Posted by: lilyhamburger | June 15, 2010

Changes of Pace

I’ve counted, and I’m in my last lap here. I have about a month and half of work left, and the more time has gone by the deeper my roots sink into this ground. (Not too deep, though, I think about home every day!) I have this new ability to joke around with people, and it makes me feel like a real person with a real life here. My health awareness work is off and flying, life here feels ever more MINE, and I have forged my place in this chaotic foreign land. There is a rhythm to life – tea times, daily laundry, “mangoing”, music, bucket baths, noisy guesthouse, my quiet little social scene – but here are some recent changes of pace:

1. Mumbai. When I went to Mumbai 2 weekends ago, I felt possibly the biggest culture shock of my life. It was my friend Alana’s birthday, and we decided to treat ourselves to a break from frugal Indian life and hit the cosmopolitan cuisines and nightlife of the City by the Sea. In my other visits there I have been blissfully overwhelmed by the menu choices – pasta, pesto, real cheese, PB and J. This time I got a legit breakfast sandwich on a bagel, and really good French toast at brunch (don’t worry we were sharing), and a beer with dinner. These little things mean so much. But…I had some troubles, also. Shopping, for one, has never been a strong suit of mine, but after half an hour in a street market selling cheap western clothes, an air-conditioned, rock-music-ed Indian version of H&M put me over the edge. I made my friends leave immediately, even though they might have been interested in some hip urban gear…sorry guys. I still felt uncomfortable as we indulged in the new craze of posh frozen yogurt that has hit every major city these days. Too much. I recovered over mangoes in Toma’s sweltering apartment – yes, this is what I now call my comfort zone – just to brace myself for further shock after dark. I put on a dress for the first time since October, and we crammed into a ladies only car on the train to central Bombay.
When I walked into the bar I almost cried. Shock! Shock! Shock! It was a modern decorated music venue with tables nested in a bee-hive-like nest with neon lights that slowly changed color every 5 minutes. Above the stage there were movie screens with abstract visions of bugs and plants, and along the bar were girls in short dresses flirting with cute guys with aviators atop slicked hair. We drank mojitos and ate chicken and chocolate cake, and danced to a hilarious (but good!) Indian cover band playing “retro” music (read: rock hits from America such as Dancing Queen, Sweet Child of Mine, and Twist and Shout). Any band that opens with Enrique Iglesias has my attention! I quickly recovered from the initial freak-out and had a great time. But, I am scared of coming back to America.

2. Rain. Monsoon season hit exactly as predicted in the first week of June. I was beginning to feel stressed about the complete lack of water in the riverbeds around Dharampur, and really worried about my friends in villages who have to travel several miles several times a day just for a drink! No one, even the villagers, seemed worried at all…they are totally used to it. Whoa. But the rain is here. Halleluja! I love waking up to a thunderstorm, especially when harmless drops of water are coming through the ceiling to make me a part of the party… and the winds are fabulous! Besides the water, cool wind has never been so welcome. Especially in the humidity I just sweat all day and when those dark clouds blow over it’s like walking into the AC. Ahhhh… We’ve had good lightning storms, too, and generally this monsoon thing is gorgeous, poetic, and fun. Things are slowly beginning to turn greener (in Gujarati “lili” means green!) and by July I should be living in a lush tropical paradise.

3. Erin. My buddy from another public health village adventure has arrived on the scene. Erin is on vacation from medical school in Boston and has come to stay with me in my little tiny room for a month, reminiscent of another month we shared in a Tanzanian guesthouse in 2005. This is a change of pace. Someone to speak English with! Someone to laugh with! Someone who understands the frustrations of a disorganized organization! Someone who knows my songs and will sing with me! Someone who is equally appalled at the hygiene standards in this crazy place! Mostly, having another American pair of eyes is an incredible opportunity to share in what is going on here in ways I can’t do with Indian friends. We hear the music with western ears, we see the clothing as gorgeously exotic, we appreciate the food because we haven’t been eating the same things for dinner our entire lives. And, like many Indians, we see the health and sanitation problems of rural India as extreme. Most people I am surrounded by daily do not have the perspective to see broad scale solutions the way Erin, the directors of ARCH, a few other educated NGO staff and I do.
When she first got here I became immediately aware of how introverted I had become. I know, you’re probably thinking “Lily? Keeping thoughts to herself?” But I realized that sharing little thoughts with another person had not been a part of my daily existence here! It is strange and welcome to tell someone what I am thinking and feeling without having to struggle through all kinds of language and cultural barriers. The other thing Erin’s presence has highlighted, though, is how much I HAVE overcome those barriers. I can almost entirely translate for her in conversations and meetings, and I have so many friends for her to get to know. Showing her the ropes here at ARCH has shown me all that I have learned and the life that I have built.

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