Waking up in New Delhi
My name is Will Tsang and I am a Public Health and Biology major entering my 3rd year. Many months ago, I decided to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime study abroad experience in India on a whim. I will be traveling all over North India for the next 3 months with faculty and peers from the School of International Training (SIT) on a program called India: Health and Human Rights. Below are my experiences of my first week in New Delhi and I hope you enjoy following my adventures and mishaps for the next several months!
Orientation and disorientation.
Opposite ends of the spectrum somehow smushed together in one lovely package, and shipped off to New Delhi, India—with me in it. That has been my experience so far since I arrived on Saturday night. And with all that, I have to say that it’s been an amazing adventure so far! Can I just say, sensory overload.
Before I start rambling about some of my experiences, I’ll briefly describe my study abroad program. Along with 17 other students from all over the US, we will be learning about health systems in India in the context of social justice and human rights through a seminar/experiential/excursion based model. Over the next three or so months, we will be 1) Visiting NGOS, schools, hospitals, and community health centres in urban and rural areas around Delhi, Aligarh, Udaipur, and Varanasi 2) Learning Hindi every morning 3) Having lectures from visiting NGO and health care workers 4) Interning at a local NGO or clinic for a week 5) Conducting a field study research called ISP (independent study project) on a topic and location of our choice during the last month and 6) Having chai tea. all the time.
Most of the lectures in the morning is based in the SIT learning center in South New Delhi, which is more like a big house, and run by the most wonderful people. So why India? I think what initially drew me to this program was how culturally immersive it was—not only learning the language and foundations of public health issues in a classroom setting, but to be able to live and breathe the social fabric of India. I was also entranced about the idea of living in a place where I would likely never had visited on a whim, and challenging myself to learn an entirely new set of cultural values and language. On top of that, I absolutely love Indian food—its at once simple, yet as diverse as the regions of the country. To sum it all up, this program is the complete package for me: Fueling the wandering travel bug inside me, engaging in academic work in the field I’m passionate about, and satisfying my tummy with delicious food.
Meet my new friend. I pass by her sometimes on the street side on my way to or from the SIT learning center. In the mornings, I commute from my host family’s quaint little home in Govindpuri by metro (train) and rickshaw, passing by crowded roads, the smell of street food, beautiful pockets of forests, poverty on one side and upscale metropolitan on the other. The city is alive in the mornings, and everyone seems to know exactly where they’re heading—there’s no time to stop and chat. Its my favourite part of the day, mostly because theres a wonderful cool breeze. That is until the 30+ degree (Or 90+ F) weather and stifling humidity sets in for the day.
On the first official day of classes, we started our intensive Hindi lessons with the Devanāgiri script, mātrās, and conjunct characters. We’re fitting in a semesters worth of introductory Hindi in a span of 6 weeks! But our instructors, Goutam Ji, Bhavna Ji, and Archna Ji (Ji is an honorific suffix for teachers and other respected people) are the most lighthearted, funny, amazing people. Goutam and Archna Ji are married, which makes for some adorable and hilarious moments in class. Azim Ji and Abid Ji, the academic directors, introduced the history and current state of India’s political economy in context of public health. India’s governmental and non-governmental actors play an incredibly complex role in India’s equally complicated health care systems—its fascinating and I’ll go more into it in future posts. The SIT centre feeds us tons. Chai, pakoras (Indian fritters), or cucumber sandwiches during our snack times, and a lavish lunch (more like a buffet). Lunch and dinner times are different here. We usually have lunch around 1, and dinner around 8:30-9, so I’m always hungry at dinner!
Oh, beds are different here too. There is a common belief that beds here are made intentionally rock hard to strengthen our backs. Seriously, all the beds I’ve seen consists of a solid wood frame with a 1 or 2 inch taut mattress, and a stiff pillow. I’m actually planning to document if indeed my back pains get any better from sleeping on these beds every night…
Most days our group end classes with lunch and head out for an adventure. So far, I’ve been to the Khan and Lajpat Nagar markets. The crowded bazaar marketplaces remind me of the bustling markets in Taiwan. Rows upon rows of stalls selling beautiful sarees, knockoff clothes brands, and trinkets of all shapes and sizes. It’s a great place to practice bargaining! I also found a bubble tea cafe called Chatime in Lajpat Nagar, the last thing I would expect to see in India! On Wednesday, we visited a famous Baha’i landmark called the Lotus Temple. It’s a beautiful white temple in the shape of a lotus flower, surrounded by 9 crystal blue ponds. We were required to take our shoes off and had to walk across the scorching hot brick road leading to the temple barefoot. To conclude our first week in New Delhi, some of us decided to visit Lodi Garden, known for its serene, almost anachronistic, landscape. It’s also a popular spot for couples to escape to. We saw some pretty intense PDA going on there, which was totally weird considering the very conservative views on relationships here. In the center of the park were several mosques and tombs from the Lodi Dynasty dating back to the 15th century. We even spontaneously acquired a tour guide who spoke six languages, I guess our group of mostly white people and one Chinese kid stuck out like a sore thumb.
It’s been an incredibly busy week and I’m usually exhausted down to the bones, not to mention drenched in sweat, by the time I return home. But it’s been an adventure so far! Look out for my next post on our excursion to the slums of New Delhi, where we see first-hand the work of local NGOs on improving education programs and also really cute kids.