because they’re all so beautifully dressed and I always want their outfits! Hahaha. Even the poor women typically look really nice in their clothes — appearance/nice clothes are really important to them here. If they have nice clothes but they’re badly wrinkled, etc they’d almost rather not even go outside.
We went down one street today that had more beggars than usual, but there were only like 4 or 5. Usually they have children, too, and they follow you for a bit because they assume all americans are very rich, but unfortunately we just have to walk by. I want to help, but I can’t really do much for them and hopefully they’ll find luck elsewhere. It’s hard seeing the really poor children, though, because you know they’re likely to be poor all their lives. It’s more common up north to see people begging in commercial areas. Here there are some slums nearby and I’m sure those are more devastating than anything I’ve seen yet, but there’s much less poverty here in Bangalore, whereas up north there are more people, less space, less education etc…
There have been a few womens shelters though that we’ve walked by, and a YWCA with free counseling and I think cheap housing for working women, which is really nice. This city is pretty progressive for India, and they have a school for “spastics” as they call them here that I think we’re gonna tour because it’s a pretty big deal here to educate them instead of forcing them to be destitute. We met one man yesterday who is getting his PhD who has a developmental disability and was so lovely, and he goes to that school so we will see him again. He was so happy to see us :) We’re required to do several hours of community service/volunteering here at a non-governmental institution, so I might look into helping at the womens shelter. I’m not sure yet.
Everyone here is so friendly at the university, and they smile a lot when they talk and are typically very pleasant. They also bobble their heads a lot which is so lovely. It’s a side to side motion that is SO adorable and endearing, and they say it when they agree with you or as “ok” or just when they’re talking and want to make a point.
Almost everyone here speaks English, unless they’re very poor, because there are over 20 languages in the whole of India (here it’s kannada) and not everyone speaks Hindi (it’s more common in the north) but people are from so many places that their only common language is English. I’m pretty sure almost all classes here are taught exclusively in English, because we’re allowed to sit in on psychology classes etc, which I think I will do.
Everyone in the program is so happy to be here and has a real passion for India. We all wanted to come here to be outside of our comfort zone, and we all have different things we loved about India that we came for. Our apartment is nice sized, and we have a nice living room (with a fridge in it haha) and a water purifier so we don’t have to boil all our water. We have a bathroom in our room and the shower is just a shower head like a foot away from the toilet…the entire bathroom is essentially the shower, and then you get the whole room wet when you bathe haha. It’s actually really nice. I’ve taken basically cold showers every time so far because it gets so muggy. I think typically people here fill up a big bucket and then scoop water onto themselves, so I did that today because our drain was a little clogged and I wanted to try it. I actually think I might bathe that way a lot here — it was really easy and nicer than using a ton of water to shower.
We live in a “suburb” of Bangalore, Koramangala, and even though it’s outside of the main city of Bangalore it seems so huge. We walk about 45 minutes to the university, but there are lots of places to eat and shop nearby which is nice. I haven’t taken an auto-rickshaw yet but I will soon. That will be a whole new adventure!
I still have to get used to how many people stare at us when we walk around. They just love to look at us…we’re “exotic” which is something I’d never experienced before. I was surprised, though, because people set up stands on the side of the road to sell fruit or shoes, but they never shout out at you to buy their goods. They just sit patiently and wait for you to come to them, which is really nice and less overwhelming.
The cars honk ALL the time, mostly just to let you/other cars know they’re there. People ride lots of motorcycles here and weave in and out of traffic, so sometimes they zoom up on you out of nowhere while you’re walking. But strangely I never feel afraid here. They truly live without fear, and I think I’ve accidentally adopted that. Caution, yes. Fear, no. You just walk out in front of traffic when you need to cross the street, and the cars/busses etc slow down but normally don’t stop. You just have to keep walking at a steady pace — don’t run — and you’re fine. It’s always a minor triumph every time we successfully cross the street, and we’ve gotten really good at it, even on big 4-6 lane streets.
Don’t worry Mom, we’re all ok :) It’s very normal here.
I haven’t gotten sick yet — I’m expecting to, as are we all, but so far it’s been ok. They eat heavy meals in the morning, lighter lunch, light dinner. It’s strange to eat spicy food in the morning, but also really delicious. I had a butter masala dosa (kinda like a rice pancake with mushed potato, onions and spices that you dip in a sauce) this morning. I ate it all with my right hand and was so proud of myself :) I also had fresh mango juice (more like a puree) that was so amazing I thought I might cry. Mangoes are in season for one more week — once the monsoon season starts they all rot and don’t make it to market. I plan to stock up soon because MANGOES ARE MY EVERYTHING.
All my love from India! xo
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Between


