That’s how I’ve been greeted most of my time in Chennai so far. India is an incredible place. The first thing I noticed was the colors. Every where you look is just bursting with color, from the fruit and vegetable stands to the thousands of different fabrics seen at tiny storefronts, to posters and billboards all around the city, to the beautiful bunches of flowers strung together for decoration by women. Even the people are colorful, there are some with a “wheatish” complexion, some even darker and I am, and some of every shade in between. The presence of such an atmosphere speaks a lot about Indian culture. Indians are a very lively people.
Our first day in India was one that was long awaited. After thousands of miles and 18 hours of traveling, we finally reached our destination at about 6 am, a hostel in Chennai. Our country coordinators welcomed us warmly, placing bindis on all of our foreheads, symbolizing a warm welcome and well wishes for what we had in store. They fed us well and we were only at the hostel for a couple days until we met our host families. I met my host mom, Latha in the evening and her 9 year old daughter and husband later on. They were so warm and welcoming and wasted no time before feeding us all that we could tolerate. It’s now been over 2 weeks since we got to India and it’s been quite an experience. We’ve taken rides in auto rickshaws, visited an array of markets selling fine fabrics for sarees and kurtees to those selling several varieties of fish, squid, and prawns. The food has been amazing and so far, my stomach has been agreeing with me, thankfully. One thing I really love about the food is that everything is made fresh. All the doughs, curries, masalas, gravies, chutneys, are all made from scratch and made fresh. I’ve also been told that almost everything I’m eating is good for my health and that the more I eat, the better. In fact, my host father does not think I eat enough and insists on overfeeding me so that I will “gain some”. I’ve mastered eating with my right hand without offending anyone, which sounds easy, but gets tricky when it comes to rice.
Our days here are long, but in a good way and they change every day. This week we visited one of the best health providers in Chennai, which happens to be where the first AIDS cases in India were identified in 1986. We actually met the woman who made these discoveries, which was so inspiring. Other days we may have classes and guest lecturers most of the day. Yesterday was a big day for many Indians. It was a day to celebrate the birthday of Lord Ganesha, one of the well known gods in Hindu culture. Ganesha is though to invoke good fortune and wisdom, as well as a prosperous future. It’s not uncommon to see at least 5 Ganesha’s in some form throughout your day in India. I’ve seen many dangling from rearview mirrors, on dashboards, stickers, framed paintings, Ganesha is worshipped in all forms. He’s the chubby god with the elephant head, which has a story behind it in itself…but that’s for another time. Pictures soon to come, I promise :)