Our first week in India has been nothing short of incredible. From bargaining at the local markets to traveling to work, each interaction with the locals has made me realize how the simplest of conversations here can require great effort due to language and cultural barriers. The immense intricacies that compose small talk and the unspoken social rules that govern our lives seem arbitrary now that I’m in a place that does things a little differently, and I’m learning that that’s okay. For example, on the metro, I’m not supposed to sit next to a woman I don’t know – a seemingly harmless act in the States. Yet two men holding hands signifying friendship, an act that certainly draws looks at home, is completely fine. There is not one culture that is more correct than the other and seeing something done in a different way makes me challenge what I’ve come to know as “normal.” The difference between Indian culture and American culture was only the tip of the iceberg as we began our work.
The bulk of our time here is divided into two projects. In small groups of two or three student-athletes, we spend three weekdays working with our respective non-profit organizations. The other two weekdays, all ten of us participate in activities at a local school, D.A.V. Public School, sitting in on different classes and playing sports games with the students.
On our first day at the school, we joined a music class where the teacher taught us the “Gayatri Mantra,” a classic Hindu mantra from the Rig Veda. This simple, eleven-word Hindi chant contains an entire paragraph of rich meaning in the English language, declaring one’s devotion to God and how He will guide us through any negative events in our lives. We recited the mantra upwards of fifty times for meditation throughout the week, so I had plenty of time to reflect on my experience so far.
There is no need to elaborate on all the wonderful things I have seen in my first week because, like the “Gayatri Mantra,” a little goes a long way. If the mantra is worth seventy-six words, a picture is worth a thousand. Here are my top three photos of the first third of our trip:
- This photo is of the wall that surrounds the non-profit where I am working. SPYM works as a drug rehabilitation center for juvenile delinquents. Seeing the mural of an iconic video game character Mario combating drug-themed villains from his series really put this tough issue into perspective for me. These are children long before they are criminals, and they deserve to be treated with the same compassion and respect as any other child.
- This photo was particularly interesting to me. In the Sunday papers, there are advertisements for eligible bachelors and bachelorettes, so that their parents can begin to arrange marriages between them. Seeing this caused intense discussion between our group and program directors about masculinity, tradition, and what it means to be a woman in different cultures.
- Taken at Red Fort, this photo highlights the immense population size of this country. Personal space does not really exist here, and while it was uncomfortable at first, I’ve come to appreciate the closeness that strangers share with one another. Coming extremely close to cars or other pedestrians while walking down the street is just a fact of life, not something to be concerned about.