Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I was walking, far from home

That song by Iron and Wine runs through my head when I walk down my street in Delhi. I'm in Paharganj, a very hectic, packed part of Delhi.

Hey all, I am in India. I came here from China. I have not travelled outside of the U.S. for about 4.5 years, so it was nice to get out while I'm still young. I've sent out a few mass emails to my family and a few friends, so let me know if you want the back story and I can forward you a few old emails.

So, I had this opportunity to go to China. My cousin, Jonathan, and my friend Chandler, were doing the "flagship program" with the BYU, where you study Mandarin for a year at BYU and then a year in China. They teased me that I should come out, and I took them up on it. I was like, 2 Mandarin speakers, yes please. And when I was about to buy a plane ticket, my coworker, Eric, was like, hey, we''l be in India, you should come. And I thought, a trip I can walk into? Perfect. But there was a gap of time between Chandler leaving China and my coworkers and friends flying into India. And Eric suggested I volunteer with an organization called Salaam Balak Trust. They work with street children, encouraging them to enter one of their homes and go to school and have a better life. So I am currently volunteering teaching English and some math to 5-15 students aged 10-16 years old. It has been so hard but so good. The reasons kids become street children is varied, including abuse at home, having dreams of the big city, or parents saying, get out of the house, you're old enough to get a job. I cannot imagine being a street child. These kids are hyper, and crazy, and get in little skirmishes all the time. I've become incredibly expressive with my hands. And it is really emotionally draining and hard. But these children are so precious. And I'm grateful I can be in their lives for a bit. It's wild because new kids come and old kids leave all the time. The goal with Salaam Balak Trust is to get kids back with their families, but if the children can't or don't want to go, they don't force them.

Luckily, I'm not doing this alone. Another girl is volunteering at the same time, a girl from London who is doing this as part of her teaching course (how cool is that?). So that makes it nice and less unbearable. My favorite moment each day is eating lunch with them. Sitting on the floor. Eating with my hands.

I'm negotiating the balance of taking people's friendships but then not sure if they are friend or foe. So I am erring on the not reciprocating this friendship side. I began by giving friendly strangers my number ( I got a supah cheap cell phone here) and arranging safe, public meetings. Then the next phase was giving strangers who helped me my number, but then not texting or calling back. And my final phase is to flat out say no. Like a rando guy when I was waiting for the metro (air conditioned, fixed price, yes please; no thanks autos or rickshaws!). He was like, hello you are from America, I love America, do you have facebook, can we meet again? (All in about 1 minute conversation). And I said no, we cannot hang out. Yes I have facebook, no I will not meet up with you. In a very friendly manner. Talking to an Elder who is Indian serving in Delhi (a missionary from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) about when to be friendly or not with calling back, he said, Indians are good at being annoying. So that comforted me. I know I sound like I am being Ms. Snubville, but I am making connections! I have been a part of my branch (my church group) in Delhi. There are so many amazing people here. It's been nice connecting with the women here. I have been to one woman's home for dinner, another lady and I are planning on having cooking lessons together, and I am friends with a girl my age from Afghanistan. She's a refugee here. I looked at the map, and didn't realize how close Afghanistan is to India.

China! I am neglecting China. China was so clean and orderly. Talking to Chandler a few days ago, he said I should have gone India, then China, and been less disappointed. But I'm glad with how these things have turned out. China was such a good experience being totally surrounded by a language I don't know. I had travelled to other places, but I was more in a tour group setting, so things were Englishy the whole time. China, the signs, the sounds, most things were totally incomprehensible to me.  Jonathan and Chandler were awesome hosts and tour guides for me. I think my favorite things in China were the gardens in Suzhou and Nanjing. And the Great Wall. We went to a less touristy section of the wall that was further from Beijing, and it was so nice being kind of isolated on the wall. So beautiful and amazing. I took many trains, many overnight trains, ate with chopsticks very well, and got to see dead Mao. My one China wish. 

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