Raphael in incredible india

Nameste!

That means hello in Hindi!

It seemed like a moment ago when I first touched down in India. I felt lost, apprehensive and within a few days, homesick. I thought to myself then, 3 months;13 weeks here is this God forsaken land. God help me! I counted down the days to when I would be back home. First, 1/90, then within a week 1/13 etc. In the beginning, it was tough. The weather was horrible, and I felt so alone.

But I was not alone. Of course there were my colleagues and my buddy from Singapore. But loneliness in this sense was missing the feeling of home, family, friends, church. Fortunately for me, I found solace in skype calls, facetime (technology is a wonderful thing), playing the guitar (thank God my buddy brought a guitar) and prayer. I kid you not about how I was feeling then. Immense forlornness is a terrible land. The weather was terrible (reached up to 50 degrees), communicating with the locals was terrible, the environment was terrible (just stink and rubbish everywhere). What else could I do, but to cuddle up in the office.

Things got better after awhile. I mustered the courage to explore my surroundings. Found a chapel in a convent where I attended weekly mass. Food here is actually quite boring. Imagine eating naan and chapati and briyani everyday! I miss Singapore food 😦 I soon stopped counting down the days, and tried to live the life; albeit normally boring.

The first week was spent out in the field at a place about a couple of hundred kilometers from my current working space. My place of lodging then was located beside this massive pool of dirty, stagnant water. Just that week, I had 41 mosquito bites on my left hand (not including the arms and legs). And this was after I had applied bouts and bouts of insect repellant and burned a few mosquito coil. Electricity was also a luxury then. I was basically sleeping in a room with still air at 40 degrees heat. Truth to be told, I couldn’t sleep very well that week. So, in summery of the first week, there was no electricity in the night. I tried to sleep in 40 degrees heat without any fans/aircon etc, and my body was a mosquito feast.

During that week however, I was taken around on a motorcycle (Yes, i was the pillion rider) to see how the fundamentals of microfinance. I met with poor people, living in really simple and rural conditions. I won’t use the word bad, because I think they managed their environment better than those others who actually live in the towns. You don’t see heaps of uncleared rubbish in the rural areas, but you see them in towns. You don’t experience begging and pickpocketing in the villages, but you experience them in the towns. You don’t notice the smell of ammonia in villages, but the stench is overwhelming in these semi urban landscapes. I kid you not when I recount to you this: everyone pees everywhere there is a wall. Both man and woman. Such is the tragedy of urbanisation of a culture whose sole purpose of living is to be economically developed. Their disregard for proper sanitation and personal space abhors me. I sound so bitter. And I actually was.

I was bitter until the 4th week of my stay here actually. Its getting better, but there are especially some of their practices which irks me to the bone. Obviously heaps of rubbish is one of them. But as I have mentioned earlier and I will mention it again is that I absolutely hate their practice of peeing on every wall they see (like dogs!) and of their utter disregard for personal space. In the lifts; in the trains; on the roads, they like to squeeze. Even though there is no more space. Take for example, when I was in Delhi, taking their metro (MRT), there is a certain number of people allowed to sit on the seats, and this is clearly marked out my the grooves of the benches. But NO, they would not follow such simple suggestions. They would try to squeeze into whatever space that is remotely there. And the whole row of people sitting on the bench would have to make space for that bugger! And these are people carrying iPhones!!!!!

Alright back to week 4. Week 4 was the week I spend in Kolkata. I lost my first iPhone in week 3, when I realised that upon getting my SIM, my phone was nowhere to be found. I suspect that the visitors to the office took the lone phone on the table expecting it to be a door gift. Week 4, in Kolkata, was absolute disaster. But on hindsight, it appeared a valuable experience. Kolkata was a mess. A real mess. Urbanised with tall building? Yes. City filled with beggars? Yes. City filled with scumbags? Absolutely. Here at Kolkata, the place was humid beyond belief. I sweated buckets while walking in the streets. Here at Kolkata, my iPhone got stolen. Here at Kolkata, we got cheated by a Cab driver. Here at Kolkata, I showed that foreigners were not cash cows and not to be pushed over. I admit it wasn’t that wise to be shouting at an indian cab driver and threatening him with police action. But I guess, it woke him up as it woke me up to my innate desire for things to be proper and systematic. Chaos is not an option. Amidst the bustling city, I found solace at the mother teresa’s house. Comforting. But not for long. I got conned into buying milk powder for beggars whom I so convincingly told myself that I would not donate to. But oh well, life’s not perfect, and before I knew it, I was back at Patna. And it sure beats Kolkata!