I guess I can cross “drink a Heineken in Germany” off my bucket list. While I’m at it, I could create a bucket list…

So I’m halfway to Bangalore! I’m sitting in the Frankfurt Airport eating pineapple slices and drinking beer. It seemed like a good purchase at the time. To be honest, it still feels pretty good. People were looking at me strangely for a while and I thought maybe I wasn’t supposed to drink beer in this particular part of the airport until I realized, it’s 9 am here… Whatever, it’s midnight my time and I just flew in a tin can for 10 hours, so I deserve a beer.

I’ve already learned a few things during my short travels, and I thought I’d tell you about them before I pass out in a corner from confusion and early-onset jet lag (that’s a thing, right?):

1. I’m apparently a nervous pee-er. I don’t think I’ve ever used the restroom this many times in two days, much less 12 hours.

2. TSA agents in Seattle tend to be friendly. TSA agents in Frankfurt…not so much. An extremely sassy (and when I say sassy, I mean grumpy) German man told me to leave my sweatshirt and shoes on as I went through security, which then caused the scanner to beep and then I got aggressively patted down. I’m always patted down at airports. I should just expect a subtle grope, at this point, when I travel. In the States, they usually tell you they’re going to use the back of their hands and then they’re really gentle about it, but here the lady (who was really nice, thank god) basically gave my boobs a squeeze and it was a little bizarre. It wasn’t creepy or bad, it was just bizarre. Anyway, screw that noodle-brained man for making me leave my shoes on and causing me to get fondled.

3. Apparently I give off a German vibe. I’m flying on a German airline, so all the flight attendants speak both English and German. Even though their default language for addressing most people was English, they always started nattering on to me in German and I could barely get a word in to tell them I couldn’t understand anything they were saying. Even an Indian lady started talking to me in German. I should’ve made a sign (I’m Very American) and worn it the whole flight.

4. Hot towels are a gift from the gods. I love them, and they love me, and my face loved them, and they loved my face.

5. Children like me. A lot. The little Indian girl sitting in front of me kept playing peek-a-boo between the seats with me. It lasted a really long time, and I didn’t really know what to do because we didn’t speak the same language, so I just kept puffing my cheeks out and waving. I probably looked like an idiot. She didn’t care.
I was also slobbered on by a small German child who looked like he was my offspring and it was both weird and awesome at once.

6. You can tell what people are saying usually, even if you don’t speak their language. Sass and hand gestures are universal.

7. Seriously, guys. Everyone thinks I’m German. At this rate, I’ll be making wiener schnitzel for the entire airport before I board my flight.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Oh. Bye!


I leave in 2 days. I don’t entirely know how this all snuck up on me so fast, because it feels like yesterday I was pulling all my hair out studying for exams and suddenly…my bag is almost completely packed (full of malaria pills and anti-diarrhea medications).

I’ve been trying to take mental pictures/videos for the last few days, realizing I won’t see certain parts of my life for several months. The wheat fields I drive past every day. The tree in my back yard I’ve always loved the most. My cat (I’m still thinking up ways to sneak him into India). The sound and smell of nighttime out here. And every time I eat something (tacos, mostly) I think “I’ll miss this.”

But then I remember…I’ve wanted to go to India for so long, and now it’s finally happening. Sure, I’m scared (I’m really, really scared, because there are so many unknowns and my brain can’t keep up with all the possible death/illness scenarios I’ve been conjuring up for the past few weeks), but my fear can’t hold me back this time. My life’s about to be turned upside down, inside out, sideways, backwards. And I’m so glad, because there are a lot of things about the way I passively live my life that I need to change. I’ve got to wake up and smell the coffee, people! I’m forcing myself to be so far out of my comfort zone I’ll probably never return to it. I’m pretty proud of myself for that.

So for now, goodbye! I probably won’t write again until I’m in India (yeeee!), and I’ll probably be so jet lagged my brain drips out of my ears, so get ready for some semi-incoherent posts in the not-so-distant future. Wish me luck!