As I climbed onto my first general bus in Delhi, I looked around anxiously as sweat dripped from every inch of my body and the adrenaline of being in the midst of chaos was the only thing keeping me from collapsing of exhaustion. It had been a twenty-three hour journey from San Francisco to Delhi, and I had just spent another eight hours in a bus station waiting for my bus to Dharamsala, where I was headed for induction. Once on the bus, it was another hot and grueling twelve hour trip pressed up against a metal pole and pushed around by an overflowing sea of people, all shouting and staring at me as if I was an alien. It was a rough first few days, but at least I knew from then on things could only get better. And I was right, for the most part.
This was my first time in a non-Western country, so the culture shock I faced was quite taxing. After you get past the intense heat and smells, constant honking, being bombarded by taxi drivers and being scammed out of money, you begin to notice other idiosyncrasies of the Indian culture, some of which I came to love. The sheer amount of people in one place was overwhelming, but the beautiful bright saris, smiling faces and friendly dispositions made being there worth it.
My initial culture shock never completely wore off during my time in India, especially as I kept experiencing new things that made me angry or upset. Starved dogs ran awry in the streets looking bruised and beaten, and it was a defeating feeling to know I couldn't do anything to help them. Cows, who are considered “holy” in India, trudged around in the street and appeared just as sickly. Piles of burning trash blanketed the ground for miles and filled my lungs with dust; and this was just the beginning.
I came into my internship unsure of what to expect— just like everyone, which I soon found out when I arrived. But adjusting to this new world became much easier as I started to meet all the positive and motivated people around me from all over the world. My two and a half month internship took place in Harike, Punjab and in Rait, Himachal Pradesh, so I was lucky to experience two different locations in India— both rural and poverty stricken, but diverse in their own ways.
In Harike, what surprised me the most was the absence of women outside in the village. At least for the short time I was there, I never once saw a woman walking in the street, which I soon learned was deliberate since most women are expected to never leave the house. When I transferred to the Rait center, this issue was not as prevalent and the village seemed slightly more progressive, but inequalities in the community were evident right outside our intern house. On one side of the road was a decently sized home with a family who owned healthy pets and grew their own vegetables in their backyard; across the path, homes were barely held together by metal, straw or wood with no signs of comfort in sight.
Living in a home-stay, working and interacting with the community is much different than traveling around India and seeing their world from the “outside.” Even through our challenges and difficulties, it was invaluable to experience the true Indian culture and spend time with the locals, especially in rural and impoverished areas: the reality that makes up the majority of India.
The most eye-opening part of my project was engaging with the women in the community and listening to their stories and daily struggles. It changed my perspective on everything, and made the things I complain about in my daily life seem pretty laughable. As well as spending time with the women and getting to learn about the Indian health care system firsthand, the best part of this internship were my peer interns who played such a big role in my life at the center. I learned so much from all of them, and they still serve as my reminders of all the good people in this world. My internship with EduCARE India was foremost a learning experience and is one which I will never regret going through. Although my disappointment at the end was that I did not accomplish what I wanted, I know now that I gained a sense of knowledge I couldn’t have elsewhere, especially back in the states. My time here has also solidified my thoughts about pursuing a job as a travel nurse. For me to be able to provide a ray of light for people surviving in desperate conditions, even for a moment, is what I hope to do someday.
While there were parts of India that I saw as a complete mess, I came to learn that much of it was a kind of organized chaos; one that worked for people, and my initial shock turned into more of a sense of wonderment by the end of my stay. It may be different than the standards I have at home, but that does not always mean it’s wrong— just different. Some of my favorite moments in India were seeing children’s faces beaming with joy and curiosity, and experiencing the sincere kindness of families who would offer us food or chai even if they barely had enough for themselves. Some of the happiest people I met were some of the least materially well-off.
Stepping out of my comfort zone opened my world, and the people I met showed me that life is not about living in luxury. Life is about being happy.
Sarah Cole - USA
Health Project Manager in Rait