Hi everyone! I've been in Mumbai for about a week now and it's been crazy! I left home on the 8th for orientation in D.C. and met up with all of the other YES students. I actually like orientations a lot because it really helps you get ready to live without your family. Of course, everytime someone asks me what I miss about home, I get a little teary-eyed but otherwise it's okay.
So while in D.C. we got to look around a bit, see the government part of the city and drive past the capital. We also got to meet the inbound YES abroad kids who were all very sweet. All of us got to talk to kids from our host countries except for the malayasia kids. With them, we visited the department of state (which is super strict and makes you take an escort to the bathroom) and the embassies (which were all very pretty). There was a talent show for all the kids as well, but specifically only Egypt and the Phillipines preformed. It was awesome!!! I especially liked the phillipines dance because there were two-three groups dancing at once and all of the costumes were matching (well same with Egypt but their's wasn't as colorful and diverse. Not that their wasn't interesting, I just like the phillipines one a lot). We had a nice dinner before we left for the airport and then we were off.
Because there has been a swine flu scare in India (well people are dying but seriously, you can treat it like any normal flu, I've been told), the embassy made us wear facemasks on the flight which was really awkward. People gave us all kinds of weird looks and anyone who has worn a facemask before can tell you how unfun it is. Basically, it's just like having a swamp around your mouth. Once we were beginning to land though in India, other people started putting on their masks too. We got through customs all right and were soon ff to our guesthouse in Delhi.
Now, mind you, it was the middle of the night plus swine flu, so I didn't experience the steriotypical "all the cabdrivers want you in their car". Also we already had a driver but that isn't the point. I was really thankful that didn't happen either. Oh, Delhi is much hotter than Mumbai, like painfuly hot even at night. Although I was only there for a while, I can say so.
Our orientation went well there and we met quite a few people, like Angela the chairperson of AFS India and the American ambassador to India (sorry I don't remember his name). In fact we met him in his sweaty running clothes which was kind of awkward but oh well. There were 3 Italian girls with us there as well and they were very nice. Finally, we were getting on the plane to Mumbai, Dushyant from AFS, Austin, and I. It was a noisy flight since two little boys sat in front of us and I made the mistake of amusing them with making silly faces. Plus one kept on poking Austin. Hmmm it wasn't very pleasant.
At the airport our host families came to pick us up and I finally met my family. They're very nice; I have a mom, dad, and two sisters. We live in this "posh" area called Powai in a large apartment complex and it is relatively quiet when compared to the other more populous areas. The apartment is very big, and has a balcony overlooking the lakes called talab (a view you can only get here). I have my own room that used to be my sisters but she is sleeping with the older one. You see, the older one goes to school in London so she's here for vacation. Once she goes back in October, we'll decide who will be in what room. Also, my host sisters speak in english a lot not so much hindi, while my parents do. They also wear more western clothes than the traditional types.
Around the house, I don't have to do any cleaning since we have three maids and a cook who comes everyday. They all speak in hindi so I can't understand what they're saying except for "Didi, chai lelo". There is a misconception about India that all of the women wear saris. In reality only the married ones wear saris usually. So I asked my sisters if the one maid who wears a sari is married and they said yes but her husband left her and she has a three-year-old daughter. This is kind of surprising huh?
But enough about my house, you must be wondering about the city. For one, it is huge! There are thousands of people in the streets all the time, plus cows, trucks, cars, taxis, rickshaws, goats, and dogs. Yes, it is quite common to see cows and goats in the cities, pulling carts and heating hay. Sometimes one is right next to your window. And the reason that people walk in the streets is that the sidewalks are so disgusting. Rarely do people walk on the sidewalks unless they are going into a store or a house. And with the dirty roads, everyone has shoes with higher soles, sandals, tennis shoes, everything.
The slums.... are everywhere, you cannot escape them. And I will be honest, for me, I am not bothered when I drive by. Being in India, you have to expect everything to be a bit more in your face: the colors, the religion, the poverty. I mean, the first full day I spent, we drove right past a huge slum. And what can you do? Nothing, atleast not at the moment. You might be thinking I'm heartless but it is true what I'm saying. At the moment you are in your car, you cannot do anything for those people except maybe buy whatever the're selling if you want it. And that is not very often. I can recognize the slums instantly, they're not hard to miss. Buildings of concrete and brick with openings covered with blue tarp and dirty clothes and wet clothing hanging over the railings. But at the moment, my heart doesn't ache and pain and make me want to cry when I see the small children running around with dirty hair.
Of course walking along the street is different. I dread the times when the small children tug on the clothing of someone next to me, asking for money. I feel awkward because giving money might support whoever has governship of them, their alcoholic fathers or slum lords. I was given the advice to buy them small treats but with my host mother shooing them away, that is hard to do. After my family changes in january I expect to see more of this since there are no beggars where I live right now (I can see a slum from my balcony but that isn't the same).
I only started school yesterday but I had to "bunk" today so that I could go to the foreigner registration office. But because our visas said Delhi, Dushyant has to get a letter and we have to go back tomorrow. And because school shut down because of swine flu, we have school that next 5 sturdays. So I'm missing two days of school. Not that I especially mind, it's just very tiring. I'm already behind the other students plus they're all geniuses anywa, so it will be difficult to catch up. Oh and yes, I do have to wear a uniform but it's fairly nice compared to others. It's just aa button-up short and skirt plus black shoes and you have to keep your hair tied. Some schools make you wear shirts, pinafores (dresses), and make you braid your hair and tie with ribbons. I sa some of those kids around today and I'm so glad to have my uniform be so simple.
Anyways that's all for now. Ganapati (or the festival of Ganesh) starts this Sunday so I'm very excited for that. I'll write again soon!