My first two days spent in the beautiful Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi were almost surreal. The hotel was quiet and pristine, and I felt like I was still in Chicago – not halfway around the world. As I sat down to a late dinner on the first night with my fellow Fulbrighters (there were 8 of us on the same flight), I thought to myself, “This is not the India I know.” The upscale restaurant had both western and eastern options, the lounge singer belted out tunes by Alanis Morrisette, Fleetwood Mac and Celine Dion, and the clientele was mostly western.
As I write, all of that has changed. Not for the worse, by any means, just more like the India I know. The Ranchi air terminal doesn’t have any gates; you just walk off the plane and into the terminal. Gone, for the most part, are the western toliets and toliet paper. The unpaved roads are shared by cows, goats, dogs, people, rickshaws, bikes, buses and goods carriers, yet somehow it all works. And while the monsoons have destroyed the roads, leaving them muddy and potholed, the countryside has been brought to life after a dry summer.
Yes, I am a little nervous to be back, I know that that living in this part of India isn’t necessarily hard, just very different. From my previous trips, I know it will take some time to adjust to this way of life. But soon, it will become my way of life. Already the sounds, the sights and the smells are familiar. And I know that from the moment I see my old team, it will feel like I never left.