I am in Delhi for three months on an internship provided by GLEN (Global Education Network of Young Europeans), a network of 10 organizations from the European Union which sends abroad pairs of interns (tandems) to host organizations in the countries of the ‘Global South’.
I’m from Slovenia and my tandem partner is Johanna from Germany; we will be doing the same internship – working on community based research about perspectives of education, career and job among young people and their parents in slum and resettlement areas in South Delhi, where ETASHA’s Career Development Centers are placed.
After the month and a half that has already passed by since I arrived in Delhi I am trying to collect my experiences and translate them into words: I find it more difficult than I thought it would be.
It seems that a bunch of words forming a story could not be as powerful as a single experience in an actual place and time, but after all this is the only way to address ETASHA’s blog readers or those who want to know what is happening with me in the city of the “gang rape case”. Thus I decided to follow Chimamanda Adichie’s talk about “The danger of a single story” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg which inspires me to talk about my own experiences of uncovering the layers of single stories about India “in the West”. If you have not seen this clip yet, I would heartily recommend you to do so. Also, because I promise that my writing will not be as excellent and inspiring as her talk is.
Single story #1: ‘Poverty’ in India
I arrived in Delhi a month earlier than Johanna and moved into a small room with attached bathroom, a tiny kitchenette on the balcony, and no AC in the room, even though it has been 35 degrees almost every day since I arrived! Also, I do not have a washing machine and a dish washer is completely unthinkable – besides it would not even fit into my kitchenette. I must say that I have never lived in a setting similar to this, but the fact that I have my own freedom in a huge city like Delhi is – apart from feeling, “I’m in India. That’s the way people live here!” – the most significant factor of adjustment to a new way of living for the upcoming 6 months.
In the month I spent “alone” in Delhi I completed an Intensive Hindi language course, began Yoga classes, bought my own motorbike called Freedom and made some friends in and outside of ETASHA. To picture how good I have become in Hindi, I’ll share a story that happened on Tuesday.
Close by to one of ETASHA’s training centres there is a food stall, and since I know some basics of Hindi, this is one of the best opportunities where I can apply my knowledge. I wanted to get Makhkhan Paneer, which I had always thought meant “home made paneer”, since makan in Hindi means house. “Mujko ek makan paneer chachie.” I asked, then got the dish, returned to the office, where my “makan paneer” became booming news. Everyone started laughing when they got to know (obviously not from me), that I had ordered “makan paneer” – “house paneer” instead of “makhkhan paneer” – “butter paneer”. Butter or house?…….doesn’t matter, after all the food was delicious as usual and I have learned that nothing like “home made paneer” or literary “house paneer” exists apart from my confused imagination.
I do not want to write about how I am not right in the head, as our cheerful young- looking colleague Ian could tell, but I will try to picture my misconceptions of a new environment: Before my buddy arrived from Germany, I spent my time in a very scheduled and organized way. Most of the evenings I spent reading books in my armchair, which I began appreciating more and more. That was the place of my “safe zone”. Since there was no AC in my room, I was forced to open the doors, turn on the fan and get some “fresh” air into the room (the temperature never fell below 30 degrees) to make myself comfortable. Every evening I read different pages, but one page stayed the same throughout all of these nights. Right opposite my balcony was my neighbour’s, and that guy used to come out for a smoke every evening, several times, being forced to look at me and vice versa. The same procedure every night. He lights his cigarette, checks his phone, enjoys his smoke, then he leaves. And me? I continue reading my book, disturbed by thoughts about the guy on the balcony. This is a story about my 3rd floor neighbour. Under that balcony there is another one. The family living in the setting identical to mine, with a main difference – they are a family. A couple with two kids and a grandmother, sharing a room the same size as mine, with a kitchenette on the balcony. I used to see them in the morning sending their kids to school in their lovely uniforms and perfectly made hair, drinking a cup of milk on the balcony within the presence of their mom. That made me come to the conclusion that this was just the way that people live in our colony, and that I should appreciate what I have and where I live. Well, I could never imagine myself sharing the same room with four other family members!
Tadaaam! It’s nine eleven and Johanna, a crazy girl with whom I spent lots of joyful moments shows up at our gate. The evenings have changed. I shifted from my armchair to the balcony, where we were grateful for every single breeze that passed by us, since there is no fan on the balcony and the weather has not changed much. Also, my neighbour has not changed his routine. From the day Johanna arrived in Delhi we found him on the balcony every evening, without saying a word to each other, which I indeed found weird. One late night, when we returned back home, he was there again. Deliberating whether to invite him over to our balcony we finally decided to do it and two brothers showed up. Ice breaking! Since then we see each other almost every day, have become best buddies and every minute we spend at their place seems to be priceless. Their apartment is probably twenty times bigger and ten degrees cooler than ours, and, common to middle class Indian homes, every single bedroom has its own bathroom, which is far from being common in most of Europe. Here you can find the AC, the Swedish kitchen, big TV, washing machine, marble stairs leading from one floor to another and many other things that we have compromised to live without in Delhi. This is my story of poverty in India. Johanna and me, two interns from Slovenia and Germany live in rooms meant to be for servants.
Sabina Cveček, Intern