As a Fishel fellow, I was placed in India with JDC Entwine Multi-Week Global Jewish Service Corps with Gabriel Project Mumbai, and I am now working in Berlin as a JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps fellow.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

First Day in India!


Today was JAM-PACKED in the best way possible.  In the morning, I got to walk around the city for the first time, which was such an experience, especially with the torrential downpour.  People are everywhere- in the streets, in shops lining the streets, in cars and rickshaws, on bikes, on top of trains and buildings.  It’s total sensory overload, and I love it.  When I got back to the apartment, we had Hindi class (learned the days of the week and a few questions) and then Indian culture class.  We learned what is considered rude and polite in Indian culture.  Some interesting things I learned:

-It is considered rude to stare at somebody when they are talking to you.  Instead, you are supposed to look away and bob your head around.

-If you are invited to something like a dinner at somebody’s house, it is considered rude to show up any earlier than 2 hours late.  So for example, if they say dinner is at 7, you better show up no earlier than 9 to avoid pissing people off.  Oh, and you have to bring candy.  Indians love candy.

-There are 653 main deities in the Hindu religion, and households choose a few favorites to worship.

-Some people eat food with just their fingertips, and others use their whole hands to scoop out food, and it is considered a compliment to slurp your food and burp.

Our teachers are these adorable 18-year-old Indians, Viraj and Meghna, and they hung out with us for the rest of the day.  We decided to go to South Mumbai, about an hour away by train.  To get to the train station, we took rickshaws, which are these little go-kart type of taxis that drivers weave through traffic in.

The back of my rickshaw driver's head

The train station was PACKED with people, but Meghna explained that this was not even a busy time of day.  I noticed that the trains all had open doors, and when I asked Megna if people ever fall off, she said, “Oh yes, about 7 every day, and they die.”  When I looked surprised she said, “It’s not a big deal.  There are loads of people here.”  That really stuck with me all day.  It’s hard to imagine living in a place where the sheer number of people makes it difficult to view people as individuals with value, and death is just an everyday occurrence. 

From the train, I got my first look at the slums that line the train tracks.  Entering South Mumbai, I was amazed by the stark contrast between this wealthy area and the absolute poverty that exists only miles away.  I’m sure I will get a better sense of all of this when I actually start working in the slums.

Roxanne, the other California girl and I got together to take a picture, and these 2 boys ran over to be in it.  Everybody stares at us here because for many of them, we are the first white people they’ve ever seen.  Also, note the Indian Ocean (well actually the Arabian Sea) in the background woohoo!

On the train ride back from South Mumbai (if you're cool, you call it "So-Bo" which is short for South Bombay), somebody came over to me and tapped my head while saying some kind of prayer.  Meghna explained that they call this kind of person a “lady boy” (hermaphrodite), and she was giving me a blessing.  I guess it was my lucky day that she chose me!  Meghna also told us about how hard of a life they have- they are basically thrown away by their parents from a young age and have to raise themselves.  It's a very rough life for so many people living here.
I had my first Indian chai tea (SO GOOD), and something called pani puri, which is a ball filled with onions, chickpeas, and some kind of curry sauce.  Let’s hope this doesn't result in stomach issues.  If it does, it was probably worth it anyways.

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