“La Mer, Qu’on voit danser, le long des golfes clairs…” This classic song plays through my headphones as I walk down the streets of the colonial french neighborhood I am staying in. I have no idea what it means, but the happy tone makes me feel like I am back in time, roaming the streets as basket cycles past by and the smell of fine food fills the air. This moment doesn’t last long as I get a whiff of the garbage pilled up in front of me, and a passing rickshaw blasts its horn to move over.
Why didn’t I pick Paris to study in? I could be learning the history of a planned city, covered in classical Baroque architecture while sitting by a cafe, eating a croissant and maybe even fall in love. I could have gone to Rome, a city that dates back centuries, where Roman leaders erected masterpieces that still stand to this day. Or what about Berlin? I can speak German and the city is a canvas, being painted with modern architecture in contrast to the Prussian palaces and communist concrete jungles where history is the palette of paint.
Yet, I chose India. Incredible India. When my friend shared the information on the internship with me back in the fall of 2016, I thought “That’s cool. I’ll apply for it.” I never stopped to think “why India?” Yeah it’s cool, but I’d never been there nor have I imagined myself spending 6 weeks alone in a country and culture that I have never experienced before. It never bothered me until I got here. The first night, when I couldn’t sleep and I was panting through the hot air, I asked myself desperately, “Why did you come here? Why India?”
Well, the same question was asked of me at the Michigan gathering two weeks ago. Rachel had gone over why students are picking India instead of the typical study abroad in Europe that you always hear about. “Students are sick of Paris. They want something new, something wild, something that will make an impact on their life. And so they choose India.” Frankly, that was exactly why I decided to come to India. I just never thought of it like that until she said it. As I was coming to terms with her explanation, I was asked to tell the other guests why I chose India.
I’ve said it in my other blogs, and I’ll say it again. I love to travel. I love going on an adventure and getting lost in places that differ from my home so much, that I drive my parents crazy every time we go on vacation and all they want to do is lay by the pool and I beg them to go on an excursion. I’m the crazy one in the family that prefers to visit museums or hike up a mountain instead of laying out and being lazy under the sun. I have an extreme case of wanderlust.
But, since I’ve been here, I’ve put up a wall. I haven’t explored as much as I’d like to and I try to have the most American products whenever possible. So, this past week I put an end to my selective tastes and branched out for the incredible flavors of India.
Three weeks in and my stomach is back to its old ways. I can comfortably eat food knowing that I will digest it and my nerves won’t hinder my appetite. So, I’ve been taking the risks and going against every travel guides warnings on eating fruit and street food so I can fully enjoy all the amazing things India has to offer.
You would not believe the varieties of fruits, vegetables, fish, spices and all the other foreign dishes available here. Street vendors and specialty shops call out to you as you pass by, offering the sweetest pomegranates, refreshing juices and savory snacks. I’ve learned to give things a try. And by try, I mean follow the traditional way to eat these delicacies. In New York, grabbing a kabab or hot dog from a corner vendor is simple. You eat it and carry on with your day. Here, you take the food, hold it a certain way, add a specific (estimated) amount of spice and depending on the food, you eat it quartered, halved or you shove the whole thing in your mouth and allow the flavors take you on a ride.
My favorite street food that I was introduced to by the office staff is Pani Puri. Small, hollow pastry puffs are filled with a potato-chickpea mash to which you pour spiced water into the center and quickly put the whole puff in your mouth. The different flavors mix, combining into a symphony of tastes that I’ve never had before. I cannot compare Pani Puri to any food item in America. It’s treat that will be hard to mimic once I’m back in the states.
When the temperature and humidity get to hot to handle, I’ve learned to indulge on a fresh squeezed, sweet lime juice. A mixture between a lime and orange, this plentiful citrus fruit is a favorite cool down treat in India, similar to a natural lemonade in America. I tried it this past Monday when the office staff and I headed to the Georgetown Markets to look for paper to print on for our exhibition in Kochi. I forgot to bring my water and the stuffy, warm air trapped within the long and narrow streets was making me feel nauseous. As we stumbled back to the bus stop to head back to the office, the staff stopped by a juice stand and told me a sweet lime juice would cool and control my sweating body. Damn they were right. I gulped the whole thing down without stopping to catch a breath. The cold, sweet drink was like a gatorade, replenishing my electorates and giving me a sugar rush. By far, this drink has been the best cure for taking my mind off the heat.
On to the bus. The concept of being packed into a small, closed space where you can opt to sit or stand and struggle to not fall over with the continuous stoping and turning of corners is something you have to master. Luckily, having lived in West Quad last year and between my 8 am class and half-hour travel period between central and north campus, I’ve become a pro at using public transportation to get around Ann Arbor. But honey…I’m not in Ann Arbor anymore. Remember how I described what it was like to be in a car on the roads of India? Well put yourself in a bus filled to the brim with people, where there is no air conditioning and the open windows to let in fresh air for ventilation actually let’s in fuel exhaust and the horrid smells of cow dung and decaying trash mixed with the body odor of the 10 people who are pushed up against you fill your nostrils. All you want to do is hold your breath, but you need to breathe to stay alive in order to watch out for pickpocketers who might take your phone or wallet. Just make sure you keep a grip on the handle bar because this shock-less vehicle will send you head first into the metal ceiling, where you might make a dent, gathering the attention of every soul on the bus. If this at all happens to you, just keep your head up, look forward and keep a positive attitude, because you just survived the first 5 minutes of a 40 minute journey. Just remember that you are one of a million plus people who will take the bus everyday and if they can do it, so can you.
Back at work, I’ve been trying new things on the daily. I took a digital drafting class in my second semester, however, the knowledge on free-form projects doesn’t compare to the average architects digital needs. Everyday, I spend 6 to 7 hours staring at my computer screen, analyzing lines on maps or configuring buildings to fit within a small area. It’s exhausting, especially when you learn that theres a shortcut that could take 10 minutes. Working on large files for long periods of time endures the risk of losing all of my data when I forget to save the work and my computer decides to crash. I want to scream at the top of my lungs when what seems like a smart and simple command to have on AutoCAD or Illustrator is nonexistent, leaving me to calculate the lengths and areas of lines by hand and manually inputing the values into excel. By the end of the day, I’m tired and want to give up on the work.
But, there’s a deadline to meet and this is the real world. I can’t always have it the Brandon way. There are going to be times in life where I’ll take the long way, instead of asking for directions from the beginning. Once I get to my destination, I’ll learn of a smarter route, to which I’ll take for the times ahead of me. I could pout and complain about the loss of something, or I could accept my mistake and remind myself to click save on a regular basis. I could give up and not see the completion of a task when there isn’t an easy way, or I could acknowledge that it will be tough and get started and maybe there will be a routine that makes it easy.
Yes, it’s hard doing something new for the first time. You second guess your decsion and quickly resort to negatives in life. But that’s what trying new things is about. Taking risks and pushing your boundaries builds you into a stronger person. So what if you get sick or fail. At least you tried and who knows, maybe you’ll like the chance you took after all.
So, Why did I choose India? I wanted to try something new. Something that I wasn’t used to. Something that challenged my comfort zone and equilibrium. It sounds corny, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If I didn’t die from crossing the street or eating a new dish, then I accomplished something bigger than sitting at a cafe, gazing at the Eiffel Tower. I did the unknown and had the adventure of a life time.