I forgot to mention this mini adventure before I left to America, so here it is.
Author Archives: Kevin Kronenfeld
I arrived in the USA around 230 pm. It was a weird moment to be finally back in the US and seeing my family. The way time moved and the how everybody interacted seemed really foreign to me. What do I care, I was back home with a nice slice of American pizza in my belly.
For me to compare India to America is like trying to compare an entity that is totally different from the other. Both are countries and have people in them but the way people interact and talk to each other is totally different.
I am just feeling elated that I am finally back in states!
As I prepare to go home I think of the expectations I had in the beginning and what they are now. I believe that somethings have changed but they were not the expectations, but it was me that changed. I was the one that grew by immersing myself in a culture that I fully did not comprehend, but I still jumped in with two feet. That is why I have come to a point at the end of my journey where I realize that good things will always be there even if you are not there presently. Its what you keep in your heart and mind that the events that I experienced that I will keep forever.
One of these moments was meeting the two Delhi University students at my internship. Their names are Smiridi and Puja. We always joked around but we always knew that we had to be serious when it came to our work. So their were times where we got into intensive talks about global governance and public policy in India.
Then there were the interns from the state of Gujarat. Their names were Dharmavirsingh, Bhargov, and Jatin. We also used joked around and we always had a good time. There was not a time that one of us was not laughing.
Then there was Manda who worked for the organization. She was the livelihood coordinator who took me on day trips to places where the organization was doing livelihoods. She taught me that that sometimes the best way to do something is to test it out, even if you did not do know what you were doing. She never said this specifically but she always strived for this goal, because she loved what she was doing.
Lastly are my advisors. Their names are Amit Khedkar and Dr. Sudha Kothari. They were the two that guided me though the project that I was working on. Since this was a new idea for the organization they also were learning. They always pushed me to come up with new solutions that could be developed through this volunteer project.
Lastly, I want to give myself a pat on the back. Not to sound self conceded, but I feel I have gained so much more then I actually put into this project. That is why I find solice in coming home because I feel that I have grown as a human being for what India has taught me.
The last two weeks I have been spending my time creating a workshop for volunteers. On top of that I had a random moment in the Handi festival.
Like I said, I was part of a team to coordinate a workshop for volunteers. The workshop was based off research that I relayed to the founder. Then we had other NGOs and volunteer managers who were interested in volunteer management discuss what their organizations were doing with volunteers. I even got to sit on a panel and answer some questions. The whole workshop was a success and I feel that people came away from the workshop with fresh ideas of how to strengthen their programs for volunteers.
Since that was my last project, I got to rest for my last week at my host organization. Then I would head to Delhi and Agra for a small vacation. Then make my way to Mumbai and fly off to America.
The last week of my internship consisted of me resting and attending the Handi festival. The resting was nice because I got to reevaluate what I had done for the organization and look back on my journal entries. While reading through these entries I saw generalizations and assumptions that I had in the beginning, but as weeks passed the generalizations became nothing to me. I had grown and I realized that these were only half truths and not the whole truth.
Then for Handi festival, the celebration was amazing and exciting. The celebration is about Lord Krishna breaking an urn of milk and butter to give to the people. So the celebration goes as follows. There are big crowds, dance parties, loud music, and did I mention teams making human pyramids 15-20 feet high to grab the urn that Lord Krishna broke to give to the people.
The teams that form these human pyramids train for months for this event because if you win you getting bragging rights and money. As they are forming these pyramids the urn is hoisted on a rope that up in the air.
On a side note, as I was taking pictures of this event I was coerced to come to the dias and speak to the thousands of people who came to the event. I was pretty much awestruck from what was happening. They even had the honoured guest–her name was Akshaya Gurav who is a Marathi actress–give me a coconut for being there. The whole entire event was crazy, fun, and amazing.
I have been traveling with locals whom I have met from my internship that are from India. So it has been pretty easy for me to travel, but this time I made my way back to Mumbai by myself.
I traveled by train there, and the journey was not so bad. I met a couple people who spoke English. All together I was off to a great start. When I got to city the humidity of Mumbai hit me and I was feeling dehydrated. I ran straight to a food stand for water. My provider had a guesthouse in the city so that is where I went first to drop off my bag. Then it was off to downtown Mumbai.
My first impressions of Mumbai were where did all these white people come from. I live in the countryside where all I see is Indians. The last time I saw a foreigner was about my second or third week. The rest of the time I have been staying in the countryside where I have been hanging out with the locals.
