First Days in India

I made it to India! I will be here for 10 weeks, working for Human Rights Law Network in Delhi, thanks to the PHRGE Fellowship. Today is only my second day here, but my first impressions are good so far.

First of all, I don’t feel nearly as much like a zoo animal as I did when I studied in Beijing, China. As a 6 foot tall white female, I was gawked at, pointed at and even chased down the street with cameras. Here, I am certainly getting some surprised looks, but luckily it has not been too intense.

Transportation has been exciting… Exiting the airport, I was an easy target for an attempted taxi scam. But luckily I was advised by former PHRGE fellows on how to get a legit taxi for a reasonable fixed price. When I declined the five men who immediately swarmed around me, whisked my bags into their car and reluctantly answered my request to know the price before I got in (which was almost 10 times the amount of a fixed price taxi), they nicely gave me my bags back and said “your money, your decision” with a smile.

The driver who finally took me to my new house had only a vague idea of where we were going and had to ask about 20 different people along the way how to get there through these crazy streets. Those silly white lines on the road mean nothing and my land lady says there really are no road rules. The streets are jam-packed with buses, cars, taxis, auto rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians. And there is constant honking. While honking at home generally means “move it slow poke” or “watch out,” here it seems to have many more meanings: I’m turning right, I’m turning left, you’re about to crash into me, move out of the way, don’t pull into my lane, don’t cross in front of me, or I’m coming through at full speed no matter how slow you cross the street. Riding in an open air auto rickshaw with no seat belts makes this pretty exciting.

When I finally arrived, my new land lady quickly made me feel at home. I am staying with Mrs. Malik, a woman who several former fellows stayed with in the past and recommended. I am renting a nice room on the roof of her house and am very thankful for the air-conditioner, as it is over 100 degrees. However, she informed me that it should not run for more than 5 hours at a time or it will “burn”(?) She told me to wake up and turn it off at 2:30am and just use the fan to circulate all the cool air already produced. Hmmm. Well, since I was waking up every 1-2 hours anyway due to the lovely cold I caught the day before arriving in India, I followed instructions. But by 5am I couldn’t take it anymore and had to turn it back on.

Today I planned to go to the nearby market in hopes of finding an electrical adapter so I could recharge my American technology to stay connected to home. But because I am sick  and now have no voice and the market is full of small vendors who would likely be aggressive bargainers, my land lady hailed a rickshaw to take me instead to a big air-conditioned mall. Ah, much better than trying to avoid heat stroke. Luckily she gave me a quick tour of the neighborhood so that I could better direct my rickshaw driver coming home this time. Considering I can barely talk today, I was pleased with my first haggling experience and was able to convince a rickshaw driver to take me home for just 10 rupees (.18¢) more than my land lady had bargained to get me there. Not too shabby for the voiceless foreign girl.

I am excited to start my first day of work tomorrow and will hopefully meet other interns to join me in exploring our new surroundings.

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