13 July 2007

First Impressions from Heidi Maas

~The culture shock moment was when we left the airport exit in Chennai. There was a mob of hundreds of Indians waiting to pick up their arrivals, just standing there all together as we came out. And then they were all over the parking, walking, sitting, lying down, driving....everywhere. and they were all watching our group of 16 white Americans. In America we see different ethnic groups all the time. But I could probably count the number the of white people I've seen so far on less than two hands. And while everyone looks at us wherever we go, we get used to it. They mean no harm and really are quite friendly.

~The thriller moments are when we get to ride in the rickshaws, or taxis. They are like golf carts (open air, small cart) with three wheels. It's so great because while the traffic is INSANE by US standards, the drivers here are excellent. They have great depth perception and quick reflexes. We sometimes pass withing inches of others. You've got pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, rickshaws, small cars, medium cars, buses, an occasional truck, bike-drawn buggies, cows sometimes too- all trying to get where they're going on the same street- no sidewalk, no median. And bikes and motorcycles often carry up to four people at a time. And people aren't content to follow each other. They pass in the on-coming traffic lane often to get around each other. And blinkers are not too common. They honk instead. And it's constant cuz they use it for just about everything- move over, I'm passing, I'm not stopping for you, hey look out. And every horn is different; the clown horns are the best. We got some pretty sweet video footage cuz describing it doesn't do it justice. We only saw one accident so far: two motorcycles failed to communicate and crunch! But everyone was oK. There is no road rage because they anticipate being cut off. Speaking of traffic- our bus caused commotion yesterday cuz the streets in Gunthur are so narrow. We had to make a turn twice and had to back up into traffic to make it work. They just adjusted, but it was pretty hilarious.

~The food is AMAZING!! I had a thick pancake for breakfast today called uttapahm (oo-ta-pan). It was sooo good. It had onions and all kinds of stuff baked into it- tasted kinda like a potato pancake but way better. And four different sauces to dip it in- coconut, mild, hot, and hot curry. (My sinus infection that I picked up Tuesday before takeoff is, um, very much non-existamnt for sure by now :].) Yesterday we ate at super authentic, in the middle of nowhere restaurant and just had rice to be safe. But it was so good cuz I bet it didn't come from more than a few miles away- so fresh! And I love eating without silverware! And after each meal they give you "after-dinner mints," or annis seeds coated in sugar. MMM!

~The weather feels like Wisconsin/California, except smells nothing like it. :] It's less than 80 deg. right now probably and it is the dry season. It gets a little muggy in the evening when the sun goes down, but it really is more tolerable than 110 of dry heat, I think, and it only feels as bad as a moderate summer Wisconsin day in the evening. So the smells...anything from fish, "incense," garbage, human waste, curry, wet dirt, dust, car exhaust, BO, and a number of other that are just "India."

~Tonight we have the welcome party/festival/feast at the church in gunthur (where the orphanage is, where I'll be staying until August). Tomorrow (fri) is our first day of teaching. My group's schedule for the next few weeks is play with/teach orphans from 4:30- 5:30, go to teach in villages, get home maybe 9 or 10.

~Indians start mozying about around 9, 930 in the morning, have two meals (mid afternoon and late evening), and close up shop around 9pm. The drunks start to roam at 10pm.

~One cool thing I noticed is I am not fearful at all, even though there are 'interesting' people every five feet. We always walk in groups and the men in the group seem to step up to their innate protective/defender role (I don't think we see that as much in the states cuz danger is not so obvious there). Of the sixteen of us, 7 are male so they lead the 9 of us in between them. I am very appreciative of it for sure, and am grateful that I can just relax and walk along. This morning I was escorted to breakfast with two in front and two behind.

~I almost feel more at home here than in the US. Almost. Everything seems more real, not fabricated. England (in the airport, at least) was worse than the USA in this regard. I look forward to seeing what the real London looks like, not just what shows up at the airport. More on this developing theory later....

Lots more later, but gotta run for now!!

Blessings to you all-
Heidi Spring