Written by Carmen Nogueron, (Kalamazoo College) Student Correspondent UW in India, Fall 2016
If I had a dollar for every time I was told I looked India in my short time here I could pay for all my program fees. I arrived to the Delhi airport on a rainy and very humid Thursday afternoon after traveling for twenty-one hours from LAX. After encountering my first squat toilet, completely making a fool out of myself with the guy I turned my foreigner entry slip to, and not being able figure out what line color or door number I was supposed to exit through, I found my heaven sent residential advisor Maria waiting for me outside the airport doors.
As we drove out of the airport towards our hotel (by the way it was more like a beautiful guest house!) I was seeing Delhi for the first time and could not believe I was actually there – I had several moments like these throughout orientation and still do here in Varanasi. As I was looking out my window towards traffic I could not help but to laugh at what we call traffic in LA, drivers and the road have no type of order or structure but still flowed so rhythmically with all the cars and motor bikes honking and swerving past one another I honestly did not know whether to stare at the cars or the city! I honestly was not surprised by the amount of people that I saw when we first drove out into the city because I am used to a crowded downtown/ city area, but there was literally that amount of people everywhere. I love busy streets because it’s where people from so many walks of life come together and you can definitely see that in Delhi.
Meeting everyone in my program was great, we came from all over the country and were interested in so many different things, but as I said before I was so thankful for Maria because having lived in LA I had something I could relate to which I had, still have sometimes, difficulties relating to my peers in the program. I guess coming from a different background makes me see, experience, and respond to situations differently and I was just figuring out how to cope with that. As I said to one of friends in my program this is one of the first times in my life I am surrounded by white American folks and it has definitely been interesting to say the least. Especially when going out to excursions in orientation and noticing how differently we were treated. I had read on travel blogs about how local folks of India stared a lot and I knew the conversation surrounding this while touring India was coming from a White traveler perspective so I was not worried about it because I am obviously not white, and once I saw it for myself they were not kidding! Honestly I just laughed about it but I interpreted as Indians are just do not see White people on a regular basis and want to take photos of foreigners, I mean people do that with Amish folk in the states so I kind of based off that similar kind of logic. As for how I was treated I either was paid no attention to or got a confused look because people could not figure me out. During our many excursions to some beautiful landmarks in Delhi which I photographed was either thought to be one of my groups tourist guide, an American Indian or just did not know what I was and I could clearly see it in their face. Of course after telling them I was from Mexico it was like their curiosity was addressed and they would go on with whatever they were doing, after telling me how Indian I looked.
I am still trying to figure how to navigate through the spaces I’m in while I am here, and recognize that I am in a highly privileged position while I’m here. I mean I have access to so many things that local in Delhi and now in Varanasi do not from things like wifi to filtered water. So no I do not think I am will ever be living like the local folk but I am learning so much about their way of life and culture, I cannot wait until I am more comfortable to actively seek out more knowledge from the people in the city where a mutual exchange can begin.