As I walked around downtown, I headed towards Colabo Market. The city is so drastically different from the country. For one there is more people. Second, there is a lot more English speakers. Third, there is a lot more people who want you to buy things from them.
My first encounter of the people who want you to buy things from them was a guy who wanted to clean my ears for money. He came out of nowhere with a cotton swab and a metal pick and started to clean my ears. I told the man I was not going to pay him, but he incessantly tried to clean my ears and put medicine in my ears. He kept telling me to give him 50 Rupees. Luckily, I got away from this man and made my way to the Colabo Market.
My second encounter was with some English Speakers who were Indian. They worked for Bollywood and they seemed nice. We had a nice chat, but then the conversation went in another direction. They asked me to be in one of their films because I was white. They would pay me 500 dollars American and give me room and board. I told them I was not interested and left.
Finally, I made my way to the market where I found cafes that sold steak! I know I said in my last blog that you could not find steak, but the two cafes that sold steak were more geared towards foreign tourists and not Indians. The cafes were nice and filled with many pastries.
The market itself is filled with vendors who sell clothes, instruments, and tricates. I only bought one item and the rest of the time I just walked around. As I was walking, there was a man who came up to me and asked me if I wanted some hash. The man sounded like a tweaker, and kept repeating himself saying, “You want some hash, you want some hash, you want some hash.” I told the man I did not want any hash. I finally got away from this man.
All together, I found my trip to downtown Mumbai successful because I got to enjoy the people of the city. I like to observe people and how they interact, and I feel I got some of that in Mumbai with my encounters.
The next morning I made my way to the train to head back home. It was a pleasant ride, but then the train staff asked for my ticket, and they said I was on the wrong train. I ended up on the other side of the state. I had to backtrack, and make my way back home now. I got off the train, and I had to take another train to a city that had a bus stand. After I got to the city with the bus stand I got on the bus.
I felt comfortable in the position that I was in. I realized two things. One is that you have to be calm in a certain situation like this and the second thing is that I feel more comfortable in the country then the city. I felt that I would be ok because I could find my bearings a little bit easier than the city.
As I got on the bus, and I met a person who was going the same way. He was Indian, and he asked if I wanted to travel with him, but as we were traveling our bus broke down. We had to get off and take a new bus to a village that had a bus that would take us in the direction that we needed to go.
We got on that bus and finally made it to the village that we needed to go to, but there were no more connecting buses that we could get to make it to our destination. The Indian told me to take a taxi to the neighboring village and take the bus to my destination. I did as he told me and made my way to the next village on the taxi. I got to the village and finally got on the bus that was going the right way and did not break down! The journey took around 7 hours.
From wandering around the city to getting lost in the state, I realized that I am a tourist who does not know what he is doing. The best thing to do is stay calm and just relax, because all is good when you have a good story to tell afterwards.
I am at the midpoint of this epic journey, so I think it will be a good time to reflect and see what I have done in India. This post is more geared towards people who want to travel to India
1. If you do not know the state or national language make an effort to learn some phrases. If you just try you will make instant friends.
2. The transportation system here can be confusing at first but if you know where you are going, and just tell the name of the village or town to the official he/she will direct you in the right place.
3. If you like spicy, this place is a Mecca.
4. Do not drink the water. Trust me, I got sick.
5. There are places in the city that are closer to western culture if you feel homesick. Cities like Pune and Mumbai have many nightclubs. If you are familiar with the transportation system, you can hop on a train for about 6 dollars American to the state of Goa. That is if you are living in the state of Maharashtra.
6. If you like history or just the countryside there are many historical places in the countryside. For example, Loghad fort in Malavali and Shivineri fort in Juner. I have been to these forts and it was a pretty good trek.
7. I want to place a warning for two things.First thing is that If you like meat, well you can still get it here, but not cow. A little bit over half of India is pure vegetarian. Second thing is that there are no traffic laws which means that the road is a death trap. Do not let that scare you because if you have your eyes and ears open you will be safe.
9. As for work I am doing in the NGO, I can say that I am enjoying it. I have learned so much from admin work to fieldwork. I do like fieldwork a little bit more just because you actually get to see your work in practice. Admin work is more of you just sitting in a office drawing up logistics and researching information that could help you strengthen your program. I do like learning the work because I know it will become handy in the future.
10. Embrace the ambivalence of India.This country has 1.2 billion people in a space that is smaller than the US. You can learn a lot just by listening to these people and understanding where they come from, and you will realize that they are not so much different from you.
To end this post, I want to point out these are my ideas and not someone elses. I like to experience traveling by hanging out with the locals and hearing what they have to say. Some other do it by going to museums. and others go out drinking. I have done these things but I just prefer to have my own experience.
