Blog submitted by Sasha Vohlidkova
Sasha is a student from ACS Egham International School, through ORBIS' partnership with ACS Sasha was selected to participate in an internship that allows students to take part in an ORBIS program overseas.
Before I went to India, everyone, especially those who have never been near it, had endless advice for me: don’t drink the water, don’t leave your belongings unattended, only carry a photocopy of your passport with you, only go out in groups, do not talk to people in the streets... Along with the overload of reductionist clichés often used to describe the Indian reality, “the third world”, “developing country”, the picture I got of India was one of an incredibly interesting country, but not so much a pleasant one for a visitor.
As soon as we landed in Jaipur at 2.30am, Friday 18th September, and basically wherever the team came to visit after, a team from ORBIS India or ORBIS’ partners in India was awaiting us with bindis, flower garlands, and the warmest welcomes I’ve received in a long time.
During the ORBIS outreach program in Amber, near Jaipur, I approached a local elderly woman who had come to get her eyes checked at the yearly eye camp. After a couple of minutes of conversation that neither of us knew what was about as she spoke Hindi and I, English, one of the doctors translated for me: “She says you’re very nice and wants you to come to her home.”
Walking along the streets surrounding our hotel around midnight, a man invited us, unknown foreigners, to join a small wedding, the happiest day of his brother’s life. When we replied that we would rather just watch, he briefly asked us how we liked India and directed us to the side of the street where we would have the best view of the celebration.
The evening before our last day, I left my phone in a tuk-tuk and only realized it after the driver had left. Almost immediately, twenty members of the airport staff were trying to help me, offering to get me a taxi, asking where I wanted to go. I said I didn’t know how this country worked and wanted them to tell me what to do. In the following fifteen long minutes, another tuk-tuk driver managed to contact the first one, locate my phone, and get us a taxi back where we came from to pick it up. As we were getting into the car, he smiled and said, “You wanted to know, so this is how this country works.”
And all you can do is look only fifteen minutes back, and all those other times before, when you were anxiously watching your backpack when locals were spending their time, money, in efforts to help a lost stranger. And again, your western superiority hits you over the head with a surprising force, and you shift a tiny bit further away from it. Because you realize this really is how this country works. Except no one tells you that.