Work in Patna is actually quite relaxed. I just have to do reports and assignments, and recently, designing posters/banners/letterheads/brochures/newsletters/ID cards – you get the idea. I have rudimentary knowledge in programmes such as photoshop and fireworks and I was expected to to these things? What in the world?! Again everything in retrospect, and there is a lesson to be learnt. In this case, a skill though. I’m getting through work quite well, till now. Staring at the computer screen for long hours makes the eyes dry, and I just did that. Oh, yesterday too and the day before yesterday also.

So, apart from work, I have been traveling during the weekends to different cities. On week 5, I traveled to New Delhi and Agra. Just like all tourist, I was battling tourist touts and trying to convince myself that I did not just get cheated on that Pashmina shawl. I saw India’s gate, and some more old and crumbling monuments in Delhi. I visited the epitome of the India experience – the Taj Mahal. Absolutely stunning and gorgeous and majestic. And absolutely CROWDED. Again, I have no idea why they like to view tourist as cash cows here. For entry into the Taj, for indian nationals, its TWENTY RUPEES. For foreigners, its SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY RUPEES. I guess if one visits India, be prepared to be milked like a cow for your money. (They don’t kill cows here, only milk them :p)

I like Delhi, it was modern, and the roads did not stink too much of pee, although the same cannot be said for the small alleys. In my opinion, Delhi was really a good city with a blend of really old and really new. There were bazaars and markets in small alleys, there were skyscrapers gleaming in the sun. Food was pretty decent in Delhi, Kababs and all. And so was the connoisseur coffee. Its hard to find a city in India like Delhi. Truly worth the title of being the capital city of India.

Week 6 weekend, we stayed in Patna to change money for our travels. Nothing much, except just stumbling on a few excellent food places offering not just the standard indian fare and their interpretations of chinese food, but also excellent middle eastern food like Lamb/chicken kabob with tadoor bread etc. My eyes were previously closed to all these food joints, probably because of the fact that I wasnt aware of their existence. Once I did though, I took down their number for home delivery. Now you know what I have for lunches and dinners 🙂

Week 7 was a weekend to Varanasi. The oldest city in the world. The old city was a labyrinth of walkways along the Ganges river. Varanasi, even though we didnt do much there, was actually quite a welcoming place. We saw cremations along river and we learned to appreciate a little more of the Hindu people’s culture. Varanasi also had plenty of little shops that we could indulge ourselves in. From the little food joints and clothing stalls that sold everything to the temples (TOO MANY OF THEM IN FACT, couldnt be bothered after like seeing one lol) and then to the famous blue lassi shop that all foreigners patronise. Lassi is a sweetened fresh yogurt beverage. The shop sold basically every single flavored lassi that one could think of. From sinful mix of pomegranates and nuts, to the more common mix of banana and mango, or to the prohibited mix of marijuana in the Lassi. Blue Lassi had it all. And let me tell you that it was Good.

It is week 8 wednesday night/thursday early morning now as I am writing this. I have 10 weeks in this internship, and then I am off to travel for 3 weeks. Let me whet your appetite on my travel plans for those 3 weeks. At the same time, this is an plea for you guys to continue keeping my safety in your prayers k! (please please please). On week 11, I am going to Darjeeling and Sikkim. Basically I will be there to sip Tea, look at mountains and maybe paraglide. After which, on the weekend, I will then go to new delhi, and take a plane flight up to Leh, which is the kashmir and ladakh region. If you have watched the movie “3 idiots,”and recollect the beautiful body of water shown at the last scene, it is there at Leh. Its called the Pangong Tso. I will spend a few days trekking and maybe paragliding and doing other adventurous stuff which is befitting of me (LOL), and then I will be back to Delhi, where I will catch a train to Jaisalmer. This boarders Pakistan. It basically has a desert and one of the oldest and most beautiful forts in the world. Will spend a night living like a nomad in the desert, just like those silk route travelers of old, and then I will be off to Mumbai via train!!!

Will spend 2 days in mumbai, and then fly back to delhi, to do some last minute shopping and then Home sweet home. I really want to go back to Singapore. I just hope that when I come back, I bring back not just good memories, but also with me, the spirit of adventure. I can’t wait to see you guys again! You know I really miss home, but I guess, this time here is not just a time to seek fun and excitement, but also a time to learn more about oneself. God Bless!

Love, Raphael

P.S. Please remember me in your prayers (please please please) :):)

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