Il mio viaggio in India! (My Trip to India!)
L’anno scorso, sono andato in India per tre settimane. Però, ho dimenticato di mettere il mio diario sul mio blog. Comunque, eccolo. Buon divertimento! (Sfortunatamente, l’ho già scritto in inglese. Però, se hai bisogno di vedere una traduzione, mandami un messagio.)
Last year, I went to India for three weeks. But, I forgot to post my journal on my blog. Anyway, here it is. Have fun reading it!
In thinking about my trip to India, I decided that it would be best to keep a journal of the many adventures that I would have. And if you know me, I will definitely have many, many adventures. I must say that I have not kept a journal in years, but hey, I decided to take a swing at it. When I first arrived in New Delhi two days ago, my journey away from home commenced.
I must admit that I have never been on a 14 hour flight, and the long direct flight from Chicago to New Delhi was neither uncomfortable nor anxious. New Delhi is a vibrant and interesting city in itself. When I got off the plane, the humidity hit me in every possible direction (it did not help that I had on a sweatshirt).
There were just so many people waiting outside the airport. It was busy, chaotic, but at the same time, very exciting and different from anything that I had experienced. As soon as everyone collected their bags, we piled into some cars and started our nighttime trek through the streets of Delhi to the Gandhi Darshan Guest House. As we were driving through the streets, there were cows lying on the side of the road and homeless people sleeping on the side of the streets. Not to mention, there were so many smells combining in front of nose that it was to some extent fairly overwhelming.
So much has happened in the past few days since my last writing. Delhi is such an incredible city with so many fascinating layers. I have gone to Old Delhi and have traveled throughout New Delhi as well (there is an important distinction between the two, although the city overall goes by New Delhi). Some of the things that are very noticeable about Delhi are the children beggars.
I feel bad when I have to decline them money when I know that I can give. Unfortunately, India has a very bad problem with beggars lining the streets. As a foreigner and an American, I tend to draw more attention from these beggars. But one of the things I would have to say that I love about India is the fact that the people are very nice and generous. At first, I was a little disappointed because we spent a lot of our time held up in a hotel listening to lectures. I wanted to explore India and all the opportunities they had to offer. However, today was great because we finally got interact with many of the young people of India. We got to go to this place called the Lodhi Gardens, which is this amazing park that has these ancient ruins in the background. We had a discussion with the people from Manzil, an organization that does a lot of youth empowerment with a focus on Gandhian principles. After the discussion, everyone split up with a lot of the youth that run that program. I got the chance to meet some great guys. Pablu (I think that’s an incorrect spelling of his name) was kind of my guide to a lot of things. Although we realized that we come from different places, our lives are somewhat very similar. Then the fun came. After the talk at the gardens, we went to this concert at the Jeevika Film Festival. The group that was performing sang a very inspiring song, which basically said “we have the power to change the world.” As I continue to travel, I hope to continue to live by this very powerful mantra. After the concert, I was guided alone by several Indian guys that were my age down a few streets and to the bus station. It was a great experience because it was nice not to feel surrounded by the somewhat restrictive barriers of the Stanford bureaucracy. After we got to the bus station, we climbed into the bus which was very rickety and slightly shady. After getting off, we went to a Bazaar and had an amazing dinner in the area. I had this thing called Fruit Beer (which does not have any alcohol in it) and I am officially in love with that drink. After the bazaar, we climbed into these vehicles called Auto-Rickshaws, which are tiny taxis that cost around 50 -100 rupees per ride to anywhere in the city (if you would like to do the math, it’s about 1-3 U.S. Dollars, which as you may know is dirt cheap). But anyway, we went to the rooftop of the Manzil place in the Khan Market.
We had a dance and music party on the rooftop of a Delhi building with the youth from Manzil. Fantastic memories (and pictures to go along with them). After the party, we got into these rickshaws again. Although this time, this rickshaw was particularly dangerous. The driver was one of the most reckless drivers ever. But, hey when in Delhi, do as the Indians do. Well, I am tired and the bed is calling me. Peace!
My last days in Delhi ended over 20 hours ago when we set for the city of Ahmedabad by train. The Delhi train station was one of the most hectic places I have experienced. Our convoluted journey started when the porter decided to take our luggage through the train tracks. At one point, all I could hear were the loud bells coming from a Hindu temple, workers busily busing large pieces of wood and wire across the train tracks, the oncoming sounds of trains (most likely going on the very tracks we were standing on), and our professor shouting at the porter as to why were in a very shady, dangerous area. Not to mention, the train was going to leave in 20 minutes and we were no where near to reaching the train station. In the course of 20 minutes, the group carried luggage and bags up and down lots of stairs in the station. After a lot of hustle and bustle throughout 90 degree weather, we finally reached the train and got our stuff in the cabin. It was night. It was finally time to set off for our next destination. A journey that would transpire over 14 long hours (by far the longest train ride I have ever been on in my life). My first impression of the train was quaint, but comfortable.
