Culture Shock 2.0





After my last few beautiful days in Pondicherry, I made my way by bus back to Bangalore. As I arrived by taxi at the bus station, I glanced over and saw a woman, also white, traveling alone. She looked like a pretty standard Euro traveller, older – maybe 55, backpack and fanny pack securely fastened, and had the most piercing blue eyes. We made small talk and I got some small amount of glee from being able to tell her that “Yes, I’ve ridden the Indian buses many, many times,” replaying in my head my absurd stories, bizarre experiences and wonderful adventures on said transport. It’s so good sometimes to be able to feel competent. After being here for 6 months, that’s the least I can hope for. Anyway, we boarded the bus, happened to be placed together and proceeded to have the most interetsing conversation about our lives, why we’re in India, etc. She, it turned out, is a professional tango dancer who competes around the world, as well as having a side job as a partially retired massage therapist. She’s from Belgium, but lives in Amsterdam and spent 3 years in the States, less than 5 hours from my house. She lives a life most would be envious of – making enough money by massage to sustain her apartment and pay for her next 6-week trip to somewhere she is determined to go but has never been to. She will only go to places where she knows someone (she was getting ready to meet up with her friend from Hyderabad in Hampi) and can stay for longer than a month. She had a husband but when she decided she wanted to live this kind of life, they divorced and are now more like boyfriend and girlfriend, meeting up when she comes home and staying apart while they’re apart. Easily, one of the most interesting women I’ve ever met.

I got off my bus and after the normal Indian confusion, between my program director, his assistant, my rickshaw driver, etc. eventually managed to find my way to our new apartments, which delightfully, I can say are far more beautiful than anything we had last semester – they’re a little smaller and farther from school, but just barely, and they come completely devoid of mold, cockroaches, dim lighting, rusty nails and weird stains. They are actually quite lovely even by Western standards – barely lavender walls, reflective white stone floors, Western toliets/sprayers (like the kind you have in your kitchen sink – we definitely prefer them here to the traditional water buckets and hand combo) and semi-new furniture. I was amongst the first to arrive and settled into my new apt. so happily, awaiting the new group. The next day was spent with old Indian friends, absorbing back into Bangalore and just finding myself so elated to be back.

Then, at 4am, the doorbell rang. Unnerved but content with the fact that my door was locked, I rolled over and fell back asleep, only to awake to it again at 4:30am. Hesitantly, I listened by the door for voices – hearing an American woman, I opened it only to be toppled over the her hug! R had just arrived, one of only 3 other people, including me, in our program who had opted out of the optional Kerala tour the week prior to orientation. Her taxi, arranged through our program, had never showed up at the airport and she had to adjust to try and contact our program directors, arriving 3 hellish hours later at my door. We stayed up until dawn talking – she is in a more unique position here than anyone else.

She met Y 3 years ago at a Holi (the Hindu festival of color) celebration at her college when he threw a huge handful of red pigment at her and she, very romantically, choked on it and had to go wash out her mouth. They started talking though, chatting all night, and within two weeks acknowledged to each other that they believed they were soul mates. Within 3 months they had secretly married, at the town hall, without telling his conservative Hindu family or her Orthodox Jewish one. They’ve now been married and living together for 2 years and she has moved to India in part to meet his family and be introduced as Y’s “girlfriend”…while he’s still in the U.S.! Her bravery and courage continues to astound me.

Adapting to the new group isn’t easy. I miss the last batch so much – the comfort and familiarity of it all. However, I feel so pulled in already by this new one too. There’s a very different atmosphere to it – everyone hangs out together all the time, unbroken by cliques. We aren’t segregated as we were last semester when we were all living in different buildings – instead we have 6 apartments right next to each other, with everyone leaving their doors open, free to company and conversation. It’s a unique community to create over and over again, but I feel so glad to be part of it not just once, but twice!