Hey there, reader. (tl;dr crowd - go to the last picture)
I’m not particularly fond of drawn out greetings or farewells, so forgive the abrupt start. My name is Emma and what ensues here are the thoughts, pictures, and experiences of both myself and of my fellow interns at International Thought and Social Action in India (ITSA).
We arrived in Ahmedabad, a city in the state of Gujarat, India, on the 30th of June, about thirty hours after departing from New York. There were three planes, two layovers, and one day lost entirely to the vortex of time zones. It was a long trip, but then we were there. There is something about arriving in new places that makes you sniff the air (desperate, perhaps, for a bit of air not recycled within an airplane). Every place smells distinctly different, and the oxygen in India seems sweeter than America. The air is thicker and smells of cream (on the brink of going sour) mixed with some spice. Cinnamon, maybe, or cumin; I’m not really sure.
The smell is the least of it. Driving through the city was startling; odd and wonderful. There are stray dogs everywhere and the free roaming cows act as garbage collectors of sorts. The great horned bovines are to left their own devices to eat the trash on every street corner and they are a source of perfect wonderment. Though I’m more or less used to their presence, they are still endlessly delighting.
Most shocking, perhaps, is the disparity in class. Of course I’d been warned. Of course I’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire. But hearing and seeing on a movie screen are entirely different from encountering reality. Ahmedabad is dilapidated and sometimes very, very beautiful, but it is not, as I expected, segregated. On our first night in Ahmedabad, Ana and I looked out the window of our lovely air conditioned room (which really belongs to our marvelous host sister, Deeksha Joshi), expecting a view of the city, and were met with a slum. But hush, we breach that topic with care.
There are beggars on the streets, but for the most part, they are ignored. They touch their mouths with their hands, asking for food in a way that seems almost passive, almost defeated, but they nod as they do it. I ignore them too, I guess. I’ve been told not to give out money, unless I want to be swarmed by the hopeful impoverished.
But there is color! Ahmedabad makes New York look like a city in grayscale. Women in saris ride motorcycles and their scarves flutter (forgive the cliche word) behind them. Cars are red, signs are impossibly bright, vendors peddle deep orange-green-yellow fruit, and from the thousands of balconies, rainbow laundry hangs starkly against a grey sky tip-toeing monsoons.
It is beautiful. It is bizarre. But what strikes me most is that I’ve barely seen any of it.