I was even surprised to learn that would be serving complimentary meals to all the passengers (dinner and breakfast), something that most trains in the U.S. do not even attempt. While I was playing cards with some of my classmates, a little girl who was about 1 years old (I could tell because she looked like she had just learned how to walk), came up to us and waved and giggled. She was such a sweet little girl. Anyway, after playing cards, I went to sleep in my nice little bed as the train traveled down the tracks. Unfortunately, I woke up at around 5:30 am because I had to do my morning ritual of sneezing a lot (if you know me, I have always been renown for my intense morning sneezing spells). This continued for about an hour and each time I got out of bed and went into the space outside the cabin by the bathrooms to sneeze so I wouldn’t disturb the other passengers on the train. When I went out there during one particular time, I ran into a man that had opened the train door and was sticking his body outside of the train while the train was still in motion. He asked me “You should have brought a jacket and then you would not have that cold.” I stated, “Yeah, yeah I know.” He then asked, “You need some fresh air. Would you like to hang out of the train?” I laughed and then exclaimed, “Sorry, I don’t think I’m brave enough,” which is completely false, but I didn’t want to get into trouble with the seminar, Jenny, my parents, or worse die. But, I ended up just hanging out with him while the door was open. The Indian countryside was beautiful as the crisp, bright sun rose from the horizon. The Eravvni Mountains were spectacular and “majestic,” in the words of the India businessman that I had bonded with that morning. I really did have a very spiritual experience as I really saw the world and what it had to offer me. When we arrived in Ahmedabad, we traveled by bus to the Environmental and Sanitation Institute, which is where we will be staying for the next 10 days. The institute is breathtaking and the staff is very nice and hospitable. Well anyway, tomorrow is my birthday. I do hope that 20th birthday (ahh I will not be a teenager anymore) will be a good one.
The past two days have been an amazing, but somewhat trouble roller coaster ride. My birthday was amazing. It started with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday by my fellow students and the presentation of a thoughtful birthday poster. When I arrived at Gandhi’s Ashram, we attended a meditation meeting by some of the people that work at the Ashram. After the meditation, I was called up to the front of the room. In India, instead of blowing out candles, the person celebrating their birthday lights one candle and that candle stays lit. After leaving the Ashram for a little bit, we came back to the grounds in order to entertain some 200 children that had come that day for their “Be a Child” day. Many of these children are forced to live lives of poverty and street hustling in order to survive, often taking care of themselves and their brothers and sisters. When I got to the place, they had assembled the children, and the children sang happy birthday. It was definitely the best version of happy birthday I had ever heard. They were just so happy and it really brought joy to my heart. After that, all of us were split into groups of two and around 12 kids were given to each group. My group had three people from Stanford in it and we had over 20 kids. Those kids were so much fun. It was so crazy. At first they were really calm, but then they just got so rowdy. When we got a basketball to play, we thought we could control them a little more, which was a mistake. It created so much havoc. While I was running with the ball, I bounced it a few times on the ground next to Gandhi’s house. I then got yelled at by someone who said, “Please you must get the kids away. This is a holy site. This is Babo’s House.”
When I thought about, if Gandhi was alive he totally would have been ok with kids playing at his doorstep outside his window like me and the kids were doing. But instead of arguing with him, I took the ball and ran away from Gandhi’s house, knowing that the children would just run after me. At one point, I could not figure out what to play with them so I just started throwing and catching kids in the area, which was also a bad mistake. After that, every little boy wanted to be thrown in the area. After 15 minutes, my arms were in so much pain and I finally just said, “I am done”. I then took the kids back to the place for dinner, which is 10 sec. away from Gandhi’s doorstep. When I got back for dinner, I got two more Happy birthday songs and I even served dinner to the little kids that I had played with all day. After I served the dinner, we had dinner with the kids that actually stayed in the hostel at Gandhi’s ashram. When I got to dinner, I got another Happy Birthday song by the children. After dinner, we danced all night long with the little children in Gandhi’s Ashram. It was by far my most memorable birthday I have ever had. Now I can say I spent my 20th birthday playing basketball with little children at Gandhi’s house and had a dance party in his ashram. After a quick phone call to my parents (thanking my mom for giving birth), I went to sleep realizing that I had had one of the best birthday experiences of a lifetime.
