By Marie Maness
When I got to India, I truly had no idea what to expect. I had heard stories of overpopulation and overcrowding, of dirt and poverty. I had heard stories of opulence and beauty and pride. All of the research I did and all of the stories I heard were conflicting. My brain didn’t know how to mix the expectations of beautiful tropical yoga retreats and corrupt government and poverty. So, I decided to go into it as a blank slate with no expectations. When I got here, I realized that even if I had the right expectations, they would have somehow been wrong.
New Delhi is a city of contradictions.
Outside, cars weave between each other on highways without street lines, using horns instead of stoplights and street signs. The sounds of the cars rival the deafening chirping of the tropical birds. It’s a city of shades of greens, browns, and greys. The rickety old brown buildings are surrounded by trees, built in a way that makes you question which came first- the structures or the plants? Here, it seems like nature and man coexists like two warring countries during a moment of peace. I’m constantly surrounded by dirt and trash, parks and plants, starving children and dogs, affluent women wearing extravagant silks in BMWs. The pollution casts a grey haze over everything, but the vibrant sari’s and kurtas combat the man-made fog. It’s like a chaotic, beautiful, exhausting dream.
India is a country defined by the connections you make and the people you meet.
One day, we were all walking in a park and ran into some local kids playing cricket. Katherine and I asked if we could try hitting the ball, and, even through the language barrier, they were thrilled to teach us how to play. They patiently pitched to us until we each hit the ball. They asked us to race them. They asked Katherine’s husband to pitch for them. They didn’t ask anything of us, except to have fun and share in their laughter. I felt loved and accepted and welcomed by this group of children who didn’t speak a lick of English. It’s hard to write about an experience that was so simple, but made me so happy. Not because of anything crazy that happened, or anything that would stand out to any passerby, but because of the amount of emotion that it conjured and the amount of hope it gave me for the people in the city.
Work is just as chaotic and beautiful as the city itself. The office sits inside of a two-bedroom apartment with marble floors and crown molding. Three dining tables sit side by side, surrounded by office chairs. There is one office for the supervisor, but the founder of the organization sits in the main room at the head of one of the tables, surrounded by interns. Everyone here spends the entire day trying to fight for and help children who are going through some of the worst circumstances imaginable, but all of my coworkers are some of the most positive, happy, and hardworking people I know.
Our boss was kind enough to give us five days of leave to use at any point during the internship. We decided to go to Goa, described to me as “the Hawaii of India.” It’s a beautiful and lively beach town on the west coast with some of the most interesting people you will ever meet. From the moment we arrived at the Jungle Hostel at 1AM, we were surrounded by some of the most welcoming and alive people from around the world. We sat at a table in a restaurant with an aspiring doctor from Australia, a film producer from Bombay, a self-proclaimed “wanderer” from Goa, and an aspiring lawyer from the south of India. We were up until the sun came up, sitting on a ratty old couch outside of our rooms talking candidly about politics and religion, love and aspirations. Later that morning, we walked through a monsoon to get to the common area to meet up with our new friends and their new friends. We did yoga alongside a stranger in the jungle, surrounded by pouring rain. I was covered by sweat and dirt and rain, sitting on a dirty wood floor, surrounded by strangers, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more comfortable in my life.
I don’t know what is going to come of this trip, and I don’t think I will until I’m home and have time to really reflect on this summer. What I do know is that this is changing me in the most painful and beautiful way, and I could not be more excited to meet the person I become at the end of the summer.