From the minute we stepped off the plane, we have experienced a whirlwind of experiences, colors, and interactions. The minute we stepped out of the airport, it hit us.: we are in a whole new world and beginning to feel quite comfortable being uncomfortable. We all looked around in awe; the only familiar sight was each other. The rest was the new flavors that will formulate our journey.
We woke early on our first morning, everyone clean, energized and happy. We had finally made it after hours of flying and months of anticipation. Amy, Brian and Sunil were happily awaiting us for our first endeavor: a walking tour of vibrant Chennai. Amy took lead, plunging into the maze of streets, introducing us to our classroom. We walked along busy streets, astonished by the weaving rickshaws, donkeys, fruit carts and buses full of new faces. Nothing seemed organized here but it functioned beautifully. Each moment introduced layered knowledge we are all ready to take hold of.
Navigating the streets of Chennai is an exciting maze. We make up a line of twenty- five people, walking swiftly and eagerly around our classroom. Everyone is very clued in to how fast their surroundings are weaving on these narrow roads. Swift navigation is a skill we are all beginning to learn; it is funny how walking takes focus when in America it just felt like a stroll. Our “wranglers,” a few students assigned to keeping us all in order with our walking mission clear, are doing a fabulous job, giving cars the clear signal to stop, even for our large group that is quickly learning to get close comfortably. Our rickshaw journeys felt quite different from riding in an average taxi. Students are eagerly piling into these autos, greeting the drivers with a “Vannakum!” (hello in Tamil) and giggling with excitement paired with slight fear as they speedily embark into the streets of Chennai.
One of the most memorable events of the day was our shopping experience. We visited two stores full of screaming colors. The skilled shopping assistants immediately pounced on us, helping us and urging us to buy the beautiful patterns. Most of us were eager to make ourselves blend in with the colorful world so we were good customers. It was exciting to make meaningful purchases; these clothes may only be worn for three weeks but they will be important artifacts of our journey. These fabrics are a cultural aspect of India that we invested in to fully immerse.
Hungry bellies have been content. We ate our first group meal together, each eating a tali, a meal that will act as our staple through out the next few weeks. We are becoming quite skilled in the art of eating with our right hands, becoming less messy each time we eat together. Restaurants are exciting and busy here. We create quite the spectacle in spaces like these but as time progresses and we become more learned in Indian culture, we will learn to mesh right into the fast lives of India.
It is hard to process everything we are encountering because there is so very much. But we are helping one another to do so. Amy and Brian have set up times for reading, reflecting and journaling so that it all begins to settle in. I can’t believe it’s just the beginning.