Unexpectedly, my arrival into India was soon followed by a 36 hour dose of culture shock. The orderly, clean and comfortable life I had known during my visit to Europe, was suddenly replaced by very basic accommodation, a constant layer of sweat and dirt, crazy honking traffic, bright and loud late night temple processions and a very laid back approach to getting things done in its own sweet time which I did not yet understand.
In a gesture of kindness, I was left to rest and recover from my flight. “We can talk about your volunteer schedule later” were the manager’s parting words as he left the house and me without any idea of when I would see him again. I felt abandoned and disconnected in a strange place, with no idea of where I was living, where to go, how to get there or how to return. And although right outside my room, in the living area of the Day Care Centre and Evening Remedial School that is now my home, were a dozen three year old children having their afternoon nap watched over by their four sari-clad carers, I had no one I felt I could ask to help me or explain to me how things work around here.
I had expected things to be different. A same day induction, to be shown how to get around town and the key necessities to my new life. I had expected to be housed with other volunteers who could show me the ropes instead of being housed on my own. I had expected greater domestic comfort, hot water, air conditioning, a more modern, equipped and cleaner looking kitchen as well as clean sheets, towels and a bed cover. I expected to be given instructions and a timeline about how things would proceed including all the information, introductions and contacts to select my project and commencement day as soon as possible. But these were just expectations and not how things were to be.
My innate need for clarity and order in my life was instantly challenged pushing me outside my comfort zone. Everything was grey, blurry, unclear. My immediate panicked reaction was to get back to what I knew or at least as far away as possible from what I perceived as chaos. I felt the impulse to run, to cut short my trip, to escape. But I didn’t. Instead, I sat still and felt my discomfort and breathed acceptance into its core. And little by little, the discomfort began to disappear as I melded into this new, different way of life.
A week later, the shock is just a faint memory. A new order and disorder has been created in my life here and I am now accepting that nothing happens as I expect it to happen. I have made new friends. I know my address and can generally find my way back home even if I do get lost trying to find my way most places. I love riding into town on my moped, dodging through traffic and honking the horn like a true Indian. I have settled into my new home and even like my “rustic” spearmint green walls and cold water showers after sweating non-stop all day. My privacy here is limited and I’m often climbing over the three year olds to get to the kitchen or toilet but I get to play with them when they are not staring at me in shock or crying because of my foreignness. And I have four lovely Indian ladies here looking after me, making me coffee every morning. My volunteer projects have not quite started, although I am slowly making progress and am almost ready to commence in Indian time of course. Everyday I get to surround myself with the sights, colours, flavours, scents, sounds and energy that is India. I couldn’t be happier to be where I am right now in this crazy, chaotic, sweaty, dirty but incredible country that I love.
One of the many temple processions passing my front door