Today was a roller coaster, but it was not fun. In 2001, riots broke out in the Gujarat region between Hindus and Muslims. No one knows who started it and honestly I do not have enough information on the topic to form an opinion. This topic has been a very controversial issue and many in the region have very strong opinions about the riots. Earlier today, we got the chance to visit this old Gandhian sculptor. After a long discussion, someone asked him what he thought about the riots. He went on to say some very negative, destructive comments against Muslims. It was just very ironic that someone who is supposed to be following Gandhi’s philosophy would say such negative things. Unfortunately, it made a few people in my group visibly upset. Although they were not Muslims, they were really hurt that someone would say such hateful things against someone. In addition, they comments sounded semi-fascist, almost in the sense that Hitler described the Jewish people that lived in Europe. As a young Black man, it made me think about all of the hateful things that were said against Black people throughout much of the Jim Crow era. The man’s comments have definitely taught me that there are some people that still have hateful comments. Be the change you want to see in the world. Great phrase. But, it became really practical when I heard the sculptors comments. Instead of being so hateful towards other, I need to love others and be truthful to myself. Life is truly an amazing journey and I have learned that despite the hate, there is still some good in the world. I just pray as I get older that I continue to keep my light lit and to fight the dark hatred that continues to pervade society.
My mind is telling me that I should stay in India. However, my body is telling me that it is time to depart. My skin was going through this weird itching thing and I had an allergic reaction to nuts. Every good thing must come to end. Right now, I am listening to my new favorite song “In My Place” by Coldplay. I have found that the song is inspiring me to write and share my thoughts. So many interesting things have happened in the last few days. We had the opportunity to walk through one of the slums in Ahmedabad, which really made me think. Many of the kids that had sang happy birthday to me lived in the particular slum that we had visited. It literally was another world. My heart really did pour for these kids that I saw. The shocking thing is that they all smiled, although if I were in their position I probably wouldn’t be smiling. They just have a lot of strength. In coming here, I realized that I do come from a relatively privileged background. I did disagree with some of my travel mates going into the homes of the people. Although we were walking through their community, somehow I felt really weird about going into their homes, their private spaces, as if they were exhibits. But anyway, Manav Sadna is doing some great things in this particular community. They built an amazing community centers and are really investing their times and lives in the people of this community, rather than simply writing a check. Don’t get me wrong. Money is needed in some cases, but volunteering one’s time is so much more critical than an empty check. Today, we got the chance to visit an upper class school called Riverside in order to see how they are making a positive impact on lower income families of their communities. Don’t get me wrong. The children are incredibly intelligent and the school is doing well. I do have a problem with the school not doing more to increase scholarship funding and give those young kids who have the intelligence to go to the school, but not the resources the opportunity to go. Education is so very important to me and every child deserves the right to a Riverside education, not just the rich and privileged. Another interesting thing is that the students are learning multiple languages, something the US government will not mandate in elementary schools in the US. These kids are so much more prepared to go out in the world and communicate, versus kids their age in the US. The US has this mentality that English is the only language that matters, but the US needs to adapt its mentality before it gets left behind in the dust by India, China, and the European nations. I apologize for my harsh words, but education is such a passion for me that I had to address it here. I hope to volunteer at Manav Sadna next year in August after JSPI. If I am to join the Peace Corps, working at Manav Sadna will prepare my body for the rigors of serving my country through community and educational development in the Peace Corps. Well anyway, good night. Tomorrow, I will volunteer in the slums that are located next to Manav Sadna.
Well, today is my last day in Ahmedabad. I do not really have to much say, but hopefully I can get more of my thoughts onto the computer. While I have been here, I have met some great, caring people that really love making a difference in the world. They have restored my faith in people, after I lost it in dealing with a lot of the self-obsessed people I have interacted with at Stanford. Do not get me wrong. Most of the people at Stanford are amazing, caring, passionate souls. However, there are a few that have a skewed vision that the world surrounds them. But, I think you could say this about most institutions that are located around the world. For the last few months, I have really worried about the state of young people in the US. Some of my peers have fought in the name of selfless love and have really only cared about themselves. Although I cannot get into a discussion about the accuracy of the selfless love right now, it has nonetheless been on my mind for the last few months. There are so many things that I have seen that I would like to see implemented at Stanford University. There needs to be more of educational emphasis on social justice. As one of the top institutions in the United States, Stanford has the resources and the capabilities to make real social change. From donating to the King Institute so it can build a more fitting location to increasing the living wages for those working class workers, Stanford has a big responsibility to the local community and the population at large.
My trip in India ended with a bang. Literally. With the news of terrorist bombs erupting in Delhi the day before I was supposed to arrive there, I was very eager to escape the land I had called my home for three weeks. Although this time, I would not be escaping to home, I would be heading towards another completely foreign and different environment. I am now writing to you from Florence, Italy. I am staying in a small, quaint hotel that I had reserved a few months ago. The room is small, but has an amazing view over a courtyard. In exploring Florence for a few hours yesterday, I have found that Florence is a wonderful city, bustling with life and excitement. I am weary to take a lot of pictures because this place will ultimately be my home for the next few months. I have even found a potential place to get a haircut, which has been a fear of mine for the past few months. I have also been thrust back into my Italian speaking, which is good because I have feared losing my Italian knowledge this past summer.