I can not say, I did anything really exciting other than meeting with other NGOs and exchanging cultural and business ideas. While I was in these meetings I felt I needed to reassess what I had done for this NGO and think what I actually could do. I have a passion for working with people who want to empower other people, but I felt I stretched myself to thin. I wanted to do everything from creating networks to creating programs for the NGO that I was working for. When I realized I could not do this, I needed to find a solution to my problem.
What I realized was that I need to let things go because India as a whole is very complex with so many layers. Each state of India has its own traditions, songs, language, and dance that is essential to that state’s culture. So when it comes to me; Kevin Kronenfeld who is an American who does not speak the language, does not know the songs, does not know the dances, and does not know the culture that well believes change can happen in a matter of 10 weeks, well that cannot happen! I just need to let things go and think of this as a holistic experience where I have a chance to gain so much more than I actually put into this organization. The ability to learn and understand India takes time. People say you have to live here for 6 months to truly understand the culture. What I think is that you have to watch, wait, and listen to fully immerse yourself in India.
As for the week 5, I am leaving my plans up to chance.
On a side note, if anyone reads that all Indians speak English in a guidebook, well that guidebook is telling half of the truth. Indians will try to make a effort to speak English because that is what they are taught in school, but their first language will be Hindi or their state language. Even if you speak English, they might not understand you because there are different types of English accents.
Week 3 can be summed up in a picture or two, but I cannot upload pics to this blog so I will try my best to explain what I experienced. This week, I traveled to a remote village in the valley called Kuda. Our group took a bus to get there and every time the bus passed some small towns it felt like we were going back in time. The more we made it into the valley, the less amenities there were. Once we got to the village–which was a farming village–we were transported back in time. There were farmers using oxen to plow the fields, and mothers using stone tablets to cook food on. Then there were farmers sewing the fields with rice. I even got to help them plant some rice. Like I said, we were transported back in time and it was a humbling experience. I got to see what most foreigners never see. Usually foreigners stay in the city and see tourist attractions. As for me, I rather skip all the tourist attractions and see how real people live and interact. The attractions will always be there to take pictures.
Other than traveling I have been hard at work at the internship.
The second week has been pretty mellow. I have just been traveling from Rajgurunagar to Pune. Pune is the main city that is an 1 hr 30 min from Rajgurunagar. Its a mini Mumbai if I had to describe the city. The sights, smells, and sounds of the city are distinct in their nature. With traffic going in every direction and no traffic laws its fair game. At the same time it has a rhythm that every motorbike, bus, and car follows to not hit each other. It’s pretty impressive. Then for crossing the street it is a game of cat and mouse with the vehicles and the pedestrians. It can be an exhilarating experience.
In Pune, its new India meets rural India. There are McDonalds and movie theaters while there are cows sleeping in the middle of the street. The cow is their deity so a cow has free range to go any where around the city. Then you can see goats and pigs eating out of the garbage. I expected the cows in the streets but not the pigs and goats.
Then for the food, there is many varieties of sweets. Right now I have found my favorite. It is called jalebi. It is dough that is fried and then dipped into sugar water. Its pretty much heaven. Other than that, there are typical Indian dishes like dosas.
After I leave the city I like to take the train. The experience is a stress reliever. Sticking half of my body outside of the train and feeling the wind across my face is relaxing. Also, looking at the landscape where slums are next to skyscrapers makes me ponder how India is contrasted and how there needs to be change.
That is just a typical day in the life for me.
Its really hard to describe my first week because it was jammed packed. I got to experience the culture by sitting on a pray. I got to ride through rural India on the train. I got see the drastic difference between rural India and new India. Even the people of India were exciting to talk to. From trying to talk to people by learning Hindi and trying to break that language barrier has been a challenge, but I am willing to take that challenge
Then for my internship, I am learning how the non profit organization works. My internship project is to set up a program for the volunteers to follow. It is a learning process to navigate my way through the organization but it would not be called an internship for nothing.
I learned so much, and there was so much to learn from the people, culture, and organization that its really hard to describe. The organization focuses on rural women by showing them that they have the tools to be empowered through micro finance, education, or livelihood. There are so many levels to the organization that every week is a learning process.
Other than that, the town is a rural town where we have power sharing days. Basically, one building turns off its power so other buildings can share the power. Another thing that I have to live with is living in a world of vegetarians. Do not get me wrong, the vegetarian meals are good but I have to go out of town to go to a restaurant where they serve meat. I enjoy the adventure though.
Overall I am having a great time.