Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Week 1

If I were to sum up my very first week in India in one word, it has to be "once-in-a-lifetime". But wait a second, don't you jump in and assume what I have to say for the rest of my journal is one of those overly tempting stories that would make you want to hop right on the plane, what actually happened is the complete opposite instead. It was my own fault, but it is also India - SHIT HAPPENS.
After almost a day, I landed on Delhi at around 11 at night, which I thought was a pretty bad timing for a newbie in India. Debating on whether or not I should wait until the next morning to take the bus to Dharamsala, I decided to just take the cab to the interstate bus terminal (I was told to take the bus but I decided not to out of my gut feelings, also because I was hauling around a huge douffel bag). Before leaving the airport, I picked up a prepaid phone and a prepaid taxi (one charged me 1200Rs and the other 600Rs).
After around 45 minutes, I got to the bus terminal at around midnight. In major cities like Delhi, the conditions were worse than what I had expected. Since it was already late, everything was close and the station looked empty, with only tons of flies and some people sitting and laying around, waiting for their buses. The next bus to Dharamsala did not run until 4:30 in the morning. Another thing that was easily noticed was that there was hardly any women on the street, let alone girls who were on their own. How I actually got around feeling safe was that I was a "guy" the whole time in Delhi (as a safety measure I shaved my hair and sort of pulled off as a guy). Much to my speculation, everybody at the station were staring at me because 1) they were skeptical about my gender. 2) I looked like a little boy who would not usually travel alone at this hour. 3) I was the only foreigner.
With zero Hindi, I asked around where to get the right tickets like an absolutely crazy illiterate.
After 4 hours of waiting accompanied by my flying buddies, the bus finally came. I could not find the proper words to describe the vehicle - any parts could have fallen off at any time. Beyond being exhausted, I couldn't care less. I JUST WANT TO GET TO MY FINAL DESTINATION ASAP (later I found out that it was a common bus that I had hopped on and there were actually deluxe buses with better conditions and AC, although I did not recall seeing such thing the whole night observing buses come and go).
Here the most heart wrenching experience was about to take place. After about an hour, half asleep, the driver yelled and everybody rushed out and into another bus while those on the other bus kept rushing in. All I could do was frantically repeating the city name that I wanted to get to. Fortunately somebody actually responded and directed me to the other bus. During the whole bus ride, people constantly cramped in and left. I was pushed to a seat by the window with my legs and everything else squished. I told myself not to fall asleep. However, I finally gave in to extreme exhaustion and fell asleep briefly at one of the stations. When I opened my eyes, the bus was on the road again. It was not even exaggerating to use heart attack to describe that infinite moment. My bag was opened. My prepaid phone and my laptop was gone. I told the incident to two of the guys that seemed to be more reasonable and knew English. I knew they could not do anything, but at least I felt better to have someone to share. They also helped me to call the manager of the NGO that I was working with and let him know that I was on my way.
It did not stop there. When we were about 4 hours away from Dharamsala, the bus broke down. Because I was going to the last stop and had a lot of things with me, I was not able to catch other buses that were passing by like everybody else did. About after an hour, the driver eventually fixed the bus and we were on our way again. From that point on, things seemed to get a little smoother. I mean, what else could be worse (besides losing my life in a car crash).
After 14 hours of cramping in the bus, I finally arrived at Dharamsala. Despite everything that had happened, the driver nevertheless showed me some sympathy and got me another bus that would take me within town to get to where I needed to be. Another guy also helped me to get a cab to finally get to my NGO.
So, before anything even started, all I got was losing my laptop and having my entire face and hair full of black dirt that could be scratched off. I did not want to admit, but I was never so helpless in my life. Day 1 alone has already sharpened my instinct and tolerance to the max. I never thought those things could happen, but they did. It didn't hit me that I was actually in India until these things happened. So for those of you who have not started the trip, you might think that I was probably stupid and it was only because I was unprepared. To a certain extent, it was, but I just want you guys to be more aware. So if things go well, great; if not, you will be prepared.
Dharamsala is a town where the Dalai Lama takes refuge, located in northern India in the State of Himachal Pradesh. It lies within the mountains at the foot of Triund, one of the hills of the Himalayas. The landscape is undoubtedly fascinating. However, as a city person who lives her whole life the farthest away from mother nature, the living conditions are yet to be adjusted to. I have not washed my hair and have taken only one shower in eight days (it was more like rinsing, they only have buckets). One night, I discovered a huge brown spider in my room that was about the size of the palm with legs stretched. I failed to kill it because it ran too fast and my broom was too soft.
Coming back to the NGO where I am working with, it is an organization called Waste Warriors that focuses on the waste problem and the management of the waste workers around the area. Since I am interested in documentary, my general plan is to cover the life of the waste workers and the difference before and after the help of the NGO. On a side note, if you remember me mentioning that i was a "guy" since I landed on Delhi, the manager also thought that I was a guy until 3 days later when I finally found a chance to correct him before it was too late. Not surprisingly, when things finally started to settle in a little bit, I got a bad stomach on the fifth night after I had a home cooked meal for lunch.
Up to this point, even after a week, things are still slowly settling in based on the fact that this lifestyle is completely different from what I am used to. I am still familiarizing myself with this mountain area and I have only covered an environmental promotion event and a cultural concert. Moreover, without my laptop, I was not able to start to work on a lot of things. So now I am still waiting for a chance to get a new one (the closest store is 6 hours away). Tomorrow, I will start to cover one of the workers. Despite all the discouragements so far, I am excited to see how things will unfold.

1 comment:

  1. What a start to your trip Man Kuan!!! I'm just so glad you're at your site and starting to settle in. I'm so excited to keep reading about your adventures and all the things you will do with Waste Warriors!!