The air was thick with humidity when I stepped off the airplane into a bare airport that was very unlike any other airport I’d ever known and still under construction. However, I had arrived successfully in India and went through the visa checkpoint swiftly and without any trouble.
While waiting for my luggage, I met a friendly Indian woman whose daughter clung furtively to her leg and started crying every time her mother tried to detach her. I handled her luggage so that the child could stay attached. While waiting for her second bag, the woman explained that she lived in Washington, D.C., but had spent the past couple of months in Scotland where her husband was a guest finance professor at a university. They had just adopted their daughter from Guatemala and the little girl was going through withdrawal and strong insecurity issues, resulting in a necessity to always be physically connected to her new mother for fear of abandonment. It was inspiring that the little girl seemed to feel so comfortable and protected by this stranger who had become her mother. I commended my new acquaintance on the obvious bond that had already developed and wished them the best.
As the woman gathered her final bags and went through customs, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to find my MIT friend Daniel Mokrauer-Madden ’08. I had originally planned to document his project teaching the community about tuberculosis in Lucknow, India, but the community he was working with had requested not to be photographed, so I had removed his project from my trip. Quite by coincidence, we were still arriving in India on the same day. Even though we had forgotten to tell each other our arrival times, we were lucky to have bumped into each other.
After exchanging money (250 U.S. Dollars for 9910 Indian Rupees) in the airport, Daniel and I got through customs without a glitch and found a staff member from the university I was staying at awaiting us with a sign! Daniel was visiting the group there before he headed out to Lucknow. Stepping outside of the airport, we were hit with a wave of even stronger humidity and heat but were relieved to find that the car had air conditioning.
I expected India to be shockingly different from America, so I was amazed that so much was familiar to me. We went to a school assembly, and it could have been an assembly in any American high school. There are stray dogs walking the streets like in Korea (a certain breed that directly translates to “poop dog” is also found in India!).
Driving rules, on the other hand, are either nonexistent or just not taken seriously. Apparently, lanes were recently installed on the roads, but no one bothers to stay within them. Street signs and stoplights are rare. There is a lot of honking and “dipping” (known as “high beaming” in the United States) and these are used regularly to tell someone that they are about to be passed or that they must “get out of the way because I’m going to keep going and I WILL crush you to get by if I have to.”
There were, of course, many new and exciting things. Monkeys could be found walking around the university campus. When I first spotted one, I yelled out, “Oh my gosh! There’s a monkey right there!” providing amusement for those around me who pointed out all the other monkeys that were casually strolling around. Cows plodded down streets, and shacks and lean-tos could be seen between concrete buildings and more permanent structures.
I was lucky to be in a room in the guest house of the university along with the students whose work I was documenting. The guesthouse had air conditioning, a huge luxury. The room was simple but clean and much nicer than I ever expected. We bought several bottles of water every day for only 12 rupees per bottle. What a bargain!
In the following days, I documented four girls from MIT who traveled to the slums outside Delhi to survey the community members about their education and health. I came across twinkling eyes, unrestricted laughter, and such hospitality, but the open sewage, horrible living conditions, lack of food, and abundance of disease struck my heart. Check back next week for India through my eyes.