I have always liked the idea of India. It seemed like an exotic place filled with sounds and sights and languages completely foreign to me. Upon arriving in Hyderabad, I realized this was perhaps the least prepared for something I have ever been in my life. There are, simply, people everywhere. Even living in Chicago and DC did not prepare me for the large amount of humans crammed into one place. The chaos of walking from my house to the market is compounded by men peeing on the sidewalk, dogs laying everywhere, auto rickshaw drivers honking constantly to get your attention, and everyone you walk past blatantly staring at you, sometimes “accidentally” touching you. There are not a lot of foreigners in Hyderabad, and especially in my neck of the woods, so you could say I’m an oddity. The guy I buy milk from takes pictures of me. Not with me, of me. And thus begins my India postings. After several months of training in DC, packing up everything I own and shipping it halfway around the world, saying my goodbyes, and getting inoculated for every disease known to man, I’m finally here. Living in Hyderabad, I gather, is going to be very, very different from living in Missouri. Overcoming my addiction to beef wrapped in bacon will be just the tip of the iceberg.
My first Hyderabad outing was to see the 50 foot Ganesha statue, during the Ganesha holiday. Ganesha is the elephant god and is really, really cool looking. The head of an elephant, lots of arms, and riding on a bird, he’s known as the remover of obstacles. I mean, that’s pretty legit. All over the city giant statues are constructed out of various materials, sometimes plastic, sometimes dirt, sometimes I have absolutely no idea what. After giving Ganesha all sorts of presents and sacrifices (normally fruit or flowers), the statues are submerged into the water and have giant parties with their friends and families (the people, not that statues).
You know how sometimes when you go swimming you dip your foot into the pool to see what the temperature is like and sometimes you just yell cannonball and jump off the deep end, clutching your bikini top tightly so it doesn’t fly off? Going to the Ganesha festival on my first full day in India was like that second thing. A massive, hot, sweaty mob of people crowded around the giant statue and soon we were in the thick of it. Vendors yelling their very good prices to us were straining to be heard over the bells and voices on the loudspeaker. The smells mingled in the air into a spicy, indeterminable mix. Kinda like if you took a giant bag of how chili powder and dirt and hot oil and incense, shook it up and stuck your face in it. It smelled alive (in a good way). We took off our shoes, lined up and paraded past the elephant god, handing over a few rupees and touching any part of him we could reach. We were given the ceremonial dot on our forehead and sent on our way. Not before posing for a few pics, of course.
The place I’m staying at is kind of amazing, a little oasis in the middle of the city. The neighbors, however, are not too fond of me (I have a plan to win them over with my enthusiasm and sheer amount of waving). The neighborhood is made of up of single family homes that often house two or three generations, grandmothers holding the hands of a toddling child is a common site. A single woman in a large house with no housekeeper and no family seems very…odd to them. I am asked countless times when my husband and children will be joining me. I try to explain that its just me. I often get questioning looks. To add insult to injury, I also walk around the neighborhood…for exercise (AHHH!!!!) The fact that I wear a tank top while doing so (I tried wearing a less revealing clothing, but it’s 100 degrees and my pit stains were out of control) is just about too much. So yeah, the neighbors aren’t super welcoming yet.
Settling in is a process, one that is helped tremendously by understanding and patient coworkers. One such tip was reassuring me that finding lizards everywhere in my house was totally normal and just act like they’re not there…and those weird things you find around your house are probably just their tails.
Going grocery shopping was somewhat strange, and it was fantastic to have a seasoned pro there to give me some pointers. Like all the milk comes in boxes and isn’t refrigerated. Anything imported will cost approximately a million dollars, not worth it. The booze has to be paid for separately, then bagged, tagged and stabled with the receipt. Also, the booze is really expensive and the wine is terrible. India is known for many of their delicious culinary traditions (I’ll have a post on that later), but their wine is nothing to write home (or blog about on the internet) about. Also, the booze has kind of hilarious warning labels on them that make you feel pretty bad about drinking it. Mission accomplished!