I make the two kilometer commute to the office on a bright purple bicycle with a large silver basket and rainbow colored decorations on the wheels. In the year since my last trip, the road has been paved, making the trip to work faster, more comfortable and, unfortunately, much less safe. Unlike the U.S., where drivers yield to pedestrians, it’s survival of the fittest in India. I am the only person in town to wear a bike helmet, which helps me blend in even more. While the staring is sometimes tiring, especially when they whip out their cell phones to document my morning jog, I have found a smile quickly breaks the ice.
My favorite part of my “commute” is the evening ride home, the time when this sleepy (by India’s standards) town comes alive. Women squat over their carefully arranged tomatoes, beans, carrots and pumpkins in a yoga pose I will never be able to perfect. While I can’t understand their chatter, I imagine them gossiping about the latest town news: who’s engaged to whom or who was sent home from school today. I watch as food vendors fry samosas and vada in their mobile food stands, sweating from the heat of the oil and the never-ending summer.
I love looking into the “store front shops,” the only way I know to describe them. Usually lit by a single bulb, these stores sell everything you can imagine, including some very interesting flavors of Lay’s chips (Mango Masala anyone?). I still laugh that I brought shampoo, conditioner and soap with me for my first trip. The men who are finished with work tinker on their motorcycles or relax over a beer, such as the local tribal beer Handia. Little boys play cricket or soccer barefoot, on rocky fields and girls walk around with their friends in hand-me-down-pagent-type dresses, often their broken zippers held together by a single safety pin.
I love these little glimpses into everyday life. If you were to change the setting, the daily activities are really no different than those in Chicago. But culturally, there are many things that I do not understand and that I will never understand.
Sometimes, I feel very uncomfortable in this place. Yet, with increasing frequency, I find myself becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Perhaps that is my biggest lesson. To be comfortable in India, you have to accept it for what it is. You have to open up your heart and your mind and take it for all that it is worth. Only once you get beyond the blaring sounds, the pungent smells and the frustrating inefficiencies, are you able to fully appreciate the beauty that India has to offer.